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Love And War

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"He's gone. We're free."

Beth genuinely meant it when she had talked to the girls. With Rio out of the picture, for good, she had thought things would get easier.

She had tried not to think about the image of him lying on the floor, choking on blood as he was desperately seeking for air. She had convinced herself that it was the best solution for everyone. Well except for him obviously, but she chose to focus on her feelings and her well-being and not his.

She repeated as a mantra that she'd never meant anything to him, that he had played with her all along, and that all the tears she had shed for him would have made him laugh if he' known about them. She kept telling herself that she was the victim here. She had to constantly remind herself that he'd got what he deserved, that what had happened was his fault, because he had pushed her way too hard until he'd got a response they both had not expected. She would condensate in her mind all the times he'd been harsh on her, the times he'd yelled at her, how he would never ever give her a break nor give a shit about what she was going through, until she would feel a strong ball of anger growing in her belly. And when that ball would be big enough, she would add the ultimate memory, the one that broke her heart and made her want to punch him in the face.

"So that's what I am? Work?"

"Pretty much, yeah..."

The ball usually exploded from this and it would give her fuel for the day. She had a business to run and couldn't afford to lose herself in remorse. Deep down she knew that if she began to scratch that angry surface and start thinking about him, like really thinking about him and what she'd done to him, she would simply collapse.

And it worked for a while. She managed to keep any guilt or remorse she could have at a fair distance. She'd made it pretty clear to the girls that Rio was a forbidden topic and even though she knew they were concerned about her, they would never ask.

Meanwhile she was developing counterfeit money of her own, reusing the tips she'd learned when she was working for Rio. Now that the feds had their eyes on the dealership, she needed to find something else. Since Ruby didn't want to get involved in anything illegal because of Stan, and Annie seemed reluctant to keep doing business without any "helping crime fella", as she said, she had to keep it small and stay away from anything too shady. She started with ten grand of fake cash that she crafted in her oven and spent in huge amounts of quality bakery supplies, that soon got converted into muffins, decorated cupcakes and cookies. She was the only one involved with the counterfeit money and the only one touching it. Annie and Ruby were in charge of the packaging and delivery of the food, and would sometimes give a helping hand in the kitchen. Beth had thought it through. Selling cakes at school and PTA events wouldn't be worth her time and efforts. She needed to think on an industrial scale. And that's what eventually brought her the idea.

She would never thank enough the general trend among upper classes for eating organic and quality local food. All she had to do was emphasize that aspect of her personal brand and build that perfect brand story of the housewife-next-door who baked delicious quality treats. She managed to negotiate a deal with a company in town that owned several delicatessens and deluxe grocery stores across Michigan and she crossed her fingers, hoping it would work. It turned out she'd hit her target as it only took two days for her first batch to be sold with a comfortable profit, making her earn three times her initial fake cash investment.

She celebrated the same night with the girls.

"I told you we could totally do this by ourselves!" she giggled, while handing Ruby and Annie their respective cuts.

"Jeez, who'd guess you can make that much money selling... cakes?" Annie asked, emphasizing on the last word as she was smelling her pack of bills, her eyes closed with an ecstatic expression on her face.

"Turns out you can," Beth answered with a sweet smile.

"And I am not doing anything illegal!" Ruby chuckled, "I can tell Stan this is all clean, home-baked cakes money!"

"Wait, isn't it actually home-baked money?" Annie asked with a giggle, "I mean, you make that in your oven, right?" she added, raising her eyebrows at her sister.

Beth opened her mouth to answer, but Ruby interrupted.

"Shut up, I don't wanna know that!" she exclaimed, "For all I know, I'm just selling cakes," she cheerfully smiled.

Annie gently teased her again but Beth wasn't listening anymore. In the core of her victory, she suddenly discovered a black hole sucking out all the joy from her.

It feels good to be really good at something.

But what was the point of being good at something when there wasn't anyone to appraise it for what it was worth anymore? Her heart skipped a beat as she suddenly recalled his smile whenever she would expose one her business ideas, that smile that said "You smart, ma." and made her feel proud, and legit, and good at it, that smile which —

"Bethie, are you with us?" Annie had spoken louder and was peering at her with annoyance and a bit of concern.

Beth shook her head, suddenly coming back to reality.

"Sorry, I just got distracted. What were you saying?" she asked with an absent-minded smile on her face.

Annie raised her eyebrows and gave her a daring look.

"Well, I was initially asking you if you had more wine in that house of yours, but now I want to know what got you so much distracted that you didn't even react when I mentioned my upcoming Tinder date!"

"So you are on Tinder now?" Beth gossipely asked, trying to change the subject.

"No I'm not, I'm just making a point!" Annie said with a wince of disgust.

Beth gave her a confused look.

"She's just trying to say you got very distracted for a moment," Ruby softly said, rolling her eyes and sending a warning glance at Annie.

"I'm just really tired, " Beth lightly answered, repressing a yawn, " I suppose my mind got a little slumpy for a while."

The girls didn't ask any further question and changed the subject, but Beth noticed the alarmed glances they had exchanged.

After that first successful batch, Beth went back to hardwork during the following months in order to keep her business on. She was actually thinking of hiring someone to help her in the kitchen, enabling her to increase her scale, because right now she was doing her utmost. She was working a lot to have it all on tracks, and it absorbed all of her energy and focused her entire mind. Her nights were short and she generally came home exhausted, only to collapse on her bed into a dreamless sleep. Sometimes she would even not bother to remove her clothes. It was hard, but she thought she had it all under control and she didn't think anymore of that brief moment of turmoil she had had while celebrating with the girls.

But things started to get messy again. She began to experience sudden flashes of pain in her chest whenever she was on her way to a delivery, or on the verge of a business meeting with one of her partners, even though they were mainly store managers. This seemed to happen every time she was doing something that would have involved Rio's presence or advice before, but she decided to ignore it. I'm tougher than that., she tried to convince herself. Her body could betray her but she would not let her mind get distracted from her business target.

But then, she started to see him everywhere.

She startled whenever she would pass by a black car looking even vaguely like his. She found herself gasping each time she saw a tall thin man wearing a cap in the street and that sight would always leave her breathless, her heart beating fast. She even jumped once at the sight of her own shadow, twisted and elongated in the sunset light.

As she was getting more and more tense during the days, her nights became nightmare too. She started to see him in her dreams. Every dream. Most of the time, he was just there, watching her silently, whatever she was doing, with reproach in his eyes, although she had no idea of how she actually knew that last fact since she was unable to look at his eyes during those dreams. She always felt awful when she'd wake up, her throat tightened in a vice of guilt, sobs already making their way through her throbbing chest.

But she wasn't okay with that.

"It wasn't my fault!" she desperately wanted to yell at him, "You made me do this, I didn't want things to end like that, so just stop haunting me!"

But whenever she tried to speak to him in her dreams, she discovered that her tongue was glued to her palate, and her mouth was gone anyway. She'd wake up feeling completely powerless and miserable and she would carry that feeling all day long. This one phase lasted for a few weeks, the duration guilt needed to comfortably settle inside of her.

Then her dreams got worse. He'd still be there, watching her every move, but this time he'd speak to her. Well, speak was a bit of an overstatement, since he'd generally just whisper "Elizabeth..." with a voice that was begging for her mercy, before she could hear him choke. She still was unable to watch him in the eyes or even look at his face, but the sound of his voice would drive her crazy. She always woke up covered in sweat and with an urge to scream.

As a result, between her daytime freak-outs and her sleepless nights, she soon looked liked a living corpse, something Annie couldn't help but explicitly notice when she saw her.

"Oh my god, did you get hit by a bus or what?" she asked her one time she had come to look after the kids while Beth had to supervise a delivery.

And oh yeah, the kids...

Beth was trying to keep them apart from what she was going through, but they were not stupid. And they saw the empty bottles. She had started to drink beyond reasonable to push Rio's ghost away from her mind, and although she was doing her best not to drink when they were at home, it was a hard thing to hide. She and Dean had agreed on a co-parenting deal, and things were going well, each one having the kids every other week, but she knew that the minute anyone would notice her drinking problem she might lose them. But she couldn't help it. She was so lonely when the night came that she felt bourbon was her only friend. Well, not exactly her only friend. Rio was always in a corner of her mind too. She had gotten used to talk to him when she was sure she was alone. It kind of eased her guilt to be able to say out loud the words she wanted to tell him although he would never be able to hear them. In her dreams too, she could apologize now, but he would still choke to death in front of her and she would wake up shaking and sobbing, repeating his name like a prayer until she'd wake up for good or fall asleep again. But still, she found it unfair to have to confront what she'd done to him in her dreams with no chance to defend herself, and it made her growingly angry at him for leaving her with that unsolved issue.

But companion ghost or not, the truth remained, she was lonely. Maybe that was the reason why one night, after Dean had brought her the kids for the week, she had offered him to stay for a drink and it ended up with the two of them having sex on the kitchen table. She was desperate for someone to touch her and give her some physical affection, and even though Dean would never be her first choice, he was there at the moment she needed it the most. It only happened once but she hated herself even more after that and it was the turning point that made her slowly start to think she was losing her mind.

She felt trapped in a living nightmare, seeing and hearing Rio's ghost everywhere. She was often under the impression that someone was following her, and whenever she'd walk out she felt surrounded by shady people who carried guns and wore tattoos as signs of recognition.

But that was just foreplay before she really got alarmed about her own sanity. Soon she started to notice that sometimes she would come back home at night and find things slightly different from how she had left them on her way out. It could go from small things, such as finding her breakfast plate in the sink while she thought she had left it on the table in the morning, or discovering a full bottle of bourbon in the cupboard when she remembered finishing it the day before, to unexplainable ones, like furniture that seemed to have been moved or tools that were stored in places they weren't supposed to be. But she was never sure of her own judgment about it, which made it worse. She'd spend hours questioning her memory, trying to write down her every move or take pictures of the house before leaving, but she'd always end up with doubts. And as she was slowly drowning in her paranoid spiral of guilt, she knew that sooner or later she would have to face what she had done on that night that had changed everything.

 

That night...

What Rio could only recall of the confused moments that had followed Elizabeth's fucking irredeemable act was the face of Turner offering him a life-saving deal that he had no other choice but accept. He wanted to survive. For Marcus. And also because he couldn't let her get away with it. She'd get the punishment she deserved on time, but first he needed to recover. He didn't remember anything between closing Turner's deal back at the loft and waking up in a hospital room. Demon told him later that he was already unconscious when the ambulance had come, and clinically dead by the time he'd hit the emergency block, but that somehow he had made it through. His heart had restarted to beat at the second resuscitation attempt. And his very first thought when he'd woken up had been to make sure his little boy knew he was ok. Well, he had to admit, that was the first thought he'd verbally expressed, since the very first picture that had popped into his mind after he'd woken up was her face distorted with anger and despair as she was shooting him. He hadn't asked about her yet though. She tried to kill him after all, why should he care? The bitch could wait, lil' Marcus was way more important.

He stayed two weeks in the hospital, surrounded by feds, until the doctors made sure he would be fine after some recovery time. By that time, he had negotiated with Turner the terms of their deal, and obtained from him that he would let Rio’s crew take over for his convalescence phase, in some place upstate where he had connections.

Once he got transferred, things got easier and his health improved enough so he could see Marcus. He would never forget the expression on his son's face the first time he got to see him.

"I thought you were gone forever!" the little boy screamed, sniffling at the thought, as he ran in his father's arms.

Rio squeaked when Marcus hit his wounds but he wrapped his arms tightly around him and they both stayed silent with their eyes closed for a while. Then Rio pressed a kiss on his son's cheek, and the boy showed a weak smile. His concern and sadness were written all over his little face, and Rio's fists clenched at the thought that Elizabeth could actually have killed him for good and caused Marcus even more grief. That was the very moment he decided that Elizabeth Irene Boland would pay the heavy price for what she had done to him and to his son.

"Don't worry 'bout me, Marcus," he told him, "I'll soon get better but there's stuff I need to clean up first, you get that, huh?"

He hoped the boy would understand that things would be complicated for a while and that he'd have to stay with his mother until Rio got everything under control.

However, Marcus's expression broke his heart when he said, "But I want you to come back home now! I miss you, daddy!"

Rio fought back his tears and put on his best smile to answer, "I'll do my best, lil man, I'll do my best."

He pressed his forehead against his son's and he closed his eyes, just enjoying the feeling of being alive.

"It's all gonna be okay, son," he whispered.

Marcus silently nodded, his eyes expressing relief and a blind faith in his father's words. Rio got up and quickly nodded at Cisco who was patiently waiting outside the room and entered at his boss's signal.

"Cmon, Marcus, time to get back at you mom's, I heard she's planning on making you pancakes!" Cisco cheerfully said with genuine affection.

Rio smiled as Marcus's little hand almost disappeared in the gangbanger giant fist and he watched them slowly walking away towards the door. Marcus turned his head back.

"Bye, daddy!" he said, gently waving his free hand.

"Bye, lil' man!" Rio said back, sending him a kiss.

He heard the two of them chatting and laughing as they were walking away. Ever since Marcus was born, Cisco had taken good care of him every time Rio had needed it, as some kind of badass baby-sitter. Well, a more tattooed and hairy one than the average, Rio had to admit with a smile, but still, Marcus was very fond of him and Cisco just loved the boy as if he were his own.

"Family-time's over, time to get back to fuckin' business," he deeply sighed before he called Demon.

He knew what was coming next, and he had tried to postpone it as much as possible, but that wasn't an option anymore.

"So what about the few things I asked you to check the other day?" he asked Demon who was entering the room.

"Everything's in control, boss, just like ya said. Minelli's guys tried to make a move, but Hernandez wouldn't let 'em."

"Good. Let the vultures shred each other, huh?" Rio answered with an approving nod.

Ever since the news of his death had spread in the criminal world, he knew that his kingless empire would catch the attention of other gangs all over Michigan, and he needed to keep an eye on what was going on in order to limit the damage. That would ease his eventual comeback, and bring him the evidences he needed to take other gangs down. That was the core of the deal he'd made with Turner.

"I'll sweep my house and give you the dust, right? And if you lucky you can get some spider webs too," he had told Turner, who had awkwardly grinned at this household metaphor but had eventually agreed. But not without imposing him one last condition.

"Okay, now I've got somethin' else for you," Rio told Demon, who was carefully listening to him, "I need to know exactly what she's up to. Every detail. Can you do that for me?"

Demon nodded without needing to ask who 'she' was. Even though her name would never be mentioned out loud, she was haunting every conversation he'd had with his boss ever since that day when Rio had woken up in the hospital.

While he was talking to Demon, Rio could still hear the determination in Turner's voice when he'd clarified the last term of the deal.

"I want her down. For good. Just give me her head and you're free."

Rio had no idea why taking Elizabeth down was such a goddamn personal matter for Turner, but he couldn't care less. He wanted to rule his empire without having feds putting their dirty noses everywhere, and taking her down was a cheap price to pay for that.

"You mind if I kill her first?" Rio had replied with a snarky tone and a brief nod towards his bandages.

Turner had kept a complete poker face while saying, "Whichever's most convenient for you," before he had dismissed their meeting.

But the truth was, Rio was unsure of what he'd do with her yet. Right now, he just wanted to know what she was up to, and maybe gather some evidences for Turner along the way.

Two weeks later, Demon sent him a text containing only a website url, which turned out to be, as Rio discovered, a permanent video live stream of Elizabeth's kitchen. At first he sneered, feeling more powerful than ever as he could watch her from his convalescent bed, but soon he got addicted to it. Skipping the parts when nothing happened, he could spend hours watching her bake cookies, make dinner, or chat with Ruby and Annie even though he couldn't hear what they were saying. He recorded it all, just in case, and spent a lot of time re-watching it, pretending to look for evidences of whatever shady business she was obviously into. However, it didn't take him long to understand how her new business worked, since she was baking cakes and counterfeit money in her kitchen. "That's gold, ma!" he laughed at his screen when he figured it out. That was probably enough for Turner, but Rio didn't want to give her away to the feds yet. He had other plans for her first. Besides, Turner had never mentioned any deadline about her.

And things went on like this for weeks, he would watch her every move, fascinated, and keep an eye on his own business while the wounds in his chest were slowly healing. If someone had asked him about her, he’d have probably said that he was definitely mad at Elizabeth, and he wanted her to pay for her betrayal. The fact that she chose to spare Turner over him was unforgivable, not to mention that it had almost killed him.

But sometimes he would surprise himself having mixed feelings about her and what she was going through. Watching her drink alone and cry at night wasn't as fun as he would have expected it to be. He thought she deserved it, obviously, but sometimes he would feel a small pinch in his heart along with an absurd desire of brushing her hair away from her temple.

However that small routine changed one night. As usual, he was absent-mindedly watching her having dinner with Dean and the kids, like some perversely twisted reality show, when suddenly things went differently. He couldn't hear what she said, but Dean didn't leave the house right away after dinner like he usually did, and he shared a glass of bourbon with her instead.

His chin resting on the palm of his right hand, his muscles tense, Rio was carefully watching and almost hypnotized by what was happening on the screen. Elizabeth was gently leaning on the kitchen counter, Rio could tell she was drunk by the way she slightly swayed, and Dean was coming close. So close. Too close. As they started to kiss, Rio heard a creaking sound and realized it came from his left hand knuckles as he had involuntarily clenched his fist hard. He emitted a low growl at the sight of Dean now lifting her on the kitchen counter and the two of them frantically starting to undress each other, but he couldn't take his eyes off the screen, a strong wave of burning furor running through his body. Elizabeth and Dean were roughly fucking now, half dressed, Dean's hands squeezing her breasts as he was pushing into her, while she had crossed her ankles behind her ex-husband's back. It only lasted a few minutes before Dean got finished, but it seemed like hours to Rio who scrutinized Elizabeth's every move and body reaction until she reached the miserable climax of drunk and desperate sex. Rio seemed to suddenly wake up when Dean started to put his pants back on, and he abruptly closed the laptop screen. He stayed still for an instant before he slowly got up from his chair in a controlled move, holding the computer in his hands. He considered it for a few seconds before brutally smashing it on the ground, opening the gates of his rage as he then shattered down any object he could find in the room, preferably the most brittle ones. It took him less than a minute to ruin the room and his destructive momentum left him exhausted, his whole body shaking violently.

Since he had stopped watching the live stream, he didn’t get the chance to see that at that very same moment, a hundred miles away, Beth was furiously smashing her own bourbon glass on the kitchen floor after Dean's departure, feeling more lost than ever, before she slowly slid along the wall and hid her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking with desperate sobs.

On the next day, Rio called Demon on the phone.

"Scare her a bit, will ya?" he told him in a no-questions-asked tone.

"How?" Demon grunted with his usual hoarse voice

"Dunno. Move things in the house; let her think she's followed, common stuff. I'm sure you'll find summin'."

He hung up, the corners of his mouth raised in a cruel grin, consumed with a rage he had not expected. He didn't know why seeing her with Dean made him so mad at her right now, but all he knew was that he wanted her to go deep down for it.

 

Beth was at the point where she couldn't handle it anymore. She was exhausted, scared, and most of all, she needed to know. Was something going on or was she loosing it for good? She had tried, for days, to find a clue, anything, that would be conclusive in a way or another, but she had failed at it. Until one night while she was sipping bourbon in the kitchen with Ruby and Annie, when the ceiling light bulb suddenly blew.

"Wow, who's birthday is it?!" a slightly drunk Annie exclaimed, "Or should we play it horror movie style?"

"Don't be silly," Beth retorted with annoyance, going for the stool and a new light bulb in the garage.

"Common, sis, why are you so moody?" Annie insisted, yelling at her sister's back.

Beth was biting her lips as she recalled having changed that light bulb no so long ago.

"I should switch to a more expensive brand with longer duration," she thought.

She tried to keep it rational since every little thing would scare her now. Was it just the light bulb blowing, or was there something else? She had to keep that train of thoughts away, otherwise her mind would start spinning like a hamster on its wheel.

She came back and climbed on the stool to reach the ceiling, before she carefully began to unscrew the light bulb with Annie and Ruby helping her with their phones on torch mode. That's when she saw it. The small wire, curling around the lampshade. With something that looked very much like a tiny camera on its end. She gasped and almost fell off the stool if it wasn't for Annie to suddenly grab her leg until she restored her balance.

Fifteen minutes later, she had ripped it all off, following the wires until she had discovered the whole system battery hidden in one of her cupboards and the discreet antenna sending away the camera signal. To whom? The feds? Very organized burglars? Gangbangers? She shook her head, stunned.

Ruby, whose mouth had kept the shape of an O the whole time, cleared her throat.

"Did you, hum, do anything illegal under the sight of that little version of Big Brother?"

"We don't even know how long it's been here!" Annie hissed back.

But Beth wasn't listening to them anymore. She suddenly felt dizzy. A strong wave of relief was gradually taking possession of her as she had the confirmation that she was not insane. But an icy shiver ran along her spine when she realized that this also meant that her troubles were far from over.

"There's somewhere I need to go," she calmly stated as the girls were blankly looking at her, before she softly added, "Alone."

Ever since that fatal night, there was a place she hadn't checked at all, that she had always refused to ever consider. But she needed to know. She grabbed her keys, knowing without looking that the one she needed was still there, and she rushed into her car.

Kingdom's in your name.

His voice resonated in her head while she was driving. She didn't know exactly what she expected to find there, or even why she was going, but something kept telling her that she'd get the answers she so desperately needed. She hadn't come back there since the day she had brought the girls in. She simply couldn't. She knew that seeing all of his stuff was a million times harder than what she could ever bear. But there she was, rushing into the corridor and finally opening the lock of Rio's old storage unit.

Nothing.

The place was all cleared out and she blinked twice as if she could make things appear that way. She suddenly found it hard to breathe. She was disappointed and she just wanted to cry because all of this wasn't bringing her any answer at all, but only more questions. Trying to overcome the discouragement that was invading her, she gathered all of her remaining strengths to inspect the whole place, looking all around her for a clue or maybe a forgotten item.

Absorbed in her quest for anything that would give her even the beginning of an answer, she didn't hear the smooth footsteps in the corridor. She was examining the floor, facing the wall opposite to the door when she heard in her back that voice that was way too familiar even six months later, that voice she had been dreaming about so many times, that voice which had this crazy power of simultaneously arouse and scare her.

"So, you lookin' for summin', ma?"

Chapter Text

"So, you lookin' for summin', ma?"

Her body completely froze when she heard him and she kept facing the wall for a few seconds before she slowly, so slowly, turned around, as if she was afraid he might disappear like a deer in the woods if she moved too fast.

And there he was, nonchalantly leaning against the storage unit door frame in his black outfit, his usual mocking smile resting on his lips and his gaze checking her up from feet to eyes when her body finally faced him.

Beth took a deep breath, her mind dealing with an internal storm of contradictory feelings and emotions. She was relieved and glad to see that he was apparently okay, but she wasn't stupid enough to ignore the fact that it meant she'd have to face consequences for what she'd done, which scared her. She wasn't even that much stunned that he was alive. After all, the man had always been an enigma to her, and somehow she'd gotten so much used to him suddenly popping in and out of her life in such unexplainable ways that she sometimes wondered if he wasn't actually gifted with some paranormal powers.

She opened her mouth but she couldn't find anything to say. He kept watching her patiently, waiting for her gaze to finally meet his, and she felt her heart clench when she locked eyes with him. The way he was looking at her was way too intense but she couldn't look away, hypnotized and breathless, trapped like a butterfly incapable of staying away from the flame of a candle. She had missed his eyes, she realized, before she rectified to herself. She had missed him. All of him.

As she slowly recovered from her initial shock, she finally found the strength to speak.

"It's you."

That was literally the dumbest thing she'd ever said in her entire life, she thought, but there were so many questions running through her head that she couldn't think of anything else to say.

"Yeah... That's me indeed." he said in a low voice with a hint of irony.

"How did you... I mean what... When... What do you want?" she finally asked.

He bit his bottom lip and looked away for a few seconds, considering her question, before his gaze came back at her.

"Tell me summin' Elizabeth, yeah?" he told her as his body straightened, pulling away from the door frame.

"What?" she nervously asked, trying to ignore the delicious shiver that just ran along her spine as he had pronounced her name. God she'd missed that too!

"Remember those nights I spent teachin' you how to use a gun, huh? How many were they?"

His eyes had narrowed and they were shining with a dangerous light while he spoke. She shrugged, breaking their eye-contact as she was counting in her head.

" I don't know, twelve? Maybe fifteen?"

"Kinda, yeah..." he nodded. He took one step forward, slightly reducing the distance between them and forcing her to re-establishing eye-contact with him, "And tell me, how many of these involved me showin' you how to hit your target with only one bullet, huh?"

She knew where this was going. But there was nothing she could say that would stop that train.

She swallowed before answering in a calm tone, "All of them."

"And were you good at it, though?" he asked, raising one eyebrow.

"I was." she said in a breath. "I'd hit the spot nine times out of ten, more or less."

She could tell that he was enjoying all of this, that he was having fun at slowly dragging her to the inevitable upcoming conclusion, fully aware of the fact that she knew exactly what it was.

"Good, good..." he cheerfully said, giving her an approving nod. His facial expression suddenly changed when he coldly asked, "So can you tell me why it took you three shots not to finish the job?"

She blinked as she hadn't expected him to ask her that so baldly. The coldness of his tone felt like the emotional equivalent of a punch in the stomach, ruining any possibility that she would ever tell him the truth. She couldn't tell him that she'd never meant to do that job in the first place, that she'd been upset and scared of him, that he had broken her heart the night before, and that shooting him had caused her pain beyond reasonable because she was shooting her feelings for him as well in the process.

She didn't know what to answer to that, and anything even remotely emotional was definitely off the table since she knew that he would use any weakness she'd show him against her.

She finally softly stated, "I guess real environment is more stressful than the training field."

He chuckled, taking one more step towards her.

"Oh, that's too bad, darling, that's too bad... Cause now I get to finish the job!" he said with that scary fake-enthusiasm tone that generally preceded one of his waves of violence. "It's a declaration of war that you signed here, sweetheart!" he unnecessarily added.

She didn't react at his last sentence, and she suddenly realized that she wasn't even scared. The possibility that he might have come there to murder her right away didn't even hit the top list of the scariest things she'd had experienced since she had met him. From a certain point of view, it was even some kind of relief not to have to worry anymore about all that stuff. The past few months had left her exhausted and depressed, and anything that would stop that never-ending fall was more than welcome. Even if she had to admit she'd rather fancy a less extreme resolution.

She swallowed and exhaled a deep sigh before quietly asking him, with an interrogative look, "Are you going to kill me?"

While she spoke, her gaze went down to his hips, looking for the shape of his golden gun under his shirt, and she realized she'd already asked him that question way too many times ever since they had met to ever qualify what they had as a healthy relationship.

He caught her gaze and shook his head, "Not right now. There are things I need you to do first. But then..." His lips twisted in a cruel smile, "Yeah, maybe I will."

"Excuse me? What do you mean, you 'need' something from me?" she asked, her eyes narrowing.

That was so typical of him, she fulminated. If he was seeking for revenge and wanted to kill her, fine, but who the hell was he to think he could force her to do whatever job for him in the meantime? And as these thoughts crossed her mind, what remained of the rational part of herself wondered if she hadn't lost her sanity after all, given her apparently new sense of priorities.

Rio thoughtfully stared at her for a while before answering, "I need you to pretend to be the boss."

She gave him an empty look, "I don't understand."

Rio considered her for a while, still wondering if he had made the right decision coming there as soon as Demon had told him where she was heading to. He had forgotten how stunningly gorgeous she was, how the way she looked at him made him want to bring her into his bed and worship her forever, how he loved the way she challenged him all the time. But things were different now. They had to. She had used him, dumped him, and tried to kill him for fuck's sake and she would pay for it. Still, he was quite impressed by the way she didn't seem scared of him at all, not to mention the fact that she had built a whole new business from scratch by herself. She seemed to have finally found that inner Boss Bitch he'd always sensed in her. Too bad it was happening too late.

Enjoying making her wait, he took a deep breath before explaining, "Okay, so I have a deal with that old bastard of Turner. Thanks to your lil' intervention" —he gave her an evil smile —"everybody thinks I'm dead out there, which gimme the opportunity to get rid of some competitors. All I gotta do is just sit and wait for them to attempt takin' the lead of the kingdom." he added.

She stared blankly at him, slightly shaking her head, "Okay, whatever," she said. "But I don't see what I have to do with that."

"Oh yeah, right, I forgot to tell you the best part." he chuckled. "See, I need an insider gang leader to tip me on what's goin' on." He had that same cruel and fateful face he had had when he'd told her they were good right after he had shot Dean in her living room, "And since you killed me, you're basically the king now, honey!"

"You wanna be the king you gotta kill the king, that stuff's medieval, darlin'."

She pursed her lips and her body stiffened, "No way. I'm not doing that."

He laughed, and she felt her heart, heavy as a stone, sink in her chest because she knew that his laugh wasn't boding anything good.

"Oh you will, sweetheart, I have good reasons for you to change your mind!" he told her with a hint of a threat underneath his hilarity. He briefly paused before adding with a low voice, "You know, the feds are still desperate for somethin' that'll help them put that sweet lil' ass of yours behind bars."

She contemplated her options for a few seconds, looking for a loophole in his blackmailing deal.

"Will you let me live afterwards if I do what you ask? Otherwise I'm screwed either way, so I don't see the point of giving you the bonus of working for you in the meantime." she pointed out as an attempt of negotiation.

He shrugged, "Nope, can't promise you that, darlin'. It's a chance you gonna have to take."

"And what if I don't? Are you going to turn me in, just like that?"

She pictured her kids growing up with the social stigma of having a mother convicted for felony, and a lump formed in her throat. A dead mother wouldn't be much better though, she thought.

"Oh, no, not just like that!" he sneered. "See, I know people there, you know, in the big house... I just have to say the words and your life there is a livin' hell, darlin'!"

Still staring at him, she bit her lips before exhaling a deep sigh. Suddenly she felt tired of all this game. She was sick of the way he was having fun with her and made her wait until she begged him for any piece of information, so she went straight to the point.

"Fine. What evidences do you think you have against me?"

He smiled and she could tell from the look in his eyes that she had already lost that battle.

"Well, first I got this video recordin' of you pullin' three bullets inside of me, remember?" he answered, raising one eyebrow.

The vision of the camera she'd spot in his emptied loft as they were talking over the phone back then popped up in her mind. She'd completely forgotten about it and it had never occurred to her that the device might be on during that terrible night. An ice cold shiver ran across her as she realized it meant that anyone could see what she'd done to Rio. And not just anyone, she thought, which made it even worse. Since he owned the recording, he'd probably already watched it, maybe several times. The thought of Rio re-watching what she'd done to him was unbearable and made her sick. She didn't even know if she would be able to watch that herself and an inner voice told her she probably wouldn't.

However that at least didn't seem to be a huge threat from a legal point of view.

"I highly doubt the feds would engage any action against a mother of four who saved one of their guy's life by shooting someone who's not even dead!" she struck back.

He shrugged, "Yeah, I know, this one was just a foreplay... Good thing I have better, right?" He paused and smiled at her, "So cakes, huh?"

Her eyes widely opened and she wondered how he could possibly know that. Of course he did, he always knew everything. She could hear Annie's grumbling voice in her head, on some evening back then when the girls were discussing the fact that Rio always seemed to be ten steps ahead of anyone else, "Jeez, how does he do that? The man must be a fucking poltergeist or somethin'!" she'd said.

"Sweetie, I'm not sure you know exactly what a poltergeist is." Ruby had replied, and Beth almost smiled at the thought that Annie would become out of control in her ghosts analogies if she ever heard about Rio's coming back from the dead.

"I tried them, by the way, gotta admit you know the job, these cookies of yours are killer dope!" Rio added, openly mocking her now.

"How do you know about that?"

Rio's smile got even wider but his voice was snarky.

"Turns out you didn't lie to the feds after all when you told them you liked doin' it on the kitchen table, huh?"

"He pulled my panties down and we screwed right on the kitchen table."

She could still hear herself lying to Turner in his office, not aware at this time that she was just foretelling the evolution of her interactions with Rio.

But it took her a few seconds to understand all the meaning and implications of what Rio had just said. She immediately blushed when she realized that he was alluding to her recent quickie with Dean, and the shaming tone she could hear in his voice deeply hurt her. But she would have to deal with that later, she understood, as every piece of the puzzle was suddenly finding its place.

"That was you! The camera in my kitchen! The weird changes in my house! The shady people following me!" she angrily stated. "You had no right!"

Boiling-hot anger was taking possession of her as she realized that Rio was behind all the tricks that had made her life a living nightmare for the past few months. She suddenly felt the urge to jump on him and punch him everywhere but instead she just stayed still, slightly shaking while her fury was growing inside of her.

He chuckled, "Yeah, that was me and my boys... Funny, huh?"

"No it wasn't."

She articulated every word, fighting the trembling in her voice and on the verge of tears, her fists clenched in a vain attempt to control the hatred that she felt invading her guts.

"C'mon ma, don't be like that!"

His voice was caressing, almost flirting as he was openly enjoying making fun of her. His attitude could only but increase her exasperation.

"You made my life a living hell! I thought I was losing my mind!"

His expression suddenly got serious, his face losing any trace of the teasing cheerfulness that was written all over it one second before.

"Well, you almost made me actually live in hell! Fuck, Elizabeth, did it ever occur to you that I have a kid?"

She suffocated at the thought of a fatherless Marcus, but that was a low-blow, even for Rio.

"Did it ever occur to you that I have four kids?" she struck back." Because last time I checked you were considering murdering me!"

His tone was ironic when he slowly answered, "Yeah... That's too bad, huh?"

She narrowed her eyes, "You always do that, don't you? You pretend nothing is your fault, so it's always on someone else."

"You put everything on me so it's never on you, nothing's ever on you!"

"You asked for it."

She lost her breath when she realized they were resuming the argument they had had six months before, that argument she had pressed pause on with the pull of a trigger.

Rio was considering her with a hint of disgust now. He was still upset about the way she had rejected him and turned down his every move so many times while he was trying to make space in the game for her and give her what she was asking for. And the fact that she was still unable to acknowledge that was disappointing and hurtful.

Hence his voice was harsh and he was almost shouting at her when he replied, "Yeah, you right, that's my fault. I gave you the keys to the kingdom! I taught you everythin' 'bout the job! Oh you think I do that with anybody, Elizabeth? We were partners! That your way to say 'Thank you'?"

Although a corner of her mind noted that he had just basically told her she wasn't anybody to him, it didn't hit the surface of her conscience, blinded with pain and reproaches. She hated how unfair his way of presenting things was.

Her voice was trembling when she replied, "I didn't ask for it."

"Yeah you did, ma. When I told you we were good, you came back to me, askin' for more. And I gave you what you wanted but then you wanted out. And you kept messin' up with my money, you didn't follow the instructions, so you—"

"It's not what happened and you know it!" she angrily interrupted him. "You asked me to kill people!"

"And you didn't do it!" he shouted back. "Said you couldn't. Instead you tried to kill me?"

"Well maybe I shouldn't have only tried after all!"

In the heat of her anger, the words had just escaped before she could hold them, and she immediately put her hand on her mouth as if she could take them back but it was too late.

This time she had gone too far and she knew it. He decidedly walked towards her, biting his lips with a threatening look on his face that scared her. She stepped back only to feel the metallic wall hitting her back and there she stayed, motionless like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car, barely standing on her shaking legs. He moved closer, until she could feel the warmth of his body just a few inches away from hers. He placed his left hand on the wall behind her, blocking her way out and making her gasp, while his right hand firmly grabbed her throat, forcing her to stare at him. He watched her with murder written all over his face for a moment and she briefly considered the idea of spitting at his face but her anger was already flowing back as she regretted her last words. Instead, she started to feel her body react to the contact of his fingers and she decidedly ignored the sensations. He was peering at her with intensity but suddenly something saddened his gaze. One by one, his fingers detached from her neck and his arm slowly came back to hang at the side of his body. She was panting and she felt her skin burning where Rio's fingers had roughly pressed her flesh. She rolled her eyes down, ashamed and defeated, unable to look him in the eyes and admit her weakness in front of him.

He was still standing so close to her, though, motionless, and she could feel the weight of his gaze on her. She looked at his hand with a retrospective shiver before following the line of his arm up to his shoulder, stare at the tattoo on his neck, then his chin, wishing she could rub her face on its stubble. Her eyes slid on his mouth, lingering at every detail of his lips, and she had to force her gaze to rise up to his face. He was patiently watching her, waiting, and his mouth smirked when their eyes finally met, but his look was still tense.

A few seconds later, he was the one lowering his gaze and staring at her mouth and his right hand came back at her face, but this time his pinky was slightly apart from his other fingers. She shivered at the sight of his hand moving in a very slow motion and she briefly closed her eyes, her attraction to him gradually filling the empty space that anger had left inside of her. She reopened them the second he touched her, his little finger softly caressing her temple and brushing her hair away. Her whole body startled at his touch and she blushed, knowing that he couldn't have unnoticed the way she'd reacted to him. He smirked indeed and she knew that it was the whole point of it. A power demonstration. But she didn't have the strength to push him away at this point, despite how much she knew she should have. Why did they have to fight each other all the time, she thought, why couldn't things just be like this?

His fingers softly trailed their way along her cheek and the line of her jaw, having her exhale a languid sigh that she hated how weak it made her sound. His hand then reached the wall next to her head, caging her with his both arms. His face suddenly softened, his eyes expressing a mix of things she couldn't decipher, and a strong wave of desire ran through her body, leaving her breathless. Her heart was violently pounding in her chest as he slowly leaned his head towards hers, stopping his move when their lips were only a few inches apart, just like that day in his loft when he had asked her to leave. His scent was intoxicating and she resisted the urge to bury her face in his neck and breathe his skin in forever with her lips resting close to an inked eagle wing. She closed her eyes as he hoarsely whispered "Elizabeth..." with a mix of pain and tenderness in his voice. She felt she was about to faint, barely able to breathe, her body fully tense in expectation and desire. She nervously licked her lips and kept them slightly apart in anticipation of his kiss, wanting him so badly that she thought she could collapse any minute.

Rio had thought he would keep it all under control, but her last words had made him overreacting in a way he had not expected. The fact that she expressed regrets for missing her shot, even for a second, was hurting him as much as it infuriated him. As a reaction he had meant to crush her pride under the demonstration of his power over her, he wanted to humiliate her, but it turned out she had a reciprocal effect on him that he hadn't seen coming. Touching her had sent a bolt of electricity across his body, which had asked for more. And now he wanted her as much as he had wanted to hurt her a minute before. He couldn't explain how she made him lose his self-control in so many ways. To his own surprise, he suddenly found himself willingly drowning in the Caribbean sea of ever-changing shades of green and blue in her eyes, and he hadn't faked the way he had pronounced her name despite how angry he was at her. And now that they were so close, he couldn't handle nor hide his desire for her anymore, and although he was reluctant to let her win this particular battle, he couldn't resist to her and he slowly approached his lips towards hers.

But suddenly the images of her and her dumbass husband on the kitchen counter popped up in his head, freezing his move before he instantly straightened.

Feeling the change in the atmosphere, Beth opened her eyes, blinking as she was trying to recover from the intensity of the moment. They stared at each other silently for a while. There was something new in his eyes, that she'd never seen before, and looked like contempt. She instantly knew where that came from, and the thought of him being jealous of Dean irritated her, since Rio had never allowed her to be jealous of the other women in his life. Speaking of which, she admitted to herself, she didn't even know if there were actually other women in his life, but that wasn't the point.

"You didn't like what you saw on that footage, did you?" she quietly said, raising her chin in a provocative way.

They both knew that it was a rhetorical question. He didn't move nor speak, but she heard his knuckles creaking as his fists clenched. He swallowed and, still silent, he slowly took a step back from her, his hands leaving the cold wall and releasing her from the surrounding of his body. She sighed in relief, feeling the tension moving away but the disdain in his eyes was hurtful.

"I used to think you were worth better than that, Beth." he coldly told her with a low voice, spitting her name with all the disgust and despise someone could possibly put in a word.

Calling her Beth was the most insulting thing he could ever say to her and they both knew it. She felt her heart breaking into pieces at his words and tears fell from her eyes before she knew it, running down her cheeks and leaving her furiously struggling against her emotion.

"I used to think you were worth better than being a jealous asshole!" she scathed back. "You have no right to judge me! That's unfair." she hissed with a broken breath.

He didn't even look at her as he turned away.

"I'll send you the instructions tomorrow. And FYI one of my guy's gonna keep an eye on you so don't act surprised if you see 'em at your place. From now on you're under my watch."

As if she had not been already under his watch with that camera he'd put in her kitchen, she bitterly noted.

"Actually I never told you I'd take your deal!" she yelled at his back in a last attempt of restoring her pride.

"You ain't?"

He had turned his head and was considering her, one eyebrow raised. She gave him a defying look for a few seconds, but she pursed her lips and slowly ducked her head, surrendering in her silent answer. Like she had a choice anyway, she thought.

"Good."

He stormed out of the storage unit, leaving her still upset and slightly shaking from their intense confrontation. She slowly let herself slid along the wall and sat down on the ground, her thoughts swirling in her mind like the flakes from a snow ball. She deeply breathed until she gradually calmed down and felt strong enough to drive.

On her way back home, she realized that she hadn't even told him how sorry she was for shooting him, and how she was inexplicably glad he'd made it through, despite the fact that it meant she had probably signed her own death warrant. Instead, she had just told him the exact opposite of that, and that thought was killing her.

She barely slept that night, but when she did, she didn't have to watch him die in front of her for the first time in months. Instead she saw his face, smiling at her in a comforting way that made her want to rush into his arms and just snuggle against him, oblivious of anything else. But when she tried to scurry to him, an invisible wall stopped her move and Rio disappeared in a last echoing laughter.

Chapter Text

On the next morning, Beth got woken up by weird noises coming from the kitchen. She didn't have the kids at home this week so she was supposed to be alone. Alarmed, she instantly got up and put on a robe before storming out of her room, her hand gripping an umbrella, the first derisory weapon she could find in her bedroom.

She tiptoed across the dining room and froze when she saw the silhouette of a man facing the kitchen stove. She came closer, and as the man turned around at the same moment, she recognized the features of Demon with a gasp of surprise. He raised his head at her squeak and briefly acknowledged her presence before lowering his gaze to what he was doing before. Her eyes followed and she discovered that he was serving himself a full plate of pancakes. She tried not to giggle as the nonsense of the situation was hitting her like a bump on the road. Demon cooking pancakes in her kitchen! Although Rio had warned her about having gangbangers in her house, she didn't expect that. She dropped the umbrella against the wall and forced a cheerful smile on her face as she reached the kitchen island.

