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MATURE RPG


May, 2010... Fantasy became reality. Worlds overlay for the briefest moment. Outworlders became stranded on earth as more than half the human populace vanished. Our World, our universe, was transformed.

Fiction is now reality. Humans and those now bound to this world will either learn to coexist, or battle for supremecy.

JUNE 13, 2019 - Family emergency  took a bad turn so had to stay away but now things are finally calming down. Hope to get going again shortly. Thanks for understanding. ~ZEPH

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Ryan Harker’s Manhattan Apartment

 

Harker’s Manhattan apartment is one of several safe houses he has throughout the New York area.  The apartment is nestled in a middle-class apartment building in central Manhattan, but inside it’s had some obvious renovations.  The apartment is a humble one bedroom, one bathroom with a sophisticated interior.  Security for the apartment was hardened as part spaces improvement.  Outside the door looks no different than those of its neighbors, inside is another story.

 

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(View of Harker’s apartment from the front door.)

 

          The front doorway is located on the near, right corner of the property.  As you enter the apartment, an open floor plan connects the kitchen, dining, and living rooms.  To the right is a vacant wall, and to the left is the kitchen.  Past the kitchen, a short hallway leads to a bathroom on the right-hand side.

 

Bathroom%202_zpseq7d6hgg.jpg

(Elegant bathroom, past the kitchen, down on the hall, on the right-hand side.)

 

          A modern, Asian infused theme decorates the apartment’s interior.  Wood and stone tie elegantly together, while mirrors and hidden compartments maximize an otherwise modest space.  The apartment is kept clean, far too clean to be used daily.  Suggesting the owner rarely occupies the space, or he enlists professional assistance to maintain the property.

 

The door in middle of the living room leads back to the master bedroom.  A wall of mirrors conceals a lengthy wall closet, as it leads to an elevated king size bed and private desk.

 

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(Master bedroom from the living room entrance.)

 

Bedroom_zpsuikkzbqh.jpg

(Master Bedroom, in reality the bed is a large King and the room is a few feet deeper.  Photo is for thematic reference only.)

 

          Throughout the apartment there are compartments concealed within the wood, stone and mirrors.  Some, like those in the kitchen, are meant to be seen and accessed by all.  Others are truly hidden and require Harker’s biometrics to gain access.  Front door and the far windows have all been reinforced to withstand assault, and invisible wards protect the space from magic.  A well-made safehouse for the modern covert agent.

 

(OOC: This post is to set the scene for the thread.  Actual plot post to continue the story will come next.)

Edited by Ryan Harker
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January 4, 2022

After Midnight

Manhattan, Harker’s Apartment

 

(Continued from “Chasing Ghosts")

 

***Reference to Chasing Ghosts***

 

          “They’re not after me,” Rorye whispered as she leaned in close to him.  When her hand slid up the inside of his thigh, Ryan tensed lightly.  Not from pain.  The touch was welcome, just unexpected.  Her fingertips sent a tingling bolt of energy from his leg up to his stomach, where fluttered for a moment.  When she reached across to his other thigh, he started to sit up in protest.  A commanding glare met his eyes and he leaned back in his seat once more. 

 

They didn’t have time to waste.  His wounds could be tended to once they were safe.  The Soldier was undoubtedly annoyed, but he took the moment to admire the woman before him.  She was unlike anyone he had ever met, and the longer he spent near her, the more she amazed him.

 

“You’re not a magus are you,” Rorye asked aloud.  Though the question was more statement than inquiry.  She had assessed his condition and determined a magus wouldn’t have been as harmed given the task performed.  Ryan hated it. 

 

He was ashamed she could see he was nearing his limits, and that she had compared him to a magus and found him lacking.  The blast of magical energy had taken quite a toll on him.  Ryan preferred to maintain the illusion of being invincible.  To be seen by colleagues, friends and enemies alike, as unstoppable, unkillable, and simply undefeatable.  Of course, it would sound silly if said aloud, but he played the part well.  Though the deck was always stacked against him, he never wanted people to doubt him… especially not her.

 

“I never said I was,” the mage hunter answered with a playful smirk.

 

“You’re stuck between two worlds like me.  All the responsibility and none of the cool prizes.”  Rorye continued, though it still seemed like she was half talking to herself.

 

Ryan didn’t answer at first, except for a slight grimace when she pulled the bandage tight.  She wasn’t like him, and for that he was glad.  However, she did live in a world adjacent to his own.  Their spheres of existence overlapped enough they could understand each other.  She wasn’t afraid of him or his capacity for violence, and he wasn’t afraid the mysterious entity lurking within her.  Finally, Ryan replied, “I guess so.”

 

*** Present Time ***

 

When they arrived at his building, Harker parked his Challenger in a private garage.  He escorted Rorye through the main lobby and upstairs to his apartment.  They did their best to cover their bloodied clothes along the way, but they caught awkward glances more than once before arriving at his front door.

 

“Make yourself at home,” Ryan said as he pushed the door open.  Once they had both crossed the threshold, he turned and closed the door behind them.

 

“The bathroom is down the hall to the right,” he pointed beyond the kitchen as he spoke.  Ryan expected she would want to bathe before anything else.  A sympathy he shared.  Gingerly he removed his jacket, before hanging it on one of several hooks mounted to the wall behind the door.

 

The agent wasn’t used to hosting company at his place, but efforted to be a gentleman.  Without asking, he lifted Rorye’s bag and set it on the kitchen table.  Then he smoothly removed her coat and secured it on another of the rungs by the door.  “I will bring you some fresh clothes in a minute, there should be towels in there already.”

 

Harker placed his pistols on the table.  After the remainder of his tactical gear was discarded in a pile on the floor, he walked to the kitchen sink.  Rolling up his sleeves he began washing the blood and debris from his hands.  As he watched the rose-colored water spiral down the drain, he wondered if he still had that bottle of “Jim Beam Devil’s Cut” in the cabinet.

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He wasn’t happy with her, or something she’d said. It felt like something else perhaps. Sensitivity to expressions, moods and movements was a developed skill that was more of a burden when situations were stressful. She had a hunch she’d offended him, replaying what she said to him in her mind as the darkness slowly gave way to civilization with familiar lights in the skyline. The key was still moving through her fingers, a smooth distraction.

 

“Somebody told me once that we’re the strong ones,” voice was quiet, even the soft tone seemed loud to her ears against the silence. She didn’t divulge who had uttered the words of wisdom to her.

 

Her ear nestled on the headrest, dark eyes watching him before he pulled into the garage.

 

“…the brave ones. We know the right hook’s gonna hurt, but we jump into the fight anyway. No tricks, no magic, just the skin of our teeth and the guts to take the hit.”

 

Sigh soft, the key was slid back into her pocket, rolling the split lip through her teeth as she took in the silence of the garage a moment. Her ears were still ringing. She slid off her coat, the wince at the corners of her eyes betraying stiffness and bruising was starting to set in. Retrieving her harness, she slid it on without buckling it, coat pulled back on. Door opened, one foot out to rest on the floor a moment before gathering the energy to get out.

 

She avoided eye contact with anyone on the way up, jacket closed, hands in her pockets, following close to escape as much as attention as possible.

 

“Make yourself at home”

 

The door closed them off from the discord of the last few hours. The silence, heavy… but welcome. It felt calm, under control, even safe.

