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We’ve Got a Problem, Poppins: Life After MI5

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“When we find a place to call our home, I want us to open up your flower shop.  The Leafling.  I would love to do that with you, if you’ll let me.  That’s what I want.”

 

Jamie began crying.  “Yes, Dani, yes,” she said, pulling Dani into a tight hug.  She couldn’t believe Dani had remembered that, much less wanted to make it a reality.

 

“We’ll do it together,” Jamie said.  “We’ll do everything together.”

 

“Together,” Dani repeated, hugging her tighter.  “I love you so much”

 

“I love you, too.”

 

And so they began the next chapter of their adventure… together.

 


 

5 Years Later…

 

The clock read 4:59am, one minute before the alarm would blare, signaling the start of another day.  In the dark of their bedroom, Dani held Jamie as they slept, their bodies perfectly fitting together as they had since that first week.  Even in sleep, Dani nuzzled closer to Jamie, breathing in her familiar scent.  To Dani, Jamie smelled like home.  It didn’t matter where in the world they were; when she was with Jamie, she was home.  In front of her, Jamie’s hand was resting atop of Dani’s across her stomach, instinctively reaching for her, even in sleep needing the sense of peace and security that she only felt when she was with Dani.

 

5:00am— BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP!

 

“Bloody hell!” Jamie exclaimed, reaching over and blinding smacking in the direction of the alarm clock until she silenced it.  “How is it morning already?”

 

“Mmmm,” Dani muttered, as she pulled Jamie closer against her body.  “Five more minutes.”

 

“We need to get up, Dani,” Jamie responded, making no move to move away from Dani.

 

“We had a late night.  We can lay here for a few more minutes.”

 

Jamie smirked, remembering the night before. “We had a late night because you couldn’t keep your hands off of me.”

 

“And I didn’t hear you complaining.  Heard some other things, but not complaining,” Dani whispered into her ear.

 

“I’m still not complaining,” Jamie said, rolling over to face Dani and placing a soft kiss on her lips.

 

Dani smiled and pulled her closer.  “I love you, Jamie Clayton-Taylor.”

 

“I love you, too, Dani Clayton-Taylor.  And I never get tired of calling you that.”  Despite being exhausted, Jamie couldn’t help but smile.

 

“And I never get tired of hearing it.”

 

BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP!

 

“Dammit!”  Jamie rolled off Dani and turned the alarm clock off.  “As much as I want to stay in bed with you, and trust me I do, we have to get up.”

 

“Uggg!” Dani took her pillow and pulled it over her head. 

 

Jamie gently pulled it down to see Dani’s face.  “I’m sorry, love.”  She kissed her on the tip of the nose and rolled out of bed, walking towards the bathroom.  She turned to look over her shoulder and saw Dani still laying there, her arm over her eyes.  “If you get up now, you can join me in the shower.”

 

Dani moved her arm and locked her eyes on Jamie.  She sat up straight and threw her legs over the bed, walking towards Jamie.  “You play dirty,” she said as she walked past her into the bathroom.

 

“Works every time,” Jamie said to herself, smirking, as she followed after Dani.

 

An hour and half later, Jamie was waiting for Dani in their living room.  They had both gotten ready and had breakfast together, as was their tradition before they left for work at The Leafling each day.  Dani was still brushing her teeth and Jamie found herself staring at the photos of them around the room.  She smiled as she remembered each one— the selfie she took of them under the Eiffel Tower when she kissed Dani on the cheek at the last second and earned a huge smile from the blonde, the two of them kissing and holding hands in a gondola in Venice, Dani smiling in Stonehenge with childlike wonder, the two of them clinking pints of beer in Berlin, the photo of them holding hands and looking out over the Pacific Ocean at sunset that a kind stranger had taken for them, Jamie smiling as they kayaked Lake Superior, both of them in front of the castle at Magic Kingdom wearing silly Minnie Mouse ears with huge grins on their faces, a selfie at the Grand Canyon with their cheeks pressed together, a photo in front of the Statue of Liberty with their arms around each other, a collage of their wedding photos… Jamie smiled as her fingers trailed along each picture frame.  She couldn’t keep from smiling as she remembered each special moment with Dani.  Every moment with Dani is special, not just these.  But we did everything we said we would do and more.  We’ve lived more in these past five years than most do in an entire lifetime.  I’m so damn lucky.  Don’t know what I ever did to deserve all this love and happiness.

 

Jamie was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t notice Dani watching her.  Dani didn’t need to ask her to know what Jamie was thinking; it was written all over her face.  Dani understood the feeling all too well.  She, too, could not believe that this was their life.  Dani was standing in the home they had built together.  They had both left England with a sizable sum of money, Jamie from MI5 and Dani from Henry Wingrave, who seemed to show his regret at abandoning Dani to Viola with enough money for Dani to live more than comfortably for the rest of her life.  They had taken their money and used to it build both The Leafling and their home in the Vermont countryside.  They owned all the land around them for miles and their house had been built to Jamie’s very specific specifications.  Dani humored her on almost all of it, including the panic room, training room in the basement, and the myriad of hidden compartments to hide weapons.  Dani smiled as she remembered it.

 


 

“Jamie, why do we need all of these things?!”

 

“I just like to be prepared is all, Poppins,” Jamie responded, slightly defensive. 

 

“Do you think we’re going to be invaded?  Is a panic room really necessary?” Dani asked, trying to keep from laughing.

 

Jamie was serious though.  “Yes, it’s necessary, Dani.  Your safety is the most important thing to me.”

 

It was hard for Dani to respond to something so sweet with sarcasm, so she stepped closer to Jamie, putting her arms around Jamie’s neck.  “Okay baby, we can keep the panic room.”

 

“And the gym?” Jamie prompted.

 

“And the gym,” Dani confirmed.  “The way you ‘train’ with me, we probably need our own private gym anyway.”

 

Jamie winked.  “Ahh yes, that’s my patented ‘hands on’ curriculum that you’re referring to.”  She wrapped her arms around Dani’s waist and pulled her closer.

 

“Yeah.  Big fan of it,” Dani admitted.  “And you know what?  I’ll even let you hide your weapons all over the house.”  Jamie’s eyes lit up.  “I know all this stuff is important to you, even though you’re retired.  I knew what I was getting into with you.”

 

“Dani, you had no clue what you were getting into with me.  You just thought I was a sexy agent.”

 

Dani laughed.  “Maybe that’s true, but I signed up for a life with you, no matter what that entails.  And apparently it entails biometric safes and swords mounted on the wall.  However, there is one thing I am drawing the line at.”

 

Jamie’s eyes narrowed.  “And what’s that?”

 

“You are absolutely not, under any circumstance, keeping your explosives in the house.  In our house.”

 

“Dani!”

 

“No.  No C4 in the house.  I shouldn’t have to say that, Jamie.”

 

Jamie huffed.  “Fine.  No C4 in the house then.”  She paused for a moment, thinking.  “What about in the shed?”

 


 

Dani smiled at the memory.  There had been so many conversations like that in the early days of their relationship.  Jamie may have left MI5, but Dani accepted that it would always be a part of who she was.  And secretly, Dani found it adorable.  She loved the beautiful life and home that they had built together.  Her gaze moved to the claddagh ring on her left hand, a reminder of the vows they had made two years ago.  Marrying Jamie was the happiest day of Dani’s life.  I love this woman so much.  How did I get to be this lucky?

 

“You’re staring.” Jamie’s voice brought Dani out of her thoughts.

 

“Can’t help myself,” Dani said, unbothered that she had been caught staring.

 

Jamie smiled and held her hand out.  “Ready to go?”

 

Dani walked across the living room and slipped her hand in Jamie’s, immediately feeling the electricity of their connection.  Even now, after five years, touching Jamie and being touched by her always sparked a reaction in Dani’s body.  Whether it was a feeling of desire or contentment, it was always something good.  In this moment, it felt like peace.

 

“Yeah, I’m ready.”

 

Jamie led them into their garage.  They took turns driving to work.  It was a thirty minute drive from their home in the country to The Leafling in town. 

 

“Want me to drive today?” Jamie asked.

 

“Sure, that’d be great,” Dani replied as they climbed into Jamie’s forest green Land Rover.  Dani’s little red Toyota Prius was parked next to it.  In the corner was Jamie’s motorcycle.  Dani loved it when they rode it together.  She loved clinging to Jamie as the wind kissed their cheeks.  Thankfully, their rides these days were a far cry from their first motorcycle ride in Cairo.  They buckled up and Jamie was soon backing out of the garage.  The sun was just beginning to rise, and Dani was reminded how each new day with Jamie was a gift.  Once Jamie put the SUV in drive and began their journey, she placed her hand in Dani’s, where it was waiting for her, palm up on the center console. They both smiled when their hands connected and Dani gently ran her thumb over Jamie’s knuckles. 

 

Some mornings they talked the whole way into town, other mornings they were quiet, most mornings it was a combination of the two.  The one constant was that they always held hands.  They never spoke about it; it was just something they always did and they both loved it.

 

Jamie pulled around to the back of The Leafling.  As usual, they were the first people in.  The Leafling had become so successful that Dani had to convince Jamie to hire more help.  Jamie was reluctant at first, but she eventually admitted that Dani was right.  Plus, the additional employees gave them more opportunities to get away and spend time together.  Dani let Jamie take the lead with the hiring process, as she insisted on “extensive background checks,” which consisted of Owen letting Jamie use MI5 resources to investigate each potential employee.  Dani had only rolled her eyes, but in the end, she more than approved of each of their three employees— Maria, Luis, and Amber.  They had become family to Jamie and Dani.

 

Jamie unlocked the back door of The Leafling and they began their morning tasks.  Jamie checked on each plant and tended to their needs while Dani worked on the business side of things.  Shortly before 7:00am, Amber was dropped off in front of the store by her mother.  At sixteen years old, Amber was their youngest employee.  They hired her for extra help during the summer with the promise of weekend and afternoon hours once school started back up in the fall. 

 

Amber bounded into the store, her eyes lighting up when she saw Jamie.  “Good morning, Bosstie!”

 

“I’ve told you not to call me that, Sprout,” Jamie replied dryly.

 

“She loves it.  Keep doing it,” Dani whispered conspiratorially as she walked by, winking at Amber who gave a big smile in return.  She headed into the back room to put her lunchbox in the fridge.

 

“Can’t believe you encourage that,” Jamie said playfully.

 

“It’s adorable, and you know it.  Jamie, you know she idolizes you.”

 

“Pfft.”

 

“It’s true.  I mean, look at her overalls today.  She’s even starting to dress like you now.”

 

“Well, I reckon I’ll write her a great letter of recommendation when she goes off to uni.  The kid’s clearly got taste.”

 

“Clearly,” Dani replied. “And you have clearly not gotten any more humble in your retirement,” she added, playfully smacking Jamie’s arm.

 

“And you love me this way,” Jamie said confidently.

 

“I do.  I really do.”

 

Dani leaned into kiss Jamie.

 

“Oh!  Sorry, boss ladies!  I didn’t mean to interrupt!”

 

They both looked over to see Luis.  They had been so caught up in their flirting that they hadn’t even heard him walk in.

 

“I swear I’m putting a bell on you, Luis,” Jamie said, jokingly pointing at the 40-something year-old man.

 

“So you keep saying!”

 

All three laughed.  Things always felt so natural for everyone at The Leafling.  Amber came back into the store from the back.  “Hey, what did I miss?!”

 

“Just the usual from these two,” Luis teased.

 

Before Amber could respond, Maria blew in.  Maria was a force of nature.  A Greek woman in her 50’s, Maria was the motherly one of the group, always looking after each member of The Leafling, mostly by cooking.  There wasn’t a problem that couldn’t be fixed with a little feta cheese and a hearty Greek dish, at least according to Maria.

 

“Jamie!  Dani!  There you are!  I made you baklava for today!”  She handed Dani a Tupperware of the the delicious dessert.  “You two are getting too thin!  Baklava will help!” She poked Dani in the ribs as she walked away, chuckling to herself.

 

“Did she say baklava?” Jamie asked, her eyes widening.  She loved everything Maria made them.  She lifted the corner of the Tupperware to sneak a piece and Dani gently swatted her hand.

 

“Jamie, it’s not even 8am yet.”

 

“Don’t care.  That baklava is calling my name.”  She took a piece and then pretended to run away from Dani.

 

Maria watched from a short distance, beaming that Jamie enjoyed her cooking so much.  Nothing brought Maria more joy than seeing someone enjoy something she made for them.

 

And so they all settled into their daily routine.  They worked hard but also had fun.  Jamie and Dani had created a wonderful and safe place within the walls of The Leafling.  Not only was it Vermont’s most successful flower shop, but Jamie and Dani had added a community room.  Once a week, Jamie taught a women’s self-defense class.  She made no secret of being a former MI5 agent and her classes quickly became popular.  Her students loved her for her expertise, patience, and her northern British accent.  Jamie always used Dani for her demonstrations, frequently trying to see how flustered she could make the blonde without anyone noticing what was happening.  On those nights, Dani usually couldn’t wait until they got home and would pull Jamie into the back room as soon as the last person left.  Jamie loved self-defense class nights.

 


 

Jamie locked the front door of The Leafling, her last student having left.  She turned off the lights and walked towards Dani, who was leaning against the wall near the door to the back office.  She was biting her lower lip.  Jamie knew what that meant.  She sauntered towards Dani, eager to see what the blonde would do.  She walked past Dani, making sure Dani saw her eyes slowly raking up and down her body as she brushed past her and into the back room.  Dani quickly followed behind her, grabbing her by the shoulders, spinning her around, and pinning her against the wall.  Her pupils were already dark.

 

“I swear, Jamie, these classes are torture.  You touching me like that, in front of all those people.  You know exactly what you’re doing and you can’t tell me otherwise.”  Dani was breathless, her lips inches away from Jamie’s.

 

“I’m just teaching the fine ladies of this town how to defend themselves, Dani.  I’m not sure what exactly it is you’re referring to,” she replied as calmly as she could.  “I could always use someone else for my demonstrations, if you’d prefer.”

 

“I do not prefer that.  I don’t want your hands on anyone but me,” Dani replied, her hands dipping under Jamie’s shirt to graze her stomach.

 

Jamie put her hands on Dani’s hips, pulling her flush against her body.  “Good. Because I feel the same.”

 

Dani groaned.  “Be honest, Jamie, these classes are just a way for you to get me to have sex with you.”

 

“You be honest, Dani.  I don’t need an elaborate setup to get you to have sex with me.  Ever,” Jamie replied, smugly, her own heat growing.

 

“Oh, just shut up and fuck me already,” Dani said, her lips crashing into Jamie’s, who passionately returned the kiss.

 

Jamie brought one hand between Dani’s legs, cupping her over her yoga pants and feeling the wetness that was already soaking through.  She never got tired of the effect she had on Dani.  Dani moaned at the contact, breaking the kiss and burying her face in Jamie’s neck.

 

“With pleasure,” Jamie whispered in her ear.

 


 

Self-defense classes were indeed a highlight of the week for both Jamie and Dani.

 

And, twice a week, Dani offered free after-school tutoring in the room, working with children of all ages.  It brought her so much joy and fulfillment.  Sometimes Jamie would lean against the door frame and just watch her, in awe of the beautiful, kind, giving, and insanely smart woman she had married.  The way Dani could explain things in a different way to help each student understand was a gift and Jamie marveled in it.

 

It was Friday and The Leafling was busy with everyone getting last-minute arrangements for special occasions over the weekend.  Jamie and Dani barely got to speak to each other, but they always made a point to touch when they walked past each other— the brush of hands, a hand grazing a waist, anything to convey to the other I’m here.  Having been confronted with the fragility of life so early on in their relationship, they learned to never take anything for granted.

 

They finally hit a lull mid-afternoon.  Dani left Amber in charge of the register and joined Jamie out back in the greenhouse.

 

“Hey you,” she said, slipping quietly into the tranquilly of the greenhouse.

 

“Hey yourself,” Jamie said, smiling.  “What’s on your mind?”

 

“Nothing.  Just wanted to watch you work is all.”  Dani sat down in a chair.  “It’s been so busy today.  I’ve missed you.”

 

Jamie walked over to her and leaned down for a kiss.  “I’ve been right here.  But, I’ve missed you, too.  What do you reckon you want to do this weekend?”

 

Dani slumped down further in the chair and let out a deep breath.  “Honestly?  I’m beat.  Can we just hang out at home this weekend?  Maybe sit by the lake for awhile?”

 

“Mmmm.  Sounds perfect to me,” Jamie said, placing a kiss to the top of Dani’s head.  “One other thing though?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Would you mind cutting my hair at some point this weekend?  Getting a bit long again.”

 

Dani smiled.  “Of course, Jamie.  I’d be happy to.”

 

“Thanks.  Appreciate it.”

 


 

The first time Dani cut Jamie’s hair was several months after they arrived in America.  Dani had noticed Jamie’s hair had gotten long and she was wearing it pinned back all the time.  Dani thought it looked beautiful no matter, but she overheard Jamie getting frustrated with it in the mirror one morning when she was getting ready.

 

“Stupid hair, won’t do anything…” Jamie muttered.

 

Dani had been reading a book in bed and decided to go in the bathroom to check on Jamie.  The door was open but she knocked lightly on the doorframe, afraid she might be intruding.

 

“Hey… everything alright in here?” Dani asked gently.

 

Jamie huffed, blowing the hair out of her eyes.  “Can’t get my hair to do anything these days.  It’s fucking frustrating.”

 

“I thought maybe you were growing it out on purpose,” Dani offered.  “It looks nice.”

 

“It looks like shite.  Lost all its curl.”

 

Dani had noticed that the longer Jamie’s hair got, the less curly it became.  But, she felt like she was  missing a key piece of Jamie’s frustration.

 

“What do you normally do when it gets like this?” Dani prompted, trying to get to the root issue, just somehow knowing there was more going on than just Jamie’s hair not cooperating.  She was still getting to know Jamie and she didn’t want to overstep though.

 

Jamie grew silent, the frustration immediately replaced by sadness.  A tear slid down her cheek. She tried to quickly brush it away but Dani had seen.

 

“Oh, Jamie,” Dani said, immediately moving behind her and wrapping her arms around her waist.  She rested her chin on Jamie’s shoulder and looked up at their reflections in the bathroom mirror.  “Please tell me what’s wrong.  I can’t help if I don’t know.  And I really want to help.”

 

Jamie looked up and met Dani’s eyes in the mirror.  “Umm okay.  Suppose I have to tell you now.  It’s just, uhh, Rebecca always cut my hair for me.  She was good at it.  I’ve never even been to a proper salon.”

 

And I killed her, Jamie thought.

 

And she killed her, for me, Dani thought, squeezing Jamie tighter from behind.

 

“Jamie, I had no idea.  I’m so sorry.” 

 

Jamie sniffled.  “So here I am not knowing how to fix my own hair and it looks like shite and I miss her, Dani.  Like, it just hits me sometimes,  ya know?”

 

Dani nodded against Jamie.  “And you didn’t want to tell me this.”  It was a statement, not a question.

 

“Didn’t want to make you feel bad.  Didn’t want you to think I regret what I did.  Because I don’t.  I’d do it again.  In a heartbeat.  But still, she was my friend for a long time.  And sometimes I miss her.  And my hair really misses her.”  Jamie laughed a little at her own comment and Dani nuzzled into her neck.

 

“It’s okay to miss her.  She was an important part of your life and what you had to do was awful.  No one should ever have to do what you did.  I’m sorry you had to do it.  I recognize the enormity of what you did, what you lost, for me.”

 

Jamie turned around in Dani’s arms, leaning back against the counter to face her.  Dani placed her hands on either side of Jamie against the counter, as if she was shielding her from the world.

 

“Thank you, Dani.  For understanding.”

 

“Of course, Jamie.  I want you to tell me these things, okay?  I hope you know you can trust me.”

 

“Yeah, okay.  And I do know that, I do.”

 

“Good.”  Dani ran her hands up and down Jamie’s arms and then pulled her into a tight hug.  Her hand held the back of Jamie’s head, fingers lightly scratching her scalp.  “Now about this hair?  Do you trust me enough to cut it for you?”

 

Jamie pulled back just far enough to look Dani in the eyes.  “You would do that for me?” She said quietly, in disbelief.

 

“I’d do anything for you, Jamie.  And, I just so happen to be very good at cutting and styling hair.  So, will you let me?”

 

Jamie smiled at her.  “Yeah, I’d really like that, actually.”

 

Dani tended to Jamie’s hair so carefully, touching her gently as if she were something precious, as if she mattered more than anything.  It was enough to make Jamie’s heart burst and she couldn’t believe she had waited so long to talk to Dani about this.

 

And so that was the first of many times that Dani cut Jamie’s hair, and Dani appreciated the trust placed in her each and every time.  And every time Dani did it, Jamie felt herself heal a little bit more.  She still missed Rebecca, but knowing she could talk to Dani about her and about what happened meant more than she could tell Dani.  But yet somehow, Dani still knew.

 


 

It was finally almost closing time.  Amber and Maria’s shift had already ended, and Luis was busy bringing in all the plants that had been part of their outdoor display.  Jamie was closing out the cash register.

 

“Blimey, Dani.  I think I’m too tired to cook tonight.  What about you?”

 

Dani was sweeping the floor, her head popping up at the sound of Jamie’s voice.  “Pizza then?” She asked hopefully.  “From Frank’s?”

 

“You seemed a little too ready with that suggestion,” Jamie said, chuckling.  “But Frank’s sounds good, yeah.”

 

“If you want to call in our usual order, I’ll go pick it up,” Dani offered.

 

“Deal,” Jamie said, picking up the phone.

 

Twenty minutes later, Dani headed out to pick up their pizza.  She said goodbye to Luis on her way out, knowing he’d be gone by the time she got back.  Jamie was just finishing up in the store.  Frank’s Pizza and Subs was only a short walk from The Leafling, so it was one of their favorite take-out locations.  As she reached for the handle on the door, Dani felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up.  She suddenly had the strangest feeling of being watched.  She stopped in the middle of opening the door and glanced up and down the street, her eyes narrowing, searching for the source of her unease.  There were people bustling around the sidewalk, but nothing appeared out of the ordinary.  She shook her head, clearing it of the unwelcome thought, and stepped inside.  Get it together, Dani.  Don’t be paranoid. 

 

“Hey, Frank!  Got our pizza ready?” She asked the restaurant owner in a cheery voice.

 

“Of course I do!” He replied from behind the counter.  “You know I wouldn’t keep my favorite Brit waiting.  Jamie’s orders are always a top priority.  I don’t want her threatening to shoot me again,” he added, winking to Dani as he handed the pizza box to her.

 

“Come on, Frank, that was one time a long time ago and she was hangry!  You know how she gets,” Dani replied, enjoying the friendly banter about her favorite person.  Just talking about Jamie put a smile on her face, a smile which Frank easily returned.

 

“And I’ll never let her live it down!  You gals have a nice weekend and enjoy the pizza.  I put a few extra toppings on there for you, too.”

 

“You’re the best!” Dani waved as she headed towards the door.

 

As she left carrying the extra large pizza, her feeling of paranoia only moments earlier was already forgotten.  Dani walked quickly back in the direction of The Leafling, the smell of the pizza wafting up to her nose.  She was eager to get back to Jamie and focused only on heading home to enjoy their dinner.  She never noticed the man watching her the whole way from his car parked right across the street.  As soon as she was out of sight, the man picked up his cell phone and dialed.  The person on the other end answered almost immediately.

 

“I’ve found her, Sir.  I’ve found the blonde.”

Chapter Text

“Here’s a mimosa for the missus,” Jamie said with a flourish walking up to Dani on the dock and handing her the drink.  Dani smiled brightly as she looked up at her, taking the drink with both hands.

 

“Thanks babe.”  She took a sip.  “Mmmm… perfect.”

 

Jamie sat in the chair next to Dani, a drink in her own hands as well.  “Good, I’m glad.  I love Saturday mornings like this.  Looking out over the lake with you, no one else around.  Feels like our own little corner of heaven, you know?”

 

“Yeah, I do.  It’s so peaceful.”

 

Dani looked over at Jamie, eyes shining with love, and found the same look returned in Jamie’s eyes.  They both chuckled, caught off guard by the intensity of the moment, and looked away for a split second before locking eyes again.  Jamie scooted her chair closer to Dani’s and offered her hand on the armrest.  Dani switched her drink to her other hand so she could take Jamie’s.  She leaned over and placed a soft kiss on Jamie’s lips.  Jamie smiled into it.

 

“You know, I never thought I’d experience peace like this,” Jamie said slowly, her gaze shifting out over the lake that was so still it almost looked like glass.  A bird chirped in a tree overhead.

 

“Do you ever miss it?  MI5?”

 

Jamie was quiet for a moment, thoughtful.  “Sometimes, yeah.  But most of the time, no, not at all.  No matter how exciting it was, nothing is more exciting to me than this life I have with you.  Plus, I really enjoy not being shot at anymore.”  She quirked her eyebrow at Dani, trying to make the comment light.

 

“Yeah, I didn’t like you being shot at either,” Dani replied seriously, shaking her head and closing her eyes as the memories of Jamie injured came rushing back.

 

“Hey, Poppins, don’t go there in your head, yeah?” Jamie rubbed the back of Dani’s hand.  “That was a long time ago and it all worked out.  We’re here now… together.”

 

Dani nodded and opened her eyes, giving Jamie’s hand a squeeze to let her know she was alright.  It had been five years and Jamie wondered if the nightmares would ever stop for Dani.  They were less frequent now, but Dani had recurring nightmares about being abducted and the deaths of Peter and Rebecca at their own hands.  But mostly, she dreamed about Jamie being hurt.  She would wake up crying and screaming Jamie’s name.  Each time, Jamie was there to hold her, rubbing soothing circles on her back and whispering, “shhh, I’m here, I’m okay,” in her ear.  It pained Jamie to know that Dani was so afraid of losing her, but she also understood the feeling.  Jamie’s nightmares consisted of not saving Dani in time.  There had been many nights when Dani held Jamie until she fell back asleep, Jamie just needing to feel Dani next to her to be reminded that she was alive, that she had saved her in time.  They both had scars that ran deep, some from that week on the run, and others that were much older and deeper— from long before they ever met.    

 


 

Jamie and Dani were in a hotel room in Athens, halfway through their trip around Europe.  It was pouring down the rain, so they had returned to their hotel room and were sitting on the covered balcony, listening to the rain’s symphony.  There was something Jamie had been wanting to ask Dani.  She wanted to know every detail of Dani’s life.  She felt like everything Dani told her was another piece of the puzzle that made up Dani Clayton, and Jamie very much wanted to see the full picture.  She was hesitant to broach the topic, but it also felt important.  She knew there were things she needed to share with Dani, too.

 

“Dani?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You don’t talk about your family much.  I mean, you told me a little, that night of our first dance…” she smiled at the memory, “but…”

 

“What do you want to know?” Dani asked, saying it quickly as she noticed that Jamie was nervous and wanted to save her from feeling awkward.  “There’s nothing I won’t tell you, Jamie.  I hope you know that.”

 

Jamie smiled at the trust Dani placed in her, her willingness to be so open and vulnerable with her.  She knew that Dani would not offer so much of herself to anyone else, and Jamie didn’t take it for granted.  “I don’t know, really,” Jamie said, “ I guess just anything you want to tell me.  I want to understand where you come from, what choices led you to me.”  She paused,  “Does your mum know about me yet?”

 

Dani exhaled, trying to decide where to start.  “No, she doesn’t know about you yet.”  Jamie gaze fell to her lap, not wanting Dani to see the disappointment in her eyes, but Dani knew.  She reached out and took her hand.  “I will tell her, Jamie.  I’m proud to be with you.”  Jamie squeezed her hand and brought her eyes up to meet Dani’s.  She wasn’t sure how Dani had managed to cut through all of her insecurities and answer the question that Jamie was afraid to ask— are you embarrassed to be with me?  But Dani wasn’t.  “I’m proud to be with you” is what she said and it warmed Jamie’s heart.  For now, it was enough.

 

Dani continued, “I’ve told you that my mom practically disowned me when I came out, right?”  Jamie nodded sadly.  “Right.  So, just know that anything she says about you is not really about you, okay?  She doesn’t like that I’ve ‘chosen’ this ‘lifestyle.’  Her words, not mine.  She’s not always a nice person, my mother.  And it’s not just the alcohol’s fault.”  Jamie looked at her, surprised.  “Yeah, she’s an alcoholic in addition to being a homophobe.”

 

“I’m sorry, Dani.  Growing up like that must have been rough.”

 

“It was, but thankfully, I had the O’Maras.  Of course, they hate me now, too.”  She stopped for a moment, feeling the weight of all she had lost.

 

“Hey, it’s okay, you don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to,” Jamie said, feeling guilty she had brought any of it up.

 

“No, it’s okay, really.”  She resumed her story, “Anyway, my mother’s drinking got worse after my dad left.  I was 5 at the time.”

 

“And your dad?  Where’d he go?”

 

“I don’t know.  I came home from school one day and he was just gone.  I never even got to say goodbye.  Mom was impossible to live with after that.”

 

“Jesus, Dani, I’m so sorry.  And you never saw him again?”

 

“No, he never made any effort to contact me.  I tried looking for him a few times, but it’s like he just vanished.  Eventually I gave up.  I don’t think about him at all now.  It’s almost like he never existed.  I don’t remember much about him.  I was only a kid, you know?”

 

“Yeah.  I’m really sorry, Dani.  I can’t imagine anyone walking out on you.  You didn’t deserve that; no kid does.”

 

“Thanks.  It’s really okay though.  I made my peace with it a long time ago.”  Jamie nodded.  “What about you, Jamie?  What happened to your family?  I know you grew up in the foster system, but you never told me what happened.  If you don’t mind me asking, that is?”

 

Jamie ran her thumb over Dani’s knuckles.  “‘Course I don’t mind you asking, Poppins.  Probably best to tell you and get it out of the way.”  Dani squeezed Jamie’s hand, encouraging her to go on.  The rain continued to fall steadily all around them.  “It used to be me, my parents, and my two brothers.  One older brother, one younger brother.  Dad worked all the time.  He wasn’t home much.  When he was, he and Mum argued all the time.  I was just sort of there, I guess, nothing special.  I stuck with my younger brother Mikey mostly.  He and I were only a year apart and were best buds.  At least until…”

 

“Until what?” Dani prompted softly, nervous about where this was going.  It was the first time Jamie had ever mentioned having siblings.

 

“Until the accident.  A car accident, actually. Dad, Mum, and my brothers.  All of them.  It was a Friday night.  They were coming back from a school play my older brother Denny was in.  It was raining, and uh, and a big truck lost control, hit them head on.  None of them, uh, none of them… made it.”  Jamie looked down at the floor, unable to meet Dani’s eyes.

 

“Oh my god, Jamie.  That’s awful!”  Dani reached her other hand around and squeezed Jamie’s knee.  “I’m so, so sorry.”

 

“Thanks.  So yeah, that’s the story of how I ended up in the system.”

 

“How old were you?”

 

“I was 5 at the time, so I don’t really have many memories of my family.  I didn’t understand what was going on, you know?”  She finally looked up at Dani, making eye contact with her.

 

“Where were you, Jamie, when it happened?  You weren’t with them?”

 

“No, I was at home.  I had gotten sick from something I ate at school that day and was throwing up all evening.  They called a babysitter to stay with me while they all went to the play.  I remember being so upset at having been left behind.  Didn’t know at the time just exactly how left behind I was going to be.”

 

Dani was speechless.  She just stared at Jamie.  It was a miracle Jamie was even alive to be sitting on that balcony, sitting next to her, holding her hand.

 

“Sorry, Poppins.  I know that’s a lot to process.  Probably not what you were expecting.”

 

“Please don’t apologize, Jamie.  I’m so sorry that happened to your family, and I’m so sorry for all you went through after.  I’m also really glad you got food poisoning that night.  I’m so thankful to have you here with me.”

 

“I’m happy to be here, too.  And that’s all in the past now.”  She paused a moment, reflecting.  “Now that we know where we came from, let’s look together towards our future, yeah?  Move forward and all that?”

 

“Yeah, and I’m so happy to have you by my side, wherever this journey takes us next,” Dani replied.