"Hi!" she greeted with a clear voice.

Demon ignored her, adding blueberries on top of his plate before taking it to the table with him. He sat down and started to eat without even looking at her.

"Did you make any for me?" she asked while inspecting the stove and the kitchen island.

Demon didn't even seem to have heard what she'd said. Of course he hadn't cooked anything for her, she told herself, staring at the empty pan. He wasn't there for that after all. Speaking of which...

"Are you going to stay here all the time?"

Demon was still hungrily eating his breakfast, completely ignoring her, and she felt irritation growing inside of her. She walked towards the table until she was right next to him.

She started louder, "I said—"

The deafening sound of Demon fist punching the table interrupted her sentence and made her jump with a squeak. Demon slowly raised his head and finally looked at her.

"None of your business" he grunted, before lowering his gaze back at his plate while eating.

"Actually, it kinda is," Beth replied, internally calling herself insane not to let him finish his breakfast in peace. "You see, I need to clean a room for you if you're planning on sleeping here, I have to make sure I buy enough food and—"

"Told you not to mind that." Demon cut her off with a don't-make-me-say-it-again tone. "But you may wanna send your kids away for a while." he obligingly added.

Beth rolled her eyes as she realized this was the longest sentence she'd ever heard him pronounce but the mention of her kids scared her a bit. She watched him eating for a while, considering her situation.

"Am I in danger?" she finally asked.

Demon was finished eating his food and he stood up, slowly bringing his plate back to the sink.

"Not unless ya screw things up." he croaked.

"So how is this happening, will you follow me everywhere?" she tried again.

Demon shrugged, washing his plate, "Pretty much."

She thought he was even less chatty than his boss, not that she ever thought it was possible, and that annoyed her.

In fact his whole attitude was grating on her nerves, which was why she provocatively asked, "Can I go to the bathroom alone or do you have to escort me there too?"

While she heard herself tell him that, she suddenly blushed, praying that Rio had never mentioned the words 'bathroom break' in front of his crew. Demon gave her an irritated glance and slightly shook his head without speaking, before he turned away to sit on the living room couch and start typing on his phone. She decided she had had enough information for now and she let him sit without any further question.

As she went back to the stove to cook her own breakfast, her mind started to process all that had happened the night before at the storage unit. She didn't know how she felt about all of it. Over the past few months, she had accepted the idea that Rio was gone forever, and despite her grief over it, she had never questioned that fact. But now he was back and she had to get used to it. The idea of him stalking her and watching her live for months through his camera made her feel sick as much as it embarrassed her, and it was definitely not a good sign regarding his intentions about her. Not to mention how he threatened her and the way she wouldn't probably have a good time in the upcoming weeks because of him.

But all she could think about right now was the moment they had almost kissed and how it had made her feel. She had not expected he would still have so much effect on her, and that thought scared her as much as she enjoyed it. She closed her eyes for an instant, thinking about what would have happened if the memory of Dean had not stopped Rio's move, longing for the warmth of his lips on hers, remembering how she had felt when they had kissed in her bedroom back then, before everything got messy. Fantasizing about Rio was something she had forbidden herself to do during all the months she had thought him dead. And now that he was back, very much alive and angry at her, that still seemed to be a very bad idea, despite how tempting it was. As her mind was slowly sliding on Rio's anger, the memory of the way he had called her 'Beth' popped back and she realized with a pinch in her heart that it still hurt.

Her thoughts got interrupted when Demon materialized by her side, holding a large binder.

"Gotcha homework." he simply said, placing the binder in front of her before he walked back to the couch.

She nodded silently and took the binder back to the table, along with her breakfast plate. When she opened it, she first ran across a list of names, with pictures and biographical information, all related, as she soon discovered, to Michigan street gangs. These occupied the largest part of the binder, but in the end she found large diagrams showing how the people connected to the different gangs and a giant map of the state with colors representing each gang's territory. She frowned when she realized that it looked very much like her Black Friday planning maps, before she gasped when she turned the last page and discovered the meetings schedule she would have to follow. This one was obviously referring to her Book Club planning, unless she had a crafting soul mate somewhere matching all of her specific tastes and skills.

"Who did this?!" she asked to no-one in particular.

As if Demon would answer anyway, she thought. She couldn't figure out where this came from. The only person in Rio's gang that knew her enough to make something that much similar to what she would have done herself was Rio, but she couldn't imagine him patiently sitting at a desk, doing decoupage. Anything involving the idea of Rio being patient was hard to picture anyway, she told herself with an amused smile. Besides, his time was probably way too valuable in his criminal activities to waste it in such a time-consuming hobby.

She shook her head and started to read anyway. She spent the morning absorbed in her study of Michigan criminal life, quite impressed by the number of people involved, trying to picture what she would have to do in this. She was stumbling on her meeting schedule, covered with post-it of different colors, when she heard Demon's voice coming from right behind her shoulder. She had to restrain herself from jumping with the surprise. God, why did gangbangers had to move so silently?

"You got the color system?" he asked with a concerned look. "The blue ones are with business partners and suppliers, the red ones are for meeting with other bosses, and the green ones are miscellaneous. And see when there's a 'D' in the upper corner? These I come with ya."

"Thank you." she replied with a grateful smile. "Anything else I should know?"

Demon sat by her side and they reviewed the whole binder together, with him giving her additional explanations and details about how all of this was related to Rio's business and what he expected from her. It was way past noon when they got finished, and Beth was stretching away the numbness of her arms and her back, sore from spending that much time on an uncomfortable chair. However, she was glad to have seen a chattier Demon, and without speaking of any bond they might have created, she was feeling less uncomfortable around him than earlier in the morning.

"Are you hungry?" she naturally asked him, catching up with the clock.

"Yeah, kinda."

"I'm too lazy to cook right now, are brownies and cookies okay?"

"Sure."

She went to the fridge and retrieved the tray containing the baking supplies she had cooked the day before, which suddenly reminded her of something.

"What about my own business?" she asked Demon, "Am I allowed to keep doing that? I need the money, you know." she added with a daring look.

Demon shrugged, "Rio didn't say anything 'bout that. As long as ya do your job for him I guess ya can do whatever you want aside…" “

She nodded in relief and they both ate silently, each one minding his own thoughts or, in Demon's case, looking at his phone.

A few hours later, as the day was finishing, Demon was still lying on his apparently new favorite spot on the couch when she heard the front door slamming. Shit, she thought, when she heard Annie's trumpeting voice from the hallway. With all that had happened, she had completely forgotten that the girls would want to know how her search for the truth about the camera went.

"Soooo, big sis', how did your alone trip go yesterday, did you find these camera guys? They must be pretty sons of bi—"

Annie had reached the living room entrance, immediately spotting Demon's head over the headrest, and she jumped with her hand on her mouth, her words dying on her lips. Ruby showed up by her side one second later, and her jaw dropped at the sight. Demon didn't even seem to have noticed their presence, and he was imperturbably staring at his phone. Annie made eye-contact with Beth, while nodding insistently towards Demon, and she silently articulated words Beth wasn't sure of individually, but got the general meaning of which, that could more or less be summarized with "What the hell?" Ruby was repeatedly mouthing something that sounded like "Oh my God!", anxiously staring at the gangbanger. Beth took a look at Demon before she shook her head and lightly smiled at the girls.

"I'll tell you later."

"You better, 'cause right now you've got a lot of explaining to do!" Annie vigorously nodded. "So, is girls night still on or do you have other plans with our friend over there?" she asked in a low voice.

"Oh no, that's still on!" Beth firmly replied. She clearly needed a drink and a chattier company than the one she'd had all day.

"Okay, but is he, like, staying with us all the time?" Annie grimaced while nervously glancing at Demon.

"Oh no, I'm not doing girls night with that guy!" Ruby intervened.

Demon hadn't lifted his head but his hoarse voice came from the couch, "You ladies can have your night, don't mind me, I ain't listenin'."

"Oh I bet you are!" Annie scoffed in a low voice.

Beth gave the girls a warning glance before she retrieved a bottle of bourbon and three glasses from the kitchen.

"So, what's up with Sadie's fancy school PTA meeting you went this morning, Annie? Did you survive from being surrounded by a bunch of preppy mums? And how is Sadie's half-brother by the way?" she cheerfully asked while pouring the drinks.

Annie gave her a uncomfortable look before answering with an exaggerated tone, as if she were on a theatre stage. Ruby shook her head in disbelief of the randomness of the situation while Beth tried not to burst into nervous laughter. And so the night went on with the girls scrupulously avoiding any crime-related topic and Demon awkwardly sitting in the same room. Beth was about to call it a night when Demon suddenly stood up, yawning.

"I'm gonna go, I ain't sleepin' here. G'dnight Mrs. Boland, I'll be back tomorrow." he grunted.

He nodded at Ruby and Annie when he passed in front of them on his way to the hallway, and the girls soon heard the door closing.

"What can we do?" Annie whispered. "Can we talk now? D'you think there's a microphone somewhere?"

"There's been a camera in my house for months, Annie, what do you think?"

"Maybe we could use some fresh air in the backyard?" Ruby suggested with a wink.

Three minutes later, the girls were sitting at the picnic table, wrapped up in blankets in the October night chill.

Annie started to talk, "So are you gonna tell us what's going on?"

"He's back." Beth replied in a sigh.

Annie furrowed her eyebrows, "Who's back?"

Beth gave her a who-do-you-think-I'm-talking-about look and Annie's mouth opened, "Nooooo..." before her face suddenly illuminated, "Poltergeist style! Told ya!"

She tried to high-five Ruby who didn't respond, her eyes focused on Beth.

"But you said you did... You know... I mean I assumed..." Ruby tried.

"I thought I did too!" Beth abruptly said. "But it turns out he made it through, and now it's payback time."

The three of them remained silent for a few seconds before Annie found the courage to ask, "What does that mean?"

"It means I'm working for him again, and he's keeping me under our hairy friend's watch."

Ruby blinked, "And that's it? You shoot the guy thrice and he's just having you doing another job as a payback?"

Beth didn't want to let the girls know how Rio mentioned he might murder her afterwards so she simply nodded.

"I can't believe it..." Ruby murmured. "And how long is this job gonna take?"

"Yeah, and what kind of job is it that it requires Gangfriend's sidekick here all the time, by the way? Are you risking your life?" Annie added.

"I... Listen, I'm not really sure yet." Beth stammered. "And stop calling him that! He's got a name!" she added at Annie's attention.

“A name you're not even sure of, sis', tell me again, what does 'Rio' stand for?" Annie snapped back at her.

“Wait, wait, wait," Ruby re-focused the conversation, “Why are you doing what he says, anyway? Can't you just go to the cops? Don't tell me you wouldn't feel safer if he were out!"

Beth opened her mouth but Annie suddenly got an epiphany, "Oh my God, does he have you on the hook with what he got with that camera?"

Beth stared at Ruby and Annie with a determined look, "Listen, I don't really want to involve you girls in all this, okay?"

"Uh uh, but you don't really have a choice here, sister," Annie pointed out. "If he plans to hurt you, he'll find us on his way!"

"Over our dead bodies!" Ruby completed with what seemed to be some kind of weird victory dance.

"Speaking of which..." Annie began, glancing at Ruby, who raised an interrogative eyebrow.

Annie's sudden pause alarmed Beth, "What?"

"Nothin'." Annie said lightly. "I was just wondering if, you know, things wouldn't be easier if he were out of the picture. I mean, for good this time..."

"If you finished the job." Ruby completed in a breath, finally getting the meaning of Annie's weird glance, and she alludingly shook of her head while staring at Beth.

Beth looked at them both with dismay before firmly saying, "No. That is definitely off the table."

Annie gave her a daring look, "Why?"

Beth sighed deeply. Since their early childhood, Annie had always be the one questioning the merits of any of her decision, and even though she happened to be right a surprisingly high amount of times, it was still painfully annoying.

"Listen, I don't want to cause him any more damages than I already did. End of discussion."

"Oh honey," Annie insisted with a devilish grin, "If you want him out, it's never been said that you should be the one pulling the trigger, we're here for you if you can't do it!"

"Er, I never signed for this!" Ruby intervened, clearing herself out.

"Oh my God, are you out of your mind?" Beth snapped at her sister with a biting tone. "You don't mess up with people like that!"

"Uh uh, you messed up with people like that the very moment you got into their pants!" Annie replied.

Beth instantly blushed, thinking of her kissing fantasy from that very morning, and Annie's brows furrowed.

"Oh my God, and you're just drooling at him waiting for it to happen again! When did you become such a Gangfriend's pet? You know what? You're pathetic!"

Annie was almost shouting now, and Beth was about to raise her voice too when Ruby suddenly yelled at both of them.

"Girls, girls, stop it! This won't lead us anywhere! Annie, you know I love you, but could you please stop acting like a baby for five minutes?" she asked, turning her head at Annie as she spoke.

Beth opened her mouth, but Ruby wasn't finished, "And as for you," she said rolling her eyes at Beth, "I hope you have a good reason for taking the defense of a man who shot your husband, tricked you into killing people, mailed you body parts, and is now forcing you to do some shady work under the watch of goon number one! And him being a sex god is not a valid answer!"

There was a silence during which Annie mumbled something about Dean having deserved that bullet before Beth coldly cleared her throat, "It's late. I think the two of you should go."

She was on the verge of tears and she knew she couldn't handle it much longer now. Both Ruby and Annie's words were a hundred percent true, but she didn't want to have to draw the inevitable conclusions following such statements. Not right now. She was not ready to question what she felt for Rio.

Ruby and Annie silently got up from their chairs and awkwardly avoided each other eyes while they quickly grabbed their coats and purses. Beth waited until she heard the front door closing to crumble on the couch and exhale a deep sigh, tears falling from her eyes as she felt lonelier than ever, wondering what was wrong with her.

She didn't see Rio around for a while though, and over the following weeks she mainly interacted with Demon, who, as it turned out, had widely overestimated the times he'd spent with her. For starters, he never slept at her place, and on some days he wouldn't show up at all. He usually helped her preparing for the meetings where she had to pretend she had taken over Rio's business. There were essentially two types of meetings, the ones where she met the other gang leaders, which were mostly about territory negotiations, and the ones where she talked to Rio's former customers and suppliers and tried to know who else had approached them and what deals they had been offered. In both cases, she had to gather as much info as she could about other gangs moves and intentions.

Over the weeks, she started to gain confidence about her work for Rio. Her first meeting had been a nightmare. She had gotten so nervous before going that she'd been too shaky to drive and got convinced that her undercover would be cooked the minute she'd enter the room. Demon, who was supposed to come with her as her sidekick, had tried to reassure her, but it was only after everything was over, while she was on her way home, that she'd realized the people there had actually believed she was a gang leader. That thought had made her euphoric, and that slightly intoxicating sense of power kept growing as time went by. She discovered she actually liked being such a good liar and evolving in that criminal environment. She noticed soon that news had spread about her, and that the 'suburban bitch' had gained some respect among hardened criminals, which flattered her. As she was impersonating that Boss Bitch Rio had often talked to her about, her general mood slightly improved, and she was finally sleeping again. She didn't dream very much since her hard work got her exhausted at night, but when she did, Rio would still be there, watching her every move, but in a peaceful way, one that did not left her screaming in the middle of the night. She re-discovered what it felt like to wake up with a smile on her face, something she had not experienced in months.

But her good mood shadowed every time she thought about Annie and Ruby, whom she had not talked to ever since that night in her backyard, still hurt and ashamed of the words that had been said. This meant she had had to slow down a bit her baking business because the girls wouldn't help her anymore with the deliveries, until Demon offered to work for her on his spare time for a very reasonable cut on the profits, which she appreciated.

However, her overwhelming feeling of powerfulness got abruptly quenched on a Wednesday, when, after about four weeks of complete silence, Rio showed up unannounced at her house. She looked at him with apprehension when he entered the living room, exchanging a few words with Demon who was sitting on his now recognized spot on the couch.

"Hi." she said, trying to put as much cheerfulness in her voice as she could.

He nodded with a vaguely annoyed expression on his face, and Beth's heart clenched as she realized he was avoiding her looks.

"All good?" he concisely asked.

"Pretty much, yeah." she softly answered. Under a sudden inspiration, she asked, "Was it you who made that schedule?"

He chuckled and gave her a quick glance, "You mean all that craftin' crap? Oh yeah, that was me, you were right, ma, that shit is pretty relaxin'!"

"I don't understand." she said, still wondering why he bothered taking so much time to do this.

"Yeah, me neither, but it turns out colored stickers can really focus your mind!"

She rolled her eyes, blinking incredulously and about to ask, "Who are you and where is Rio?" when he spoke again.

"But it ain't why I'm here now, ma. There's somethin' I forgot to tell ya the other day."

"Considering that the other day was four weeks ago, it took you a pretty long time to remember." she ironically replied. "You used to be more responsive than that!"

All she wanted was him to look at her and stop talking to no-one in particular, hence she was using sarcasm as the best way she knew to trigger a reaction from him. But he only let out a joyless laugh and his voice was lower when he spoke again.

"Actually, I needed you to be fully dipped in that fake boss thing before I could mention it. See, there's another part of my deal with Turner I didn't talked ya 'bout, and it involves you."

She shivered, knowing that whatever would follow such forewords would bring no good for her.

"I'm listening." she bravely said, trying to control the steadiness of her voice.

"He wants you. Dead or alive, that's up to me, so I get to choose what happens to you. And if I'm in a good mood, it'll be your choice." he sharply added.

Despite her breath becoming uncontrollable, she opened her mouth, but he didn't let her speak.

"And in case you'd ever consider stoppin' workin' for me in the meantime, you should know that gang leaders reserve a notably painful punishment for fake bosses who have acquaintances with the feds." He gave her a few seconds to process his words before he coldly added, "That's all I came here to say."

"The last time we spoke you said you'd kill me eventually." she reminded him.

"I said maybe I would. Didn't precise the other option was me givin' you away to Turner." he corrected.

She closed her eyes as he turned around, still looking away from her. She was fighting against the tears that were already coming because of his coldness, because he couldn't watch her in the eyes, because he undoubtedly hated her, and she heard him walking across the living room. Despite the fact that she had always assumed she was way more screwed than he had let her know when they had spoken in the storage unit, hearing it from him was still painful. But she already knew what she would choose in such eventuality. Anything but Turner's victorious smile. Without moving, she called him.

"Rio!"

She heard him stop walking but she stayed still, turning her back on him.

"For what it's worth, I think I'd rather die." she said in a breath.

There was a silence before he spoke, "Copy that."

She heard his footsteps again and then he closed the front door behind him. She deeply exhaled and leant on the table, shaking. His coldness was hard to bear, but at least it gave her some kind of closure, at least now she knew that him almost kissing her in the storage unit was just an accident, that fantasies time was over. She suddenly stifled a sob when she realized in a heartbreaking second that he had called her 'ma' all along, still unable to pronounce her name since the last time he had seen her. She wasn't Elizabeth anymore and it instantly destroyed the fortress of self-confidence she had built during the past few weeks.

Later that night, she called Ruby, who picked up the phone right away.

"Hey…" Beth started in a low voice, "I'm sorry about the last time…"

"It's okay." Ruby's voice answered, warming Beth's heart up, "some truths take time to process, right?"

And you don't throw away twenty-five years of friendship over a mistake, even the biggest one of your life, Beth thought.

"Right."

"Are you okay?"

"I guess."

The conversation was almost monosyllabic, but they both knew that the most important things were said without words.

There was a pause, before Ruby finally asked, "It wasn't just another job, was it?"

"No. Not really." Beth whispered, tears silently trailing their way down her cheeks. "But don't tell Annie yet, will you?"

"You should give her a call, you know that?"

"I know. I'll catch up with both of you later, but things are quite messy right now."

Beth's voice was blank, and she just knew that on the other side of the line, Ruby's tears were rolling down her face, mirroring her own.

"Hate you." Ruby said in a breath.

"Hate your face." Beth answered, almost suffocating from the lump that was growing in her throat.

She hung up the phone, her chest throbbing with sobs, caught by an undescribable feeling of farewellness.

 

Since the night they had talked in the storage unit, Rio had been in avoidance mode regarding Elizabeth. The way he had lost his self-control around her scared him, and, to a lesser extent, pissed him off, because losing control was the thing he disliked the most. Of course, he knew that since he had always found her extremely attractive, seeing her again wouldn't leave him indifferent, but he had not expected how touching her had made him feel, nor how the look in her eyes deeply affected him. His reaction after witnessing her encounter with Carman had been the first warning and he had been stupid enough to ignore it. Bringing that back by throwing it at her face and shaming her over it had been a stupid thing too, but he hadn't been able to resist. He had never understood what she possibly once saw in that fucking dumbass husband she had. Since the moment he had stormed out right after calling her Beth, he hadn't stopped thinking about how he'd almost gone crazy enough to kiss her, and how much he had desired her despite the cold anger he now associated with her name, and the memory of her lips so close always made him hard in spite of himself whenever he thought about it. But he hated that feeling, and he hated her for still having so much power on him even after she had tried to kill him.

Every time Demon reported her business activities to him, he tried not to ask personal things about her but he couldn't help thinking about it. That was the reason why he had decided that from now on he wouldn't touch her anymore, nor even look at her. He couldn't afford to lose his mind over a woman, especially her. That would be the best way to lose his business, if not his life. Besides, she was his exit ticket from Turner's hook, which meant she was lost already. There was no room in his life for sympathy.

It's lonely at the top.

He had learnt that lesson the hard way and he wouldn't get fooled again. But still, he had not felt this way about anyone since the day he had met Marcus's mother, yet he refused to go through that pain again. Which meant he needed to get her out of his system for good. A week in Disneyland with Marcus should do the trick, and the kid would be delighted. They hadn't had much quality father-son time together since his convalescence, and they both needed it. But first, he had to let her know the real terms of his agreement with Turner, and tell her how much she was screwed. That was precisely what he had told her the day he'd come at her home, carefully avoiding her eyes and staying at reasonable distance from her. He wanted to hurt her as much as he could, make her hate him. That would make things easier, he thought, would release any temptation. He had not forgotten the way she had sighed when their lips were so close in that goddamn storage unit. She was still into him too, and that was not a good thing, for both of them.

"Daddy!"

Marcus's hand pulling on his sleeve suddenly awoke Rio from his thoughts, chasing Elizabeth Boland's lips far away.

"What's up, lil' man?" he asked, ruffling the hair on his son's head.

"You always say I have to listen to people when they talk but you ain't listening to me!"

"Oh, I'm sorry, that's because you talk so much I have to process all your wisdom! But I promise I will listen now. What is it you were sayin' to me?"

"Can I have an ice-cream?"

Rio smiled in relief and searched his pockets for money, "Sure, but don't get stains on your shirt, otherwise your mom won't let you come here again!"

"Yay!"

The boy ran away to the ice-cream stand, and Rio watched him with a resting smile on his lips while metal-cold anger was invading him at the realization that his obsession for her would even steal him away from spending time with his little boy. And one way or another, she would eventually have to pay for that too.

Chapter Text

"When did I go crazy enough to tell him I'd rather die?"

The day following her last confrontation with Rio, Beth woke up with that question running in her mind. She'd only thought about not letting Turner win, but what about the kids? And the girls? How could she do this to all the people she loved the most? It took her some time to remember that a lifetime behind bars wasn't exactly a better option, and that despite her recent mood enlightenment her life was still a nightmare with no obvious living exit. That's why after some time processing Rio's words and fully accepting her fate, she went on following her meetings schedule as if she wasn't living on borrowed time, and she even still found time to bake in between. She hadn't spoken to the girls since her call to Ruby. She thought it made things easier that way. When the time would come, she'd say goodbye but she couldn't handle it right now. She got used to her daily routine, and the meetings didn't scare her anymore, mostly because she didn't really give a shit about them anymore.

But maybe something was broken inside of her since that day Rio had spoken to her. Elizabeth was gone, and so was the suburban bitch, as it seemed. And maybe gangbangers could feel that too. And maybe that was why Harry asked for an unscheduled meeting.

Harry was a local gang leader she had already met a couple of times, but she had never had a face-to-face meeting with him so far. For no particular reason, she had always had a bad feeling about him, and having to negotiate pills customers territory with him made her nervous, especially because she was supposed to get there alone, Demon being out of town for a couple of days.

 

"I'll be back with refreshments in a minute!" Harry cheerfully said before he exited the meeting room, leaving Beth with his two usual sidekicks, whom she internally called Squirrel and Turtleneck, respectively based on surprisingly long front teeth and an apparent clothing preference.

Beth sighed deeply, relieved that everything went as planned. They had finally come to an agreement. Apparently some of Harry's new customers weren't settled on his allowed territory and he wanted to make sure it wouldn't lead to future problems. In exchange, he had given her some tips about other gangs that were moving on the pills business. The meeting was taking place in an old crappy house in the suburbs of Detroit and she was sitting in a dark and decrepit living room. Squirrel and Turtleneck, who had not pronounced a word all along, were silently standing in one corner of the room. She rearranged her hair, impatient to leave but unwilling to be impolite by refusing Harry’s offer for a drink, when she noticed the weird way the two goons were staring at her.

"Now I get why Rio lost his mind on such a piece of ass!" Squirrel sneered, walking towards her.

She raised her head in surprise and narrowed her eyes at him, "Excuse me?"

With a growing feeling of danger, she stood up from her chair, but she had been too late to react. Turtleneck was already at her side and he roughly grabbed her left arm, twisting it in her back until she felt that her shoulder was about to dislocate. She wanted to scream but he put his other hand on her mouth and she just fell on her knees, her upper body squirming to avoid the excruciating pain in her shoulder. Turtleneck released a little the pressure on her arm but that was the moment Squirrel came closer to her and violently slapped her face back and forth. She felt the taste of blood in her mouth.

"What the f—" she started but he pointed his gun at her.

"Shut up, bitch, we ain't have time for your crap! Who is behind all of this? You can't be alone in that shit."

Beth was shaking under the wave of pure terror that was invading her. This unannounced surge of violence had caught her off-guards, and she only had a few seconds to make her choice. Her inner voice called her insane, but for a reason she couldn't explain to herself, she chose to remain loyal to Rio.

"It's precisely because it looks so unlikely for me to be a boss that Rio didn't watch out and ended up shot!"

She tried to sound confident, but Squirrel's punch in her stomach right away told her he didn't buy it. She collapsed on the floor, her body doubling up with the pain, but Turtleneck's hand grabbed a handful of her hair, lifting her up, and Squirrel took the opportunity to punch her in the face this time. She moaned and tried to bear the pain, feeling like her head was exploding, her eyes catching sparkles that didn't exist. The two men forced her to stand up and she leant against the table as her legs weren't fully supporting her.

"That what we do to fucking fake players." Squirrel said as he stepped close to her, invading her space like Rio usually did.

But, unlike Rio's, Squirrel's eyes carried a twisted and dangerous light that made her shiver. Still under the shock of what had just happened, she didn't even try to resist when Turtleneck blocked both her arms behind her back while Squirrel pressed his gun against her jaw, having her instantly freeze. Eyes still locked with her, he raised his other hand towards her face in a deliberate slow motion that scared her, even though the exact same move from Rio would usually turn her on. His fingers landed on her cheek and softly slid down, caressing her mouth before running down along the length of her neck. Beth was holding her breath, shaking, fear blocking her every move. Squirrel's hand brushed the soft skin of her cleavage and she could tell he was moving slowly on purpose. She got hypnotized by his move as he was gradually approaching the limit between her bare skin and the thin fabric of her top. She gasped when he suddenly slipped his hand under her shirt and then in her bra, kneading her breast as he looked her in the eyes with a victorious smile resting on his lips. She looked at him in shock, suddenly unable to breathe anymore, paralyzed and shaking. Her eyes opened wide when she saw him lean his face towards hers and before she knew it he was pressing his lips on hers and forcing her mouth with his tongue.

This isn't happening.

Time froze in her mind, her brain desperately refusing to aknowledge what was happening right now. She hadn't expected that. The physical violence, the punching and the hitting, that was something she could handle. Despite how painful it was, her mind could process that. But ever since she had entered this criminal world she had never felt sexually threatened.

Thankfully, Squirrel's rough kiss, which was more a power demonstration than anything even remotely affectionate, only lasted a few seconds before he removed the gun from her jaw and his mouth left hers to lick and bit the soft flesh of her neck, while his hand would still squeeze her breast. He pulled the gun back in his pocket to grab her ass with his other hand and he pressed himself against her. As he was rubbing his pelvis against her, she felt that he was hard already. Beth was completely paralyzed with the fear, her brain transformed into a ball of pure animal terror. At this point, she would have probably stayed still even if Turtleneck had let her arms go. She was dissociating from her body, feeling like she was witnessing the whole scene from the outside.

Harry had been gone for only a few minutes, that had seemed like hours to Beth, when suddenly she heard his voice seemingly coming from far away although he spoke loudly as he was re-entering the room, "C'mon, guys, this is not a way to treat our guest!"

Turtleneck's grip at her hands instantly disappeared and Squirrel let her go as well and she stood, panting, facing them all.

"I'm sorry for that inappropriate behavior, Mrs. Boland." he said, but his tone wasn't really apologetic. "I think we should call it a day. The agenda's been discussed anyway, right? Let me show you the door." he added in a mellow voice.

She crossed the room, her body stiffened as she tried not to collapse, and she reached for the door without even looking at him. However, when she walked past him, she saw his smirk in the extent of her vision, and she knew with absolutely no doubt that he had set up the whole thing. She left the building and climbed in her car, focusing all her energy in pretending to act normal, just in case someone would be looking from the window. She started the engine and drove over two blocks before turning in a small alley and immediately pulling over. She stopped the engine and used her last remaining strengths to crawl on the passenger seat. Then, she let it all go and collapsed on the car floor, uncontrollably shaking, her chest violently heaving with sobs, and her mouth opened in a silent scream. She didn't know how long she stayed there, but she could tell it had been hours as the day was almost over when she shakily climbed back on the driver seat.

It took her all she had to drive safely back to her house, her body still wholly shaking. Demon wasn't back yet, which turned out to be particularly convenient for once. At first she inspected the damages on her face in the bathroom mirror. One of her cheekbone was swollen from the punch in her face and it would bruise for sure within a day, and her left eye was already surrounded with a purple circle. She was wearing a few scratches too, from the gun Squirrel had roughly rubbed at her face, and probably the rings she remembered him wearing when he had slapped and hit her face. The mark of his teeth was printed on her neck and that sight almost made her throw up right away. She spent a whole hour in the shower, and furiously brushed her teeth until her toothbrush broke in two pieces, trying to wash her shame away. She was still feeling the contact of Squirrel's hand on her body and it made her feel used, and soiled with stains that would never go away, whatever effort she would make. Despite the existence of decades of feminist struggles teaching her that she shouldn't be ashamed of what had happened, she actually felt more ashamed than she'd ever been in her whole life. The worst part was the blaming she put on herself for not even trying to defend herself. As soon as Squirrel had touched her, the shock and the associated denial had frozen her every move, changing her into a lifeless puppet.

The idea of telling anyone about this was unbearable and she kept thinking about what Annie must have been through with Boomer's rape attempt, and the strength she had demonstrated facing it. Beth was crying on her sister's fate as much as on hers, blaming herself for not being able to understand at the time what it felt like. Nothing could have prepared her to anticipate how powerless and deprived of her basic humanity what happened made her feel. She thought that nobody could ever understand it unless having already went through something similar, which was why the only person she could consider opening to was Annie but they were not exactly talking at the moment.

She spent the rest of the evening still in shock, crying herself to sleep in her bed. But as soon as she finally closed her eyes and fell into what she hoped would be a healing sleep, she saw Squirrel's face close to her, and felt his tongue stuck in her mouth, and then her throat, suffocating her until she woke up in tears, screaming loudly. For the first time in six months she didn't dream about Rio, but she wished she had instead.

The next day, she started to develop a denial phase, trying to convince herself that she'd get over it soon without any help.

"I'm tougher than I look."

She kept repeating the words she had told Turner back then, but while she tried to calm her mind down, she couldn't control her body reaction. She couldn't eat nor sleep. She tried to bake some cakes, in order to keep herself busy, but every now and then she would look at her hands and wonder why they had kept still when Harry's men were assaulting her, why she hadn't even moved to defend herself. That thought would make her shake so violently that she'd have to stop whatever she was doing and sit down for a few minutes. Demon wasn't back yet, and she briefly considered the idea of calling someone, anyone, in order to get some company, but she wasn't sure she could handle it. Later that night, she knew she had taken the right decision when she experienced several panic attacks, and felt thankful to be alone at home.

On the next morning, she was exhausted from two sleepless nights in a row and she still couldn't chase away that awful feeling of being nothing. She heard Demon's car pulling over in the alley and her body straightened as she was decided not to let him know what had happened. He would probably ask her about the meeting though, and she mentally prepared to only tell him about how the business part went. She heard the door open and she sat at the kitchen table, pretending to check on her meetings schedule. She didn't bother to raise her head when she heard the footsteps in the entrance, but she got intrigued when she heard that Demon was talking to someone, and a shiver ran along her spine as she recognized Rio's voice answering him.

 

Since he'd gotten back from Disneyland, Rio's main obsession had been to check on Elizabeth. When Demon and him entered the room, he could immediately tell something was wrong with her, and this time it was different from her usual drama. And it wasn't just the bruises and scratches that decorated her face. Demon didn't seem to notice anything special about her and he went straight to his usual spot on the couch. She was sitting at the kitchen table, pretending to be deeply absorbed in her meetings schedule, but he knew that her mind was far away. He stepped towards her and only stopped when their bodies were a few inches apart, his head towering her.

"Somethin' wrong, ma?" he asked, genuinely worried.

She sighed and slowly raised her head at him, letting him see her swollen face resulting from uninterrupted crying. He had been ignoring her for weeks, barely looking at her the last time he'd seen her, and now that she was dealing with her trauma, he suddenly renewed his interest in her and she wasn't pleased with that. She had actually been counting on the fact he'd let her alone. She hadn't told anybody about what had happened at the meeting, and she didn't plan to either way, but Rio was literally the last person she wanted to tell. She didn't want to have to listen to him shaming her, or telling her to be tougher, or saying one of his 'Oh, yeah, that's too bad, darlin'.' to her. It wouldn't help at all. Besides, she wasn't really comfortable with anyone invading her space right now, so she stood up and took a step back.

"No. Everything's fine." she softly answered, but her tone wouldn't fool anyone, especially him.

He bit his lips while staring at her face which was obviously screaming the exact opposite of what her mouth had just said. He wasn't stupid enough to ignore why she wouldn't tell him, especially after he had explicitly labeled her with an expiration date the last time he had talked to her, but he had to know.

"Okay, listen, I don't need to know if it ain't my business, but if summin' went wrong in the last meetin', you gotta tell me 'cause that's actually my business."

Biting her lips, she peered carefully at him. There was no trace of slyness in his eyes, and his face only expressed genuine concern and a softness she hadn't seen in him for months. She felt tears coming and fought them back.

"Fine," she started, trying to control the shaking in her voice. "All you need to know is that my cover might be cooked. At least they suspect I'm not alone in this. I'm sorry. I did my best. If that's all you came for, you can leave now."

She knew he wouldn't enjoy that particular news and she lowered her eyes, waiting for his anger to take control and expecting him to tell her how much she had screwed things up. Either way, she was far beyond the point she cared anymore about that.

But instead, his voice was compassionate when he asked, "So that why you got bruises and all? They hit you?"

"Kinda..." she whispered, still avoiding his eyes.

"Hey, look at me."

His voice was soft but his tone was imperative and she knew that it was actually an order. She timidly met his eyes, seeing only concern and sadness in his stare.

"Tell me what happened."

His voice was filled with so much comforting kindness that she couldn't hold back her tears anymore. The walls of denial she'd spent two days building in her mind suddenly collapsed and she felt an incontrollable urge to tell him, at least to tell somebody, whoever it was.

Her voice was breaking with sobs when she answered, "They hit me and then... they assaulted me. They would have raped me... Harry told them to stop... but I know he's the one who asked for it."

She took a deep breath, partially relieved to have finally said out loud the words she had kept for herself for two endless, awful days. And now that she had started ripping the bandage over that emotional wound, she couldn't stop half way, she had to go through this.

But her tone was almost apologetic when she added in a low voice, "They were holding me. I... I didn't even try... I was paralyzed with the fear and... they could have done anything to me."

She was openly crying in front of him now, and she turned her face away, still ashamed of what had happened. She was expecting Rio to be harsh on her for letting Harry set her up, but he remained silent. Instead, she shuddered when she suddenly felt his hand timidly landing on her shoulder. His contact was gentle, as if he was asking permission to touch her, giving her the possibility to withdraw from it at any moment. For the first time since they'd met he didn't touch her as if he was entitled to do so. She heard him sigh deeply, his breath loud.

"Elizabeth..." he whispered.

His hand almost imperceptibly pulled her to him but that was just an invitation, and she could tell he was still giving her the choice to follow his move or not. He had never touched her with such genuine tenderness, not out of an impulse of either lust, anger or power play, and that thought filled her heart with a sweet emotion.

But it was the sympathy in his voice as he finally said her name again that left her breathless. She was Elizabeth again and she instantly forgot all the past and present harm they inflicted to each other. Suddenly she felt like herself and nothing else mattered. She let everything go and literally collapsed against his chest. He solidly wrapped his arms around her and she grabbed his shoulders before burying her face in his shirt, her body shaking with sobs. He gently rocked her for a while, his left cheek resting on her silky hair, letting her cry as much as she needed and simply waiting for her to calm down.

"You gonna be okay," he whispered in her ear, and she could tell from his broken breath that he was upset. "It ain't your fault."

That was exactly what she needed to hear right now. He always knew the right thing to say. She felt the warmth of his breath in her neck, blowing away hair that gently ticked her skin, and she pressed her body against his. Her hands slid along his shoulders towards his back until she crossed her wrists around his neck, clinging to him like a shipwreck survivor to a saving rock. His smell was comforting and she gradually calmed down, her despair fading away and replaced by the growing embarrassment of letting him see her in such a weak state. She didn't want to give him that so she quickly straightened, slightly pulling away from him. He simply followed her move, his arms partially untying her from his embrace.

That's when she saw it. The large wet stain that her tears had left on his shirt, spreading around the exact spot of the first bullet she had put inside of him. The water was impregnating the fabric in a similar way his blood once did. A lump of remorse formed in her throat as she was staring at it, and she hoarsely whispered "I'm sorry.", unsure of what she was apologizing for. Rio followed her gaze.

"Don't be." he said, watching the stain on his shirt.

His voice was low and comforting, and she wasn't sure he had caught her analogy.

He spoke again, "But I am, though. Should have asked Demon to come with you on this one."

It was the first time she actually heard him telling her he was sorry for something that happened to her and she felt tears coming back at the corners of her eyes. She didn't let them slid on her cheeks though, and she quickly wiped her eyes before she raised her head to face him. She met his eyes, and he gently asked, "You okay?"

She briefly nodded, her swollen eyes peering at his face, when suddenly a horrible thought formed in her mind, and she had to take a step back and break their physical contact before she asked.

"Is it a thing, among the people in your lane?"

He looked confused, "Whad'you mean?"

"Are gangbangers often doing this... kind of things to women?" she asked, unable to name what she had been through.

He blinked and took a long breath before slowly answering, "Nah, it ain't specific, ma. But we got our lot of assholes, like anywhere."

An awful dread instantly crushed her heart when she wondered if Rio included himself in that category. The fact that he'd always respected her, physically at least, didn't mean he wouldn't act like Harry's boys in other circumstances. And the way Squirrel had touched her face was way too similar to Rio's to not have her worried.

"Are you?" she asked, already shivering at the idea.

"Am I what? You should really work on your specific questioning skills, you know?" he gently teased her.

Her voice was a whisper when she replied, "An asshole."

Rio looked away, as if he were genuinely considering her question, before his eyes came back on her and he slightly shook his head. But that wasn't enough for Beth. She desperately needed to know if she could trust him on this because she couldn't afford losing what remained of her self-esteem. She had opened to him and showed him that intimate fresh wound. She had to make sure this had been a right choice.

"I need you to say it, Christopher."

She was practically begging him at this point, but she did not care anymore to show him or not her distress. Rio's jaws clenched when he heard her calling him by his real name, and she saw sadness in his eyes while he was considering her carefully before answering, obviously hurt.

"That how you see me?"

Anger quickly flickered in his eyes but he kept it in control and didn't let it settle inside. His fists clenched in the effort but his voice was calm, almost solemn, when he finally answered, "Elizabeth... I would never do to any woman what they did to you. And I never did."

Beth sighed in relief at his words, but he wasn't over talking.

"You know you ain't need to give me details if you don't wanna, but can you tell me at least who the real assholes were?" he asked, still upset that she could have thought he was like them.

"I don't know their names," she thoughtfully said, "But they work for Harry. In my mind I call them Squirrel and Turtleneck." she added.

Rio gave her an amused smile at her mention of the nicknames she had given them.

"Could you describe 'em though?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"One looks like a squirrel, one only wears turtlenecks." she replied.

She knew she should have given him an accurate physical description of them, but she did not have the strength to dive in those memories right now and try to remember any detail about them. To her surprise, Rio seemed to accept that, and she couldn't help but notice the quick glance he exchanged with Demon as she was talking. Demon! She had completely forgotten about him, and the thought of him witnessing her meltdown in Rio's arms made her blush.

"Okay, I gotta go now." Rio said, waking Beth from her thoughts. "You get some rest, ma, and let's put the meetings schedule on hold until I give you further notice. I need to check if your undercover is really cooked before I send you back there."

She sighed and gave him a thankful look. She was turning away from him, exhausted and about to seek for the shelter of her bedroom, when she heard his voice in her back.

"Elizabeth?" she turned around and faced him. "It's okay if you ain't wanna tell me 'bout what happened but you should talk to someone. Stress and pain don't wash away that easily."

"I'll think about it." she calmly replied.

"Cool."

He turned his back at her and walked is way through the kitchen towards the entrance. He had almost reached the front door when she rushed after him.

"Rio!" he froze when he heard her calling him and slowly pivoted his head to meet her eyes.

"I didn't give you away when they asked me who was pulling the strings behind. Just wanted to let you know." she explained.