 

Nod light, eyes traveled briefly over her immediate surroundings, glancing back at him. It was beautiful, but it was cold. Perfect. Sterile. Everything was exact and orderly. He may have lived there, but he didn’t really. She missed her own home at that moment, where everything melded together seamlessly. Soft lines, mornings of diffused sunlight that made time stop, the world worth forgetting, blurring the harshness of reality. She could wander barefoot with a cup of coffee, wrapped in a down comforter and collapse into a cushion covered couch for a nap…

 

No, she was uncomfortable because his tastes were different. She was uncomfortable because she was out of her element, her neighborhood. It was disorienting. A giant city to exist in and she spent most of her time in a square mile of adventures. This was his existence, and it was unlike hers. It felt strange, only because she felt so far away from home. She was far away from home. She was in someone else’s home, and she couldn’t remember the last time that had happened.

 

“The bathroom is down the hall to the right”

 

His leg, the priority was his leg… but he probably wanted to stitch that up on his own. She would need to get out of the way for that. A wince came again and she let him take the bag; that damn bag they had both risked their fucking lives for, now sitting on a kitchen table. It looked so innocuous, an afterthought now. It was far from innocent, and it was sitting feet from them. Jacket brought the same reaction, a seethe from her nose this time. The night was catching up. She was afraid of impending sleep; her body would feel like it had been hit by a truck when she woke up.

 

“I will bring you some fresh clothes in a minute, there should be towels in there already.”

 

Harness slid off, she placed it next to his pistols. Buckles released the karambit sheaths at her waist and those were removed too, gate a little slower than it should have been.

 

“I’d offer to help with the stitches, but I have a feeling you’ve done it before,” smile was small, but there, casting a glance to the devil blues before she made her way elsewhere. Jean shirt was slid off before she made it to the bathroom, crushed into a ball and tossed into the trash as soon as she entered the pristine room. The old favorite was beyond saving. Black cami seemed clean, but the blood smears on her skin made the blue dotwork tattooing down the back of her neck and shoulders look almost purple. She was a mess, they were both a mess.

 

Light clicked on. Jesus… the same gorgeous décor.  

 

Closing the door slightly, the boots came off first, set quietly in the corner. She lost several inches without them on, bare toes wiggling gently as she pulled her hair from the braid. Finger combing the long waves first, she bundled it up high out of the way and wrapped it with the hair tie into a loose bun. Faucet was turned on, water pooled into her hands and she drew it over her face. Gods, it was like nectar, sweeping away the grime in rivulets off the tip of her nose. Another, then another, washing away the make-up and the blood. A spatter of light freckles peered out from clean skin, cheek no longer angry with a threat of bruising. Red and swollen, but not bruised. Her lip though, was a lost cause. Split above her canine on her left side. It would heal. She touched the tooth with her fingertip, standing on her tiptoes to peer at it closely in the mirror to make sure it wasn’t chipped from the damn brick wall.

 

Wash cloth was saturated with hot water and squeezed, folded and placed on the back of her neck. She leaned on the sink counter with both hands, letting the warmth seep into her neck a moment, stretching her shoulders and squeezing her eyes together to feel droplets of water trickle from clean lashes. Her throat hurt, for good reason.

 

Straightening and stretching, she wiped down her arms. Clothes were bloody, but at least they were dry. She couldn’t get into the shower until she had something to change into and she wasn’t going to rush him taking care of his leg. Reaching for a towel to dry her face, she peered out from the bathroom toward the light of the kitchen, then the darkness in the other direction. Silent footsteps left the bathroom toward the dark, the twinkle beyond semi-translucent curtains catching her curiosity. Walking past the bed to the window, fingers pulled the curtain a sliver to the side, drying the droplets from the back of her neck as she peered out over the city. Her city.

 

It was incredible. From the street, her streets, everything was gritty, focused and real. From here, it was like the city never ended, wrapped in the twinkle of a million tiny lights that went on forever. The purple rip in the sky above was mirrored below by a velvet sea of white stars that seemed to wink at her and slowed the towel that dried her temples. She’d lived in the city all her life and had rarely, if ever, seen it from this vantage point. The black market dealer rarely left the comfort zone of her neighborhood.

 

Unsure of how long she stood there marveling at what some wouldn’t glance twice at, silent footsteps found their way back to the bathroom, closing the door. Dried blood was starting to flake off her black cami. Shit. She couldn’t wait any longer or they would be cleaning blood from everything. Turning on the faucets to the shower and waiting for the water to warm, the key was slipped from her pocket and clinked softly on the counter. She peeled off the bloody cami and jeans, putting them into a tight Army roll to minimize the mess and place on the edge of sink next to the key. Stepping in under the heated streams, the world started to wash away, if only for a moment before she would have to open that bag and share the secrets of her trade.

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“I’d offer to help with the stitches, but I have a feeling you’ve done it before.”

 

          “I’ll manage,” Ryan answered with a reassuring smile.  Truth was he knew how to apply stiches, but he still wasn’t proficient at the process.  Despite his countless injuries, it was rare a laceration couldn’t be remedied by superglue or a staple gun; and when those methods weren’t enough, he usually wasn’t in any position to apply the stiches himself anyway.  “Go and get cleaned up, I’ll pour us a drink once you’re out.”

 

Once Rorye was out of sight, the Soldier cupped the water to his face and ran his fingers through his hair.  He repeated the process several times, before turning off the faucet.  Hands were braced against the sink, and Harker allowed his head to hang for a moment.  Having washed his face and hands, the rest of his body somehow felt dirtier.  Looking for an excuse to postpone tending to his leg and with his guest occupying the only bathroom, he decided a whore’s bath was in order.

 

Ryan calmly unbuttoned his black shirt, before sliding it off and setting it aside.  Dimmed lighting revealed a lean and muscled frame.  His physique was not that of a professional body builder, but it had clearly been earned through years of dedicated training.  Each movement of his body traced a series of chiseled grooves along his lightly tanned skin.  Every exhale deepened the lightly sculpted cuts along his lower abdomen. 

 

Perhaps even more distinct than his muscled body, were the tattoos scrolling over his entire torso.  Auburn runes weaved across his chest, back and shoulders in a series of interconnected designs.  Dark brown ink almost embossed from the surface of his skin, like the many scars that also marred the warrior’s flesh. 

 

Harker wiped himself down with a wet dishtowel in the kitchen.  Water in the bathroom had stopped, and he could here the soft touch of Rorye’s feet as she explored his humble home.  He had nothing to hide and he wanted her to be comfortable, but he hoped she didn’t pry too much.  Despite his growing affection toward her, there were some conversations he wasn’t ready to have just yet.

 

When he heard the shower in the bathroom, Ryan decided it was time to gather the clothes he had promised.  After ensuring the thermostat was set to a toasty warmth, he walked to his bedroom.  Mirrored walls opened to reveal a closet and drawers.  He paused to consider an outfit for his company.  He didn’t exactly have woman’s clothing on hand.  Woman liked wearing men’s boxers as shorts, right? 

 

After a short time, an old Army t-shirt and a pair of boxers were selected from his wardrobe.  The tan t-shirt had a design from his time with the Ranger battalion.  On its front, over the heart, was a ranger tab and beneath it was written “LEAD THE WAY.”  Printed on the back of the shirt was a skull wearing a helmet.  Airborne wings spread open behind it, and behind them was a pair of crossed rifles.  Above the skull were the words, “I FEAR NO EVIL,” and below the skull it finished, “FOR I AM THE BADDEST MOTHER FUCKER IN THE VALLEY.”

