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Love And War

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Beth was back to her normal life. Sort of. She'd been out of the hospital for a month now, and her wound was finishing healing. She'd come back home unsure of what she wanted to do with her life from now on. She had to admit that ruling Rio's kingdom had never been a realistic option. She'd destroyed it anyway, and she wasn't even sure she wanted to keep walking on that path of crime without him. Took all the fun away from it. She'd gone back to legit, living on the dealership and the bakery business incomes. It wasn't as much as she made when she washed cash, but it was okay. Ruby had done an amazing job at upscaling the bakery thing. The production had been relocated from Beth's kitchen to a dedicated factory and she had had to hire three people full-time to follow the increase of the orders. Ruby had quit her job at the donut place as soon as she had made enough money with the bakery and she was now managing the whole thing. Beth was still in charge of negotiating the deals with distributors and suppliers. Whether the business was legit or not, at least that was something she was still good at.

She hadn't seen Turner since the day she'd handed him Rio on a silver plate, and she assumed he was still after his big fish, but she knew he'd eventually come back for her. The guy was like a dog after a bone. So she cleaned up her house from any crime-related stuff, just in case, and except for keeping a storage unit of her own full of fake cash there was no reason Turner knew about, she'd gotten rid of everything. Well, almost everything. The delicate Jeff situation under the flowerbed was still a serious potential threat, until one night when Annie and Ruby had shown up unexpected at her house, wearing black waterproof jumpsuits and surgical masks.

"Nooooo... You're not—" Beth had started but Annie had cut her off.

"Oh yeah, we are! It's time for you to get off that hook."

"Girls, you really don't have to... Give me at least a minute to get changed and—"

"No. You sit and heal." Ruby had interrupted.

Beth knew why they were doing this. Since she had come back home, they had been taking care of her, trying to cheer her up and help her as much as they could to overcome her sadness. Which was turning into a depression. More precisely, she felt like she was mourning. Someone who wasn't even dead, but did that matter? The result was the same, he was out of her life, and even if she only wished him to be happy and safe, her heart couldn't help but crush whenever she pictured him living somewhere else, back into some new business, maybe seeing someone else, and... No, that was still too painful, and then she had to stop thinking about it before she turned into a total mess. She couldn't even come up with some lame point-scoring of who started what to make her feel better. They both had actively participated in the destruction of whatever they had. Except that this whatever-they-had had turned out to be her reason for a living, but unfortunately, she was too late to acknowledge that.

Anyway, Jeff's exhumation had been a nightmare judging from the look on the girls faces when they had come back from wherever they'd gotten rid of the remains of the body. They had not wanted to tell her where they had been and they each had spent half an hour under the shower before Beth had silently hugged them with tears falling from her eyes.

"I love you girls." she had finally whispered.

This helped reducing the threat from Turner, but there was still Harry. She didn't even know if he'd ever come back but there was a possibility he'd eventually want to finish what he had started. The guy acted like a freaking psycho anyway, even though she still didn't know why he had wanted to kill her in the first place. She had been wondering a lot about that during her convalescence time. Harry's sudden come back right after she gave Rio away, as if he knew about it, and Rio showing up just on time while he was supposed to be saving his ass out of town? It couldn't be a coincidence. There was something really shady underneath all of this but she couldn't figure out what it was. And she wasn't even sure she wanted to. She didn't want to eventually find out that Rio had had something to do with all of this, because if he turned out to be in business with Harry, then it would mean he was involved in what had happened at Harry's house, and she knew that was an idea she couldn't cope with. In the ocean of horrors Rio and her had both inflicted to each other, she saw his hug back then as the only island of peace she was sure of, the only thing that had happened between them that was pure and deprived of any kind of dark hidden motive. And she needed that island to exist, to remind herself that something had existed between them, something real that they then hideously disguised under layers of hurt, anger, hatred and betrayal, until they blew it away.

She had thought about trying to contact him. She would often scroll along her contact list and freeze in front of his old number, willing to send something, anything. 'Hi' would even have done the job, even though 'Thank you' seemed more appropriate. But she'd never find the strength to press 'send'. She didn't know if he still received these, and she was fully aware that the second she'd send a message, she'd spend every instant waiting for an answer. She wasn't sure she could handle the disappointment of not getting one so she preferred saving herself the trouble and not sending anything. Maybe in a couple of months, when she'd feel better. But not right now.