He considered her for a while, his tongue licking his bottom lip as he was processing her words.

"I know." he finally answered. "They wouldn't have done that to you if you had. Take care of yourself, Elizabeth."

 

She nodded and he took a last look at her before he opened the door and left her house. The rain had started to fall, and he quickly climbed in his car.

 

As his car left Elizabeth's alley, Rio acknowledged he had just broken the promise he had made to himself a few weeks before but that wasn't his major concern right now. Seeing her in such a pitiful state had taken his breath away, and he had instantly forgotten his avoidance resolutions. Remorse had invaded him when he had realized that he was on a stupid rollercoaster at the very moment she was at Harry's house, that he was having fun on a holiday when she needed him the most. Therefore doing his best to comfort her, including touching her, had seemed the right thing to do, nah, the only thing to do. He couldn't deny the fact that holding her and feeling her body pressed against his, as if he were the anchor that kept her away from sliding into madness and despair, had awaken protective feelings he didn't want to feel anymore around her. Nor the fact that her thinking he could behave like Harry's guys deeply hurt him. But it highly bothered him to feel that way. Besides, he had to remember that Turner would come for her sooner or later, and he couldn't let his goddamn attraction to her standing in the way. But it didn't mean that he wasn't allowed to sort some things out in the meantime. And right now, he had two little bastards to spot.

He was carefully thinking about the people he knew that were working for Harry when he pulled over in front of his current home. He frowned when he saw a tall silhouette standing next to the building entrance, and now walking towards the car. He only recognized him when he grabbed the door handle.

"Evening." Agent Turner said as he sat on the passenger seat.

"Mine was good 'til you showed up." Rio snorted.

"Funny. I'm not exactly having the time of my life either. Just wanted to let you know that the tips you sent me were surprisingly accurate, we have enough to send a bunch of crime bosses behind bars."

"Cool."

Rio couldn't care less about Turner's opinion on the evidences he had kept sending him since he'd started using Elizabeth as his insider. Right now he had other things to think about. Her face covered with bruises for example. His distraction was the reason why Turner's next words caught him off-guard.

"I hope you didn't forget there's something else I need to close our deal." Turner said in a casual tone, but with a greedy light in his eyes.

Shit. Rio had not expected this moment would come that soon. And especially not now, right after he'd just found out what had happened with Harry. He couldn't do that to her. He deeply sighed.

"Course I didn't forget. But it ain't happenin' right now, al'ight? She's goin' thru stuff."

"You think I care?" Turner sharply answered. "I'm into law enforcement, not charity."

"You don't know what you're fucking talkin' about!" Rio scolded.

He would have strangled the man right away if it weren't the stupidest thing to do. And Turner knew that too. Things were different from the way they were that night at the loft, now Rio was under the constant watch of the feds and killing Turner would directly send him in jail.

"But you know, I'm not a monster." Turner said with a mellow voice. "I give you 'til Monday, three days should be enough to say goodbye, right?"

He addressed him a salacious wink and Rio's fists clenched so hard that his fingernails cut the skin of his palms. Jeez, Elizabeth, and I'm the asshole here? he thought.

"Tell me summin', why is she so important to you?" he asked.

"Why is she so important to you?" Turner retorted with a smirk.

There was a silence during which they both daringly faced each other.

"She ain't." Rio finally said.

"All good then!" Turner opened the car door, "I want the evidences on my desk by Monday morning, otherwise you're a dead man." he added, his face suddenly serious, before he extracted himself from the car.

The door slammed and Rio saw him disappear in the darkness. The rain was pouring now, and the metallic sound of the droplets bouncing on the car roof seemed like a million hammers to him, pushing his head down to the darkest place he'd ever been in. His palms ran across his face several times, his breath heavy and his heart beating fast.

For months, he had known this moment would come, that her fate had been sealed the minute she had pulled the trigger on him, and he had been okay with it. At least it made sense and solved all of his problems at once. But all he could think about right now was the hope in her eyes when she had called him Christopher, and his heart clenched at the thought. Man, how could he even pull a trigger on her and watch her die after what had happened that afternoon? His jaw was mechanically clenching as he was considering every option. He could just turn her in and let Turner take care of it, but he wouldn't give such satisfaction to that crawling bastard. Besides she had made it pretty clear it wasn't what she wanted.

I think I'd rather die.

Her choice hadn't really surprised him, she hated Turner as much as he did, and she'd always had that special taste for drama that mostly pissed him off. But the fact that she was screwed and unhappy to the point of choosing death saddened him. And he hated that he cared so much. He remembered that during the gun-using lessons he'd given her, she'd asked him once if he ever had had to kill people he didn't want to murder. "This lane of work I'm in has casualties, ma." he had answered with a smirk. And with a painful irony, she was the casualty now. From a rational point of view, trading her for his kingdom seemed to be a fair price, but right now her face was the only thing his mind could picture, and there was no kingdom big enough to be worth that. His hand hit the wheel with irritation, expressing his frustration of being unable to think rationally about her. Hopefully, his obsession with her, that he was growingly worried about, would go away in the process. But that was still one of the hardest thing he’d ever had to do.

"I'm sorry, Elizabeth." he whispered, staring at the trails of water along the windshield.

He deeply sighed before he pulled his phone out of his jeans, annoyed to notice that his hands were shaking.

Chapter Text

Beth didn't magically recover from her trauma after talking to Rio, but it made her feel slightly better and a part of the weight that was crushing her shoulders was gone. She was eating and sleeping again, but she still suffered from some aftershock reactions. She knew now that it would take her time to overcome what she'd been through, but saying out loud the words she had been keeping for herself was a big step.

Besides, she had been re-thinking about the whole way Harry had asked for that meeting with a crappy excuse and set up the assault. Now she understood that it had been a warning, and that Harry probably didn't intend to let his men rape her. His point was just to remind her what he was capable of if she turned out to be the insider he suspected. It wasn't a very comforting thought anyway, but it gave a certain meaning to the whole thing, and since she didn't have to go to other meetings right now, she tried not to think about it and focused all her energy into treating and soothing herself. Demon was staying at her place day and night now, something she discovered made her feel safer, and even if they never talked about what went wrong in that meeting, she could tell he was more attentive and nice to her than the usual.

But everything changed two days later. That morning, when she entered the living room, seeking for her coffee as usual, she spotted a busy Cisco collecting all the binders and work-related items he could find in her living-room to put them in boxes.

"What's going on?" she asked. "Is my job over?"

Demon, whose presence she hadn't noticed yet, turned his head towards her from the opposite corner of the living room.

"Don't mind this. You come with me Mrs. Boland." he said.

"What happens? Where are we going?"

Demon ignored her and she sighed, wondering if something serious had happened, since the guys didn't wear friendly faces this morning. Maybe the meeting with Harry was just the emerged part of the iceberg and Rio had found out she was way more threatened than he thought so he was taking her somewhere safer. She went back to her bedroom and got properly dressed before grabbing her purse. She came out a few minutes later, and Demon just nodded towards the door before leaving the living room, so she followed him. She climbed in the car and he started the engine as soon as her door was closed.

"Don't we wait for Cisco?" she asked, vaguely in alarm.

"No." Demon grunted as he was reaching the end of the street.

The drive last for about half an hour, during which Demon kept surprisingly quiet. He'd never been a chatty one, but over the weeks, Beth had developed a kind of friendly relationship with him and they would often share a minimal amount of chit-chat. She tried to start a conversation thrice before giving up. That's when she realized they were leaving inhabited areas and heading out of Detroit suburbs. Something definitely felt wrong and fear slowly started to grow in her stomach.

"Demon, where are we going?"

She hated how unsure her voice came out but she had to ask.

Demon kept a poker face as he drily retorted, "You'll find out soon enough."

Saying so, he left the regular road to engage the car on a forest trail. That was the moment when she knew it was finally happening. A wave of panicked despair hit her as she realized she had not even been able to say goodbye to her kids. Not to mention Annie she hadn't spoken to since their argument in her backyard. She had always assumed that when the day would come, Rio would let her know and give her some time to say a proper farewell to the world. But it was too late to think about that now. Things weren't supposed to happen like this and she suddenly found herself unable to breath. Tears silently falling down her cheeks, she reinstalled at the back of her seat, trying to enjoy every small sensation that life was still able to provide. The cold autumn sun shining between the trees leaves. The rumors of birds. The rough caress of the chilly breeze on her skin. The smell of aromatic bushes they would pass along the way. She didn't say another word during the five more minutes of the drive before Demon stopped the engine at the end of the path and extracted himself from the car. Not even thinking about attempting to escape, she followed him as he walked below the trees and entered the forest. They walked for a few more minutes, both silent, before Demon stopped in the middle of nowhere and she looked around her, expecting to see Rio and his gun waiting for her. But there was no one in sight. She slowly turned towards Demon who was watching her, uneasy.

"He, hum, he won't attend." he said with obvious discomfort. "He asked me to do it." he added while pulling out his gun from his belt, checking the clip.

Beth suddenly felt like she was drowning as she realized she wouldn't get the chance to see Rio again. In some way, the thought of being murdered by the very man she had shot, the one who had dragged her in this living hell in the first place, someone with whom she shared such a twisted history, was somehow comforting. She had pictured this moment many times, thinking about the last things, the unspoken ones, she would be able to tell him before she'd go. She had seen this as some kind of closure, one that would give her a peace of mind during the last minutes of her life. But this... Things couldn't just end like that. Tears came out of her eyes before she knew she was crying. Her whole body was shaking, and she was having a hard time at breathing when she felt Demon's hand gently tapping her back.

"I'm really sorry Mrs. Boland. Gotta say I ain't happy either." he told her.

She watched him through her tears, "Why?"

Demon looked at her for a while.

"Cause you're a nice lady, and you've always been kind to me. I had fun workin' with ya. There is nothing 'bout you that makes me wanna kill ya." he said, embarrassed and looking at his feet.

She thought he was only inches away from blushing and the idea amused her in the middle of her despair.

"I don't understand." she fumbled. "Arent' you supposed to follow orders without questioning them?"

"Yeah, but it ain't my job to kill ya. That's Rio's." he replied with a stubborn look on his face, and she thought he probably already had had this argument with Rio.

"Since when are you discussing your boss's orders?"

"Since he aint' playin' by the rules. See, unless it's absolute necessity, you never get to spend time with someone ya're supposed to kill. Cuz you could bond. And it ain't good."

She scoffed, "Talk about bonds between me and Rio, then!"

But then she remembered the way he was avoiding her looks a few weeks ago, his coldness. Maybe that was it. Maybe he was emotionally detaching from her, knowing he would have to end things soon. But then how to explain his arms around her and the emotion in his voice when he had found out about Harry? She thought she had known for sure that he cared about her since that, but now she was completely lost.

"That's different." Demon answered, awaking her from her thoughts.

"Is it?" Beth asked.

Despite the fact that she had more or less assumed Rio would come himself for her, she realized she had absolutely no idea of the murder allotment system in use in the criminal world.

"Yeah. Cause you two have history." Demon sighed.

"What do you know exactly about that?" Beth got alarmed, feeling growingly embarrassed.

Until now, it had never occurred to her that Rio might have actually shared stuff about their past intimacy with his crew. It didn't sound like him but hey, did she know him at all? The thought of him bragging with his guys about getting into her pants was making her cheeks burn. It wasn't fair, she thought, before admitting to herself that she had been sharing a few details with her own crew too, as she remembered Annie and Ruby desperately wanting to know if Rio was a good kisser. And as far as she remembered, her yes was way more enthusiastic than she had intended it to be.

"Not much, don't worry 'bout that" Demon told her, an understanding smile showing up on his face when he saw her blushing.

Beth looked at him thoughtfully, finally wondering why Rio hadn't come to handle this himself. Whatever reason he had, this was ultimate cowardice she would never have expected from him.

"Why didn't he show up then?" she asked, her voice almost begging.

"Ain't quite sure. Never happened before." Demon replied, going back and forth on his feet in a motion that somehow reminded her of Rio. "But he's asking me to do it for him."

And just like that, Beth's despair turned into a white ball of anger and hatred. She had had to hit that rock bottom to finally rise from the ashes of her dignity. Suddenly, she was sick of being everyone's toy to be played with and then trashed away. Dean, Turner, Harry, they had all treated her with disrespect. And Rio. Him more than anyone. "Fuck it!" she thought, "Fuck them! All of them!". Over the past few weeks she had resigned herself to die but discovering it wouldn't be from Rio's hand had given her an upsurge for living and now she wouldn't surrender that easily.

She slowly raised her head at the realization that she didn't want to die anymore. She admitted she was a bit late to acknowledge that, but maybe she still had a chance to make it through, if she was real quick.

"Can I get a minute to gather myself?" she asked with pleading eyes.

"Sure." Demon gently said.

His arm holding the gun was hanging along his body and his grip didn't seem very firm. If she could take it by surprise maybe she would be able to take advantage of the situation. She lowered her eyes and slowly walked in an erratic way, as if she were internally praying or centering her mind or any yoga-like crap she remembered she'd learned when Ruby and her had decided to follow yoga classes two years before and gave up after three sessions. She wasn't walking directly towards Demon, but she managed to get close enough to suddenly reach for his gun. It all happened in a heartbeat. She didn't see him move at all, but before she knew it he was in her back, gently but firmly holding her away from the gun. She couldn't help but notice that his grip wasn't hurtful nor threatening, and he let her go the minute she stopped trying to take the gun from his hand.

"Ain't gonna work this way." he scoffed.

His face was carrying the same look of mixed amusement and dismay she had when one of her kids was trying to do something way beyond their capacities with a genuine confidence, just like that time Jane had wanted to jump backward while she could barely walk. Beth felt stupid. She had blown her only chance and was desperately trying to figure out something else.

Somewhere back into reality she heard Demon say, "I'm sorry for you Mrs. Boland, it really ain't personal. Don't worry I'll make it quick and you ain't gonna suffer. Whenever you ready."

"Demon, please..." she started.

He slowly shook his head, "I ain't really have a choice here, Mrs. Boland."

There is always a choice

She stared at him with determination, "Yeah, you do. If you don't wanna do it, then don't do it."

"What?"

"Come on," she said, "Every man has a price, just tell me what's yours."

If going to criminal meetings while impersonating a self-confident Boss Bitch had ever taught her anything about negotiating lost causes, now was her final test. She was ready to accept any price or request from Demon, but she thought she'd rather focus his mind on money, so she added, "You could work for me. Whatever Rio pays you, I'll pay more."

"It ain't 'bout the money." Demon said.

"What is it about then?"

He sighed, "You know how long I've been working for Rio?"

She shook her head. She had never actually thought about this.

"Twelve years. He's my boss but my friend too. He saved my life, and I saved his, more than once. I was there with him in the hospital the day his son was born... How much would it take for ya to betray your lady friends?"

She sighed and lowered her eyes with discouragement, "It's priceless. I get it."

But the look in Demon's eyes told her that maybe there was something she could use here. Her brain had never worked so fast than in that moment.

"What was it you were telling me about earlier? About playing by the rules? Didn't Rio betray you first when he asked you to kill me?"

Demon peered at her with a strange and confused expression in his eyes and she knew she had found his trigger. All she had to do was to keep delicately pulling that string without having him notice how much she was manipulating him right now.

"Come on." She said with a caressing voice, "I know he pissed you off. And believe me, I know how hard and unrewarding it is to work for him. Don't you want to give him a taste of his own medicine, just for once?"

"You kinda have a point." he slowly said. "But it'd cost ya a fuckin' load of cash for me to do that." he grinned.

Beth was puzzled. Behind her apparent self-confidence, she had not been sure this would work at all, mostly because she always figured Demon as a personification of loyalty she couldn't imagine disobeying to Rio. But it wasn't her problem after all, as long as she escaped her imminent death.

"So what amount of cash are we talking about?" she inquired.

"Two hundred grand seem a good start" Demon replied.

She widely opened her eyes and shook her head in disbelief, "How am I getting that amount of money?"

Demon shrugged, "Ain't my problem."

"Wouldn't you like a new car instead? A Cadillac? Or maybe a Corvette?"

"Corvette sounds good. Plus one hundred then."

"Jesus, you're expensive to buy!" she pointed out with annoyance. "A Corvette plus eighty."

"Nah, my mom needs a new kitchen and I could use some extra cash, so the car and a hundred is my final offer."

She rolled her eyes to the mention of Demon's mother, but she didn't exactly have much of a choice here.

"Fine." she sighed. "But I want you to tip me about Rio's next moves in the upcoming weeks, and I need an access to any warehouse or storage unit he uses to store his fake cash!"

She didn't just want to escape from death and disappear. She wanted Rio to pay for hugging her and letting her think he cared before sending a killing order two days later and not even show up. While she was negotiating with Demon, her brain was working on a whole new plan, but she found it wiser not to reveal too much of it to Demon. She wasn't really sure of where his loyalty was lying right now.

"Deal." Demon finally agreed.

She sighed in relief. She would have to convince Dean to give a Corvette away, but it suddenly seemed the easiest thing on earth compared to negotiate the terms of her own life with stubborn gangbangers.

"So how are we doing this?" she asked, her practical mind back in control. "Are you just gonna tell him that you did it? Or that I somehow knocked you down and ran away?"

"Nah. That fed guy, he asked for proofs, I'm gonna need 'em."

"What kind of proofs are we talking about?" Beth slowly asked, unsure of actually wanting to know the answer to that question.

"Pics, mostly. Along with body parts." Demon casually said.

"Body parts?" Beth repeated with a shiver.

"Yeah, like you know, fingers, toes, earlo—"

"Okay, I get it!" she interrupted him with a scared face. "Is there any scenario when I don't get to cut myself something off? Can't you take it on someone else?"

Demon looked at her incredulously, as if her thinking that he carried dead bodies along with him was a shocking surprise, "Who? Ain't fuckin' Santa, you know!" he told her with a severe look. "Plus it's risky. They may wanna check the DNA anyway." he added.

She signed in discouragement, already wondering which toe she was the most willing to lose, when Demon suddenly said, "Got an idea though."

Before Beth got the chance to answer, he reached to the car trunk and extracted a large red bag with a white cross painted on it that he dropped at her feet. She remained silent, waiting for whatever was coming since the situation was already far beyond anything she could have imagined. Demon opened the bag to reveal large medical syringes and what looked like empty blood bags. He looked at her.

"Blood okay for ya or you go for the toe?" he said.

"Since when first aid kits include blood donation equipment?" she blinked incredulously.

"You familiar with the concept of gun fight, Mrs Boland?" Demon asked with a sarcastic grin. His face got back to serious, "Sometimes shit happens. And these 'lil babies..." – he gently tapped the blood bags – "they can save your life. Gimme whatever arm you want."

Beth decidedly chose to ignore the fact that gangbangers casually carrying professional medical supplies with them lead to the scary conclusion of the existence of connections between gangs and hospitals. Instead, she rolled over her left sleeve up, letting Demon come closer and disinfect the internal side of her elbow.

Fifteen minutes later, Demon and Beth had figured out all the details. The set-up they were planning wouldn't work forever, but it would buy her enough time to reach to a safer place and, as she hoped, get the revenge she wanted. Demon would cover her in her own blood in a way suggesting that she had been shot. He was planning on taking pictures of the scene that he would send to Rio as a proof of the murder. Beth was concerned about the fact that Rio might find that evidence way too light, but Demon's set of proofs also included some of her hair that he intended to cut off, blood-stained pieces of her dress, and any personal item that she would find appropriate. She gave it a few thoughts before she agreed on giving him the golden chain that surrounded her neck, the one she loved and would never give away, the one Rio once complimented her on.

Not over the top at all!

"He's already got my pearls, he'll start a collection!" she sneered.

Suddenly she was in a cheerful mood because she found the insanity of the whole situation hilarious, and maybe also because the adrenaline flowing through her veins made her feel dizzy. Nothing made sense anymore, her body was supposed to be cold by now, and yet she was alive, setting up her own death, still unsure of why Demon had finally agreed on helping her instead of following Rio's orders.

"So, are you performing on me the most realistic Halloween make-up of all times or what?" she asked.

"There's somethin' I need to do first." Demon grunted.

He walked back to the car and extracted a shovel from the trunk. He took a few steps back, and started digging a hole in the ground that she assumed was supposed to be her grave.

"Seriously? Do you always have a shovel in your car or is it just on special occasions?" she managed to ask before she let out a hysterical laughter.

Demon ignored her and she gradually got back to serious.

"Do we have to be that realistic?" she asked, worried that the grave digging process might take a long time.

"Cant' let any detail in our way, Mrs. Boland, our boss's a smart one." Demon replied to her. "It's chilly outta here, you can go back in the car and listen to some music if you wanna." he added with a shrug.

"Let me tell you two things." she immediately replied. "One, don't ever say our boss again, Rio is not my boss. Two, don't be stupid, I'll help you."

It took them an hour to dig a hole deep enough.

Demon then watched her with an uneasy look on his face, "Don't take this the wrong way Mrs Boland, but... Imma need your dress for a minute. Without you inside" he added, clearing his throat. "You can change in the car, I ain't watchin'. I believe there's an old T-shirt on the backseat if you want summin' to wear in the meantime."

He looked so uncomfortable that she resisted the temptation to retort with some acidic comment about gangbangers obsessively undressing her. Instead she nodded and walked to the car. One minute later, she was handing him the dress, shivering in the large T-shirt aforementioned. Demon carefully laid the dress on the freshly shoved pile of dirt and seemed to study it for a few seconds before he suddenly pulled his gun out of his belt and shot the clothe in its upper area. Beth couldn't repress a gasp at the sudden bang but Demon imperturbably handed her the dress.

"Put it back on." he enjoined. "Then Imma need ya to come lay in your grave."

Five minutes later, as he was way too quickly artistically spilling blood on her chest until he got the effect he was looking for, she suddenly asked, "This is not the first time you are doing this, is it?"

He briefly shook his head, "Nah."

She rolled her eyes back to the sky above, meditating about how the criminal world was still full of surprises.

When Demon got finished with making the wounds on her chest realistic, he came closer to her head and paused.

"Don't talk now, gonna put some on your face too." he said.

"Weren't you supposed to aim at the heart?" she asked, wondering what kind of shot would produce such a dramatic visual effect.

Demon hesitated, "Yeah... Let's say I screwed up and ya chocked a bit." he finally shrugged.

Beth rolled her eyes at Demon's tone which was so casual it would have made her laugh if the mention of choking had not brought back to her mind a very specific memory. The vision of Rio lying on the floor with blood rushing out of his mouth suddenly sobered her mood. She stayed still while Demon spilled blood droplets on her lips and on the corners of her mouth before drawing large red paths that crossed her cheeks.

It took him a while to achieve what was apparently his idea of a realistic corpse, and then he extracted himself from the hole to take a few pictures with his phone. She did her best to follow his instructions on what to do with her eyes and her breath to make it look real but she was growingly wondering if Rio would be fooled for even a second. He must have seen so many dead bodies after all, she thought, that she didn't stand a chance to make him believe she was actually dead.

Once he got finished, Demon handed her a pair of scissors, asking her to cut off a lock of her own hair and to tear up the part of her dress that was covered in blood, while he would refill the hole with the dirt they moved. Of course, Beth thought, they had been digging a grave only to refill it afterwards. She did what he asked and she tried to rub her face in the dress to remove the dried blood that was covering her skin but she clearly needed a shower. Demon gathered the hair and fabric in a small plastic bag and Beth added her necklace with regret. He then went back to filling the grave and she came to help. They didn't exchange any word until they were finished.

"You have a place to stay?" he asked afterwards.

She nodded, "My sister's."

If there was anywhere she could seek for a no-questions-asked shelter, it was definitely Annie's place. Besides she felt guilty for almost dying without having spoken to her once more and all she wanted right now was to see her sister and make it up to her.

Beth was covered in blood and dirt with her dress half torn up and the sight of her would have scared anyone, but she still intended it as a joke when she asked, "Should I travel in the trunk?"

"Might be better." Demon nodded.

She rolled her eyes but didn't say a word as he opened the trunk for her and helped her to climb in. It was actually pretty comfortable in there, but she could barely move which felt very oppressive, so she was glad to hear the car engine stop running when they arrived, and to see some light again when Demon opened the trunk in a deserted alley around the corner of Annie's building. He walked back to the driver's seat and she was about to quickly sneak inside the building when she suddenly called him back.

"Demon?" she hissed

He turned his head and interrogatively looked at her. They silently stared at each other for a few seconds.

"Thank you." she softly said. "And tell your mother that Best Buy have great deals on kitchen facilities."

He nodded briefly and replied, "You're welcome Mrs. Boland."

"It's Beth!" she replied before he climbed in the car and started the engine.

She loudly knocked at Annie's door and waited for at least a minute before her sister opened the door.

"Listen, if you come to talk me into Jesus again I swear—" Annie began before she saw who was standing in front of her, "Oh my God!" she put her hands at her mouth, "Beth, what happened to you?"

"Can I come in?" Beth quickly asked, unwilling to be seen by anyone.

Annie took a step aside to let her in and she carefully closed the door behind Beth.

"Can I hide here for a couple of days?" Beth asked.

She stared at Annie and noticed the way she was looking at her.

"What?"

"It's just... You're covered in blood and dirt." Annie explained.

Beth shrugged, "Oh... Yeah, don't worry about that."

"So it's not yours then?"

"No. I mean... Yes, it's mine, but that's not the point!"

"Beth, what happened?" Annie insisted, furrowing her eyebrows. "I mean... I knew you weren't safe but I didn't think—"

"Ruby told you?"

"Course she did. About ten seconds after she hung up the phone!" Annie snapped.

Beth sighed and smiled at her sister, "You know what? For once I'm glad you and Ruby are both so unable at keeping secrets!"

"Yeah, whatever, but, like, can we go back to why you just showed up at my place covered in blood? Seems like you have a lot of catching up to do!"

"You have no idea!" Beth giggled with an evil smile.

Beth felt happier than she had been for weeks. The relief of finally talk to Annie, probably coupled to managing to escape death on that very morning made her euphoric. And hungry, she realized.

"But I'm gonna take a shower first." she said. "By the way, my dress is ruined, would you have loose clothes I could wear? I don't have your skinny type."

"How come that even calling me skinny sounds like criticism when it comes from you?" Annie teased.

But Beth wasn't listening anymore, already half naked in the bathroom, eager to clean herself up. When she came back, wrapped in a towel, Annie was sitting at the table in front of two cups of tea along with two glasses filled with what seemed to be vodka.

"I wasn't sure which one you needed the most." Annie grinned with a half-devilish half-apologetic expression on her face.

"Has anyone ever told you that you're the scariest genius of all times?" Beth replied while pouring the vodka in her tea and taking a large sip.

"Yeah! You did. Bunch of times!" Annie scoffed. "And I got you some clothes." she added, handing her a pair of sweat pants and an old T-shirt.

"Thanks. Could you call Ruby and ask her to come by as soon as she can?" Beth asked as she briefly turned around to dress up.

"Sure. It's not like I had plans anyway!" Annie snapped.

"And tell her to bring Chinese, I'm starving! And some booze too. I won't make it through with that cheap vodka of yours!"

"Hey!" Annie protested. "That cheap vodka saved the day more than once! But maybe you'd prefer cinnamon schnaps?"

It didn't take long before Ruby came over. Once the three of them sat in Annie's couch, Beth started to tell the girls all about what happened since the night they had argued in her backyard. She hesitated when she came to the part involving Harry's house, but then she heard Rio's voice resonating in her head.

You should talk to someone. Stress and pain don't wash away that easy.

And she dived into the memories of that day. Most of it at least, she kept some details for herself, but the tears in Annie and Ruby's eyes and the comforting arms they wrapped around her shoulders meant the world. However she didn't tell them anything about Rio's embrace and broken breathe when he'd found out. She knew they wouldn't approve of how she still felt about it. She then finished her story with what happened on that very morning and the reason why she'd shown up at Annie's looking like a zombie. There was a heavy silence that Annie finally broke, trying to lighten the mood.

"You should totally have your own reality show you know that? They could name it Extreme Gangbangers or something like that!"

"Gross. Sounds like porn." Ruby replied with a disgusted face.

"Yeah, kinda." Annie slowly said. "I guess they couldn't air that on prime time. But I'd watch that show anyway!"

Beth laughed.

"So, if I get this right." Ruby started. "Rio threatened you, forced you to work for him, sent you to a rapists house and then asked for you to be killed. Turns out he's not the one pulling the trigger, and that's the part you're not okay with?"

"Well, yeah!" Beth vigorously nodded.

Annie let out a hiss suggesting that Beth was insane, but she just asked, "So what are you gonna do now? Can't hide forever, and Rio or Turner might eventually find out you're alive, right?"

"Yeah, I've been thinking about that..." Beth replied. "Girls, I've had an idea."

"Oh no, not that crap again!" Ruby moaned, rolling her eyes.

Beth ignored her as she kept talking, "I'm starting my own gang!"

"Please tell me I misheard and you just told us you started your own band!" Annie said. "At least the piano lessons would finally turn out to be useful... We could totally be the new Destiny's Child!"

She started to dance on an imaginary song before she realized Beth was serious and she stopped, waiting for what was coming next.

"Think about it! To anyone I'm either fake or dead, but what if I weren't? For weeks I've been attending all that meetings, I know who is who and what the deals are. I can totally take Rio over and steal the kingdom by myself!" Beth explained.

The girls both considered her with a doubtful expression, as if they were wondering about her sanity.

"You sure 'bout that?" Annie asked.

And no, Beth definitely wasn't sure about that, she felt like this was a suicide mission, but did she have a choice anyway? Like Annie had said, she couldn't hide forever. She had briefly considered the idea of taking that opportunity to just disappear far away with the kids and forget all about the criminal stuff. Start over a new life. But she couldn't let Rio get away with what he had done to her. Besides, if she was truly honest with herself, she knew deep down that sooner or later she'd miss the thrill of her criminal activities. And she might spend her entire life fearing, and maybe kinda hoping, that Rio would eventually find out that she was alive and come for her. But she wouldn't tell the girls that. A boss always needed to sound confident with her crew, right?

So she just smiled when she said, "All I'm sure about is that it's the only chance that I have."

She couldn't lie to them either.

"And I need the money." she sighed. "I owe Demon a lot of cash and he told me he would finish the job if I didn't pay him."

"You're insane, you know that?" Annie said with an affectionate smile. "So what's the plan?"

"We need to act fast. If Rio sent me to death, it means he doesn't need me anymore and he's ready to take his kingdom back and tell the world he's alive."

"Oh right, I forgot, so you're a ghost taking over another ghost!" a hysterical Annie pointed out.

"This gives us a few days, two or three weeks top, to close the deals behind his back and steal everything from his storage units before he figures out I'm not dead."

"Wait a minute," Ruby suddenly said. "You still have access to these?"

"No, but Demon has."

"And you trust Rio's BFF in letting you steal his boss's kingdom because...?" Annie asked.

"Because I generously pay him for that! Actually he thinks I only want to steal some fake cash I'll wash to cover what it costs me to pay him." Beth explained. "But we are stealing everything!" she added with an evil smile.

"We? Uh uh, do I have to remind you the part when I said I wouldn't get my hands dirty anymore because of Stan?" Ruby replied.

"I know. I figured you could handle the bakery business and upscale it, maybe eventually go legit with it if that's okay for you. I'm gonna need a cover income if I make Rio's money."

Ruby gave her a thankful look, "It's more than okay, sweetie."

"What about me?' Annie asked.

"You'll help me empty the warehouses. And wash some cash if you don't mind."

Annie nodded and Beth smiled, enjoying the sweet taste of her revenge on what Rio had done to her.

 

Rio wasn't really proud of himself for once. Since his last encounter with Turner and the inevitable decision that followed, he had tried to delay the moment as much as he could, pretending to himself that he was doing it for her, until he'd realized he couldn't shoot Elizabeth. Not after what just happened to her, and if he were truly honest with himself, probably not at all, no matter what or when. Being sad or sorry for killing someone was something he had already experienced a few times before, but he had never felt physically incapable of ending things. The simple idea of watching her die made him sick, and that was another line to add to the fucking long list of things about her that pissed him off, that she would even make him lose that cold, calculating self-control he was so proud of.

But that twisted game they were both playing with each other had to stop someday, right? He'd always known this shit couldn't end well, and in his opinion, it had already lasted for way too long, since it had almost cost him his life already. But deep down, he sensed that he owed her to do it himself, and he had intended to do so until the very last moment, the one when he had given up and called Demon, asking him to do the dirty job. He knew his boy would be pretty pissed off, but it was the least he could do for Elizabeth, if not killing her himself, not to send some random guy she'd never seen before to do it.

And now it was probably already over, since Demon'd always been efficient at handling things, but he was trying not to think about it and act normal when Demon entered his office.

"It's done, boss." he simply said, dropping the small plastic bag containing evidences in front of him. "Gotcha DNA for the feds. Just sent ya the pics on your burner too." he added.

"Good." Rio nodded before checking his phone to look at the pictures, simultaneously wanting and not wanting to see them.

And there she was, lying with lifeless eyes wide open, blood spreading on her chest and face, and it suddenly all felt very real. Too much real actually, Rio realized, as he found it hard to swallow. He could tell that the blood covering the items Demon had brought was real, and that made him feel weird. He hadn't expected that.

He cleared his throat, "Took her a long time to go?"

"Nah, didn't want her to suffer. Was less than a minute before she was gone." Demon coldly said. "She choked a lot, though, so I guess it wasn't a pleasant moment." he added, with a hint of anger in his voice.

Rio knew that Demon was still angry at him for having to do the dirty job and wouldn't pass on any occasion to shame him. Fair enough, he thought, for once he knew he had screwed things up.

"Did she... say somethin' when she knew the moment had come?" Rio asked. "She upset?"

"She said she was sad not to be able to say goodbye. She thought it would be you." Demon told him.

She had wished to say goodbye. They never said goodbye. That was a need he didn't know he had until now, and it left him breathless. He was feeling growingly sick as the realization that Elizabeth Boland was gone forever was gradually imposing to his mind. But he kept a poker face and a casual tone.

"She said anythin' else?"

"She asked for a couple minutes to prepare herself. Then she told me she was ready, thanked me for my kindness and asked for her kids'd to live with their aunt." Demon's voice was neutral and calm, as if he was describing what he had had at dinner the day before.

"That weird. Her sister's crazy." Rio commented. "And that's it? You shot her then?"

Demon gave him a confused look, "Whatchu mean, boss?"

"She said anything 'bout me?" Rio asked, barely able to keep a casual voice.

Finally, he'd let it out. The only question that had been running through his mind since the beginning. He was mad at himself for wanting to know so badly if she'd thought about him on her last moments, but maybe he would finally be able to stop thinking about her once he'd know every detail. There wouldn't be any room left for uncertain fantasies. Maybe he'd stop wondering if he'd ever meant something to her, knowing that all of this shit was forever over anyway. Maybe he would stop trying to understand the mystery she was. Think you know someone, he thought, and then outta nowhere she shoots you, and then tells you she wants you to kill her before falling in your arms and calling you by your name with pleading eyes that just make you wanna kiss her.

But enough with that! He shook his head as if his obsessive thoughts were a bunch of flies that could just fly away as he moved.

"Oh yeah, bout that, she told me to tell you nothin'." Demon said with the same factual tone.

"And what's that supposed to mean, yeah?" Rio snapped with irritation.

"She told me, Demon, please tell Rio that... no. Nothing. Forget it. And then I shot her. That's it."

Rio stayed still and kept silent for a few seconds before he lightly nodded with a small wave of his hand. Dismissed. Demon shrugged and turned around, carefully closing the door behind him.

Rio waited until he'd heard Demon's footsteps going away before he allowed himself a deep sigh. Killing Elizabeth was supposed to help him to get over her. She was a constant threat to his business, and he needed Turner off his back, which were already two sufficient reasons to eliminate her from the picture. Not to mention she'd attempted to kill him. He'd usually get rid of somebody who'd have done any of these things way sooner. She had been his rotten egg all along, but he'd been stupid enough to not want to see it. When he had a problem, he handled it. And she had turned out to be one at some point. Sure, things with her had been fucking intense, but there was nothing his calculating and rational mind couldn't forget, was it? Wasn't as if he'd never killed anyone before anyway. He'd done the right thing, he convinced himself, and he'd get over it soon. And this awful twist he felt in his chest right now? It would go away. It had to. Besides, it wasn't like he didn't have a fuckin' good reason to do it.

He grabbed his phone and dialed Turner number.

"It's done. Just texted you the pics. Want me to mail you her blood or summin' too?"

"Nah, I'm good with the pics. Very good framing by the way. The photographer's got an artsy soul." Turner's voice sarcastically answered.

"So we good?"

"I'm afraid not. She wasn't the biggest fish in the sea after all."

"What does this mean?"

"It means she wasn't the only one I wanted out, and you're next on my bucket list. And it's really convenient that you just happen to have murdered an innocent woman!"

Rio felt his heart sink in his chest.

"Not that innocent." he grunted.

"That'll be for the judge to decide." Turner replied before hanging up.

Rio was shaking now. At least getting Turner off his back was an acceptable reason for murdering her, but now he wasn't even sure she'd died for a good cause. Things had tended to go out of control lately, but this was way worse than he thought. And once again, it was on her. He had always been proud of his ability to think several steps ahead of everyone, but ever since she had appeared in the picture, he had started to lose those steps, one by one. Little by little, she'd introduced chaos in his life, until things had turned into a giant mess. He felt awful. It seemed he'd kept taking bad decisions since he had met her, and he was remorseful for ordering her death as much as he hated her for making him lose his mind over her. He tried to remind himself that he did all this for Marcus in the first place, that he had had no choice but accept Turner's deal in order to stay alive for his son, but that was the shittiest excuse he'd ever invoked. The truth was that he was scared of the power she had over him and he had asked for her death only to prove a point and win the fight, no matter how heartbreaking this decision was. But that didn't solve anything, it just made it worse.

He nervously rubbed his face with his palm, trying to calm down, and he breathed deeply several times before he called back Demon.

"Where exactly did you do it?" he asked, his face agitated.

"What, you wanna pay your respects on her grave or summin'?"

"Turner fooled me. If he finds her body I'm out. Tell me where she is!"

Demon couldn't help but devilishly smile when he answered, "You better not know. But trust me boss, nobody's ever gonna find that body."

And just like that, Rio felt that something was wrong, but maybe he was just having that crazy hope that things happened differently this time.

Raising an eyebrow, he casually asked, "Lemme ask you somethin', yeah? How come you ain't brought me body parts this time?"

"I liked that woman. She was nice to me. Sounded disrespectful to cut her off." Demon grunted.

Fair enough, Demon had shared a daily life with her for weeks, Rio thought. He should have expected her to use her domestic charms on him. And so much for thinking even for a second that Demon wouldn't do his job. But the boy's whole attitude was getting on his nerves, and that was something he had to sort out right now.

"Why d'you sound so angry?" Rio suddenly asked with narrowed eyes.

"Cause I ate her damn cookies for breakfast this mornin'." Demon snapped.

"You know you're not here to do stuff you like, yeah? You here to do stuff I pay you for! And never ever discuss it." Rio hissed back drily.

"I know." Demon nodded. "But I ain't wanna be paid for what I did this mornin'." he added with a shrug.

"Why?" Rio asked with surprise.

"Cuz it would make it legit." Demon said with a strange expression.

He didn't wait for Rio to dismiss him, as he slowly turned back and closed the door behind him. Rio sighed. It wasn't the first time Demon was mad at him but he knew that it wouldn't last more than a few days so it didn't really bother him. Something way more important was bothering him right now.

Rio kept his bad mood all day and he let his anger flow through his interactions with everyone. His crew was way too loyal to ask about what was going on, despite how rude and harsh he got with them, but everyone knew that Rio was upset. That day seemed to last forever and all he wanted was to stop thinking about her and not feel that awful clench in his stomach at the thought that he'd killed her for nothing but his ego.

He was genuinely happy when he got to bed that night, convinced that he'd get some rest and forget about her. But the dream started as soon as he fell asleep. He was there, in the forest, watching them as if it were a movie, Demon holding the gun with a grumpy face and asking, "You ready Mrs. Boland?" while she, pale but determined, was silently nodding.

And then suddenly, "No, wait. Demon, please tell Rio that... No. Nothing."

At this point Rio rushed forward between the two of them, and Beth turned her head, staring at him with surprise.

"Tell me what, Elizabeth?" he softly asked.

But the expression on her face suddenly turned from surprise to an excruciating pain. He gazed down and spotted the huge blood stain quickly enlarging on her chest before she collapsed at his feet.

He woke up shaking and covered in sweat, feeling sharp waves of pain running through his own chest. The dream was so vivid that he felt like he had seen her for real, and the memory of her gaze while she was dying was unbearable. He got up and almost ran to the bathroom with nausea. Leaning against the basin, he stared at his own reflection in the mirror until the urge to vomit went away. He spread fresh water on his face and stayed there for a few more minutes, waiting for his heart to slow down and his body to stop shaking. He suddenly wondered if she had felt the same way after she'd shot him and how she had managed to live with the memory of that night. Now was too late to find out anyway.

Back to his bedroom he peered at the plastic bag Demon had given him. He hadn't paid much attention to its content until now, but he suddenly spotted the necklace, the one she had bought with his fucking money and that looked so good on her, even when she had a gun pointed at her face.

And as he was remembering that particular day, all the other memories suddenly came back to his mind. The way she stared at him with a shining smile when he had said something that pleased her, the way her gaze always focused on his mouth whenever he came closer, and the way she tried not to stare at his mouth in those moments. The last one made him smile as he recalled how cute he found that she tried so hard to hide her attraction to him while it was so obvious.

For no particular reason he opened the bag which released a hint of her scent and other memories came back. Physical ones. The way she mouthed his name in his ear as he screwed her in her marital bed, the way her body always reacted to his touch, the softness of her skin and the taste of her mouth as her tongue would meet his.

He blankly stared at the lock of hair, absurdly wanting to brush it away from her face.

"I'm so sorry, Elizabeth." he whispered.

And then he heard her voice in his head, as clear as the sun that had illuminated her face that day.

You can't solve all your problems by shooting someone

He realized she was right. He'd thought he finally won, but she was making fun of him beyond this life. It was her last victory, her leaving him forever with the uncertainty of the last thing she'd wanted to tell him and the memory of her enlightened face teaching him a lesson he should have learned on time.