 

Harker brought the clothes to the bathroom and knocked lightly against the partially open door.  “I brought some clothes,” he said loud enough to be heard over the water.  After announcing himself, he leaned inside and placed the clothes on the counter by the sink.  Sneaking an innocent peek in the mirror as he did so, though he didn’t allow his eyes to linger.  Door was closed behind him and the Soldier returned to the kitchen.  It was time to stop procrastinating… almost.

 

Ryan opened a cabinet above the refrigerator, removed a bottle of bourbon, and two matching whiskey glasses.  The cups were placed on the kitchen table, and healthy serving of Jim Beam “Devil’s Cut” was poured into each of them.  Setting the bottle down, he took a long sip from one of the glasses.  Now, it was time to stop procrastinating.

 

The agent stripped away the remnants of his tattered attire and threw them in the trash.  A first aid kit was fetched from the cupboard below the sink and set out on the table along with everything else.  Harker changed into a fresh pair of boxers and a slim fitting white t-shirt, then seated himself in front of the medical kit.  The boxers were short enough, and loose enough, they didn’t much cover the wound.

 

Carefully, he cleaned the gaping laceration on the outside of his left leg.  Dabbing the bullet wound gently with a damp rag.  Next was the sucky part.  Another sip of bourbon savored as he steeled himself to disinfect the lesion.  Undiluted rubbing alcohol was doused directly on the sundered flesh.  Jaw tightened, fist clenched, and a silent grunt rasped through Ryan’s pursed lips.  Seconds passed.  A deep breath, another gulp of Jim Beam, and he was finally ready to attempt stitching the wound.

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“Go and get cleaned up, I’ll pour us a drink once you’re out.”

 

A drink. She was going to need more than a drink. A shared bottle. Her own bottle?

 

The moments spent merely trying to feel human again blurred together, the pull of the purple swirls and streaks in the sky as she peered outside a moment seemed stronger when she was exhausted. Someday she’d figure that one out. She was not prepared for what caught her attention as she returned to the bathroom. Holy mother of god. Pause was probably longer than it should have been, the scrolling across Harker’s skin nothing like she’d ever seen before. That was no damn pick an “I like crystals” tattoo off a page shit. Head cocked slightly, recognizing some of the symbols, wanting to get a closer look, appreciating the view, but moving back into the bathroom as he seemed to sense her moving around in his space. Ninja, she was not apparently.

 

Scars were an afterthought of reality that bled through the appreciative curiosity. Of course he had scars. He would have scars; the stark reminder of what he did for a living tightening a lump in her throat. This is why she had to break from ARMA. Nothing but pain came from ARMA.

 

Clothing secured on the counter, fingers wiggled under the water a moment before she stepped in and pulled the glass shower door closed. They always amused her, light smile perking where there was gut sadness just moments before. Why the fuck did people have bathroom doors if they were just going to have glass in the shower? Of course her Victorian loft bathroom didn’t even have a door… so touché. She lived alone, she didn’t need a damn door.

 

Forehead almost immediately leaned on the front wall, heated streams peppering the back of her neck and racing down her spine. Head turned to press her angry cheek against the cool tile, fingertip absently touching the fogged glass. The tracer droplet raced toward the floor tile, allowing a thin view into the bathroom. She wasn’t sure why it was so amusing to her. Playful almost, the light knock on the door fluttering her eyelashes back to the present.

  

“I brought some clothes”

 

She reached up and snapped the hair tie from her bun, face to the streams as they washed through the length of locks to unravel it to her mid-back.

 

“Somehow I don’t think you have my size,” comment was gently teasing, but appreciative. “Thanks… I think I might actually feel human again.” ..thanks ARMA? Ryan? John? Harker? Fuck.

 

She didn’t want to over indulge too long in the shower, other than some bruises she was relatively unscathed. He had stitches to attend to, and needed the shower more than she did. Water snapped off, she stepped out and unfolded a towel. Swiping it over her skin quickly, she pulled it around her torso and tucked it in place. Twisting her hair, she squeezed out the water several times and did the same into the towel. One more swipe of the towel across her skin dried it sufficiently enough to put on loaned clothes, quiet laugh amused as she slid the shirt over her head and pulled it down. Not surprised, but entertained just the same. Easy sigh was appreciative of soft, warm and dry clothes… and safety after an insane few hours. She would try to wash hers out after she checked on his progress. Thick locks were easy to finger-comb, pressed again into the towel to remove more moisture, the scent of the t-shirt nice. She’d always appreciated simple clean, the fresh smell of soap on skin.

 

Soft footsteps brought her into the kitchen just as he took another drink, first look at it bringing her brows down. She moved back to the bathroom and retrieved two wash cloths.

 

“My dad owned the local gym, boxers always seemed to need stitches. Hard to give yourself stitches at that angle, I can do it.”

 

She didn’t wait for permission, soaking one washcloth in alcohol, squeezing it out in the kitchen sink and laying it on his opposite knee in case she needed to set anything down. Hands were rubbed with alcohol, needle and thread readied. Small scissors coated with alcohol and put on the washcloth on his knee. She spent some time on the needle, pressing it between thumb and first two fingers to coax it to bend slightly. They worked better curved.

 

Kneeling smoothly to both knees, she glanced up at him, then to her task.

 

“I work quick,” she commented. “Tell me about the sigil tattoos.”

 

Yah… so she’d looked. Couldn’t hide that now, plus it gave him something to talk about.

 

She was definitely fast, having cut the thread to almost perfect length that she needed to reduce the need to pull and drag extra length through the skin. It would need follow up care, more than just an annoying graze. He’d gotten clipped pretty good.

 

“I recognized some of them,” she was intensely focused on her task. When pain started to kick in, muscles and nerves did weird things from adrenaline. There was a small window before involuntary movements would fuck up her stitching. Knotted. Scissors were snatched, clip soft and the washcloth was pressed over the wound.

 

Done.

 

Pressing it there for a moment to quell the angry throb, she replaced it with the dry one and put his hand on it.

 

She stood, cleaned up and put things back in the kit, tipping back a bit of her glass. A quiet moment was taken to look at his eyes again, lifting each lid open gently a bit with her thumb to study each pupil, taking another drink. She was going to need more than one fucking drink if she had to keep checking his eyes. They were distracting. He was distracting.

 

“Head feel okay?” she asked quietly. The concern was real. “You were out for a minute or two.”

 

He wasn’t breathing either, he didn’t need to know that.

 

She pulled out the chair opposite him, one heel up on the edge of the chair and both hands around her glass, an effortless comfort as she watched him a moment. Eyes moved to the bag.

 

“Drink enough yet to want to see what’s inside?”

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“My dad owned the local gym, boxers always seemed to need stitches. Hard to give yourself stitches at that angle, I can do it.”

 

          Ryan’s gaze shifted to Rorye as she entered the room.  The view left him speechless.  Thin dark hair was still damp from the water, and her skin still glistened slightly in the light.  There was something about a woman fresh out of the shower that appealed to him beyond reason.  She stood there barefoot, gorgeous, and oblivious to her own beauty.  Long olive legs made the boxers she wore look shorter than they were, and perhaps sexier than anything was how she wore his shirt.  His shirt.  Two sizes too big, it draped innocently over the woman in a way that was undeniably adorable.