 

“There’s no one I’d rather have next to me,” Jamie confirmed.

 


 

Jamie didn’t realize it, but she was running her hand through her hair.  Dani had cut it for her the night before.

 

“Did I do okay with it?” Dani asked, noticing.

 

“You did perfect, Dani.  Thank you.  Feels so much lighter.”

 

Dani let go of Jamie’s hand to run her own through Jamie’s hair, twirling a section of it around her finger and watching the curl spring back up.

 

“I love your hair.  I wish mine would curl like this,” Dani said.

 

“No, you don’t.  Your’s is much better, trust me,” Jamie said, taking Dani’s hand again and kissing it.  “I wouldn’t change anything about you.”

 

Jamie was rewarded with a big signature Dani grin.  “Ditto,” she responded, leaning in to kiss Jamie.

 

They were interrupted by Dani’s phone ringing.

 

“I hate whoever that is,” Jamie said dryly.

 

Dani picked up her phone and showed it to Jamie before answering.  Jamie’s eyes widened. 

 

“Your mother… super,” she said, rolling her eyes, as Dani answered.

 

“Hey, Mom.  I’m gonna put you on speaker, okay?”

 

No, Danielle, that is not okay.”

 

“Too late, Mom.  You’re already on.”

 

Jamie started to get up to leave, but Dani grabbed her arm and gave her a hard stare, pulling her back down her to chair.  “Well, okay then,” Jamie mouthed as she downed the rest of her mimosa, preparing herself for an interaction with Karen Clayton.

 

“Okay, fine.  What are you up to today?”

 

“Just sitting out by the lake with Jamie.”

 

“Jamie’s there?”

 

“Of course she’s here, Mom.  She’s my wife.”

 

“You know I don’t like you using that word.”

 

“Hey, Mrs. Clayton,” Jamie interjected.  “How are you today?”

 

Dani’s face was red with anger.  Jamie was trying to buy her time to calm down.

 

“Oh, hello Jamie.  I’m fine.  I was hoping to speak to my daughter.”

 

“Go right ahead,” Jamie said, matter of factly.

 

Karen huffed. 

 

“Danielle, when are you coming home to visit?  We all miss you here.”

 

Dani rolled her eyes.  “I don’t know, Mom.  We’re really busy with work.”

 

“Well, surely Jamie could manage the shop for a few days without you.”

 

“I’m sure she could, but that’s not the point.  I wouldn’t come without her and you know that.”

 

Jamie shook her head violently.  Dani swatted at her.

 

“Have you spoken to Edmund lately?”

 

“No, not lately.”

 

“Then you don’t know that he’s DATING someone, Danielle.  Eddie.  Your Eddie.  Is dating someone.  He’s seeing Sara Miller from down the street.”

 

Jamie fist pumped the air in celebration for Eddie.  Dani tried to suppress a giggle.

 

“That’s great, Mom.”

 

“No, it’s not.  That should be you.”

 

“Eddie and I have both moved on.  He made his peace with this a long time ago.   You should, too.  I want him to be happy.”

 

“And I want my daughter to be happy.  Is that so wrong?”

 

“I am happy, Mom.  So happy.  And you know that.”

 

“Pfft.”

 

Jamie mouthed, “Don’t take the bait.”  Dani ignored her though.

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dani asked defensively.  Jamie face palmed.

 

“I’m just wondering when this phase is going to end?  You’ve played house with this woman, gotten it out of your system.  It’s time to come home.”

 

“I am home.  You need to accept that.  Jamie is not a phase and we are not playing at anything.  We are married,Mom, and I won’t have you disrespect her like that.  You know everything she’s done for me.  I love her and that’s not going to change...ever.”  Dani’s tone left no room for argument.

 

“Okay, okay.  I know you get irritable where she’s concerned.  Just like your father.  So combative.”

 

Jamie’s eyes got wide.  “End the call,” she mouthed while making a slicing motion across her neck.

 

“It’s called loyalty, something Dad didn’t understand.  But you know, I think I have to go, my battery is dying.  Enjoy the rest of your day, Mom!” Dani tried to make the last part sound cheery.

 

“Oh uh, okay, bye Danielle… and uh, bye to you, too, Jamie.”

 

“Goodbye Mrs. Clayton!  Always a pleasure!” Jamie responded.

 

Dani hung up the phone.

 

“Ugggg!!!! She’s infuriating!!!  Why are you laughing?  It’s not funny, Jamie!”

 

“It is a little bit, yeah.  I mean, she’s so predictable.  I keep hoping she’ll like me, but maybe this insulting little dance is how she shows her undying affection for me.”

 

Dani raised an eyebrow.  “Yeah, I really don’t think it is.  I hate how she talks to us.”

 

Jamie leaned over and rubbed Dani’s arm.  “I know, baby.  I know it hurts you, and I’m sorry.  One day maybe she’ll come around.”

 

“Maybe,” Dani said skeptically.  “Well, at least your friend Eddie has a girlfriend.”

 

Jamie scoffed.  “I never said we were friends, Dani, I said he and I were friendly.  There’s a difference.”

 

Dani quirked her eyebrow.  “Sure,” she replied sarcastically.

 

Jamie gave her a playful glare.  “Besides, I think he’s still kind of scared of me.  Nothing wrong with a little healthy fear though, I say.”

 

“He’s a smart man,” Dani stated, thinking the conversation was over, but Jamie got a mischievous glint in her eye.

 

“Not smart enough to find your cl—“

 

“Okay!  Okay! We are not discussing this again!” Dani interrupted, laughing.  “I should have never told you that!” She added, not meaning it at all.

 

“I’m just sayin,’” Jamie said, shrugging and holding her hands up in the air, feigning innocence.

 


 

Dani and Jamie sat opposite Karen and Eddie.  They were halfway through their road trip across America, and Dani knew she couldn’t put her mother off much longer, so they decided to make a stop in Iowa on their way east.  Dani had wanted to meet in a restaurant, but her mother had insisted that they come to the house.  Dani had told Karen over the phone about her relationship with Jamie, but this was their first meeting.  Judging by her mother’s reaction on the phone, Dani did not have high hopes for the reception they would receive.

 

They were sitting in Karen’s living room, Dani and Jamie on one couch and Karen and Edmund sitting on the opposite couch.  Edmund was clearly uncomfortable being there and kept fidgeting.  Dani was nervous, her palms sweating.  Jamie appeared calm, but she was nervous, too.  She wanted Dani’s mother to like her, but Dani had warned her that things likely would not go well.  Karen was drinking a glass of wine, her eyes flitting back and forth between Dani and Jamie, scrutinizing them with a hard stare.  There had been some awkward introductions and now it seemed that no one knew where to begin.

 

“So Danielle…” Eddie began, trying to break the silence.  “How was Europe?”

 

Dani offered him a small smile, thankful for the effort.  She knew this was difficult for him.  “It was really great, Eddie.  I got to see so many things I never thought I would.”

 

Before he could respond, Karen interjected, “I’m sorry, Danielle, was that before or after you were kidnapped and almost killed?” She asked sarcastically.

 

Jamie inhaled sharply, the tension in the room palpable.  Dani reached over and placed her hand on Jamie’s thigh.  She needed Jamie to be her anchor.  Jamie didn’t hesitate to put her hand over Dani’s, giving it a soft squeeze. She didn’t care if it bothered Karen; she would be there for Dani.

 

“A little of both,” Dani answered as calmly as she could, “But I saw more after.  With Jamie.”  She looked over at Jamie and smiled.  Jamie gave her a tight smile in return.

 

“Ahhh yes…. Jamie,” Karen said, drawing her name out.  “The one who has you convinced you’re… gay… now.”  She had trouble saying it, as if the very word was offensive.

 

Dani took a deep breath before responding.  Jamie could feel how sweaty Dani’s hands were.  She squeezed harder, trying to help her keep the panic at bay.  Jamie looked at Dani, never taking her eyes off her.

 

“I was gay long before I met Jamie, and you know that, Mom.”

 

“Pfft,” Karen said.

 

“Mrs. Clayton,” Eddie said softly, “You know that’s true.”

 

Karen didn’t acknowledge him.  She turned her gaze to Jamie.  “So, Jamie.  You were the MI5 agent assigned to protect my daughter?”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Jamie responded.

 

“And now you’ve just up and quit?  I find that hard to believe.”

 

“I want to be with your daughter without putting her safety at risk,” Jamie said matter-of-factly.

 

“Hmmpf.  Seems to me you’ve already done a piss poor job of keeping her safe,” Karen said, her voice dripping with disdain.  “If you had been good at your job, she never would have been in danger in the first place.  You let her get taken.” She jabbed her finger in Jamie’s direction.

 

Jamie almost audibly gasped.  It was like a slap in the face to her.  Her jaw was tense with the effort of not defending herself.  She wanted to though.  She wanted to tell Karen that she was the best, that no one else would have been able to save Dani, that Dani was only even alive because of her.  She wanted Karen to understand that saving Dani nearly cost her her life, that she had pushed her body to the breaking point, and she would do it all again without hesitation, that there was nothing she wouldn’t do for Dani.  But she would do none of that because this was Dani’s mother and they were here to try to make things better, not worse.  She would not take the bait.  Dani, however, did not share her reservations.

 

“No!” Dani said forcefully, standing up quickly, pointing her finger at Karen.  “You don’t get to talk to her like that!  You have no idea what she has done for me, everything she has risked and sacrificed for me!  And she has the scars to prove it.  Mom, she has taken literal bullets for me!  And she’s the best agent MI5 has ever had!  I’m only here because of her!  You need to show her some respect!  You should be thanking her right now!”

 

Tears of frustration welled up in Dani’s eyes.  Karen was taken aback.  Jamie reached for Dani’s hand and tugged her back down to the couch. 

 

“It’s okay, Dani,” Jamie said softly.

 

“No, it’s not okay, Jamie.  It’s not,” Dani replied with conviction, tears streaking her face.

 

“Look,” Karen said, “all I’m saying is that your life was in danger every moment you were with this woman.  And now, it’s like you have some kind of Stockholm Syndrome type relationship with her.  You spend a week together, and now what, you both just give up everything to be together?  This isn’t real, Danielle, and it doesn’t make any sense.  She’s not good for you.  Eddie here is.”

 

“It’s Dani now.  And I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

 

“Mrs. Clayton,” Jamie began, “I will do everything in my power to love Dani and take care of her.  I can assure you that my feelings for her are real, and I would never pressure her into anything.  She’s free to leave me at any time if that’s what she wants, but I will be here for as long as she wants me.   She’s the most incredible person I’ve ever met.  I know you don’t want to hear this, but I love her.   I think I make her happy.  And I think all of us here just want Dani to be happy.”

 

Dani was looking at Jamie so softly.  “You do make me happy, Jamie. So happy.”

 

Dani and Karen stared at each other a few more seconds.  Dani knew the conversation wasn’t over, but she didn’t want to continue to subject Jamie to her mother’s hurtful comments.  She knew Jamie would sit next to her and silently endure it all evening, but she couldn’t live with herself for putting Jamie in that position.  She deserved better.

 

“Hey, Jamie?  Would you mind giving my mom and I a minute to finish this conversation?  You, too, Eddie.”

 

“Are you sure?”  Jamie asked, her eyes searching Dani’s. She wanted to do what was best for Dani and was surprised that she was asking her to go.  She could see in Dani’s eyes that she was serious.  Jamie wanted to stay with Dani to provide support, but she would also always respect Dani’s wishes.

 

“Yeah, I’m sure.  I’ll be okay,” Dani said, reassuring her.

 

“Okay then.  I’ll be out on the front porch, yeah?” 

 

Jamie reluctantly started to get up, but Dani gently touched her arm.  “Wait, you forgot something.”

 

“Wha—“

 

Before Jamie could finish, Dani leaned in and gave her a gentle kiss.  When she opened her eyes, she saw Jamie’s were wide with surprise.  Karen scoffed.  Jamie cleared her throat.  “Right then.  Like I said, I’ll uh, be outside… if you need me.”

 

“Yeah, and uh, I’ll be in the kitchen,” Eddie stammered, making a quick exit with Jamie, leaving Dani and Karen alone.

 

Jamie went outside on the front porch, the cool evening air soothing her flushed face.  She leaned against the porch railing and exhaled.  Dani wasn’t kidding about her mother.  This is going even worse than I thought it would, she thought, I can take on armies of terrorists but I don’t know the right play here.  I don’t know what Dani needs from me.  And now she’s sent me out here in some kind of attempt to protect me.  My sweet Dani…

 

Jamie’s thoughts were interrupted by someone joining her on the porch.  Eddie cleared his throat as he approached, offering her a beer.

 

“Thought you might need this,” he said sheepishly.

 

Jamie hesitated a split second and then accepted the beer.  “Cheers, mate,” she said, clinking her own beer with his.

 

“Mind if I join you?” He asked.

 

“Be my guest,” Jamie said cautiously.

 

Eddie leaned against the railing, matching Jamie’s body language.

 

“So, uh, this is pretty awkward, huh?”

 

“You could say that, yeah,” Jamie replied, taking a long sip of her beer and then staring at it between her hands.  She picked at the label a bit, doing anything to avoid looking at Eddie. 

 

Eddie turned to face her.  “Look, this is really hard for me, but I just, uh, I just want you to know that I see how Dani is with you.  Her mom doesn’t want to see it, but I do.”

 

Jamie didn’t turn to face him, but replied, “And how is that?”

 

“She’s comfortable around you, lighter almost.  I know Dani really well.  I’ve known her my whole life, loved her almost as long.  And I know that you make her truly happy.  The way she is around you… I can see now that it was never like that with us.  It’s like there’s this magnetic field between the two of you.  She never reached for me like she does for you.  She feels safe with you.  She wants to be with you.  I can see the difference.”

 

Jamie finally turned to face Eddie, studying his face and finding no deceit in it.

 

“Thank you, Eddie.  I gotta say, I did not expect that, but thank you.”

 

“It’s the truth.  And, after the way Karen just treated you, you should hear it.  You know, I was really angry when Danielle… Dani… first broke up with me.”

 

“Yeah, I heard.  That must have been really hard.”

 

“It was.  I didn’t think I would ever recover.  She broke my heart.  And yet I still loved her.  It was excruciating.  I wanted to hate her, I told her I hated her, but can anyone ever really hate Dani Clayton?”

 

Jamie’s heart went out to Eddie.  She couldn’t imagine having Dani and losing her.  “No, I don’t think anyone could.  For what it’s worth, she hates that she hurt you.  It was never her intention.”

 

“I know that now.  I didn’t at the time.  I was hurt, confused, and so angry.  But I understand now, seeing her with you, that she could never love me the way she loves you.  I’m glad she found you, Jamie.  I mean that.  All I want is for her to be safe and happy.  I need to know that she’s going to be okay, you know?”

 

Jamie blinked back tears.  She never expected support to come from such an unlikely source.  She had imagined that Eddie would try to win Dani back, not that he would ever willingly accept any of this.

 

“You’re a good man, Edmund O’Mara.  And I’m glad Dani has you in her life.”

 

Eddie’s eyes were glistening.  “You’ll take care of her, right?  Like you did in Europe?  You’ll take care of her that way forever, right?  Because that’s the only way I can move on.”

 

“Aye, I will.  I’d give my life for her’s.”

 

“And you love her?”

 

“With my whole heart.  In a way I didn’t even know was possible.”

 

“Good,” Eddie said with some finality.  “Then I can make my peace with this.  With all of this.  Thank you… for coming here today.  I know this wasn’t easy, but thank you.  Meeting you and seeing how happy you both are… I thought it would make things worse… but, I don’t know, I just feel a sense of peace now.  Would it be weird if I hugged you?”

 

“Yeah, a little bit, mate, yeah it would be weird,” Jamie said, and they both laughed.  She offered her hand instead and he shook it heartily.  She squeezed hard enough to make him wince, quirking her eyebrow at him as she did.

 

At that moment, Dani walked out the front door to join them on the porch.  She was utterly perplexed by the scene in front of her.

 

“Ummm, did I interrupt something?”

 

Eddie and Jamie looked at each other and just laughed.  They clinked their beers together and then downed what was left, smiling at each conspiratorially.

 

“Oh, this is so weird,” Dani said, looking between the two of them.

 

“It’s all good, Poppins.  I’ll tell you in the car.”  She winked at Eddie, letting him know that she would relay everything he had said to Dani.  He nodded once in acknowledgment. 

 

“Your girlfriend is a little scary,” he said to Dani teasingly.

 

Dani laughed awkwardly “Oh, you have no idea,” she replied, a brief image of Jamie taking out twelve armed men flashing through her mind.

 

“You alright, Dani?” Jamie asked, nervous about how the rest of the conversation with her mother went.

 

“Yeah, I think we’ve reached a ceasefire, at least for the moment.  But we should probably make our getaway before she changes her mind.”

 

Before she could elaborate, Karen emerged behind Dani and it was time for them too to say their goodbyes.  Eddie gave Dani a hug.

 

“She’s a good one, Dani.  I’m happy for you,” he whispered in her ear.

 

Dani pulled away, shocked by what he had said.  “Thank you, Eddie.  That means a lot.  And uh, keep an eye on my mom, will you?”

 

“Sure thing,” he replied.  Then, turning to Jamie, “See you around, Agent Taylor.”  He waved goodbye to everyone and then headed for his car, leaving Jamie, Dani, and Karen alone on the porch.

 

“Jamie,” Karen began in a rough tone, “I’m sure you’re a nice girl, but you have to understand how all of this looks to me.  I don’t know you, and I don’t trust you.  I don’t like this, and it’s not what I want for my daughter.  But, she is quite stubborn and tells me that this isn’t going to change.  She says this is what she wants, and as much as I want to, I can’t stop her.  So, take care of my daughter.”

 

“Yes ma’am, I will,” Jamie replied seriously.

 

Karen stared at her coldly, but Jamie didn’t flinch or look away.  I won’t hurt your daughter, she tried to convey with her eyes.

 

“Goodbye, Mom.  I’ll call you later,” Dani said, interrupting the moment.

 

“You girls drive safely.”

 

Dani gave her mother a quick hug and then grabbed Jamie’s hand.  As they walked away, Jamie whispered to Dani, “Yeah, about that, can you drive?  Might be I drank that beer a little too fast.”

 

“Yeah, I’ll drive, and then you’re going to tell me everything that just happened with Eddie.”

 

“I will, but you first.”

 

They got in the car and waved to Karen as they drove away, the thing that they had dreaded most now behind them and their new life in front of them.

 


 

It was evening and the sun had already set.  Jamie was getting a fire going in the fire pit in their backyard.  They loved relaxing together under the stars.  Dani came out to join her, carrying a blanket and two mugs of hot chocolate.

 

“Perfect timing, Poppins.  I’ve got a proper fire going now,” Jamie said proudly, stepping back to appreciate her work and take a mug from Dani.  “Thanks, love,” she said, taking a sip and smiling when she noticed that Dani had added marshmallows.

 

They sat down together on their outdoor couch and Dani pulled the blanket over their laps.  Jamie took her shoes off and tucked her feet under Dani’s thigh to keep them warm.  They sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping their hot chocolate, feeling the warmth of the fire, and listening to the chorus of crickets in the distance.  It was a clear night and the stars seemed to be shining just for them.  When they finished their drinks, they placed them on a nearby table. 

 

Dani looked over at Jamie and in a soft voice, said, “Will you hold me?”

 

Jamie smiled, happy to be needed.  “‘Course I will.  Come here.”

 

Jamie scooted to the end of the couch, her back against the arm and her legs spread out in front of her.  She opened her arms for Dani to slide in against her.  Dani’s body was so familiar with Jamie’s that it fit perfectly.  Dani readjusted the blanket so it was on top of her, covering both of their legs.  Jamie took Dani by the shoulders and gentled guided her against her chest as Dani shifted into a more comfortable position.  She reclined against Jamie, leaning her head back into her.  Jamie wrapped her arms around Dani’s waist, holding her securely in place.

 

“Better?” She asked.  “This what you needed?”

 

“Yeah, sorry, I just wanted to be closer to you.”

 

“Please don’t apologize for that or for asking for what you need.  Besides, you know I love holding you,” Jamie said against her ear, placing a kiss to her temple.  Dani smiled.

 

“Today has been perfect,” Dani said.  “We’ve done so many exciting things over the years, but moments like these, I think they’re my favorite.  Just doing the simple things together.  But, they’re not simple, are they?  They’re special, because I’m with you.  Gosh, that sounded less cheesy in my head.”

 

“Every day with you is a gift, Dani.  So I know exactly what you’re trying to say, and I feel the same.  I love every minute I spend with you.  And, when I’m holding you like this, I’m holding my whole world.  Blimey, now I sound like the cheesy one.  I used to be tough,” Jamie said with a self-deprecating chuckle.

 

“You still are tough.  Just not with me.  I love that you’re only this way with me,” Dani said, bringing her hands to rest atop of Jamie’s.

 

“Reckon I’ve been a softie for you since the beginning,” Jamie admitted.

 

“Ever since you held my hand on that first plane ride,” Dani reminded her fondly.

 

“No one’s ever gotten past my defenses quite like you.  I should be embarrassed, but you’re too pretty for me to be upset about it,” Jamie said, playfully poking Dan in the ribs.  She giggled and squirmed, but Jamie held her tight.

 

“And I can’t believe my luck that the world’s sexiest agent even looked my way.  I’m the lucky one.”

 

“Maybe we’re both lucky,” Jamie offered.

 

“Hmmm, maybe,” Dani replied, sighing with contentment.  No matter how many times they’d had this conversation, it never ceased to make Dani feel warm and fuzzy.

 

Dani took one of Jamie’s hands from her waist and held it between her own.  She traced her finger delicately along Jamie’s wedding band, still in awe that it symbolized Jamie’s promise to her and to her alone.  Jamie watched in fascination as Dani then began massaging her hand.  She placed Jamie’s hand palm down in her left hand and used her right to begin massaging each finger, applying medium pressure and giving equal attention to each finger, ending with her thumb.  She then massaged the back of Jamie’s hand, moving from her knuckles up to her wrist.  Jamie felt like she might melt from it.

 

“Dani, that feels incredible.”

 

“Yeah?  Is this enough pressure,” Dani asked.

 

“Maybe just a bit more.”

 

Dani nodded and turned Jamie’s hand palm up.  She began methodically applying pressure to the center of her palm, going in circular motions and working her way out to the sides.  Jamie let out a soft moan behind her.  Dani smiled.  She loved knowing that her efforts were appreciated.  Behind her, Jamie had closed her eyes, the feeling of Dani’s hands on her’s in such an intentional way was indescribable.  Dani finally worked her way up to Jamie’s wrist, giving it plenty of attention.  She ended by flipping Jamie’s hand over again and bringing their palms together.  She drew several long strokes down Jamie’s hand, beginning at her wrist and working out to her fingers.  Jamie wasn’t sure how it was possible for it to be  as intimate as it was.  Before she could recover, Dani started on her other hand.

 

“You know,” Dani said, “I’ve always loved your hands.”

 

“They’re just hands.  Nothing special,” Jamie muttered, finding it difficult to concentrate with the way Dani was kneading her palm.

 

“They’re special to me.  It never ceases to amaze me what your hands are capable of, Jamie.  I have seen them tend to plants and make them grow.  And I have seen them take lives in an instant.  These same hands that give life have taken it away.  Yet, these hands have never been anything but gentle with me.  These hands have loved every part of me.  To me, these hands are home.  You work so hard every day with your hands, and they just deserve a little extra attention, I think.  Plus, it just gives me an excuse to touch you,” Dani added truthfully, bringing Jamie’s hand up to her lips for a kiss.

 

“You don’t need an excuse,” Jamie reminded her.  “Thank you though.  My hands feel throughly tended to.”

 

“Good,” Dani said, clearly satisfied with herself.

 

“And, is there anywhere that I can tend to you?  Anywhere you might have an ache that needs my very special attention?” Jamie asked seductively.

 

Dani’s body instantly reacted to Jamie’s words, heat pooling low.  “Well, as matter of fact, now that I think about it, there is one place.”

 

Jamie leaned down to kiss Dani’s neck, sucking along her pulse point.  Dani groaned and leaned her neck back further, granting Jamie more access.

 

“Show me,” Jamie whispered in her ear.

 

Dani took Jamie’s hand and brought it slowly between her legs.  Jamie’s other hand moved under Dani’s shirt, working her way up to palm her breast.  Dani bucked her hips into Jamie’s hand.

 

“Mmmm eager, I see,” Jamie said, trying to ignore her own growing need.  She loved the effect she had on Dani.  She loved Dani’s neediness and how this was a need only she could meet.  She was the only one who knew Dani in this way.

 

Jamie slid her hand down the front of Dani’s sweatpants, beneath her underwear, and to the slick heat below.   She lightly grazed her finger around Dani’s clit in a slow, teasing circle.  Dani moaned and leaned further back into Jamie, giving herself over to Jamie’s ministrations.  Jamie knew Dani’s body just as well as she knew her own.  She knew exactly what to do to draw Dani’s pleasure out or what to do to send her instantly over the edge.  And Dani was just as familiar with her and knew exactly how to drive her crazy.

 

RING!  RING!  RING!

 

The sound of Jamie’s phone startled them both.

 

“Don’t you dare fucking answer that,” Dani commanded.

 

Jamie chuckled.  “I love it when you curse.  It’s fucking hot.”  She placed a quick kiss to Dani’s cheek.  “Let me just see who it is.  Might be Owen.  He told me he needed to talk tonight before he leaves on a mission.”  Jamie stilled her hand but left it where it was in Dani’s pants.  She used her other hand to pull her phone from her pocket.  She showed Dani the screen.  Owen Sharma calling…

 

“Dammit Owen,” Dani muttered.

 

“I’m sorry.  We’ll pick right back up, I promise,” Jamie said quickly.  She gave Dani a squeeze before withdrawing her hand,  eliciting a whimper from the blonde.

 

Jamie answered the phone, putting it on speaker.  “Hey, Owen.  I’ve got you on speaker.”  She placed the phone on the back of the couch and wrapped her arms back around Dani, who was squirming a bit.  They had both gotten worked up only to have the brakes put on, and Jamie felt badly for both of them.  She promised to herself to make it up to Dani later.

 

“Hey, Jamie.  How are you?  Dani there with you?”

 

“I’m here,” Dani replied, and only Jamie would have picked up on the strain in her voice.

 

“We’re both good, mate.  How are you?” Jamie asked.  “How’s Hannah?”

 

“Yeah, we’re good.  I hope I haven’t interrupted anything.”

 

“No, not at all.  We’re just sitting outside by the fire pit,” Jamie said, tickling Dani’s side playfully.  Dani just shook her head in mock offense.  She rested her hands on Jamie’s forearms where they were wrapped around her stomach, lightly running her fingers along them.

 

“Good.  That sounds nice.  Every time I call you all, it seems like you’re living in some kind of domestic bliss.”

 

“We are, you should try it sometime,” Jamie answered.  “Stop sneaking around with Hannah.  Make a proper go of it.  You’re not getting any younger.”

 

“You know, it pains me to admit this, but you’re right.”

 

“I’m sorry, what was that?  You’re breaking up a bit,” Jamie said teasingly.

 

I’m not breaking up, am I, Dani?”

 

“No, not at all,” Dani said matter of factly.

 

“Traitor,” Jamie mumbled.

 

“You’re right though, Jamie, and I can say it.  I do know you fancy hearing it.  I’ve bought a ring.  After this next mission, I’m going to do it.  I’m going to propose.  And, assuming she says ‘yes,’ I’m going to request for a transfer to a desk job.  I’m tired of all the danger and of having to hide our relationship at work.  I should have done what you did a long time ago.”

 

“That’s great, Owen, I’m so happy for you.  I want you all to be happy.  You both deserve it,” Jamie said with sincerity, kissing Dani on the side of her head.  Dani sighed and snuggled in closer to Jamie.

 

“She’s going to say ‘yes,’ Owen,” Dani added confidently.  “I know she is.”

 

“Thank you both, truly.”

 

“So, what’s this mission?” Jamie asked.  “You seemed a little on edge when you texted earlier.”

 

“Right.  As you know, when you all killed Viola and essentially dismantled her entire organization, it created a power vacuum.  Other criminal enterprises have been scrambling to fill the void.  We’ve thwarted many of them, but a new organization has emerged as a power player over the past six months.  They call themselves The Collective.  Not much is known about them yet but they’re recruiting new operatives at an alarming rate.  Their leader is only referred to as The Palomino, we think because of his rumored fair hair and complexion, but it’s difficult to really know.  No one knows who he is; he’s a ghost.  And it’s hard to fight an enemy you can’t see.  Jamie, these guys are the real deal.  They’re into some bad stuff.”

 

Dani could feel Jamie tense behind her, the banter of a few moments ago completely gone.

 

“Owen,” Jamie said, “What’s the mission?”  Dani could hear the concern in her voice.

 

“We’ve got a lead about a Collective cell in Manchester.  They’re sending me in undercover to try to infiltrate the organization.  They only way we’re going to learn about them is from the inside.  That’s uh, that’s why I wanted to talk to you tonight.  It may be awhile before you hear from me again.”

 

Owen sounded sad.  Jamie was filled with compassion for him.  If she had stayed in MI5, this could have easily been her being sent on a dangerous mission and unable to communicate with Dani until the mission was done.  Missions like these could take weeks, months, even years sometimes.  She could only imagine the swirling emotions her friend was feeling.  She subconsciously tightened her grip on Dani.  Dani knew exactly what Jamie was thinking because she was running the same scenario in her mind.  She didn’t think she could live with the uncertainty of not knowing if Jamie was even alive, of being unable to speak to her, to touch her, to sleep next to her.  She squeezed Jamie’s hand, and Jamie knew exactly what she was feeling.

 

After pausing a beat to process the enormity of what her friend was saying to her, Jamie spoke, “Owen, are you sure you want to do this?”  Please back out, please back out.

 

“I don’t think I have much choice,” Owen replied, resignation in his voice.

 

“There’s always a choice.”

 

“I guess I’m not as brave as you in that way, Jamie.”

 

“Don’t say that.  You could leave.  Propose now.  Don’t wait.  Be with Hannah.  Open that restaurant in Paris you’ve always talked about,” Jamie said, practically pleading with him.  She couldn’t explain it, but she had a bad feeling about this mission.

 

“Jamie, I didn’t call you for you to talk me out of this.  I’m going.  I’m doing this.  Our work is important and someone needs to infiltrate this organization.  I could save a lot of lives.  After this, we’ll see what happens.”

 

Jamie brought a hand up and ran it through her hair, exhaling, and trying to blink back tears.

 

“I’m going to be okay, Jamie.  Don’t worry about me.”

 

“Jamie’s a worrier; it’s what she does, Owen.  It’s because she cares so much,” Dani interjected.

 

“I know, Dani.  You and I may be the only ones who know what a big softie she really is,” he said conspiratorially.

 

“Hey now, I don’t need you lot ganging up on me!”  Jamie said, jumping back into the conversation.  Then she turned serious.  “Please, be careful.  Will you ask Hannah to update me as she’s able?”

 

“I will, yes.”

 

“How is Hannah taking this?” Dani asked.

 

“Well, she’s not happy about it, but she did ultimately sign off on it when it was recommended that I be the agent chosen for the assignment.  She couldn’t very well reject the committee’s recommendation without telling them why.  She’s in a tough spot.  You’ll check in on her, right?”

 

“Yeah, we will,” Dani said, speaking for both of them.

 

“Thank you.  I hate to cut this short, but I’m afraid I have to go.  We’ll plan another get together when I get back, yeah?  I think it’s your turn to host again, if I’m not mistaken.”

 

“We’d love to have you and Hannah back out here again.  We’ll plan it as soon as you get back.  Owen… take care of yourself.”

 

“I always do.”

 

CLICK.

 

And, just like that, the call was over.  Jamie sighed and slumped down further into the couch.  Dani sat up so she could turn around and look at her.  She brought her hand to Jamie’s face, cupping her check and running her thumb along it.

 

“Hey, you okay?” She asked softly, already knowing the answer.

 

“Wasn’t expecting that, is all.  Feeling a bit uneasy about it for some reason.”