He was way too awake to sleep now, and there was only one thing that could soothe his agitated mind at night. He dressed up, climbed into his car and drove in the darkness, until he pulled over in her street and stayed there, watching her house. But this time it was all dark inside, and he knew he wouldn't see her storming out to screw a stop sign back on its pole. It was at this very moment that he truly admitted that killing Elizabeth Boland was the biggest mistake he'd ever made.

 

At that same moment, long after Ruby was gone home, Beth was lying on a mattress settled beside Annie's bed. She was wondering about Rio's reaction to the announcement of her death. Her supposed untold last words to Rio were actually her idea when Demon and her had discussed the details of her last moments.

"He'll never sleep again if he starts wondering what the hell I wanted him to know just before I died!" she had told Demon with a small evil laugh.

'At least I had the guts to pull the trigger myself.' was her initial pick but then she had thought that this wasn't true, because shooting him had definitely not been a choice and even less a matter of guts, and she knew for a fact that if there had been any way to avoid doing this she'd have happily followed it.

She deeply sighed, knowing she should get some sleep as the past few days left her exhausted, but her mind was way too agitated. And she could hear from Annie's breath above her that her sister wasn't sleeping either.

"Beth?" Annie suddenly whispered.

"Yeah?"

"You know, about what you told us earlier with... that meeting the other day... I mean if you wanna talk about it, I... I know how helpless... it makes you feel."

"I know." Beth quietly replied. "Thank you. I'm sorry I couldn't do the same for you when... you know, with Boomer..."

"Don't be silly, you nailed it." Annie replied. After a silence, she added, "Are you okay?"

"I'm healing. It's a slow process but things are getting better, I guess."

There was another silence, each one thinking about the unspoken feelings they both shared.

"Hey, do you remember, when I was a little girl and I got scared at night?" Annie asked after a while. "I used to come snuggle in your bed and you would hold me until I fell asleep."

"Yeah, I remember." Beth said with a smile. "You always said I kept you away from the monster's reach."

Annie chuckled at the memory. But her voice was hoarse when she spoke again.

"Well, I know it's like twenty-something years later and we're not kids afraid of the dark anymore, but if you ever need a payback..."

I'm not afraid of the dark.

But right now, maybe she was after all. There was another silence followed by a rustle of sheets before Annie's bed creaked as Beth was sneaking inside and snuggling against her sister. Annie spread her arm around Beth's shoulders.

"Come here, sweetie." she whispered, and Beth rested her head in the crook of her sister's neck.

"Thank you." Beth sniffled, letting her tears fall freely on her cheeks.

"If you ever need to talk..."

"I don't really need words right now. Just... don't ever call me a pathetic gangfriend's pet again!" Beth added, half-smiling in the dark.

"Okay." Annie whispered with a sniffle, laughing and crying simultaneously.

They both closed their eyes and it was only when she had almost completely slid into sleep that Beth whispered out of nowhere, "He hugged me... when he found out."

Annie deeply exhaled, and Beth could tell she was trying hard not to chide her.

"Like really hug? Without an agenda?"

"Yeah..."

There was a pause.

"How did it make you feel?" Annie hesitantly asked.

"Home." Beth answered with a sleepy voice.

Annie sighed in discouragement and she held Beth tighter before they both fell asleep.

Chapter Text

What Beth's mind wanted and what her body wanted were definitely two opposite things, and for once she was aware of it. That was what she was meditating about as she was sitting in the dark on Rio's office desk wearing the sexiest outfit she had managed to pick from her closet, while her right hand, casually resting on her lap, was holding a gun.

 

It had all started the day before. She had escaped from Rio's killing attempt for a week and a half now and she had spent those ten days closing deals with suppliers and attending a few clandestine meetings. Detroit criminal jungle was a little destabilized since Turner had managed to arrest a few gang leaders based on Rio's tips, which made it easier for an outsider like Beth to steal some slices of the cake without anyone noticing, but she still needed to keep a low profile not to spread the news that she was alive. However it seemed that neither Rio nor Turner had acknowledged that so far, and Demon had surprisingly kept his mouth shut. Despite their deal, she didn't trust him at all, and she had barely slept for the first few days, convinced that Demon had fooled her and that armed gangbangers would storm in Annie's apartment and finish the job in the middle of the night. But nothing had happened and Demon kept sending her a few tips every now and then about what was going on with Rio, nothing really valuable though. She didn't expect him to hand her the kingdom on a silver plate anyway. All she had managed to know so far was that Rio didn't seem very pleased with her death, and that Turner hadn't left him off the hook after all. She'd never thought someone could possibly be more obsessive and twisted than Rio, but it seemed that Turner was, and she found that delightfully ironical.

Incidentally, she had also found out about something else that she didn't know how to feel about. She remembered the glance Rio and Demon had exchanged when he had asked her about Squirrel and Turtleneck. She figured Demon may have some info about them so she had casually asked once if he knew anything about their names or addresses. Since she was in the middle of a revenge process over Rio, she thought she might as well consider getting her revenge on everyone else who'd hurt her.

But Demon had given her a weird look before he'd answered, "Could tell ya that, but it wouldna be useful, I guess."

"What do you mean?" she had asked.

"Rio killed 'em. Like two days after I murdered ya" he had told her, air-quoting the word 'murdered'.

This had left her with mixed feelings. She was glad they'd got the punishment they deserved for what they had done to her, and it was some kind of relief that she didn't have to do it herself, although a part of her wished she had. But what puzzled her the most was that Rio had done this despite the fact that she was supposedly dead at that time, which meant that she was never supposed to know she got avenged. And since when did he care anyway? He had never exactly been a white knight with her so far, and she couldn't figure why the hell he'd felt the need to start acting like one right after he had her killed. She'd then realized she was questioning it way too much, and since she didn't want to start thinking endlessly about Rio again she had wisely decided to focus on the business tips only in her next talks with Demon.

Hence she'd managed to learn so far that since Rio was himself playing the outsider here, he kept his business running on a minimal scale and there was less to steal than Beth had initially thought. However, she and Annie had already cleaned up three storage units that were not regularly checked by Rio or his crew, and Beth couldn't resist but leave behind a full bottle of bourbon in the middle of each as an undeniable signature. She wanted Rio to be fully aware of the extent of the damages she'd caused him when she would let him find out she was still around. This had already provided enough fake cash to pay Demon and a bunch of suppliers, assuming they managed to wash it fast enough. That was a difficult issue to solve since the secret shopping trick wouldn't work anymore, until Annie had had an idea.

"We have this new manager at Fine and Frugal, his name's Patrick." she had said. "Spends most of his shifts screwing Daisy from aisle four..." she had spitefully added.

"Oh no, I know that face!" Beth had complained. "Do you like this guy? And how is this even remotely related with our cash-washing issue?"

"I mean, he's handsome, but I—" Annie had started.

"Sweetie, we all agreed that grocery store managers were no good for you, remember?"

"I know, I know, but he has that cute smile, and... oh my God, why are we even having this conversation?" Annie had complained. "Wasn't the point anyway, what I was saying was that I could totally borrow the vault key for a couple of minutes while he's busy with... you know." she'd said in a depressing tone.

At this point is had been more than obvious that Annie had a crush on that Patrick guy, but Beth had chosen to focus on the vault part for this time.

"And so what, you want us to rob that store again?"

"No, I was more thinking about taking the cash, and replacing it with fake money!" Annie had replied with an evil smile. "They send the content of the vault to corporate twice a week, I could easily wash at least a hundred grand per week!"

"That would solve my payroll problem with Demon." Beth had admitted.

And indeed it had been a good start. But at this point, Beth wanted the warehouse. The one she once hung her pearls on the door was disaffected, but she knew from Demon that it had been relocated in another similar place. She wasn't exactly sure of its content, since she had never gotten a chance to see the extent of Rio's numerous businesses, but she knew it was Rio's crew headquarter and she bet it contained interesting stuff. Cash factory, computers with bank accounts passwords, account books, drugs? She actually didn't care about what was in the warehouse and whether she could use it or not. At this point she mainly wanted to piss Rio off, although she wouldn't have said no to any ready-to-use crime-related business. The problem was that robbing the warehouse was not an easy access theft. Unlike the storage units, the warehouse night security relied on an alarm system that she had unsuccessfully begged Demon to give her the passcode for. And Rio's men worked there during the day, which made it highly not recommended to try anything by daytime either. The only possible time slot, which consisted of two or three hours top, was in the early evening, after most of Rio's crew was gone, but before the alarm was on. However, Rio's office was only one block away, and he would often come and check things in the warehouse during this time.

That was what lead Beth to consider the idea of showing up unannounced at his office and keep him busy while Annie and Ruby, the latter having agreed on helping just for this one time, would steal everything they could.

Annie had frowned when she had heard Beth say the words 'keep him busy' and had sarcastically sneered, "Like we don't all know what this means!"

"I wasn't thinking about that, actually." Beth had replied.

"Oh, really." Annie had scoffed. "What were you thinking about then? Bridge?"

Beth hadn't replied. She knew that Annie was just teasing anyway. Ever since the night when Beth had more or less confessed to her the ambiguous feelings she had about Rio's hug, Annie always stopped her not-so-subtle allusions before it became too embarrassing or drew Ruby's attention.

And the truth was, it wasn't that it had not crossed Beth's mind, really. How could she not think about it no matter what? She'd even picked matching lacy underwear, just in case. And she'd briefly considered waxing but that would have been way too blatant, even to her own judgment. The thing was, despite all the contempt and anger she felt about Rio right now, she knew that she would still lose any kind of control she had on herself in the unlikely eventuality he'd land a hand on her. Obviously, the tension sparkling between them each time they came closer had not vanished after she had shot him. Therefore there was no reason for it to have disappeared after he'd tried to kill her. And her body was longing for his hands and lips on her skin since that night in the storage unit, and probably since way before that. Even worse, deep down she didn't really want this to change. She had never felt this way about anybody, even with the very few boys she'd dated before Dean as an early teenager, when the package of brand new hormones that came with puberty was transforming her body and making her discover a whole new lot of exciting and intense sensations.

But no, it wasn't the reason why she wanted to do this, was it? The whole point of the operation was to buy the girls enough time to rob the warehouse, and keep her advantage by making the first move instead of letting Rio or Turner find her. And she had to admit that she fancied a dramatic entrance once in a while. But she didn't expect that something would happen between the two of them, she wasn't going there with the intention of seducing him, right? She tried not to listen to that inner voice telling her that she'd done this before, that she tricked him into coming to her house and bed, just like she seemed ready to throw herself at him right now. But she wasn't that desperate, was she? Besides, what were the odds that he would even be interested? He'd just tried to kill her after all.

No, definitely, this was just work, she convinced herself, some special kind of undercover mission that might involve more than talking but it would be for the goods of her real purpose, which was stealing the kingdom. That was it.

"Anyway, who would think that gangbangers need offices?" Annie had added. "You think it's an office-office, like, with printers, coffee-makers, and creepy little stuffed animals on top of the computer screens, or are we more talking about a miniature torture museum?"

Beth had cleared her throat, "I believe he created some shell companies he's supposed to run to cover his incomes. And you need an office to do that."

"But Annie's got a point." Ruby had intervened, "I really wonder what's in there!"

And for what Beth had seen when she'd entered the room, it was mainly normal office stuff. She shifted uncomfortably on the desk, still lost in her thoughts. She'd been waiting in the dark for almost twenty minutes now and it was grating on her nerves. She wondered how Rio managed to endure this while keeping his cool, based on the countless times she had found him waiting for her in her house, always looking like he had only been there for a minute or two. As time went by, she was getting more and more nervous and she needed something to soothe her. She had a flask of bourbon in her purse, "Again, just in case!" she had rolled her eyes at Annie when she had spotted it, but she wasn't sure drinking now would be a smart move. Besides she had already drunk half of it on the way.

She let it another two more minutes. Fuck being smart! she then thought. If he was making it his new trademark not to show up where he was supposed to be, there was nothing she could do about it. Her left arm stretched towards her purse hanging on the chair when she heard footsteps behind the door and she froze, biting her lips and gathering all her strengths to confront Rio. She hadn't seen him since the day he had hugged her, and even if she was playing it cool and confident with the girls, there was still a part of her that was truly scared of him. As the door handle moved, she reassured her grip on the gun and took a deep breath.

 

This week had been rough on Rio since he had murdered Elizabeth. He still felt awful about it, barely able to bear his own reflection in a mirror, and as a result his anger was still there too. During the days, he would keep himself absorbed in work stuff, and try to bury his thought in the depth of his mind. Only Demon, who knew him too well, could probably tell that he would sometimes be a little harsher than the usual. And knowing that Turner was scrutinizing his every move, waiting for any occasion to take him down, well it didn't improve his mood. He had to take extra care with the business, which had already lead him to miss some good opportunities. He knew from his FBI insider that Turner had not found her body yet, but mostly focused on that, and Rio knew that a close analysis of the Demon's pictures background would eventually give him a quite accurate search perimeter.

In addition, his nights where even worse than his days. As soon as he'd get asleep, he would lose any control on his mind. He would always dream about her, usually reliving memories of moments they had shared in the past. Sometimes he would laugh with her in her garden, joking about her husband being abducted by teenagers, or they would be discussing business at the bar, or they would fuck, his head buried in her neck while she moaned in his ear as she was coming. That first part of the dream usually felt good but it always ended the same way. At some point, he would look at her and ask, "Tell me what, Elizabeth?" and she would stare at him with sadness in her eyes before dying in front of him.

And his state of mind didn't show any sign of improvement as time went by. After a few days experiencing this living hell, Rio had to admit that there were things beyond his control, no matter how much effort he'd put on them, and Elizabeth Boland being stuck under his skin was unfortunately one of them.

As a result, he was in a tired and depressed mood when he headed to his office that night, having stopped along the way for a drink or two. Alcohol seemed to be the only thing that would briefly bring him the oblivion he was seeking for these days. He opened the door and turned the light on.

And there she was, hot as hell, and for a second he wondered if those drinks hadn't been loaded with something stronger than expected. A wave of relief and genuine happiness ran across him when he realized she had made it through. And he mentally noted that Demon'd better have a good explanation for this. He still had enough control over himself to instantly placate a neutral expression on his face, but he could tell from her smirk that he hadn't been quick enough. Mostly out of habit now, his eyes checked her up as she was sitting on the desk, his gaze lingering on her high heels before following the line of her ankles, then all the way up her crossed legs. He imperceptibly started when he noticed the gun which lied harmlessly on her lap, before enjoying the curves of her upper body that her adjusted navy-blue dress was way more than eager to reveal. His stare came across her face, noticing that the bruises from Harry's boys were still a little apparent despite the effort she had put on her make-up, before their eyes finally met, and Rio felt a twitch in his stomach. He had thought he'd never see her eyes again.

But it only last for an instant before he got back to his cool, ironical self, and a mocking smile blossomed on his lips while he stated with apparent cheerfulness, "Elizabeth. Still sneakin' around as I can see..."

"Missed me?" she asked, her voice ice cold, raising one eyebrow.

"Kinda did actually. Ain't the same without you pissing me off every now and then." he teased back. "How'd you make it thru?"

"I flipped my game." she replied with a smirk and a cocky wave of her head. "Had to if I wanted to survive."

Rio slightly nodded and Beth could tell from the look on his face that he was impressed, despite how good he was at hiding it beneath endless layers of irony. And as for her, she was personally very much enjoying impersonating this Rio-inspired arrogant, self-confident version of herself. So this is what it feels like to be you? God, this is fun! she thought.

When he had entered the room, she had been frightened, mostly because despite Demon's tips she wasn't sure of his reaction to the fact that she was alive. But then she had caught the glimpse of relief that briefly flickered in his eyes and she'd known for sure that he wouldn't harm her. At least not right now. She had started to relax, as the mechanics of the old and familiar back and forth game running most of their interactions had started again. And this time she felt like she could play as his equal, she had an advantage she'd never had before with him not anticipating that she was still a part of the equation. But her heart was still beating fast when she asked one of the questions that haunted her the most since the morning Demon had brought her to the forest.

"Why did you hug me?"

Rio blinked. He wasn't expecting her to ask him that. He had thought she'd probably ask him to take accountability for the killing order, or maybe inquire why he'd sent Demon for it, but she seemed to always find a way to disconcert him in her sense of priorities.

He grinned, "Ain't no monster, you were in a bad place, I did my best to comfort you."

"By cold-bloodedly asking Demon to shoot me two days later?"

He could have shaved his beard with the sharpness in her voice.

His expression suddenly got serious, "It ain't like that."

"What it is like, then?"

"The order came from above." he tried to explain, aware of how stupid it sounded.

She scoffed incredulously, "Oh my God, are you seriously trying to pretend that you commending Demon to murder me was not your fault? Aren't you supposed to be the king? Since when are you taking orders from Turner? Who is he, God?"

He cleared his throat, "Had to, we had a deal since the day you... chose him over me. You were my exit from his hook." he said, emphasizing the word 'chose'. He looked away for a second, internally cursing himself for having been stupid enough to believe Turner, before he added, "You didn't seem concerned 'bout chains of responsibility when you ratted me out for the exact same reason last year, sweetheart."

The fact that Rio saw what happened at his loft as her choosing Turner over him chased the air from Beth's lung. That was so unfair, she thought, he hadn't given her much of a fucking choice. And as for comparing this to that time she'd given him away to the feds...

"There is a difference between sending a person to jail, and should I remind you that you stayed there for a day, and murdering someone!" she scathed back.

"Yeah, and the difference was you, choosing to die, Elizabeth!" he reproachfully shouted at her.

"Oh I'm sorry, I thought you were okay with that, since you were the one offering me that option!" she joylessly snapped back.

"Well, maybe I wasn't."

The words had come out before he could stop them and there was a sudden pause.

She looked at him with surprise in her eyes before she sarcastically articulated, "Well, if you didn't want to kill me, you could just, you know, not do it."

"And let Turner handle it? The man's fuckin' obsessed with you, you know, he'd have hurt you."

"Because of course, you're the only one entitled to hurt me!" her tone was still sarcastic but anger was perceptible underneath.

He considered her for a few seconds before a large smile shone on his face, "Pretty much, yeah."

She couldn't believe he had the audacity to answer that with a smile.

She swallowed before asking, "Is that why you killed Harry's boys?"

He nodded, recalling how cathartic it had felt to kill them, how he had tried to push his guilt away with the violence of punches and bullets, as if covering his knuckles with their blood could ever wash away hers from his hands like some twisted Lady Macbeth shit. Harry's turn would come later, cause right now he couldn't afford to kill more than minor sidekicks.

"Did you do it yourself?"

"Yeah, they deserved a special treatment." he bragged without thinking what he was saying through.

"While I didn't?" she replied with narrowed eyes, obviously hurt.

Touché, he thought. There was nothing to answer to that and they stayed still, facing each other. Rio was concerned about the gun she still held in her hand but she didn't seem willing to use it right now so he took the chance to take a step closer. She didn't move.

Her voice was low when she spoke again, "Why didn't you show up?"

"What difference does it make?" Rio shrugged, his tone casual.

"A deadly one. I would have let you kill me." she said, lowering her gaze for the first time since he had entered the room.

He thought that sending Demon for it finally turned out to be a good thing then, and he was about to say some dumb cheesy answer in that tone when she suddenly raised her eyes back at him, desperately peering at his face as she spoke again with a trembling voice.

"Did I mean so much nothing to you that you didn't even bother to come and do it yourself?"

"You think that what happened?" he threw back.

"What other reason could there be, Rio? Tell me."

He thought that she was wrong, that it wasn't because she meant so much nothing, but because she meant so much, period. But he kept his mouth shut, unable to open to her, still watching her as the silence was uncomfortably settling, her eyes literally begging him to answer and tell her that he cared.

Beth was not stupid enough to ignore that there was only one other possibility for Rio not to show up, but she needed to hear it from him. And as the silence was dragging on, she felt her heart break into pieces that were getting smaller every minute. She deeply inhaled.

"What you did to me is way worse than what I did to you." she finally stated in a hoarse breath.

"It ain't no fucking contest, Elizabeth!" Rio angrily replied.

"Then why are the stakes higher each time?" she asked.

He didn't answer and quietly walked towards her in silence, eyes focused on her gun, his right hand reaching for his own at the back of his jeans, and she added with anger, "And stop ignoring my questions!"

As he was approaching, she suddenly pulled away from the desk and stepped back until she was leaning on the wall behind. He closed the distance between them, their bodies close enough to feel each other's heat. He stared at her and she felt the air thickening around them as the tension was settling again between them, magnetic, making her forget how to breathe for an instant. Her anger was now mixed with an overwhelming desire and the thrill of a power play that for once she felt she had a level playing field with him.

She was still holding the gun, and he lowered his gaze on the firm grip she had on it before setting his eyes back on hers. His hand carrying his own gun slowly came closer to her face until he gently brushed her hair away from her temple with the barrel. She shivered but she kept staring at him. He fucking wanted to kiss her right now but he guessed she wasn't really in the mood for that.

"You gonna kill me? Are we back on that rollercoaster all over again?" he asked in a low voice.

She lowered her gaze, and her hand slowly moved aside until she dropped the gun on the desk, her fingers detaching one by one from the weapon but she let her hand still lay on it. She looked back at him.

"No." she quietly muttered. "Enough with murder. I think we both had our share. I suggest we put that option off the table from now on."

Rio sighed. He dropped his gun right next to hers, the back of his fingers brushing hers in the process and he heard her breath break. Light as a feather, his fingertips trailed their way up her hand before gently resting on her wrist, and their eyes met again.

"Agreed." Rio approved in a breath. There was a silence before he whispered, "So war's over then?"

And he sincerely hoped it was. Irony suddenly filled her gaze.

"Oh no, honey..." she scoffed, enjoying every word of it. "War's just begun!"

But his fingers were burning her wrist and his lips were so close and right now she wanted something else. She provocatively bit her lips, pretending to give it a second thought.

"But we most certainly have unfinished business since our little... talk in you storage unit. Maybe we could agree on a truce tonight?" she added with a daring look.

He immediately pictured that night when he had been so close to kiss her. He couldn't say he hadn't been thinking about it since then. And despite how much he knew it wouldn't be smart at all to let things take this direction right after she officially declared war, there was literally nothing in the world that could stand in his way. Fuck being smart! he thought. All he wanted right now was her body pressed against his, and he was done struggling with himself about that. He'd learned the consequences of it the hard way. And this time, there would be no thought about that moron of husband of hers to stop him, Dumbsie himself could have showed up right now that he wouldn't have given a shit.

"Truce, huh?" he repeated with a naughty light in his eyes.

The way she was looking at him now was even more explicit than if she had taken all her clothes off. He loved how confident she sounded. He loved how she fought him using his own tricks. He loved so many things about her.

Her breath was already loud when, eyes still locked with her, he slowly raised his right hand at her face again, gently brushing the remaining bruises from Squirrel's punch, before his fingers slipped at the back of her head.

He bent his face closer to hers and hoarsely whispered, with desire in his voice, "You goddam hot when you're the boss, you know that?"

She languishingly exhaled and half-closed her eyelid, silently offering him the lead with a shiver. His left hand landed on her hips and she lightly squeaked at his contact. His head came closer until his lips brushed her temple and slid down on her face before gently pressing against her neck. She moaned in his ear and raised her hands towards his hips, eager to feel his body under her palms.

"Don't touch me yet." he whispered, his lips against her ear, and she gasped in response.

Beth's half-closed eyes were hazed with want and she was completely losing her mind already, purring under the velvet of his voice. He pressed light kisses in the crook of her neck, his hand moving in a soft caress along her body from her hips to the curve of her breast, having her gently mewling in his ear. He then let his lips slide along her cheeks and follow the line of her jaw, before his mouth gently brushed her lips, his tongue darting out once in a while to tease her. She wanted to move her head forward to kiss him properly, but he tightened his grip over her hair, locking her head against the wall and she moaned in frustration under the sweetest torture he'd ever inflicted to her, trying to press her body against his as he kept playing with her desire, almost kissing and touching her without giving her the satisfaction she was craving.

And suddenly he straightened, breaking the contact of their lips, and she stared at him, blinking in disbelief and frustration.

Towering her, he smirked with a hint of cruelty before he told her, "Nah... Imma need you to say it, Elizabeth."

She shook her head in shock, astonished by his cockiness. God, was he still upset about that?

I need you to say it, Christopher

"I can't believe you are actually using my words inquiring if you'd ever force a woman to ask for my consent!"

"Ain't my fault, got recent feedbacks 'bout me being an asshole, I ain't wanna do nothin' wrong." he replied with a sarcastic grin. "If it ain't a yes, it's a no, right?"

She sighed, "You won't ever give me a break, will you?"

His hand cupped her chin and he let his thumb gently rub over her swollen lips as he thoughtfully watched her.

"Ain't no truce time with you and me, Elizabeth, never. You know that, right?" he said, eyes intensely searching her face.

She swallowed and thought about the girls emptying the warehouse at that very moment, remembering that she was here precisely for anything but a truce and she silently nodded. There was a sudden silence.

He raised one eyebrow, "So? You teachin' me feminism, or what?"

"Maybe you could start with getting your hands off my body, then!" she snapped at him.

He took a step back, hands off her, waiting. If he wanted to play this game, fine, she thought. She knew that he wouldn't let her go away with this but she didn't intend to give him whatever vanilla cuteness he expected from her. Self-control was power, and right now they were both trying to make the other one lose it first. She took one step closer, her right hand landing on his thigh before slowly sliding upward until her palm pressed his crotch through the rough fabric of his jeans, feeling him hard already, while her lips came right next to his ear, her cheek leaning against his stubble.

"I want you to fuck me, Christopher, and make it good." she whispered in his ear, relishing every word of it.

Rio's reaction was instantaneous. He groaned and shoved her back against the wall, burying his face in her neck and sinking his teeth in the soft flesh. She moaned and grabbed his shoulders, her head bending backward as Rio was covering her throat with passionate kisses. Before coming there she had briefly wondered if what had happened at Harry's could ever block her in letting another man touch her, but she realized she had been wrong to worry, as each kiss from Rio was burying the memory a little deeper, until it carried the vaporous consistence of a bad dream. She could tell that Rio was starting to lose control and a wave of pleasure mixed with a thrill of power rushed into her at the thought.

As he raised his head, she took the opportunity to steal a kiss from him, pressing her lips against his and gently invading his mouth with her tongue. He didn't pull away but he didn't kiss her back either and she knew he was trying hard not to, but as she was forcing the last stronghold of his self-control, he suddenly let it all go. The second their lips parted, he furiously pressed back his mouth on hers, and she let out a soft moan under the warmth of his lips, overwhelmed by the feeling of his tongue swirling around hers. It was finally happening again and she had been longing for it for so long that she wanted this moment to last forever. She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him at her and clinging to him at the same time as the kiss was becoming hot and passionate, leaving her unsteady on her legs as she was losing herself in it.

All of a sudden he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her away from the wall, pivoting her until the desk was in her back. Still kissing her deeply, he quickly grabbed her hips and lifted her, bringing her back to sit on the desk. She spread her thighs to make space for him and he wrapped his arms around her, his hands exploring every curve of her body while she ran her own hands all over his back, enjoying the feeling of his muscles rolling underneath the thin fabric of his shirt.

When he left her mouth to gently bite the flesh of her neck, she pressed her lips on the inked eagle on his throat and covered it with kisses that made him softly grunt. At some point while his face was buried in her neck, having her gently mewling under his lips, his right hand rose from her lower back to the back of her neck and unzipped her dress, before he pulled down the cups of her bra, squeezing her breasts with his palms, and she moaned in desire. Beth enjoyed the touch of his hands on the soft skin of her chest but it wasn't enough for her, she wanted to feel his bare skin against hers. Her breath was erratic and her hands were already undoing the first button of his shirt when she remembered what she was to expect under the thin layer of clothe, and she froze.

Sensing the sudden change in the atmosphere, Rio's mouth left her skin and he straightened, lowering his gaze to her hands still gripping his shirt collar. Oh. Right. Beth slowly raised her head to look him in the eyes, silently asking for his permission. His body stiffened but he didn't move, eyes locked with hers as he imperceptibly nodded. His eyes were expressing things she couldn't read, and she thought that this was probably the most intimate moment they had ever shared. Holding her breath and still staring at him, she slowly unbuttoned his shirt. When the last button got undone, she maintained their eye-contact for one more second before parting the two sides of his shirt and slowly lowering her gaze.

And there they were, three little circle-shaped pink scars marking his tanned skin and forming a triangle on his chest caging his heart. A lump formed in her throat at the sight of what she had done to him. Without even thinking about what she was doing she tilted her head, pressing her lips against the living memory of the first bullet she had put inside of him. She felt him shiver under her touch, his body fully tense, but he didn't move away.

"I'm so sorry." she whispered while her lips were grazing at the damaged skin.

Her mouth slid on the soft skin of his chest, until she reached the spot of the second wound.

She kissed the scar, and two tears escaped from her eyes when she then muttered, "I never meant that."

She heard Rio swallow but he remained still when she paid her respect to the third scar that she devotedly kissed, and she finally managed to say with a broken breath, "I hope you can forgive me someday."

Tears were falling from her eyes and she was trying not to sob when she slowly raised her head and looked up at him. Rio's body was shaking now, and he stared at her with a furious intensity before he cupped her chin with his hand and avidly kissed her. There was something needy and desperate in his kiss that overwhelmed her and she tried to give him as much as she could while kissing him back, wrapping her arms around his body in a tight embrace. His mouth left hers to slide in her neck again and in the naked vulnerability of her raw emotions she had to firmly purse her lips not to let out the words that were shining like flames in her mind and burning her lips from holding them back, the only thing she could think of and wanted to say right now but couldn't ever tell him. I love you.

Instead, she ecstatically mouthed his name in his ear, but maybe he sensed the deeper meaning that lied beneath because he suddenly gasped before his mouth left her skin and he straightened his head, deeply staring at her. His right hand slowly brushed some of her hair away and there was a sudden silence while he contemplated her with awe in his eyes, his fingertips mapping the lines of her face.

"I'm glad you're alive." he finally muttered.

Rio was Rio, so this was probably the closest to an actual apology that she would manage to get from him tonight, and she decided she'd go with it for now.

"Me too." she whispered, catching his hand and kissing his fingertips one by one.

Once again, Rio felt that twitch in his stomach while he was watching her. Letting her see his scars hadn't been easy for him. He hated them, and ever since she had shot him he'd always let out a discouraged sight at his own reflection. For starters, he found them ugly and he hated how they disrupted the perfect symmetry of his chest, throwing away years of intense working out at the gym. But most of it, they reminded him every day that he wasn't as invincible as he thought he was, and that statement highly displeased him.

But he hadn't expected her to react to his scars the way she had. The devotion with which she had kissed them was almost... religious. Yeah. Like they deserved to be revered. And that hidden beauty lying in his disfigured flesh was something new he had never considered before. His scars were telling his story. Their story. No matter how twisted and fucked-up it had been, it was there, printed on his skin like an additional tattoo. And somehow he both loved and hated the idea that she'd left her mark on him.

He hadn't expected her apologies either. It had been almost two months since he'd came back in her life from the dead, and she'd never seemed eager to apologize so far, not even once, so he'd stopped awaiting for it. But she finally said it and it changed everything. Well, not everything, but a couple of things, sure. The look on her face when she had looked back at him wasn't something she could have feigned. All of a sudden he had known that she had suffered as much as him in the aftermath and he'd felt sorry for all the mess they created. He'd wanted to tell her how much he cared about her deep inside, how, despite any basic common sense based on her track record, he couldn't stop thinking about her since the day they had met, and how they most certainly needed to do something to stop hurting each other but starting a new war was definitely not a part of it. But instead he'd just kissed her. He could barely admit those words to himself hence letting them out was way beyond his capacities.

She still had her mouth on his hand when he removed it to kiss her again and as their kiss was getting more and more hot and heavy, their bodies furiously pressing against each other, she tried to hold the desire as long as she could to make the moment last, until she couldn't wait anymore.

"I want you inside of me." she managed to stammer under his lips.

He breathed loudly and she knew he was barely holding it too because he immediately stepped back to rip off her thong before his hips came back between her thighs and she started to unbuckle his belt with shaky hands. He twirled his hips to help her pull his jeans down and she barely had a second to adjust before he pushed inside of her in one move, drawing a loud noise from her throat that drove him crazy. She was soaking wet, immediately clenching around him and he had to slow down his move not to come right away.

He pressed deeper inside of her, fucking her slow until he got his arousal back in control and then he could harden his thrust, his mouth lost somewhere in her breasts, one of his hand leaning on the desk to keep his balance while the other one was cradling the back of her head. Beth was uninterruptedly moaning at this point, her head bending backward with his name on her lips and her hands tensing around his head as he was kissing every inch of exposed skin on her chest.

The pleasure was starting to grow inside of her and she crossed her legs behind Rio's back to press him deeper inside. Panting, his mouth left her chest to kiss her deeply, drawing out a gasp from her, before he pushed down on her shoulders until she was completely lying on the desk. He pounded harder inside of her then, falling into a rhythm, grabbing one of her thighs to maintain her steady. She raised her arms to cup his jaws in her palms and she pulled his face at her. He resisted at first, but as she insisted, he bent over her and she arched her back to press her skin against his before she caught his mouth with her lips, sliding her tongue inside and letting him steal her broken moans.

He managed to hiss a shaky "Elizabeth" between two low groans and he heard her breath get even louder at the simple mention of her name. She was getting closer now, he could tell from her half-closed eyelid and the way her moans were getting hoarser. He pushed harder and quicker, drawing louder noises from her, and he slightly straightened his body to let his hand come down on her, his thumb circling her clit and finally releasing her.

She pressed her legs in his back, endlessly clenching around him as she was riding the waves of her pleasure, but even in the haze of her orgasm she could tell he was holding his and she stammered "Please... come inside...", having him instantly coming, an expression of absolute awe on his face. He collapsed on top of her, burying himself deep inside as he released with a low and hoarse moan and she wrapped her arms around him, kissing him and stealing his breath.

They stayed still for a minute of two, both panting and recovering in the afterglow, before the harshness of reality fell back on their minds.

There was nothing Rio wanted more right now than bring her back to his home and have her all to himself for the rest of the night, and based on how she was still clinging to him he guessed she would be in too, but she had explicitly declared war and he knew that truce time was over. He sighed and reluctantly pulled out. It took him all he had to untie his arms from her and extract himself from her embrace.

"I think you should leave now." he hoarsely told her.

She stared at him, hurt and disappointed. Obviously she knew the reason why he dismissed her, but she hadn't had enough of him and deep down she had hoped that the night would have gone differently.

He handed her a few tissues from the box on the other side of the desk and she grabbed them wordlessly, roughly cleaning up while he put his pants back on and buttoned his shirt. She then adjusted her dress, forbidding him with a glance to even try to help her zip it back, before she stood back on her heels, her legs a little unsteady. She stared at him one last time, her heart overflowed with contradictory feelings and she spun on her heels, feeling the weight of his gaze on her, so she exaggerated the bouncing of her hips in a catwalk style as she was walking towards the door. She grabbed the handle, but before she opened it, she turned back at him and couldn't help but admire one last time how gorgeous he was, leaning on the desk in the coolest possible way.

"By the way, whatever you do next, don't hurt Demon. It's all on me this time." she told him with a slight shake of her head.

He smiled and ironically replied, "As I've always said." He paused before adding, "You havin' fun being me, huh?"

She gave him an evil smile, "More than you imagine."

He nodded.

"G'dnight, Elizabeth." he wished her, and she instantly wanted to wrap herself in the mellowness of his voice.

I created a monster, he thought. He admired her as she was leaving, glad to see her inner Boss Bitch finally blossoming in her full potential, but offended to be the target of her fury.

Beth left the room and carefully closed the door behind her before allowing herself to sigh deeply and let her shell of apparent badass self-confidence collapse at her feet, and she wondered how the hell she was supposed to destroy the very man to whom she'd just craved to tell that she was in love with him.

 

Meanwhile back to Beth's house, Annie and Ruby were finishing unloading the minivan from the stuff they had taken at the warehouse. Annie was particularly intrigued by the big safe they had found there and she quickly disappeared in the garage to retrieve a blowpipe. Ruby rolled her eyes at her.

"I told you, it's probably just more cash, can't this wait until tomorrow morning?"

"No, it's super shady, besides I always wanted to crack a safe with a blowpipe!" Annie replied with a daring look.

Ruby sighed with a dismayed expression and went inside the house to pour herself a drink while Annie enthusiastically started working on the safe in the backyard. It took her longer than she thought, and Ruby was already halfway through her third bourbon when she heard Annie's strangled voice.

"Um... Ruby? Could you come for a sec?"

"What's up? Did you open it?" Ruby asked, walking back to the backyard.

"Yeah... Turns out it wasn't cash after all!" Annie hesitantly replied.

Ruby made her way to the backyard and froze when she faced Annie standing aside the broken safe and its content.

"Holy shit!" she hissed.

"Could you text Beth 911?" Annie asked with a little fearful voice.

Chapter Text

"So that's what you 911ed me for? I thought you'd found a corpse or something." Beth incredulously chided Annie and Ruby.

She'd come back straight from Rio's office as she'd gotten the girls text, but now she was wondering what terrified them that much. And maybe she was still a bit in the ecstatic optimism of the afterglow to take any threat seriously right now. Once again, she stared at the huge pile of fake passports and IDs Annie had found in the safe.

"So he's crafting counterfeit passports in addition to fake cash, I don't see where the emergency is." she shrugged.

"Oh, sweetie, I don't know how much one of these is worth on the black market, but if they have the same quality as his cash I guarantee you that's a fortune you just stole from Rio!" Annie pointed out. "The guy keeps cash in storage units with the most basic security level, think about the value of what he stores in safes!" she added.

"And besides there are pictures of actual people on these, the kind of people who need to order a fake passport and to whom I guess no one, including Rio, wants to have to tell Oh I'm sorry, your delivery might be late because your fake passport was stolen from my safe!" Ruby seconded.

"Oh my God!" Beth suddenly realized, sobering up. "He's gonna be mad as hell."

"Duh!" Annie reinforced, her eyes wide open and her tone suggesting Beth had the understanding capacities of a six years old. "How did it go by the way?"

Beth's face got fully pink before she even had the time to open her mouth and Annie's face enlightened.

"I knew it!" she victoriously said. "Not that it was very hard to guess anyway, you were obviously screaming for it." she added.

"How was it?" Ruby intervened before she realized what she had just said, "I mean not that but, are you okay? Does he still want to kill you?"

"But we also want to know how that was!" Annie managed to add before Beth could talk.

"We're not trying to kill each other anymore." Beth slowly said, and both her sister and her best friend sighed in relief. "But that's literally the only thing I'm sure about." she concluded.

She saw Annie opening her mouth with a juicy expression on her face, and she immediately stopped her, "And I won't tell you any detail!"

"Dean called." Ruby suddenly said, eager to change the subject.

"Ugh!" Annie sighed with a wince of disgust.

"He said tomorrow morning was okay for him." Ruby continued, imperturbable.

A beaming smile enlightened Beth's face as she exclaimed, "Well, that's finally good news!"

The kids would be back tomorrow! She suddenly felt so happy that she briefly forgot everything about Rio's reaction when he'd find out about the safe. Over the past few weeks, she'd had to keep the kids away from her house, mostly because of Demon's scary presence, but she had tried to check on them as much as possible, and she'd visited them at Dean's place at least once a week, but it wasn't the same as having them at home.

Besides, she hated going at Dean's. He was in a rebound thing with a dizzy chick that was almost half her age and whose name she always forgot so she just called her Amber Two in her mind, and Dean spent most of the time Beth was here demonstrating how perfect his life was since he'd met Amber Two. And Beth mostly didn't care, but still it was irritating having her ex always trying to pretend he was the winner of their break-up. There's no winner in a divorce! she angrily wanted to tell him every time she saw him, bragging with his hot, young, perfect new girlfriend, and okay, maybe she did care a little after all, maybe deep down it upset her to see how much Dean wanted to show her how quickly he'd moved on. But it didn't matter anymore because the kids would be here, without him around, and...

"We gotta celebrate, girls!" Beth suddenly said with a shining face. "Who's in for margaritas?"

"Shouldn't we hide all of this before?" Annie asked, her hand waving at the ruined safe and the passports.

Beth blinked, "Yeah, you're right! Could the two of you bring the safe to the garage? I'll handle the rest."

She didn't want to put the girls at risk with this. This time it was personal, it was only between Rio and her, and no one else should be involved, but still, things would be safer if she was the only one knowing where the goods were. There was a trunk in the tree house with old toys the kids didn't play with anymore. She wrapped the passports in a dark used blanket that she placed at the bottom of the trunk before covering it with the toys. The blanket was more or less the same color as the trunk, and someone would have to check the whole thing carefully to realize there was something else hidden underneath.

It was past eleven, but they managed to find a bar still open in the neighborhood.

"To the kingdom! And the return of the kids!" Beth wished once the three of them were sitting in front of double margaritas.

They raised their glasses and toasted. The night went on and as they were chatting and drinking, Beth realized she had barely eaten anything since noon, which meant the cocktails were intoxicating her faster than usual. And drunkenness had a tendency to make her sentimental sometimes.

"I really want to thank you for your help in this, girls, I mean, I know this fight is between Rio and me, but really, I couldn't have dunnit without you." she articulated at some point with emotion in her voice and tears at the corners of her eyes.

Ridiculously sentimental.

"Oh, Bethie, anything!" Annie lovingly said while gently patting Beth's shoulder, although her face expressed more dismay than compassion in front of her sister's meltdown.

"Especially you, Ruby, I know you don't want to be involved in anything shady anymore, but still, you—"

"Okay, this is embarrassing now!" Annie intervened. "This isn't the fucking Oscars!"

Ruby rolled her eyes with a warning look, "Sweetie, remember that you have four adorable, high-pitched voice, little creatures full of energy coming to your place tomorrow morning, and you don't want to face that with a hangover!"

"Come on, I barely had three drinks!" Beth protested. "I think I deserve a little fun after all I've been through lately! Do I have to remind you I even escaped a murdering attempt?"

"You have a point." Ruby admitted with a shrug and a discouraged expression.

"That's my girl!" Annie cheered. "Let's have another round! And speaking of having fun, aren't you really gonna give us any insight of what happened in Gangfriend's office? Come on, threw us a few bones!"

"Preferentially about—" Ruby mischievously started.

"Don't say it!" Beth warned.

"—Bones." Ruby completed with a wink.

"Ugh! You two are insufferable!" Beth complained. "Okay, one question each, but no more!"

"Where did you do it?" Annie immediately asked, and Beth could literally see the list of questions running through her sister's mind.