 

          She had caught him unprepared, but Ryan managed to shake the momentary stun.  “Yeah, sure, thanks,” he muttered without argument.  When she knelt beside him, it revealed something else about her.  She was willing to set her pride aside for him.  The gesture meant more to him than she realized.

 

          “I work quick, tell me about the sigil tattoos.”  Her demand was phrased as a question.

 

          “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.”  Ryan quipped, grin spreading from ear to ear.  Oh yeah, he had seen hers as well.

 

          “They’re protective runes, designed to guard against certain types of magic,” he explained.  “Demonic possession, mind control, locator spells, etcetera, etcetera.”

 

          Harker paused for another taste of bourbon.  He wanted to tell her more, but he worried she might not understand.  This kind of magic didn’t come without a price. Taking a moment to refresh both their glasses he added, “basically, they make me invisible and incorruptible… at least by magical means.”  Playful smirk pursed his lips as his aqua blue eyes looked down to her.  He wasn’t sure if she pulled the thread tighter at the comment, or if his knee jerked of its own accord.  Regardless, gritted teeth and a brief wince couldn’t quell his surly smile. 

 

Not wanting to somber the mood, Ryan had refrained from telling her the entire story.  Truth was, the runes were more unique than he cared to admit.  It had taken three of ARMA’s most astute magus more than two days to apply the tattoo wards.  The magic used to brand them upon his flesh had since been banned by ARMA.  They had deemed it’s use on operatives as “cruel” and “inhumane.” 

 

He had no intention of telling Rorye any of that, at least not tonight.  For the moment they were safe and despite the circumstances, he was enjoying her company.

 

“I recognized some of them,” she commented without looking at him.  She was making short work of the stiches, already more than halfway finished.

 

“I’m sure you did,” he teased.  “Your turn. Tell me about the one on your back.”

 

Before long Rorye had finished the task of sewing the wound closed.  A job well done so far as Ryan could tell.  She rose smoothly to her feet.  After a drink from her glass, she closed the distance between.  She doted over him, examining his head and eyes for signs of a concussion.  A question was asked, but it took the agent a moment to register the words she had spoken.  Far too distracted by the proximity between her hips and his own.  Again, she seemed oblivious to the affect she had on him.  Sure, they had been physically close to one another several times throughout the evening, but this was different.

 

“Yeah I’m fine,” Ryan answered finally.  The statement wasn’t entirely true, but he had been through worse and he would live through this.

 

She sat down across from him and they exchanged glances for a moment.  Harker scanned her features, enjoying their delicate nature, but also taking note of the minor abrasions that marred them.  Specifically, the cut on her lip.  He had meant to do something about that earlier, but they hadn’t the time.  He had time now.

 

“Drink enough yet to want to see what’s inside?” Inquiry was made as she eyed the bag on the table.

 

“Almost,” Ryan answered.  “But let’s take a look at that lip first.”

 

A small tin canister was plucked from the first aid kit, not unlike the one he had removed from the trunk of the car earlier that night.  Inside was an ointment crafted by a witch he had encountered during his time in Eastern Europe.  The healing balm was translucent and smelled of herbs and wildflowers.  An incredibly effective medicinal substance, but exceedingly rare and almost impossible to acquire.  Were it not for the fortunate meeting that left the sorceress in his debt, he likely would never had known of its existence. 

 

          “This will tingle a bit, but only for a few seconds,” the Soldier said as he stood.  Stiches held without issue and his leg bared the weight with only mild complaint.  He walked around the table and stopped as close to Rorye as she had been to him.  A finger lifted her chin gingerly so that he could examine her lip more closely.  He dabbed a separate finger into the ointment before applying it carefully to her lip.  Seconds passed, and a moment later the cut had healed entirely.    

 

“There you are,” Ryan’s gaze flitted from her eyes, to her lips, and then back again.  “Perfect.”  He found himself resisting the temptation to kiss her.  Resistance lasted only an instant, as he couldn’t fathom any reason to deny the impulse.  Leaning forward he pressed his lips gently to hers.  The kiss was confident and deliberate.  When it reached its natural conclusion, Ryan didn’t pull away, nor did he offer any apology.  Instead, he touched his forehead to hers.  “Blue devils” searching her almond eyes for a reply.

 

There was still work to be done.  As far as Ryan was concerned it was nothing that couldn’t wait until the morning.  Moments like these had been rare in his lifetime.  He hadn’t felt a connection like this since before the first Resonance.  Every inch of him desired to take advantage of every inch of her, but he restrained himself.  He had made the first move… the next was hers.

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She knew it was there from the beginning, the moment she’d blown out the flame on the incense and the door bell sounded in her shop. Damn smartasses had always been her crux. When a personality bumped into hers that seemed to chime in sync, she could feel it... though over the years since the Resonance, she’d become an expert at ignoring it. Especially over the last year. Stress always brought it back into hard focus, and the need to distance herself from anything and anyone to do with ARMA. It also brought back the fact she was avoiding men in general, for good reason. They always seemed to get hurt.

 

They’d survived the impossible, and the fallout? It was scaring her to death and had been on her mind in the car all the way back. It was thick when she emerged from the shower with intentions to either drink herself to sleep or spend the entire night poring over the books she’d grabbed in the rush at Remy’s. Thick enough to make the light freckling on her cheeks a bit darker from a blush when she felt his attention on her as she managed to pull her shit together and take care of business. You did what was necessary to survive… when the surviving was done you were left with what to do about it. It. The grasp for humanity in the most impossible of situations. It mucked everything up. Blurred the lines. Cracked open levels of trust and emotional intimacy that made one vulnerable, but also ultimately made one human. That stress made people reach for the warmth of other souls because it was human nature. It buzzed in the apartment despite her attempts to calm herself, and it was made worse by the circle back of memories to the first chime of the shop.

 

It made her wonder who he really was.

 

After a moment of getting things ready, she realized she was holding her breath, the slow exhale outward almost imperceptible before asking about his tattoos. She just had to get herself together, get home when she was rested, and rethink all this before she did something incredibly stupid. Or, incredibly... yah.

 

“I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.”

 

“Smartass,” the quip back was just as spirited, so easy. Prickle twinkled up the back of her spine to tickle the nape of her neck. Concentration was on her task, but her peripheral was watching the muscles of his arms move. Men were a work of art, truly; especially those that worked with their hands.

 

“They’re protective runes, designed to guard against certain types of magic, Demonic possession, mind control, locator spells, etcetera, etcetera.”

 

The business side of her mind was intrigued. That was absolutely fascinating, she’d heard of brands, scarification, but never the tattooing made to look like that. It would make sense, symbols could be drawn on anything really, but to make them permanent? She’d caught tales of people etching their bones too, but had never actually met anyone… and how the hell would you prove something like that even if they boasted about it? She’d seen carved skulls, finger bones and femurs were common too, but never anything ever done to the living.

 

“Basically, they make me invisible and incorruptible… at least by magical means.” 

 

Quirked brow glanced up at him then slid back to her work, a half smirk on her lips. Their banter was so easy.

 

“Drink your booze cowboy.”

 

 “Your turn. Tell me about the one on your back.”