 

Before Dani could respond, a stick snapped just behind the tree line.  Both of their attentions were pulled towards the direction of the sound.  Jamie sat straight up, her ears straining in the silence to pick up another sound.  She felt like all of her senses were on high alert.  Dani was tense next to her.  The fire was down to embers, blanketing their world in darkness.

 

“Oi!  Someone out there?!” She called.

 

Silence.

 

“You heard that, right Dani?”

 

“Yeah, I did.  Was it maybe an animal?”

 

“Didn’t sound like one,” Jamie replied.  “I’m gonna go check it out.  Stay here.”

 

She started to get up, but Dani stood up with her.  “No, let’s just go inside, okay?”  Jamie hesitated, scanning the tree line once again.  “Please,” Dani added, unsure of why she felt so scared all of a sudden.

 

“Okay, yeah,” Jamie said, giving in to her.  She shook her head to clear it.  “Must just be feeling a bit jumpy after that conversation is all.  It’s got me paranoid.”

 

Dani remembered her feeling of paranoia the day before.  She put a reassuring hand on Jamie’s arm.  “It’s okay.  I had a similar feeling yesterday when I was picking up the pizza.”

 

“What do you mean?” Jamie asked seriously, taking Dani’s hand and leading her back into the house.  “Was someone watching you?  You didn’t tell me about this.”

 

“Because it was nothing.  No one was there.  And I don’t think anyone is out there in our backyard either.  Why would they be?  We live in the middle of nowhere.”

 

“You’re right, Dani,” Jamie agreed.  “Guess it’s just a by-product of living with a target on my back for too many years.”  She locked the door behind them.  “Let’s get ready for bed.”

 

Outside, the man watched the two women enter their house.  He only lowered his gun and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw them turning lights off, presumably heading to bed.  His heart was pounding; he had almost been caught.  He looked down at the snapped stick under his feet.  I was careless and they almost caught me.  That can’t happen again.  He quietly emerged from his hiding place behind a large tree and began packing up his listening equipment.  He then made the long hike back to his car.  Only once he was safely in his vehicle and speeding away down the dark Vermont country road did he decide to make the phone call.  He pressed the Bluetooth button on his steering wheel.

 

“Call The Palomino,” he said.

 

The line rang twice.

 

“Yes?”

 

“You were right, Sir.  MI5 made contact with them.”

 

“And?”

 

“And our new recruit.  He’s a mole.”

 

“So, her intel was good?”

 

“It appears so, Sir.  Do you want me to head back to headquarters now?”

 

“Negative.  I want you to stay on them, especially the blonde.  She is of particular interest to me.  I want to know what kind of person she is.  It’s almost time for you to make contact.”

 

“Yes, Sir.  I understand.”

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Dani woke up alone.  Jamie had slept fitfully all night and had gotten up before her.  She could hear Jamie bustling around in the kitchen.  Dani knew Jamie was worried about Owen, and neither of them could shake the feeling that they had been watched last night.  Knowing Jamie may need some time to think on her own, Dani got up and took a shower.  It was quiet in the house when she stepped out. 

 

“Jamie?” She called.  But there was no answer.

 

Dani threw on some clothes and put her wet hair in a ponytail.  She padded down the hall to the kitchen where she was greeted with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.  Jamie knew I would smell the coffee and come here first.  She smiled as she saw a note next to the pot of coffee.  It was in Jamie’s neat handwriting:

 

Mornin,’ love.  Didn’t want to wake you.  Help yourself to a cuppa.  I’m outside.  Xoxo Jamie

 

Dani appreciated Jamie’s thoughtfulness more than she could express, and not just for the coffee, but for leaving the note.  Jamie knew that Dani would worry if she couldn’t find her immediately and never wanted to create unnecessary worry for Dani.  She ran her fingers over the note, smiling to herself.  Dani reached into the cabinet to retrieve a tumbler and poured the coffee in, along with a a little cream and sugar.  She took a sip and let out an appreciative sigh.  Maybe one day I can make coffee or tea as well as Jamie.  At least I can make hot chocolate or she’d probably kick me to the curb.  Dani chuckled at her own joke in her mind, knowing the idea that Jamie would ever kick her to the curb for anything was preposterous.  She likes me too much for that.  Dani smirked.  She grabbed a light jacket and headed out the back door with her coffee.  She stood on the back porch and scanned the area.  No sign of Jamie.

 

“Jamie!  Where are you?!” She called out.

 

“Back here, Dani!” came a response from the woods. 

 

Dani relaxed at the sound of Jamie’s voice and moved in her general direction.  As she approached the tree line, she had a pretty good idea of what her wife was doing out there.  Last night spooked her more than I realized.  It didn’t take her long to find Jamie, standing still among the trees, staring at the forest floor, a solemn look on her face.

 

“Whatcha doing out here?” Dani asked, trying to keep her tone light, but the tense line of Jamie’s jaw set her on edge.  I’ve seen that look before.  In Egypt.

 

Jamie turned to her, her gaze immediately softening when her eyes landed on Dani.  “Hey, beautiful.  Good morning.”  She walked over to Dani, put her hands lightly on her hips, and kissed her.  “Can’t have you starting the day without being kissed.”

 

Dani blushed.  “No, we certainly can’t.”  She pulled Jamie in gently by the elbows for one more chaste kiss.  “And now you’ve properly begun your day, too.”

 

“Aye, I have,” Jamie said, savoring the taste of Dani on her lips.

 

“Thanks for the coffee,” Dani said, holding up the tumbler. 

 

“Anytime.  Can’t have you making it.  All these years and your coffee and tea are still shite.”  It was an ongoing joke between them and it always made Dani smile.  Even if she one day made the perfect cuppa, she felt like Jamie would still call it shite just for tradition’s sake.

 

“So, are you going to tell me what you’ve found out here?” Dani asked, her phrasing and tone making it clear to Jamie that she had already determined that Jamie had found something.  And Jamie knew better than to try and keep something from her.

 

“Someone was out here last night, Dani.”

 

The way Jamie said it sent a chill straight up Dani’s spine.  This was her Agent Taylor tone and Dani hadn’t heard it for years.  Dani walked closer to where Jamie was looking, trying to see what she saw.  To her, nothing looked amiss.  But she trusted Jamie.  If Jamie said someone had been there, Jamie was right.

 

“Show me,” Dani said.

 

Jamie nodded and began pointing things out to Dani.  “See this right here?  This is the stick that we heard snapped last night.  An animal didn’t do that.  If it had, we would have heard it running away, would have heard a scurrying sound over the leaves.”  She gestured towards the crunchy leaves on the ground, remnants of last fall.  “A deer, fox, possum, anything like that, we would have heard leaving.  Someone snapped this stick by mistake and then stayed very still.  See this here?”  She pointed to a slightly flattened patch of earth. Dani nodded.  “They were crouched here.  They had to have been for some time to leave an indentation like this.  And then there’s this.  Follow me.”  Jamie led Dani further into the woods.  “We have some broken branches as it gets thicker, like someone forced their way through.  And then this.”  As they got to a muddier portion, Dani saw it.

 

“Footprints,” Dani said, a scared edge creeping into her voice.

 

“Footprints,” Jamie confirmed, “Men’s size 10 by the looks of it.  Hiking shoes maybe.  Deep tread.  I lost the trail up ahead, but I imagine whoever it was hiked back out to the main road, never coming on our private drive.  If he had, the cameras would have caught him.”

 

“You’ve checked the cameras?” Dani asked, already knowing what the answer would be.

 

“I did, yeah.”

 

“And?”

 

“And nothing.  There was nothing.  Whoever this was knew how to avoid our cameras.”

 

Dani felt fear instantly course through her body.  It has been a long time since she’d felt this way, but it all came rushing back.

 

Jamie…”

 

“Hey, it’s okay, Poppins.”  Jamie spun to face her, clasping her hands on both shoulders.  “It was probably nothing.”

 

Dani started shaking her head.  “Don’t minimize it for my sake.  You don’t think it was nothing.  I know you.  Why would someone be watching us?”

 

“I don’t know, Dani.  But I’m going to find out.  I promise you that.”  Jamie was determined.

 

“Jamie, be honest with me.  Whoever this was, he was a professional, wasn’t he?”

 

Jamie exhaled and looked away for a second, nervous to answer Dani’s question.  “I can’t rule that out yet, no.”

 

“Jamie, what if he heard?  Could he have heard what Owen told us last night?”

 

Jamie’s jaw worked, chewing the inside of her cheek. “It’s possible, yeah.  I’m going to call Hannah.”

 

Dani looked away, trying to fight back tears of frustration.  She felt like they’d been violated.  She remembered every moment of their conversation, every intimate touch they’d shared.  They were private moments meant only for the two of them.  Jamie had been trying not to think about that, but when she saw Dani’s face, she knew it was on her mind, too.

 

“Jamie,” Dani began, her voice shaking, “I feel so violated…” she trailed off, unable to voice the rest of her thought out loud.

 

“Hey, come here,” Jamie said softly, pulling Dani into a hug, one hand on her back and the other cradling her neck.  Dani brought one hand around Jamie’s lower back, returning the hug, while her other hand still held her coffee.  “I know, baby, I know.  I’m so sorry.  It’s going to be okay.  I’ll keep us safe.  It’s what I do, remember?”

 

Dani nodded against Jamie’s body, soaking up every bit of security Jamie offered.  She held on to her tightly, the feeling of Jamie strong arms around her making her feel safer.  She shouldn’t have to do this again.  She shouldn’t have to keep me safe like this again.  Why is this happening?  She got out.  We moved on.  This shouldn’t be happening to us.

 

“Let’s head back to the house, okay?” Jamie suggested, picking up on Dani’s troubled thoughts.

 

Dani sniffled and nodded, allowing Jamie to guide her back to the house, her hand on the small of her back.

 

A short while later, Jamie emerged from the basement where she had made a secure video call to Hannah.  Dani was busy cleaning the kitchen, trying to work out some of her nervous energy.  She stopped what she was doing when she saw Jamie walk up the stairs.  She looked tired.

 

“So, what did she say?” Dani asked quickly.

 

Jamie walked over and sat on one of the barstools on their kitchen island.  Dani leaned on the island opposite her. 

 

“She appreciated the heads up but felt like it was unrelated.  Said we were probably too far away to be overheard.”

 

“Unrelated?” Dani prompted, skeptical.

 

“Yeah.  She said it was probably just some local kid wandering around or maybe even an old enemy of mine checking up on me.”

 

Dani felt like her heart was going to beat out of her chest, the familiar feeling of panic rising up in her.  She kept her voice calm though.  “And what do you think?”

“I don’t know.  I can’t think of anyone who would be looking for me, especially after all this time.  I mean, why now?  And why be so careful to avoid our security cameras?  If it was a local kid, they would have had to have been pretty lucky to not have been picked up on any of them, you know?” 

 

Dani nodded.  “And do you think we could have been overheard?”

 

Jamie hesitated.  “No, not from that distance.  Unless…”

 

“Unless what?”

 

“Unless they had listening equipment,” she answered honestly, not wanting to hide anything from Dani.  “And in that case, we would be back at dealing with a professional.”

 

Dani shuddered at the thought, remembering everything they had discussed, from their whispered moments of affection to Owen’s mission.  “Is Hannah still sending Owen in today?”

 

“She is, yeah.  Said this mission is too important to the agency to call it off.  She said this wasn’t enough to go on and is probably just a coincidence.”

 

Dani let out a long, steadying breath.  She reached across the island and took Jamie’s hands in her own.  “Okay, so what do we do now?”

 

“We stay vigilant.  We stay together.  I’m going to add some more cameras around the property.  I don’t know what’s going on, Dani, but I intend to find out.  I won’t let anything happen to you.  You don’t have anything to worry about.”

 

Dani squeezed Jamie’s hands and offered her a soft smile.  “I know that, baby.  You have more than proven yourself to be my protector.”

 

Jamie sat up straighter at the praise.  “Thank you, Dani, for always having so much faith in me.”

 

“It’s really pretty easy,” Dani replied, leaning across the counter to kiss her wife.  Jamie met her halfway.

 


 

Jamie and Dani’s plane landed at O’Hare airport in Chicago.  They were there for a 3-day florist conference, having left The Leafling in Luis and Maria’s capable hands.  Even though they were there for work, they also saw it as an opportunity for a mini-vacation.

 

Once the plane stopped at the terminal, Dani finally released her grip on Jamie’s hand.  As much as they had flown together over the past few years, it never got easier for Dani.  But she always felt safer with her hand in Jamie’s.  Jamie not-so-secretly enjoyed being needed in that way. 

 

Once in the terminal, they continued to hold hands, navigating their way through the crowd and to baggage claim.  One of the things they both enjoyed about big cities is that most people didn’t look twice when they saw them holding hands.  Not that they cared regardless, but they always felt a little freer in a city like Chicago.

 

The conference was interesting and gave them an opportunity to network and learn from other shop owners.  Despite how good it was, they both found themselves counting down the minutes to the end of the day when they could go off on their own and explore the city.

 

That night they had decided to take the train further into the city to get dinner, catch a play, and walk around the lakefront.  They waited on the platform for the train in a rather large crowd.  The city was especially busy in the late afternoon and early evening.  While Jamie was not on high alert, she was always vigilant, her training ever present. She eyed each person on the platform with them, looking for signs of weapons or any signs of trouble.  Dani had her hand looped through Jamie’s arm, entertained by all the various people she saw, letting Jamie worry about any potential threats to their safety.  Jamie sometimes wished she could see the world the way Dani did, but she also felt like it was her privilege to keep her safe so Dani could maintain her sense of wonder. 

 

When the train pulled up, everyone rushed to it, pushing to get on before the doors closed.  Jamie pulled Dani closer to her body as they entered the train.  It was packed and no seats were available.  They both moved to the closest pole to hold on as the train picked up speed.  Jamie didn’t like being pressed against so many people, and she definitely couldn’t tolerate the idea of anyone invading Dani’s personal space.  She shifted her body so she was directly behind Dani, placing her hands on the pole on either side of Dani, effectively shielding her from everyone else.  Dani smiled, sensing exactly what Jamie was doing.  They both knew that Dani did not need to be protected.  She was more than capable of taking care of herself.  But Jamie liked to do things to make Dani feel extra safe and Dani loved that she did it.  No one had ever made her feel that way before.  Dani leaned back against Jamie so her back was pressed against Jamie’s chest.  She moved her hands closer to Jamie’s on the pole, letting her thumb slowly graze along Jamie’s hand.  Jamie leaned her head against Dani’s and whispered in her ear.

 

“You okay, Poppins?”  She knew Dani was claustrophobic and wasn’t sure if the crowded train would trigger a panic attack.

 

Dani nodded.  “Yeah.  I’m doing okay.  Thanks for checking in.”  She had understood what Jamie had really been asking her.

 

“I’m right here.  I’ve got you.”

 

“I know.”  She turned her head to the side just long enough to give Jamie a quick kiss on the cheek.  “I love you.”

 

Jamie smiled.  She didn’t know how Dani could make her feel like the only person in the room even on a crowded train.  “I love you, too.”

 

They didn’t talk much on the train ride, but they both just enjoyed being near each other. 

 

“Our’s is the next stop,” Dani said back to Jamie.  Dani had been to Chicago before and knew how to navigate the “L” train.  It was Jamie’s first time in the city.

 

A few minutes later, the train started slowing, announcing the upcoming stop.  Jamie took one hand off the pole and moved it to Dani’s hip to steady her as the train stopped.  The gesture made Dani feel warm inside.  No matter how many times she told Jamie how much she appreciated her thoughtful gestures, she never really felt like Jamie understood how much they made her feel cared for.  The train came to a stop and Jamie took Dani’s hand as they exited.  They walked through the train station and found themselves on a busy downtown Chicago sidewalk.

 

“Lead the way,” Jamie said, smiling over at Dani.

 

Dani smiled and offered her arm to Jamie, who eagerly took it.  And off they went to explore the city.  They went to Giordano’s to get authentic Chicago pizza and then took a stroll along the lakefront.  They ended the evening by taking in an improv show.  Dani kept her arm wrapped around Jamie’s shoulders the whole time and loved the way Jamie laughed into her neck during the funniest lines.  Jamie rested her hand on Dani’s thigh, lighting rubbing her thumb over Dani’s jeans from time to time.  Every time she did, Dani felt the electricity that only Jamie could make her feel. 

 

By the time they left the theater, it was late and darkness had fallen.  The people walking around now were sparse, a stark change from the bustling sidewalks earlier in the day.  It almost made Jamie more uneasy.  She sensed Dani tense next to her and knew that Dani had come to the same realization that the city didn’t feel as safe at night.  They had a long walk back to the train station.  It was colder now and Chicago was living up to its Windy City nickname.  Dani shivered and zipped up her coat.  Jamie did the same and looked over at Dani, the wind blowing her hair.  She reached out and tucked it behind Dani’s ears.  She knew it was a losing battle, but she sometimes couldn’t stop herself from touching Dani’s golden hair.

 

“Jamie…”

 

“I know, Poppins.  Just hold on to me, yeah?”

 

Dani nodded and looped her hand through Jamie’s arm, holding on tight, as they began walking.  They chatted as they went, reliving the day’s adventures.  All the while, both of them were alert.  Even though they could handle themselves, they were both fully aware that they were two women walking down a dark and relatively deserted downtown street.

 

Two blocks away from the train station, they noticed they were being followed by two men.  Dani spared a glance backwards.

 

“Don’t look back, Dani,” Jamie instructed.  She quickened their pace. “They’re probably just drunk.  Odds are they’ll just wander off.”

 

“Hey girls!” One of them shouted.

 

“Fuck,” Jamie muttered. 

 

“If we ignore them, will they leave us alone?” Dani asked in a hushed whisper.

 

“Hey bitches, we’re talking to you!”

 

“I’m going to take that as a no,” Jamie said in response to Dani’s question.

 

“Fuck,” Dani replied.  “I already feel bad for them for what’s about to happen.  They picked the wrong women to mess with tonight.”  She was trying to make light of the situation, but she knew a fight was imminent and she hated seeing Jamie in danger. 

 

“Hey!  We just want to talk!  Why aren’t you being friendly?!  Just give us some smiles, come on!” They continued to shout at Dani and Jamie, gaining on them.  “You look cold!  We’ll warm you up!”

 

“Gross,” Dani muttered.

 

“Disgusting,” Jamie agreed.

 

Jamie tugged Dani down the next alley, pulling her behind a dumpster.  “We can get the drop on them.  I’ll take the big one.  Think you can get the other one?”

 

Dani nodded quickly, steeling herself for a fight but hoping it didn’t come to that.  She still hoped they would just walk on by.  They could hear the men approaching, talking to each other.

 

“They’re making it easy on us, Bobby.  Giving us plenty of privacy.”

 

“Which one do you want?  The blonde or brunette?”

 

“I’ll start with the blonde, then we can switch.  Show ‘em a real good time.”

 

They laughed.  It was disgusting and reprehensible.   Jamie felt rage rising in her body; Dani felt like she was going to be sick.  The men turned the corner and walked past their hiding spot.

 

“Where did they—“

 

“Now!” Jamie shouted.

 

Jamie and Dani sprang into action, stunning the men with their initiative.  Jamie used a well placed uppercut to knock the big man off balance. He stumbled backwards. 

 

“You bitch!”

 

He charged at Jamie, but she was too nimble and quick.  She easily dodged out of his way and parried his punch.  She then jumped on his back and wrapped her arm around his neck.

 

Dani, meanwhile, had taken on the smaller man.  She let him get close enough to try to grab her and then kneed him as hard as she could in the groin.  When he collapsed to his knees in pain, she grabbed his head and kneed him in the face.  The blow rendered him unconscious and his limp body hit the pavement.  Dani turned around to check on Jamie just as she had succeeded in cutting off her attacker’s oxygen.  She hopped off him as he fell hard, not dead, but definitely unconscious.  Jamie looked up, her eyes meeting Dani’s and relief flooded through their bodies.  Jamie ran over to Dani, clasping her shoulders.

 

“You alright?” 

 

Dani nodded, catching her breath.  “Yeah.  You?”

 

“Yeah.  Piece of cake.  Now let’s get out of here before they wake up.”

 

Jamie took Dani’s hand and they speed walked the remaining block to the train station.  Jamie called the police on the way and left an anonymous tip to pick up the unconscious men.  They were both anxious waiting for the train to arrive, Jamie bouncing up and down on the balls or her feet with impatience.  When the train arrived, they practically ran onto it.  They only relaxed when the doors closed and they found themselves entirely alone on the train car, a stark contrast to their earlier ride.

 

“Let’s sit down,” Jamie said gently.  They went to the nearest seats, two seats facing forward.  Jamie directed Dani to sit by the window and she took the aisle seat.

 

“Well, that was a memorable end to the evening,” Jamie said dryly.

 

“That scared me, Jamie.  I didn’t know if they had weapons.  I was worried you’d get hurt.”

 

“I know, baby.  I was a little scared, too.”  Jamie put her arm around Dani and pulled her close.  Dani rested her head on Jamie’s shoulder.  “You handled yourself well though, Dani.  I’m really proud of you.”

 

Dani smiled.  Jamie’s praise always meant the world to her.  “I learned from the best, you know?”

 

“I reckon that’s true,” Jamie said, without a hint of irony.

 

Dani playfully smacked her leg.  “Always so cocky.”  Then she turned serious again.  “Jamie, did you hear those things they said?  What they wanted to do to us?”  She shuddered and Jamie’s tightened her grip.

 

“Yeah, I did.  It more than turned my stomach.  But, that was never gonna happen.  I hope you know that.  I would never allow anyone to hurt you.  I’ll always protect you, not that you need me to though.”  She kissed the top of Dani’s head, her heart bursting with love for the woman in her arms.

 

“I know that,” Dani said sincerely.  “I love that you’re my protector…”

 

She nuzzled closer into Jamie, feeling completely safe again.

 


 

 Monday came before they knew it.  Dani drove them to work, Jamie’s hand securely in her’s the whole way.  They were always touching one another, but since discovering that someone was watching them, they became even more desperate in their touches.  It went unspoken, but for both of them, it was bringing back memories of Egypt, of when they were constantly in a state of danger, afraid of losing each other.  When they touched, it reminded them that they were both still here, that they were both still safe.

 

The day went on much like any other.  Nothing was out of the ordinary.  Jamie reviewed security footage of The Leafling from over the weekend, but nothing was amiss.  They ate their lunch together in the back office like they always did, the normalcy of the day almost making them forget the paranoia of the weekend.

 

It was mid-afternoon.  Jamie was in the office, processing payroll for the week.  Luis was in the greenhouse, tending to the plants.  Maria had the afternoon off.  And, Dani and Amber were in the store, Dani working behind the counter and Amber working on a new window display.  Dani was checking in on her periodically, offering encouragement or a helpful tip.  Dani had a knack for arranging things to make them sell and Amber was eager to learn from her. 

 

A customer walked in the door and they both greeted him.  He walked around the store slowly, taking in every detail, cutting his eyes over to Dani every few moments.  She was busy working on an arrangement and didn’t look up to notice him glancing at her.  He made his way over to Amber, who looked over when he approached.

 

“Can I help you find anything today?” She asked cheerfully.

 

“I think I already found what I’m looking for,” he responded, looking directly at her, leering at her.

 

Amber was taken aback, her instincts telling her something was off, but she felt like she still had to be polite.  His tone caused Dani to look up from what she was doing, something about it making her uneasy.

 

“Well, umm, okay, are you picking out flowers for a special someone today?” Amber asked tentatively.

 

The main looked her up and down, his eyes raking over her body.  He reached out and brushed his hand along her cheek.

 

“Maybe,” he said, “Why kind of flowers do you like?”

 

Amber froze.  Dani did not.

 

“Step away from her!  Right now!” Dani yelled, power walking from behind the counter, her body language fierce.

 

The man threw is hands up in the air.  “Whoa, calm down sweetheart.  I was just being friendly.”

 

Dani closed the gap in seconds, reaching out to Amber, who silently moved towards her.  Dani put a protective arm around Amber’s shoulders and the younger girl wrapped her arms around Dani’s waist.  She was scared and shaking.  Dani used her free hand to point her finger at the man.

 

“No, you weren’t!  You were being a perv, you sick freak!  Don’t you ever touch her again!”

 

“It’s okay, Dani, I’m fine,” Amber whispered against her.

 

“No, it’s not okay.  No one has the right to touch you without your permission.”

 

“Look, lady, you need to calm down,” he said, raising his voice at Dani.  “Nothing happened.   If you’re not careful, I’ll tell everyone on social media how you treat your customers.  You should be nicer.  Maybe try smiling more.”

 

“And maybe you should try leaving.”  It was Jamie.  She had heard yelling and was by Dani’s side in an instant.  She stared at him with a cold, icy glare.

 

“You the shop owner?” He asked with disdain, sizing her up.

 

“Co-owner.  And you need to get the fuck out.  Right now.  And don’t ever come back.”  Her voice was low and controlled, but the rage was still clear.  It was terrifying.

 

Luis came in.  “Boss ladies, everything okay?”  He took in the scene, getting a pretty complete picture of what was going on.  He walked towards the front door and opened it.  “They said ‘out’,” he said sternly.

 

The man sneered at Jamie and Dani before turning around to leave. 

 

Jamie put a hand each on Dani and Amber.  “You two okay?”

 

“Yeah, we’re fine,” Dani said.  “Just pissed.”

 

As he left, Jamie glanced down at his shoes.  Hiking boots.  Deep tread.  Mud still caked on them.  Maybe size 10.

 

He was out the door and getting on his motorcycle.

 

“Holy shit, Dani, it’s him!”

 

Jamie sprang into action, running out the door after him.  Dani wasn’t far behind her.  He saw them, surprise evident in his eyes, and revved his bike, speeding away as quickly as he could.  They ran to Dani’s car, Jamie heading for the driver’s side.

 

“Keys!” She yelled, but Dani was already tossing them over the car to her.  She caught them and hopped in, Dani joining her in the passenger seat.

 

“Dani, what are you doing?”

 

“What does it look like?!  Coming with you!  Now drive!”

 

Jamie didn’t have time to argue with her.  She threw the car in drive and took off in pursuit of the motorcyclist.  He was increasing his speed, weaving in and out of traffic.  Jamie matched him, but was hindered by driving a car.

 

“Dammit!  We should have taken my bike this morning!”

 

“Jamie!  Be careful with my car!  I swear, if you wreck Cherry…” Dani braced herself against the dashboard.

 

“I’ve got this!”

 

They were talking loud and fast, both of them caught up in the adrenaline of the moment.  Jamie honked at cars to move.

 

“Come on!  Outta my way!” She yelled, frustration building.

 

“How did you know it was him?” Dani asked quickly.

 

“Shoes.”

 

Dani nodded.  She figured they could discuss it more when they weren’t going 55mph in a 35.  Thanks to Jamie’s skilled driving, they were gaining on him.  Dani opened the glove compartment and retrieved Jamie’s gun that she stashed there.  She clicked the safety off and rolled her window down.  Jamie looked over at her, clearly impressed.  Why is it always so hot when she does that!?  Damn Dani…

 

Dani looked over at her.  “What?!” She asked.  “If you get us close enough, I’ll take the shot.”

 

Jamie was suddenly very thankful for all the time she’d spent teaching Dani to shoot.  “I fucking love you.”

 

“That’s great, honey, and I love you too, but let’s catch him first, okay?!”

 

The man took a sharp right down a narrow alley.

 

“Shit!” Jamie yelled.

 

“Take the shortcut down Campbell, cut him off on Washington,” Dani instructed.

 

Jamie nodded her approval of the plan and took the next right, barely braking, and skidded onto the street, increasing acceleration as soon as the car straightened out.  Dani could see the way Jamie’s eyes narrowed in concentration and determination.  Damn, that’s sexy.  Stop—focus, Dani!  You can stare at Jamie later.  They flew out onto Washington Street, blocking him sideways while he came at them head on.  Dani made a quick check to make sure no pedestrians were around and fired right as he swerved around them.

 

BANG!

 

He temporarily lost control of the bike as the bullet hit his thigh.

 

“Nice shot, Dani!” Jamie cheered.  She turned the car and continued their pursuit. 

 

“I can’t believe I actually hit him!” Dani exclaimed in celebration.  Then Dani turned serious.  “Jamie… he’s heading towards the school.”

 

Jamie floored the accelerator.  As they rounded the curve towards the school, they both realized that their pursuit was over.  A parade of school children was being led across the street by the crossing guard.  The motorcyclist weaved his way through the crowd of children, the guard throwing her hands up and blowing her whistle, trying frantically to get him to stop.  He only stopped briefly when he reached the other side of the children, giving Jamie and Dani a taunting wave. 

 

“Shit!” Jamie yelled, slapping the steering wheel and slamming on the brakes, barely stopping in front of the sea of children.  There was no way around for a car, not without putting the children in danger, something neither of them would ever do.  Dani quickly stashed the gun back in the glove compartment so no one would see.

 

“Look!  It’s Miss Dani!  Hi Miss Dani!” Several of kids Dani tutored were enthusiastically waving at her.  She waved back with an awkward smile, trying to act like everything was normal.

 

The crossing guard was muttering at Jamie.  “You’d think the local florists wouldn’t drive so recklessly.  Didn’t think you were gonna stop there for a second,” she chastised Jamie, the annoyance in her voice evident.

 

Jamie leaned out the window.  “Sorry, Charlene!  20% off next time, okay?”

 

She smiled and gave Jamie a thumbs up, all quickly forgiven.  A few seconds later, they were allowed to proceed, but the man on the motorcycle was long gone.

 

“I’m sorry I lost him, Dani,” Jamie said, turning the car around to head back to The Leafling.

 

“It’s not your fault, Jamie.  It was just bad timing.  We almost had him.”

 

“Aye, we did.  He got lucky.”

 

“I mean, he still got shot,” Dani pointed out.

 

“Right then.  Not 100% lucky after all.”

 

There was a brief pause while they both tried to silently process the events of the last ten minutes.

 

“What are you thinking?” Dani finally asked.  She could see the wheels turning in Jamie’s head.

 

“I’m wondering what the point of all that was?  Why mess with Amber?  Was he trying to provoke you?  He clearly didn’t think we would catch on to him.  He was not prepared for a pursuit.  I don’t think he was even armed.  If he had been, wouldn’t he have fired back?”

 

“He definitely wasn’t counting on a chase,” she agreed.  “And yet he still handled it well.”

 

“He’s a professional,” Jamie confirmed.  “I didn’t recognize him.  You?”

 

“No.  So, what on earth does he want with us?” Dani asked.

 

“And who sent him?”

 


 

The man didn’t call in until after he’d dug the bullet out of his thigh, knowing better than to go to the hospital.  He bandaged himself up, cursing himself for not being more careful.  He had underestimated them.  And it had almost cost him his life.  He looked around the four walls of his cheap motel room.  He wanted nothing more than to get out of this sleepy Vermont town.  He dialed the Palomino.

 

“Hello?  Did you make contact?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“And?”

 

“And they made me.”

 

“They MADE you?! What happened?” The voice on the other end was furious.

 

“I did what you said.  I tried to get a rise out of the blonde...Dani… just like you asked me to.  Messed with one of her employees, a pretty little thing.  Dani didn’t much appreciate it.  Then the brunette threw me out.  She’s unnerving, that one.  She made me as I was walking out.  I’ve no idea how.”

 

“And then what?” His voice was tense.  He had not planned on his operative getting burned so soon into the mission.  Jamie and Dani knew they were being watched and that raised the stakes.

 

“And then I drove away… and they sort of chased me… in a Prius of all things.  But she drove that Prius like it was a race car!”  He accidentally let the respect creep into his voice.

 

“WHO drove it?!”

 

“The former agent.  But it was the other one who shot me.”

 

“She SHOT you?!”

 

“Yeah, just barely missed an artery, too.  She knew what she was doing.  I was lucky to get away.  Only got away because some school kids crossed the street and they stopped for them.”

 

The Palomino gathered his thoughts for a moment.  So, she’s feisty and willing to stand up to someone twice her size.  She’s reckless enough to get into a high speed chase, yet calm enough under pressure to hit a moving target.  Agent Taylor has clearly trained her well.  That’s an added bonus I was not expecting.  But Taylor is smart, too smart.  And now she’s on to us.  This will require a different approach.