Anyway, living with Harry's silent threat hanging above her head wasn't easy so she was considering moving out and starting a new life far away from Detroit, assuming he wouldn't be obsessive enough to follow her in such eventuality. The guy had a gang to manage here, right? She could sell her shares in the dealership to Dean and go, the profits weren't really worth it anyway. But what about Ruby and Annie? She couldn't leave them. Well, she had at least until the end of the school year to think about it. But getting rid of the dealership was actually not a bad idea, she'd have to talk to Dean about this.

Dean... They had finally signed the divorce papers. After coming out of the hospital and discovering that he didn't even know she had been shot, as Annie had just told him she was away because of a work thing for a couple of weeks, she had more than ever seen him as a stranger. She hadn't even wanted to clarify this up for him when he'd noticed her bandage, feeling that they were living in two different worlds. And since she was cleaning up her house, she had decided to clean up her life too. The girls had wanted to celebrate, but she had not been in the mood, not that very evening at least. She'd felt she had to say goodbye to a part of her life and a part of her that she wasn't anymore, even though she wasn't really sure of who she was right now. And to be honest, she knew who she'd truly wanted to spend that night with, celebrating. But it wasn't an option, so she'd spent her first night as a divorcee alone in the dark of her living room with a glass of bourbon, meditating about how she had ended up here. And she hadn't managed to figure out any useful answer so far.

 

Life had been tough on him lately, especially since the day of the shutdown. When Rio has seen the tension on Dr. Jackson's face as he was saying that Elizabeth had lost too much blood for him to safely operate on her, when he'd understood he was about to lose her again, for good this time, he had wordlessly rolled up his sleeve.

"Type O negative." he'd said. "I'm clean. Just take whatever she needs."

He already had had to live once in a world where she was supposedly gone, and he wasn't ready to get back there. And while his left hand was playing with the little rubber ball that stimulated his blood pressure, he had been watching her face, so pale in her induced sleep, and his right hand had gently brushed away some hair on her temple before his fingertips had softly mapped the lines of her face, his hand telling the things his mouth wasn't ready to acknowledge yet.

He'd had to leave as soon as they had finished transfusing her. He'd wished he could stay, make sure she would be okay, but he'd already stayed in Detroit too long for his own safety, so he'd left, barely exchanging a few words with Elizabeth's sister when he had come across her.

He'd spent some time in California, he knew a guy there who owed him one and that was far enough from Turner's grip to provide a sense of security. He'd been in touch with Dr. Jackson though, who had kept him informed on her health condition. He knew she was okay, and maybe he shouldn't have worried that much. Dr. Jackson was a good one who knew his job. He'd already saved the lives of countless members of his crew, including himself as he'd been the one in charge of his recovery after she shot him in the chest. Once he'd known for sure that she would be fine, Rio had tried to clear his mind, think about something else.

Marcus'd been visiting for a week and they'd had a great time together. Not having to worry about work stuff and just enjoying father-son time with the little boy had really lifted up his mood. And he had not thought nor wondered about her the whole time. Until the last day. The kid was all about this new girl from his school that he liked, Amy, and Rio was smiling at the cuteness and genuine innocence that only kids under ten years old can demonstrate, when Marcus had suddenly asked him, "Do you have an Amy of yours, Daddy?"

He hated how the kid sensed stuff sometimes.

He had shaken his head, suddenly overwhelmed by an intense sadness, "Nah, not really."

He had wondered what she was up to. What she was doing right now. On his way to California he had brought his old phone with him, unsure of the reason why he did it. Sometimes he hoped he'd hear it buzz, that she would try to get in touch, but it always remained silent.