 

“It’s just a tattoo,” she answered quietly. “Nothing magical or mystical. Parents were from Scotland, I enjoy Celtic knotwork. Specialty in my shop is the books that study the obscure magic associated with them. It hurt like hell, it’s beautiful and I love it…”

 

She finished up, checking his eyes.

 

“Though sometimes I wish I’d gotten it somewhere else, where I could actually see and enjoy it.”

 

His eyes still looked fine. It had been constantly on her mind since they’d gotten back. If he’d been hit hard enough to knock him out and stop breathing, she didn’t want any surprises.

 

“Yeah I’m fine”

 

Her demeanor wasn’t convinced, the quirk of her lips thoughtful as she sat across from him, unmoving for the first time in hours. The silence was insanely loud. She wanted to see what was in that damn box. Or drink. Or sleep. Maybe in that order.

 

Body language changed slightly when she realized he felt the need to take care of her; it was her turn to be unhappy about it.

 

“But let’s take a look at that lip first.”

 

“It’s fine… really,” she said. “Thought it needed a stitch but it’s stopped. It’s good.”

 

“This will tingle a bit, but only for a few seconds”

 

Insistence she was fine brought her brows down. Shit, she was doing the exact same song and dance that he had. Granted, she didn’t have stitches in her leg so it was really unnecessary. As he neared, she reluctantly sat up in the chair with an annoyed sigh and dropped her foot quietly to the floor, fingers intertwined between her knees when he lifted her chin and dabbed something odd on her lip. Nose crinkled a bit in apprehension. She had a big damn tattoo and she was afraid of the sting from whatever the hell this was. Lashes were low, focused on a point of reference over his head to avoid looking at him. Not this close. They fluttered slightly, lifting finally to look at him as she touched her healed lip.

 

Holy shit. She had to get her hands on this stuff.

 

“There you are”

 

He was really warm.

 

It was the last thought in her head before all hell broke loose from head to toe as he kissed her, a prickled wash of every nerve in her body reminding her it existed. This was a bad idea. Terrible idea, and it screamed through her thoughts.

 

Then, was silent.

 

Eyes opened when his forehead touched hers. Pupils had flushed wide, a pale fear there. Eyes closed again, head shaking softly with her forehead against his. He didn’t know they’d been this close before. How could he have? This time, he was conscious. She stood, arms around his shoulders and fingers sliding up the back of his neck to keep him from retreating.

 

“You stopped breathing…” it was finally confessed. “After the explosion, you weren’t breathing. I thought you died.”

 

Brow furled, pulling back to look at him. And if he had? Strike three for her? The ethos telling her she was cursed? Hands slid forward, both thumbs sliding over his cheeks as she searched for some kind of answer in his eyes that would make it fine. She was not oblivious to his attention, she was afraid of it. Survivor’s guilt. She had always been fearless, gutsy, somewhat impulsive. You only lived once. The events of late had made her second guess. Everything.

 

“I asked you not to.”

 

And he hadn't.

 

Just breathe.

 

His advance was reciprocated, the insanely self-confident, leap-now-and-think-later underground dealer extremely gentle in her kiss. Lingering touch of her lips had the ability to make time seem to pause, sultry eyes blinking slowly. Her healed lip still tingled, reaching to touch it with soft smile as her brow quirked.

 

“Go clean up, left you a few towels” she said quietly, the rum rich tones of her voice barely audible. “Who the hell knows what that explosion dropped on us. We’ll clean and look through all this other stuff in the morning.”

 

Eyes traveled over the pile of weapons and the messenger bag.

 

“We’ll kill the bottle when you’re out and I’ll drink your ass under the table…”

 

She nodded toward the bathroom and pushed him toward it.

 

“Go.”

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Rorye hadn’t pulled away from him, but once the moment passed, she began shaking her head “no.”  Slowly, Ryan pulled away. The universal gesture was easy enough to understand.  So, it surprised him when she stood and held him in place.  Arms draped over his shoulders, fingers slid up the back of his neck, and nails combed blissfully through his hair.  An electric chill seemed to tingle across the man’s scalp, and it was all Ryan could do not to shudder.

 

          “You stopped breathing,” she whispered.  She was so close to him.  Eyes so close to his, her lips so close his.  All he could think about was kissing them again.

 

          “You have that effect on me,” Harker smirked slyly, tip of his nose brushing hers gently.

 

          “After the explosion, you weren’t breathing. I thought you died.” He could hear the fear in her voice.  A moment was spared to reflect on the events that had transpired earlier that evening.  They had been far from Ryan’s mind, but he vaguely recalled the explosion.  It had knocked him out for a few seconds, but losing consciousness was far from death.  In the past, the operative had significantly closer brushes with death, and he would no doubt cross blades with the reaper again in the future.  Tonight, had just been par for the course.  Even if the explosion had killed him… and he could go back and do it over, given the circumstances at the time… he wouldn’t have done anything differently. 

 

          “I’m fine,” Ryan assured her softly.  “It’ll take a hell of a lot more than that to kill me.”

 

          Rorye’s hands slid down to cradle his face, “I asked you not to.”

 

          “I didn’t,” the reply was quick.  By now, his hands had found their way to her hips.  Where they rest, holding her close to him.  Ocean blue eyes met her gaze; confidence within them was resolute.

 

          When she kissed him, Harker almost felt as though his abilities had activated for yet another time that evening.  Almost.  Time stood still, the world faded away, and he wholly savored the reciprocated embrace.  The man was about two seconds from scooping Rorye off her feet and plummeting down the sensual rabbit hole, when she leaned away from him lightly.

 

          “Go clean up, I left you some towels.”  She touched a finger to her sultry lips in a way that made Ryan want to bite his own.  He eyed her with playful suspicion.  Wondering if she was teasing him intentionally, when she added, “Who the hell knows what that explosion dropped on us. We’ll clean and look through all this other stuff in the morning.”  

 

          “Yes, ma’am,” he replied in mocking agreement.  She reminded him; he hadn’t actually showered yet.  If he appreciated a freshly bathed woman, it made sense anyone else might share similar sentiments.

 

          “We’ll kill the bottle when you’re out and I’ll drink your ass under the table…” she challenged with a flirty smile.  A gentle shove took his eyes off her lips and got him started toward the bathroom, “Go.”

 

          “Challenge accepted,” Ryan said over his shoulder as he walked past the kitchen.  “Oh!  And help yourself to anything in the kitchen.  I’ll be out in a minute,” he hollered from the bathroom before closing the door.  Though, he intentionally left it slightly ajar.

 

          Once the door was closed, the Soldier’s smile slowly faded.  Not from any absence of joy, but from his muscles reminding him of their suffering.  He started the hot water, and almost immediately the mirrors began to fog.  A deep breath was taken as he steeled himself for the pain to come.  There was a brief struggle as he removed his shirt and discarded it.  Breath he had been holding was released, and a few seconds later he stepped into the shower.

 

          Water was as hot as Harker could possibly tolerate.  Its warmth soothed his knotted muscles, and the burning sensation against his skin distracted from the pain he felt everywhere else.  An arm was braced against the wall, forehead rest against.  For a short time, he just stood still.  The night, the kiss, and everything else replaying through his mind as the water flowed over him.  Lips pursed tightly as he neared his capacity to endure to the scorching heat, finally bringing him back to the present.