 

“Sir?  Can I return to headquarters now?”

 

“Since you have so thoroughly fucked up your mission, I see no other option.  Catch the first flight back.  It’s not safe for you to stay there now that they know your face.  I’ll send someone else to keep an eye on them.”

 

“Thank you, sir.  And, if I may ask, who exactly are these women?  Why are they so important?”

 

CLICK.

 

The Palomino had hung up.

 

Chapter Text

“Why would someone be watching us?  I’m racking my brain and I just can’t figure it out,” Jamie said, frustrated.

 

It was later that evening and  Jamie and Dani were sitting on their couch.  After they returned to The Leafling earlier that day, they had filled in a very worried Luis, Maria, and Amber.  Luis had called Maria after they’d left in pursuit of the mystery operative.  She’d quickly come in to check on everyone, bringing several casseroles from her freezer to divide up amongst her work family.  Jamie and Dani were as transparent as they could be with them, careful not to mention anything about Owen.  But, they wanted them to be extra vigilant and aware of their surroundings until everything could be sorted out.  Jamie didn’t think the man was likely to return to The Leafling though.

 

Now that they were home, Dani and Jamie finally had time to process and check in with one another.  It had been an unspoken between them that they would tend to their employees first, especially Amber, and make sure they were all okay.  They never wanted to put them in danger.  They had just finished the casserole Maria had given them for dinner, thankful they hadn’t had to figure out what to make that night.  They sat facing each other on the couch, the day’s worries and stresses finally catching up to them.

 

“I don’t know, Jamie,” Dani responded to her question.  “And why now?  If this is connected to your old job, it’s been five years.  Five years of peace.  Why now?”

 

Jamie shook her head.  “I can’t figure it out either, Poppins.  I’m so angry though.  I’m so angry that someone disturbed what we have here and made Amber, Maria, and Luis feel unsafe.  They don’t deserve that.”

 

Dani grimaced. “I know.  I feel the same.  It’s like I feel bad that knowing us may have put them in danger.  Jamie, Amber was so scared.  She didn’t know what to do.”

 

Jamie reached over and placed a reassuring hand on Dani’s thigh. “I know, but you did.  You handled it so well.  And you set a fine example for her.”

 

Dani gave a small smile.  “Thank you,” she whispered.  She was quiet for a moment, thoughtful.  Then she added softly, “We’re a good team, aren’t we?”

 

Jamie smiled and leaned closer to Dani, her thumb rubbing Dani’s thigh.  “The best.  You’re the best partner I could ever ask for, in life and in all the adventures life throws our way.  There’s no one I’d rather have standing next to me.  When things are good or when things get messy, like they did today, I’m glad it’s you next to me.  I mean that, Dani Clayton-Taylor.”

 

Dani reached out to Jamie, placing her thumb and forefinger under her chin.  She gently tilted her head upwards and leaned in to place a soft kiss on Jamie’s lips. 

 

“What was that for?” Jamie asked.

 

“Just agreeing with you.  Everything you said?  That’s how I feel about you, too.”

 

“Mmm… I like it when you agree with me,” Jamie said flirtatiously.

 

“You’re impossible,” Dani replied good naturedly.  Then she grew serious again.  “But really, what are we going to do?”

 

“I don’t know, Dani.  I kind of doubt we’ll see him again, now that he knows we’re on to him.  I sent his motorcycle plates to MI5.  They traced it to a rental company.  But he paid cash, used a fake name, and avoided security cameras.  It was a dead end.  Same thing for the security footage from The Leafling.  I ran his picture through facial recognition—nothing.”

 

Dani sighed.  “I’m sorry those leads didn’t pan out, but can I just say that I’m very impressed that my super hot wife managed to memorize license plates during all of that?”

 

Jamie smirked.  “You can say that, yeah.  You know what else is super hot?”

 

“What?” Dani asked suspiciously.

 

“You shooting that gun.  I mean, damn Dani, I thought I was gonna wreck the car.”

 

Dani rolled her eyes.  “I told you I would be very upset if you wrecked my car.  Cherry did not deserve such rough treatment,” she said indignantly.

 

“And she’s fiiiiiine, safe and sound back in the garage,” Jamie replied dramatically.

 

Dani shook her head, humoring her wife.  “And you’re lucky she is.”  She grew quiet for a moment and then asked, “Do you think they’ll send someone else?”

 

“They might.  I doubt they’ve accomplished whatever it is they came here for.”

 

“There’s something else bothering you, too, though, isn’t there?” Dani asked, always perceptive wherever Jamie was concerned.

 

“Yeah, I can’t put my finger on it, but something is nagging at me.  Like, it feels like there’s someone out there who knows more about us than they should.”

 

The comment made Dani shiver.  “We probably wouldn’t be hard to find.  I mean, The Leafling has a website and social media,” Dani pointed out.

 

“That’s true enough.  It’s just the timing of everything.  It’s strange to me that this is all happening right as Owen goes undercover.  It doesn’t sit right.  Whoever is behind this knows how close we are with Owen, and only a handful of people in the world know that information.”  Jamie shuddered, painful feelings of betrayal resurfacing, the old paranoia rearing its ugly head.

 

“Hey, come here, baby,” Dani said softly, putting a pillow in her lap and encouraging Jamie to lay down.  Feeling small and defeated, answers just beyond her reach, Jamie rested her head in Dani’s lap.  The feeling of Dani’s fingers combing through her hair allowed some peace and security to seep back in.  Dani knew that nothing soothed Jamie quite like this.  She expertly stroked her hair, lightly scratching her scalp.  Jamie sighed contentedly.

 

Dani continued, “I know you’ve been hurt— no, betrayed—  many times.  I can’t say that’s not happening again in some way right now, but I just want to remind you that I’m here.  You can always trust me, Jamie.”

 

“I know that, Dani.  Sometimes I think it’s the only thing I know.”

 


 

Life had been busy in the six months since they had opened The Leafling.  They were so busy with all the work tasks that Jamie and Dani barely found time to discuss anything other than work.  When they got home, they were so tired that they collapsed into bed.  They both felt the stress and the pressure.  Business was great, but they were exhausted.  Things got better when they started hiring more employees, but Jamie felt like Dani had become distant over the past couple of days.  She seemed distracted, her mind elsewhere.

 

People often assumed, because she was so confident, that Jamie had a lot of experience with relationships.  In reality, that was not the case at all, something she had only confided to Dani about.  Prior to Dani, Jamie had only had one serious relationship.  It was a long time ago, when she had first joined MI5.  Her girlfriend at the time had decided that Jamie’s job was too demanding and gave her an ultimatum— her or the the job.  Jamie chose the job.  She never liked being backed into a corner.  After that, she’d tried a fling here and there, but they always felt so empty.  She felt more lonely, more unlovable after each such encounter, so she finally decided to pour all her love into her plants and protect her heart at all costs.  That was, of course, until Dani Clayton came crashing into her life, obliterating all of her carefully built walls within a matter of days.  Dani was different.  And Jamie had experienced enough of the wrong kind of love to know that Dani was the right kind. Dani was special.

 

Loving Dani was easy; it came naturally to her.  Jamie surprised herself by the sheer amount of love she had to pour into Dani.  It was like she had been waiting her whole life just to give it all to this one person.  She knew it should scare her on some level, giving someone else this much power over her, but it didn’t.  Because Dani was different.  Dani loved her back and Dani could be trusted. 

 

So, when Dani started acting strangely, Jamie didn’t know what to do.  She knew she had been preoccupied with work and felt like she had neglected Dani lately.  When she tried to bring it up with Dani, she just smiled her big Dani smile and told Jamie that everything was fine.  But still, Jamie couldn’t shake the feeling that Dani was keeping something from her.

 

 Jamie noticed Dani texting someone a lot over the past couple of days.  Typically, the person she texted the most was Jamie.  Even when they were in the store together, Dani would send her a heart eyes emoji or a cute gif.  She was always doing things to let Jamie know she was thinking about her.  But not today.  Jamie kept checking her phone, but she had no new messages.  Yet, Dani kept texting. 

 

“Who ya texting with?” Jamie asked casually as she passed by Dani at the front counter.

 

“Uhh what?  No one,” Dani said abruptly, walking away.

 

Jamie had not been suspicious before, only curious.  There were certainly people Dani talked to besides her.  But never had Dani brushed her off like that.  All of a sudden Jamie had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.

 

Dani went to the back office.  A few minutes later, Jamie followed her, needing to have some kind of interaction with Dani that would alleviate this growing feeling of unease.  When she entered the office, Dani was nowhere in sight.  Jamie quickly scanned the room.  The door to the storage closet was cracked, light peeking out of it.  She could hear Dani talking softly on the other side. 

 

“Thanks, Tiffany,” Dani said.  “That sounds really great.  I just don’t want Jamie to know… I know, it’s so hard to keep secrets from her… No, I don’t think she suspects, at least not yet… Yep, we gotta keep it that way… I’ll tell her when the moment’s right… Okay, I’ll see you later… Bye!”

 

Jamie’s heart plummeted.  She quietly backed out of the office, Dani never aware of her presence.  Jamie walked straight to the greenhouse, not speaking to anyone, and locked the door behind her.  She sank into a chair and cried.  No!  It can’t be.  It can’t be.  She wouldn’t.  Dani wouldn’t.  Dani would never.  I know I’ve been preoccupied lately, but would she leave me so quickly?  Would she not give me a chance to make it up to her?  I thought she was different!  What am I going to do?!  Jamie despaired.  She could think of no logical explanation for what she’d overheard.  So she cried some more.  Dani is good, she’s trustworthy.  She’s never given me any reason to doubt her.  But, what did I just overhear?  Have I really been betrayed again, this time by the person I love mostAm I truly so unworthy of people’s loyalty?

 

Jamie felt like a zombie as she went about the rest of her day.  She did her best to avoid Dani, but she knew Dani noticed.  She couldn’t fake it.  At one point, Dani left her phone on the counter while she went to the restroom.  Jamie stared and stared at it, knowing the answers she needed were on that phone.  She picked it up.  She was greeted by a picture of the two of them on Dani’s lock screen, cheeks pressed together and big smiles on their faces.  She knew Dani’s passcode; it was Jamie’s birthday.  That thought, coupled with the photo of them, brought feelings of shame and guilt.  She would not spy on Dani.  There would be no coming back from that.  She would get her answers directly.  She placed the phone back down on the counter and walked away.

 

They rode home in silence that night, Jamie’s jaw tense as she drove, keeping both hands on the wheel and her eyes on the road ahead.  Dani kept her hand, palm up, on the center console the whole way.  She was desperate for Jamie to take her hand, but it remained empty, and she didn’t understand why.

 

They walked silently into the living room when they got home, the tension between them palpable.

 

“Ok Jamie, I can’t do this.  I don’t know what’s going on, but you won’t look at me, you won’t talk to me, you won’t hold my hand.  It’s killing me.  Please.  Whatever I’ve done, I’m sorry.  Please tell me.  I can’t take this.” Dani was desperate.

 

Jamie spun around to face her, eyes blazing.  “Okay, well, for starters, you can tell me who Tiffany is!”  Jamie hated herself for the tears that started falling.  She wanted to be strong in this moment, but all she felt was hurt.  And the one person who always provided her comfort when she was hurt was currently the one hurting her.

 

Dani looked as if Jamie’s words had physically slapped her.  “What?” She asked quietly, confusion all over her face.

 

“You heard me,” was all Jamie managed to get out through the tears.  “I heard you talking in the storage closet earlier.  I went back there to talk to you, but I heard the whole thing.”

 

Dani stood there, stunned, unable to process what Jamie was saying.  Then realization dawned on her, and it was her turn to be hurt.

 

“Do you really have so little faith in me?” She asked, blinking back her own tears.  “Do you really think I would ever so much as look at anyone but you?”

 

Jamie couldn’t comprehend Dani’s reaction.  Of all the scenarios she had played out in her head, this was not one of them.

 

“Dani, what I overheard today, in the office… I just—, I— I don’t understand.”  She sounded so fragile, so vulnerable.  Dani wanted to reach out to her,  but she sensed that the gesture would not be welcomed.

 

Dani sighed.  “I really didn’t want to have to tell you like this.  I’d planned it so differently in my head.”

 

Jamie’s heart was pounding.  She was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

 

“Tiffany is our travel agent, Jamie.”

 

“What?  Our what?” Jamie’s thoughts were all jumbled.  “I thought Brad was our travel agent.”

 

Dani response was so soft.  “Brad is on a 15-day cruise in the Mediterranean.  Tiffany is handling his clients while he’s away.  Jamie, you big lovable idiot, I’ve been trying to plan a surprise vacation for us.  It’s just, well, we’ve been so busy, and I thought it would be nice for us to get away together.”  Dani threw up her arms in surrender.  “So, surprise,” she said sarcastically.

 

“What?” Jamie asked, dumbfounded.

 

Dani tossed her phone to Jamie, who caught it reflexively.  “Check my phone, Jamie.  You know the passcode.”

 

“Dani, I—“

 

“Just check it.  I don’t want you wondering, and I have nothing to hide.  Well, I mean I was trying to hide this vacation… but you know… I’d rather you know that than think I would ever, ever in a million years, even think about cheating on you.  Jamie…” Dani looked down her feet, trying to hide the tears that were freely falling now.  “I just… I know that we haven’t gotten to spend much time together lately and you’ve been working so hard… and I just wanted to do something nice for you.”

 

Jamie set Dani’s phone down on the coffee table.  She didn’t need to look at it to know the truth of what Dani was telling her— she had spent her entire week talking to a travel agent to arrange a special trip for them.  And, while she was doing all of that, Jamie had assumed the worst.  Jamie had never felt so ashamed.  She couldn’t even look at Dani, her eyes looking anywhere but at Dani.

 

“Dani, I’m so sorry,” she said, her voice thick with tears and regret.

 

Dani felt incredibly hurt, but when she looked at Jamie, her strong, confident Jamie, standing there so completely broken, she was moved with love and compassion.  She knew Jamie’s history.  She knew all the ways Jamie had been betrayed by those closest to her.  And she could see how her behavior and the conversation she’d had with their travel agent would have looked through Jamie’s eyes.  Dani’s intentions had been pure, but she felt guilty for causing Jamie to feel this way.  She held her hand out to Jamie for the second time that night, even more desperate for her to take it than the first time.

 

“Jamie, I’m sorry, too.  Can we please work through this?”  Her voice sounded so small, so scared.

 

Jamie looked at Dani’s proffered hand.  “Dani, I don’t deserve you being so nice to me right now.  I’ve been awful to you.”

 

“You deserve all of my love and more, Jamie, now please take my hand.”

 

Jamie sniffled, but she reached out and slid her hand in Dani’s.  Dani held it tight and then pulled Jamie into a crushing hug.  They both cried in each other’s arms, tears of hurt and tears of relief.  Dani finally led them over to the couch.  She took Jamie’s hands in her own when they sat down.

 

“Dani, I’m so sorry I accused you of… I know you would never… I know that, I really do.  I just, I got scared and overreacted and wasn’t thinking straight…”

 

“Shhh Jamie, it’s okay.  I should have realized that my behavior would raise all kinds of red flags for my super sexy ex-MI5 agent girlfriend.  I guess I thought I was sneakier.”

 

“Yeah, you weren’t at all,” Jamie said with a forced laugh.

 

“You thought I had betrayed you,” Dani stated.

 

“Yeah,” Jamie admitted. “I was so scared you were going to be just like everyone else.  But, it would have been so much worse.”

 

Dani rubbed her hand on Jamie’s thigh and Jamie focused on it like it was a lifeline in a storm.  “Jamie, I can understand why you thought that.  I forget sometimes how much you’ve been through, how much you’ve endured.  You always seem so confident and in charge that I forget how sensitive you are, too.  I know I get to see a side of you that no one else ever has, and it’s the greatest gift you can give me.”

 

“It also means you have the greatest capacity to hurt me,” Jamie interjected.

 

Dani nodded solemnly.  “I know.  And I take that very seriously.  But the same goes for you.”

 

Jamie sniffled again and wiped the tears off her face with her sleeve.  “I’m so sorry I hurt you today, Poppins.  I jumped to conclusions and I hurt you.  There’s no excuse for it and I hate myself for it.  Please forgive me.  I can’t lose you.”

 

“Oh Jamie, you’re not going to lose me,” Dani said, leaning in to hug her and holding on tight.  “And of course I forgive you.  You were forgiven the moment it happened.  My love for you  is not so fragile that this would change anything.  Please stop beating yourself up over it.  We’re going to be just fine.  But, I do need something from you.”

 

Jamie pulled back to look at Dani, but they remained close.  “Name it.”

 

“I need you to trust me from here on out.  I need you to trust that I would never do anything to intentionally hurt you.  I know that others have hurt you, and those scars run deep, but let me be the exception. I need you to trust that I love you more than anyone or anything and that’s never going to change.  Please have faith in me.  Can you do that?”

 

“I can, yeah.  I do trust you, Dani.  I’ll never question that trust again.  I also don’t want to risk looking like an idiot like this again,” she added with a chuckle.

 

“Good,” Dani said, leaning in for a gentle kiss. 

 

“And Dani?”

 

“Yeah?” 

 

“I hope you can have the same faith in me.”

 

“Jamie, you’ve saved my life in so many different ways.  You’ve had my faith and trust this whole time.”

 

Jamie smiled.  “You have, too, if I’m being honest.  What happened today won’t happen again, I can tell you that.  But umm, I do have one more question.”

 

“Yeah, what’s that?”

 

“So, where exactly are you taking me on this mystery vacation?  Because it turns out I’m actually pretty excited about it and think it’s a brilliant idea.”

 

“Oh, wouldn’t you like to know….” Dani replied mischievously, leaning in for another kiss.

 


 

They didn’t know how long they had been on the couch, both of them lost in the comfort of the other.  Jamie was still laying on her back with her head in Dani’s lap, looking up her.  Dani continued to softly stroke Jamie’s face and hair with one hand.  She loved running her finger along Jamie’s strong jawline.   Her other hand was resting on Jamie’s stomach, underneath her shirt, her hand rubbing soothing circles on bare skin.  It was something they both found immense comfort in when they were alone, always preferring to touch each other directly rather than over clothes.  Sometimes it led to more, but many times, like in this moment it was just another way for one to say to the other— I’m here.  I’m with you.  And I always will be.  Jamie brought a hand up to cover Dani’s with her own, running a finger along Dani’s wedding band.  Dani noticed her doing it and smiled down at her.

 

“What are you thinking right now?” She asked quietly, not wanting to disturb the peace of the moment.

 

“What I’m normally thinking about— how much I love you,” Jamie said, smiling up at her.  “Seeing this ring on your finger, it never gets old for me.  I love everything it symbolizes, that I’m your’s and you’re mine and we’re a team. And, it feels like, once again, it’s you and me against the world.  You know?”

 

Dani ran the back of her fingers gently down Jamie’s cheek and Jamie felt like she could melt into Dani’s touch.  “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean,” Dani replied.  “I love being married to you.  Now come up here and kiss me.”

 

Jamie didn’t hesitate.  The image of Dani shooting the gun from the car flashed in her mind and it caused desire to pool low.  She leaned up and wrapped her arms around Dani’s neck while Dani supported her back with a steady hand.  Her lips met Dani’s in a searing kiss, her tongue immediately requesting entry.  Dani gasped in surprise but then returned Jamie’s hunger with her own.  Jamie sat up and straddled Dani’s lap, never breaking their kiss.  She tangled both her hands in Dani’s hair while Dani’s hands gripped her hips, pulling her down closer.  A moan escaped Jamie’s lips, spurring Dani on.  She gently nipped at Jamie’s bottom lip and then moved down to her neck, settling on her pulse point, alternating between biting and soothing with her tongue.  She knew what it always did to Jamie.  She decided she wanted to make Jamie forget about all of the day’s worries.

 

“Fuck, Dani,” Jamie groaned. 

 

Dani smirked as she moved her hands to the hem of Jamie’s shirt.  “Can I take this off?” She murmured against Jamie’s skin.

 

Jamie’s answer was to reach down and quickly remove her own shirt.

 

“Well, okay then,” Dani said, clearly pleased. 

 

Dani reached around to unclasp Jamie’s bra, quickly discarding it somewhere on the living room floor.  While she continued to kiss Jamie’s neck, she moved both hands to palm Jamie’s breasts, rolling the already hardened nipples between her fingers.  They both moaned at the contact.  Jamie ground her hips down harder onto Dani and Dani’s thrust up to meet her.

 

“Shit, Dani, I need more,” Jamie said desperately.  “Now.”

 

“But I wanted to take my time with you,” Dani responded slowly.

 

“Later.  Right now I just really want to feel you.”  Jamie was practically out of breath, her pupils dark with desire, her hips continuing to grind against Dani at a frantic pace, desperate for more friction.

 

“Okay then, you asked for it,” Dani said in a tone that sent white hot desire coursing through Jamie.

 

Dani flipped Jamie over so she was on her back laying down on the couch.  “Take your pants off,” she commanded.  Jamie frantically complied, her hands shaking,  while she watched Dani take her own shirt off.

 

“All of it for you, too,” Jamie said, panting.

 

Dani winked.  “That was the plan.”

 

In seconds they were both fully free of their clothes and Dani settled on top of Jamie.

 

“Mmm, that’s better,” Dani said.

 

“Please,” Jamie whispered, not even trying to disguise her need.  Dani loved her like this.  She loved knowing that only she could make Jamie feel this way.

 

Dani gazed at Jamie, the desire in her eyes blazing.  She brought her thigh up and surprised Jamie by thrusting it against her center.  Jamie gasped and then moaned, pushing back against Dani’s thigh.  “Harder,” she requested.

 

Dani pushed into her more, letting Jamie grind against her. She could feel Jamie’s wetness coating her thigh and she felt her own desire growing.

 

“Dani, I’m already so close,” Jamie said breathlessly.

 

Dani knew what Jamie needed from her.  She moved her thigh and replaced it with her fingers, pressing into Jamie’s clit and drawing steady circles around it.

 

“Oh god, Dani,” Jamie moaned.  Dani cut her off with a kiss while her fingers continued to work.

 

Knowing that Jamie was close and in desperate need of release, Dani moved to her entrance and slid two fingers in.  Jamie threw her head back in pleasure as Dani set a quick pace.  She knew Jamie was not in the mood for her to hold back.  She went deep and hard, curling her fingers upward with every out thrust, the palm of her hand mercilessly hitting Jamie’s clit each time.  It didn’t take long before Jamie was crashing over the edge, her entire body shaking with the force of her release.  Dani slowed her thrusts but continued to guide Jamie through her orgasm, swiping her thumb gently over her center.  Jamie started to squirm after the last of the aftershocks.

 

“Dani…” she panted.

 

But Dani wasn’t ready to be done with her.  She had an idea.  She looked at Jamie mischievously. “Think you can give me one more?” Dani asked, continuing her ministrations.

 

Jamie moaned.  She was sensitive from her orgasm but she somehow still wanted more.  She nodded enthusiastically.

 

“You sure?” Dani asked, stilling her hand.  She didn’t want to push Jamie too far.  They knew each other’s limits, but she always wanted to check in.

 

“Yeah, I’m sure.  I’ll be okay,” she smirked.

 

“Okay, but tell me if it’s too much.”

 

“I will.”

 

Then Dani surprised Jamie again by moving down and settling between her legs.  She swiped her tongue up, flattening it against Jamie’s center,  eliciting a deep moan from Jamie.  “Shit, Dani, that’s good.  Right there.”

 

Needing no further encouragement, Dani latched her lips around Jamie’s still sensitive clit, lightly sucking and dragging her tongue along it in circles.  Jamie’s hips bucked and her hands tangled in Dani’s hair, holding her in place.  Dani was more gentle with her this time, careful to keep things pleasurable and not painful.  Even in the midst of passion, Dani recognized the trust Jamie always placed in her, and she would always take good care of her Jamie.  All she wanted was to make her feel as good as she made her feel.  Dani continued to work, alternating the strokes of her tongue around Jamie’s most sensitive spot.  Before she knew it, Jamie was coming undone again, her orgasm hitting her violently.  Dani once again worked her through it, continue to suck at her swollen clit, pursing her lips around it.  Dani’s own clit was throbbing.  She tried it ignore it, but it took everything she had not to reach down and touch herself.  She knew that relief would really only come when Jamie touched her, so she would wait.  She was aching though and squeezed her legs together, trying to alleviate some of the pressure.

 

Jamie gently touched Dani’s head.  “Baby, I’m done.  I can’t take anymore.”

 

Dani placed a quick kiss to the inside of Jamie’s thigh and then sat up, smiling at her very satisfied wife.

 

“Wow, Dani, that was, uh, wow.”  Jamie was out of breath.

 

“Feeling less stressed?” Dani asked, smirking.

 

“Yeah, much.  I think that definitely helped,” Jamie chuckled.  She noticed the wetness gathering on Dani’s thigh.  “But let’s take care of you now, yeah?”

 

“Please,” Dani said quickly.  “But if you need a minute—“

 

Jamie cut her off with a kiss as she pushed her back down on the couch, changing their positions.  Being with Dani in this way was one of Jamie’s very favorite things.  She loved the way that only she could make Dani feel.  Sensing that Dani was not in the mood for foreplay, Jamie wasted no time moving her hand between Dani’s legs and she gasped when her fingers grazed Dani’s hot, swollen center.

 

“Shit, Dani, all this for me?” Jamie asked. 

 

“It’s what touching you does to me… and seeing you in action again today…” Dani was breathless with anticipation.

 

Jamie grinned, feeling rather pleased with herself.  But, she knew Dani needed release.  She could feel Dani’s clit throbbing against her touch, straining for relief.   Jamie was in awe that all of this was from Dani touching her only moments earlier.  Dani whimpered against her.

 

“Jamie, it’s not gonna take much.  Please,” she begged.

 

“I’ve got you,” Jamie replied.  The way she said it sent a shockwave of pleasure coursing through Dani’s body.

 

Jamie expertly slid two fingers in, setting a steady pace, while her thumb constantly worked where Dani needed it most.  She knew exactly what to do and she never got tired of doing it.  Dani raked her fingers down Jamie’s back, clinging to her, but not hard enough to leave a mark, while Jamie sucked and nibbled at her pulse point.  After only a few thrusts and a few well-timed curls of Jamie’s fingers, Dani found her release.  Her back arched off the couch as she pushed herself further into Jamie, moaning her name.  Jamie didn’t let up, continuing to pump her fingers into Dani as she rode out her orgasm, savoring every sound her wife was making.  Dani’s body finally stilled, a sheen of sweat covering her.  Jamie gently removed her fingers but continued circling Dani’s clit with her thumb.  Dani made no move to stop her.

 

“This still okay?” Jamie asked, surprised.

 

“Yeah, I don’t think I’m done,” Dani said.

 

“Blimey.  Alright then,” Jame replied, impressed.  “Tell me if it starts to hurt though and I’ll stop.”

 

Dani nodded,  “Keep going.  Just, umm, stay there.”

 

Jamie was more than happy to keep going.  She brought her mouth to Dani’s breast, kissing, nipping, and sucking, while her hand continued to work between her legs.  She kept her touches light and gentle at first, but Dani asked her for more.  She applied more pressure as she circled Dani’s still swollen bud.  It never ceased to amaze her the effect that she had on Dani.  She moved her mouth to the other breast, giving it the same treatment and earning soft whines from Dani.

 

“Jamie, I need to come again.”  Dani was surprised by herself.  Her first orgasm had certainly brought her relief, but the ache for Jamie continued.  It was ever present.  She could never get enough of her, no matter how many times they had done this.  She could feel herself straining against Jamie’s touch, her body responding to everything Jamie did.  When Jamie started rubbing her thumb directly against her clit, up and down with just the right amount of pressure, Dani felt herself let go.

 

“Fuck, Jamie…”

 

Her second orgasm hit with even more force than the first.  She couldn’t even speak, she just continued to cling to Jamie as wave after wave washed over her.  Then she was too sensitive to keep going, finally sated.  She reached for Jamie’s wrist to still it and Jamie understood, moving to lay down on top of Dani.  Dani wrapped her arms around her and they both tried to catch their breath.

 

“Feeling better?” Jamie asked, quirking her eyebrow.

 

“Oh, much.”

 


   

The mystery vacation turned out to be a getaway in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  Dani knew how much Jamie loved nature and how it brought her so much peace.  So she rented a cabin for a long 4-day weekend.  The cabin came with its own hot tub, which had been a major selling point for Dani.

 

“This is perfect, Dani.  I can’t thank you enough for doing this for me,” Jamie said, dropping her bags in the living room and exploring the cabin like a child. 

 

Dani watched her with love in her eyes, Jamie’s joy bringing her joy.  Ever since the misunderstanding about the trip and their travel agent, they had been more solid than ever.  The situation scared both of them more than they cared to admit, and they both made extra efforts to be cognizant of the other and to share their feelings.  It came more naturally to Dani than Jamie, but Dani was so proud of Jamie and the way she was opening up more and more.

 

One of the things Dani was most excited about was the horseback riding trip she had booked for them.  She herself was terrified, but she knew that Jamie loved horses, and she would do anything for Jamie.  She had waited to tell Jamie about it until they were on the plane.  Jamie almost bounced up and down with excitement.  Dani had never ridden before, but the thought of Jamie on a horse was enough to make her heart skip a beat.  She never forgot how gracefully Jamie rode the horse in Egypt.  It was something Dani played over and over again in her head, and she wanted to see it again.

 

After a relaxing first day of their trip spent hiking, picnicking, and exploring the area around their cabin, they were now at the barn getting acquainted with their horses.  Since Jamie was an experienced rider, the owner agreed to let Jamie and Dani go out on the trail on their own, something they were both thrilled about.  They loved alone time to just talk and be themselves.

 

“You sure about this, Poppins?” Jamie asked, as a horse was brought out to Dani.

 

Dani gulped. “Yeah, yeah, it’ll be fine.” She said nervously.

 

“We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” Jamie said, never wanting Dani to feel pressured.

 

“I mean, it’s shorter than the camel, right?” Dani asked, trying to reassure herself.

 

“Yeah, it definitely is,” Jamie confirmed.  “And just like I was then, I’ll be right here with you.”

 

Dani nodded bravely as she was presented with a brown and white speckled horse.  A black horse was brought out for Jamie.

 

“Which one of you wants to mount up first?” The owner asked.

 

“She does,” they both said pointing at each other.  Then everyone laughed.

 

“Let’s get you up first, Poppins, yeah?  So I can help?”

 

“Okay,” Dani said, her mouth going dry.

 

“Go ahead,” the owner said.  “I’ll be here if you ladies need help.”

 

“Alright then, put your left foot in the stirrup.  I’ll help you keep your balance.  Put your hands up there on the pommel,” Jamie instructed.

 

Dani did as she was told, thankful for the feeling of Jamie’s steady hands on her leg and waist. 

 

“Jamie….,” she began.  “This is going to be really high up.”

 

“It’s not as bad as it looks, trust me.  Up you go!  Swing your leg around.”

 

Dani got a little stuck, and Jamie had to push her up and over, but she got her leg swung around.

 

“You just did that so I would grab your ass, didn’t you, Dani?” Jamie teased.

 

The comment had its desired effect and Dani laughed, realizing she was now successfully in the saddle.  Jamie kept one hand on Dani’s calf and handed her the reins with the other.

 

“Hold the reins loosely, like this,” she instructed.  Then she gave Dani a brief overview of how to steer and stop.

 

“Got it?” Jamie asked.

 

“I think so.”

 

“You’re doing great.”

 

“Thanks, Jamie.”

 

Jamie then slid on to her own horse with ease.  Dani was torn between wanting to roll her eyes and being incredibly turned on by Jamie’s skill. 

 

A few minutes later, they were on their way up the forest trail, Jamie in the lead and Dani’s horse following behind.  Jamie knew the horse would follow without Dani having to do much.  They chatted as they went, conversation always flowing easily between them.  They were about an hour into their trail ride and Dani was finally relaxing more in the saddle.  She was starting to understand why Jamie loved it so much.  She was getting ready to tell Jamie as much when, all of a sudden, Jamie’s horse reared up in front of her.  Dani looked down in horror when she saw the huge black snake that had spooked the horse.