Rio had left Detroit for four weeks when Marcus flew back to his mom's, and he decided it was time to get his mind back in business and pull a few strings, call back members of his former crew. Despite what he managed to save after the shutdown, he had to rebuild his business almost from scratch and the crucial point was from where. He tried to assess his future business opportunities. Coming back to Detroit would be dangerous, since Turner was still after him, but it was also the easiest solution as he already knew everyone in the game back there. Maybe he could go to Canada instead, start a partnership with Big Mike, nothing huge at first, feel the wind before expanding? He had a few contacts there too, might be worth a try. Wouldn't be too far from Marcus either. SoCal offered good work opportunities, but he didn't want to settle down so far away from his son. And maybe he was also seeking for an excuse to see her again or at least stalk her a little, just check on her once in a while. But he wasn't excited by any of these possibilities. Something was missing. And it took him a week to come up with an idea that might actually bring him everything he craved. The only problem was, it didn't depend on him for it to happen.

 

Beth was diving for the third time in one of her bakery supplier's invoice. The numbers couldn't be that high, the guy had to be gouging her somehow, but she couldn't figure out how he was doing it. She sighed. Since she'd become a businesswoman, she had realized that men always tried to rip her off whenever she had to set a deal. But the good thing was that they never tried twice, because her reaction was... well, scary would have been a polite way to qualify it. She'd become very good at background checks, and she made sure she always had good blackmailing material before she started a negotiation. She'd need to have a little talk with this guy, make sure he wouldn't do it again.

She suddenly raised her head at a soft knock on her front door. She frowned, wondering who could come at this time of the day. Maybe one of her neighbors? She opened the door and she had to pinch the back of her hand to make sure this was for real.

Rio.

He looked good. His skin was more tanned than his usual, highlighting his neck tattoo and for an instant she forgot how to breathe. She searched her mind for something to say, but what do you say to someone who saved your life while you destroyed his and shows up unexpected at your front door after almost six weeks of complete silence? 'Hi' seemed a little under the expectations. His expression was neutral and she didn't even know if he'd come with good or bad intentions.

She swallowed before she finally said, "You knocked."

That made sense, at least. He never knocked.

He smiled, "Thought it was a good time for a fresh start."

For some reason, that was the scariest thing she'd ever heard him say to her, as a fresh start with him could mean anything, but she let him in. Seeing him here, after she thought she'd never see him again was... weird. She didn't know what to say. There was so much she wanted to tell him, but she didn't know where to begin with, and nothing seemed relevant. And she could tell that there was something different in his attitude too but she couldn't flag what it was.

"Where have you been?" she asked, trying to sound casual.

"Oh I had to leave town for a while, clean up my house, keep a low profile, you know... Stay away from shit."

He didn't look directly at her while he talked. He just briefly glanced at her once in a while, but he kept walking, examining the walls just like he had examined her stove backsplash the first time they had met.

"You look good." she tried again.

"Oh, yeah, been in SoCal for a while, sun's good for my complexion."

She cursed herself for giving him such crappy small talk while she'd been praying countless times that this moment would happen. There was an elephant in the room and they kept exchanging trivialities. He was still almost turning his back at her and she could tell he was in as much discomfort as she was, and the growing awkwardness between them made her feel sick. She realized that the last time she had spoken to him was when she had thrown his keys at him before wishing him to die in a car accident, and that he had endangered his life to save hers the very next day. That wasn't really helpful to start a new conversation.

"Rio, I'm so sorry—"

He chuckled and cut her, "Naaaaaah, you ain't, ma. You did what you had to do. Good thing I have a safety net, huh?"

"What do you mean?"

He finally turned around to face her, and she saw his eyes reflecting the same awkwardness she felt. Something was broken in the mechanics of their interaction and she shivered. She'd been ready to expect anything but that.

"Oh you think you're the first one to try to take me down? That's so cute, sweetheart!" he chuckled. "Rule number one: always have a back-up plan. And a back-up plan to the back-up plan when you start messin' up with crazy bitches."

That was the kind of thing he usually said to piss her off, and suddenly she framed what was different about him. He wasn't playing with her this time, he didn't speak with that teasing, ironic tone he would normally use. He was making a blank statement, and that emotional distance frightened her. It felt like their old back and forth game was gone, and so was the tension between them, leaving them strangers to each other. She didn't know who he was. She didn't know who she was. And that feeling was painful.

"Are you here to hurt me?" she asked.