 

          Water was cut off and Ryan stepped out of the shower.  As he dried himself with a fresh towel, he noticed the several scrapes and bruises that marked his body.  Aside from the stitches on his leg, the most notable injury was the bruise over his heart.  Silver thread had stopped the bullet, but evidently not much of its kinetic force.  He would be fine.  Though, he was concerned what Rorye might think if she saw the injuries that accompanied his already vast gallery of scars.  The prospect of putting his shirt back on was not one he enjoyed.  Fortunately, his tattoos camouflaged the bruise and several of his other marks.  They would be difficult to see in the living room’s present lighting, absent close inspection or someone turning the lights back up. 

 

Ryan walked out of the bathroom wearing only his boxers and a towel around his neck.  Eyes scanned the room for his Scottish Valkyrie, “So how about that drink?”

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“You have that effect on me”

 

Eyes closed gently, soaking in the innocent brush on the tip of her nose, unsure why such a simple thing could completely disarm her ever-present fray. Being invincible and calm about it was draining. He’d managed to defuse even that. She refused to believe this was anything other than a fluke brought on by pressure, adrenaline, fear, risk… the need for something other than pain.

 

His claim of being hard to kill pulled a small, frustrated sigh from her. What if she’d not been there, implications of her thought process unwelcome at this exact moment. She couldn’t seem to shake the guilt no matter what she did.

 

“I didn’t”

 

No, he hadn’t.

 

This time. The other shoe would drop eventually; it was too good to be real.

 

The kiss felt real enough, eyes searching azure for a reason to stop this before it went further. She could find none, so of course she didn’t trust it, and of course she didn’t act more on it.

 

Suggestion he take his turn in the shower was twofold.  They didn’t know what exactly the explosion had dropped on them; it was responsible and logical. Plus, his leg needed the rest of him to be clean so it didn’t get worse. It would need more after care than just slapping a bandage on it. The arcane dealer also needed time, a moment to process why this had become so tranquil while moving faster than she could ever imagine. It felt selfish and full of betrayal, knowing in her logical mind it wasn’t; still feeling like shit about it nonetheless.

 

“Yes, ma’am”

 

Features smiled, the expression gentle as she laughed slightly. When had she last laughed so much in one evening? She couldn’t remember. He was… well, captivating.

 

“Challenge accepted, Oh!  And help yourself to anything in the kitchen.  I’ll be out in a minute,”

 

Smile was bright after him, waiting until the first lively splash of water on the shower floor signaled he was occupied before she sank back to the chair, forearms on her knees. Fingers intertwined together several times impatiently, the expression fading as she stared toward the partially open door. Fidgeting, looking over the piled items on the table. The bottle. Okay. Away from the temptation of the things on the table. Glasses were picked up along with the bottle, face scrunching to scold herself after she looked at the bedroom door. Living room it was. Everything clinked on the coffee table and she sat on the couch, the same fidgeting. Glasses poured. She wasn’t hungry. So… waiting. Eyes glanced once more toward the bathroom door.

 

Aw fuck it.

 

Footsteps were quick toward the bathroom door, reaching to push it open, retreating at the last moment to turn on the ball of her foot and walk away just as hastily. Arms crossed and stride took her to it again, palm emerging with intent to open it. Nope. Hand rifled through her damp hair instead. Pacing with light footfalls betrayed her indecision, muddled by too many tangled thoughts and wants to straighten out in the time she was given. Time. That fucking word again. Air was drawn into her lungs in a large sigh, forcing her feet to stop moving. She touched the door lightly, intent to push it open… and do what exactly? Fingers remained there even as the water turned off. Gaze focused on the sliver of light that crept out from under the door.

 

Stay afraid, but do it anyway.

 

She didn’t retreat at first, listening to the movement inside and then deciding to go retrieve a blanket. Fuck! The darkness of his bedroom was welcomed, cooling the heat on her cheeks. There had been a blanket on the foot of his bed; she would need it to sleep on the couch. Acquired and tossed on the couch, she returned to the bathroom to wait patiently outside, leaning on the wall with her shoulder. All that busy work, for nothing. Well, not for nothing. It helped her think.

 

Door opened, and he emerged. She was holding her breath, no shirt. Fucking hell.

 

 “So how about that drink?”

 

“Poured,” she said quietly from behind him. “Wait a minute.”

 

She wanted a chance to at least look at the arcane symbols before they were hidden away again, lifting the towel before sliding it off completely. Check of the stitches was the responsible thing to do, pressing the towel there a moment before turning her attention back to him. Glance asked quiet permission to touch the sigils, really not waiting as fingers explored them. They felt like braille. Hers did that sometimes after a hot shower or a lot of sun, but never like this. Both hands traced the skin as she tried to read what was there, fingers lingering on a scar.

 

Fear and guilt were skittering in her stomach, screeching her thoughts to a halt. Yet again. Dammit. Fuck this! She leaned up without warning, hands still on his chest, and kissed him anyway. Not just an innocent caress, unhurried and deep, intent unquestionable. Breath a bit too fast, soft smile was delivered through half lowered lids, lips brushing his again as her hands slid up and around his shoulders. The ball was in his court.

 

***Before Dawn***

 

A rhythmic pulse welcomed her back to consciousness; it had been there for some time as she’d hovered in the time between times, the place where dreams touched a vague reality to tangle into something surreal. Soft sigh finally stirred, fingers of her right hand flexing on cool and soft sheets, dark lashes opening slightly. Left hand was warm next to her face, cheek resting on skin that rose and fell methodically. Every time he exhaled, muscle on his stomach would softly flicker to life and relax again. Lips pressed softly into a smile, men were stunning, shifting her gaze upward to watch him a moment. A short lock of hair on his temple that had dried in a mussed position teased at her to tame it. She left it alone, it was perfect.

 

Mind was beginning to shake the heaviness of sleep.

 

She was not on the couch, the intended place for her to end up for the night left empty. Instead, his massive bed was occupied by a tangle of blankets and their sleeping, exhausted and battle bruised, but tranquil presence. Kneejerk reaction was to freak out as she realized what they’d done. Of all the stupid, irresponsible… she fought the urge to toss the covers off, grab her things and leave. Panic was quelled, eyes closing to take a calming breath. She’d made a decision and she was fine with it, the stillness settling again in her thoughts. She'd decided.

 

Eyes finally opened completely to silent darkness that held the glow of early morning, it was palpable. A growing luminosity from the sky still suppressed by the heaviness of night, it felt ethereal. She carefully untangled herself, hair smoothed over her shoulder, wrapping herself loosely in a sheet and padded toward the window to peer out. Snow flittered down from a cloudless sky, soft burn of pale gold on the horizon trying to lift the veil of darkness, lights of the city still twinkling.

 

It was a selfish moment, personal and quiet, letting the curtain fall back into place before sliding back into bed and retaking her position, stealing a quick kiss on sleeping lips before settling back in and closing her eyes. Just a few more minutes before the heaviness of the world was allowed to rest on her shoulders again. Maybe more than a few.

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“Poured,” Ryan heard the words over his shoulder.  Seemingly unsurprised, he calmly turned to face her.  Azure hues beholding every inch of her body.  He made no attempt to conceal his mischievous stare.  She was beautiful.  “Wait a minute,” she said, closing the gap between.