 

“Dani, hold on!” Jamie called from in front of her, as the snake slithered towards Dani’s horse in a attempt to get away from Jamie’s.  Jamie was working to calm her horse down, but Dani’s bucked.  At first, Dani held on.

 

“Jamieeeeee!”

 

But on the third buck, Dani lost her balance and was thrown from the saddle, landing on the ground with a hard thud.  The horse galloped away up the trail.  Jamie’s tried to follow, but she reined him in, turned him around, and quickly dismounted, running to Dani’s side and kneeling down in the dirt next to her.

 

“Dani!  Dani!  You okay!?!”  Jamie was panicked.

 

Dani groaned and rolled over onto her back.  She blinked a few times, focusing on Jamie’s concerned face hovering above her.  Jamie hands frantically traveled up and down her body, searching for any signs of injury.

 

“I think I’m okay,” Dani said.  “Just got the wind knocked out of me is all.”

 

Jamie breathed a sigh of relief, her eyes still darting across Dani’s body, making sure everything was intact.

 

“Dani, I’m so sorry.  I didn’t see the snake.  I’m so, so sorry.”

 

“S’okay, Jamie.  Help me sit up?”

 

Jamie put her hand on Dani’s back as she sat up, the worry still evident on her face.

 

“I’m fine, really,” Dani said, trying to reassure her.  She placed her hand on Jamie’s cheek. “I’m fine,” she said again.

 

Jamie nodded.  “That scared the hell out of me.”  Jamie’s hands were still roaming around Dani’s body, grabbing her shoulders, her arms, anywhere they landed, reassuring herself that Dani was unharmed.  “Would it be okay if I hugged you?”

 

Dani wrapped her arms around Jamie’s neck and pulled her close.  “Of course, silly,” Dani replied. “But the only thing hurt is my pride.”

 

Jamie chuckled softly.  “You might be a bit sore later.”

 

“Well, I guess it’s a good thing our cabin has a hot tub then,” Dani replied.  She looked over Jamie’s shoulder and saw that only Jamie’s horse was still with them.  “Jamie?  Where’s my horse?  Did she run off?!”  Dani was panicked now.

 

“Yeah, she did.  Headed on up the trail.  I imagine we’ll find her when we get to the top of the mountain,” Jamie replied, unconcerned.  “Not to worry, Poppins.  These horses know these trails.  We won’t go back without her.  I promise.”

 

Dani nodded, Jamie’s sense of calm helping her.  “Okay.  Will you help me up?”

 

Jamie supported Dani while she stood up.  “Everything still feel okay?” Jamie asked.

 

“Yeah, I’m really okay.  I’m stronger than I look.”

 

“Oh, I know that full well,” Jamie said, smiling.  “Let’s brush you off though, yeah?

 

Jamie gingerly picked a few leaves out of Dani’s hair and carefully tucked it behind her ears.  Dani smiled at the soft gesture.  Then Jamie brushed the dirt and debris off her back, working her way down.

 

“I feel this was nothing more than an elaborate ploy for you to get me to touch your ass again,” Jamie said, giving her a playful smack.

 

Dani laughed awkwardly.  “You caught me again.  What can I say?”  She turned around and gave Jamie a quick peck on the lips.  “So, does this mean we have to walk the rest of the way?” Dani asked, suddenly less enthusiastic.

 

“Definitely not.  You’ll ride with me the rest of the way.”

 

“Hmmm, well, that sounds infinitely better than walking,” Dani said, winking.

 

“Oh, does it now?  You’re such a flirt.”

 

“And you love that about me,” Dani teased.

 

“I really do.”

 

Jamie went back to her horse, petting his nose and saying soothing things to him, encouraging him to be gentle with her Dani.  Dani just smiled as she watched Jamie interact with the animal.  Jamie eventually got back in the saddle and held her hand down to Dani.

 

“M’lady?”

 

Dani shook her head in mock disapproval but thought it was adorable.  She took Jamie’s hand.

 

“Grab higher up.  My forearm,” Jamie instructed.  “Put your other hand on the back of the saddle.” 

 

Jamie scooted up further in the saddle to make room for her, but it was going to be a tight fit.  Dani did as instructed and Jamie pulled her into the saddle behind her.  Dani immediately wrapped her arms tightly around Jamie’s waist, her body flush against Jamie’s.

 

“You okay back there?” Jamie asked, checking in.  She placed one hand over Dani’s on her stomach.

 

“Yeah, I’m good,” Dani responded, laying her head against Jamie’s back, loving the feeling of being so close to her.  She hummed in contentment.  Jamie smiled and clicked her tongue, spurring the horse to begin walking back up the trail.   

 

Jamie kept a slow pace as they made their way to the top of the mountain, wanting to make sure Dani was comfortable.  Dani seemed more than happy with her spot behind Jamie, nuzzling into her the whole way, which Jamie loved.  They talked off and on, Dani periodically pecking Jamie on the cheek.

 

“What did I do to keep deserving kisses?” Jamie asked.

 

“You’re just so adorable,” Dani responded.

 

Jamie scoffed.  “I am not, Poppins!  You take that back,” she said playfully.

 

“See, even when you act mad, your accent just makes everything so  cute.  I love it.”

 

“Pfft.  My accent is rubbish.”

 

“Yeah, it’s definitely not,” Dani said, with no room for further argument.

 

“Well, I’m glad you fancy it, at least,” Jamie said, conceding.

 

Dani sat up straighter and in her “best” British accent said, “Aye, I fancy it.  And I fancy you.”

 

Jamie groaned, but smiled.  

 

“So, this is really your first time riding a horse?” Jamie asked.

 

“Yeah, it is.  You know, one of the only things I remember about my dad is that he loved horses.  I always wanted to ride them when I was a little girl, but my mom wouldn’t let me.  She said it was too dangerous.  So, I never did.  And then, as I got older, I guess I got scared.  I’m glad it’s something I’m getting to do with you now.”

 

“Me too,” Jamie said sincerely.  “And it’s good to know Karen Clayton has always been a killjoy,” she added for good measure.

 

A few minutes later they reached a meadow near the top of the mountain.  Dani’s horse was there, grazing. 

 

“See?  I told ya we’d find her,” Jamie said.  “And blimey, look at this view.”

 

Dani perched her chin on Jamie’s shoulder and took in the view.  They could see rolling mountains for miles.  It was breathtaking.  “Wow,” Dani whispered.

 

Jamie leaned back and tilted her head towards Dani, gently placing her hand on Dani’s cheek and tilting her face closer.  Dani leaned forward the rest of the way and kissed her, slowly and deeply.  They both smiled and hummed into it, finally breaking away for air.

 

“That was my first kiss on a horse,” Jamie said, beaming.

 

“Mine, too,” Dani confirmed.  “And it was pretty great.”

 

“Absolutely brilliant,” Jamie agreed.  “Want to get down for a bit and explore?  Let the horses graze?”

 

“Yeah, that sounds great, Jamie.”

 

“Alright.  I’ll get down first and then help you.”

 

Dani reluctantly let go of Jamie while she swung her leg over the front of the saddle and slid to the ground.  She then spotted Dani while she dismounted, keeping her hands on her shoulders and lower back to steady her.

 

“Thanks,” Dani said, as she stood to face Jamie.  She groaned as she stood straight.  “Ugh my legs!”

 

Jamie laughed.  “Yeah, mine too.  Feels like you’re still in the saddle, doesn’t it?”

 

“It really does!  It’s so weird!”

 

They walked around for a bit, enjoying the view and taking pictures together on their phones.  Neither one of them wanted to forget one moment of the experience.  When they had finally finished exploring, they laid down on the meadow grass, staring up at the clouds together.  Dani curled into Jamie, laying her head on Jamie’s shoulder and wrapping an arm around her waist.  Jamie put both her arms around Dani, keeping her close.

 

“That one looks like a dog,” Dani said, pointing at the cloud in question.

 

Jamie squinted.  “Eh, maybe?”

 

Dani tickled her ribs.  “It looks just like a dog and you know it, Jamie!”

 

They stayed that way for another half hour, soaking up the peace that they found only with each other.  But no amount of time was ever enough and they knew they had to head back before it got dark. 

 

“Alright,” Jamie said, pulling Dani up with both hands, “It’s literally time for you to get back in the saddle.”

 

Dani was thoughtful for a minute.  “Could you maybe teach me how you ride?”

 

“Sure, if you’d like.  This is a good a spot as any for a lesson.”

 

Dani beamed.  “I thought that was going to be a tougher sell.”

 

Jamie shook her head.  “Nah, I’ve no problem spending a little more time with my hands all over you.”

 

Dani smirked.  “Oh, I do love your lessons.”

 

Jamie helped Dani up onto her horse and then climbed up behind her.  She reached around Dani to hold her hands while she held the reins.  Using her own body behind Dani, she taught her how to move with the horse, how to steer, how to speed up, how to slow down.  She alternated between holding Dani’s arms and gripping her hips or waist, depending on what she was showing her.  Dani loved it all.  With Jamie teaching her, she quickly picked it all up.

 

“You’re a natural, Dani!” Jamie exclaimed as they galloped around the meadow.  Jamie held on firmly to Dani and laughed as Dani’s hair blew back and tickled her face.

 

“I’m doing it!  I can’t believe I’m doing it!” Dani said exuberantly. 

 

“I’m so proud of you,” Jamie said in her ear and Dani beamed at the praise.

 

“I have the best teacher,” she said as she slowed the horse to a trot.

 

“Well, I reckon that’s the truth,” Jamie said, kissing her neck.

 

Although neither of them wanted the ride to end, Jamie eventually dismounted.  She patted Dani’s leg and smiled up at her.

 

“You’re beautiful, you know that, right?”

 

“That’s what you keep telling me.  But you’re the beautiful one.”

 

Jamie smiled and shook her head, giving Dani’s leg a loving squeeze before returning to her own horse.  They galloped around the meadow a few times, laughing and smiling the whole time, before finally heading back down the trail.  They returned right before sunset and thanked the owner for a wonderful day as he led the horses back into the barn.

 

They drove back to their cabin, both of them completely exhausted, but also completely happy.  Dani groaned as they walked through the door.

 

“Yeah, that soreness you were talking about?  It’s definitely kicking in,” she said dramatically.

 

Jamie got a twinkle in her eye.  “So, about that hot tub?”

 


 

It was 3:00am.  Jamie and Dani had long since fallen asleep.  Dani was sleeping with her head on Jamie’s chest, their arms wrapped around each other and their legs tangled.  They were so peaceful like this, none of the worries of the day evident on their faces.  They frequently spent all night tangled in each other’s arms, seeking each other out, even in sleep, breathing in the familiar and comforting scent of the other, safe in each other’s arms.

 

RING!  RING!  RING!

 

“Oi what the fuck?” Jamie muttered, reaching for her phone on the nightstand.  Dani groaned on top of her, shifting with her as she reached for the phone and laid back down to answer it.

 

Hannah Grose calling…

 

“Shit,” Jamie said.  She answered the call, putting it on speaker so Dani could hear.  “Hannah?  Everything alright?”

 

Dani tightened her grip on Jamie’s side, steeling herself for whatever news they were about to hear.  No one ever called in the middle of the night for good news.

 

“Jamie,” Hannah said, her voice tight with worry.  “I’m so sorry for calling at this hour, but I’m glad you answered.”  Jamie squeezed Dani’s shoulder, bracing herself for bad news and needing to feel Dani’s support.

 

“Of course, Hannah.  What’s wrong?  Is it Owen?  Is Owen alright?”  Jamie asked quickly.

 

Hannah spoke rapidly.  Jamie had never heard her so rattled, her usual composure gone.  “I don’t know, Jamie, I don’t know.  I should have listened to you.  You tried to warn me, Jamie.  You knew something was wrong, and I didn’t listen.  And now he’s been captured.  They have him, Jamie, they have him.  We tried to get him back, but from what we can tell, they’ve taken him to America.  We’ve no jurisdiction there and working with the FBI will take time he doesn’t have.  I know I have no right to ask this of you, Jamie, but I’m desperate and don’t know what else to do.  Will you help?  Will you bring Owen home to me?  Jamie, I need you back in the field doing what you do best.”

 

Jamie and Dani held on to each other, neither of them breathing, their worst fears being realized.  Their peaceful life was about to be shattered and they both knew it.  Jamie looked at Dani in her arms, wanting nothing more than to stay there with her.  Her new life was perfect, and she didn’t want to jeopardize it.  But, her old life was calling, and Owen and Hannah needed her.  Dani looked right back at her, wanting her to stay but knowing she couldn’t ask it of her.  Dani gave a small, almost imperceptible, nod of her head, and Jamie understood.

 

“I’ll bring him home, Hannah, you know I will,” Jamie said with more confidence than she felt.  She closed her eyes tight as a tear slowly escaped.  She somehow knew that their lives would never be the same again.  “Tell me everything you know.”

 

It was time for Agent Jamie Clayton-Taylor to go on one last mission.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie had just hung up the phone with Hannah; they had decided to reconvene in 15 minutes on a secure video channel.  She made no effort to move after ending the call, still laying in bed with Dani, her eyes closed, trying to steady her breathing.

 

“Jamie?” Dani asked hesitantly.  The fear in Dani’s voice sent shockwaves of guilt through Jamie.  By choosing to go after Owen, she knew she was also choosing to leave Dani behind.  “Jamie, look at me.”

 

Jamie opened her eyes and turned her head toward Dani.  Even in the darkness of their room, she could see the worry etched on Dani’s face.  She knew it probably reflected her own.

 

“Yeah, baby?” Jamie said, pulling her closer and kissing her forehead.

 

“I’m scared,” Dani said, in a small voice.

 

“Me too,” Jamie admitted.  “We’ve got a problem, Poppins.  I have to go, but I also can’t bear the thought of leaving you here.”

 

“Then take me with you,” Dani said without hesitation.

 

“No.”

 

“Jamie, I can help—“

 

“No, it’s too dangerous, Dani.  We’re not doing this again.  I can’t.  Let’s just get dressed and see what Hannah has for me, yeah?”

 

Dani felt dejected but she knew the conversation was over for the moment.  She couldn’t fathom Jamie being out there in the field, putting her life at risk, and her alone at home.  Is it even home without Jamie?

 

A few minutes later, Jamie and Dani were sitting at their kitchen table, waiting for Hannah to join the video call.  They were sitting on the same side of the table, their chairs so close that their shoulders were touching.  Their hands were laced together in Jamie’s lap.  Hannah’s face flickered onto the screen.

 

“Jamie, Dani,” she began.  “I can’t tell you how sorry I am about this.  I should have believed you when you thought all of this was connected.  We were so desperate to take down the Collective, and well, you know how stubborn Owen can be, and we—“

 

“Hannah, it’s in the past now,” Jamie said.  “Let’s focus on what we can do now, yeah?”

 

Hannah nodded.  “Thank you.  I just know I have no right to ask any of this of you.”

 

“Owen’s our friend, and so are you,” Jamie replied.  Dani squeezed her hand under the table and nodded in agreement.  “So what do you have?” Jamie asked, shifting into business mode.

 

Hannah explained that Owen had missed his scheduled check-in after infiltrating the Collective.  She became worried so she pulled surveillance from his last known location.  She showed them a series of surveillance photos and satellite images showing the moments before Owen was captured and later put on a plane.  She gave them as much information as she knew about the Collective and their operations.  She explained how they tracked Owen’s plane to Denver, Colorado.  And that’s where the trail went cold.

 

“Jamie, I know what I’m asking of you, and I’m sorry,” Hannah said sincerely.  “I’ll understand if you change your mind.  This is dangerous.  Probably one of the most dangerous things I’ve ever asked of you.  And Dani, I know this isn’t fair to you.”

 

“If I change my mind, there’s a good chance Owen dies, Hannah.  We both know that.”

 

All three women were silent, all recognizing the truth of Jamie’s words.  Dani looked down at their hands.  She couldn’t imagine her hand not in Jamie’s.  She knew that soon, Jamie would be gone.  Without her.  She wanted to cry, but she knew she needed to be strong for Jamie.  She also knew that if she asked Jamie not to go, she wouldn’t. But if something happened to Owen because of it, she knew neither of them would be able to live with it or forgive themselves.  Jamie was a hero.  She would always be a hero.  It’s just who she was.  And they all knew she would go before the question was even asked.  And Dani would never stand in the way of who Jamie was.

 

Hannah nodded and continued, “Jamie, if you get caught…”

 

“I know, Hannah,” Jamie replied gravely.

 

“Wait, you know what?” Dani asked, suddenly even more alarmed.

 

Jamie turned to look at Dani.  “MI5 has no jurisdiction here.  If I’m caught by either the Collective or taken into custody by the police or FBI as a result of my actions on this mission, I am on my own.  There is no backup.”

 

“What?!  Hannah?!”  Dani was frantic.  “Can’t you just reinstate her?!”

 

Jamie answered for her.  “If she does that, love, and I get caught,  it creates a mess for MI5 with the U.S. government.  This way they have plausible deniability.”

 

“I’m already working with the FBI, Dani,” Hannah said, trying to appease her.  “But it takes time and, unfortunately, Owen’s status is not a top-level priority for them.  It’s just a top priority to me, it seems,” she added sadly.  “Help is coming, but it will take time that I’m afraid Owen doesn’t have.”  Hannah choked back a sob.

 

Jamie brought their joined hands up to her lips and kissed Dani’s hand.  Trying to exude more confidence then she felt, Jamie, said, “I won’t get caught.  I’ll come home to you.  Just give me a few days to get this sorted.”

 

Dani was blinking back tears, trying to stay strong, but feeling like she might fall apart.

 

Hannah also tried to reassure Dani.  “Jamie is the best agent I’ve ever worked with.  If anyone can do this, it’s her.”

 

A question occurred to Dani.  “Hannah, did you send agents after Owen before they took him out of England?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“What happened to them?” Dani asked, already fearing the answer.

 

“They were all killed in action.”

 

Jamie’s jaw tensed.  She wasn’t worried for herself.  She was worried about how Dani was taking the news.  But Dani surprised her with her response.

 

“So, why did they take Owen alive?”

 

Jamie whistled through her teeth.  “That’s a good question, isn’t it, Hannah?  Why indeed?”

 

“I don’t know, Jamie, I just know it means that we have a chance to bring him home.  And I need him home… with me.  Jamie, I shouldn’t have put him off.  I thought we had more time.  Oh god, what have I done?”

 

Jamie’s heart went out to Hannah.  She knew that this regret would haunt her forever.  She also knew that everyone needed her to be strong, to be confident.  Jamie’s voice did not betray her fears; it projected strength.  “I’ll do it.  I’ll find him, and then we’ll both come home.  Hannah, can you book me a flight to Denver?  I’ll start there.”

 

Hannah wiped her eyes and started typing right away, back into task mode.  “Working on that now.  Looks like you can catch a flight in three hours.  Will that work?”

 

Dani’s heart sank.  Three hours?  I have three hours left with Jamie.

 

“Yeah, that’ll work.”

 

“Great, I’ll send everything to your phone,” Hannah said.  “And I’m working on getting myself there, too.  I should be able to join you in a day or two.”

 

“I hope to have this wrapped up in a couple days, but I’ll look forward to seeing you all the same,” Jamie said, with her trademark smile.

 

Dani didn’t hear anything else as they wrapped up the call.  She was vaguely aware of a lot of “sorry’s” and “thank you’s.”  She was only focused on the amount of time she had left with Jamie.  It was like a countdown clock had started in her mind.

 

“Poppins?  Poppins?”  Jamie was calling her name.  Dani blinked and snapped out of her thoughts.

 

“Yeah, sorry.  What were you saying?”

 

“I was asking if you’d help me pack,” Jamie said, concerned, her eyes searching Dani’s.  “And maybe we can talk about how you’re feeling.  I’m going to be okay, Dani.  You know that, right?  You trust me?”

 

“I trust you.  I know you’re the best.  But I’d feel better if I was there to have your back.”

 

Jamie shook her head slowly.  “I know, and on some level, I want to say ‘yes.’  But, I’m just going to go in, get Owen, and get out.  It will be quick.  And it will be easier for me if I know you are safe.  Which reminds me… Until this is resolved, I want you to be extra vigilant.  You go to work, you come home.  No extra trips or errands.  You keep your gun on you at all times.  You keep the security system on.  I hate leaving you here knowing that there’s someone still out there watching us.  If anything happens to you—”

 

“Jamie, you’re the one going into who knows what, and  you’re worried about me?!”

 

“It’s just that, if something happens to you while I’m gone, while I’m not here to protect you, I—“

 

“I will be fine, Jamie.  But I would be better with you.  And, I mean, can’t you better protect me if I’m with you,” she added slyly.

 

Jamie knew that Dani had a point, but Jamie also didn’t want to let on to her just how dangerous this mission could be.  Jamie calculated the risk and felt that Dani’s safest option was to stay home.

 

“Will you just promise me that you’ll do all of those things?  Until I can get back to you?  Will you do that for me?” Jamie was so serious.  Dani could not refuse her this.  She reluctantly nodded.

 

“Yes, I promise.  If you’ll just promise me that you’ll come back to me.  That you’ll be careful.”

 

“I promise.  I will do anything to come home to you.  And I’ll check in as much as I can.  You’ll know what I’m doing every step of the way, okay?”

 

Dani nodded and Jamie leaned forward to place a gentle kiss on her forehead.  Her heart was breaking, and she knew Dani’s was, too.  Jamie wasn’t sure which was worse, being the one who had to leave or being the one who got left behind.  She had certainly been left behind enough to know how heart wrenching it was.  She didn’t want that for Dani.  That’s why I got out of all of this.  Because I never wanted to make her feel the way.  Hell, I don’t want to feel this way either.  This is exactly why I made the choice I did.  And it was the right one for us. It would have been like this all the time if I had stayed in MI5.

 

Thirty minutes later, they had finished packing Jamie’s suitcase and backpack.  She was traveling light, just a couple changes of clothing and as many weapons as she could safely check into her luggage.  She looked every bit an agent again, her whole demeanor changing, and Dani was reminded just how lethal her wife truly was.  She sometimes forgot, in the midst of their quiet life, that Jamie’s top skill was killing.  Knowing how much Jamie hated that, how much it chipped away at her soul, Dani worried what she may have to do on this mission.  She knew that Jamie would not hesitate to do what needed to be done, and she knew that she would be there to put her back together again upon her return.  That’s what she would do for Jamie.  She would be her anchor.  And she would be her lighthouse, guiding her home.

 

“How much time before you need to leave for the airport?” Dani asked.

 

Jamie looked at her watch, doing mental calculations for how long it would take to drive to the airport, go through security, and board her flight.  “I reckon about 45 minutes.”

 

“Good.  That’s plenty of time,” Dani said.

 

“For what?”  Jamie asked.

 

“For this,” Dani said, kissing her slowly, deeply, and passionately.  She would use her body to convey every ounce of love she had for Jamie, knowing that words could not convey the depth of her emotions in this moment.  She needed Jamie to know how much she meant to her.

 

Jamie eagerly returned the kiss.  Kissing Dani in this moment felt as essential to her as breathing.

 

They took their time with each other, gone was the roughness they had both enjoyed just the night before.  This was different.  They spent time savoring every inch of the other’s body, committing it all to memory, feather-light touches conveying the reverence they felt for one another.  It was slow and gentle and full of love and full of fear at the same time.  Their bodies spoke what their words could not— that they were both afraid that Jamie wasn’t coming home, that this was the last time they were ever going to do this.  When they came together, shaking in each other’s arms, tears silently escaped from both their eyes.  They both understood exactly what the other was feeling.  And they clung to each other with everything they had until it was time to go.

 

Dani drove Jamie to the airport.  It was one of the hardest things she’d ever had to do, knowing that every mile was one closer to Jamie getting on a plane without her.  They held hands tightly the whole way, thumbs rubbing over knuckles and gentle squeezes.  Jamie kept her eyes fixed on Dani.  They had not spent a day apart in five years, and they both knew the separation would be physically and emotionally painful. 

 

Dani pulled up to the unloading zone in front of the airport, letting out a shaky breath.  She looked over at Jamie, trying not to cry.

 

“Jamie…” Dani wanted to grab Jamie and never let her go.  She wanted to tell her to stay, that she needed her more, that Jamie didn’t owe MI5 anything.  But she also knew she had to be strong and put her own desires aside.  She wouldn’t make things harder on Jamie by begging her to stay.  She already knew Jamie was struggling.  Jamie said that everything would be fine, but Dani knew from the way Jamie made love to her that she was just as terrified as she was.  They both stood to lose everything.

 

“Shhh, shhh, I know.”  For the third time that day, Jamie took Dani’s face in her hands and kissed her forehead.  She then placed a gentle kiss to the tip of her nose, and finally her lips found Dani’s.  It was their first real goodbye kiss and it nearly broke them both.  Dani’s lips quivered as she fought back tears.  Jamie didn’t say another word; she slid out of the car, grabbed her bags from the trunk, and walked into the airport with a swagger she did not feel.  She didn’t look back.  She knew that if she looked back and saw Dani crying, she would get back in the car and tell Dani to drive them home.  And Owen needed her.  Dani needed her, too, but her only way back to her was to save Owen first.

 

Dani broke down as soon as Jamie disappeared into the airport.  She felt like her heart was no longer in her own body; it was in Jamie’s and Jamie had taken it with her.

 


 

Across the street, a man picked up his cell phone.  After six hours of surveilling the airport, he finally had something to report.  He dialed a number as he watched the red Prius drive away.

 

“Hello.”

 

“Sir.  They’ve reactivated Agent Taylor.  She’s getting on a plane.”

 

“Excellent.  Hannah Grose is nothing if not predictable.  And Agent Taylor’s wife?”

 

“She didn’t go with her.”

 

“She didn’t?!  Shit.  This is unexpected, but it’s no matter.  I’ll call in the asset.  You return to base.”

 

“You don’t want me to stay on the girl?”

 

“Negative.  Soon, she will come to us.”

 


 

When Dani got home, the silence of the house felt like a crushing weight.  When she’d been there alone before, it was only because Jamie was out on an errand, or had gone for a run, it was always temporary.  This, this was unbearable.  She didn’t know when Jamie was coming back, but she had to trust that she was.  Her wife was the best.  She would come back.  She had to.

 

Everywhere Dani looked, she saw memories of Jamie.  When she looked in the kitchen, it was like she could see Jamie dancing with her.  Jamie always found any excuse to dance with her.  They had danced around the kitchen island more times than Dani could count.  Whether she was wearing her pajamas or a sundress, Jamie always made her feel like she was the most beautiful woman in the world.  Turning her gaze to the couch, Dani was flooded with memories of movie nights— of popcorn being thrown at each other and Jamie’s infectious laugh.  Dani could get lost in that laugh.  It was the most beautiful sound in the whole world.  And no one could make Dani laugh like Jamie could.  She pictured all the times she had cuddled with Jamie on their couch and fallen asleep in her lap, Jamie gently running her fingers through her hair.  Her eyes flitted downstairs.  There were too many memories there, too— of Jamie working out and Dani watching, of Jamie teaching Dani how to throw a punch, her hands on her hips and elbows and everywhere.  A quick glance out the window to see their two empty chairs on the dock brought a tear to her eye.  Jamie was everywhere… and nowhere at the same time.  It was an agony far worse than any physical one Dani had ever experienced.

 

Dani sank to the couch and put her head in her hands.  Her phone dinged, bringing her back from her thoughts.  She smiled when she saw it was Jamie.

 

Jamie: Just boarded the plane.  Will be taking off shortly.  Text when I land.  Did you make it home ok?

 

Dani:  I did.  I miss you already.  I packed some snacks in your bag in case you get hungry.

 

Jamie: I found them.  And the note you left.  You’re the best.  I miss you, too.

 

Dani:  I love you.  Be safe.

 

Jamie: I love you, too.  Talk soon.

 

Hours later, Dani was heating up a frozen dinner.  She didn’t have the motivation to cook without Jamie being there.  She knew that Jamie’s flight would be landing in Denver soon.  Right on time, her phone rang.

 

Jamie calling…

 

“Jamie!”

 

“Dani!  Just calling to let you know I made it.  I’m grabbing my luggage and then going to check into a hotel.”

 

They talked for a few minutes as Jamie navigated her way through the terminal to baggage claim.  It had only been a matter of hours, but both of them were so happy to hear the other’s voice.  Jamie got off the phone when she hailed a cab, promising to FaceTime Dani before bed.

 

It was late by the time Jamie got settled into her hotel, so she decided that recon could wait until the morning when she was rested. She climbed into the hotel bed and prepared to call Dani.  It felt so wrong to be in a bed without Dani.  Jamie doubted she would get much sleep at all.

 

Meanwhile, Dani was also getting ready for bed.  Nothing felt right without Jamie.  It took her almost all evening to notice that Jamie had left her a note on her nightstand.  She didn’t know when Jamie had even had the time.  Maybe when I was writing her a note, Dani mused, smiling to herself.  She opened the note:

 

Dani, I love you.  I will see you soon… I promise.  Don’t get used to having the whole bed to yourself. ;)

Xoxo, Jamie

 

Dani smiled again and carefully set the note back down on the nightstand, climbing into bed.  It felt wrong to be in their bed alone.  Dani scooted over to Jamie’s side, hugging Jamie’s pillow and breathing in her scent.  She felt the cool steel of Jamie’s gun under the pillow.  She’d never stopped sleeping with it.  It was all enough to bring tears to Dani’s eyes.  She missed her fiercely.  She’d never felt so alone.

 

Thankfully, Dani’s phone went off, indicating an incoming FaceTime call from Jamie.

 

“Hey, Poppins!  You in bed?”

 

“Yeah.  You?”

 

“Yeah, this hotel bed is shite though.  Hey, are you on my side of the bed?”

 

“Maaaaaybe.”

 

“Good to know I’m missed.”

 

“You know that you are.”

 

They talked for over two hours, about nothing and about everything.  It was later for Dani than Jamie and Jamie finally insisted that she get some rest.

 

“I honestly don’t think I can sleep without you.”

 

“Hmmm… think of one of your favorite memories of us and replay that in your head.  Then maybe you’ll dream about me.”

 

Dani smiled.  “I think I can do that.  I’ll see you in my dreams.”

 

“See you there.”

 


 

Jamie was chopping vegetables for dinner when Dani came through the door from the garage.  Dani had told her that she needed to run some errands in town.  Jamie had offered to go with her, but Dani declined the offer, saying that she knew Jamie had wanted to do some yard work that day and she didn’t want to interrupt her plans.  Jamie thought nothing of it, so she was surprised when a very noticeably nervous Dani came through the door two hours later with a shotgun slung over her shoulder.

 

“What’s all this then?” Jamie asked, genuinely curious.

 

Dani took the shotgun off her shoulder and walked over to Jamie.  “I found this, in a yard sale in town.  It doesn’t work.  The firing mechanism is jammed.  It was going to be thrown away, but it’s an antique, and I know how you like those, and I just thought that maybe I should save it for you.  Thought maybe you could fix it.”

 

Jamie’s face softened.  She always loved saving lost causes, mostly plants, but why not fix up an old gun, too?  She still couldn’t quite figure out why Dani seemed so nervous though.  She searched her eyes; there was something there.  Jamie decided to play along.

 

“Sure, give it here then.  Let’s see what’s going on.”

 

Jamie didn’t miss the satisfied smile on Dani’s face when Jamie immediately offered to look at the gun.  Dani handed it to her, and Jamie slid the top of the gun open, peering into the chamber. 

 

“Well, there’s your problem,” she said immediately.  “I can see something jammed in here.  Can’t believe the previous owner missed it.  Let me just…”  Jaime suddenly realized what was in the chamber.  “Dani, why is there a ring—“

 

“Here’s the thing,” Dani said, her voice growing bolder. “You’re my best friend and the love of my life.  These past couple of years with you have been the best of my life.  No one has ever loved me like you do.  No one has ever made me feel safe like you do.  No one has ever made me laugh like you do.  And no one else ever will.  And I love you the same.  You’re the most incredible person I’ve ever met, and I can’t believe you love me back.  I’m the luckiest girl in the world.  But I want more.  I want it all.  Wherever you go, I want to go.  I want to show you every day how special you are, how loved you are.  I want this to go on forever, and I want that forever to be official.  I love you, Jamie Taylor, with every piece of me.  Will you marry me?”