"On his desk."

"Kinky!"

"Was it good?" Ruby asked.

"Oh yeah." Beth replied without hesitation, with a nod.

Ruby and Annie exchanged a shocked glance. And it was only then that Beth allowed herself to think about what had happened there, about the way they had kissed and the way they had fucked, about his hands and his lips on her, about the moment he'd shown her his scars, and the moment she had thought... No, better not think about that, it didn't mean anything, was just all about sex hormones, right? Maybe she'd have to check that later, though.

 

"Ok you were right, maybe I should get some rest before the kids arrive." Beth finally admitted half an hour later, as she was finishing her fourth cocktail.

She let the girls bring her back home and she obediently nodded at Annie's "Make sure you stay hydrated, honey!" before they left. Beth gulped several glasses of water and went to bed, realizing only then that she was indeed exhausted, as it had mainly been adrenaline that had kept her awaken since the day she'd decided to take Rio down. But now she could rest, she had achieved her objective. She only managed to wonder how long it would take for Rio to discover what she'd done to him before she slipped into a healing sleep.

 

"She did WHAT??" Rio shouted so loud in the speaker that the boy on the other end of the line might need to have his ears checked afterwards.

"She, hum... Listen boss, there's nothin' here but a bottle of bourbon so I don't—"

"Fuck!"

Rio brutally hung up the phone, and nervously rubbed his face with his palm. Since he'd gotten Cisco's emergency text this morning and had rushed to the warehouse to find most of its valuable stock gone, he had immediately sent his crew to check every other place he stored stuff in. It seemed that fortunately, only three storage units among the more or less fifteen he used were damaged, but the identity of the thief made absolutely no doubt. It represented a large amount of cash that was gone, sure, but it wasn't his major concern right now. The safe with the passports was gone too, and that was a bigger problem. He'd spend all these months when he'd supposedly worked for Turner secretly building this whole new thing, flipping his game once again as the feds already knew too much about the cash and the pills. He had worked hard to make fake documents with the same quality as his cash, because selling premium stuff was a bit of his trademark and also because he was way too dedicated to work —Elizabeth'd have said stubborn or obsessive, but fuck-off! — to stop improving something that wasn't yet exactly as he wanted it to be. And this professional skill seemed to have bled on the way he acted with people too, since Elizabeth apparently turned into a fucking premium bitch.

He sighed. He knew from the beginning that there was something shady in the way she'd just thrown herself at him last night when she had every right to want to hit him instead. After all he'd just tried to kill her, for fuck's sake, but he had assumed she was in another one of her irrational acting phases. And to be fairly honest he mostly had not wanted to question her behavior really far because he craved for her way too much to take the risk to stop everything for the sake of smartness. Obviously he should have, though. Last night had let him happy somehow, and he had felt emotionally closer to her than he'd ever been. He had been relieved to see that she was alive, and glad they'd finally agreed on stopping to try to kill each other. He'd let her see his scars... And the way they had fucked afterwards... No. Better not think about that. Because now he knew that all of this had been fake from the start. And the fact that she had been using him and playing him all along, offering herself to him to better rob him in the meantime, well it... hurt. And it made him angry.

"Oh you wanted the war, you gonna have it, sweetheart!" he grinded between his teeth.

He headed back to his office and texted Demon to meet him as soon as he could. He sat behind his desk trying not to think about what he had done to her on top of it less than twelve hours before.

You look good behind that desk. You'd look even better on top of it.

It felt like he could still smell her scent in here and that was turning him on and infuriating him at the same time. He opened the window, and when he sat back, his eyes fell on the gun she had left on the corner of the desk. He didn't know if that was intentional from her or if she had forgotten it on her way out, but he suddenly grabbed it and threw it in the first drawer of the desk, unwilling to see any leftover of her presence in here. While doing so, he noticed that the gun was loaded. She really had taken one step further, if not two, in that Boss Bitch thing, he thought. He'd have to be careful with her from now on.

There was a sudden knock on the door, and he let out a "Yeah?".

Demon entered the room and carefully closed the door behind him. Judging from the look on his face, he knew exactly why he was here. Rio waited for his right-hand man to sit down before he opened his mouth.

"Just happen to find out you lied to me, and disobeyed to me..." he started.

Demon nodded with a neutral expression. He didn't even try to explain or minimize things, simply taking responsibility for what he had done, and that was an aspect of him that Rio appreciated. A lot. When Demon screwed things up, he didn't try to hide it behind any lame justification.

"Gonna tell me why?" Rio continued.

"Already told ya, wasn't my job. Besides I thought this was a decision you'd regret." Demon answered point blank.

"I did." Rio admitted. "You let her enter the warehouse too?"

His voice was a little louder as anger was starting to grow. He could understand why Demon had chosen to spare Elizabeth, but not that he'd helped her stealing him. But Demon shook his head.

"Nah. She wanted access, so I gave her a few storage units, threw her that bone. But I told her the warehouse was secured night and day, thought that woulda discouraged her."

"Well obviously it didn't." Rio said with irony. He joined his hands with only his fingertips touching and he looked thoughtfully at his fingers before he asked, "What did she give you in exchange for all this?"

The question was innocent but the allusion was crystal clear, and Demon caught it perfectly.

Please tell me she didn't sleep with you.

"Lotta money." Demon shrugged.

Rio sighed, relieved and angrily cursing himself for feeling that way. Why did he even care?

"And a new car." Demon added.

Rio smiled in amusement, his mind picturing Dumbsie having to reluctantly give a fancy car away.

"That why you didn't want me to pay you?"

"Didn't wanna be paid for a job I ain't done. Don't take this the wrong way, boss, but ya can be really... pernickety when it comes to money." Demon answered with a smirk.

Rio smiled as he agreed, "True." His expression suddenly got back to serious, "You know what I usually do to the people who I can't trust anymore, right?"

"Yeah." Demon said with a deadpan expression. "Gonna do it?"

Rio looked at him with a sigh. Demon had always been the most loyal and trustworthy person he'd ever worked with. Couldn't deny him that.

"Nah..." he slowly answered. "Let's just say you blew your wildcard for this time, huh? Assuming there won't be another one." he added with narrowed eyes.

Demon nodded.

"I really hope for you that she was worth it." Rio finally said before he dismissed Demon with a little wave of his head.

Once Demon was gone, Rio re-opened the drawer with a sigh. The idea of seeing her again wasn't an enchanting one, but he definitely couldn't let her go with it.

 

Dean's new place didn't have a garden. Which was probably the reason why the kids got crazy about the idea of playing outside right after lunch, Beth thought with a smile. She was packing the leftovers in the kitchen, delighted from the morning she had spent, enjoying the company of the kids without any crime-related thought, when she saw a move in the extent of her vision and she raised her head.

"When I said you played bein' me, I didn't think you'd push the impersonation that far."

Rio was holding his gun, and there was no irony nor cheerfulness in his face this time, just a cold anger that only slightly scared her, though. But he'd scare the kids to death, she thought.

"Rio..." she started.

He ignored her and walked threateningly towards her, "I should have known there was nothin'—"

"Rio."

She had raised her voice with a warning look but he still didn't pay attention, and he kept walking pointing the gun at her while he was talking, "—good 'bout you coming to me like this. I—"

"Rio!"

She almost screamed this time and he suddenly froze but it wasn't because of Beth.

"Mommy!"

Emma's tiny voice coming at the same time from the living-room as she was reaching for the kitchen had immediately sobered Rio up.

"My kids are here!" Beth reproachfully addressed Rio in a low voice, her eyes warning him not to do anything in front of them.

Oh boy. He had almost forgotten she had kids! He instantly put his gun back in his pocket, feeling the weight of her infuriated gaze.

They silently exchanged a glance agreeing to put their argument on hold before she turned to her daughter with a loving smile. "What's going on, sweetie?"

"Danny said I was stupid!" Emma complained, giving a surprised glance at Rio, who was leaning against the kitchen counter, his face suddenly relaxed with a half-smile on his lips.

Beth sighed. Danny was being rude with his sisters these days, and she hoped his father's worst misogynistic aspects wouldn't influence him too much.

"Are you?" Rio asked Emma before Beth could answer, and she gave him a furious look.

"No!" the little girl protested.

"Then he's the stupid one." Rio continued with a quick glance at Beth and she hated how good he was at delivering specific messages to her while apparently solving a domestic crisis.

"Don't mind Danny. Go play with your sister instead, okay?" Beth told her daughter with a pat on her head.

Emma left the kitchen and Beth and Rio stayed still for ten seconds before she looked at him, "Don't parent my children again!" she spat.

Rio shrugged with a smirk, "Okay." and his relaxed fashion just made her want to press herself against him. He looked at her for a moment before his face suddenly darkened as he growled, "Back to business!"

He firmly grabbed her wrist and tugged her to her bedroom, hating that he knew the way there so well. She tried to take her hand off his grip but he didn't let her go until he had closed the door behind them and shoved her against it so hard that it chased the air from her lungs.

"Stop this, you're hurting me!" she protested.

But he wasn't listening to her and he pressed the barrel of his gun under her jaw, bracing himself on the door with his other hand, his body pressing hers and his face only inches away from hers.

"Give it back to me." he managed to hiss.

Beth felt surprisingly calm given the situation. She couldn't say that she wasn't scared at all, especially because he'd never used that kind of physical violence with her before, but she knew his tricks, and his power demonstrations didn't impress her as they used to. In fact there was even a part of her that very much wanted to kiss him right now. And, to be truly honest, another bigger part of her that just very much wanted to punch him in the face for brutally tugging her and shoving her against the door. But she wasn't really afraid since she knew he wouldn't kill her, and there was no way he could find his stuff back unless he turned her whole house upside down with the help of his boys.

"No." she firmly replied. "And stop pointing that gun at my face! We agreed not to do that anymore."

"Maybe I changed my mind." he tried to threaten her, and that somehow irritated her.

"If you had the guts to kill me you'd have shown up two weeks ago!" she provocatively replied with contempt in her eyes. "So put it down. Now."

"Elizabeth, don't fucking play with fire!" he warned.

"Fine, go ahead, then. Do it. Let's get finished with this, Christopher!" she dared him, emphasizing his name.

She knew she was probably pushing him too far, and that there was a chance he'd actually pull the trigger just to prove a point. But she had to take that risk, if she wanted to earn his respect and play by his rules. Or perhaps she was just insane, she thought, perhaps pushing him to his point of no return was the only way she'd found to draw the attention she was desperately seeking from him.

And maybe it was the way she called him Christopher, reminding him of the last time she did, her hand pressed on his crotch, or the simple fact that he was incapable of shooting her no matter how much she pissed him off, but he contemplated her for a moment before he swallowed and slowly put his gun back in his jeans.

"Thank you." she breathed.

She bit her lips, attracting his gaze on her mouth, and for one second he struggled against the urge of furiously kissing her. But instead he pulled away from her with a mix of contempt and hatred in his eyes that was painful to watch.

"I'm gonna destroy you." he hissed.

"Looking forward to it!" she provocatively replied.

He searched his pocket for the gun she had left in his office and dropped it on her bed.

"Might need this." he told her with a hint of disgust.

He then realized that she was still leaning on the door where he had shoved her, blocking his way out, and forbidding him any dramatic exit. With a sigh, he grabbed her shoulders, trying to ignore how much a part of him would fancy fucking her on her bed right now, and he pushed her aside so he could leave.

Beth sighed, watching his back as he was leaving her house. She realized she'd hardened since she met him, and she was proud of herself for not giving in to his intimidation attempts. But somewhere in the depth of her heart, she felt a hopeless clench at the memory of the disgusted way he had looked at her on his way out, while all she wanted was to see again that awe he had had in his eyes the night before.

 

Over the next few days, she waited for any big destruction move from Rio, but life seemed to go on as its usual, and she started to relax. Sure, he wasn't the forgiving kind and she knew he'd eventually come up with something, but she couldn't figure out what he could throw at her. After all, she'd ruined a part of his business, limiting his financial leeway, she thought. So she kept going on with her life and her business, but she soon realized she didn't have all it took to be a crime boss. Not that she couldn't act like one, though, that was probably what she was the best at, but she simply hadn't followed any kind of Crime Boss 101 classes that would have taught her how it all worked. She had fake cash, but not in unlimited amounts, and she knew a few pills suppliers and customers with whom she had deals, so she basically followed the same kind of crazy schedule she used to have when she worked with Rio. And it worked for a while, even though she was aware it made her every move very predictable for him. After all he had been the one teaching her all she knew right now. Hence it didn't surprise her when she started to lose customers. He'd probably renegotiated deals with them, but she didn't really mind. She had enough money to be good for a while, and Ruby was doing a great job at upscaling the bakery business. They equally shared the profits, but it was still a comfortable income for her.

But sometimes she thought about the fake passports sleeping in her tree house. Annie was right, they probably were worth a lot if she managed to sell them quickly enough, but she didn't know to whom. She was actually considering the idea of performing another robbery, at Rio's office this time, in order to find a customer's list, when Rio's first counterattack came under the form of a gentle knock at her door in the middle of the afternoon, two weeks after their last encounter. She wasn't expecting anyone at this time of the day, and since Rio never bothered to ask permission before entering her house, she frowned in uncertainty as she went for the door.

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Boland, I hope I'm not interrupting anything."

"Good afternoon, Agent Turner." she greeted with a cheerful smile, while her panicked brain was trying to determine whether there was or not any trace of illegal activities in her house at the moment.

"Shall I?" he politely asked, but they both knew the question was rhetorical and she let him in, mentally cursing Rio over at least nine generations, before she added an exception for Marcus.

"I'm sorry, I'm afraid there's no cake in the fridge for you today." she conversationally said, hoping he wouldn't stay long.

"No problem." he peered at her with something carnivorous in his eyes, and she felt a wave of terror invade her.

Rio's anger was something she could handle. She knew which buttons to push with him, and she also knew for a fact that he wouldn't threaten her loved ones. They were off-limits if the account he had to settle was with her only. But Turner was cruel, unpredictable, obsessive. Well, okay, she had to admit that Rio was all these things too, but it was different. He was different. The bottom line was, she didn't know how to handle Turner and what he was capable of to reach at her.

"So I'm glad to see you recovered from your little... bloody situation, Mrs. Boland?" he asked with a perky smile.

She swallowed. Demon's pictures. Of course. She shook her head.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Agent Turner." she replied with her most seductive smile.

He smirked, "Well, I'm sure your memory will recover soon, too."

He was looking around him while he spoke and her anxiety grew as she was more and more unsure that the house was feds-proof right now.

"Was there anything in particular you came to tell me?" she asked, eager to see him leave.

"No, I just wanted to congratulate you on your recovery. We have a mutual friend who's really concerned about your health." he answered with irony.

"That's very nice of him, then." she said, out of breath.

Turner suddenly seemed to have seen enough as he walked his way to the door.

"Well, thank you for your time anyway. Unfortunately I have to go — duty calls —, but don't worry, I'll see you very soon, Mrs. Boland." he promised, unequivocally smiling at her.

The message was crystal clear and she tried to keep herself in control and not let the shaking that had already taken possession of her hands invade her whole body.

"Looking forward to it." she managed to articulate as he pulled the door open and left.

Her tone was far less triumphant than when she had told Rio the exact same words the last time he had left her house, and that was a painful irony she was aware of.

 

"I'm going to kill him!"

Beth was walking in circles like a caged lion in her living room, followed by the anxious gazes of Annie and Ruby who were sipping wine in the couch. Turner had been gone for two hours and she was fulminating about Rio.

"So he tipped Turner about you being still alive, what's the big deal, he'd have found out eventually anyway." Ruby started.

"Does he even have anything on you, by the way?" Annie added

"Maybe... No... I don't know, okay?" Beth exclaimed, overwhelmed with anxiety. "But Rio does. What if he gives that to Turner too?"

Annie suddenly grabbed Beth's laptop on the coffee table, "Can I borrow it for a minute? I've got to check an important e-mail." she asked with a low voice. "But keep going on with the Turner stuff!" she added.

Beth nodded with a wave of her hand, "Yeah, whatever."

"Sweetie, you know you kinda asked for this, right?" Ruby told her.

"What?"

"I mean, you declared war to Rio, you have to expect dirty moves from him." Ruby explained. And as Annie was opening her mouth she added, "No jokes about the dirty moves!"

"I know, but I didn't think it would be that dirty! Rio's totally going down for this!"

Ruby sighed, "Seriously? Sweetie, you know I really love you, but how long are you going to keep throwing each other under the bus all the time? Aren't you tired of this?"

"He started it!" Beth protested.

"Oh my goodness, what are you, five?" Ruby rolled her eyes at her with concern written all over her face. "Trust me, honey, this is not going to end well if you two keep fighting like this."

Suddenly Annie, who still had Beth's computer on her lap let out a loud gasp, and Beth and Ruby both turned their heads with a remarkably synchronized motion, "What?"

"Oh. My. God. Did you seriously google Does saying I love you during sex count? ?" Annie asked with a stunned expression on her face.

Beth sighed. Now she remembered why she usually never let Annie borrow her laptop, even for a few minutes. She somehow always ended up in the history section of her browser. Ruby was staring at Beth with her mouth open, and Beth instantly blushed.

"You told Rio you loved him?" Annie insisted.

"No."

"You told someone else you loved him?" Ruby asked rolling her eyes.

"No! It's just when I was in Rio's office, when we... well, I had this weird... thought... crossing my mind, but I didn't say it, good lord! But then I figured it doesn't count if it happens while you're having sex, right? It's just all about hormones and everything." Beth reluctantly answered.

"Oh really? That's what Google said to you?" Annie scoffed with a devilish grin.

"Yeah, pretty much!" Beth vigorously replied.

Ruby and Annie were silently watching her with dismay.

"What?" Beth spoke again. "I told you, it doesn't count. Discussion's over."

"Ooooh, no, we're soooo having this discussion right now!" Annie said with a mischievous voice.

"No, we're not. Ruby, could you be the adult here?" Beth replied, appalled by her sister's beheaviour.

"I only have one thing to say," Ruby answered rolling her eyes, "Beth, do you want to have this conversation sober or drunk?"

Beth sighed, "Fine. But if you're not here to tell me that there's nothing there that I can't quickly overcome, I don't see the point of even starting this conversation. I don't love him and I will destroy him. Period. And Annie, you'll have to tell us about Patrick too, I can't always be the only one in the spotlight!"

"Fair enough!" Annie replied with too much enthusiasm to bode anything good for Beth. "Patrick's my new manager." she told Ruby who looked confused, "I kinda had a crush on him, but he's chosen someone else, so, I'm done. Story's over. Beth, your turn!" she called.

Beth looked at Annie and Ruby feeling like a lamb to the slaughter, and she sighed. This time she knew they wouldn't let her escape once again from facing her feelings for Rio.

Chapter Text

The girls loved Beth too much to push her out of her comfort zone for too long, so they had agreed on changing the subject as soon as Beth reluctantly admitted she had at least a crush on Rio. But somehow, and Beth couldn't tell if it was intentional from them or not, they had managed to lead Beth to think about it, to question herself, even after their conversation had ended. And it had been spinning through her mind ever since. Because deep down, she was aware that calling whatever she felt for Rio a crush she'd quickly get over with was a lie she kept telling to herself. A positive one, though. She needed to believe that she could do without him, especially while they were fighting, otherwise she knew she'd surrender instantly. But the truth was that she was missing him, she missed his eyes filled with something else than hatred or anger, she missed his smile and his arms around her, she missed the time when she was not that scared to death every time she thought about him because she didn't know what next to expect from him. That being said, she had to admit she had more or less always been scared to death whenever she thought about him. But not as much as she'd been lately, despite all her bossy apparent confidence.

After he brought Turner back in their game, she didn't hear from him for a few days she spent in the anxiety of being arrested by the feds any minute. But nothing happened and she thought that it probably had been Rio's first warning, showing her what he was capable of if she didn't give him his money back. And she briefly considered doing so at some point, after all she'd proven to him, and mostly to herself, that she was capable of outsmarting him in ways he didn't expect, that he didn't impress her as much as he used to, and that she finally could play as his equal. And she had the feeling that somehow he'd acknowledged that, that she'd earned her legitimacy as a part of the game. But was it what she wanted to be, a part of the game? Despite the fact that she was still mad as hell for all the stuff he'd put on her, and she was still seeking for a seemingly endless revenge, there was a growing part of her that was tired of all this, and just wanted to let it go, before they dragged each other into what couldn't be anything but a most probably deadly exit. Ruby had had a point the other day. As time went by, Beth was more and more convinced that her fight with Rio was a recipe for disaster that neither of them could stop on time.

Hence she had mixed feelings when one morning, as she was browsing through the bills that had come with the mail of the day, she spotted a pale envelope without any postage nor address, but only a big Elizabeth handwritten on it. She frowned at first, before she realized with a shiver that Rio, or maybe someone else from his crew, had had to directly put this in her mailbox, and knowing that he'd been so close to her house was both thrilling and frightening. She opened the envelope with slightly shaky hands, since everything coming from Rio scared her these days as it would potentially ruin her life, and a magnetic card, along with a paper sheet folded in two, fell down on her lap. She unfolded the paper sheet and read from Rio's hazardous handwriting, Truce? Tomorrow. 8pm. That was when she realized the magnetic card was a hotel room key, and she blushed hard. If that was Rio's twisted version of a booty call, then fuck-off! But deep down she couldn't help but feel a little tempted. She couldn't deny that ever since their encounter on his desk, he had played an active part in her masturbatory fantasies. Not that he wasn't there before, quite the opposite actually, but still, she had spent a considerable amount of time reliving this moment, and she had to admit that she was craving for another one. But who the hell was he to think she'd come over as soon as he'd whistle her? As if he hadn't given her away to Turner as a foreplay a few days before. She let the card on the low table with a wince of disgust and forgot about it as she kept on dragging through the business of her day.

But that evening, as she was in bed and about to turn off the lights, she remembered the letter and she pictured him, waiting for her in a hotel room, his eyes flickering with desire, his tongue licking his lips in a predatory way that she'd always found extremely hot. And, almost without thinking about it, her hand slowly slid down her belly until her middle finger started to gently press her clit and her hips slightly swayed under her touch. Without really noticing it, her breath got a little louder, her whole body vibrating with the rhythm of her finger as she was picturing his hands all over her and his tongue in her mouth. But soon it wasn't enough, and she had to press two fingers inside of her as the Rio from her fantasy was now thrusting deep inside of her, and she moaned, clenching for him. She could almost hear his broken breath and when she knew she was close enough, she allowed him to mutter 'Elizabeth' in her ear, triggering her orgasm. Imagining Rio whispering her name always made her come. She closed her eyes in the aftershock, his name on her lips, before she got caught with the residual sadness that always fell down on her each time she remembered that he wasn't there for good. But soon she slid in the blessed oblivion of sleep.

On the next day, the offensive card was still there in the living room, taunting her, but she chose not to think about it, and around 7pm, as she was still on time to get dressed and go, she mischievously delighted herself by ignoring it. She cooked herself dinner and proudly started eating at eight. But as time went by, she caught herself thinking more and more about him, her mind sending her flashbacks of their past intimacy, until she couldn't hold it anymore. She deeply sighed and stood up, grabbing the magnetic key card on the coffee table before she got cold feet and collapsed on the couch. She stayed there for at least ten minutes, blankly staring at the card. To go or not to go. The idea that he was waiting for her right now somewhere was making her sick from missing it. She badly wanted to go but at the same time she knew she shouldn't. She didn't want to give him that power over her, but she was the first one ready to acknowledge that he could basically do anything to her, she'd still be craving for his skin. You're pathetic! she told herself. He had tried to kill her and she was still hopelessly breaking down like a teenager every time he showed her any sign of interest.

She hated herself when she finally grabbed her car keys, around ten o'clock. The drive was rather quick but she stayed behind the wheel, hesitating, for an extra ten minutes once she was parked in front the hotel. Hence it was already half past ten when she stood in front of the room door, her heart beating so fast that it was buzzing in her ears. She felt humiliated. What if he was asleep? After all she was more than two hours late. Her heart crushed under a worse thought. What if he had left, acknowledging she wouldn't come? She was already losing her mind and she tried to clear her thoughts before she slid the card in its slot with shaky hands, and pushed the door open.

And there he was, very much awake, fully dressed and half-lying on the bed, absorbed in whatever thing he was checking on his phone, as the reading lamp provided a diffuse lightning. Seeing him like this, so harmless, stole her breath and he raised his head, a soft expression on his face.

"I thought you'd never come." he said with a shining smile that melt her heart, and his body straightened.

"Me neither." she said in a breath. They stared at each other before she asked, "Do you really think this is a good idea?"

"Was there ever one when it comes to you and me, darlin'?" he retorted with a smirk.

He jumped out of the bed to face her. She bit her lips and lowered her gaze, heavy-hearted and feeling something ice cold suddenly clasping around her heart. Of course he was right, she thought, and she cursed herself for all the fantasies she'd been nourishing in the depths of her mind. They had always been a mess, a mistake. A mistake they kept repeating over and over again though, no matter what. Her eyes came back at him.

"Why, then?"

It only took him two steps to close the distance between them. He cupped her jaw with his hand and just like that he kissed her in one smooth move. She opened her mouth to him, enjoying the softness of his lips and the warmth of his tongue, her hands convulsively grasping his shoulders. Their kiss only lasted for a few seconds but it carried so much emotion that for a very brief instant, she forgot all the reasons that made her want to hit him so often, she forgot they were fighting over a crime kingdom, she forgot he had tried to kill her, only thinking about how much she actually enjoyed falling so hard for him. Licking his lips, Rio took a step back, his eyes meeting hers again.

"Cause it's worth it." he said, out of breath, and the way he was looking at her right now was everything she'd always wanted.

The internal explosion of ecstatic feelings she experienced at that very moment somehow transpired on her face as Rio furrowed his eyebrows before asking, "What?" with a smirk.

She lightly blushed, trying not to smile, "Nothing!" she shook her head. "Just... Just kiss me agai—"

He didn't even let her finish before his mouth crushed hers and she hopelessly fell into it, relishing every sensation. She wrapped her arms around him, pressing herself hard against him, somehow unbelieving that he was there for real. The kiss was getting hotter and Rio gently guided her backwards to the bed, his mouth still against hers, until they both collapsed on the mattress. She couldn't have enough of him, of his tongue dancing around hers, of his demanding lips, of his teeth that possessively bit her lips, and she let out little moans that she knew made him lose his mind over her.

He managed to pull her on top of him, her knees resting on each side of his hips, and, panting, she dived into their kiss again, his hands roaming her body. Under a sudden need, she left his mouth too press kisses all over the eagle on his throat and she heard him whisper "Elizabeth" in response. And even if this was only supposed to boost her arousal, it turned out to have an opposite effect. Because out of nowhere, the moment he called her by her name, a bizarre twist from her brain flashed his face in her mind, distorted with more hatred than anyone could possibly feel.

I'm gonna destroy you.

She blinked, trying to chase the memory but it got more and more real as she tried to make it vanish, until she couldn't see nor hear anything else. She roughly pulled away from him, extracting from his embrace and escaping from the bed, almost in the middle of a panic attack. She could read the confusion in his eyes, and she stammered, "I'm sorry, but I can't do this." as an explanation attempt while she was readjusting her blouse he'd started unbuttoning.

The hurt look on his face quickly got replaced with a neutral expression as he asked her, "You got somewhere to go?"

"Anywhere away from you." she hurtfully replied, barely holding her own distress.

She reached for the door and he didn't even try to move as she was leaving. She closed the door behind her before she leant against it, tears already falling down her cheeks, her chest throbbing. There was nothing she wanted more than going back inside and forget about anything else, but all she could think about right now was the angry version of him. What if he was doing the same to her that she had done to him, captivating her in one arm while the other one destroyed her life? What if he was just playing with her, fulfilling his desire but hating her, deep inside? Her clothes and her skin still exuded his smell, exacerbating her need for him and during a terrifying second of lucidity, she realized that he was the very shoulder she wanted to cry on whenever he tormented her. She knew that she had to break that vicious circle, but she simply couldn't. And as her sobs were finding their way through her throat, she finally admitted to herself that it had never been just a crush. She was hopelessly in love with him.

Such an acknowledgement deserved celebration. Or oblivion. She wasn't quite sure of which one she actually craved, but all she knew once she got home was that the only thing she wanted for the moment was to get wasted until nothing would make sense anymore. And she strove for it during the following two hours, swallowing bourbon with her tears, and cursing herself for being weak enough to fall for an inked eagle and a velvety voice she should have triumphantly crushed by now. Hence she was already pretty drunk when she decided it was time to go to bed and she began to close all the curtains downstairs. But she froze as she peered through the kitchen window. She'd have recognized the black Cadillac parked on the opposite side of the street among a thousand of them. Well, okay, maybe not a thousand, what looked more like a car than another car after all, but a dozen, sure.

One minute later, she was approaching the driver's window, and there he was, a sardonic smile on his lips.

"Evenin'." Rio cheered.

There was something about the haze in his eyes, or maybe his slightly slowed elocution, that rang a familiar bell to her drunk brain.

"Have you been drinking?" she asked.

"A bit." he replied with the apologetic expression of a child caught in the middle of a mischief.

He showed her a half empty bottle of tequila by his side and she gasped.

"That's what you call a bit?" she asked in shock.

He shrugged while addressing her a sad smile and her heart sank. She wasn't sure about what emotional damage could drive him to drink that much in front of her house, but it was somehow hurtful to see him in such a weak state. And she refused to believe that the way she had left the room a few hours before was the reason why he acted like this.

"Well, I guess you might as well come in." she said in a breath. "I'm not letting you drive in such a state." she added, trying to make it clear that she was leting him in only for driving safety purpose.

 

Rio nodded. It was getting cold in his car anyway. He could tell that she was as drunk as him from the way she walked and he wondered if she had put herself in such a state for the same reasons he did. He'd been missing her. As cheesy as it sounded, that was the only reason he'd sent her that key card. Obviously he had had to disguise it into another power game, calling for a truce in the middle of the war. But the thing was, he missed the time when things were easier with her, when she worked for him and they could at least be in the same room for one minute without trying to be the first to complete the task of pushing all the other one's worst buttons. Man, fighting with her was exhausting, as was struggling against his own desire each time he had to see her. She indeed had managed to learn a few things and the way she resisted to all of his tricks impressed him. And it made her even more attractive, if that was possible.

That evening he truly had thought she wouldn't show up at all, and to be fairly honest, he would have deserved it. Hence seeing her, even more than two hours late, had cheered him up in an incredible way. And yeah, he had meant it, they had never been a good idea. Ever. But it didn't mean that either of them could break free from it. There was no escape from this unless taking that leap forward and see what happened. And so he had kissed her, hoping that she would get the meaning of it. He'd thought she did. Which was why the way she had suddenly left was even more hurtful. He'd felt he needed a drink. Or maybe two. And after that it had seemed a good idea to come by her house and just stay there in the dark, sipping tequila from the bottle he'd bought on the way. Or maybe it was just because there was nowhere else he wanted to be.

 

He followed her in the house and she fetched another glass for him. At this point..., she thought. She wordlessly handed him the glass before she dropped on the couch. He sat by her side, carefully avoiding her looks, and for a while they just drank side by side without talking nor looking at each other.

"Why did'ya leave, earlier?" he finally asked, still staring blankly into space.

She sighed.

"You said you would destroy me." she started to explain. "I just couldn't..."

He nodded, "I say a lotta things, sweetheart."

There was a silence. Beth suddenly grabbed the bottle. She knew she already had had more than enough, but she couldn't handle Rio's presence right at her side without another drink.

"More?" she offered, slightly shaking the bottle at him and he nodded. She filled the two glasses and there was another silence when they both drank up.

He thought about what she'd just said, and the moment he'd told her he'd destroy her. He'd only said that because he hadn't liked her comment about him not having the guts to kill her, hated that it was true. It had sounded like a reproach from her, and it probably was in some way.

"I'm sorry I didn't show up to kill you." Rio suddenly said. "That was..."

"Insulting?"

"Was gonna go with despicable, but... yeah whatever." he shrugged.

Beth was too wasted already to notice how rambling and weird their conversation was. In the cloudiness of her drunk brain, it even seemed to make sense, and she noted that alcohol established a strange sense of intimacy between them, destructing their respective fortresses of pride and power to give space for a honesty she had never experienced with him before. Maybe that was the reason why she finally let out the question that had been haunting her ever since the night she had shot him.

"When you said I was just work, did you mean it?"

She was looking at him and he turned his head at her, catching her gaze with a surprised expression.

"Why you askin'?"

"Because I... It's the main reason why I shot you." she confessed, articulating with an increasing difficulty as the liquor was infusing her whole body.

"Whadyou mean?" Rio asked with a confused look, his brain also slowing down in drunkenness.

Beth sighed deeply, "When you told me that, it... it hurt. A lot. And then you kidnapped me, and it felt like I didn't know you anymore, and I was so, so scared, and then..." her voice broke, "You handed me the gun, asking me to mercilessly murder a tied man and... I mean, I know how you handle your... work problems, and I was becoming one if I didn't do whatchu asked, so...."

There were tears in her eyes when she looked back at him.

"That's a lotta thinkin' for someone who's scared, you really overthink things sometimes, ma." Rio underlined, cocking his brow. He smirked, "So you woulda shot him if I hadn't told you that?"

"Probably not." She admitted, and a part of her mind acknowledged that her life might be much simpler by now if she just had shot Turner that night. "But maybe I wouldn't have done... what I did... the way I did it, you know."

"Hmmm." Rio took a long breath before peering at her with his eyes narrowed, "You know how you tell someone they're work, 'lizabeth? When you hand them their money on your nightstand, like they're some goddam prostitute!"

She could hear the anger in his voice and hearing him putting it all on her once again annoyed her. She looked at him in disbelief.

"So what, you've got a little sensitive heart, now?" she scoffed.

"Never occurred to you I might actually have one, huh?" he replied in a low voice, his eyes carrying a mix of sadness and disdain.

Her eyes widened when his words hit her conscience.

"I... I never thought I could... hurt you. I'm sorry. Did I?"

Rio refilled their glasses as a silent answer, and they drank, both willing to soothe the painful mix of intense and contradictory feelings they experienced in each other presence.

"Can I ask you something?" she asked out of the blue.

He nodded.

"Why didn't you set up my death, if you didn't want to kill me? I mean, if I managed to improvise this you'd have done a thousand times better."

He shook his head at the compliment, "Never wondered how come you got Demon on your side that easy, huh?" he asked, but as her eyes widened he added, "Nah, I'm jokin'."

He stayed silent for a few seconds before he spoke again.

"I'm an idiot who didn't even think 'bout it." he confessed with a apologetic smile that made her want to kiss him.

"Why did Demon help me, then?" she asked, peering at his face.

Rio sighed.

"Cause sometimes he knows me better than I do myself. And it ain't really true I didn't want to kill you. Part of me wanted to. I'm sorry." he admitted in a breath.

He looked her in the eyes and he could tell that she was hurt but she nodded.

"Thank you." she whispered. "Always good to know the truth."

Heartbreaking tears fell from her eyes, and she wiped them with the back of her hand before frantically grabbing the bottle and drowning her emotion in another glass.

"My turn for one question?" he asked, and she nodded at this strangely honest version of their twenty questions game.

"What is it you wanted to tell me before you died?"

She half-smiled, "Drove you crazy, didn't it?" she asked, and he nodded with a devious smile. "I'm sorry but I made that up."

"I know. What if you had to think about it, then? Don't make me kill you to find out." he smirked.

She burst into uncontrollable laughter and he gave her a confused look, "What?"

"This is so fucked-up!" she managed to explain as she was giggling in her drunk hilarity. "You're actually considering murdering me only to find out what I'd tell you right before!"

He briefly closed his eyes, admitting the nonsense of their conversation, and laughed with her. Beth refilled the glasses and there was a long pause while they both drank in silence.

She thought about all the horrible things they'd done to each other, that seemed almost bearable in her cloudy mind. She realized how much everything had changed in her life, once again, since she had discovered that wire around her light bulb and suddenly she started laughing again.

"What?" Rio asked, his eyes seriously questioning her sanity.

"Nothing! It's just... I was thinking... You put a camera in my kitchen for months, right?... Must have been so boring to watch!"

He remembered how he'd got fascinated watching her everyday life and he opened his mouth, but then he saw the look on her face, relaxed and laughing and he didn't want to spook her, so he nodded. She laughed even more and he wanted to kiss that smiling face so much that he had to look away for a while.

Beth felt light and happily dizzy, and Rio's smile made her want to snuggle in his arms. And maybe she was a little too much open to confidence now.

"Dean has a new girlfriend." she suddenly said, without knowing where that came from.

"Huh? Why you care?"

"She's half my age." Beth confessed with a hint of bitterness.

"Oh. You shouldn't care, ma, whatever age she is. And whoever Carman dates." Rio's eyes expressed an understanding she'd never seen in him before, and she suddenly felt comfortable letting him see her insecurities about her age, about them.

"Are you seeing someone?" she asked out of the blue.

She had no idea of why she was asking him that, but if there'd ever been a good time for that question, now was the moment.

Rio thoughtfully watched her before he chuckled, "I'm tryna, but last time I kissed her she ran outta the room!"

His face was back to his teasing, flirting cheerfulness, maybe a little more hazed than the usual though, and Beth blushed.

"Speaking of escapin'..." he added, searching in the pocket of his jeans before he handed her the necklace she had given to Demon, the golden chain twirling around his fingers. "Thought you may wanna have it back."

"Thanks."

Her hand reached for it and he kept her fingers into his hand for maybe half a second longer than necessary, his eyes deeply staring at her, before letting them go. She tried to put the necklace back on her neck, but she ridiculously failed at it, unable to coordinate her hands behind her head, and she giggled, "My God, I'm so wasted!"

"Lemme do it." Rio offered in a breath.

She turned her back at him, pushing her hair aside, and he delicately closed the clasp around her neck, his fingers barely brushing her skin. When he got finished, he rapidly pressed a kiss on the back of her neck and she squeaked. His lips were burning hot and she resisted the urge to turn her head and kiss him. It still wasn't a good idea, even after so many drinks that she had stopped counting them. But she could feel his warm breath on her skin as his lips were brushing the back of her neck, sending delicious shivers along her spine, and she lost her own breath.

"One last question?" he whispered, his mouth against her skin.

"Anything." she managed to answer, literally melting under the caress of his lips.

"Where's my safe, Elizabeth?" his voice was low and caressing, mostly seductive, but the question wasn't and she suddenly pulled away and turned her face at him, shocked. At this point she had been almost ready to give it all back to him if he hadn't asked for it. But if he was trying to seduce her to get his empire back, then he wouldn't get anything from her. She blinked and got herself back in control.

"Oh, it's in the garage, you can have it back." she lightly said with a smile and he raised a surprised eyebrow at her, "But there's a big hole on one side, I doubt you could use it again for safety purposes!" she casually added, the corners of her lips raising in a devilish smirk.

He sighed deeply and she could tell he was trying not to let his anger take control yet, "You know what I'm talkin' about, Elizabeth!"

"Oh you mean the passports? No, you can count them as losses."

She lost her victorious smile the minute she saw his face darken.

"Oh, that's bad, darlin', that's bad..." he nodded while extracting from the couch with more difficulty than he had expected, "I kinda hoped I wouldn't have to do that, but..."

"Do what?" she suddenly sobered up.

Seeing him so soft and harmless had made her forget how cruel he could be when he didn't get what he wanted.

"I may have written a text to Turner 'bout you, sweetheart, given him a few tips!" he toothily grinned, "was about to cancel the whole operation if I could get my stuff back, but now..." his thumb swept across the screen of his phone, "Whooops, it's sent! My bad. There is no way to erase those once they're sent, right?" he added cocking one eyebrow, pretending that he was genuinely asking.

"What did you tell him?" Beth asked, inches away from throwing her glass at him

She jumped out of the couch, her anger flowing in quicker than the usual, and she immediately had to brace herself against the wall not to lose her balance. God, why did she drink that much?

"Wouldn't be fun if I told ya!" he replied with a little laugh, "By the way, that garden of yours, it's gorgeous this season. Did you know Turner's a bit of a flower guy?"

She thought about Jeff's body still decomposing under her flowerbeds, almost throwing up at the idea, and a wave of pain irradiated her chest as she understood how far Rio would go to take her down. She had allowed herself to believe that he cared, even a little, but reality was violently slapping her back in the face.

"How could you?"

Tears were rushing out of her eyes and she was shaking, and he tried not to be affected by her obvious distress. He hadn't wanted to do this to her. He had thought that Turner's first visit would have been enough, that she'd have understood how badly they needed to stop this. Obviously she didn't, but he still needed his business back, right? He hadn't wanted to have to choose between work and her, but it seemed that he had to, and he couldn't afford to lose everything, especially for someone who clearly didn't give a shit about him. And that whole thing made him sick.

"Oh I'm sorry, you said you wanted the war, did you think I'd stay with my arms crossed while you tried to steal everythin' from me?" he replied, his eyes narrowed.

"Get out!" she hissed with all the venom she could fill two words with.

"Was leavin' anyway."

His car keys were on the coffee table, and Beth grabbed them before Rio could move. She threw them at his face with all the violence she was capable of, fully aware of the unpleasant reminder she was offering him. Something on the set of keys must have been particularly sharp, or maybe it was just the strength with which it hit the target, but a droplet of blood appeared on Rio's right cheek and he carefully touched the cut before considering the blood on his fingertips. He angrily looked back at her with something hard in his eyes, and he instantly closed the distance between them, catching her wrists as he came closer and roughly shoving her against the kitchen island.

"Get your hands off me!" she yelled at him, struggling with him with a wince of pain.

But he only hardened his grip on her wrists, pinning them to the counter, before he came so close to her that she had to bend backward not to touch him, and he stayed still for a while, wordlessly threatening her, until he saw fear in her eyes.

"Never, ever, do that again, Elizabeth." he hissed, slowly articulating every word, his jaw convulsively ticking.

"I hate you!" she spat back.

He let her go and bit his lips, looking at her with contempt and something that looked like disappointment.

"I hope you get a short sentence." he muttered before he turned around, quickly making his way to the front door.

He sincerely meant it.

"I hope your car crashes!" she shouted at his back as he was slamming her door.

She furiously drew the curtains, uncontrollably sobbing, before she collapsed on the couch, her sadness increased by the emotional sounding board provided by drunkenness. And she was starting to feel sick. Sure, she had had way too much to drink, but maybe this was also because she couldn't bear their argument, his betrayal, and the way he was walking away from her. She ran to the bathroom.