 

Rorye removed his towel and tossed it aside without a second thought.  Her eyes scanned his chest before glancing back up at him.  He gave a permissive nod, but said nothing as she explored his body.  When her fingers began to trace his scars, he felt slightly self-conscious.  Of course, he was proud of most of them.  Each had been earned through righteous battle, and he had lived to tell the tale.  On the other hand, scars often weren’t as clean and sexy as portrayed on television.  Especially not the newer ones.  Those blemishes were typically still red and angry, despite having been healed for several months.  Ryan had scars both new and old.

 

When she leaned in and kissed him, all insecurity melted away.  Her hands glided across his chest and smoothly over his shoulders.  A sheepish smile came to her lips and eyes batted lightly as she gazed up at him.  She was breathing quickly, as if she had been holding her breath.  Ryan’s heart had skipped a beat, but now pounded rapidly against his chest.  Fucking game on.

 

Ryan acted on desires he had previously denied himself.  Strong hands gripped her firmly at the waist and pulled her close.  Lips were pressed to hers gently at first, but then more forcefully as the passion between them mounted.  She leaned into his embrace with equal measure, and the evening’s direction became abundantly clear.

 

Ryan’s hands slid down the back of her thighs and he lifted her from the ground in an effortless motion.  Wrapping her legs around his middle, he pinned her to the wall across the hall from the bathroom.  He hadn’t slammed her against its surface, but he hadn’t been gentle either.

 

Rorye’s heel clipped his leg just above his stitches, and he hissed at the unexpected pain.  Concern flashed across her features, but before she could muster any words, he silenced her with another zealous kiss.  Yes, his stitches seared angrily at the abuse.  And yes, the muscles along his back protested at their exertion.  He didn’t care.  The pain brought them both closer to satisfaction… which meant it only added to his pleasure. 

 

Ryan pried her from the wall and made his way toward the bedroom.  The couple pinballed down the hallway, stopping several times along the way.  Her fingers combing through his hair and clawing recklessly at his back.  While his lips nibbled ravenously at her neck, searching for all the little places that might make her squeal.  Their breathing was heavy, both were panting before they had even crossed room’s threshold.  Ryan kicked the door shut behind them and wasted no time getting Rorye into his bed.

 

------ The Next Morning ------

 

Ryan remembered laying down with Rorye in his arms, and nothing else until he woke the next morning.  Dreams had been peaceful, if he’d had any at all.  A refreshing change from the scenes that typically haunted him at night.  Despite the rigorous tasks of the previous day, he woke feeling rested. 

 

The scent of fresh coffee teased at his nose, stirring him from his sleep.  Arms stretched wide across the bed.  Back arched slightly and the mornings growl escaped him with a heavy sigh.  Eyes blinked away the darkness, then looked around the room.  Realization he hadn’t gone to bed alone finally settled.  The soft patter of a woman’s footsteps could be heard somewhere down the hall.

 

Ryan slid another of his pistols back into its rightful place beneath his pillow.  Not surprisingly, it had found its way into his hand whilst he slept.  Sitting up slowly, the agent swung his legs over the side of the bed.  Opening the top drawer of his nightstand, he reached inside and grasped several half-empty prescription bottles.  Ibuprofen, muscle relaxers, and anti-biotics were swallowed without any chaser; part of a regularly practiced ritual.

 

 Bottles were thrown carelessly back into the drawer.  Harker had been ready to slam the drawer shut, when his eyes caught a glimpse of familiar faces staring back at him.  Hand lowered into the drawer for a second time, this time withdrawing a simple black picture frame.  Pained smile tugged at his lips as he gazed fondly at the old photograph.  Rational thought told him enough time had passed.  Told him it was okay to move on.  Still, he couldn’t help feeling somewhat guilty for the moment of happiness Rorye had brought him the night before.  Picture was placed carefully back into the drawer, and he closed the compartment.

 

After a moment of searching, Ryan found his boxers and slid them on.  Pulling a shirt over his head, he walked to his closet mirror and gave himself a quick once over.  No crusted drool, no unsightly boogers, or anything of the like were found.  He ran a hand quickly through his hair and then proceeded into the living room. 

 

A glance at his watch told him it was already almost 1000 hours.  A late start to the day, but the rest had been well deserved.  When he found Rorye, he looked to her with warm smile, “Good morning, gorgeous.”

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There was something in the dark, breathing across her skin with a gentle breeze. Tired eyes opened enough to lazily blink, the blur of lashes making the world dull at the edges. In the city, dark was never dark, and night still flickered with enough light to see when one’s eyes adjusted. The room filtered in gray hues, corners clearly visible, walls, ceiling, curtains and shadows. Beyond the window, dawn soon.

 

Her hand was cold.

 

Sliding it from Ryan’s chest and pulling her other beneath her, she pushed herself up quietly, waterfall of mahogany waves whispering against the blankets in a cascade. Leaning there on one arm, blanket was held against her chest, watching the room in silence. She could hear herself breathe, the blanket rustling with the rise and fall, the quiet almost… alive.

 

Something had been moving in the room. Sliding off the foot of the bed silently, she retrieved her shirt and pulled it over her head, opening the bedroom door to peer out into the apartment. A step out, and the air was the same. Bathroom light had burned all night, kitchen on, glasses on the coffee table still anticipating being consumed. Front door locked.

 

The bag on the table, was that it?

 

Shit.

 

Maybe?

 

Her feet were cold, the air over the floor muffled and cool. Fingers were freezing, clasping them together to her lips to attempt to blow a quiet breath and warm them up, looking at the ring on her hand.

 

The ring.

 

She rubbed it absently, warming it up. It’d never done that before.

 

His wards. Was it reacting to his wards?

 

Wanting so much to test her theory, she really didn’t think it was a good idea. That was something he needed to be awake for. The key was an alternative. It was still in the bathroom.

 

The coin. The key. A conversation that had brought so much to light over a year ago. The magus at Remy’s. Someone knew something she didn’t. Seeing Cass’ face when she touched the odd coin wasn’t a fluke. It was connected somehow. Her hand had spent probably hours near Harker’s warded tattoos, and something had stirred. Irritated perhaps, attracted? Curious?

 

It was where she left it, innocuous without the incantation to set it as a catastrophic lock. She knew where to find the words, one of the books on the table had all sorts of fun in it. She’d gotten this thing for Remy, one of her first prized finds in the black market world. Now it was a big fucking experiment, picking it up. She hesitated. This wasn’t a good idea. Of course, she had the run on risky ideas in the last twenty four hours, what was one more? Key in her palm, she closed her hand around it. Heel of her free hand came instantly to her forehead, the sound chimed in her ears like a bell as the two pieces of metal came in contact. Flash seared through the front of her skull, hand slapping over her mouth to keep from crying out... don’t let go of it. Eyes crushed shut, sensation dizzying as colors moved faster in her mind’s eye. The flash again, it was the explosion, followed by too much stimuli to hold on for much longer. Faces. Voices, releasing it the moment she saw her own face. Not now, not yesterday but years ago.

 

Explosive breath released, she held it at eye level, quick footsteps taking it to the kitchen table and putting it there. Hand was shaken out, the sensation like she’d smashed her fingers.

 

Now she knew.

 

The conversation she’d had over a year ago that they thought yielded nothing, had brought shit down on her doorstep. She could see who held the item. No, not her. HER.