And maybe she hoped he'd say yes, at least it'd make her feel something around him, anything but this aching emptiness in her stomach as she laid eyes on him.

He shrugged, "Depends on you, darlin'."

Even his pet names sounded wrong and forced. They never had before, and she felt the inside of her chest turning to ice cold at the thought. But then it hit her that he had not ruled out the idea of hurting her. And although the prospect of being crushed, again, under his revenge was somehow appealing, she knew she had to break from that vicious circle.

"Rio, we have to stop this!"

And by 'this', she didn't know if she meant their war, this horny angry tango they'd been dancing for way too long, or that awfully out of tune music they were playing together right now.

"I couldn't agree more." he replied with a smirk, and his latent irony, along with the frustration of not being able to recognize what they were anymore irritated her.

"It's not funny, Rio! This is madness. I almost died!"

He grinned, "Wish you realized that when I almost died." he couldn't help but reply.

She gazed down and bit her lips. He was right, that was selfish from her and she felt suddenly awful. She looked back at him and he peered at her for a few seconds before he cocked one eyebrow. He knew he had made his point crystal clear.

"So, war's over?"

"War's over." she nodded, feeling defeated. There was another pause before she asked, "Where does this leave us then?"

And that question was literally stealing her breath. If that magnetic attraction that had gotten them to dive into this crazy and exhausting push and pull game was gone, if the tension that sparkled between them every time they came closer had vanished, where did they stand indeed?

She could tell he was wondering the same thing as he replied, "I dunno."

She walked at him until she was close enough to feel his breath on her face, trying to sense his presence, focusing on the memories of how it was supposed to feel like, but the magnetic rollercoaster seemed to be out of order and she fought her tears back.

"What did you come here for?" she asked as she met his eyes.

He gave her a sad and distraught look. He didn't even try to brush her hair away from her face, knowing it wouldn't feel anything but wrong.

"Not this." he breathed, and she knew he was as lost as she was.

They both stared at each other, defeated, and she thought that maybe she'd only imagined she loved him, maybe their attraction was only induced by the sparkles of danger and power play and that they were nothing without that.

"Fuck!" she let out in a whining moan.

She told herself there was only one way to know for sure. She lifted her head forward and kissed him out of the blue, feeling achingly wrong. He kissed her back, though, and the kiss was... Well to be honest it was technically perfect and she couldn't think about anything bad with it, it wasn't like he was using too much tongue or anything. But it didn't feel inhabited, it wasn't them, and she roughly pulled away from him.

"Who are you?" she asked, out of breathe, tears falling down her cheeks. "Why did you knock at my door? Why did you come back? Why aren't you torturing me and playing with me like you always do? Why does all of this feel so wrong?"

He hadn't moved after she broke the kiss, and he stayed there, carefully watching her as she was letting her frustration out.

"It's gone, isn't it?" she finally said with a little desperate voice, jumping to the conclusion that their fire was extinguished, with only ashes remaining for her to cry over.

"I hope it's not." he said, and a hoarse painful noise escaped from his throat before he turned his back at her and left her house, incapable of handling this one more second.

He had expected anything but that. He'd thought they would argue, or jump at each other to wrestle or kiss or whatever, or defy each other with words and power games, despite how bad it would have been. But instead they had both acknowledged they had to stop fighting, only to helplessly face the pile of unspoken issues they had never bothered to solve, maybe because they were incapable of solving them. And as a result they had lost any kind of emotional connection, because, as he realized it now, they were both terrified that things could get real. But he couldn't bear that feeling of being apart from her like that. He had knocked at her door to show her that things could be different, that they could change into something less destructive and more trustful, but it had turned out to be the scariest thing ever, for both of them. And he was stupidly running away from it now, just like he always did. Fuck!, he thought as he suddenly turned back. He had not fought so hard and so long for her just to give up on the very last obstacle.

She was still standing in the living room, wiping her tears and trying to understand what had happened to them, when she heard his voice in her back.

"I knocked 'cause I wanted you to know I can do better if you ask for it."

She sighed with relief. Thank God, you came back she thought. Seeing him walk away from her like this, right after he showed up in her life again, had been excruciating. And even if she didn't know why things were so messily weird right now, she wasn't ready to give up on him.