Several glasses of water later, as she was processing their talk from earlier, she realized with a growing frustration that despite the apparent honesty running their conversation, he had managed to avoid any direct answer to her questions, and the way he always slipped through her fingers every time she figured she was getting closer was killing her. She cried herself to sleep that night, but the alcohol still mixed to her blood was probably the reason why she was so emotional. Probably.

 

Rio didn't sleep at all that night. He called Cisco to drive him back home, fully aware that he was too wasted to drive himself. He felt a little remorseful for throwing Elizabeth in the lion's den once again, knowing that this time Turner wouldn't let her any chance to escape. He had tried not to, he really had, but it seemed that every time he decided to soften things with her she came out with something that pissed him off. Obviously the passports were of no use to her without the customers contacts, so she only held them to goad him, push him to his boundaries until he'd inevitably strike back. But he was done with this little game now. This whole madness had to stop, and Heaven knew he didn't want it to end that way, but if she insisted so much on being a collateral damage, good riddance, then. He'd already wasted enough time on her. And now that she was screwed beyond reasonable, he knew he couldn't resist to tease her a little more.

 

Beth woke up with a dried throat and confused memories of the night. She was almost sure that at some point Rio had been drinking with her in the living room, but she couldn't figure out why. She only recalled some flashbacks from a talk that seemed so weird that she wondered if she hadn't dreamed it instead. But the two glasses and the almost empty bottles of tequila and bourbon still on the coffee table confirmed it had been real. She swallowed coffee after coffee to get through her hangover, remembering little pieces of the night, the memories popping in her mind like bubbles at the surface of a pond, until little by little, she got a clearer idea of how the night had gone.

As she went for the mail, she found a small parcel waiting for her on her front door, and her heart beat faster when she recognized the handwritten 'E' on the top. Her hands were shaking when she opened it, exposing a small cardboard card along with a jewelry box. She immediately frowned. Was Rio sending her jewels now? She mechanically touched her neck and she felt the necklace he'd brought back to her, suddenly remembering the moment he'd clasped it back on her neck. She picked the card first, and deciphered Rio's terrible handwriting.

I'm sorry about last night. I hope your wrists don't hurt anymore.

She stopped her reading and blinked, trying to understand, before the flashback hit her conscience like a punch as she remembered the violence with which he had pinned her against the kitchen counter with a painful grip on her wrists. She reflexively rubbed them at the thought, and they didn't hurt indeed but she noticed that they were slightly bruised. She looked back at the card.

Here is a little something that will look good on them.

Intrigued, she opened the box, and she unwrapped the silky paper inside before she froze with a high-pitched squeak. Shining in the velvet, a pair of silver handcuffs was taunting her and suddenly the whole night came back to her mind. How she'd cried and drunk alone, how she'd found him across the street, how they'd shared the weirdest drinking honest talk of all times, how things had gone wrong at some point and how he'd tipped Turner about her.

She put her head in her hands, and a little desperate noise escaped her lips. Why did she have to drink so much and oversleep? She'd already wasted so much time she could have used hiding every evidence Turner could find. There was no doubt he'd quickly show up at her house with a warrant and search everything. Especially the garden. But she couldn't move Jeff's body now anyway, and wasn't that thing half-liquid by now? She repressed her nausea at the thought and tried to assess her options. She couldn't hide the body by herself, and there was no way she'd involve the girls in this. And that was already enough to send her away for a long time. And who knew what else Rio could have told or given Turner? There was no way out this time, and she had to admit her defeat, but something inside of her refused to surrender that easily, reminded her she'd managed to make her way out of a murdering attempt, told her that she could figure out something to get through this too.

The knock on her door a few hours later was inappropriately enthusiastic and she winced. Being arrested was something she could handle, but having to bear Turner's triumph was revolting. She opened the door to face him, smiling, a bunch of people with FBI jackets gathered around a minivan behind him.

"Good morning, Mrs. Boland."

She swallowed. There was only one way out of this and she knew what she had to do.

"Good morning, Agent Turner, I see you're not alone this time?" she asked, cocking one eyebrow.

"This time, Mrs. Boland, I came here with a search warrant. And shovels." he added, making his point clear.

It was past time to play innocent and she chose to immediately reveal her cards.

"Makes sense." she admitted. "Can I speak to you for a minute before you start?"

Turner looked surprised and he seemed to gauge her for a moment before he slightly nodded and turned his back at her, "Wait for my signal." he addressed his crew.

Beth let him in and closed the door.

"I have to admit that I'm curious to see what makes you think you can stop this, this time." he said.

Beth faced him, determined, and she tried to keep her hands steady.

"Just tell me something, Agent Turner. Who do you want the most, me or him?"

Turner smirked. He was smart, and she could tell he knew where she was heading to and was already weighing his options.

"Depends on what you have against him." he finally said.

Beth took a deep breath, her heart heavy as a stone. She didn't want to do this, but she had no choice. Please, forgive me, she thought.

"Everything." she said, out of breath.

Chapter Text

It's over. The words were spinning in Beth's mind like maple leafs in the autumn wind as she was lying on her bed in foetal position, tears silently falling down her eyes. She'd stayed like this since Turner's departure after he'd agreed on not searching her house in exchange for all the overwhelming evidences she could give him against Rio. She'd given it all, the passports, the names, the addresses, fully aware that her awful betrayal wouldn't even protect her forever. Turner wasn't trustworthy. Demon had told her how he'd tricked Rio into giving her away with promises he'd immediately made perjury on, so she knew that he'd come back for her sooner or later. She'd just bought herself some time ahead, but it felt like she'd sold her soul for it. When she'd seen the FBI guys with their dogs, and their shovels, it had just felt so... real. She'd panicked. She couldn't handle it. And now she didn't know what to do. She'd sent him a text, right after Turner had left, as cryptic as his used to be. I'm sorry. She hoped he'd get it on time. She didn't even know if this was still his number, it had been in her contacts since way before she had shot him, but it was the only one she had and the least she could try to limit the damage. Oh, she had seen the look in Turner's eyes as she was tearing up the kingdom piece by piece for him. His greed. He wouldn't give Rio any chance to escape from his clutch.

She shifted with a grunt of pain. Her body was sore from the hours she'd just spent there, motionless, but she didn't care. She realized she'd given Rio away to buy herself some time she was now wasting regretting what she had done, and she joylessly chuckled at the irony of that, but it gave her the energy to get up with a broken sigh. It would make it even worse if she had done this only to then wait for her fate to be sealed. Besides, she'd have to pick up the kids at school soon, she realized as she glanced at the clock. She was always surprised to notice how her brain managed to effortlessly switch from life threatening criminal dilemmas to daily domestic issues and backwards. She just had enough time to splash cold water on her face, hoping that her swollen eyes weren't too obvious at first sight, before she went out.

 

Rio wasn't stupid. He'd have loved to attend this by himself but that was too risky, so he'd sent one of his boys to witness what would happen to her. A part of him wanted to hear that she'd gotten arrested and that it was all over. But he knew that deep down he badly hoped that something would come up and that it would never happen. Hence when he got a text from his guy telling him the FBI had just left Elizabeth's house without any further investigation, he thought it was too good to be true. There was only one thing that could distract Turner from finally getting at Elizabeth. His assumptions got confirmed a few minutes later when he got her text on his old phone, the one he only kept because he knew she had no other number to contact him.

He immediately called Demon, "Shutdown. Level 3. Effective immediately." he said before hanging up.

He didn't have much time, and this would be a tricky thing to do, but he'd been there before. He would never thank enough his FBI insider, whom he texted right away to have further info on what Turner knew exactly, before he left his office. He couldn't stay here anyway. He was walking around the corner when he heard the sirens. God, was she accurate in her tips! Turner must have gotten off at this, he thought. That was more serious than he'd initially thought. He'd have to leave town for a while, keep a low profile.

He spent the next few hours making phone calls, transferring accounts, sending orders. He could trust Demon on shutting down the material part of his business, closing the warehouse and the storage units, and sending the boys away. Losses would be unavoidable, but he crossed his fingers that a part of the kingdom could be saved. In his twisted obsession, Turner must have first headed straight to his office, eager to put him in handcuffs, which hopefully gave his crew enough time to move stuff, unless the feds had split in multiple groups for a simultaneous assault. In the early afternoon he had it more or less under control. Some members of his crew got arrested, but he'd bail them out on time, provided they didn't talk. They couldn't tell anything valuable to the feds anyway. Only Demon, Cisco and a couple of other people knew the critical stuff and he'd made sure that these ones were safe. There was still work to do on the shutdown though, he had to put some deals on hold and cancel deliveries, but Demon was in charge of this. Now was time for Rio to disappear for a while. Maybe he should leave town for good after all, he thought, maybe it was time for him to conquer something else. He sighed. He could figure it out on his forced vacation anyway. But before that... Nah, that would be too dangerous. Was it, though? It seemed that the moment she'd thrown the keys at his face was ages ago, instead of the night before. He wanted to see her once more before he left. Say goodbye. Admit she was a fuckin' good player, that Detroit was all hers now. She'd won. That wouldn't take him long. He'd just have to be careful on the way.

 

Beth had sent the kids to play upstairs and as she exited Kenny's room she thought she should do some laundry, and maybe ironing after that. She was trying to keep her mind focused on domestic problems, otherwise she would probably start to scream. She was living in the constant fear of seeing Turner coming back, or hearing on the news that Rio'd been arrested, or worse, killed during a police assault. She couldn't help but check her phone every five minutes. Speaking of which, she suddenly realized she'd left it in the living room when she had joined the kids upstairs. She went down, searching her purse for it, and she had just grabbed her phone and put it in the back pocket of her jeans when she heard the unmistakable sound of the cocking of a gun in her back and an ironical voice speaking, "Gotta say, I didn't think I'd see you again."

Her blood froze in her veins. That voice... She carefully raised her hands in the air before she slowly turned around to face him.

"Harry." she stated, trying to keep her voice steady.

"Indeed." he cheerfully replied with his usual honeyed tone.

Except that he was pointing a gun at her, and her heart sank in her chest like a stone. Seeing him in front of her brought back memories she didn't need right now. Since the day she'd learned that his sidekicks were dead, about a month ago, she hadn't even thought about him, as she'd only focused on fighting against Rio.

"You and I have some unfinished business, don't you think?" he added.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

Harry wasn't Rio. He wouldn't hesitate to kill her, even if she wasn't sure of why he came for her, especially right now. So she tried to speak to him, keep his mind busy, just like she'd watched it in countless movies and TV shows. Just like she had done the first time Demon had put a gun at her face, at a time when Rio was only a stranger to her, the scary gangbanger who was asking for his money back. That day seemed like a decade ago to her now.

"Remember when I asked you who was pulling the strings behind?" Harry said with a devious light in his eyes, and she could tell he was relishing all of this with the cruelty of a predator playing with his prey.

She blankly stared at him. She couldn't think about anything to answer to that. Obviously, him being here meant he had somehow found out about Rio's presence in her shadow back then, so there was no point in denying it. But why now, she frowned? There was something she didn't understand there, but Harry's voice woke her up from her thoughts.

"I've got to admit, I almost believed you at first. But when my guys got killed I knew there was someone else. See, it wasn't your style all these broken bones and punches in the face. Yours is more the accurate and efficient kind, three bullets in the chest and you're good to go home and cook your husband dinner, right?"

Until now, Beth didn't have had much details about the way Rio had killed Squirrel and Turtleneck, and she had always assumed he'd just cold-bloodedly shot them. But such an eruption of violence was something else, it was emotional, and it said without any doubt that Rio had cared enough about her back then to be upset for what had happened. And it also worried her to learn that he could experience such upsurges of wild violence. But now was too late to think about that anyway.

She vaguely wondered how the hell Harry knew about the three bullets detail, but that was not the point.

She didn't know how to respond to that, so she finally managed to answer, even though she doubted it made any sense right now, "That is a really sexist thing to say! I mean the part about going home and make dinner."

Harry let out a psychotic laugh, and she knew at this very moment that he was going to kill her, although she didn't even know why, but it didn't matter. He wasn't even threatening her, his swagger told her he knew he'd already won and that this time there would be no one to come and rescue her, because she'd sent to jail the very person that could ever help her with this. She tried to think faster, to figure out something, but her mind was empty, and her residual hangover slowed her down a bit.

"What do you want from me?" she asked, trying to buy herself some additional time.

 

Rio deeply sighed. He'd just pulled over a few blocks away from her house, and he hesitated to go. What if she called Turner right away? What if the feds had left some guys behind to watch her house in case he'd show up? That would be a smart move from Turner, he couldn't deny it. But he wanted to see her so badly that he decided to take the risk. He was a fast runner if things ended up messy. He could handle this. He'd just have to make it quick. Hello, well-played, goodbye, and that would be it. After a few seconds of hesitation, he decided to leave his gun in the glove box. Better not to be armed in the eventuality he'd get arrested, a gun would give him for sure a one-way ticket to the big house, or even the cemetery if his path happened to cross a highly zealous sniper. And starting to shoot cops was definitely not a good idea.

He climbed out of the car, checking the surroundings but it all seemed safe for now. He quickly made his way to her front door, noticing with a frown that it was half open. Elizabeth had never been really strict about her home security, but that was a big downgrade, even for her. He sneaked inside the house, but he froze when he heard voices coming from the living room and he silently tiptoed in the corridor until he got close enough to invisibly peer at whatever was going on. He immediately regretted having left his gun in the car. From what he could see, there would be no good coming out of this. Harry was the only one carrying a gun here, and he wouldn't hesitate to use it. That bastard was still on his murder list, but Rio had to admit that he hadn't planned to face him that soon, and to be honest, his comeback right now was kinda irritating. No, bigger than that, more like a pain in the ass actually. But he couldn't just stay there and watch him murder Elizabeth, right? Although from a certain point of view, she kinda deserved it but that wasn't the point. He swallowed. He'd have to act fast, not let Harry notice at first sight he wasn't armed, and that wouldn't be easy. He thought about the awful day he'd spent trying to save his kingdom because of her, and how he was about to risk all of it now, and more, for her. She'd better be grateful if they both made it through.

That was his last thought before he came out of the corridor, clearing his throat, one arm purposely half hidden behind his back, suggesting he was about to pull out a gun, his usual mask of self-confidence printed on his face.

"Wassup?"

They both looked at him with stupor, but the hope that shone in her eyes as she saw him was... Well it was pleasant, for sure, always nice to feel needed by the very person who tried to send you to jail, but also... He didn't want to disappoint that hope, he wanted her to know that she could rely on him, that he got this, but that would be a hard game to play. He addressed her an imperceptible nod towards the wall, suggesting her to walk away as much as she could while he would distract Harry's attention. Not that it would help her very much if Harry decided to pull the trigger on her, though, but still, maybe she could find some place to hide. All he wanted was for her to be safe, and the further she stayed away from Harry, the safer she would be.

Harry gave him a toothily smile, "What an unexpected delight to finally find the puppet and the master reunited!" he taunted.

"Too bad you don't know which one's which, huh?" Rio teased back with an amused smile.

Keeping with the talking. That was the key. Harry's hand holding the gun suddenly aimed at him, and Rio heard Elizabeth let out a hoarse squeak. From where she was now, almost in his back, she could probably see he was unarmed.

"You have no idea how long I've been dreaming about doing that." Harry said, all trace of his scary cheerfulness leaving his face as his expression got back to serious.

"Then you shouldn't do it. Ain't always good to make your dreams come true, man." Rio replied, slowly moving towards Harry, and trying to focus his attention on whatever bullshit he was almost automatically saying to him.

He was getting closer from him now, but Harry wasn't stupid, and Rio saw in his eyes the moment he decided to end this and shoot him.

It all happened very fast. As Harry was about to pull the trigger, Rio rushed forward and kicked Harry's hand right when the gun went off, sending it under the couch, before he dived at him, and they both rolled on the floor, unarmed. They struggled for a few seconds until Harry managed to pull away from Rio for a second and took that opportunity to get back on his feet. His gun was out of his reach so he quickly left instead, not without kicking Rio's head for good luck.

Panting and groaning in pain, Rio managed to stand on his knees when he suddenly became aware of the heavy silence that had fallen on the room. He turned his head to Elizabeth, who still leant against the wall, and he knew that something was wrong when his eyes crossed her gaze, carrying the same mix of pain and shock she had in his dreams when he used to watch her die. He lowered his eyes on the red stain that was enlarging on her chest, for real this time. When he had deflected the gun barrel from him, he had unwillingly aimed Harry's shot right at her. He suddenly heard ringing in his ears, feeling that this couldn't be real. It couldn't happen. Not to her. It took him half a second to emerge from his state of stupor before his brain started working again.

"Shit, Elizabeth!" he shouted as he reached for her.

She collapsed against him, eyelids half-closed, as if she had used all her energy to stand still until he came for her. He held her with his right arm while his left hand firmly slapped her cheeks.

"Elizabeth!" he called. "Stay with me! C'mon!"

It took him at least a minute before she weakly blinked as she regained consciousness and he held her tighter.

"You hear me?"

She tried to focus her gaze on him and he took it as a yes.

"Listen, I'm gonna get you outta here, but I need you to stay with me, okay? C'mon you can do this."

"Rio... The kids..." she managed to hiss.

Fuck. He had forgotten it was her week. Now that he was thinking about it, he could even hear their high-pitched voices coming from upstairs, and the awfulness of what was happening downstairs hit him even more. Good thing they apparently hadn't heard the gunshot though, because the sight they both offered was definitely not something he wanted any of them to witness.

"I got this." he told her, softening his voice.

He cautiously laid her on the couch and pulled out her phone from the back pocket of her jeans.

"I'm callin' your sister, okay?"

She didn't answer and he noticed that her breath was becoming erratic. And she was bleeding a lot. His sleeve was soaking wet where he had held her. There was another phone call he needed to make first. He pulled out his own phone and dialed Demon.

"Yeah I got an emergency. Elizabeth's. Tell Dr. Jackson to bring the ambulance. Now. Bullet shot. Come with your car too and put Cisco in charge of the shutdown. And tell Vicky I can't have Marcus next week. I promise I'll make it up to her later."

He hung up and grabbed Elizabeth's phone, before he realized he didn't know her passcode. She was half-conscious again. He called her name and gently slapped her cheeks, trying as much as he could not to hurt her while shaking her enough to get a response, and she weakly moaned.

"Your passcode." he asked.

"My birthday..." she said in an almost inaudible breath.

"I dunno your fuckin' birthday!" he exclaimed, realizing he indeed didn't even know her birthday. It suddenly seemed something unforgivable. He knew everything about her kids extracurricular activities, but he had never bothered to check something as basic as her birthday. She lost consciousness again and he wasn't sure he could wake her up this time. Trying not to panic, he went through her purse until he found her driver's license. June 24th. His hands were shaking when he entered 0624 on her phone and he sighed when the screen unlocked. He scrolled in her calls log. What was her sister's name, by the way? He remembered it started with an A. The Annie with three heart emojis in her name that filled half of the calls log must be her. He took the chance to dial that number.

"What's up?" she immediately picked up and he recognized her voice.

"Hey it's me. Listen I ain't have time for explanation, but somethin' happened to Elizabeth. I need you to watch her kids, you have to come right now."

He suddenly realized that maybe she was at work or had other plans, and that in his anxiety he was being as rude with her as he usually was with his crew, so he softened a little and added, "Please."

"Oh my God, okay!" he heard her say with a broken breath. "I'll be there in five!"

 

When Annie's car pulled over in a hurry ten minutes later, Elizabeth was already in the ambulance and the doctor and his assistant were almost ready to go. Annie frantically jumped out of her car and rushed towards Rio who was standing next to the ambulance. He noticed she was still wearing her cashier uniform which meant she had come straight from work, and he thought that maybe he owed her one for that.

"What happened?" she asked, before she noticed the bruises on Rio's face and the blood that was covering his clothes from holding her, "Oh my God, did you shoot her?"

"Was an accident." he said, with a devastated look.

Annie slapped him in the face so hard that his eyes briefly saw flickering stars and he blinked, pressing his hand on his cheek. He should have been mad at her but he wasn't. Although Harry was the one pulling the trigger, he somehow felt responsible for the way he had deflected his shot towards her. He'd only thought about not getting shot himself. And being slapped in the face by Elizabeth's sister was a cheap price to pay for this potentially deadly mistake.

"I don't care!" Annie shouted at him. "If something happens to her, I will personally kill you."

He nodded, "Al'ight."

"I mean it." she insisted.

"I know." As the ambulance was leaving, he added, "Gotta go. You watch the kids, okay? I'll text you the address where you can visit her."

"Aren't you taking her to the hospital?" Annie asked, furrowing her eyebrows.

"Not a regular one." Rio said, and his face told her she'd better not tell anyone about all of this.

 

Beth woke up two days later. From the moment she had felt a violent jolt in her chest, followed by an excruciating pain exploding in her whole body, to her awakening, blinking in a room she didn't recognize, she didn't remember anything except a few confused flashbacks where Rio was talking to her from what seemed to be miles away. There was something about her birthday, too, but it didn't make any sense. She stayed in a fuzzy state of mind for a few minutes, unsure of where she was or what had happened, but not in a scary way, to be honest she felt like she was high. And then it gradually came back. Harry. Rio. The stray bullet that hit her chest. Anxiety invaded her as she started to wonder where she was, who had taken care of her, how long she'd stayed unconscious, and, mostly, where Rio was. She remembered she had turned him in and she silently prayed that he somehow had made his way through it and hadn't been arrested.

She carefully rolled her head aside, feeling a sharp wave of pain in the area of her upper left chest that made her wince as she did so, and her eyes spotted Annie, asleep in an armchair, her head bending backward and her mouth open.

"Annie!" Beth managed to hiss.

Annie startled and blinked before she noticed her sister was awake.

"Beth!" she hissed back. "How do you feel?"

"Thirsty." Beth croaked.

There was a small table with a bottle of water in one corner of the room and Annie jumped out of the armchair to pour Beth a glass of water before she came next to her and held the glass close to Beth's lips, helping her drinking.

"Where am I?" Beth asked. "And how long have I been asleep? Oh my God is everyone okay? How are the kids?" she suddenly alarmed as reality was catching up with her.

"Sshhh, calm down." Annie gently replied. "Everything's under control, I sent the kids at Dean's and you've been here for two days. Ruby and I took turns to watch you. I'm not exactly sure of what this place is, I think it's some kind of clandestine hospital to be honest."

"What?"

"Rio said that public hospitals have to file a report whenever they admit someone with a gunshot wound, and apparently it's safer for you if you don't get any."

Beth gave her a confused look, "What do you mean 'Rio said', did you see him?"

"Oh yeah, he's the one who called the ambulance, and he asked me to look after the kids." she explained. "I slapped him and told him I'd kill him if you didn't make it, so I guess it gave him extra motivation!" she thoughtfully added with a hint of bragging.

Beth's eyes widened and she wondered if she hadn't woken up in a parallel universe. The idea of Annie hitting and threatening Rio was highly hard to believe. Not to mention the fact that Rio, who she just gave away to Turner, apparently saved her life while he had every right to let her bleed to death. Speaking of which...

"How bad was it?" she asked.

"Oh you did scare us." her sister said. "From what I heard, you got really lucky 'cause the bullet was only inches above you heart. Apparently, it didn't damage any vital organ, but you lost a lot of blood and they were worried you wouldn't survive the surgery." Annie bit her lips, as if she was hesitating to give her further information, but she finally kept talking, "Rio gave you his blood so you could make it. He's an O." she casually added, as if that brought any kind of explanation.

Beth was shocked. And she knew it was stupid, and mostly biologically inaccurate, but the idea that Rio's blood was now flowing through her veins gave her a little thrill. She remembered Demon's first aid kit, filled with blood bags.

Sometimes shit happens. And these 'lil babies, they can save your life.

"Where is he, then?" she finally asked.

"Haven't seen him since then." Annie frowned. "I think he may have to keep a low profile these days, because guess who tipped the feds about him?"

She was mischievously grinning, but Beth wasn't in the mood. She felt awful. She'd just taken Rio down, but still, he'd done everything to save her life while he could have been arrested any minute. Why was he even in her house, by the way? How did he know about Harry?

"It's not funny!" she protested.

"No it's not." Annie agreed. "It's romantic."

"What?"

Beth's eyes were highly suggesting that Annie had lost her mind.

"Come on, if they ever make a biopic out of your life, the two of you totally beat Kate and Leo from Titanic!" Annie scoffed.

Beth started to laugh but the sharp pain around her collarbone immediately stopped her.

"You're stupid." she told her sister.

"I am." Annie admitted, "But I cheered you up!" she pointed out with a loving smile.

"Ugh, that movie would be so boring to watch anyway." Beth replied, half-smiling. "Does Ruby know I woke up?"

Annie pulled her phone out and quickly typed a text on the screen, "She does now."

At this very moment the door opened and a man she'd never seen before entered, followed by Demon. She exhaled a relieved sigh. Seeing Demon here suddenly made her feel safe. Sure the guy himself was scary, but he'd been her roommate for weeks and she trusted him in keeping her safe. Besides he hadn't killed her when he was supposed to, and that was something she could never forget, she owed him more than she could ever pay back, and she realized she was actually happy to see him. She was growingly picturing him as some guardian angel that linked her to Rio.

"Hi." she said with a little smile and Demon nodded, the shadow of a smirk running across his lips.

"Hi, I'm Dr. Jackson." the other man introduced himself. "I'm a friend of your friend. Glad to see you woke up."

She nodded, knowing that in the criminal world, a friend of your friend was usually a polite way to say you're safe here but don't ask any question and she thought about Annie's clandestine hospital theory.

She let the doctor quickly examine her under the watch of Annie and Demon, until he said, "Everything looks good. If there's no further complication I think you'll be able to go home within one or two weeks, but you'll need someone to change your dressing once a day for a few more weeks then."

"I know how this works." she said. "I had to nurse my husband when he got shot in the thorax."

The doctor raised his eyebrows in a way suggesting that she was living dangerously and Annie disguised her giggle into a cough.

The doctor left the room and Annie exchanged a weird glance with Demon before she mumbled something about checking up on Sadie and quickly left. Beth looked at Demon, expecting him to deliver her a message from Rio, but he remained silent, considering her, until she saw an actual smile on his face, and she thought this was the first time she was seeing his smile.

"I'm happy ya woke up today so I could say goodbye." he said.

"What do you mean? Am I not under your watch this time?"

"Nah. Business's shut down. I'm leavin' town. Dunno if I'm comin' back. Been a pleasure, though... Beth."

He always had had trouble calling her Beth since that day in front of Annie's building when she had asked him to stop calling her Mrs. Boland, and she usually found this pretty cute, but this time she felt her heart sink in her chest.

"What do you mean you're leaving town? Won't you be back in business soon?" she asked.

He shook his head and suddenly she felt an awful clench in her stomach and she started to shake as she got the certainty that Rio was dead. There was no other explanation for this. As panic was invading her, Demon, who had been watching her carefully, gently pressed her forearm.

"He's fine." he told her and she had to take a few deep breaths to calm down, although she kept sobbing from the sudden release of emotions she'd just experienced. "Restlessness ain't no good for ya by the way." he obligingly added with a concerned look on his face.

She stared at him, "Are you in touch with him?"

"Can't tell ya that." he replied with a closed expression.

She swallowed, "Well, if you ever happen to be, just tell him that I'm so sorry... For everything. And also... That I really want to thank him for saving my life."

Tears were freely falling from her eyes that she didn't even try to wipe, and Demon slightly nodded.

"Al'right. Goodbye, Beth." he told her. "Take care."

"Goodbye Demon. Thank you for everything. And good luck, wherever you go." she managed to say.

"Was thinkin' Miami." he replied with a smirk.

He left the room and she tried not to burst into tears. Annie came back a minute later, and at this point it was obvious that she'd been giving them some privacy and waited for Demon to get out. When she saw Beth's face, she immediately took her sister's hands into hers.

"Sweetie, what happened?"

Beth took a deep breath, and tried to control her sobs.

"He won't come back." she whispered. "It's over."

Annie sighed and came to sit on the bed by Beth's side before she wrapped her arms around her, careful not to touch nor hit her wound, and Beth closed her eyes, leaning her head against Annie's arm.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Beth didn't get any news from Rio for the rest of the day. She heard the sound of helicopters in the neighborhood for hours after Turner had left her house, and she knew they were on a manhunt but there was nothing she could do about it except waiting. She hoped Rio had managed to escape from the feds, but she didn't exactly have any easy way to make sure of this, except that in the eventuality Rio would get arrested, she was convinced that Turner wouldn't resist to show up at her house and tell her they'd gotten him just to see her reaction. She was supposed to have the kids coming this week but she couldn't exclude the possibility that things would keep being messy on the followings days so she reluctantly called Dean to ask him if they could swap their weeks. It wasn't the first time she was asking him last minute favors and she knew he was more and more annoyed with it, never passing on any occasion to imply that she was an awful mother. It deeply hurt, every time, but she had to admit that he had a point. She needed more stability in her life, and she wasn't sure that Rio's comeback would bring that to her.

On the next night, as she'd just finished having dinner alone and was packing the leftovers, facing the sink, she turned around to gather her plate when she jumped with a scream. Rio apparently just happened to materialize there, silently standing in front of the kitchen island, and she gave him a murderous look.

He frowned, "I'm gettin' mixed signals here, so just to be clear for future references, you want me to knock or not?"

His voice was teasing and his smirk was widening into a smile and she couldn't help but smile back at him despite how he'd frightened her. She wanted to slap him. She wanted to kiss him. She wanted to punch him. She wanted to fuck him. She didn't know anymore what she wanted, all she knew was that her heart was beating faster and that she was so, so happy he was here and didn't get caught.

"Maybe... Just make a little more noise next time, okay? Or no, better than that!" she added, teasing him back, "They invented that thing called a phone lately, so you can just text the person and—"

"Nah, I don't do phones, too many steps!" he threw back.

She laughed.

"How did you escape from them?" she asked.

"Stayed hidden in your tree house for a while, I heard it was a good spot to hide a man." he told her with an evil smile, and she bit her lips, trying to remember if she'd ever told him anything about how she'd hidden Boomer there. "Then I left when the night was dark enough." he added.

"You could have come back here for the night." she pointed out, and she suddenly blushed when she realized what she'd involuntarily implied with this. Trying to clear her mind from her confusion, she suddenly pointed her hand at the food she was packing, "Have you eaten yet? Do you want some?"

"Oh no, thanks, I'm good. Unless... you wanna bake me a sandwich?"

His grin was devilish and she blushed even harder.

"Is that what you came for yesterday?" she flirtatiously asked, trying to counterattack.

He shrugged, "I told you why I came yesterday."

Right. The business proposition. She wasn't sure she'd like what was coming and she could tell he had high expectations on her reaction, so she just swallowed and nodded, waiting.

He cleared his throat, "Okay, here's what I been thinkin'. You my partner. For good. Equal share of the profits, equal share of the work. And I'll help you gettin' rid of Turner. The guy's obsessed with both of us anyway."

She looked at him, her eyes widening in shock. She used to think he'd never want to hear about her again, and although he'd just showed up the day before to tell her that they could be something, she certainly didn't expect him to offer her a partnership after the series of multiple mutual betrayals they'd been through. God, she didn't even know if she wanted that!

"Why are you offering me this?" she asked.

He shrugged, "Can't defeat you."

That made sense. If he figured she wanted to be a boss, it was better to have her on his side. He took two steps closer, skirting around the kitchen island, and she silently swallowed.

"Can't kill you." he added in a lower voice.

He took another step, his body inches away from hers now. The fingers of his right hand followed the line of her temple, pushing her hair aside in a motion that was so familiar now that she was more likely to notice when he didn't do it, and he stared deeply in her eyes before he tilted his head. She parted her lips, expecting him to kiss her, but at the last moment, his mouth reached for her ear.

"Can't lose you." he finally whispered in a breath.

She gasped, and an achingly happy feeling grew somewhere inside of her chest and overwhelmed her as he straightened his head. She looked him in the eyes, trying not to smile from ear to ear.

"I... I don't know what to say."

He looked at her for a while, sinking his teeth in his bottom lip before a teasing light flickered in his eyes and he added, "By the way, I'm sorry but the job ain't provide health insurance or what. But you can have benefits" —his face came closer and his lips brushed her mouth in a lateral move for maybe half a second before he straightened— "if you want to".

His move was so quick that it mostly surprised her but the instant his eyes met hers again she knew she wanted his lips back on hers.

"I'm sorry, I'm afraid I misheard what you just said about the benefits." she teased back with her most seductive smile.

Her valid hand came at the back of his head while she stood on her toes to reach for his mouth. She pressed her lips against his and he didn't react for one second before she felt his hand in the middle of her back, pulling her closer, and his tongue sliding in her mouth. The kiss was deep and tender and this time it was nothing like the way they had awkwardly kissed the day before, and she moaned under his mouth. She was slightly panting when their lips parted but she cocked her head and gave him a provocative grin.

"Is that what you meant?"

He smiled and they stared at each other for two seconds before he lowered his gaze on her lips. She thought he was about to kiss her again, and to be honest she didn't know what was still holding her from jumping at him to kiss him already, but he slowly stepped back, licking his lips, and his expression got back to serious.

"I mean that if you're a part of it, you're in for good. You trust me. I trust you. I ain't keepin' you in the dark no more, but I need to be a hundred percent sure I can rely on you. You can't decide to get out of the game every other week 'cause one of your kids got a dance recital or you saw a cop or summin'."

But the thing was, she wasn't sure she wanted that. She wanted him, that was something she was sure of, but a partnership? She knew for a fact that they had never been able to trust each other, and she didn't see how things could go differently this time. Besides she knew how bossy and in control he liked to be. Was he even able to partner with someone? Maybe that was not the kind of relationship she wanted to have with him.

"Couldn't we just—" she started but he cut her, with a remarkably quick understanding of where she was heading to.

"Nah. I don't want you to be a sleepover friend."

She rolled her eyes. Sleepover friend!

"Couldn't you just say girlfriend, like everybody else?" she asked.

He shook his head, "I don't do girlfriends."

He'd been there before, he'd already done that mistake with someone else. He'd thought he could have it all, the normal, settled, happy relationship, handling the business aside. But it didn't work this way. Even though Vicky obviously knew what he did for a living, and was okay with that, there were things that she couldn't understand nor accept, and little by little, protective lie after protective lie, one secret after another, he had lost her trust, until he had lost her. And he didn't want to lose Elizabeth the same way. He wanted her to be all-in. Otherwise he was all out. He thought that if she said no he'd give Big Mike a call and settle his business in Canada. Would be too hard to stay in Detroit after that anyway.

"Doesn't work like that." he said. "Either you wanna be a part of my life, and it means you're a part of the game too, either you're just a sleepover friend. And it ain't what I want you to be."

"Why not?"

"Oh you want that?" he asked, raising one eyebrow.

She tried to picture it, getting to sleep with him but being left in the dark about any business information. That was more or less already the dynamic they had before, she bitterly noted. And it was honestly killing her. Frustrating her to the point of shooting him. Sooner or later she'd want to know more, do stuff, outsmart him, and it would ruin everything. She looked back at him, slightly nodding, and he nodded back. She got what he meant. But there was something else that was bothering her right now.

"How many sleepover friends do you have?" she suspiciously asked.

"Oh you really want me to answer that, darlin'?" he replied with a hint of warning in his voice.

"Yes please."

She could tell from his look that he was pissed off, but she didn't care. She was too, and mostly she was hurt. They never had spoken about any kind of exclusivity, which was more or less understandable since she wasn't even sure they'd ever been together, but the idea of him seeing another woman was painful. She could still picture the gorgeous girl he'd hugged on the pill deliveries and it didn't help her calm down her insecurities.

"You jealous or somethin'?" he asked with narrowed eyes.

"I wanna know the terms of the deal. I'm supposed to trust you, right?" she retorted with a daring look.

And for an instant he was tempted to give it all up on her. She could be such a pain in the ass sometimes! She had no right to act jealous with him, while they'd spent more time scheming against each other than actually having sex, and mostly been nemeses instead of lovers. Besides, if she wanted to take that direction, she was the one with a husband she had every right to sleep with whenever she wanted. And although he was fully aware that she obviously wasn't keen on sleeping with Dumbsie anymore, he couldn't help it.

"Am I asking you anythin' 'bout Carman?" he disingenuously struck back.

"Oh, you can, we got divorced!" she replied, and he jumped at this chance to change the subject.

Because the truth was, he'd stopped seeing anybody else since that bathroom night. Not that he hadn't thought about it nor been tempted, but he simply couldn't. They were really nice girls, but they weren't her, and she was the one he couldn't get out of his mind. And that was definitely not something he was ready to let her know yet.

"Didn't know that. Am I supposed to be sorry for you or congratulate you?"

His voice was teasing but his eyes were actually seriously asking her that question, and she let the exclusivity conversation aside for a while.

"I guess you can congratulate me but... not too loud." she finally said with a melancholic smile that melt his heart. "It's still fresh."

He nodded. He'd been there too. He knew the intense feeling of failure divorce could create, even when you knew there was no better solution.

"I'm sorry, Elizabeth."

"It's okay. I'm okay, I guess."

There was a silence. He wanted to take her in his arms, and kiss her, and help her forget all about that dumbass ex-husband of hers, but the uncertainty of their future was still hanging above their heads, and he needed an answer.

"So, what do you say 'bout my offer?" he asked, with burning eyes and a drawling voice that made her want to rip off his shirt.

She couldn't deny that a wild part of her was tempted, but her rational mind was begging her to find a more harmless alternative.

She swallowed, "What if I say no?"

He bit his lips, his eyes clearly saying that it wasn't his favorite option.

"I'm done forcin' you to do things. If you want out, you're out, and I'll make sure Turner ain't gonna bother you anymore. I don't want you to be on my hook 'bout that. But you won't hear 'bout me or see me again. Over. You'll be free to go back to that lil' life of yours. For good. That's for you to decide now."

"You are forcing me to do things, Rio." she quietly said.

He licked his lips, "No I ain't. It'll be your choice. Just keep in mind that takin' a job only for its benefits ain't never a good idea."

She sighed. As usual he could read her mind as an open book but she didn't like the idea of him being aware she was actually considering accepting his offer only for having the opportunity to date him. She gave him a discouraged look.

"Will I have to kill people?" she asked in a tiny voice.

He shrugged, "Not if you don't want to. At least I'll try my best not for it to happen. I'll handle this if it's that important to you."

He didn't want to scare her so he refrained from telling her that killing people was not really the worst thing he'd ever had to do, that there were things he had seen that still could wake him up at night sometimes. He would do whatever it'd take to keep her away from the dirty shit but he couldn't promise it wouldn't happen.

"This is madness..." she mumbled while lowering her eyes. She looked back at him, "What if one of us dies?"

He cocked one eyebrow and smirked, "You realize legit people die too, right?" he asked with a playful tone suggesting that he was revealing to her that Santa didn't exist. "Abidin' by the law ain't makin' you immortal, ma, you could get hit by a bus or summin'." he added.

She rolled her eyes at him, "You know what I mean!"

He swallowed, "Well if one of us dies, one of us dies, what can I tell you..."

"For God's sake, Rio, I have children!" she abruptly cut him.

He narrowed his eyes, upset by the way she was suggesting he wasn't a good parent enough, "So what, me too!"

"And are you okay with the idea that your son might have his father killed or sent to prison anytime? Have you even considered this before you decided to have children?" she acidly asked.

She knew she was pressing a sensitive and hurtful spot on him, and that she was pushing his worst buttons, again, by doing so. He would be mad at her for that, but hurting him seemed to be the only way she had found to soothe her own distress facing the dilemma he was imposing to her. She was aware that they were back to the familiar and comfortable mechanics of their push and pull game, but it seemed they couldn't help it, as if taking a shot of venom was better than opening up because the hurt was at least something they knew how to deal with.

He deeply sighed and she knew from the ticking of his jaw that he was trying to control his anger.

"Elizabeth," he started with a voice trembling from the control he kept on it, "I wish this day never comes, but even if I die tomorrow, everythin' is planned and Marcus will be taken good care of. And he'll even be able to afford college later and have a good start in life. If you'd seen the house I grew up in, you'd know that I could never have provided this to him if I had stayed legit."

She swallowed. She'd never heard him talk about his past or his childhood and it moved her that he opened up, even just a little.

"Is that why you are doing this, then? Are you doing it for him?" she asked.

He shook his head, "Nah, I'm doin' it 'cause I'm good at it. But don't tell me again I ain't givin' a shit 'bout my kid." he told her with a warning look.

She lowered her gaze, thinking about her own kids. She didn't know how she would afford college for them. Since Dean bankrupted their family, she had managed to build comfortable incomes that made them live, but she couldn't say she had lots of savings either.

"I'm sorry, that's not what I meant, I know you care about Marcus." she apologized in a breath.

"Good." he slightly nodded. "You have further questions?" he coldly asked.

She raised her head to look at him. She had a million questions running through her head, but she still hadn't asked the most obvious one.

"Actually I have." she answered. "You said we'd rely on each other, is that even possible? After all we've been through? I mean, I shot you for God's sake, and you tried to have me killed, and we've turned each other in so many times I can't even count..."

He eyes widened as she suddenly realized the extent of what they had done to each other. She had never summarized the whole thing like this, and she wondered if there was anything about them that wasn't dysfunctional.

"Is there even any coming back from this?" she plaintively added.

"That's for us to decide, ma." he dully said, suddenly softening.

And just like that she got angry at him. As if that was an easy thing to do, just deciding to trust him after all the times he'd betrayed her trust, after all the times men in general had betrayed her trust!

"But how could I ever trust you after you manipulated me and played with my feelings so many times? How, Rio?" she snapped back at him.

He didn't like the direction that this conversation was taking. He felt like she was seeking for a pretext to run away from him, looking for a loophole in each one of his answers, and that annoyed him.

"Listen, Elizabeth, if you don't want me around, just say it and be honest for once." he pleaded her.

"I don't—"

He raised his voice as he cut her, "You know what, that's your problem, Elizabeth! You always whine to be a part of it, but you keep pullin' out each time things get real and committin', because you're scared, no matter how much you want it!"

His words hit her point blank. That was not their partnership he was describing with this.

"Are we still talking about work here?" she asked, a hint of warning in her voice as the conversation was heading on a slippery slope she really didn't want to discuss right now.

He shook his head with disappointment in his eyes, "I dunno what we're fuckin' talkin' about."