 

She needed to think, she could think when she worked, pawing through her coat pocket to pull out her cell phone. Nose crinkled, grime on her fingers from the leather. Damn it. Scrolling through the names and numbers as she washed off her hand, she set to work. Mass cleaning was nothing new to her, she worked quickly in the morning. It was her job after all.

 

But, she was also half dressed.

 

Phone in hand, thumb beeped the intended call off, extremely quiet as she retrieved her boxers from the darkness of the bedroom.

 

“Ryan…?” she said softly.

 

What she really wanted to do was slide back under the covers and wake him up her own way… when there was no response, lip was chewed a moment, no effort to suppress the burn on her cheeks from mischievous thoughts.  She HAD to make a lot of sensitive calls, after what had happened last night there was no way around it. She would have to use the time she had while he was asleep. Yes, he was ARMA. Yes, she should be sharing this information. No, she wasn’t going to. The workings of things that ran under the surface of the known had a huge fucking hole blown into it the night before. If she didn’t rebuild the “roads”, the flow of items would be disrupted, and she would lose track of the directions items were moving. If the market flow collapsed, it was chaos. Chaos made it easy for those that wanted things they weren’t supposed to have to get them. They trusted her. They didn't know him. Maybe with time, but now wasn't it.

 

She was about to become the major hub because it was necessary.

 

Short work was made of the basics as the phone pressed to her ear with her shoulder. Hell, she could put out an entire stock of books while making calls. Clothes rinsed out, towels corralled. He had to have something around for laundry; no way he did what he did without having a way to clean things up. The mirrors had made her suspicious; she was a master at places to store things. There had to be some kind of something behind some of them but she wasn’t going to go about prying at them. Coffee. Blanket folded on the couch. Glasses and bottle picked up and on the counter. Food started. Leather and weapons cleaned and hung up. She even attempted to untangle his gear the best she could. People could be very particular about their weapons, so she left them laid out on the coffee table to clean and reset as he saw fit. She had been pulling her hair back the entire time, rarely wearing it down. There had been a hair tie around somewhere, lost somewhere in the bathroom, spending a few moments retracing her steps without success. Oh well. Nina had been called; there was no suspicion of anything. It wasn’t unusual for the arcane dealer to be out at a moment’s notice. The other calls weren’t so positive, in full business mode. All that was left was to finish food.

 

“Runners are early.”

 

Piece of bacon was popped between her teeth as she made short work of everything on the stovetop. She owned a café of sorts after all…

 

“Didn’t you hear what I just said? It’s early because a stop is missing. Remy’s is off the map.”

 

Expression darkened as she listened to the other caller.

 

“Yah, he’s gone, I understand that Chris. I’m taking that risk.”

 

Brows again furled, she shifted the phone to her other ear, pouring coffee.

 

“No, I’m taking point. Why? Because they fucking tortured him. You check in with me every week. Yes, that’s what I’ve told everyone. You get something you think is hot, you call me. If you can get it to me safely I will hold it for you. Do NOT accept or take anything from new clients that you haven’t vetted with me. Why? Did you hear what I just told you? Remy, is gone. His place… it’s gone.”

 

She left the stove for a moment, opening the fridge and disappearing behind the door to search for something.

 

“He gave me up. Yah, I know… I didn’t believe it either. These guys are no joke, that’s why you need to check in with me. Okay. Bye. Chris... be careful.”

 

“Good morning, gorgeous.”

 

She froze a moment, peering up over the refrigerator door, brushing a lock of hair from her eyes. He'd startled her but, Jesus Christ, just looking at him did things to her… blush was immediate as she closed the door, cutting the call with a beep and tossing the phone on the counter.

 

“Running a business is never a vacation,” she smiled, the excuse true but vague. “Coffee? It’s on the house.”

 

She’d caught the throwback to the night before when he’d walked into her shop.

 

“I let you sleep, you needed it.”

 

She’d gone back to finishing breakfast at the stove-top, tucking a lock behind her ear. The tips of her ears were burning too. God damn it.

 

“I didn’t know what you liked, so I made a little of everything.”

Edited by Rorye Shannon-Kearney
Typo and clarification
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Ryan had overheard most of Rorye’s phone conversation.  He had not intended to eavesdrop, but when he heard whispered words, surveillance habits took over almost instinctively.  He wasn’t sure what kind of relationship would exist between them moving forward, but he was certain he didn’t want it to include lies, deception, and counter surveillance.  As soon as he be consciously aware of his intelligence gathering, he pushed himself into the living room and made his presence known.

 

          “Running a business is never a vacation,” Rorye answered.  The statement was undeniably vague, but not a mistruth.  “Coffee, it’s on the house?”

 

          “Why thank you,” Ryan replied with a chuckle.  He had caught her throwback to the previous night as well.  Funnier now that it was his coffee she offered.  “You’re so generous.”

 

          “I let you sleep, you needed it.”  She said turning back to the stove.  She was making breakfast; that earned her an extra point.

 

          “After last night, I definitely needed it.”  He replied with mischievous grin, allowing the double meaning to linger in ambiguity.  Hands rest on his hips as the scanned the apartment.  Several items were still out of place, but it was significantly cleaner than they had left it the night before.  Another point.  “Looks like you’ve been busy this morning.”

 

          Harker’s professional side wanted to move straight into business.  Assess the items recovered from the hideout, inquire about the business calls, and develop a plan of action.  However, this side of him was handedly overpowered by the human side of him.  The part of the ARMA agent that made him “Ryan” beneath everything else.

 

          Rorye was a sight to behold, as she stood nonchalantly in the kitchen.  Ryan ogled her without any attempt to veil his scrutiny.  Casually, he walked up behind her.  Muscled arms slid around her slender frame, and his chest pressed gently against her back.  Nose brushed the back of her neck as he breathed in her scent.  God, how he loved that smell.  Lips rose to the back of her ear, tickling her gently as he whispered, “Do you have any idea how sexy you look right now?”

 

“I didn’t know what you liked, so I made a little of everything.”  She said, he could feel her smile, even without seeing her face.

 

“Oh, you know exactly what I like.”  Ryan said with a playful nibble at her earlobe.  He was pouring the sensual cheese on thick, but clearly enjoying every flirtatious second.  He plucked the morsel of bacon she’d been munching, then reached over her shoulder to grab the coffee cup she’d been drinking from.  There were two coffee cups on the counter, but he intentionally avoided the fresh cup sitting right beside hers.

 

Harker walked to the kitchen table and took a seat.  Satisfied grin as he gazed back at Rorye.  Bacon bit was tossed into his mouth and washed down with a warm gulp of coffee.  “Breakfast smells amazing,” he said honestly.  A mental picture of her was taken in that moment; one he would recall fondly for years to come. 

 

Ryan would have enjoyed nothing more, than to take the day and explore the growing connection him and Rorye.  Unfortunately, the couple faced grave danger and powerful enemies.  Addressing these issues could only be avoided for so long.  Begrudgingly, he began to shift the conversation. 

 

“So, after we eat, I’m thinking we should sit down and inventory the items collected from the warehouse.”  Another sip of coffee before he continued, “After we see what we’ve got, I will go and check on your shop.  I can grab you some clothes from your place, while you research Remy’s artifacts and warn your contacts.  When I get back, we can come up with a game plan.  What do you think?”

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