 

Jamie set the gun down but held on to the beautiful diamond ring as she pulled Dani into a hug.  She was smiling and laughing and crying.  “Yes, yes, yes!  I will marry you!  Of course I will!”

 

Relief and happiness flooded Dani’s face as she pulled her in for a kiss.  And then they were hugging again, both of them smiling and giggling.

 

“Can I put it on you?”  Dani asked eagerly.  She couldn’t wait to see the ring on Jamie’s finger.

 

“Please,” Jamie said, handing her the ring and holding out her hand.  Dani slid it on her ring finger.  “It’s beautiful,” Jamie said, in awe, unable to believe this was actually happening.

 

“Perfect fit,” Dani confirmed, beaming.

 

Then it was Jamie turn to be nervous.  “So, ummm, wait right here, okay?  I’ll be right back.”

 

“Oooookay,” Dani said, suddenly confused.

 

Jamie ran back to their bedroom and then returned with her hands behind her back.  “So, I was going to do this when we went to New York next weekend, but seeing as how you just beat me to it…”

 

Dani’s eyes widened in realization as Jamie presented a ring box, opening it and revealing a stunning diamond ring.

 

“Oh Jamie,” Dani gasped.  “Are you serious?”

 

“Guess we’re on the same page, huh?”

 

“I had no idea.”

 

“It’s been burning a hole in my pocket for a month now,” Jamie confirmed. “Pretty relieved it’s happening like this now, to be honest.”  She laughed nervously.  “But uhh, all the same, do you mind if I give my speech, too?”

Dani was nodding and crying tears of happiness already.  “Please, don’t let me get in the way of your big romantic speech.”

 

“Right, here goes.”  Jamie got down on one knee, holding the ring out to Dani.  “Dani, I’ve loved you since the first moment I saw you.  I don’t know how that’s possible, but it is.  Feels like I loved you even before that.  You wrecked my whole world, but for the better.  I never thought this kind of love would ever be possible for me.   I’ve never been happier than when I’m with you.  I want to spend every day and every night with you for the rest of my life, showing you all the love you deserve.  I want all of my adventures to be with you.  I want to grow old with you, and I want the whole world to know that you’re mine and I’m your’s.  Dani Clayton, will you do me the honor of being my wife?”

 

Dani knelt down next to Jamie and pulled her back up to her feet.  “Yes!”  Happy tears streamed down her face.

 

Jamie was grinning from ear to ear.  She gently took Dani’s hand and slid the ring on.  They kissed again but it was more teeth than anything.  Neither of them could stop smiling.  They put their hands together, admiring their rings, both of them happier than they’d ever been in their entire lives.

 

And when they got married six months later, they exchanged claddagh rings that they had picked out together to symbolize their love, friendship, and loyalty to one another… forever.

 


   

When Jamie got up the next morning, she sent a quick good morning text to Dani.  She smiled when she received back a whole line full of kissy face emojis. 

 

But, she quickly turned serious.  It was time for her to get to work.

 

Jamie began by scouting areas around the airport since that was Owen’s last known whereabouts.  She parked her rental car in long-term parking and pulled out her laptop.  She used a backdoor into MI5’s server and used it to hack the airport security cameras, focusing on the time frame they would have landed.  After hours of scanning footage, Jamie’s eyes were blurry, but she was finally rewarded with a glimpse of her targets getting off their plane in the private plane hanger.  They were transporting a man with a bag over his head.  She could only assume it was Owen based on size and body type.  He was walking though and she took that as a good sign.  He’s alive.  They need him for something.  They transferred him into a black SUV.  Why is it always a black SUV with these people?  Can’t they be more creative?  She got the license plates off the vehicle and then ran them.  Of course, it was a dead end.  But, knowing what vehicle they were in allowed her to track them.  She hacked into the Denver traffic camera system next, searching for the appropriate day and time and following the SUV through each intersection.  It was a tedious process and took her most of the day, but the snacks Dani had packed her sustained her and she finally narrowed down their location to a warehouse district.  She started up her car, put the general address for that vicinity in the GPS, and sped away.  She called Hannah and then Dani on the way to provide them with updates.

 

Jamie parked several blocks away, not wanting to draw attention to herself.  Most of the warehouses looked abandoned.  She found the first building with a fire escape and made her way up to the roof.  She preferred to do her surveillance from rooftops; she wasn’t going to just saunter into enemy territory.  She nimbly jumped from building to building, staying as low as possible.  Other than a few very large rats, there were no signs of life, which raised a red flag in and of itself.  Typically, she would expect a few pockets of people living on the streets, perhaps making shelter in some of the abandoned buildings.  The absence of any such groups told Jamie that she was in the right place.  The Collective has cleared this place out.  People know not to come here.  Jamie’s senses snapped into hyper focus.  She knew she had to be vigilant.  It was likely there were security cameras everywhere, even though she didn’t see them.

 

Five blocks away from where she started, Jamie came to a stop.  The building across the street from her had power.  Bingo!  She crouched down and carefully peered over the lip of the roof.  Two men with assault rifles guarded the front door.  This is definitely the place.  She sent a quick text to Hannah with the GPS coordinates of the building.  Then she waited for nightfall.

 

Once it was dark, Jamie moved down a couple of buildings.  She needed to get across the street without being seen.  She found a spot with a burned out street light.  She was wearing all black and hoped she would be essentially invisible.  She pulled a grappling gun from her bag and aimed, the hook finding purchase on the taller building across the street.  Jamie silently stepped off the roof and sliced through the darkness, gliding across the street.  She only sound she made was a soft thud when her feet hit the wall of the building across the street.  She then began climbing up the rope to reach the roof.  She climbed over the top and rolled onto her back, catching her breath for just a second.  I’m getting too old for this shit.  She then pulled herself up and jumped to the next building and then the next.  The next one was her destination.  And, unfortunately, there were three guards on the roof.

 

Jamie ducked behind an air conditioning unit and fished the tranquilizer gun from her bag, along with a pair of night vision goggles.  Staying behind the AC unit, she stood up slowly to peek over it.  She watched for a few minutes, timing the pattern of their patrols and visualizing when and in what order she would take them out, counting out each second.  Her attack had to be timed perfectly.  If they knew she was there too soon, she would never get to Owen.  Once she was confident in her calculations, she fired three quick shots in succession.  All three guards fell to the ground, never aware of her presence.  Jamie then made the final jump to the building. 

 

Once on the other side, she quickly moved to the stairwell door, drawing her gun as she went and attaching her silencer.  The longer she could remain in stealth mode, the better chance she had of saving Owen.  She patted her bulletproof vest under her jacket, just to remind herself that it was still on.  It hindered her movements, but she knew Dani would want her to wear it.  She put her hand on the door handle and pulled.  She blinked a few times to let her eyes adjust to the brightness of the stairwell.  She listened; all quiet.  She began her descent.

 

Jamie’s heart was pounding, the reality of what she was doing sinking it.  Her body was poised for combat.  She knew she would have to rely on every bit of her training and it kicked in like muscle memory.  When she came to the first landing, she paused as she heard voices coming down the hallway.  She kept her back flat against the wall in the stairwell until they passed.  Once their voices grew distant, she turned the corner and entered the hallway.  She quickly realized there would be nowhere to hide should she encounter someone.  So she sprinted.  She would have to do this quickly.  She glanced in every room that she passed, but no Owen.  She found another stairwell at the far end of the corridor, so she entered it and headed down to the fourth floor, realizing with dread that they were probably keeping him in the center of the building.  It’s what I would do.  It’s the most defensible position.  She decided to test her theory and skipped the fourth floor, exiting instead on the third.  She peered through the stairwell window into the hallway.  Shit!  The place was crawling with guards.  This is definitely it.  If they don’t already know I’m here, they’re about to.  She pulled a second gun from her bag.  She removed the silencer from the first.  The time for stealth was over.

 

Jamie took a deep breath and charged out the door, guns blazing in both hands.  She had the element of surprise on her side and took three out before the others could even react, but soon they all returned fire.  She threw herself into a slide and took out the next closest guard at the feet shooting up at him.  She threw his body towards the next guard to throw him off balance while she also shot him.  The last one got to her in time to knock the gun out of her right hand, but she returned the favor with a powerful roundhouse kick to the face, rendering him unconscious.  The shooting attracted too much attention though and she could hear more men on the way.  She ran into the room where most of the guards had been stationed.

 

“Owen!” 

 

He was tied to a chair in the middle of the room.  A quick scan of the room told Jamie they were alone.  His mouth was gagged.  He was shaking his head frantically at her, but she ran over to him anyway, pulling the gag down.

 

“It’s a trap!  Jamie, why did you come here?!” He yelled.

 

She started untying his hands.  “It’s good to see you, too.  Of course it’s a trap, but I’m getting you out of here anyway,” she said quickly, freeing his hands.

 

He stood up and grasped her by the forearms.  “You don’t understand.  They want Dani!  Please tell me she’s not here with you!”

 

“Dani?  What on earth—“

 

Bullet fire erupted as more men poured into the room.  Jamie returned fire while Owen threw the chair at them, causing them to briefly scatter.

 

“Let’s get out of here!” They both said to each other.

 

Jamie handed Owen one of her guns.  They both ran for the door, ploughing through the guards in their way, punching, kicking, and shooting anyone who got in their way and watching each other’s backs.   As they ran towards the stairwell door, more guards emerged.  Using her momentum, Jamie ran up the side of the wall, pushing off of it and bringing her fist down on the closest guard’s face.  He was unconscious before he hit the ground, the force of her hit devastating.  Owen provided cover fire while she took out the next closest guard with a shot to the head.  It was like choreography. 

 

“Just like old times, huh?!” Owen shouted.

 

Another guard came up behind Owen.  Jamie didn’t hesitate.  She pulled a knife from her boot and launched it.  The knife found its target in the man’s neck. 

 

“Thanks for that!” Owen said.

 

“Anytime. This way!” Jamie replied, heading back for the stairwell. 

 

They were ambushed by more guards in the stairwell.  Jamie was in the lead.  A barrage of bullet fire rained down on them.

 

“Jamie!” Owen shouted.  She stumbled back towards him, as the force of two bullets slammed into her chest.  He caught her under the arms and kept her upright, dragging her backwards with him.

 

“I’m okay,” she said, groaning.  She was really glad she’d worn the vest.  But Dani was not going to be happy that she’d been shot.

 

“We’re pinned down!”

 

“Give me some cover fire.  I’ve got this,” Jamie said, her eyes twinkling.

 

“Oh, I know that that look…”

 

Jamie winked and pulled a grenade out of her bag. 

 

“How did you even get grenades here?!” Owen said as he fired upwards.

 

“Hannah had a little gift basket left for me in my hotel room,” Jamie explained.

 

“God, I love that woman,” Owen said, in awe of his girlfriend.

 

Jamie got a devious look in her eye and chucked the grenade up the stairs.  It clattered on the ground of the fourth floor landing above them.  They briefly heard the panicked screams of the guards before it exploded.  Jamie and Owen didn’t even wait for the dust to clear before they ran up the now stairs.  More guards charged up the stairs and they fires rounds below them as they continued their climb to the roof.

 

“Jamie!  There are things I need to tell you!” Owen said, desperate to tell her what he had discovered.

 

“Not now, mate!  Tell me when we get out of here!”

 

They burst onto the rooftop and Jamie felt like she could taste freedom.  I did it!  They sprinted to the edge and jumped, Jamie rolling gracefully on the other side.  Owen made it but stumbled.

 

“You’ve gotten rusty without me,” Jamie observed dryly as she kept going.  She turned back briefly to Owen and her eyes widened in shock as he collapsed to the ground, a tranquilizer dart in his neck.

 

“Noooooo!”  Jamie ran to him, but she already knew she wouldn’t be able to carry him to safety.

 

“Tsk, tsk, tsk.  Did you really think you would succeed?”

 

Jamie hadn’t turned around yet, but she would know that voice anywhere.  It was the voice in her nightmares.  She slowly stood up and turned around, her eyes confirming what her ears already knew.  Her brain, however, couldn’t catch up.  She couldn’t make it all make sense.

 

“You… how are you…” Jamie stammered.

 

“There will be time to catch up later.  But right now,  you’re coming with me.”

 

“I think the fuck not,” Jamie responded defiantly.

 

“Fine.  Have it your way.  To be honest, I was sort of hoping you’d put up a fight.  It’s more fun this way.”

 

Jamie let out a primal scream as she charged at her opponent.  They exchanged a few punches and parries, but Jamie knew almost immediately that she was outmatched.  Something had changed.  Something was very different.  Because Jamie, with all her skill and strength, knew without a doubt that she was going to lose this fight.  Her opponent was strong.  Too strong.  Unnaturally strong.  And before Jamie knew it, she was being lifted off the ground, a vice-like hand gripping her neck, squeezing.  Jamie hit her opponent’s arm, trying to break the hold, but to no avail.  Jamie gasped for air that wasn’t there.  Her feet kicked and fluttered, trying to find the ground but coming up empty.  Her vision started to darken around the edges.  No, no, no, no!  Her last thought was of Dani before she lost consciousness, succumbing to the darkness.

 


 

Dani was worried.  It had been hours since Jamie had called to say she was heading to the warehouse district.  Dani knew in her heart that something had happened to Jamie.  She retrieved one of Jamie’s t-shirts from her drawer and put it on.  She just needed to feel some kind of connection to Jamie, needing to feel her presence.  She stayed up all night, curled up on Jamie’s side of the bed, paralyzed with worry.  She couldn’t sleep not knowing.  Around 5am, her phone rang.

 

Hannah Grose calling…

 

Dani’s stomach dropped.  If Hannah was calling her instead of Jamie, it was not good news.  Her hands were shaking when she answered the phone.

 

“Hannah?”

 

“Dani, I’m sorry to call so early.”  Hannah’s voice was strained.  She sounded like she’d been crying.

 

“Is Jamie….?” Dani couldn’t bring herself to finish the question.  Dead?

 

“I don’t know, Dani.  She missed her check-in.  I’ve had agents scouring surveillance footage all night and we think we found something.  I’m sending an image to your phone now.  Can you tell me if this is Jamie?”

 

Dani’s phone beeped with the message and she pulled it up with shaking hands, her breath rapid.  It was a grainy surveillance camera photo of a body being placed in a trunk, a black bag over the person’s head.  It could be Jamie, but she wasn’t sure.  The person was petite, wearing all black, and what looked like Jamie’s combat boots.  Dani squinted her eyes and zoomed in on the woman’s left hand and gasped.  Jamie’s claddagh ring. 

 

“It’s her, Hannah.  It’s Jamie.  That’s her wedding ring,” Dani couldn’t hold back the sobs.  “Oh God, Hannah, is she even alive?”

 

Hannah’s voice broke as she responded.  She felt responsible for Dani’s pain.  “I don’t know, Dani, I don’t know.  It’s impossible to tell from the footage.  She’s not moving, but she could just be unconscious.  We tracked the car as far as we could, but we lost it when it left Denver, and we don’t know where to look next.  They could be anywhere by now.”

 

“No, no, no, no.  Not like this, not like this, Hannah.  I have to get her back.  I can’t lose Jamie.  Do you understand me?!”

 

“I know, Dani.  I’m getting on a plane now.  I’m coming to you.  We’re going to get her back.”

 

“And Owen?”

 

“There’s been no sign of him, I’m afraid.”

 

“Oh, Hannah.  I’m so sorry.”  Dani was despondent.

 

“Just wait for me, Dani.  Don’t do anything until I get there.”

 

“Okay,” she replied in a small voice.

 

They said their goodbyes and Dani was left in the deafening silence of their house, in a world without Jamie.

 

She can’t be dead.  She can’t.  Because I can’t live without her.  Okay, think Dani!  What would Jamie do?  She would go find me and she wouldn’t stop until she did. 

 

Her mind made up, Dani wiped the last few tears from her eyes and stood up.  She marched with close fists towards her closet to grab her backpack and began packing.  She was almost finished when her phone rang.

 

Jamie calling…

 

At first, Dani’s heart soared.  But reason quickly overtook her and she knew that it would not be Jamie on the other end of the line.  She answered it, desperate for any news.

 

“Hello?” She said tentatively.

 

“Do you know who this is?”

 

Dani felt like her heart stopped beating, fear gripping it tightly.  No, it can’t be.  How?!

 

“Yes,” she replied.

 

“Say it,” the voice commanded.  “I want to hear you say my name.  I want to make sure you know it’s me.”

 

“Viola.”

 

“Very good, Dani.  Now I want you to listen to me very carefully.  If you breathe a word of this conversation to anyone,  especially Hannah Grose, I will kill Jamie Taylor.  Do we have an understanding?”

 

Jamie is alive!  Jamie is alive!  Relief flooded through Dani’s body and she stood a little straighter, finding her courage. 

 

“Yes, we have an understanding.  But I want proof that Jamie is alive.”

 

Dani could practically feel Viola roll her eyes over the phone.

 

“Fine.”  Dani could hear Viola walking across a room.  “Say something to your wife,” she instructed harshly.

 

Jamie’s voice came through the line.  “Dani!  Don’t—“

 

“Jamie!”

 

But Jamie was gone and Viola was back.

 

“Satisfied?” Viola asked, her tone annoyed.

 

“Not particularly, but it’s a step.  Now what?”

 

“Tell me, what are you willing to do to get your wife back?”

 

“Anything,” Dani replied without hesitation.

 

Chapter Text

Dani’s heart felt like it was going to beat right out of her chest.  What would Viola ask of her?  Whatever it was, she would do it.  She would do anything to get Jamie back.

 

“Good,” Viola said.  “You have two hours to get to the airport.  Go to the Delta ticketing counter.  A ticket will be there under your name.  Come alone and don’t play games with me.  Do you understand?”

 

“Why are you—“

 

“I said, do you understand?  I’m not here to answer your questions,” Viola responded tersely.

 

“Yeah, I understand,” Dani said, her mind swirling with questions, her hands shaking.

 

“Good.  I’ll see you soon.”

 

The way she said it made Dani shiver. 

 

CLICK.

 


   

Viola ended the call before Dani could respond.  She turned to face Jamie, who was bound to a chair, her mouth gagged.  She took some satisfaction from the silent tears falling from her captive’s eyes.

 

“You know,” Viola said, sneering, walking in slow circles around Jamie,  “I never did figure out how to break you.  In fact, for awhile there, I thought you were unbreakable, an undefeatable foe.  But now, now I see.  I’ve finally found your weakness.  You can endure any physical pain to your own body.  You never cared what happened to yourself.  But Dani Clayton…she’s special to you… hurting her would hurt you more than death itself.  She is your weakness.  You would do anything to keep her from harm.  Turns out, she feels the same way about you for some reason.  Can’t imagine why.  Poor girl must have terrible taste.”

 

Jamie struggled against her bonds, screaming into the gag until her throat hurt.

 

“Oh, do calm down.  Don’t be so dramatic.  I’m not going to hurt her.”  Jamie looked at her, disbelieving.  “Oh, believe me, I want to hurt her.  I really do, just to see what it would do to you.  But, unfortunately, I can’t,” she said, sighing dramatically.  “It’s really quite vexing.  In fact,  you’re not to be harmed either.”  She glanced up and down Jamie’s body, a few injuries from their earlier fight already apparent.  “Well, at least not harmed any further.  Also very annoying.”  Jamie looked at her with confusion evident in her eyes.  “I know, it’s all very confusing for you, dear, but you’ll find out soon enough, and you’ll wish you hadn’t.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get ready.  I will be picking your pretty little wife up from the airport soon.  I am so looking forward to spending some quality time with her.”

 

Viola gave Jamie a taunting wave and blew her a kiss before she left Jamie’s cell, leaving her alone, scared, and confused.

 

No, Dani, no!  Why did you agree to come here?  Why?!  Then her thoughts turned to other questions.  If Viola is not in charge, who is?  Who is giving the orders here?  How the fuck is she even still alive?  And what does any of this have to do with me and Dani?

 


   

As soon as Viola ended the call, Dani sprang into action.  She ran down to the basement where Jamie kept all of her spy tech in the panic room.  Dani knew she would be searched, so she had to be clever.  She took what she needed and then ran back upstairs to the bedroom to pack a quick bag.  While she did, she dialed Luis.

 

“Dani?”

 

“Yeah, hey Luis!  Listen, sorry to call so early, but I’ve gotta run out of town suddenly.  Can you meet me at The Leafling in 30 minutes?  We got some new plants in and I just want to go over the care instructions with you.”

 

“Umm, yeah, sure.  Everything okay?”

 

“Everything is great.  I’ll see you soon!”

 

Dani hung up the phone, finished packing, and headed out the door.  As she drove down their long driveway, she paused for a moment in front of their archery target.  She let her mind drift to all the times she watched Jamie as she hit the bullseye, her body finely tuned to every detail, letting an arrow fly and watching with satisfaction as it found its target.  She thought of the first time she ever saw Jamie shoot a bow and how awe-inspiring it was.  How they had their first kiss only moments later.  How literal and figurative fireworks had gone off.  Then she thought for a brief moment how it felt every time Jamie stood behind her and guided her as she taught her to shoot a bow, gently holding Dani’s elbow with one hand and her hip with the other.  No, you don’t have time for this.  Get it together, Dani.  She shook her head to clear the image of Jamie the Archer from her mind, seeing once again just an empty field and target.  She took her foot off the brake and headed to the Leafing.

 

Luis was waiting for her when she got there.

 

“Dani, what’s going—“

 

Dani cut him off with a hand gesture and pointed towards the back office.  “Let’s go back here so I can show you everything,” she said in a friendly voice.

 

Once they got in the office, Dani shut the door and pulled a pen out of her coat pocket.  She twisted it and activated a blinking light.  Luis looked totally lost.

 

“I don’t know if anyone is listening, so I have to take precautions,” Dani said. “This device will disrupt any radio frequency for two minutes.  Luis, I hate to ask you this, but I need you to do something for me.  It’s literally a matter of life and death.  Listen very carefully to everything I say…”

 


 

Dani left the Leafling a few minutes later, hoping she had done the right thing.  She drove straight to the airport.  When she parked her car in long term parking, she briefly wondered if she would ever come back to retrieve it or if this was a one way trip.

 

As instructed, Dani went to the Delta counter.  She slid her passport to the agent, assuming she was about to get on an international flight.

 

The agent studied her and her passport. “Thank you, Ms. Clayton-Taylor.  And here is your boarding pass.  Enjoy your trip to Wyoming!”

 

“Wy-Wyoming?” Dani stammered.

 

“Yes, that is where you’re going, isn’t it?” The agent replied.

 

“Yes! Yes, of course it is!  Thank you!” Dani said hurriedly as she took the boarding pass from the agent’s hand and power walked towards the nearest TSA checkpoint.

 

Dani stared at the boarding pass as she sat in the gate, trying to control her breathing.  Wyoming?  I was not expecting that.  Makes sense though.  They must have driven Jamie there from Denver.  Owen did say the Collective was run by an American.  But what is in Wyoming?  Their base?   Why bring me there?  What the hell is going on? 

 

Dani’s thoughts were interrupted as the gate agent made the boarding announcement.  Dani was taking a short flight  to New York first and then catching a connecting flight.  It was going to be a long day.

 

By the second flight, Dani’s nerves were completely shot.  She hadn’t flown alone since before she met Jamie. She didn’t realize how much she came to depend on Jamie when flying.  Jamie always held her hand, always calmed her down, always knew just what to say to make her laugh.  Dani felt so alone on the plane.  She was surrounded by people, but she was totally alone.  Subconsciously, she started twisting her wedding ring around her finger, desperate to feel some kind of connection to her wife.   I’m lost without her.

 

Dani couldn’t stop thinking about Jamie.  Is she okay?  Did they hurt her?  Are they hurting her right now?  Why are they keeping her alive?  Why contact me?  What do they want with us?  And how the FUCK is Viola Willoughby still alive?  Did Jamie find Owen?  Is he okay?  What happens when I get to the airport?  Will Viola be there?  What exactly is my plan here?  What would Jamie do?  Should I have waited for Hannah?  No, Hannah had no viable leads.  Viola is my best chance at getting to Jamie, even if it is as a prisoner.  Shit, how fucked up is it that I’m putting my hope in Viola?  This is realllly not how I saw my day going.  I just need to get to Jamie.  Then we can figure it out together.

 

Dani’s thoughts spiraled, a million unanswered questions rattled around in her brain.  It was a long flight though and she knew she needed to focus.  Jamie would need her at her best.  She would be strong for Jamie.  She could do anything for Jamie.  It’s my turn to save her.  Hold on, baby, I’m coming for you.  I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I am going to save you.

 

What was it Jamie said the other night?  Think about a favorite memory of us and she would be there in my dreams…

 

So, Dani closed her eyes, thought of Jamie, and did her best to sleep.

 

Meanwhile, back in Vermont, Hannah Grose stepped off a plane.  But there was no Dani to greet her…

 


 

The only light on the deserted beach was from the moon overhead.  It was summer and the air was humid, but the salty ocean breeze was perfect.  Dani and Jamie walked hand in hand along the beach, enjoying their honeymoon.  They had chosen a private beach house on a private island in the Caribbean, and it was better than they had even dreamed.  They were alone in paradise.

 

“And who says money can’t buy happiness?” Jamie said jokingly, dramatically swinging their hands between their bodies as they walked.

 

“Well, I mean, no matter how perfect this island is, being on it without you would not make me happy,” Dani said, with genuine conviction.

 

Jamie stopped for a moment and turned to look at her.  “You’re absolutely right, Poppins.”  Then she added, with a twinkle in her eye, “But, since we are here together, it sure is nice, isn’t it?”

 

“It’s perfect, Jamie, and so are you.  Thank you for bringing me here.”

 

“I reckon this island’s never been more perfect than with you on it.  I’d give you the whole world if I could, Dani.”

 

Dani took a step closer and took Jamie’s face in her hands.  “You’ve already given it to me.”

 

They kissed slowly under the moonlight, the waves gently lapping at their bare feet.  Jamie’s hands held Dani’s waist and Dani’s hands were threaded behind Jamie’s neck.  They both hummed into the kiss, feeling completely loved and completely at peace.  Dani rubbed her nose against Jamie’s as they pulled back to catch their breath and then they rested their foreheads together.  They stood there like that for a moment, both gently holding on to the other.

 

“I love you,” Jamie whispered.

 

“I love you more,” Dani replied.

 

“Hmmm, not possible,” Jamie retorted.

 

Dani cut her off with another kiss.

 

Jamie chuckled.  “You don’t fight fair.”

 

“You know what else isn’t fair?” Dani asked flirtatiously, raising one eyebrow.

 

“What?” Jamie’s curiosity was piqued.

 

“Us wearing allllll of these clothes on a private beach.”  She paused for a second, thoughtful. “ Jamie, have you ever been skinny dipping?” Dani was already taking her shirt off, tossing it on the sand further up the beach.

 

Jamie was stunned.  “Poppins!  I am scandalized!” She said in mock horror, enjoying the show as Dani removed her shorts next.  “And no, as a matter of fact, I have never been skinny dipping.  I’m a proper lady, don’t you know?”

 

“Well, I certainly hope that’s not true because then I’ll be naked in the ocean by myself.”

 

“Dani!” Jamie called after her as Dani shed the last of her clothes and ran into the surf.

 

“Bloody hell,” Jamie muttered, as she started taking her own clothes off.  “Can’t believe she’s talked me into this.”  Kicking off the last of her clothes, Jamie headed towards the water.  Dani was already further out, the moonlight casting her in a perfect silhouette as she leaned back to wet her hair.  Her beauty took Jamie’s breath away.  She was standing in water up to her knees, mouth open, just staring.

 

“Are you going to stand there and stare or are you going to come join me?” Dani called to her.

 

That spurred Jamie on and she quickly moved into deeper water to join her wife.  Dani enthusiastically threw her arms around Jamie’s neck when she reached her and then lifted herself up, wrapping her legs around Jamie’s waist.  The salt water made it easy for Jamie to support her weight, bringing her own hands to Dani’s ass and holding her securely in place while Dani looked down on her with a mixture of pure love and desire.  Dani’s lips crashed into Jamie’s in a hungry kiss and Jamie returned it with equal heat.   

 

“Hmmm that’s better,” Dani sighed, as she finally came up for air, both of their lips already swollen from the intensity of the kiss.

 

“You’re beautiful,” Jamie responded, in awe.  “I can’t believe you’re mine.”

 

Dani smiled and leaned down to kiss her again, bracing her hands on Jamie’s shoulders.  “All your’s,” she confirmed. 

 

The hunger in Jamie’s eyes was unmistakable.  She gently lowered Dani down until her feet touched the soft sand below.  Dani’s hands tangled in Jamie’s hair as Jamie wrapped her own arms around Dani’s lower back under the water.  She pulled her close, their bodies flush.  They moved into slightly deeper water together and Jamie’s lips met Dani’s in another heated kiss, her thigh pushing between Dani’s legs as one of Dani’s hands moved to cup her breast.  They both gasped at the contact.

 

“Are we really about to have sex in the Atlantic Ocean?” Dani asked breathlessly, as the waves lapped around their shoulders.

 

“We absolu-fuckin-lutley are,” Jamie responded, nipping at Dani’s neck.

 

“Best vacation ever,” Dani moaned against her.

 


 

Dani woke up as the flight attendant announced that they were making their initial descent into Cheyenne, Wyoming.  She wished she could return to her dream, where she was back on the beach with Jamie.  She smiled at the memory.  She had so many cherished memories with Jamie.  They can’t all be behind us.  I want to make more memories with her.  So many more.

 

She gripped the armrest on the final descent, her knuckles turning white with the effort.  Dani only let out a relieved breath when the plane stopped at its gate.  When they opened the door, she quickly retrieved her backpack from under the seat in front of her and exited the plane.  She didn’t check any luggage so she headed towards the exit to the main terminal.  What’s the procedure here?  Is Viola coming here to get me?  How is this supposed to go?  Dani hoisted her backpack a little higher on her shoulders and kept walking, getting swept up in the crowd. 

 

She exited past security and headed down the escalator.  About halfway down, she saw her.  There was Viola, casually leaning against a column, her eyes already fixed on Dani.  Her expression was unreadable, and for the first time, Dani had second thoughts about her decision.  Seeing Viola again brought back all of the fear and painful memories she had worked so hard for five years to forget.  Dani felt the old anxiety bubbling up, and this time, she would have to face Viola alone.   For reasons Dani didn’t quite understand, she didn’t feel like Viola would hurt her… at least not yet.  And that thought gave her some small measure of confidence.

 

Dani stepped off the escalator and walked straight to Viola, who was still leaning against the column.  She was in ripped black jeans, a white T-shirt, and a black leather jacket, with a pair of aviators perched on top of her jet black hair.  Why does she have to look so fucking cool?  I honestly hate her so much.  Dani walked up to her and stopped, unsure of what to even say.

 

“You came,” Viola stated, her tone neutral.

 

“Did you think I wouldn’t?” Dani asked, genuinely curious.  All around them people were bustling around, heading to their next destination, but Dani didn’t see any of them.  She was only focused on the cold blue eyes staring back at her, her heart feeling like it would pound right out of her chest.  Her legs felt like jelly.  I can’t believe I’m face to face with Viola Willoughby.  It’s like seeing a ghost.

 

“No, I was fairly certain you’d come,” Viola responded.  “You’re not going to make a scene or anything are you?  Because that would be a real bother.  To be clear, you’re coming with me willingly?  Because we can do this the easy way or the hard way.”

 

“As long as you’re taking me to Jamie, I have no reason not to go with you willingly,” Dani said matter-of-factly.

 

“Clever girl,” Viola said approvingly.  “Alright then, let’s go.”

 

Dani followed Viola as she glided through the crowd.  She had to quicken her pace to keep up with the taller woman’s stride. 

 

They finally stepped out of the airport and into the bright Wyoming sun.

 

“I- I’ve never been to Wyoming before,” Dani said awkwardly.