There was a pause before he stared back at her and spoke again, "Just tell me somethin', yeah? Do you even care about all of this, 'bout me, or am I just the younger guy who gives you the thrill of sex and danger in the boredom of your lil' suburban housewife life? When you said you wanted to be a boss, did you mean it or was it just a lie, Elizabeth?"

She suffocated at his question. Of course she cared! But then she gave it a second thought and she felt an icy fist clasping around her heart as the bite of doubt invaded her mind. She'd always avoided to get her hands dirty, because deep down she'd always seen all of this as a temporary thing, but she'd never thought about what would come after. And he was right, she enjoyed the fun, but she'd immediately sobered up every time he had asked for a serious commitment to crime from her. She noticed it was the first time he'd ever asked her what he meant to her, and not being able to answer that clearly right now was heartbreaking.

"I... I don't know." she managed to articulate while trying not to cry.

He sighed, deeply hurt by her answer. And he was tired of waiting for her to make a decision, he just couldn't take it anymore.

"So, you in or not?" he finally said after a silence.

Trying not to sound too desperate, she asked, "Do you want me to give you an answer right now or can I get some time to think about it?"

He shrugged, "Sure, tomorrow's fine for you?'

She deeply exhaled. Tomorrow was a ridiculous deadline, as if her thinking would make any progress about such a life changing decision by then, but she knew he wouldn't give her more time. He'd already waited for her decision for too long, she got that now. She silently nodded and he considered her for a few more seconds until she suddenly turned around, too ashamed of herself to face his gaze.

She pretended to absorb herself in the task of washing her plate to not let him see the tears that were already burning her eyes. She didn't want to lose him, not again. But this... She'd dreamed of such a proposition from him, but that was before she got shot, before she sobered up on that romantic way she pictured the criminal world. She couldn't do that anymore, she had a family... She heard him sigh and she knew without looking at him that he had turned away and was about to leave. She didn't want to be alone right now.

"Rio?"

He didn't answer but she knew from his breath and the general vibe in the room that he was listening.

"I promise I'll give you my answer tomorrow, but could you please stay for a while right now? Let's put all of this aside and talk about something else. Anything."

There was nothing he craved more than staying there with her, but he wasn't sure he could handle not knowing yet if this was the last time, just like he didn't trust himself in respecting his promise to not see her again in case she'd turned his offer down. That was why he was about to leave. But her whole attitude was screaming a heartbreaking distress and he didn't want to leave her in such a state. He knew he was being hard on her, once again, he was pushing her in her boundaries with the choice he was asking her to make, but he couldn't find any better solution. He thought that maybe she was right after all, maybe they should just enjoy the time they had left before she made her decision.

"Al'ight."

She deeply exhaled, relieved, and she turned on the hot water to rinse her plate. She sensed him more than she heard him move, but a second later she knew he was right behind her, holding his breath, and he braced himself against the edges of the sink, caging her with his arms. She gasped as he used his cheek to push her hair away so he could press his mouth on the soft skin in the crook of her neck. She tried to focus on the warm water running all over her hands, but her mind was already wandering and soon she was nothing but little moans and broken breaths as his lips were lasciviously caressing her neck.

"We ain't so good at talkin', ma, you know that." he whispered in her ear.

She couldn't resist anymore so she slightly turned her head and it felt like that was the signal he was waiting for as he immediately kissed her, sucking her bottom lip into his teeth. She gasped under his mouth, groping for the tap and shutting it off before she pivoted on her heels to face him, her hands pressing the edge of the sink on both sides of her waist to steady her. He slipped his tongue in her mouth and as the kiss was getting deeper, one of his palms slid aside to clasp around her hand while he wrapped his other arm around her waist to pull her closer. She could feel him already hardening against her thigh, and that turned her on enough to make her unconsciously wave her hips a little. He let out a hoarse noise from the back of his throat when he felt it and he slipped one knee between her thighs, gently pressing her crotch with his lap and drawing little moans out of her.

They kissed like this for a while but that wasn't enough for him, he'd been missing her for so long that he had to make sure this was real, he wanted to grind into her, feel her body firmly pressed against his, and the kitchen counter wasn't high enough for that, so he used the arm he still had around her waist to pull her away from the sink before he pushed her backwards until she had her back against the fridge. She hit it harder than he had intended and she let out a little cry along with a wince of pain as the shock resonated in her wound.

"Sorry!" he immediately apologized.

"It's okay, I don't care." she panted, using her valid arm to pull him closer as much as she could and he emitted a low groan, pressing his hips hard against her and burying his face in her neck to bite and suck her warm skin, his hands exploring her body.

He could have fucked her right here, against the fridge, and he was planning to do so someday, but it wasn't what he wanted right now. Not tonight. He wanted to take his time.

"Shouldn't we relocate this in your bedroom?" he whispered in her ear as he softened his kisses.

"You think my bullet wound can handle it?" she panted, teasing but pragmatic.

His mouth left her neck as he straightened his head to look at her.

"Did the doctor say anythin'?" he asked, raising one eyebrow.

She rolled her eyes at him, "Well, obviously, I didn't ask! But it still hurts if I move my shoulder."

He thought that his highest level of refined cruelty would upgrade a stage further the day he would kill Harry. Nobody had the right to hurt her. She must have seen the anger flickering in his eyes as his face had darkened because she looked worried now and he gave her a flirtatious smile to reassure her.

"Don't worry, ma, I'll do all the work for you. And I'll fuck you gentle." he lasciviously whispered with a sultry light in his eyes that almost made her lose her mind.

"Wow, you know how to do that?" she mocked, rolling her eyes at him and cocking her eyebrows in an attempt to regain her composure.

He grinned.

"Don't make me change my mind." he whispered with gravel in his voice and she was this close to ask him to fuck her here and now, bullet wound or not.

He bent his head and kissed her once more before he took one step back to free her. She took his hand in hers and dragged him to her bedroom, slamming the door closed with her leg, and it wasn't finished closing yet that his tongue was back in her mouth.

Beth felt dizzy. She had thought this never happen again, but there he was, kissing her, and the feeling was overwhelming. It seemed that his touch had set fire to every nerve in her body and she couldn't get enough of him. Her hands were roaming the back of his body, exploring his waist, when her fingers touched the butt of his gun and he suddenly froze, "Sorry 'bout that." he muttered against her lips.

He slightly pulled away from her and his hand reached at his back to pull his gun out of his jeans when she suddenly hissed, "Don't!"

He gave her a surprised look.

"Keep it." she hoarsely said.

He smirked and Beth blushed, as surprised as him to find herself turned on by the idea of him carrying a gun while they were making out.

"You realize I'll have to take it off at some point, right?" he asked with an amused expression on his face.

She blushed even harder and he pulled her closer to kiss her again. She started to unbutton his shirt with only the help of her valid hand, which slowed down the process, while the left one was squeezing the bare skin above his hip bone. As a result he was already finished unbuttoning her blouse while she was barely at the half of his shirt and she let out a frustrated moan. He caught her hand in his while his other hand was quickly finishing unbuttoning his shirt.

"I told you I'd do all the work, ma." he whispered with his lips against her fingers, his mouth brushing the back of her hand and drawing little gasps out of her throat.

He gently pushed her backwards and she followed his move, kicking her shoes off in the process before the back of her knees hit the bed, and he solidly held her against him to prevent any rough encounter between her wound and the bed before he dragged her down with him and she delicately landed on the mattress with his body on top of her. She immediately caught his mouth with her lips, making him gasp, while her hands were exploring the bare skin of his chest. His mouth slid in her neck for a while, his hand playing with her breasts before he slightly straightened his head with a sultry expression on his face.

"How many times d'you want me to make you come?" he whispered.

She rolled her eyes in disbelief, "You seriously expect me to answer that? Don't be such a brag!"

"Nah, I'm serious, c'mon!" he insisted as his devious smile was widening.

She gave him an ironic look before she replied, "A million."

He chuckled, his fingers still teasing her breast through her bra, "You won't tell me, huh?"

She sighed, "Listen, one would already be above the average of these past twenty years, okay? So don't try to push me on saying things I don't want to say."

He frowned, "Seriously? And I'm the criminal one here? Damn, Elizabeth!"

He bit his lips, truly shocked by Carman's incompetence on that field too. What upset him the most was that the more he learned about Elizabeth's past life, the more obvious it was she hadn't been truly happy, and it made him sad to see it had taken for her to go as far as committing a crime to realize it.

She didn't know why, but the shocked look on his face as she gave him a clue about the state of her marriage deeply moved her. She'd never seen that much concern about her well-being in anyone else's eyes, except maybe Annie's and Ruby's, but she wouldn't make to them the same kind of confession she just did to Rio, especially because the misery of her relationship with Dean was something she had always kept for herself and mostly denied.

His expression softened and he watched her with endless affection before he whispered, "I'll do my best, then."

She raised her hand to cup his jaw, stroking his stubble with her palm while she stared at him in awe. She wanted to say it. Again. The words were beating in her brain like an additional heart but she kept her mouth shut and her eyes locked with him until they frantically reached at each other's lips again. But even if she wasn't capable of letting out the words she wanted to say to him, she felt the urge to open up, even slightly, to let him see how much she cared about him despite all of her usual apparent attitude, and as he was nibbling at her lower lip she stammered, "God, I missed you so much!", feeling as scared and exposed as if she'd just proposed to him. He moaned in response, deepening his kiss, and it didn't take long after that for him to finish removing their clothes, carefully putting his gun aside, until they were both in their underwear.

He buried his head in her neck, whispering in her ear all the things he wanted to do to her once her wound would be completely healed, and to be honest, there was some stuff that made her wish she was healed up already, while his hand slid along her belly to gently tease her through the thin fabric of her panties, drawing out loud gasps from the back of her throat. She was already completely wet for him, and he couldn't repress a hoarse groan when he felt it as he slipped one finger underneath the fabric. Her breath got louder as he was circling her sensitive spot, almost touching it, and she arched her back, urging him to touch her, when suddenly his hand was gone, and she let out a little frustrated noise.

He grinned, unclasping her bra and helping her to remove it before he started to cover her chest with kisses, sucking and nibbling at the soft skin, having her mewling under his lips. He caught her hands in his, intertwining their fingers, and she couldn't repress her need to brush his fingers with hers. An overwhelming feeling of intimacy invaded her as she realized it was the first time they were holding hands like this. His tongue suddenly twirled around her nipple, making her gasp, and she freed one of her hands to stroke the short hair at the back of his head in response. She slightly arched her back, pulling his head closer until he gently bit her as a reaction, and she moaned as his mouth kept playing with her nipples, successively giving attention to each one of them.

His free hand trailed its way down her body again, and slipped in her panties, superficially teasing her at first until the rolling of her hips urged him to go further and he pressed two fingers inside of her in a slow pumping motion that made her breathe louder. His thumb came up to circle her clit and she clenched around him, meeting his rhythm with her hips and drawing hoarse gasps from his throat. His mouth left her chest to kiss her deeply and she shivered as her sensitized nipples brushed the bare skin of his torso. She moaned uncontrollably under his lips, overwhelmed with her desire, and he suddenly removed his hand from her panties to grab the fabric and pull it off her hips. She squirmed to help him and the second she was naked under him, his mouth was trailing kisses along her jaw, her chest, then all the way down to her belly until his lips pressed the inside of her thigh.

She gasped when she felt his breath on her thin skin followed by the warmth of his tongue wrapping around her clit and making her twitch. He settled his head between her thighs, slowly eating her out at first, with small flicks of pressure on her sensitive spot, until her moans got louder and demanding, and he pressed two fingers back inside of her as she was starting to squirm against his tongue. The scraping of his stubble against her sensitive skin was sending bolts of electricity across her whole body and she closed her eyes, overwhelmed by the sensations, her body shaking as Rio's fingers and tongue intensified their stimulation. It did not take her long after that to come loudly and he was almost certain he heard her scream his name.

He waited until she went through the aftershock of her orgasm to slowly make his way back to her upper body, his lips sliding along her skin all the way up until he felt her hand pulling his head closer. She kissed him deeply, pressing her breasts against his chest, her valid arm wrapped around his back. But she wanted more of him and soon her fingers were at the waistband of his underwear, trying to pull it off and his throat let out a protesting noise against her lips. He suddenly froze and broke their kiss to look at her with a serious expression printed on his face.

"What?" she asked. "If you're going to ask me again about my consent, I swear I will slap you!"

He shook his head, "Not that, but good point though. Are we ever gonna have this conversation 'bout protections or not?"

She sighed, "Rio, you gave me your blood! Thank you for that, by the way." she added in a lower voice.

He nodded, chewing his lower lip, "For the record I wouldn't have dunnit if I didn't know I was clean, ma."

She rolled her eyes at him.

"So you'd rather have let me die than live with, let's say, hepatitis?" she asked in disbelief.

"Hey, what makes you think I might have hepatitis, I'm a careful guy!" he protested.

"One can never know," she retorted, "what about your sleepover friends?"

He realized with a sigh that he couldn't get out of this without hurting her if he didn't tell her the truth.

"I ain't have any at the moment, darlin'." he thoughtfully told her, gently shaking his head with one finger caressing her cheek, "And I'll tell you if that ever changes."

She suddenly pictured him telling her he was seeing somebody else, even casually, and her heart crushed at the thought. He somehow sensed her anxiety because he gently cradled the back of her head with his hand while he whispered in her ear, "But I don't see how it could happen." This was the closest to a promise of exclusivity she would ever get from him right now and she knew it. She wrapped her valid arm around him in a silent thank-you and they intensely kissed for a while.

"What 'bout you, sweetheart?" he finally asked, reluctantly pulling his mouth away from her lips.

"I... got tested, a few months ago. So unless you are not as clean as you pretend to be, I'm good."

He peered at her with narrowed eyes. Did she get tested because of their two encounters back in the days before she shot him? That was a surprisingly responsible move from her, but it still puzzled him. For it couldn't be because she recently hooked up with her husband, unless...

"He cheated on me. Repeatedly." she answered his thoughts, proud to be the one who could read the other's mind for once.

His fist clenched and he thought that the more he learned about Carman, the more he wanted to kill him. He'd never really had a good opinion of her ex-husband, but he'd always more or less assumed she saw something in him that he didn't get. But there was an actual difference between thinking about someone as an asshole, and having the confirmation that he was one indeed.

"Elizabeth I'm so sorry to hear that." he whispered, truly shocked.

She shook her head, "It's okay, I've overcome that. But thank you."

She kissed him, pressing herself against his body, but as she felt his hesitation she broke the kiss.

"What, now?" she asked in a growing state of frustration.

"You know that STDs ain't the only thing you can... catch, right?" he hesitantly replied with a frown and the beginning of a smirk.

Oh God, this was embarrassing. She rolled her eyes at him.

"Do you really have to ask me that now?"

He lowered his glance at their naked bodies before his eyes came back at hers.

"I can't think of a better time, darlin'." he smirked.

She nodded, admitting his point. After Emma was born, she had thought that her womb deserved some rest. Maybe even a permanent one. The point was, even if she loved her babies, and although the idea of carrying Rio's sounded somehow appealing from a certain point of view, she was on a strict birth control and wasn't planning on having more children.

"Oh believe me, I took care of that!" she finally said, shaking her head.

"All good then." he whispered, before he kissed her again.

She moaned and wrapped her leg around his hip, pulling him closer as he was quickly getting rid of his underwear, and they kissed for a while, their bodies meeting in a slow waving motion and their hands caressing bare skin until he naturally slid inside of her at some point, fucking her slowly. She thought that this wasn't just sex, it was literally lovemaking, and then she didn't think at all anymore as the languid rhythm of his hips was blowing her mind away.

She almost came when he whispered in her ear, "How come you feel so good, ma?" and she just wanted to give him as much as she received, pulling him closer and closer and desperately kissing him to the point of losing herself. They had never reached such a level of intensity before, and maybe it was because they both knew this would be their first and last night together if she turned down his offer, or maybe it was just the fact that they both had believed they had lost the other one for good at some point. The bottom line was, she wouldn't remember clearly what happened that night except that their bodies and souls connected in a way they never had before, and she knew nothing anymore except that she was addicted to him beyond any reasonable measure.

She came with his name on her lips and he came right after her, panting and mouthing her name, and they stayed still, relishing the afterglow. They managed to crawl out of the bed and in the bathroom to quickly clean up before they crashed back on the mattress and Beth immediately snuggled in the shelter of Rio's arms. She had never borne that Dean touched her in her sleep, just like she had always slept with some pajamas on, but things were different that night and she fell asleep naked in his arms. Somehow, she had even managed to forget that he was also the man who was asking her to make the hardest choice of her life on the very next day.

But Rio hadn't forgotten that, and as he was listening to her calm breath with his arms around her, his eyes open and glowing in the dark, he painfully hoped that she'd say yes before he fell asleep too with his lips on her hair.

Chapter Text

Beth woke up on the next morning with the warm caress of his lips on her shoulder. She could feel the heat of his body in her back and his fingers softly trailing up and down her forearm as he was trying to gently wake her up. She turned her head and met his eyes.

"Yo!" Rio mumbled with a smile, and she snuggled against him with a little noise that sounded like a purr.

"You stayed for the night." she said in a muffled voice, her face buried somewhere between his neck and his chest.

"Oh you didn't want me to?" he chuckled, squirming a little to press a kiss on her hair.

"Funny." she groaned.

She was trying to sound grumpy in order to control the awe she was in at the idea that she'd just spent the night with Rio for the first time. That they had just slept together, in every way.

She wanted to kiss him, but she was ashamed of her morning breath, so she kissed his neck and throat instead, her hands roaming his body until she felt his arousal against her thigh while he was losing his breath under her attentions. He tried to pull her face at his to kiss her but she resisted, moving her head in the opposite direction and building a trail of kisses down his chest, and then his navel, and she felt his shiver as he got where she was heading to. She smiled against his skin, happy to be the giver for once.

Rio was holding his breath, knowing it was the first time she would do that to him, mostly because he'd never dared to ask. He'd always thought that it had to happen on her initiative only, but the truth remained that ever since their first kiss he had wanted to feel those lips somewhere else.

She took him in her hand, gently rubbing his skin while she was kissing his inner thigh before her lips, and then her tongue, pressed the head of his cock and she heard him gasp loudly. She took him in her mouth, just a little at first, her tongue twirling around him and her hand gently massaging his balls before she gradually got deeper and he emitted a low groan. His hands came to stroke her head, grabbing her hair but not in a pressuring way, and as she heard his broken breath, she relished the feeling of being the one that made him lose control, because power plays would always be part of their dynamics, in times of war as in times of peace. It was actually arousing her to feel him lose his mind under her mouth and she couldn't repress a little moan herself.

Rio was breathing loudly now, trying not to come right away. Man, that was too good, and if he let her keep doing that for a few more minutes he wouldn't be able to hold it anymore. But he wanted to feel her tightly clenching around him, he wanted her to ride him before that. His hands tightened their grip on her hair and he gently pulled her head away until she got the message and started to kiss his belly on her way up. His hands slid along her body, then, and settled on her hips, guiding her as she moved until she was on top of him, her knees parted on both sides of his waist. He stared at her, amazed, and one of his hands came back at her head, pulling her closer until he reached for her lips and deeply kissed her. She let out a moan under his kiss, and she slowly moved her pelvis down, gradually taking him inside of her, and they both gasped, overwhelmed by the feeling. She braced herself with her palms on his chest, but the thing was, she still couldn't lean much on her left arm because of her wound, so she transferred most of her weight in her right hand which, as they both realized in a second of mixed shock and awe, was pressing the exact spot of his bullet scars. The glance they exchanged at this moment conveyed more intimacy than they'd ever expericenced together and she loudly exhaled.

He let her set her own pace for a while, his hands mostly caressing her breasts, until he sensed from the hint of frustration in her moans that she needed some help and he tightly gripped her hips before he thrust into her, quickly leading them both to the satisfaction they were seeking.

As she was later recovering in his arms, his fingertips mapping the lines of her upper body, she suddenly felt him freeze and she rolled her eyes at him.

"You should change that dressing, ma, you know that?" he told her with a concerned look at her wound.

"I know. Want to help?" she smiled, and he nodded.

 

Annie was happy that morning, and it was uncommon enough to make her notice it. Grumpy would more define her usual mood at this time of the day, for she wasn't a morning person in the first place, and besides she always hated that moment when she woke up from a dream where she was either rich or famous or dating Ryan Gosling, the three options covering most of her dream themes, to find out that her life was still about making ends meet as a Fine & Frugal cashier. But things were different this time because the first thing she'd thought about as she had woken up was the kiss she had exchanged with Patrick the night before as they were closing the store together. Yeah, it was finally happening. Daisy and him were over, and she had jumped on the occasion over the past couple of weeks, oh nothing too obvious at first, just a few giggles at his jokes every now and then, and friendly smiles every time their eyes would meet. Until Blam!, he got the message, like, dude, it was about time!

Beth would probably chide her and tell her to stop acting like a brainless teenager, but Annie didn't care. She was aware of the crappiness of her love life, but it wasn't like she had so many options right now, most of the single dudes about her age she knew were ambulant pieces of trash who couldn't handle the potential idea of step-fathering a twelve years old boy, and she had missed her time to take this Big Life train Beth got on board right after high school. Not that it had lead her sister anywhere better, though, she thought. She sighed. She worried about Beth these days. After all that had happened lately, the divorce, her gunshot wound, and all that shit about Rio, Beth was obviously screaming for help even though she would never admit it. Annie was furious after Rio for that. What a douchebag he'd been to leave town without even leaving her a note, as if he had no idea it would break her heart! Okay, he'd saved her life, twice in the same day, but he was the reason why she had had a gun pointed at her head in the first place, so it wasn't that much of a big gesture rather than cleaning his own mess.

She puffed in an annoyed way as she was driving to Beth's house. She and Ruby were regularly checking up on her under the pretext of helping her changing her dressing, but they would have to find something else soon as Beth was almost healed now. Her mood seemed to slightly improve over the weeks too, but it didn't mean she couldn't relapse and Annie was still dreading to find her in a really bad state one day. Thank God she still had the kids, at least they gave her a reason to wake up and put some pants on every other week.

She suddenly devilishly grinned as a new thought crossed her mind. She could tell her about Patrick! Beth loved to treat her like an irresponsible little kid, and that would distract her attention from her depressing thoughts for at least thirty minutes. Besides, for some obscure reason, Beth enjoyed hearing about other people's love lives, and it always made her forget about the failure of hers for a while.

Annie pulled over in Beth's alley and used her key to open the front door without bothering to ring. By this time, Beth was probably having breakfast, and it wasn't like she wasn't used to see her coming in the morning before her shift.

"Hey, guess who's back?" Annie threw at no-one in particular as she closed the door behind her, still thinking about Patrick.

She walked in the kitchen and immediately froze as she spotted her sister with Gangfriend, both not wearing so many clothes and uncomfortably leaning against the table in a way suggesting that they were standing much closer to each other a few seconds before her loud entrance.

"Guess who's back?" she slowly repeated, her voice significantly colder.

She frowned as she glanced at the breakfast dishes on the table. Since when was Gangfriend back, indeed? She let her gaze linger for one second on his bare chest that was visible between the sides of his unbuttoned shirt, jeez, he was even hotter than she thought, but uh uh, that was no excuse and he was still the worst douchebag ever. What made him think he had the right to pop in and out of her sister's life like this, with no consequences?

"What are you doing here?" Beth asked her sister.

"I came to help you change your dressing, like literally every other day, remember?"

"Oh right... Well... He... Took care of it" Beth said feeling her cheeks burn as she was speaking, and Rio's smirk wasn't really helping there.

 

Beth remembered the surprisingly delicate touch of his fingers on her wound, and the way he had frowned seeing it.

"You been bleedin' recently? You shouldn't at this point. Trust me, I know." he had added with an obvious allusion that had made her bite her lips with guilt.

"I wasn't until Turner made it clear he knew about it." she had answered with a retrospective wince.

"He hit your wound?" Rio had asked with a shocked expression on his face.

She'd nodded and Rio had hissed something that sounded like, "That bastard's a son of a bitch." between his teeth.

Once he'd gotten finished, he had pressed gentle kisses around the bandage and along the line of her neck and it hadn't taken long for her to kiss him back and for the two of them to end things up in her bed again. And then under her shower. She blushed harder at that last memory.

 

"Gross." Annie hissed at the sight of Beth's face, the color of which was now evoking sunset. "Call that a morning-after face!" she added in a mocking tone.

"There's no such thing as a morning-after face!" Beth protested.

"Oh yeah, believe me, it is a thing!" Annie nodded, her eyes wide open. "So you remember that we have girls night at my place tonight, right? Or is he taking care of it too?" she ironized.

Rio, who had been silently watching them, suddenly cleared his throat.

"Okay, I'm gonna go now, ladies." he slowly said.

He didn't feel really comfortable with Elizabeth's sister here, he could sense that she wasn't exactly in a friendly state of mind about him and he wasn't in the mood for a confrontation. He buttoned up his shirt and grabbed his jacket on the back of one chair.

"Rio, you don't..." Beth started

"Nah, I leave you two alone. I'll come back later, Elizabeth." he added with a dark look and she got the message perfectly.

He was ready to go but as he was staring at her, he hesitated for one second. For fuck's sake, he thought, and he closed the distance between them in two steps before he pressed a tender kiss on Elizabeth's temple, gently squeezing her unwound shoulder with his hand at the same time. Beth briefly closed her eyes, mortified that Annie would witness such a sign of affection from Rio, which was incidentally his first ever of this kind, but before she knew it he was gone and she heard the door closing behind him.

"What was that, Beth?" Annie coldly asked.

Beth sighed. She didn't really know herself.

"Do you think I could spend the day at your place, cooking for girls night?" she slowly asked instead.

Somewhere between the third time Rio and her had fucked and the millionth kiss they had exchanged, she had forgotten about his offer and her answer. But now that it was coming back to her mind, she realized that she wasn't ready for that, and as stupid as it sounded, literally escaping from her house to hide somewhere else for the rest of the day sounded like a good idea.

Annie furrowed her eyebrows, "Hum, yeah, if you wanna, but can you just tell me what's going on?"

"Oh I think you're old enough to understand what's going on!" Beth sarcastically scoffed, annoyed with her sister's shocked attitude.

"And that's it? I know I'm not supposed to call you a Gangfriend's pet anymore, but it would help if you stopped acting like one!" Annie snapped.

She couldn't believe it. After all the suffering Beth had been through, why did she keep doing that the second he popped back?

"Hey, you wanna talk about how you act whenever Greg's around?" Beth viciously counterattacked.

"Actually, I—"

"No you know what, let's stop this, I'm sorry. I don't want to fight, we can discuss all this tonight. With Ruby. I'm just... not in the mood right now."

They both sobered up instantly and Annie sighed.

"Yeah, you're right, I'm sorry. It's just... I care about you, and I know you've been in a bad place lately." she said in a low voice.

"I know."

"Beth, are you okay?" Annie asked with concern.

Beth looked at her sister, shaking her head, "I... I don't know."

Trying to lighten the mood, Annie winked at her, "At least I guess you got some fun... Jeez, I knew Gangfriend was an obvious upgrade since Dean, but I didn't think... My God, these abs?"

Beth laughed, slightly blushing, "Right?"

Annie kept teasing her sister for a while before she suddenly frowned as she realized something.

"Wait... Didn't he say he would 'come back later, Elizabeth'?" she asked in a pretty bad impersonation of Rio's voice.

"Yeah, so?" Beth lightly replied.

Beth clearly just spent the night with Gangfriend, and judging by the pink on her cheeks when he had kissed her goodbye, it wasn't something she had to complain about, so she should be longing for him coming back later. And instead...

"So why are you trying to escape from your place all day by cooking at mine?" she slowly asked.

Beth shook her head, "It's... complicated. But I'm okay, I promise. Nothing shady. I just want to enjoy the company of Ruby and you without thinking about anything else. Or anybody else." she added with a sweet smile.

"Okay." Annie nodded, and they both made their way out of the house.

But Annie didn't buy anything that just came out of Beth's mouth, and she drove back to the house five minutes later, once she was sure her sister was on her way to her apartment. Beth wouldn't be around all day and he'd said he'd come back, right? Perfect timing, then, because she had a word or two to tell him. She wrote a short note that she conspicuously pinned on the kitchen counter, before she rushed to the grocery store, already late for picking her shift.

 

"Have a fine and frugal day!" Annie mechanically greeted two hours later to the elderly lady who was finishing packing her groceries.

She suddenly heard a drawling voice in her back, "You wanted to talk to me?"

Gangfriend was casually leaning against the treadmill with a smirk on his face, obviously pretending to be shopping as he was handing her a bag of cashews. She blinked.

"I see you got my note." she coldly greeted him.

"She's not home but we need to talk or I'll slap you again, and worse." he quoted from memory, his smirk widening. "Couldn't be clearer. By the way, 'slap' only takes one 'p'." he added with a mocking smile and she suddenly wanted to put out his eyes.

God, was he annoying! Couldn't Beth end up with a decent guy, just for once?

"Oh yeah? How's your cheek by the way?" she counterattacked.

He waved his head in a slightly annoyed motion, "You made me come all the way here to ask me 'bout my cheek?"

"Oh no. This might take a while so you sure there are no other groceries you wanna buy?" she asked, scanning his cashews.

"Nah, I'm good, the brands you're sellin' here are shit." he teased back.

She shook her head. What a fucking hipster!

"It's Fine and Frugal here, not Hype and Organic, dude! That will be three dollars fifty." she said before suddenly turning around. "Hey, Sally, do you mind if we switch break times?" she asked the girl who was standing at the check-out right next to Annie's.

Sally raised her head from the screen of her phone and shrugged. The store was almost empty at this time of the day. Annie cashed Rio's purchase before she extracted herself from the cash desk and guided Rio to the small cafeteria where the employees had their breaks. She absently waved at Tyler before turning around to face Rio.

"Can I get you a coffee or something?" she asked, trying to be polite.

"Tea. Where's Elizabeth?" he asked as Annie was pulling buttons on the coffee machine and quickly retrieved a tea and an espresso for herself. She noticed he wouldn't even say 'please' or 'thank you', and she puffed.

"She's... Well that's not really the point here." she managed to answer, disconcerted. "What's going on between you two?" she asked point blank.

"Ain't your business."

"Kinda is, actually. You see, she's my sister and I care a lot about her. So, are you planning on stopping to break her heart or not?"

"I'm sorry, what?" Rio almost choked on his tea.

Annie cocked her head, peering at Rio through half-closed eyelids, "Oh come on, dude, wake up! She's head over heels for you! And guess who's in charge of taking care of the pile of trash she turns into every time you let her down?" she rhetorically asked, pointing her thumbs at herself.

Rio's face kept a neutral expression, but she saw him swallow several times, before he carefully considered her.

"She told you anythin'?" he asked, pretending to be casual.

"She said she had a crush. Which is Beth Boland for madly in love. You can trust me, I've never been good at French, but I'm fluent in Beth Boland." she proudly added.

He stayed silent for half a minute.

"Why you tellin' me this?" he finally shrugged.

"Because she's been a mess for months now, and that's enough! I don't want her to go through all of this again. So you fix it, Gangfriend. Now."

"Gangfriend?" he frowned.

"Come on, you can't say it doesn't suit you!" Annie retorted.

"Still better than Ron." he pointed out with a smirk.

Annie's eyes widened. She couldn't believe Beth told him about that! His expression suddenly got back to serious.

"Listen, I wish I could help, but I ain't the one in charge of the important choices here. Thanks for the heads-up anyway."

He was about to finish his tea and leave when Annie heard a voice in her back.

"Morning, miss Marks! Are you on your break already?"

She briefly closed her eyes. Oh God, not now!

"Patrick!" she turned around with an embarrassed smile.

The last time she had seen him, they were passionately sucking face on the parking lot, but right now he was her boss and she wasn't sure of where they were standing.

"I switched with Sally." she explained.

"Alright." Patrick nodded. "Aren't you introducing me to your friend?"

Shit.

"Hum, right, huh... this is... Rio. He's a..."—she frowned. What was Rio exactly?—"friend. My sister's... friend." she finally said in a tiny voice. "And this is Patrick, my..."

Oh no, what was Patrick now? Would he take it the wrong way if she said he was her boss? But he was her boss after all.

"...manager?"—she saw Patrick frown— "A... friendly... manager." she managed to articulate, her lungs desperately seeking for fresh air.

She could tell that Rio was internally laughing at her efforts, but Patrick didn't seem to notice and he simply greeted, "Oh, how nice!" and gently smiled at her and Rio before he turned away.

"I have to go back to my desk, anyway!" she hastily added.

"You been sleepin' with that dude?" she heard Rio's lascivious and ironic voice behind her.

She turned around, and he thought that if her eyes could throw bullets, he would be dead already.

"Why don't you handle your own business, Gangfriend?" she defied him in a low voice.

He gave her an amused smile that infuriated her and she thought he was lucky that Beth cared that much about him, otherwise she'd probably have punched him already.

 

Later that night, as she was opening the first bottle of wine facing the insane pile of snacks and treats Beth had spent the day cooking, Annie was about to share her feelings about Patrick with Beth and Ruby, in order to set a fun and light vibe, but she didn't get the chance to start speaking.

"Girls I have to tell you something." Ruby started. "I told Stan about helping you with the warehouse robbery, and the exhumation of that... thing, in your flowerbed, Beth."

"Oh my God, Ruby, I'm so sorry!" Beth suddenly covered her mouth with her hands. "I know you didn't want to get involved in anything and we still got you into that... I'll go tell Stan it's all my fault and—"

"No, it's okay." Ruby said. "He understands. He told me that if it was just this couple of times, he got it, because I did it to help us all to get back to legit, with no more threat or trouble."

"Help us all go back to legit, you mean the three of us. Like, including Beth." Annie rhetorically stated, throwing a dark look at Beth who shook her head in return with a warning glance.

But Ruby didn't notice that silent exchange as she kept speaking.

"That's right. But there's more. There's this guy from the police Stan used to work with, Tim, they really get along and they still have lunch together once in a while. So Stan talked to him yesterday, and it turns out a jogger found a human bone near Palmerston Track, and now, they're running investigations."

"Oh my God, Palmerston, isn't it where..." Annie started with terrified eyes.

"Hum hum." Ruby nodded, giving Annie her trademark I-told-you-so glance.

"Damned joggers." Annie grumbled between her teeth. "What's this thing with sport anyway? Are there really so many masochistic people on earth?" she digressed.

"Where what?" Beth interrupted. "Please don't tell me that's where you left whatever remained of Jeff's corpse!"

"What do you think, of course it is where we left it!" Annie replied.

"And why couldn't you properly bury it with quick lime so it wouldn't reappear?" Beth complained.

"Ugh, why couldn't you ask your friends who actually know how to properly bury a body with quick lime to do it when there was still time for that? Oh right, 'cause then you were too busy having a who's-got-the-biggest-dick contest with them!" Annie snapped back at her sister with narrowed eyes.

"Do you think there is any evidence there that could lead them to us?" Beth asked Ruby, ignoring her sister's annoyingly relevant summary of the course of events.

"Are we even sure it's Jeff's?" Annie added with hope. "I mean, for all we know maybe there's a whole clandestine cemetery there! Wait, is that far away from where Demon was supposed to kill you?" she turned her face to Beth.

"They don't know yet whose it is." Ruby said with a sigh. "But if they identify that guy, and connect him to Mary-Pat, I think it will immediately ring Turner's special Beth-Boland-is-around bell." and Beth heard Rio's voice in her head.

The guy's obsessed with you

Maybe he could help her handle this too. Rio had promised he would get rid of Turner for her whatever her answer would be, but the more she thought about it, the less she saw how he would proceed. Well, except with a very obvious and definitive solution, but still, there would be someone else that would be in charge of that case, and then someone else, and Rio was definitely not going to murder the whole FBI for her.

"Beth, are you with us?" Annie suddenly asked, waking Beth from her thoughts.

She nodded and cleared her throat, "Yes... Girls, there's been an unexpected development I think you should know about." she said.

Annie already knew where this was going so she kept her mouth shut, but Ruby frowned.

"Please tell me it's not what I think it is." she begged her best friend. "I literally just told you I promised Stan we were back to legit!"

"Rio's back." Beth admitted with a tiny voice, and Ruby sighed her disapproval. "But it doesn't mean we're not going back to legit." she added, and she bit her lips as she thought that she was exactly two letters away from being back to normal life.

"What do you mean?" Annie asked.

"He... kind of asked me to be his crime partner." she started.

"Wow, sounds like the Gangsta style equivalent of a fucking proposal, did he get you a ring for that?" Annie joked.

"And that's what you call going back to legit?" Ruby alarmed.

"No. But I can reject his offer. In which case... everything's over. For good." Beth explained with a sudden heartache.

"That's literally the hundredth time you promise us that." Annie pointed out.

"This time it's for real."

There was a sudden silence during which Annie was biting her lips. Now she understood why Rio had told her he wasn't in charge of the decision, and she started to wonder if talking to him about Beth's feelings was as much of a smart move as she initially thought.

She finally asked, "What are you gonna say?"

"I don't know." Beth whispered.

"Is that why you hid here all day?" Annie suspiciously inquired and Beth nodded, drawing out a judgmental hiss from her sister.

"What happens with Turner if you say no?" Ruby intervened. "Because right now, going back to legit means going straight to jail, right?"

"He said he would help me. But with all this new shit about Jeff, girls, I don't know. I'm not sure he'd go that far for us." For me, she thought.

"I know it's your choice." Ruby suddenly started in a low voice. "But let me tell you something. Remember that Beth who used to say 'I don't need him, I can totally do this by myself, we can totally do this by ourselves'? Just... try to figure out what happened to her."

Beth lost her breath to Ruby's point, and the girls didn't say a word for a while after that, the three of them internally torn between the advantages of both options, until Annie loudly exhaled.

"And I thought I was the one with the biggest news tonight." she bitterly said.

"How is that?" Ruby wanted to know, willing to lighten the girls night atmosphere which was tending to sink into a funeral style.

"Well, Patrick and I might finally be heading to... somewhere." Annie announced with a beaming smile.

"Oh no, sweetie, we already discussed this, it's not a good idea!" Beth immediately quenched her sister's enthusiasm.

"Why not?"

"Because it's never healthy to sleep with your boss, there's a power dynamics that shouldn't exist in the relationship!" Beth replied without thinking, convinced that it was obvious.

"Oh my God, seriously? You're the one telling me that? Hello, sleeping with your boss, power dynamics, doesn't ring a bell?" Annie retorted with shocked eyes.

"That's different!" Beth protested, already blushing. "And he's not my boss! Not anymore."

"Well, boss or not, you've gotta admit you're not in a healthy dynamic either!" Ruby pointed out.

"Hey, why is all of this going back on me, we're supposed to discuss Annie's affair right now!" Beth fought back.

"She's right." Ruby came to Beth rescue with an evil grin at Annie. "You both take turns."

"Thank you!" Beth replied before she turned back at Annie. "Besides, didn't you tell us that Patrick used to date another one of his employee before? That's highly unprofessional! I mean, one could be understandable, but two? Come on!"

"Like you know what Gangfriend does behind your back!" Annie perfidiously implied.

"Actually I do!" Beth triumphantly threw back.

They kept complaining and throwing truths at each other for a while after that, with Ruby keeping scores, and they were past the second bottle of wine when Ruby finally put an end to it.

"Let's stop generalizing about men!" she said. "Who's in for margaritas?"

Both Beth and Annie agreed and the three of them moved the party to a Mexican bar, Beth having vetoed all of their usual spots, fully aware that these were also her former meeting places with Rio, and accidentally bumping into him right now would have definitely been a bummer.

It was half past 1 a.m. when Beth got out of the Uber that drove her home, dropping her right in front of her house.

She immediately spotted his tall, dark silhouette standing on her front door with his hands deeply buried in the pocket of his denim jacket, and she half sobered up. How long had he been waiting for her?

"You remember you were supposed to gimme your answer today, right?"

Beth was drunk. And happy. She had a great night with the girls and a great night before with Rio. For the first time in month, she truly had had some good time and she felt light-hearted, but this was probably also because she was wasted right now. She genuinely smiled at him.

"Come on, Rio, it's late and I'm drunk!" she told him with a lucidity that surprised even herself. "Can't all of this wait until tomorrow?"

Her voice was light and cheerful and he could smell the tequila in her breath even from where he was standing. He bent his head to hide the smile that was blossoming on his lips, although his jaw was ticking from a beginning anger. He knew what she was doing. She purposely got wasted in order to postpone this, and he found that simultaneously cute and annoying. And he knew that she had been avoiding her house all day, he had checked a few times, even after he got Annie's note. But c'mon, he thought, one day more wasn't such a big issue after all. He raised his gaze back at her and slightly nodded.

"Okay."

"Thank you." she beamed with the most beautiful smile in the world.

And before he knew it, she had closed the distance between them and she was kissing him, her tongue slipping in his mouth and her hand around his jaw. Her drunk boldness surprised him and he didn't react for one second before he couldn't resist to kiss her back. He hadn't meant that, he had slept with her the night before, and the morning after that, but he had not intended to convert this into a regular thing. Not yet anyway. But neither could he push her away when she was coming for it, right? Her mouth tasted like margaritas, and did she smoke too? She tried to shove him towards the entrance of the house and this time he gently pulled her away.

"You drunk, Elizabeth. I ain't enterin' this house with you. Just drink water and go to bed. I'll come back tomorrow."

"Too bad, darlin', too bad!" she purred in a surprisingly good impersonation of his sarcastic drawling tone, "You don't know what you're missin'!"

He smiled, "Keep it 'til tomorrow, then."

He made sure she had her keys and was able to open her door, and then he left before he succumbed to the temptation of following her inside. He was already missing her skin, and the memory of her kiss was still printed on his lips and the cause of his emerging erection, but spending two nights in a row with her wouldn't have sent the right message, despite how much he craved it. Besides she was wasted drunk, and he didn't sleep with drunk women. Except when they invited him in a bar bathroom, but that didn't count.

 

On the next morning, as she was crankily heading to the kitchen, she found Rio cooking in front of the stove and she froze for two seconds, frowning. Didn't he leave the night before? She lowered her gaze to notice that the breakfast table was set too and she immediately grabbed the mug of coffee that was waiting for her to soothe her beginning of a headache consecutive to the drinks she'd had the night before.

"Mornin' sunshine!" Rio greeted her with a smirk as he turned around to face her, checking her body in one glance before his eyes met hers. "I'm makin' pancakes with fun shapes, want some? Whatchu want, a flower, an octopus...?"