She turned around to look at him and he added, "And I didn't play with you to make sure we still could be somethin' outta this."

She was tempted to acidly retort that they'd just brilliantly demonstrated that they were indeed nothing out of this, but the look on his face sobered her up. He carried that serious, honest expression she'd only seen very few times on him, and she thought that honest Rio scared the hell out of her way more than cruel Rio. She knew how to deal with his sudden changes of mood and his teasing cruelty, despite how hurtful they were, but she found herself completely lost and powerless in front of such a heartfelt, frightening confession.

He somehow managed to read that on her face, because he added with a grin, "What? Too much, too soon?"

"Yeah." she vigorously nodded, and his smile widened.

She half-smiled back at him and his gaze suddenly turned to be the same he had when he'd told her they were worth the mistake in that hotel room. And just like that it hit her back with the strength of a bullet. The butterflies, the tension. She recognized him and she felt herself again, as they were themselves again. And she could tell from the expression on his face that he was feeling it too. All it had taken was his eyes telling her we're a mess but it's okay. And now that this feeling was back, the only thing she could think about was how much she'd missed him.

He slowly came closer, realizing that the last time he had been in this room with her was when she was bleeding and unconscious, and at the time he'd thought he might lose her for good. That thought still had the power to steal his breath. He was towering her now and he stared deeply in her eyes while he took her right wrist and slowly brought it to his mouth, pressing his lips on her pulse in a grateful acknowledgement that she was alive. She shivered at his touch, and she used that new proximity of her hand to gently cradle his neck with her fingers. He let her wrist go and her hand slid at the back of his neck before she took the one last step that kept them apart, pressing her body against his, and she nested her head in the crook of his neck, her lips resting against his pulse in a mirroring gratitude. She couldn't raise her left arm much yet because of her wound so she just laid her hand on his waist. He wrapped his arms around her, burying his nose in her hair, and they stayed still like this for a while, letting out broken breaths as they were reconnecting with each other, both of their hearts furiously beating in their chests.

"I thought you'd never come back." she finally whimpered, her voice broken with emotion.

With a loud breath he held her tighter, and she relaxed in his arms, thinking about that night when she'd told Annie that Rio's embrace felt like home. She'd meant it back then and she could feel it again right now, how leaning against him made her feel safe and happy, like she belonged there.

He lifted his head and as she did the same he pressed his forehead against hers, closing his eyes. Man, he'd missed her so much!

"Elizabeth." he breathed.

"Christopher." she lowly answered.

Their heads parted and he watched her in the eyes. She was about to kiss him when he spoke.

"I'm sorry I sent that bullet to you." he whispered.

"Don't be stupid, I'd be a hundred percent dead if you hadn't shown up!" she replied with a half-smile, before she added in a lower voice, "You saved my life. Thank you."

He slightly nodded and she timidly asked, "The kingdom? Did I... destroy all of it?"

He untied his arms from her and stepped back, carefully considering her while chewing his bottom lip. His expression got back to his usual poker face, and she understood that the emotional moment of honesty was over.

"Actually, it's the reason why I came here." he said with the beginning of a smirk. "I got a business proposition for you."

 

He had thought all of this through while he was in California. Elizabeth had always been something special. From the moment he'd laid eyes on her he'd known. Her little speech for instance, that first time Demon had put a gun at her head. Obviously she wouldn't get a Nobel Prize for that, but what she'd said actually made sense. And mostly, he'd been impressed she could think about all of this shit, and even have the guts to call him an idiot on top of it, with a gun pointed at her head. Made him curious. She was smart. And bold. And fucking attractive. Never mix business and pleasure, that was one of his golden rules, but he hadn't been able to resist with her. He'd started teasing her, pulling that string as he got response, but he hadn't been thinking anything would happen.

Until it happened.