 

Viola glanced over at her.  “Not much to see,” she commented dryly.

 

Dani didn’t try to make any further conversation.  Viola directed her to her car, a black Jeep Renegade.

 

“Before we go, I have to sweep you,” Viola said, leaving no room for argument. 

 

Dani had been expecting it.  She tossed her backpack on the ground and held out her arms dramatically.  Viola grabbed a wand from the car and ran it across Dani’s body, looking for any signs of a tracker or weapon.  Finding none, she moved on to Dani’s bag, rummaging through it.  She found Dani’s phone and turned it off before tossing the bag back to Dani.

 

“We all good now?” Dani asked sarcastically.

 

Viola rolled her eyes.  “Just get in.  Phone stays off.”

 

Dani walked around to the passenger side of the Jeep and climbed in, putting her seatbelt on while Viola did the same.  Viola put the vehicle in reverse, backed out of the parking space, and then they were on their way.  Dani kept glancing nervously over at Viola.  I cannot believe I am just casually riding around in a car with Viola Willoughby.  This is so incredibly weird.

 

“Just have out with whatever it is you want to say,” Viola stated.  “We have a long ride, and you’re already making it weird.”

 

Well, at least she thinks this is weird, too.

 

“Umm okay.  Well, it’s just that you look pretty good for a dead woman.”

 

“Are you flirting with me, Dani Clayton?” Viola said drying, turning slightly towards Dani and raising one eyebrow.

 

“No!” Dani said quickly.  “And, it’s Clayton-Taylor now.”

 

Viola rolled her eyes.  “Of course, how could I forget?” She said sarcastically.

 

Dani was still flustered.  “You know what I mean.  How are you alive?  How could anyone have survived that fall?”

 

“Well, you and your wife certainly did your best to try to get rid of me, didn’t you?”

 

“You were trying to throw Jamie off the train,” Dani replied defensively.

 

Viola shrugged. 

 

“That’s it?!  You’re just like ‘meh’?” Dani threw up her arms. 

 

“You’re even feistier than I remember,” Viola observed.  “I can see why she likes you.”

 

Dani huffed.  “Just answer my question.”

 

“Fine.  Do you know who runs the Collective?” Viola asked.

 

“The Palomino?” Dani offered.

 

Viola nodded, keeping her eyes on the highway.  “When he found me, I was near death.  I somehow survived the fall into the river.  I washed up on shore miles later.  That’s where he found me, almost every bone in my body broken.  I wanted to die.  I really did.  And I hated your Jamie even more for not finishing the job.  I was in hell.  I was in hell for a long time, teetering between life and death.”

 

Viola paused for a moment, remembering.  “And then what?” Dani prompted.

 

“He knew who I was.  Felt I was worth the risk.  So he gave me a special serum.  It was experimental, but I had nothing to left to lose.  It healed me.  Made me stronger, too.  A lot stronger.”

 

“Wait, like Captain America?” Dani asked, incredulous.

 

Viola laughed sardonically.  “Not quite.  That’s science fiction.  Honestly, Dani.  It made me stronger, yes, and granted me increased healing, yes, but I’m no Captain America.”

 

“That’s for damn sure,” Dani muttered under her breath.

 

“I just tell you all that and your response is to sass me?  Do you really think that’s wise?”

 

“I think if you wanted to hurt me, you would have already,” Dani conjectured.

 

“Oh Dani, I do want to hurt you, I really do.”

“But you can’t, can you?  Because you’re not the one in control anymore.  You’re following orders.”

 

“The Palomino wants you bought to him unharmed,” Viola said, clearly displeased.

 

“Why?  What makes me so important.”

 

“You’ll find out.”

 

It sent a chill up Dani’s spine.  She sensed that she would get no further on that particular topic with Viola.  She was quiet for a few minutes, looking out the window while Viola drove.  They were well outside of the city now.  The terrain was so different from anything Dani was used to.  It was so open and the sky seemed to go on forever.  Traffic was sparse and it felt like they were the only car on the road.  Dani glanced over at Viola, her jaw tense, her hands gripping the steering wheel.  Her anger is barely contained. She isn’t any happier than I am about this situation. 

 

“How much further is it?” Dani finally asked.  “Where are you taking me?”

 

“Another hour.  And you’ll find out when we get there.”

 

“But you’re taking me to Jamie?” Dani clarified, suddenly feeling more nervous the further away they got from civilization.

 

“Yes.  Although she’s not too happy about you joining us.”

 

“That sounds like Jamie.”

 

“She’s a real pain in the ass, you know that, right?”

 

“Why do you hate her so much?” Dani asked.  She couldn’t imagine how anyone could hate Jamie.

 

“Why do you love her so much?” Viola retorted.

 

“Because she’s kind, smart, funny, and so beautiful, for starters,” Dani said.

 

Viola made a gagging sound.  “You two are disgustingly sweet.  I hate it.”

 

“You still haven’t answered my question.”

 

“Did you know I was married?” Viola asked.

 

Dani was quiet for a moment.  “Yes,” she finally responded, suddenly knowing where the conversation was headed.

 

Viola turned to look at her, the surprise on her face evident.  “And do you know what happened to him?  To my Arthur?”

 

Dani’s heart was beating rapidly.  “Yes,” she said, her voice quiet.

 

Viola scoffed.  “I’m surprised she told you, honestly.  I didn’t think she would.  So, you know and you still defend her?  Your wife killed my husband, Dani.  You asked why I hate her.  If you really want to know, that’s why— she took everything from me.  She ruined everything I ever worked for.  She fought me every step of the way.  She killed the people I care about the most, destroyed my enterprise, and then tried to take my life, too.  And don’t think I’ve forgotten that you are the one who killed Peter Quint.  I would love to make the both of you suffer the way you’ve made me suffer.  But, I suppose I should thank you, really.  Before you, your precious Jamie never had a weakness I could exploit.  Now I can hurt her the same way she hurt me.”

 

Dani shuddered.  It was everything Jamie had ever been afraid of— her worst fears coming true.  It was why she was hesitant to love Dani in the first place.  Jamie had told her about Arthur.  They had told each other everything.  Dani knew Jamie regretted the things she did, but she had killed Viola’s husband in self-defense.  Jamie had also told her that Viola had killed her own sister when she learned she’d had an affair with her husband.  Dani thought it best not to bring up that particular counterpoint, but she also did not appreciate Viola portraying Jamie as a cold-blooded killer, not when she knew Jamie’s heart.

 

“Well,” Dani said defiantly, “maybe if you weren’t the bad guy, Jamie wouldn’t have had to stop you.  She did what she had to do.”

 

“Good and bad is all a matter of perspective,” Viola responded, her nostrils flaring with anger.

 

They both grew silent after that, Dani realizing that she shouldn’t push Viola too far.  If she antagonized her too much, she feared that Viola wouldn’t care about her orders.  And Dani didn’t have time to be distracted by Viola; she needed to get to Jamie.  They drove further into the wilderness, exiting the highway and traveling on a small, 2-lane road, and then a dirt road after that.

 

Viola made a call.  “I’m ten minutes out…. Yes, I have her.”

 

Dani’s throat suddenly felt very dry.  They turned down another dirt road.  It looked like they were headed toward some type of ranch off in the distance, the silhouettes of horses just barely visible on the horizon.

 

Hold on Jamie, I’m coming.

 


 

Jamie didn’t know how much time had passed.  At some point, she had fallen asleep from exhaustion, her head slumped forward.  A guard entered her cell, waking her up.

 

“The Palomino will see you now,” he told her as he untied her legs.

 

The Palomino?  He’s here?  What could he possible want with me?  And how did he get Viola to work for him?

 

Jamie didn’t fight the guard as he led her out of the room and into what looked like some type of basement.  He guided her up the stairs, down several hallways, and into a dimly lit, windowless room.  Jamie committed the path to memory.  She couldn’t quite tell the scale of the building where she was being held, but it was definitely some type of base.

 

The guard tied her up to another chair, leaving her mouth bound.  A moment later, an older man entered the room.  He was maybe in his late fifties.  He carried himself with an air of authority and had a strong build.  His once blonde hair was thinning and he had piercing blue eyes that were cold as ice, emotionless.  Jamie shivered.  She just knew he was ruthless.

 

He looked her up and down, appraising her, and finally spoke.  “We can’t have you gagged like that, now can we?  Where are my manners?”  He walked over to her.  Jamie instinctively turned her head away when he got close, but all he did was pull down the gag, freeing her mouth.

 

Jamie met his gaze, her eyes defiant, but didn’t speak.  “Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Thomas,” he said.  “But you’ll have heard of me as the Palomino, I suspect.”

 

Jamie still said nothing.  He continued.  “And you are Jamie Taylor.  I thought you’d be taller, actually.”

 

“Jamie Clayton-Taylor,” she corrected him, finally speaking, ignoring the comment on her small stature.

 

“Ahh yes, Clayton-Taylor.  How could I forget?”  His tone was civil on the surface, but there was an undercurrent that terrified Jamie.  And something was pricking at the back of her mind, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.  He seemed somehow… familiar?  It was something about his eyes. Why does he seem familiar to me?  I’m sure we’ve never met.  Who is this man?  And what does he want with me?  And why bring Dani here?  What does she have to do with any of this?

 

Thomas continued.  “Jamie Clayton-Taylor.  Former MI5 agent.  The best, by all accounts.  Gave it all up when you met an American while on assignment.  Fell in love.  Got married.  And you’re what?  A florist now?”  He scoffed. “What a waste of your talents. But, seems it didn’t take since you’re right back here in the thick of it again.”

 

“That happens when you kidnap my friends.  Where’s Owen Sharma?” Jamie demanded.

 

“Tsk, tsk.  He’s close.”

 

“If you hurt him—“

 

Thomas was on her in an instant, roughly grabbing her by the chin and forcing her to look him in the eyes.  “You’ll what?!  You are in no position to make demands,” He said harshly.  “And you should be more concerned about your wife.  She will be joining us momentarily.  Viola was kind enough to fetch her for us,” he said, back to his tone of false civility, his anger barely restrained behind his smooth voice.

 

“What do you want with us?”  Her voice was smaller.  Jamie wanted to see Dani more than anything, but not like this.  The last thing she wanted was for Dani to be in danger.  And they were both most definitely in danger.

 

Before he could answer, they heard two sets of footsteps coming down the hall. 

 

“Ahh, here they are now, it seems.”

 

Jamie swallowed, her mouth dry and her heart pounding.  The door opened.  Viola Willoughby strode into the room, holding Dani by the arm.

 

“Jamie!” Dani yelled, her eyes falling on her immediately.  She tried to run to her, but Viola held on tight and snapped her back.

 

“Dani!” Jamie tried to pull at her restraints but it was no use.  “Dani…” she said, as if her name was a prayer.

 

Dani’s eyes scanned Jamie’s body.  She saw the bruises covering her neck, saw how the ropes cut into her wrists, saw her tired eyes, and her dry, cracked lips.  While she didn’t see any serious injuries, it was immediately obvious to Dani that Jamie had not been treated well.  Her heart broke.  She had never wanted to see her like this again.  Jamie only deserved to be touched with love and care.  Dani yearned to reach out to her, to hold her, to stroke her hair, to run gentle fingers along bruised skin, to kiss cracked lips.  She needed Jamie in her arms like she needed her next breath.

 

“Let me go!  Let me go to her!” She thrashed against Viola, who only held her tighter.  Viola looked bored by the entire interaction, Dani posing no physical threat to her.

 

“Dani, stop!” Jamie begged.  “Just stop,” she said again, this time softer.

 

Dani stopped struggling with Viola, giving Jamie the chance to look Dani over from head to toe.  Physically, she looked fine.  But her face showed what three days of nonstop worry did to her.  Dani had dark circles under her eyes.  It was clear to Jamie that she hadn’t slept.  She looked pale.  Jamie figured that was a combination of fear and not eating properly.  She felt sick to her stomach.  She knew that Dani was in this situation because of her.  Because she was worried about her.  She saw the tears streaming down Dani’s face and she wanted nothing more than to wipe away every one and pepper her face with kisses.  She wanted to run her fingers through Dani’s golden hair and tell her everything was going to be okay.  She wanted to hug her so close to her body that they couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began.  But life was cruel sometimes, and though their hands ached to touch one another, they were kept apart.

 

“Are you okay, Dani?  Did she hurt you?” Jamie asked softly.

 

Viola rolled her eyes dramatically.  “She’s fine.”

 

“I’m fine, Jamie,” Dani confirmed.  “What did they do to you?”

 

“I’m okay, really.  I’m glad to see you, don’t get me wrong, but you shouldn’t have come here, Dani.”

 

“I had to find you.”

 

Viola muttered, “Gross.”

 

Thomas cleared his throat.  Dani had been so focused on Jamie that she hadn’t even noticed the older man standing in the shadows.  He stepped forward, closer to her so she could see him better.

 

“Hello, Danielle,” he said softly.  “It’s been a long time.”

 

Jamie’s eyes darted back and forth between the two, totally at a loss and fighting a growing sense of dread.  Viola held her breath, waiting for the inevitable realization that she knew was coming.

 

Dani’s eyes searched the man’s face, taking in every feature, turning back the clock.  His voice was so familiar, if she could only place it…

 

Jamie suddenly realized with dawning terror why the man seemed so familiar to her.  Why his eyes were both the same and so very different from another pair of blue eyes that she loved so much.  It can’t be…

 

Dani’s eyes widened in disbelief, her brain not trusting what her heart was telling her to be true.  No, no, no, no…. She gasped as the horrible truth took root, like a disease poisoning everything around it.  Dani struggled to comprehend the consequences of the word she couldn’t believe she was about to utter.  It can’t be…

 

In a voice barely above a whisper, Dani finally spoke.

 

“Dad?”

 

 

Chapter Text

“Dad?”

 

The question hung in the air.

 

Jamie’s thoughts were racing.  It felt like time ground to a halt.  Thomas.  As in Thomas Clayton.  As in Dani’s missing father.  What the actual fuck?  Jamie couldn’t process the myriad of questions running through her mind.  She also couldn’t take her eyes off Dani.  She couldn’t read her expression, couldn’t tell what she was thinking.  Because she’s in shock.  Jamie silently cursed her bound hands.  She wanted nothing more than to close the distance between them and hold her.  It was an absolute need.  She knew holding Dani wouldn’t fix the problem, but her arms needed to be wrapped around Dani more than anything.  She needed Dani to feel her support.  Dani had come all this way for her; she needed to do this one thing for Dani.

 

“I wondered if you would recognize me,” Thomas stated calmly.  “I’m glad that you do.”

 

“I don’t… I don’t understand,” Dani stammered.  She felt unsteady on her feet, and for the first time, was thankful for Viola’s firm grip on her arm.  She was aware that everyone in the room was staring at her.

 

“I know, and there will be time to discuss everything,” Thomas replied.  “But you’re here now and that’s what matters.”

 

“But WHY am I here?!” Dani asked, raising her voice in panic.  “I don’t understand any of this!”

 

Dani looked desperately to Jamie, searching for solid ground in the midst of the storm.  She saw her own confusion written on Jamie’s face, but she also found eyes full of love and support.  She wanted to drown in those beautiful hazel eyes.  Jamie made her feel bold.

 

“Ok Dad, you want to talk, let’s talk.  But first, I want my wife untied,” Dani demanded, placing special emphasis on “wife.”

 

Thomas contemplated her question.  “Your wife, Danielle, is a dangerous woman.  Just yesterday she killed five of my men and injured a dozen more before Viola captured her.”

 

Jamie shrugged.  “I wasn’t counting, but it was a lot of ‘em.”

 

Dani felt pride well up in her chest.  She flashed Jamie a quick thumbs up and mouthed, “Good job, honey.”  Jamie winked at her in response.

 

Thomas continued.  “I don’t like this, but… as a show of good faith, it will be done.”  He then craned his head towards the door.  “Guards!”  He shouted.  Five armed men entered the room.  “Untie our guest here,” he directed, motioning towards Jamie.  “And then, if she tries anything, shoot my daughter.”

 

Jamie’s eyes widened in shock.

 

“What?!” Dani exclaimed.

 

“I’m sorry, honey, but it’s the only way to ensure we have a civilized conversation here.  I don’t believe she’ll do anything to compromise your safety.”

 

Dani was aghast, but she was also desperate to feel Jamie’s arms around her.  She felt like she was fracturing into a million pieces and only Jamie could hold her together.  Thomas nodded his head to Viola, indicating to her to let go of Dani, which she did right as the guards finished untying Jamie’s hands and feet.

 

Jamie was on her feet immediately, reaching out for Dani.  “Come here, baby.”

 

Dani and Jamie closed the distance between them in an instant and pulled each other into a tight hug, nuzzling into each other’s necks and finding immediate relief in the familiar way their bodies fit together. 

 

“Jamie…” Dani whispered over and over.

 

For a brief moment, they ignored everyone and everything else around them, focusing only on being reunited and feeling the other in their arms, solid and real—here.  They didn’t say anything else; they didn’t need to.  It was no use asking if the other was okay, because they both knew that the answer to that question was categorically “no.”  They hoped there would be time later to say all the things that needed to be said, but for right now, they would have to be content with being close to each other again.  Dani had found Jamie and that was enough.  They were together again, the way it should be.  Us against the world, Dani thought.

 

Thomas cleared his throat, and they pulled apart a bit, pivoting to face him.  Jamie kept her right arm around Dani’s shoulders, keeping her close to her body.  Dani kept both of her arms around Jamie’s waist, holding on tight, turning just enough to face her father.  Jamie brought her left hand to rest on Dani’s arm around her stomach.  The protective way Jamie held Dani was unmistakable to anyone in the room.  Her eyes were fierce; she would go to war for this woman.

 

“Are you happy now?” Thomas asked, sounding slightly exasperated.

 

“Am I happy?  Are you fucking kidding me?” Dani asked in a high pitched voice, looking around at the five guards who kept their guns trained on them.  Jamie rubbed her arm with her thumb.  I’m here.  We’re together.  If we’re together, we’re okay.

 

“Oh, Danielle, you’re being dramatic.  I honestly expected you to be more happy to see me.”

 

“You abandoned me.  I’m not sure what kind of reception you were expecting,” Dani replied, her voice strong now that she was with Jamie.  She felt anything but strong on the inside, but she knew Jamie wouldn’t let go of her.

 

Jamie decided it was time to interject.  She didn’t want Dani to face the full burden of this conversation on her own.  “Why don’t you start with why you brought us here?”

 

“Of course,” Thomas said, flashing her a fake smile.  “But first, let me say that, despite how it may seem, I am happy to finally meet my daughter-in-law.”

 

Jamie scoffed and muttered to Dani, “He makes your mom look like a walk in the park.  Can’t believe I’m missing Karen right now.”

 

Thomas heard her but ignored the comment.  “You know, Jamie, if you weren’t MI5 and such a royal pain in the ass to Viola here, I think I might actually like you.  Danielle could have done much, much worse.  I’m actually rather impressed she landed you.”

 

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Pops,” Jamie replied sarcastically.

 

“Ahh yes, there’s that signature Agent Taylor sass.  But really, I have to thank you.  You’ve introduced my daughter to this life, trained her, made her exactly what I always hoped she could be.  I owe you a great deal.  You made her strong.”

 

“She was already strong.  Maybe if you’d stuck around, you’d know that,” Jamie said with conviction, squeezing Dani tighter.

 

Dani was shaking slightly but Jamie held her firm, trying to give her every bit of strength and comfort she could.  What was Thomas playing at?

 

“Dad,” Dani began,  “I’m going to ask you one more time— why are we here?  If you wanted to meet me, you could have just called me like a normal person.  This is fucked up.”

 

“Now Danielle, if I’d done that, how would I be able to know what kind of person you really are.  You see, I’ve been following you for years.  I left you and your mother because I could no longer run my organization while also keeping up the guise of having a family.”

 

Dani quirked her head, but he already understood what she wanted to ask.  “Yes, this has been going on for a long time.  I’ve had many names over the years.  The Palomino is just the most recent.  Keeps the authorities guessing,” he said, winking at Jamie, who scowled.  Then he looked back to Dani, “ And no, your mother doesn’t know.  She never did.  I’d prefer to keep it that way, too.  Being a family man was a great cover story.  But that’s all it ever was to me.  And it got to be too hard.  You and your mother always wanted more.  More, more, more.  It was exhausting.  And my work required more and more of my life.  So I left.  I had no choice but to leave, really.”

 

I was never wanted by him, Dani realized, And I’m a colossal disappointment to my mother.  All this time, all the scenarios I made up, and the truth is so much worse than any of it.  Dani could feel Jamie’s body tense against her’s and she knew that Jamie understood the magnitude of hurt that was washing over her.

 

Dani’s father seemed unaware of the devastating effect of his words.  Unaware, or perhaps even indifferent.  He continued, “For the longest time, it looked like you would marry that O’Mara boy and be a teacher for the rest of your life.  And what a boring life that would have been.  I was so disappointed.  I wanted you to be destined for greatness.  Imagine my surprise one day when I found Viola.  She had washed up half dead in the river near one of our bases.  She eventually recovered enough to tell me her story.  I was especially interested in the part about how an American named Dani Clayton killed Peter Quint, a world class assassin.  I had her tell me everything she knew about you, which admittedly, wasn’t much.  Seems her dealings were mostly with your wife here.  But I am a busy man and business always takes priority.  So, I decided to leave you be for a time, to watch and wait for the right opportunity.  And now, now my organization is stronger than it’s ever been.  Now the timing is right.  And Viola is the first of what I hope will be many enhanced soldiers under my leadership.”

 

That got Jamie’s attention and he noticed.  Her eyes flicked over to Viola, realization dawning.  “Yes, dear, we’ll come back to that part,” he said to her.

 

“Danielle,” Thomas continued,  “I’m getting older.  I’m not the young, energetic man I once was.  Protecting my legacy has became more and more important.  I need someone to take over, and you are my only heir, Danielle.  It’s time for you to take your rightful place.”

 

“Are you out of your fucking mind?!” Jamie asked, stunned by what he was proposing.  “You, what, want her to come work for you?!”

 

“Dad, this is crazy!  I’m not—“

 

“You will!” He shouted.  His anger took Dani by surprise and she turned her head into Jamie in a feeble attempt to shield herself from his yelling.  Jamie squeezed her shoulder, her eyes blazing into Thomas.

 

Thomas took a deep breath and re-centered himself.  He began speaking again, this time more controlled, more measured.  “If you’ll allow me to finish, I will explain.  I have been trying to figure out how to bring you into the family business for some time now.  Your friend Agent Sharma gave me the perfect opportunity.  I had no idea who he was when he was recruited by our Manchester division.  Viola, however, recognized him and I saw an opportunity.”

 

Realization dawned on both Jamie and Dani.  Viola was the connection between them and Owen’s capture.  They couldn’t figure out who would have known about their friendship because they weren’t considering people who they thought were dead.  Of course, Jamie thought, That’s what was nagging at me.  That was the missing piece.  Viola knew Owen was my partner.

 

Thomas continued, “While Viola had been in my care for some time, she was untested as an asset.  I sent another agent to verify her intel.  I had to be certain; I’m sure you can understand that.  Agent Sharma was nothing if not predictable, calling you all the night before his undercover assignment and confirming everything Viola told me.  I then set my plan into motion.  I had to know what kind of person you are, Danielle, to see if you are suitable to this work.  It was the only way.”

 

“Spoiler alert, Dad, I’m not,” Dani said, her own anger growing.

 

“Oh, but you are, my dear.  First I sent my agent to see if you would fight back if pressed.  So, he made that teenage girl in your employment uncomfortable.  It was barely anything at all.  Yet you went toe to toe with him over it, not at all intimidated by him,  your anger simmering beneath the surface.  What we didn’t count on was Jamie making him as an operative, but oh what a gift that was.  Danielle, I was so proud that you shot him that I wasn’t even upset he’d been injured.  He clearly shouldn’t have underestimated you.  What you did is something many skilled agents would struggle to accomplish— to shoot a target from a moving vehicle.  And you did it in broad daylight in the middle of town.  You showed skill, tenacity, and mostly importantly, no fear.  That was when I knew you were truly special.”

 

“This is fucking sick,” Jamie said, disgusted.  “You should be ashamed of yourself.”  Jamie felt her own rage building. 

 

“Oh, but it doesn’t stop there,” Thomas said, ignoring the comment and speaking only to Dani.  “I was hoping Jamie would bring you with her to Denver, and I could meet you there.  When she left you behind though, I saw another opportunity to assess you.  I had Viola contact you.  I wanted to see how you would react, what you would do or not do.  And once again, you did not disappoint.  You were brave enough to come all the way out here to meet with her, someone you have a violent history with.  And not only that, but you cut out MI5 along the way, abandoning Hannah Grose and going rogue.”

 

“You did what, Dani?” Jamie whispered, but Dani just gave a quick shake of her head, not looking at Jamie.

 

“Yes, Jamie,” Thomas said, finally addressing her.  “Seems Danielle here is willing to compromise, willing to make the tough calls.  That, combined with the many lethal skills you have taught her, make her the perfect and only logical choice to carry on my legacy.”

 

“Dad,” Dani began firmly.  “You have to know that I will never join you.  I don’t know what kind of Darth Vader level shit is going on here, but I am leaving here with Jamie and going home to my life.  You can keep all this, whatever this is.  Hell, I’m sure Viola would love to be in charge.  You don’t need me, and I want no part in this.”

 

Viola just glared at Dani. She’d clearly struck a nerve.

 

“What?” Dani said to her.  “I can’t imagine you would actually want me to stay.”

 

“That’s the thing, isn’t it Dani?” Viola said, finally speaking.  “What is the number one thing that I want?”

 

Dani paused for a second and then said in a hushed voice, “To make Jamie suffer.”

 

“Very good,” Viola replied.  “And I have learned that the only way to do that is through you.”  She pointed at Dani for emphasis.  Jamie stiffened next to Dani, her eyes narrowing on Viola.

 

“What game are you playing, Viola?” Jamie asked, her voice not giving away her rising fear.

 

Viola looked to Thomas, and he nodded, indicating that he would explain.  “You have a choice today, Danielle.  Do you want your wife to live or die?”

 

“Excuse me?!” Dani asked indignantly, her fingers digging into Jamie’s waist.  They were both terrified.

 

“It’s a simple question, really.  If you want her to live, you will join me.  She will be free to go.  If you don’t join me, you both die here today.  I can’t let you both live and just simply walk out of here knowing what you know about me now.  If you stay, Jamie will keep our secret.  If she doesn’t, she knows I will let Viola kill you.  If she tries to come back for you, I will let Viola kill you.  If you try to go to her, I will let Viola kill her.  The only way you both live is to never speak to or see each other again.  In time, you’ll forget each other.  You’ll both move on.  I know I did.  And you’re just like me.”

 

Dani felt her legs collapse under her and Jamie was barely able to keep her steady, both of them panicking.  The thought of being separated was unimaginable.  But they were stuck.

 

Viola spoke again, addressing Jamie directly.  “You see, Thomas and I reached a little compromise.  He wouldn’t let me kill you outright out of respect for Dani.  And your history with MI5 makes you unsuitable to join us.  You would never be trustworthy.  And there’s the minor detail that I hate you.  But, this way, he gets what he wants— his daughter.  And I get what I want— a fate worse than death for you.  Losing Dani is the worst thing that can happen to you.  It really is a win-win, don’t you see?”

 

“You fucking bitch!” Jamie tried to lunge at Viola but Dani held her back.

 

“Jamie, don’t!  You can’t!”  Dani said, pleading with her.

 

Jamie looked around the room, where every gun was trained on Dani, and she stopped struggling.  Dani still held her tight.  Would this be the last time she ever did?

 

Viola was unbothered, her tone dismissive.  “You’re no match for me.  Not anymore.  You can fight all you want, but it won’t change a thing.  Either you both die today or you are walking out of here alone, without Dani.”

 

Jamie felt nothing but fear and rage.  She felt powerless, and it pained her to admit to herself that Viola was right.  From their earlier fight on the rooftop, Jamie knew she was no match for Viola.  “What did he do to you?” She asked forcefully.  She at least wanted answers before she died.  Because she would die before leaving Dani behind.

 

Viola turned to Thomas.  “Should you tell her or should I?”

 

“I will,” he said.  “Jamie, you may want to sit down for this.”

 

Jamie remained standing, her eyes defiant.

 

He shrugged.  “Have it your way.  How much do you know of your father’s work?”

 

Jamie was stunned.  “My—my father?  What does he have to do with any of this?”

“Everything, my dear.  Tell me, did you know that your father was MI5?”

 

Jamie felt like the wind had been knocked out of her, and it was Dani’s turn to hold her steady.

 

Seeing her reaction, Thomas continued, “I didn’t think you knew that.  Your father Dennis was an invaluable asset to MI5.  You see, he was a scientist, working on a serum to give agents increased strength and stamina in the field.”

 

“No,” Jamie said in disbelief.  “This isn’t true.”  Her head was spinning. 

 

“I’m afraid it is.  Your father was brilliant.  His job put a strain on his home life though.  I’m sure you can attest to the veracity of that statement.”

 

Jamie was silent, clinging to Dani and feeling like her entire world was crumbling down around her.  Dani was as stunned as Jamie, her anxiety for her wife only growing.  She had no idea where this was going, but she was determined to be strong for Jamie, whatever happened next.

 

Thomas continued, “As I’m sure you can imagine, I couldn’t let MI5 be successful.  It would have been a game changer.  When it seemed like your father was close to success, I knew I had to intervene.  It’s an unfortunate part of our business.  Sometimes things get messy.  You know this.  I had to make it look like an accident.  I sent one of my operatives to intercept your family after the school play.  It was the perfect setup with the weather that night.  No one questioned it.  It just looked like a tragic car accident.”

 

Jamie couldn’t believe what she was hearing.  She struggled to process the enormity of what Thomas had just revealed.  It wasn’t an accident at all.  My family was murdered.  My entire family. Murdered.   Jamie felt as if her heart was breaking into a million pieces.  Everything she thought she knew about her life was a lie.  She couldn’t hold her rage back any longer.    

 

NOOOOOO!” She screamed, lunging towards Thomas.  “YOU KILLED MY FAMILY!!!!!”

 

Dani wrapped her arms around Jamie from behind, pinning her arms and holding her back while Jamie’s legs kicked out wildly.  The guards prepared to fire, but Thomas raised one hand, indicating to them to hold their fire.  He wanted to see what would happen next.

 

Jamie struggled against Dani, wanting nothing more than to wrap her hands around Thomas’ throat and squeeze until the life left his body.

 

“Jamie, stop.  Not like this, not like this,” Dani whispered in her ear, pleading.  She was determined to hold on to her.  She knew their lives depended on it.

 

Jamie sunk to the ground in Dani’s arms, defeated.  Dani knelt next to her, arms still tightly holding her.  She wished she could hold her together, but she felt she was fighting a losing battle.  Jamie, her strong Jamie, was coming apart at the seams.

 

“He murdered my entire family, Dani,” Jamie whispered into her chest.

 

It broke Dani.  “You’re a monster!” She spat at her father, hatred taking root.

 

Thomas knelt down in front of them.  “Yes, I am,” he said coldly.  “And the sooner you accept that and stop fighting me, the better.  But, I didn’t kill her family.”

 

“You gave the order,” Dani retorted.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Then you killed them,” Dani stated, every word dripping with hate.  Jamie had never heard Dani so angry.  Thomas seemed to relish in Dani’s anger.

 

Viola was watching the scene with great interest, her eyes gleaming.  She whispered to the guard closest to her, “Do you have any popcorn?”  He gave her a disgusted look and shook his head.  “Hmph,” Viola huffed, shrugging. “That’s too bad.  I’m quite enjoying this show,” she whispered back to him, ignoring his continued look of shock at her flippancy.

 

Thomas continued, “Let me finish, Danielle, and you may feel differently about me.  While the Taylor family was being… taken care of… I broke into the lab where Dennis conducted his research.  I took it all. His work was incomplete, but it was enough.  I then set fire to the building, destroying any sign I’d ever been there or that his research had been compromised.  MI5 investigated, of course.  They may have had their suspicions, but in the end, they couldn’t prove it was anything other than a fire from faulty electrical wiring on the same night as a tragic car accident.  I covered my tracks well.  They never discovered what truly happened.”