Her eyes widened and she wondered if she wasn't still asleep and having a new kind of dream about Rio.

"I... How... What?" she finally managed to ask.

He cocked one eyebrow, "Oh you mean this?" he asked with a wave of his head towards the table.

"To begin with, yeah!" she replied.

"I thought you may be a little hangover after last night." he smiled as he came closer to her.

She sipped her coffee, silently admitting he had a point.

"Thanks." she muttered, still staring at him.

She didn't know what to say. Despite the fact that she knew exactly why he was there, and that the idea of having to give him her answer made her feel sick, she was also truly happy to see him, to hear his voice and smell his scent, although this domestic breakfast situation between the two of them felt completely awkward. Her gaze lingered at every detail on his face, still in absolute disbelief that this was really happening.

She realized she'd lost herself in the dreamy contemplation of his lips when she suddenly heard him say, "You gonna kiss me, darlin', or what?"

He was looking at her with that loving light in his eyes that always melt her heart and she beamed back at him.

"I thought you'd never ask.", she whispered as she took the last step she needed to press her lips against his. He closed his arms around her, his hands at her hips, and they kissed for a while before he gently pulled her away.

"If I don't let you go now, I'll have to take you to that bedroom of yours." he muttered as some kind of horny apology.

"And so what, got a problem with that?" she cocked her eyebrow in a defying way, an evil smile on her lips.

"So you need to eat first, take some strength." he bragged with an amused smile and she rolled her eyes at the skies before sitting at the table.

He waited until she had finished her breakfast to gently take her hand in his.

"Elizabeth... You know your sister ain't gonna help you gettin' out of this today, right?"

She sighed, "I know. But there's something important I need to do first." she added as the corners of her mouth were perkily raising.

"What's more important than me, darlin'?" he asked with all the cockiness available in the universe.

"Nothing. That's you I need to do." she flirtatiously replied with that provocative smile she knew he could hardly resist to.

She dragged his hand that was still holding hers back to her mouth and started to suck his fingertips, one by one, her eyes locked with him, until he grunted "Fuck!", unable to resist to her anymore, and he crushed her victorious smile under his mouth. They messily stood up and she shoved him towards the bedroom but they didn't make it to the door before they got overwhelmed with desire and they collapsed on the couch. And then she looked so vulnerable in his arms afterwards that he couldn't find the strength to bring back the reason he'd come to her house in the first place, and he sighed. Man, she was fucking smart!

 

She played that game for a whole week. Every time he would bring back the issue of his unanswered business proposition, she'd find a way to postpone it. She tried everything. She cried, she kissed him, she got drunk, she suddenly had some fucked-up urgent stuff to attend, or anything else that crossed her mind and was good avoidance material. The most efficient one still being having sex with him. He couldn't decently ask for an answer in the afterglow and she got that pretty quickly. As a result, they had sex almost uninterruptedly during that week, not that any of them had to complain about that. And although he was aware that she was desperately doing everything she could to delay the fatal moment when she'd have to make a choice, he let her do so. He wasn't ready either to let her go yet and he knew there was an actual chance she'd say no. Even worse, he had the feeling that she wouldn't take his offer, she wouldn't have the strength to take that leap, and that was her way of saying a proper goodbye to him. But the more time he spent with her, the more he got addicted to her skin, her eyes, her lips, her voice, until he admitted he was addicted to her. He couldn't spend an entire day anymore without kissing her at least once. Not to mention fucking her.

He kept thinking about what Annie had told him, that Elizabeth was in love with him, wondering if that was true. She'd been playing him about that so many times, she could act so manipulatively sometimes that he had a hard time believing it. He'd been truly shocked when he'd heard Annie's little speech. He hadn't expected that. Of course he knew Elizabeth was into him, that was so blatant that even a blind and deaf version of him would have known for sure. But talking about feelings from there, about breaking her heart... That wasn't something she'd ever let him see or know. Except that instant during their first night together when she had told him she'd missed him. That had moved him deeply, he'd never expected such a heartfelt confession from her, at least not in that very moment, and he had not been sure of how to react. Because he knew how he felt about her, he'd known for a while now, but he'd been way too afraid that she didn't feel the same way to let it hit the surface. But if Annie was right, then it changed everything. And it scared him. So what was the harm in letting things drag on a bit?

However at some point, he decided that it was enough. She was playing him, again, as he had been nice enough to give her some time to think about all this, but she was obviously doing everything she could to not think about it. Maybe she figured that he would eventually forget about his proposition, but it didn't work like that. It was time to rip off that bandage.

That night, he purposely knocked at her door, and when she opened it, he could read on her face that she knew exactly why he was here.

"Partners don't sneak around." he smirked as he explained his knocking. "Elizabeth, it's been a week now. It's time."

Beth had not intended to stall things like this, at first. The problem was just that every time Rio brought back that issue, she simply couldn't cope with it. It was too hard. Too stressful. She changed her mind almost a thousand times a day. And Ruby's news weren't helping. Would she and the girls be safer under Rio's protection or out of the criminal world in this Jeff case? Besides, Ruby had more or less promised Stan she was only helping Beth to get out, which torn her between loyalties. She didn't want to jeopardize her friend's marriage. So she'd been avoiding the topic with Rio. Using all of her scheming skills to prevent the confrontation. It had turned out to be actually easier than she'd thought. Rio had a pathological taste for putting on a dramatic show, and he obviously needed to set a mood for this, he couldn't just ask for an answer out of the blue. So as long as she didn't let him have that time and space window, she was safe. And sex was definitely the most efficient —and enjoyable— option, with the only downside of keeping him around instead of sending him back home. Obviously he knew what she was doing, but he surprisingly didn't fight back as she had thought he would. But this couldn't last forever and she knew that it had to stop at some point.

Her lips were trembling but she just silently nodded before she joined him under the front porch, closing the door behind her. For an obscure reason, they both didn't want to have this conversation inside of her house.

She looked at him, blinking to fight her tears and he felt sad for her. But he couldn't take it anymore himself. He stood still as he watched her, waiting. She took a deep breath before she started to speak.

"There's a part of me that really wants that, but... I'm scared, Rio."

And to be honest, he was scared the hell out too.

"I know it's hard, darlin'. But you can do this, c'mon."

And right now he wasn't sure of whether they were discussing their partnership or their personal relationship. Could these two things work separately anyway?

"I don't know, I just can't choose. Because I can't let you go. I don't want to. Not now."

He sadly sighed. "Then I'll choose for you, Elizabeth, 'cause I don't want you to choose me, I want you to choose to be a boss."

She pictured her life if she said no. A legit, comfortable, reassuring life. But a miserable one. She'd been there before.

Did they suck your soul out yet?

That wasn't the life she wanted for herself, that was the life she wanted for her family to be safe, the life that her folks, Dean or the PTA moms wanted for her. The life everyone had always wanted for her, without bothering to ask about her opinion, she suddenly realized. Her whole life she'd been put on track and following a path other people had chosen for her, without questioning it. But maybe it was the wrong track. Maybe she didn't belong to this life she'd fought so hard to build. The thing was, now she wasn't alone in this life, and making a choice for herself would be irresponsible, and selfish. What about the kids? And Stan and Ruby? And everyone she'd dragged with her in this madness? She had to close her eyes for a while, trying to focus her thoughts and also fighting her tears.

Rio was staying still, silently waiting but in a way that wasn't pressuring her, and she was grateful for that. His whole attitude was saying that he knew how hard what he was asking was and that he didn't want to rush her in her decision. And then she realized he was acting like this because the stakes were as high for him as they were for her. Even though he had never really opened up to her about that, and despite the mountain of unspoken issues that still stood between them, despite the record-level of dysfunction their relationship had reached, she knew with certainty that giving up on her would be a sacrifice as hard for him as hers would be. She deeply sighed, heartbroken. She knew what she had to do, she always had in a way.

"So, wanna be a boss, ma?" he softly asked.

One question left. You want it?

She reopened her eyes, and stared at him, her tears freely rolling down her cheeks as she took a deep breath and opened her mouth.

Chapter Text

"You sure you wanna do this?"

Beth silently nodded in the night, blankly staring at the motel parking lot through the car windshield.

"You know you don't have to, right?" Rio insisted with worry written all over his face. "It ain't summin' you're forced to do to be my partner."

She looked at him and silently nodded again.

"You aware that there's no comin' back?" he softly asked.

"I know." she said in a breath.

Her lips were trembling and her hands were shaking but she determinedly stared at him.

"That's why I want to do this. You need commitment from me. And I need it too. Besides," – she swallowed – "he deserves to die." she muttered.

 

It had been a month since that moment she had looked deeply in Rio's eyes and said, "I want it, Christopher."

She had meant to say no, to quit and give up, until the last moment, the moment she had realized she simply couldn't and had to embrace her fate, because she couldn't afford not being herself anymore. Because even if this wasn't the life she pictured she'd have when her sixteen-years-old self was talking with Ruby under her front porch, it was the life she was choosing. For her, and her family. Because it was what she wanted, and not what someone else told her she should want.

A hint of disbelief had flickered in Rio's eyes as she'd spoken, and she'd understood he had thought she would say no, he'd gotten prepared for this eventuality, and she'd told herself that for once he hadn't known her as well as he thought he did. But then he had looked at her with so much warmth and awe in his eyes that it had been almost painful to watch, before he'd closed the distance between them in one step, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her hair.

"Thank God, Elizabeth!" he had hissed in a broken breath as she was bursting into tears in his arms, crying away all the emotions she'd just been through as the tension released.

He had held her tight until her sobs had faded away, gradually replaced with relief and something she'd never felt before but spent her entire life unconsciously seeking, a strange feeling of inner peace telling her she was where she belonged, that she had found the place she was meant to be in this world of madness, no matter how fucked-up it was. She had shifted in his arms, her hands sliding in his back and she still didn't know how it had happened so fast but the next thing she'd known he'd had his tongue in her mouth and they were frantically making out against her front door.

Over the following weeks, they had worked on rebuilding Rio's kingdom. He had called back some of his former crew and she'd been particularly happy to see Demon again, and that feeling had seemed reciprocal. She hadn't seen him since the day he'd said goodbye to her in the hospital, and it looked like he'd had a good time in Miami. Of course, Rio had not waited for her answer to start pulling some strings again, hence some businesses like the counterfeit money were already back on track, but with different people and new security levels since the feds still had their eyes on him. Rio had also tried to assess the risks in getting back at his new passports business. It was lucrative but she'd given it all to Turner which wasn't reassuring his potential customers. She'd apologized like a million times for it, but what she did couldn't be undone anyway, so he'd finally decided to let the dust settle and give it some time before getting back at it.

And things had restarted pretty much like in the days before she shot him, with meetings and deliveries, except that this time she had a better overview of stuff, and more responsibilities. Rio had made it clear that they would share the work on her terms, and he'd usually let her pick whatever she wanted to do, with the only condition that if shit happened, she'd clean her own mess. For the moment she'd stayed in her lane however, mostly trying to figure out new ways to wash cash with time-efficiency and discretion. She'd kept making sure to stay away from the things that looked too dirty, as she was discovering aspect of Rio's work that she didn't know about before, but sometimes it felt itchingly appealing and she wouldn't stop asking him to teach her new stuff. "Outside of the bedroom" she would always have to add before he'd get the chance to tease her.

Because that thing between them, whatever it was, had kept going on too. Since Beth had agreed on the partnership, Rio and her had seen each other on a very regular basis, mostly because of work, although things often tended to get out of control and they would end up having sex or at least making out a little almost every time. But it was always induced from a work encounter, it wasn't like they were dating, they wouldn't gratuitously spend some time together if it wasn't work related, and that was unsettling. Good thing that she wasn't into labels, because she would have had a hard time at defining what they were right now, except some kind of weird in-between. But it seemed like they were both okay with that for now.

Beth was kind of lost at labeling things these days anyway, as she didn't know where she was with a lot of people. Starting with Rio, obviously, but things were also weird with Ruby since the latter was still upset from her choice, and although Beth knew, or at least hoped, that things would eventually come to a teary reconciliation, they weren't talking much except regarding the bakery business, that was still on. Dean had been acting very weird too, as if he could feel that she was further than she'd ever been from him. He'd dumped Amber Two, and was seemingly in one of his I-know-I-did-you-wrong-but-still-we-should-get-back-together phase. Which she found ridiculous, especially now, but the thing was, she didn't know how to react to his blatant starvation for any nice words from her, so she'd usually do her best to avoid him, but she'd started to get worried that this tension between them would at some point reverberate on the kids.

And it had taken her some time to realize that people around her seemed to have changed because she was the one who'd been changing. As she'd been working with Rio, sleeping with Rio, sharing something with him they both couldn't describe, she'd let her inner darkness take more control of her, and she somehow enjoyed it, no matter how scary it was sometimes. Just like a few days before, when she'd spotted a line on Rio's to-do list for the week ahead.

"This, I want to do it myself." she'd almost reflexively said, pointing her finger at it.

"What?" he'd asked with a mix of shock and surprise in his eyes. "You know it's not—"

"I know." she'd cut him.

Murder. That was something she'd always refused to do. One of the reasons why she'd shot Rio, as paradoxical as it sounded. Something that she'd always found repulsive, and didn't want to have to perform, ever. She'd made it pretty clear from the beginning that her partnership with Rio would be over if he ever tried to force something like this on her, and he had agreed on her terms. And yet, as the weeks had gone by, she'd kept hearing a little inner voice suggesting that she'd never be Rio's equal if she didn't do it at least once. Rio's boys were respecting her and her orders, but she could tell they were acting differently with Rio, because they knew what he was capable of. And it wasn't that she wanted to scare everyone, but she wanted what he had. She wanted to feel legit. Although nobody would ever say it loud, she knew that she was there mostly because she was Rio's girl, because he protected her, because they slept together. But she wanted to earn her place in this world and be a part of it, and not only because of Rio. And she sensed that she needed some sort of crime boss rite of passage for that. Wasn't it what she'd said to the girls when Rio had asked them to kill Boomer anyway?

It's a gang initiation.

By then she had not been ready for it, obviously. But she'd realized that since that time, she'd escaped several murder attempts, been through pain, gunshot, violence, sexual assault, and it had hardened her, changed her in the way she saw life. She was done believing in the inner goodness of people, believing in the crap she taught her children, like how life was nice with you if you were nice with others. Well, a part of her still believed in that, but she had learned that it wasn't true for everyone. That some people had no good inside of them. And that sometimes, you had to kill first, to avoid being the one that ended up killed. Obviously, that wasn't something she wanted to have to do often, God no, but this dark, wild part of her she'd always been scared of was somehow asking for this, like this was a personal score she had to settle with herself, with her life and the people she'd let make choices for her. She wanted to show them, all of them, what she was capable of. And when that occasion to make it personal had presented itself, well, she'd taken it. She would never kill an unknown, innocent person, that was something she was sure about. But she wanted to prove she could kill out of revenge, although she was unsure of to whom, since Rio had never implied he needed her to do something that extreme for him to believe in her potential.

 

"Again," he started with concern in his eyes, "If you ain't feelin' it I can..."

"I'll do it." She interrupted.

He deeply exhaled. He respected her decision, but he somehow didn't approve of it. It was too soon, and he was worried she would regret it because she wasn't ready. Even worse, put it on him. Obviously she wasn't ready. He hated when she did that, pretending to be a full-practiced boss just because she got an insight on some stuff. She somehow reminded him of Marcus in that way. The kid was genuinely convinced he was a grown-up now that he had new front teeth, and felt entitled to act like one. That was the kind of behavior that was forgivable, and even cute, from 6-years-old kids, but not from their moms. Just like that time she had told him she'd handled her problem with Turner. How did that go, again? Oh yeah, with three bullets in his chest and that woodlouse fed still barking after his ass one year later.

On the other hand... On the other hand, if she was truly ready, amen to that. It would mean she'd grown faster and further than he expected, but it also meant that she wouldn't be able to walk away anymore from the game. From him. And that... well that was something worth looking forward. But he still didn't get why it had happened so fast, it couldn't be his training and influence only. He could tell that she was scared, that she was forcing herself, but there was a hardness in her determination that he didn't understand. There was a reason why she was doing that, and it had nothing to do with him or their partnership. It was personal. Almost intimate.

"Why, Elizabeth? Tell me."

She suddenly blew up. She was feeling that same cold fury she had been in when she had hated everyone who'd been playing with her and convinced Demon to let her live.

"Because, all my life no one's ever believed in me! Getting married was the highest achievement my parents ever expected from me. And I worked so hard on building this family, my family, believing it was as a noble task as any other job."

"It is, ma, you raised four kids. That's huge." Rio nodded with a genuinely impressed look on his face.

"No to anyone apparently." she acidly retorted. "I got that when Dean made it clear that cutting the crust on the kids sandwiches was nothing compared to selling cars!"

"Why are you even listenin' to that dude?' Rio shrugged.

Alright, he got it, she was frustrated, and he couldn't blame her about that with such a dumb husband, but killing a man for that seemed like a bit of an overreaction, even from his point of view.

"Because he was the one supposed to be my partner!" she almost yelled. There was a silence before she added, in a lower voice, "You know on what occasion he told me that?"

Rio shook his head. He had no idea, but if he had to give it a guess he'd have said it had happened while she was doing the dishes, or laundry, or any other household thing, because Carman had absolutely no tact.

"On a night out with just the two of us. It was supposed to be something romantic."

Rio sighed. Man, Carman really had no tact.

"Wanna know what I did after that?"

There was a wild light in her eyes now, that Rio had never seen before. Something scary, something saying that her rage had no boundaries. He was watching her carefully with his chin leaning on his palm, fascinated and, to be honest, a little anxious of what was coming.

"I went to the restroom." she quietly said, looking him straight in the eyes with a defying look.

He had had the intuition that whatever would come out of her mouth next might shock him but he had not expected how what she said was an emotional slap in his face. Now he realized she'd been using him in the dirtiest way to get her revenge against her husband, and it could have been anyone else. She had not come in that bathroom for him, she just had come for herself. She somehow read in his eyes that he was upset because she immediately tried to apologize.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..." she started.

"Tell me somethin', Elizabeth?" he cut her. "What if someone else, anyone else, had followed you in that bathroom instead of me?" he asked, his eyes narrowed.

"I... I don't know what would have happened." she honestly answered. "I'm sorry. I was mad at Dean, it's true, but I also knew I wanted you. Specifically. Because you were the only one who believed in me, each time you looked at me I felt I was someone, and I wanted you to touch me so bad, and..." she stopped talking, out of breath and blushing hard as she realized she was exposing things she'd never meant to ever tell him.

He lowered his gaze with a chuckle before he glanced back at her.

"No wonder nobody believes in you if you shoot the only people who do!" he grinned.

Her look softened, "No one's ever taken me seriously, Rio. I'm a joke, to everybody, I'm just the dumb housewife who doesn't get anything. And that night I shot you, I thought you believed that too. I'm sorry."

"Nobody sees you as a joke but yourself, ma." he whispered.

And of course he was right, of course this was something she had to settle with herself, but not only.

"Did you know that Dean even made me believe he had cancer so he could still live in the house?" she raised her voice as anger was starting to consume her again.

"Shhhh, that's not him you're here for tonight, ma, so don't think 'bout it right now." he whispered, trying to calm her down and gently taking her hand in his, but still truly shocked from what he just heard. That would need further explanations and development, but not now.

She breathed and looked him deeply in the eyes.

"That's precisely the point. Harry's going to pay for everyone."

He thought she'd never had looked more beautiful than in that instant. As terrifying as it was, he was glad to have had a chance to understand a part of this fire that had been burning inside of her for so long, that fury he'd sensed since the day they had met and that surrounded her with a hint of danger. And getting to know the roots of her inner madness only made her more attractive to him.

"Come here." he whispered.

His right hand came to cradle the back of her head, grabbing a handful of her hair. He pulled her to him and she pressed her lips against his, her hand cupping his jaw and relishing the touch of his stubble. His kiss was tender and passionate, and his warmth gave her strength for what she had to do. She allowed herself to get lost in their kiss until he gently pulled her away and their lips parted. There was something in his eyes that melted her heart.

"You want me to come with you?" he asked.

"No, I'd rather go alone, but... could you stay close?" she asked with a hint of pleading in her voice.

He nodded and they both left the car. She could feel his gaze on her as she slowly entered the motel. Less than a minute later, she was standing in front of room 201, which, according to Rio, was the one Harry was sleeping in, not that she had any idea of how he knew that. Even as her partner, he still had secrets she didn't have the key for. She armed the gun and took a deep breath, trying to control the shaking of her body. She slid the magnetic card in its slot, praying that Harry didn't have any night company at the moment, and she silently pushed the door open. Blinking in the darkness, she instantly heard from his breath that Harry wasn't asleep. In fact, he even turned the light on at the same moment, and she faced him, noticing that he was pointing a gun at her too.

"Ah, Mrs Boland!" he greeted her, surprise flickering on his face for only an instant before he got his cheerful mask back on. "I see you seem to feel better than the last time we met?"

"Shut up!" she growled, trying to intimidate him with a quick move of the barrel of her gun. Harry's smile widened.

"Actually it's not you that I was expecting, although I wouldn't either say no to that." he salaciously told her with an appreciative glance at her body. "So why don't you pull this gun back to your pocket?"

He was talking to her as if she were a little child and it made her growingly angry. And then she realized that he had absolutely no reason not to kill her right now. He had a gun pointed at her and he could have pulled the trigger any moment to get rid of the annoyance of her company, and the threat of her own gun. Unlike Rio, he obviously didn't give a shit about her, not the kind of shit that would prevent him from killing her anyway. He'd already tried after all. And yet she was still alive, threatening him, and he wasn't even scared, as he was joking about her. She suddenly understood that he didn't believe she would actually be capable of harming him. Just like he had said the last time he had a gun pointed at her face, all he saw in her was her ability to cook dinner, and now he was considering her with a manly arrogance and self-indulgence that highly pissed her off.

"Did Rio send you? Seriously, that was amusing, but I'm waiting for someone, so could you...?" he insisted with a wave of his hand and the most annoying smile ever resting on his lips.

"You realize I already shot people before?" she asked him, starting to wonder if what she saw as arrogance wasn't just complete idiocy from him.

"Oh you mean Rio? That's different, it was a defense reflex from what I saw." he strutted.

"What do you mean, you 'saw'?"

Her heart sank in her chest and she started to shake as there was only one possibility for him to have seen anything, and she didn't like what it boded.

"Oh you didn't know? There's a video of this... performance of yours. I've got to admit I'd have preferred a sextape of the two of you, but..."

The world collapsed around her. If Harry had seen this tape, it meant that he'd been playing with Rio all along, it meant that Rio had betrayed her once again. She was speechless, and she was almost sure that her heart had stopped beating for a few seconds. Was all this big move of Rio saving her life a setup? It didn't make any sense. And did it also mean that...

She narrowed her eyes, "So you knew Rio was alive the whole time?"

"Of course!" Harry sneered

Her breath broke, "Why then?"

She had not expected that last low blow from him. If he already knew, then throwing her in the lion's den with his boys was purely gratuitous. She was shaking so much that she could barely hold the gun anymore.

"You were getting over-confident. Rio had been way too soft with you, although who could blame him with such a piece of ass, and you needed to be taught a little lesson." he told her with an hideous smile, and she felt like every word that came out of his mouth was a red-hot iron pressed against her skin. He shook his head in an annoyed motion, "I'm sorry but could you give back this gun to whoever you took it from and leave, now? Otherwise maybe next time I'll let my boys rape you for good."

There were so many things in what he just said that made her want to throw up that she didn't even know what to begin with. Harry was purposely treating her like a little kid, and objectifying her, to humiliate her and she thought that it wasn't his smartest move. Pushing her too far was never a smart move because she suddenly calmed down, finding herself in the eye of her own storm. Her body wasn't shaking anymore and her mind was crystal clear about what she had to do. Not that she had no clue of what she had come here for in the first place, but there was still a part of her that thought she would step back at the last moment. And she was almost sure that Rio neither expected her to go through this all by herself.

"There will be no next time, Harry." she coldly stated with a steady voice. "And you should have learned from that tape what happens when someone plays with my boundaries. By the way, I'm still waiting for these refreshments!"

And maybe Harry felt from her tone that suddenly something had changed, but he slightly straightened his head and she sensed his intention to finally use his gun against her. And at this point it was him or her.

She pulled the trigger.

She did not even start at the detonation that got muffled by the silencer of her gun. She knew exactly where to aim at. She always had. She could still picture herself in Rio's loft on that fateful night, her mind blinded with panic, but still trying to avoid the spots on his chest that she knew would be a hundred percent deadly. She still got convinced afterwards that she had killed him, though, but at least she had tried her best not to.

Harry's head grotesquely rolled backwards and she exhaled a deep breath, as adrenaline and hatred were slowly flowing away from her veins.

She didn't know how long she stayed still there, watching what she'd done with tears silently rolling down her cheeks, but it was probably for a couple of minutes, when she felt Rio's presence by her side and the arm he wrapped around her shoulders. He remained silent and she leaned her head against him, softly sniffling. After a few seconds, he gently pressed a kiss on her forehead before he whispered, "We should go now."

She nodded and they parted before joining the car. Rio didn't start the engine right away and gave her a worried look.

"You okay?"

"I don't know. I... I just killed someone." she muttered, realizing the meaning of what she did as she said the words out loud. "But I'm glad he's gone, at least it frees me from what he did to me." she added with a weak smile.

"So you feelin' like a new woman, huh? What's your next step? Torture?" he gently teased her.

"It's not funny!" she protested.

His hand landed on her lap, gently pressing her thigh through her jeans.

"It's hard to be a boss, huh?" he asked with sympathy.

She nodded, "Was it hard for you the first time you...?"

"Yeah..." he said with a low voice that almost sounded like a warning, telling her she might not want to know all the details of it.

But it wasn't what she wanted to know right now.

"What did you do to... get over it?"

He removed his hand from her thigh and stayed silent for a few seconds, his lips pursed and his face tense with his jaw ticking, until he took a deep breath, staring blankly in front of him as he slowly spoke.

"I cut a man's throat open, the first time. Did the same to myself as a reminder. Cut the skin of my own throat to write it down. With ink."

She considered him with widened eyes. She had always wondered about the origins of his neck tattoo, but she would never have suspected that.

"Really?"

"Yeah, but you don't have to do the same to feel better." he told her with a smirk.

She chuckled, "I hope so. Did it hurt?"

"The fuckin' hell. You have regrets?" he asked after a short pause.

"It's hard to tell but I don't think so." she whispered. "What would have happened if I had shirked this at the last moment?"

"I'd have dunnit for you." he said with a shrug before he casually added, "And I'd still love you the same, wouldn't have changed anythin'."

She startled, "What did you just say?"

He gave her a confused look, "That I'd have killed him myself."

"No, after that!"

"That nothin' would change."

This time he smirked and she knew that he was doing it purposely. She saw his smile widen when he noticed her frustration and she rolled her eyes at the skies.

"Say it."

"Nah, you heard what I said."

She gave up on making him say it again, knowing how stubborn he could be sometimes. Instead, she voiced it out for him.

"Did you just say that you love me? Out of a conversation about murdering aftermath?" she blankly asked, trying not to hang on false hopes and completely melt inside.

Was he fooling her again? She tried not to think about what Harry had told her about the tape. God, not right now!

"What, you wanted a solemn declaration with violins and flowers?" he ironically asked. "Ain't my style, darlin'."

She scoffed, "Yeah, I noticed that the day you started mailing me body parts instead of flowers to get me back! But can we go back to what you just said?"

"Yeah, ain't such a big deal, frankly." he said with an annoyed look.

"It is a big deal!" she protested.

"Al'ight."

He sulkily looked away and she realized that he mentioned it as an insignificant detail precisely because it was the most significant everything but a detail. Because Rio would always be Rio and only an oyster knife might ever had a chance at opening him. That he needed that false casualty to find the strength to tell her what really mattered. And that he wouldn't have found this fucked-up and quite inappropriate way to tell her that he loved her if it wasn't true. A tsunami of emotions overwhelmed her and she gently squeezed his lap with her hand.

"You're right." she told him with a sweet smile, "It's not a big deal."

He looked at her with an anxious intensity in his eyes, something desperately lost, and they both reached at each other's lips. The kiss was hot and passionate, and he breathed in the little moans she let out as her tongue was lasciviously dancing with his. They were both panting when their lips parted, and she could see her desire mirrored in his eyes. If they kept going, they would end up fucking on the backseat of the car, of take a room in the motel, but it was probably not a great idea with a dead body still cooling down next door.

"Shouldn't we leave?" she asked, her breath still broken.

He nodded and started the engine. But as the heat of the kiss was slowly dissipating, Beth got hit by the reality of what she had just done that night, along with Harry's awful last words, and her mood sobered up. They were both silent, and she didn't feel like to talk. Judging from Rio's expression, his thoughts had darkened ad well. Maybe he had just noticed that she had not said it back. And she definitely not wanted to have this conversation right now, she wasn't ready for it. She turned the radio on, craving for some music, and she searched for a station. She heard chords from a classic oldie that sounded familiar and she let it play, still lost in her thought and vaguely humming with the song, when suddenly Freddie Mercury's voice made its way through her heart.

Mamma, just killed a man, put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger now he's dead...

"Oh no, you've got to be kidding me!" she complained, feeling that even the Universe was teasing her under the form of a random song on the radio.

Rio burst into laughter, "C'mon, ma, that's perfect!"

She sighed, trying to relax and enjoy the rest of Bohemian Rhapsody, and she did, until the last part of the song came.

So you think you can love me and leave me to die, oh baby, can't do this to me baby

She felt Rio's heavy gaze on her at this and she blushed in the darkness, thinking she was the most awful person in the world, until he gently took her hand in his and pressed it on his mouth while he was holding the wheel with his other hand.

"Nothin' really matters to me, darlin'." he quoted in a whisper as the song was finishing.

She half-smiled, trying to reinstall comfortably back in her seat, but that was the moment when she realized they weren't on the way to her home.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

He smiled, "I'm takin' you somewhere special. You earned it."

The drive didn't last for long after that, before he pulled over in front of a character building midtown and held the entrance door for her. And she knew it before she saw him pull the keys out of his pocket, before she spotted the cashmere and the watch collection, before she melted once again in front of Marcus's pictures, she knew, at the moment he had pulled over, that he was taking her to his place. His new place. The one she'd never been in since he'd moved out from his old loft. And it deeply moved her that he'd finally let her see his home, although she was astonished by his cockiness in calling it 'somewhere special'.

The apartment was gorgeous and probably bigger than the old loft. He poured her a drink and she gulped it down in one sip before she let Harry's crushing revelations resurface her mind. She must have worn a weird expression on her face because Rio suddenly asked her, "What?" with a concerned look.

She didn't know where to start, and she was terrified to lose again that overwhelming feeling of happiness she was experiencing around him, not to mention he'd just told her he loved her and she didn't want to eventually find out it was all a lie. But she had to know. She cleared her throat.

"Harry saw the tape." she blankly said.

Rio's brows furrowed, "What tape?"

"The one where I'm fucking shooting you!" she replied with a distressful voice.

"So?" he shrugged.

"That's all you have to say? So? Were the two of you working together this whole time or what?" she let out, almost hysteric.

"What?" his look was confused and she hated that he was playing innocent, once again.

"He knew you were alive all along!" she screamed.

"Elizabeth..."

"Letting me alone with his sidekicks was just for fun! And who else could have given him that tape but you? Did you ask for them to assault me as well or was it just his idea?" her chest was uncontrollably throbbing under the aggressive sobs that were trying to make their way to her throat, but she wasn't done speaking, "And oh my God, I can't believe you had the audacity to hug me afterwards and tell me you wouldn't ever do that!"

"Elizabeth!"

Rio had tried to call her by her name several times while she was yelling at him, but she didn't listen, so he had had to raise his voice over hers to finally catch her attention and she looked at him, crying, with an expression on her face that broke his heart.

"How could you?" she whimpered.

He shook his head, his face ticking in his agitation, "I didn't. Elizabeth, I wasn't the only one who owned that tape, okay? Turner had a copy too. And I swear to God, I... I didn't know Harry saw it. You gotta believe me."

She watched him nodding through her tears and she shook her head, "I don't know if I can."

He deeply sighed, "You know we need to trust each other if we want all this shit workin', ma. So, can you trust me on this?"

She lowered her head, lost. She wanted to believe him, but she'd always felt on the edge with him, always in the fear that something would come up and instantly destroy the fragile trust she put in him.

"I don't know." she finally dully let out. "After all I'm just work, right?"

He'd actually never answered her question when she'd asked him if he had meant those words. She was intentionally mean to him with this now, throwing at him the first unanswered issue she could think about from the pile standing between them, using it to settle back in their old hurtful game of who would throw the most painful poison at the other's head, because that was the only way she knew how to react whenever she felt hurt and exposed around him. There was a sudden pause during which she heard his breath break, and his voice was infinitely sad when he spoke again. She couldn't even look him in the eyes.

"You never was only work Elizabeth, I swear. You had just dumped me and I was fuckin' upset. Thought you didn't give a damn. I never thought it would hurt you so much. I'm sorry. I wish I could take this back."

She had been waiting to hear this for months, but now she was wondering if she could even believe it. She raised her head and looked at him, heartbroken by the devastated look on his face.

"Want me to say it, I'll say it." he added. "I love you, Elizabeth, and I can't watch you slippin' through my fingers every time somethin' comes up anymore. Either you trust me or you don't, but this shit has to stop!"

"How do I do that? Trust you?" she asked with a tiny voice.

"You choose to, ma."

And just like that she understood what partnership meant, that being on board with this wasn't about saying 'I want it', or even about killing someone. It was about trusting him every time something like that would happen, and it wouldn't be the last time. It was about blindly choosing him over her doubts, every time, even despite common sense, until she didn't have any left. Agreeing on his offer or killing Harry had never been the choice he'd expected her to do. Now was the showdown.

She closed her eyes, trying to process everything he just said, aware that he'd made the effort to open to her more than he'd ever done, to show her how much he cared. And there were things that needed to be said now.

"I didn't dump you." she whispered. "Dean forced me to choose between my kids and you, and I... I just didn't want to give up on you like this, I wasn't ready. I... I never hated myself more than when I handed you your cut. I wish I could undo this."

She felt him more than she heard him close the distance between them, and when she reopened her eyes, he was standing right in front of her, still carrying that awfully sad, heartbreaking look on his face.

"I think I'll kill Carman, someday." he thoughtfully said with a hint of a threat in his voice. "Man, you never pressure someone 'bout their kids to have 'em do whatchu like, that is off-limits."

His right hand came closer to her face and she thought he'd brush her hair as he usually did, but instead he wiped the tears away from her cheeks with his thumb before his hand cupped her jaw.

She weakly smiled, "That's not really the point here."

"Kinda is." he replied with a smirk.

They stared at each other for a while, her heart beating faster than ever as she was trying to figure out whether she could ever stop doubting everything about him or not. He was still looking at her, waiting, his hand touching her face and providing a comforting warmth. She looked him in the eyes, thinking about all they've been through, all the pain and pleasure they'd inflicted to each other, and suddenly she couldn't hold it anymore.

"I love you. Christopher." she said.

He swallowed. They both knew why she had paused before saying his name.

That's not an answer, Christopher!

I need you to say it, Christopher.

I want you to fuck me, Christopher.

Let's get finished with this, Christopher!

Elizabeth. Christopher.

I want it, Christopher.

She only called him Christopher in the moments of truth, and he felt something break inside of him at the thought.

"And I want to trust you, I do." she added. "But I don't know if I can, and I don't know how. So I guess I'm just gonna keep trying until... I make it work."

He sighed an lowered his gaze for a brief instant before his eyes came back at hers.

"I don't give a damn if you try." he sadly told her, and she wasn't even sure he was aware that he was quoting himself.

You gotta win, bitch!

She nodded, tears falling again from her eyes. He shrugged and stepped back, pulling his phone out of his pocket and starting to type.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Imma call you an Uber." he coldly replied.

"Rio, don't!" she walked at him and took his phone out of his hand before he could react.

He looked at her with surprise and anger in his eyes. And to be honest, she was starting to feel angry too. Telling him that she loved him was definitely hitting the top list of the scariest things she'd ever done, and he was just calling an Uber after that?

"I want to believe you." she soflty said, trying to control her mood. "But it doesn't make any sense. Why would Turner give that tape to Harry?"

Rio pursed his lips and looked away for a few seconds, his face tense as he was trying to understand. And suddenly it hit him. How could he have been stupid enough to miss that?

"They been workin' together the whole time." he dully said. "There's somethin' I never told you, ma. The day you told me 'bout Harry and his boys, two hours later Turner was in my fuckin' car, askin' me to give you away. Couldn't be a coincidence. He knew I just found out your undercover was blown."

"Cause it's never a coincidence, when someone shows up just at the right time, right?" she suddenly asked, feeling a huge lump forming in her throat as she was reaching a whole new level of anxiety, no, more than that, redefining the whole concept of anxiety.

"Whatchu mean, ma?" he asked, confused.

"You showed up at my house right when Harry was about to kill me. Did you know about this as well?"

She felt like crying again. For a minute she had truly believed him, she had thought they could figure out some sense out of all this, but the crushing wave of doubt was washing again the fragile sandcastle of her trust, and she realized this could never work, they could never work.

Rio looked at her with pity on his face, "I didn't know, Elizabeth. That was a coincidence. Was on my way to California and I just wanted to see you once again."

"This is bullshit!" she angrily retorted, "I just gave your whole kingdom away to Turner, and you wanted to see me?"

"Yeah, I did, ma. I'm a fair player, I always shake hands, even when I lose the game."

She shook her head. This was insane. But he was insane, from a certain point of view. She opened her mouth, but he spoke again.

"But on the other hand, Harry showin' up on the same day you turned me in was no coincidence." he slowly said. "Turner probably asked him to."

Her eyes widened, "Why?"

"Cause you gave him all you had, ended up useless to him, so he could get rid of both of us at the same time."

"Since when are federal agents allowed so send killing order through gangbangers?" she asked.

"They ain't. But some of 'em just do." Rio shrugged.

She took a few minutes to think about it. That was the most twisted and insane explanation she'd ever heard. But it somehow made sense, because Turner would pull every string he could reach to get them both in jail or under the ground. And it also explained why Harry had not killed her right away earlier. He didn't care about her, he'd just been acting out of a request when he'd showed up at her house, but he had no personal interest in murdering her.

"Corruption. Maybe that's our ticket to take Turner down for good then." she realized, thinking out loud.

"Could be, yeah. Too bad you shot the livin' evidence of that!" he smirked at her. "What, too soon?" he asked as he saw the decomposed look on her face.

"A little, yeah." she hissed.

He smiled at her and they silently stared at each other for a while until his expression gradually darkened, his lips pursed and his jaw ticking.

"So?" he asked, raising one eyebrow.

"I believe you." she finally said in a deep exhale. "And we'll figure out all the rest later but could you just... hold me, for now? Please?"

After all that had happened that night, she needed him, badly, and he could sense that too, so he simply nodded and wrapped his arms around her. And maybe right now he needed her as much. He pressed a kiss on her temple and she raised her head at him, her lips sliding along his cheek until their mouths met in a kiss loaded with all the emotions they've been through over the night.

Maybe they couldn't define what they were, but now that some truths had been said, things were different, and they couldn't act anymore like this was just a work meeting that went wrong. And they both knew it as they were frantically kissing and furiously biting, fingers possessively pressing bruises in the other's skin in a desperate hurry, until he spun her and bent her over the couch.

"You want me to take you like I did in that bathroom, yeah?" he whispered in her ear, panting as his teeth were playing with her earlobe at the same time.

"Yes please!" she moaned, already shimmying out of her jeans and pulling off her panties along the way.

He grunted, unzipping his pants, and she screamed loudly when he entered her, his hands firmly holding her hips as he was thrusting into her. They probably had not fucked that savagely since the night she'd come to his office, in a moment when they were exposing as much raw emotions as now. And then she stopped thinking, endlessly screaming his name until he suddenly pulled out to pin her against the wall and take her again there, grabbing her thighs and her ass to lift her, only holding her with the strength of his arms and the support of the wall. She used the opportunity to have him now facing her to cup his face with her both hands and kiss him, biting his lips, and he kissed her back with the same wildness before he buried his face in her neck. And this time she didn't get afraid of saying it like she usually did every time they were having sex, and she panted, "I love you so much, Rio!". He bit her neck even harder at this, which instantly made her come, and when he followed a short moment later, he was mouthing his own I love you's in her ear. He kept her crushed against the wall for a few more seconds, his face buried in her breasts, until he cautiously got her down on her feet and they deeply kissed before he dragged her to his bedroom, still hungry for her skin.

And as she followed him, she didn't see the screen of her phone flashing from five missed calls from Ruby and a text from Annie that was filled with skull emojis and exclamation marks.

Instead, she just collapsed in the bed with him, relishing the touch of his skin and the strength of his arms as they were taking things slow this time, savoring the renewed discovery of each other's body. As he was finishing undressing her, he let his fingers wander on the scar Harry's bullet had left just under her collarbone.

"You and I, we're the same, ma, you know that?" he whispered.

Her own fingers came at his bare chest, caressing his scars, and she met his eyes.

"I know now." she replied, and they kissed again, still in the awe of having finally managed to find each other.

 

Later that night, as Beth was coming for the third time in Rio's arms, Agent Jim Turner was sitting in his car in the middle of an empty parking lot, except for one other car next to his.

"So you understand what you have to do, right?" he asked his passenger.

"Yes, but I don't know how. I mean, we barely speak at the moment, so how am I supposed to search for evidences and keep unnoticed?"

"I'm sure you'll find a way, you know her weaknesses, use some little spies, maybe?" Turner raised an eyebrow.

"I can't do that!"

Turner shrugged, "It's up to you, depends on what you want."

"Believe me, Agent Turner, there is nothing I want more than seeing this guy locked out for good. I just want her to go back to normal, you see? She's a mother!"

"And I need evidences to make that dream come true!" Turner retorted, "So I'm pretty sure we can help each other on this, don't you think?"

"You've got to promise me that she won't be in trouble with the cops if I help you put an end to it!"

"I'm a man of honor, you have my word." Turner said, smirking in the dark. "So, do we have a deal?"

"We... we got a deal. We'll keep in touch. Good night Agent Turner." his passenger said, opening the car door.

"Good night, Mr. Boland." Turner whished back with a toothy grin.