That bathroom, man, he still dreamed about it sometimes. The way she had locked the door behind him while her eyes were saying everything. The way she'd waited for his call in front of the basin. No woman had ever invited him like this and it had just blown his mind. And the sex... Better not think about that too much. She'd been stuck into his mind ever since, no matter how hard he'd tried to get over it. Over her. And then they had kept working together, and she had kept making mistakes he wouldn't have tolerated from anyone else, but he'd accepted them from her, because he wanted her to keep being around. And also because he knew she had what it took. Being smart was not enough to be a part of the game. You needed the rage, the anger, and she had it, he could sense it. He could tell she enjoyed all of this, although she was afraid of discovering that dark side of herself. But he wanted to help, so he'd kept pushing, thinking she'd blossom, until it had all blown up at his face in the most unexpected way. But the point was, she'd proven she had it. Especially after Demon had chosen to spare her. She'd fought him like a boss, then. And he was almost sure she wanted to be one. At least he hoped she did. That was why involving her in his new plan was a matter of course. And also because he couldn't just let her go. It was too late for that.

 

He took a deep breath but before he could give her further explanations, they both heard the sound of sirens in the distance. He suddenly cursed himself for being so stupid. Of course the feds had kept watching her house, as Turner knew it would obviously be the first place he'd show up as soon as he'd come back in town. He was even surprised it took them so long to come. He wanted to say something, but she cut him before he could emit any sound.

"I handle this. Just go." she told him with a determined look.

He cupped her jaw with his right hand for one second, raising her chin and staring deeply in her eyes one last time before he took a step aside to walk past her.

"Thank you." he let out in a breath, and he headed to her backyard without turning back.

Beth sighed. She was angry. She'd been weeping to live a moment like this with Rio, she'd prayed he'd come back some day, hence Turner interrupting all of it was highly pissing her off. Her fists clenched as she waited for the inevitable knock at her door. Which turned out to be a blast, as several FBI agents fully armed barged in her house only a minute after Rio had left, Turner standing in the middle.

"What the hell?" she started but he cut her.

"Where is he?" he sharply asked.

His face was deadly serious and she knew he would shoot Rio on sight if he'd ever come across him. She was about to play innocent and tell him she didn't know what he was talking about when something else came to her mind.

"I have no idea." she shook her head, trying to put as much authenticity as possible in her shocked look. "He barely stayed here for a minute before he left, just told me he was done and that I'd never see him again."

She thought that if she could convince Turner that this was what had happened, that Rio had no interest in her anymore, he might stop the watch he had apparently asked for on her house. That thing must cost a fortune, and he probably didn't have unlimited funding from the Bureau after the Boomer fiasco. After all, for all Turner knew, she had no reason to protect Rio, she'd turned him in the last time Turner spoke to her, and he wasn't supposed to know about Harry's killing attempt and Rio saving her life.

Turner frowned in disbelief, "Are you telling me that he came all the way here just to tell you he wouldn't in the future, Mrs. Boland?"

"Come on, Agent Turner, you and I know how dramatic he can be sometimes, right? How he likes to give people... special gifts?"

I got you a gift. You always say that I don't help! That's me helpin'

She knew Turner couldn't have forgotten the glance he had exchanged with her back then. They had never openly spoken about the events of that night at Rio's loft, but that was a memory they shared, even if the idea of sharing anything special with Turner revolted her. And it took her everything she had to use that memory against him to buy Rio and herself some time ahead, because even now, almost nine months later, the vision of what happened that night was still traumatic. He caught her allusion and slowly nodded, admitting her point.

She thought she had won when Turner's eyes suspiciously focused on the top of her bandage that was visible above the collar of her blouse. He didn't say anything but he took a step closer, and looked at her for a few seconds.

"I hope for you that's what happened indeed." he said in a low voice, with a intentionally strong pat on her shoulder. The wrong shoulder. She couldn't repress a cry as it sent a sharp wave of suffocating pain in her chest and Turner imperceptibly smirked. He'd made his point clear, and she understood that somehow, he knew about the gunshot. And the reason why she survived it.

"I'm sorry for this rough entrance, Mrs. Boland, we won't disturb your day anymore." he politely said as he turned back followed by his own crew.

She looked at his back with venom in her eyes, "I'm no longer Mrs. Boland. You should know that!"

He's been watching me for a month, he should know I'm a divorcee! she thought. And right now it seemed liked the most natural thing to say to him. The human brain worked in mysterious ways, sometimes.