 

“Nothing about this is changing my mind,” Dani said, irritated.

 

“Patience, Danielle!”

 

“It’s Dani, actually.”

 

“Fine.  Dani.  Whatever,” Thomas continued.  “There was one member of the Taylor family that I couldn’t bring myself to eliminate.  A little girl who was the same age as my own daughter.  As a father, that was where I drew the line.”  He turned to Jamie, reaching out to touch her face.

 

“Don’t you dare fucking touch her!” Dani screamed, smacking his hand away before he could touch Jamie. 

 

Thomas held up his hands in mock surrender.  “I do appreciate this protective streak in you, Danielle… Dani, I really do.  Jamie, do you remember what happened to you that day?”

 

“She got food poisoning,” Dani answered for her.  “Don’t you dare fucking speak to her either.”  Dani had never seen Jamie so vulnerable and it terrified her.  She would get Jamie through this conversation if it was the last thing she did.  She pulled Jamie closer to her chest, wishing she could shield her from the whole world and its cruelty, wishing she could take it all in Jamie’s place.  She would feel it all if it meant Jamie didn’t have to.

 

“So feisty,” Thomas observed.  “And who do you think did that to her, ensuring that her life would be spared that night?”  He stood up with a flourish, opening his arms as if he expected applause.  When Dani just stared at him in horror, he added, “I filled in for a sick cafeteria worker that day.  When young Jamie here came through the line, I made sure a little something extra made its way onto her tray.  Dani, I saved her life.  And, thanks to me, she is who she is today.”

 

“You’re sick,” Dani whispered in disgust.  She could feel Jamie shaking in her arms, unable to process all of the information that was being thrown at her.  “And you what?!  Expect me to thank you for that?!  For poisoning my wife as a child?!  A child, Dad!  She was 5 years old!  And then killing her family?!  You took her family and left her all alone in this world!  How could you?!  And, for what?!  Some stupid serum that it still took you decades to finish?!”

 

“Aha! But I did finish it!” He exclaimed.  “And that’s what matters!  Viola is the proof.”

 

“And how many did you lose before it worked?” Dani asked, already knowing that he didn’t care, that he didn’t care about the human cost of any of this.  My father is a sociopath, she realized in horror.

 

Thomas waved a dismissive hand.  “It’s no matter.  It works now.  And I will share it with you, too, one day, Dani.”

 

“I don’t want it.  I don’t want any of this.  I just want to go home.”

 

Thomas sighed, exasperated with her responses and ready to move on.  “So, are you ready to make your choice?”

 

Dani pulled Jamie up to her feet.  “It’s gonna be okay,” she whispered to her.  Jamie’s tear-stained eyes met Dani’s and the defeat in them broke Dani’s heart.  “I’m so sorry,” Dani added.

 

“Enough!” Thomas yelled.  “I will hear your decision now.”

 

Dani looked at Jamie once more.  I know it doesn’t look like it, but I’ve got this.  I’ve got us.  Please trust me.  She tried to communicate everything with a look, but she didn’t know if the message had been received by Jamie.  She’d never seen her look so lost.

 

Dani turned to face her father, squaring her shoulders.  She slipped her hand into Jamie’s, lacing their fingers together.  Her thumb tapped a message on the back of Jamie’s hand in Morse code:  T-R-U-S-T-M-E.  Jamie’s eyes snapped to Dani’s face, but Dani didn’t look over at her, instead keeping her gaze fixed on her father.  Jamie squeezed Dani’s hand and she knew her message had been received.

 

“I would rather live without Jamie than live in a world without her.  I will join you.  And you will let her go.  My life for her’s.” Dani said confidently.  She would sacrifice herself for Jamie in any universe.  Without question or hesitation.

 

Thomas clapped slowly.  “Very good.  You’ve come to your senses, as I knew you would.  Now, just to finalize our agreement, you must pass the test that all new recruits must pass.”

 

Test?!  I wasn’t expecting a test.  Shit. 

 

“Let her go first,” Dani said.

 

“I don’t think so, dear.  I need to know I can trust you first.”  Thomas signaled to two of the guards.  “Bring in the prisoner.”

 

They left and came back with a man, a black hood over his face, obscuring his identity.  He was mumbling under the hood, his mouth gagged.  They sat him in the chair Jamie had previously occupied, his hands tied behind him.

 

Thomas handed Dani a gun.  “Kill him.  Kill this man.  Kill this man and Jamie goes free.”

 

“Who is he?” Dani asked, her voice shaking.

 

“Who he is is of no consequence.  It’s his life for Jamie’s.  Surely this is an easy choice for you.  You say you love her, after all.”  His tone was mocking.  It made both Dani and Jamie sick.

 

Dani’s heart was pounding.  This was not part of the plan.  Her plan was rapidly falling apart.  She took the gun with shaky hands.  Her other hand reluctantly dropped Jamie’s as she moved to stand in front of the man.  She spared a glance at Jamie who subtly shook her head. Don’t do it.

 

Jamie studied the man further.  Shit!  That’s Owen! 

 

Dani raised her arm and aimed the gun at the man’s head, unaware that it was Owen,  the gun visibly shaking in her hand.

 

“Dani!  No!” Jamie shouted, as one of the guards punched her in the stomach.  She doubled over in pain.  Dani looked over at her, her own eyes clouded with tears.

 

“I love you, Jamie,” Dani said, as she turned back around, her mind made up.

 

She brought the gun back up and pulled the trigger, pivoting at the last second.

 

CLICK.

 

She squeezed the trigger again.  CLICK. CLICK. CLICK.  She realized in horror that they had given her an empty gun.  It was a test.  And I’ve failed.  Her eyes were wide when she looked into her father’s face, where she currently had her gun pointed and and just attempted to fire four shots.  Fuck.

 

Thomas slapped her across the face so hard that she hit the ground.

 

“No!!!  Dani!!” Jamie yelled, the guards holding her back.

 

“You are an absolute failure of a daughter!” Thomas screamed, standing over Dani.  She held her hand to her stinging cheek, her eyes meeting his.

 

Viola snickered.  “I told you this would happen,” she said smugly.  “But no, you wanted to give her a chance.  I told you that Dani Clayton is nothing but good.  She’ll never be who you want her to be.  So, can we do it my way now?  I’ve waited long enough.”

 

Thomas was breathing hard, his anger overtaking him.  “Very well then,” he said to Dani.  “I’m sorry it’s come to this.”

 

“Can I kill them now?” Viola asked, growing impatient.

 

Thomas finally looked at Viola and nodded.  “Gather everyone together.  I want everyone to watch what happens to those who betray me.  I want them to see that I won’t even show mercy to my own daughter.  Make your preparations.  They all die in one hour.”

 

Thomas pulled the hood off Owen’s head, indicating that he was also part of the death sentence.  He pulled the gag down from his mouth.

 

“Owen?!” Dani said in shock.

 

“Hey, Dani.  Thanks for not shooting me,” he said meekly.

 

Thomas spoke once more to Dani.  “You’ve condemned them both to die along with yourself,  you stupid girl.  I could have given you the whole world.”

 

He motioned to the guards, who roughly grabbed their arms and took them all away, Owen in one direction and Jamie and Dani in the other.

 

“Jamie!  I’m sorry!” Dani said desperately as they were dragged down the hallway.

 

“You did the right thing, Dani.”

 

“Shut up!” The guard yelled.

 

They were tossed back into the cell Jamie had previously occupied, but at least they were together.  As soon as the door was locked behind them, they were in each other’s arms, both of them sobbing.

 

“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” Dani kept repeating.

 

“I’m the one who’s sorry, Dani,” Jamie replied through her tears.  “I’m sorry I got caught, that I wasn’t good enough, that you had to come find me…”

 

“Stop, Jamie,” Dani replied, hugging her tighter.  “Don’t say those things.  This was always going to happen.  We were always going to end up here, no matter what we did.  If it hadn’t been like this, he would have gotten us here another way.  We’ve been on a collision course towards this moment our whole lives and we had no idea.  Jamie, all of this is my fault.  I’m so sorry.”  The sobs wracked Dani’s body.

 

“Shhh, shhh.  None of this is your fault,” Jamie responded, cradling Dani’s head with one hand, other other hand firmly pressed into Dani’s back.  Dani had both arms wrapped around Jamie’s waist, her head buried in Jamie’s shoulder.

 

“Jamie…”  Dani didn’t know what else to say.  Sorry my dad killed your entire family?  Sorry everything you thought you knew about your family was a lie?  Sorry that my dad altered the entire course of your life?  Sorry that I couldn’t rescue you?  Sorry that I failed?  Sorry that I ruined your life?

 

But Jamie knew.  She knew Dani well enough to know how much responsibility she was taking on in this moment.   She also knew that Dani had just fully intended to kill her own father.  For me.  She was going to do that for me.  She pulled back to look at her, taking Dani’s face in both hands and gently wiping away the tears with her thumbs.  Her heart ached further when she saw the bruise already forming on Dani’s cheek from where her father hit her.

 

“None of this is your fault.  You hear me?”

 

Dani looked down, unable to meet Jamie’s eyes.

 

“Do you hear me, Dani?” Jamie said more forcefully.  “I don’t blame you for any of this, okay?  You don’t decide who lives and who dies, Dani.  I’m sorry, but you don’t.  And you’re not responsible for the actions of your father.”  She tilted Dani’s chin up.  “Look at me, baby.”

 

Dani did look at her.  Where she expected to see blame, she saw only love.  She took a step closer to Jamie, taking her face gently in her hands and began kissing away the tears on her face.  Once she was satisfied, she pulled back just enough to look at Jamie, still holding her face.

 

“Jamie, are you going to be okay?  What happened to you is…it’s unforgivable.”  Dani’s voice was shaking.

 

Jamie let out a sarcastic laugh so it wouldn’t turn into another sob.  “I reckon I’m gonna have a lot to work through.  This has been a really fucked up day for both of us.  But we have to be strong for each right now.  We need to focus on getting out of here.”

 

Dani nodded quickly.  “But we’ll be okay, right?” Dani asked, her voice so scared.  “We’ll get through it together?”

 

Jamie realized that Dani was not asking about their current physical situation, but about their relationship, about whether or not today would permanently alter it.  It broke her heart even more than it already was.  She gently took Dani’s hands in both of her’s and squeezed.

 

“Poppins, you and I will be fine.  I promise.  The only way I’m getting through this is with you by my side.  And, maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m thinking you may need me, too.  You’ve been through just as much a shock today as me.  I mean, Jesus Dani, your father—“

 

Dani laughed awkwardly.  “Yeah, let’s maybe deal with that later.”

 

Jamie gave her a small smile and squeezed her hands again. 

 

“Is it okay if I kiss you?” Dani asked quietly.  “I’ve just really missed you.”

 

“It’s more than okay.”

 

Dani leaned in and placed a soft, gentle kiss to Jamie’s lips, which was immediately returned.  She then rested her forehead against Jamie’s.

 

“Thank you.  I really needed that,” Jamie said.  “I really missed you, too.”

 

“I’m so glad you’re by my side.  I need you….so much.  And I love you even more,” Dani said, her voice thick with emotion.

 

“I’m glad we’re on the same page,” Jamie said, relieved that they still felt so solid despite the day’s revelations.  Jamie smiled and tugged at Dani’s shirt.  “Hey, is this mine?”

 

Dani blushed.  “Yeah.  I hope you don’t mind.  I just wanted to feel like I had a piece of you with me.”

 

“‘Course I don’t mind.  It looks great on you.”  Jamie was touched by the fact that Dani chose to wear it.  It spoke to their connection.  “But you always carry me with you.  I’m right here,” she said, placing her hand over Dani’s heart.  “And you’re right here,” she added, pulling Dani’s hand to rest over her own heart.  Despite everything, Dani smiled.  She leaned forward and placed another soft kiss to Jamie’s lips.

 

Jamie smiled back at her. She wanted to stay in the moment forever, but she knew they needed to focus on their escape.  There would be time later to talk, she hoped.  “What’s your big plan to get us out of here?  Because I’m assuming you have one.”

 

A bit of sparkle came back to Dani’s eyes.  “Of course I have a plan.  But, we need to buy ourselves some more time first.”

 

“That’s my girl!” Jamie said, giving her an encouraging clap on the arm.

 

“So, how do we get out of here?” Dani asked, looking around the room.

 

“Oh, I’ve already sorted that bit,” Jamie replied.  I’ve spent a lot of time in this little room over the past, well, I don’t really know how long it’s been, honestly.”

 

Dani gave her a sad smile, knowing that the past few days had been even worse for Jamie than they had been for her.

 

“Anyway,” Jamie continued, “I couldn’t do anything about it before because I was tied up and all.  And also, it’s sort of a two person job.”

 

“And you’re just now mentioning this?” Dani asked.

 

“Well, yeah, was kinda hoping you’d kiss me first,” Jamie teased.

 

Dani flashed one of her signature Dani smiles.  “You’re impossible,” she said lovingly.  “So, care to clue a girl in?”

 

Jamie glanced up and pointed towards the ceiling.  Dani followed her eyes and saw a small air vent screwed into the ceiling.  She quirked her eyebrow at Jamie.  “Oh, this should be interesting…”

 

“It’s gonna be tight, so it’s a good thing we’re both so small.  I need you to hoist me up on your shoulders.  I should just be able to reach,” Jamie explained.

 

“Okay, let’s do it,” Dani said, without hesitation.

 

“Okay, we need to do this as quietly as possible.  It’s gonna be tricky since it’s not close to the wall.  We really have to work to keep our balance.”

 

“Just tell me what to do.”

 

“Right.  Squat down and I’m going to climb up on your shoulders,” Jamie instructed.  “You haven’t been skipping leg day, have you?” She added with a smirk.

 

Dani chuckled.  “Let’s find out. Trust me?”

 

“Always.”

 

She squatted down and Jamie climbed as carefully as she could on her back.  Dani brought her hands around Jamie’s legs and helped push her up.  A lot of “sorry’s” were muttered between the two as Jamie’s feet dug into Dani’s body and her balance faltered.  They were grunting and breathing hard but they finally got Jamie on Dani’s shoulders, straddling her head.  Dani held Jamie securely by the legs and stood upright, her legs wobbling a bit as she found her balance.

 

“I can’t believe the guards didn’t come in here and check on us with all the noise we just made,” Dani said in disbelief.

 

“Uh, Dani, they probably just assumed we’re having sex in here,” Jamie said matter-of-factly, her hands coming to rest on the top of Dani’s head.

 

“I wish we were,” Dani replied dryly.  “This is not the way I like my head between your thighs.”

 

“Fuck Dani, you can’t just say things like that.  You’ll make me laugh and break my concentration,” Jamie said, not at all upset and they both knew it.

 

“Can you reach?” Dani asked.

 

“I think so.  Move a little to the right.”

 

Dani did as she was asked and her legs buckled a bit.  It was harder than she thought to balance an entire person on her shoulders, even if it was someone as light at Jamie.

 

“There!  Got it!” Jamie said.   Then, “Shit!”

 

“What?  What’s ‘shit’?” Dani asked, panicked.

 

“The screws are on here really tight.  This is gonna take some work.”

 

“What are you gonna do, pull a screwdriver out of your ass?” Dani asked sarcastically, beads of sweat forming on her forehead.

 

“No, I’m gonna MacGyver the shit out of this.  I’m trying to impress my wife, okay?”  Jamie could sense rather than see that Dani had just rolled her eyes.  Jamie slipped off her claddagh ring and fitted the crown portion of it into the flat head screw.  She started turning it and the screws easily began coming out.

 

Dani scrunched her eyes up and saw what she was doing.  “I can tell you that your wife will not be impressed if you break your wedding ring.”

 

“Would you rather I used your’s?”

 

“No, just hurry.  You’re getting heavy.”

 

“Right.  Hurrying.  Hang in there, Poppins.”

 

What felt like an eternity later to Dani, Jamie had successfully removed the grate from the air vent.  She put it inside the vent to avoid it clattering to the ground.  She slipped her ring back on her finger, feeling better with it back in its place.

 

“Got it!” She exclaimed.

 

“Good job, sweetie,” Dani said, grunting.  “Now what?”

 

But her question was answered as Jamie hoisted herself into the vent, making it look effortless.  She turned around in the vent and then stuck her head out, looking down at a very relieved Dani.

 

“You did a great job, babe.  I’ll give you a shoulder rub later, okay?” Jamie said.

 

“Oh, I will definitely take you up on that,” Dani said, smiling.

 

Jamie smiled back and offered her right hand down to Dani.  “You’re gonna have to jump,” she instructed.  “Grab on with both hands and I will pull you up.”

 

“Jamie, I hope you didn’t skip arm day,” Dani said, doubtful this could work.

 

“Never,” Jamie said.  “Trust me?”

 

“Always.”

 

“Good, now come on.”  Jamie knew it would be difficult.  She was lying prone in the vent and needed to use her left arm to brace herself.  She would have to curl Dani’s entire body weight with her right arm. 

 

It took three attempts of Dani jumping for Jamie to get a good enough grip on her.  Once she did, she immediately began lifting.  It was all Jamie could do not to cry out while she was curling her up.  But she would never let Dani go, no matter what.

 

Once Jamie got her up higher, Dani reached for the vent opening and was able to help lift herself.  Jamie finally reached down and grabbed Dani’s belt, pulling her up the last little bit into the air duct, Dani’s body completely on top of her’s.  They were both breathing hard, exhausted by the effort.  Jamie reached a tired arm around and patted Dani on the back.

 

“See? We made it.”

 

“Holy shit, Jamie.  I don’t know how you did that.”

 

“Not doing it wasn’t an option.  Now, as much as I love you on top of me, what do you say we keep going and pick this back up later, hmm?”

 

“That’s a promise,” Dani said as Jamie shimmied out from under her.

 

Dani followed Jamie as they army crawled through the dusty vent.  Jamie heard her breathing getting ragged and she knew it was Dani’s claustrophobia.

 

“We won’t be in here long, Dani, I promise.  Just stay with me, yeah?”

 

“Mmhmm,” Dani replied, too anxious to say more.  She just focused on Jamie’s feet in front of her.  Jamie is here.  She’s here with me.  Nothing bad can happen to me when Jamie is here.  I’m safe.  I’m safe when I’m with Jamie.  She repeated it over and over again like a prayer.

 

Meanwhile, Jamie was worried about Dani.  She hated that she couldn’t turn around and comfort her in the tiny shaft they were crawling through.  It was physically impossible.  Even she felt claustrophobic.  It was pitch black and she had no idea where they were going.  Dani is counting on me.  Dani is here.  Dani is safe.  I will get us out of this.  I always do.  We will find Owen and we will get out of here. Together.

 

Jamie was silently thankful when she saw light coming from another vent cover up ahead.  “We’re almost there, Dani,” she whispered back.  Dani reached out and squeezed her ankle in response.

 

When Jamie reached the grate, she peered down to see where they were.  It was some type of office and they were directly over the desk.  That’s lucky.  It was deserted.  Even more lucky.

 

“Jamie?” Dani whispered, her voice anxious.  “Will we be able to get out here?”

 

“Yeah, looks like this is our stop, Poppins,” Jamie said, swiveling around and giving the grate a couple of good kicks.  It clattered to the desk below.  They both held their breath, waiting to see if the noise attracted attention. 

 

“Okay, I think we’re good,” Jamie said.  “I’ll get down and then help you, yeah?”

 

Dani nodded.  Jamie swung her legs around and dropped down onto the desk below.

 

“Okay, your turn,” she whispered up to Dani.  “Lower your legs and I’ll guide you down.”

 

Dani did as she was instructed, Jamie grabbing at her calves as soon as Dani began her exit from the vent.  She slowed her fall and Dani braced her hands on Jamie’s shoulders as she came down.  She wobbled a bit, but Jamie kept her steady.  Dani breathed a huge sigh of relief.

 

“You did great,” Jamie said, hopping off the desk and offering her hand up to Dani to do the same.  Dani took Jamie’s hand and let her help her down.  When they were both standing on the floor, Dani pulled her into a quick hug. 

 

“Thank you.  That was terrifying.”

 

“Don’t mention it,” Jamie said humbly.  “Let’s get Owen and get out of here.”

 

“Yes, please,” Dani agreed.

 

“Stay behind me.  If we’re lucky, they’re all gathering outside for our execution and this place should be emptying out.”

 

Jamie opened the door and they slipped out into the hallway.  Dani kept one hand on Jamie’s back, letting her know that she was behind her.  They crept their way through the base, not entirely sure where they were going.  As they rounded a corner, they heard a series of footsteps approaching.  Jamie quickly grabbed Dani and pulled her into the nearest room, which happened to be a storage closet.  She pressed her against the wall, shielding her with her own body.  Dani closed her eyes and placed her hands on Jamie’s hips.  They both held their breath as the guards walked by.  As soon as it was quiet, they opened the door and went on their way.

 

“They can’t have been keeping him too far from us,” Jamie observed quietly.  “He’d be somewhere on this lower level with us.”

 

Dani saw something that caught her eye.  She tugged on Jamie’s sleeve.  When Jamie turned around, Dani pointed at the door that had caught her attention— EXPLOSIVES.

 

Jamie’s face broke out into a huge grin.

 

“You feel like blowing some shit up?” Dani asked her mischievously.

 

“Yeah, yeah, I do,” Jamie replied. 

 

A few minutes later, they were exiting the room with a duffle bag full of C4.  Jamie had wired the actual explosive room to blow and had the remote detonator with her.  They decided to take some more C4 with them in hopes of setting more charges along the way and finding the lab.  They wanted to destroy the base and everything in it.

 

They continued on their way, stopping when they saw a guard around the next corner. That must be where they’re keeping him.  Jamie motioned for Dani to stay put and she nodded in acknowledgement.  Jamie pulled out a smoke canister that she had just acquired and rolled it across the floor towards the guard.

 

“What the—“

 

Before he could get another word out, Jamie emerged from the smoke like a ghost.  He was disoriented and she took him down with one well placed kick to the head.  As the smoke began to dissipate, she searched his body, finding keys, zip ties, and a handgun. 

 

“Dani!  We’re in the clear!” She called back and Dani ran over to join her, clearly impressed.

 

Without warning, another guard turned the corner, his eyes widening in surprise when he saw his fallen comrade and the escaped prisoners.  He ran towards Dani, grabbing her from behind.  Jamie raised her gun.

 

“Let her go or I shoot.”

 

“I don’t think so,” he replied. “You can’t shoot me without hitting her.” He pulled Dani directly in front of his body.

 

Jamie held her hands up in surrender and snickered.  The man was confused.

 

“What, what’s so funny?” He demanded.

 

Jamie shook her head slowly.  “The fact that you’re about to get your ass kicked.”

 

“Wha—“

 

Dani winked at Jamie before ramming her elbow in the man’s stomach, causing him to double over in pain and release his grip on her.  She turned around quickly and punched him in the face.  He fell back and lost consciousness when his head hit the concrete floor.

 

Jamie whistled.  “Damn, you’re sexy.  You know that, right?”  She quirked her eyebrow at Dani.  “Will you go out with me?”

 

“You’re the sexy one,” Dani replied, as she took the gun off the solider.  She walked over to Jamie and placed a kiss to her cheek.  “And I already married you, babe.”

 

Owen’s voice came from behind the door.  “I can hear you all out there!  Can you rescue me first and then maybe flirt with each other later?!”

 

They both chuckled, only slightly embarrassed.  Jamie smiled at Dani and held up the keys. “Watch my back while I try these?”

 

Dani nodded and turned around, gun raised, ready for action.  Jamie tried each key on the locked door until one finally turned.

 

“Yes!” Dani cheered as Jamie swung the door open, revealing a very relieved Owen.

 

“Hey, mate!  You ready to get out of here?” Jamie asked.

 

“It’s about time you showed up,” Owen teased, the relief evident on his face.

 

“Did you doubt me?”

 

“Never.  Now let’s get out of here,” Owen replied. “But umm, do we have a plan?”

 

Jamie looked at Dani and smiled.  “Yeah, she’s got one.”  I have no idea what it is, but I trust her with my life. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie took Dani’s hand as they made their way up the stairs, Owen close behind them. 

 

“We need to find the lab,” Jamie said, looking back to Owen as they entered the hallway.  “We have to destroy that serum.”

 

Owen nodded grimly.

 

They ran through the now empty corridors, Jamie stopping to place explosives as they went.  The base was large and Jamie had to be thorough, strategically targeting load bearing walls.  Owen and Dani guarded her each time she set the explosives, guns raised, ready to protect her.  Dani stole several glances at Jamie, in awe of the way her nimble fingers carefully rigged each explosive.  She blushed as she tried not to think about other things those nimble fingers could do.  Not the time, Dani.

 

After twenty minutes that felt like an eternity, they found the lab.  Jamie shuddered looking around.  My father’s life’s work.  And I had no idea.

 

Dani placed a gentle hand on her arm.  “You okay?” She asked softly.

 

Jamie gave a quick nod.  She didn’t know how, but Dani always seemed to know exactly what was on her mind.  “He’d want us to destroy it,” Jamie said, her voice wavering.  “He wouldn’t want his work to fall into the wrong hands.”  Her voice grew strong as her resolve solidified.  “This is how I will honor him.”

 

Dani nodded and gave her a sad smile.  “Let’s get to work then,” she said, handing Jamie the last of the C4.

 

Jamie had just finished wiring it when the alarm blared in the building.

 

“Looks like time’s up!” Owen shouted over the noise.  “They must have realized we’re not in our cells!”

 

“Let’s go!” Jamie shouted, taking Dani’s hand once again as they exited the lab.

 

They barely made it twenty feet down the hallway before the first wave of soldiers attacked them.  Jamie, Dani, and Owen all drew their guns, rapidly taking out the first four guards.  They collected a few more weapons off of them.  Jamie pressed a second gun into Dani’s hand.  She knew that Dani could handle herself.  The confidence she had in Dani’s skills filled Dani with pride.  As they began to turn the next corner, they were completely halted by gunfire.  Jamie threw her arm out to prevent Dani from rounding the corner, keeping Dani pinned against the wall next to her.  Owen peered around the corner and fired a couple of shots.  The guards answered with a barrage of bullets.  Jamie reached into her bag and grabbed a grenade.  She quickly crouched down and tossed it down the hall, listening as it rolled the rest of the way.  She turned towards Dani, covering her body with her own against the wall, pressing tightly into her to shield her from the worst of the blast.  The grenade exploded, sending debris and dust flying in their direction.  They all three coughed, trying to clear their lungs.

 

“Everyone okay?” Jamie asked.

 

“All good, mate,” Owen responded.

 

“Good,” Dani replied.

 

“Right then. Let’s go,” Jamie said, charging down the hallway, stepping over bodies as they went. 

 

They heard running behind them.  “Shit!” Jamie muttered.  “Run!”

 

They took off running, but they didn’t know where they were going.  It sounded like an entire army was in pursuit of them.

 

“We need to find cover!  Fast!” Owen yelled.  “We’re too exposed out here!”

 

There was a door on their left and they ran inside, Jamie leading the way.  It looked like some sort of break room, with steel tables and chairs and a small kitchenette.  It was also a dead end.  The footsteps got closer.  Jamie ran to the nearest table and flipped it on its side.  Owen did the same with another.  The tables were heavy and would provide good cover for them.

 

“Quick, Dani!” Jamie instructed, motioning for Dani to crouch behind the table with her.  Dani was breathing hard.  “Hey… look at me, Dani.  We’re going to be okay.  When those guards come in, we shoot. Okay?  You just follow my lead.”  Dani nodded.

 

When the guards came in, they immediately sprayed the room with bullets.  Jamie wrapped her arms around Dani and held on tight.  She pulled Dani’s head towards her chest, her ear pressed against her, turned away from the bullets. She covered Dani’s other ear with her hand, trying to soften the deafening sound of the gunfire.  She could feel Dani trembling against her.  Dani’s hands gripped Jamie’s shirt.  Jamie looked across the room and saw Owen crouched down, too, his hands over his ears.

 

When the gunfire stopped and the guards advanced, Jamie and Owen both popped up and began shooting.  Dani was only a couple seconds behind them.  Each of them took out a guard, and Owen quickly ran out to grab guns off the fallen men.  He tossed the weapons to Jamie and Dani as more soldiers came around to the side of them.  Armed with a gun in each hand, Jamie and Dani looked at each another and nodded, a silent plan communicated.  They stood facing each other, almost touching chest to chest, and held their guns out, firing as they moved in circles.  They switched between standing front to front and back to back, all the while firing their guns, rotating around each other, and moving through the room, each bullet finding its target, always watching the other’s back.  It was graceful and coordinated, as if they had done it a million times.  They were perfectly in sync, like some sort of lethal dance, and Owen stood watching them, his mouth agape.  Within minutes, it was over and the room was quiet.  Jamie, Dani, and Owen were the only ones left standing.

 

Jamie and Dani locked eyes.  Jamie couldn’t help herself.  She dropped her guns,  grabbed Dani’s face, and kissed her hard.  Dani stepped closer into Jamie’s body, dropping her own guns and threading her fingers in Jamie’s hair.  The kiss was deep and passionate, their tongues fighting for dominance.  Owen cleared his throat dramatically.

 

“As much as I hate to interrupt you, I’d like to remind you that we haven’t actually escaped yet.”

 

Jamie let out a small chuckle; Dani sighed.  “Right.  Can’t help it my wife is so fucking hot, Owen,” Jamie replied, annoyed by the interruption.

 

“You’re the hot one,” Dani responded.  “The way you fired those guns…”

 

“Oh god, let’s just go already.  I’d like to get back to my hot girlfriend, if you don’t mind,” Owen said, heading for door.

 

“They get even hotter when you marry them,” Jamie said, winking at Owen. “I’d highly recommend it.”

 

“Well, I won’t know if you all keep making out and we never escape!  I swear, you two have only gotten worse with age!” Owen replied, exasperated. 

 

Jamie and Dani picked up their guns and followed him.  “Later,” Jamie mouthed to Dani with a smirk.  Dani bit her bottom lip and followed after her.  Later couldn’t come soon enough.

 

It was quiet in the hallway… too quiet.  They had to backtrack a bit and take a different path than they had the first time.  They didn’t have many exit options, and the longer they walked down the hall and didn’t encounter any more opposition, the more Jamie became convinced that there was only one way out for them… and it was a trap.

 

“Owen…” she said.

 

“Yeah, I’m thinking the same,” he responded.

 

“Wait, what are you all thinking?” Dani asked, not following.

 

They opened the next set of doors and emerged into what looked like a lobby…where twenty-five soldiers had them surrounded at gunpoint.

 

“That it’s a trap,” Jamie said, answering Dani’s question.

 

“Drop your weapons!  We have you surrounded!” A soldier yelled.

 

Dani looked to Jamie for direction.  They were outgunned and outnumbered.  “Do as they say, love.”  Jamie slowly lowered her guns and placed them on the floor, kicking them towards the soldiers.  Dani and Owen followed suit.  Dani reached for Jamie, grabbing her arm for reassurance.

 

“It’s gonna be okay, Poppins,” Jamie said quickly, as the guards moved in, roughly grabbing them and yanking them apart.

 

“Jamie!”  Dani yelled.  She seems too calm.  Jamie wants them to take us outside, Dani realized.  Of course she does.  This is the only way out. And they don’t know we’ve wired the whole building to blow.

 

They were harshly escorted out of the building into the blinding Wyoming sun, all three blinking as their eyes tried to adjust.  When Jamie opened her eyes, squinting, she got her first look at their surroundings.  Shit.  We’re in the middle of nowhere.  She saw a pen of horses in the distance.  Dani said her father loved horses.  Guess that part was true.  Jamie truly hated Thomas Clayton.  But she also felt an overwhelming sadness for her wife.  Dani’s father is a monster.  How is she supposed to come to terms with that?

 

Thomas was waiting for them outside as the guards dragged them out.  He clapped dramatically, pulling Jamie from her grim thoughts.  Viola was standing next to him, triumphant.

 

“Oh, good show, you three, really,” he said in a patronizing tone.  “But you still made it just in time for your own execution.”

 

The guards shoved the three of them together, kicking their legs out from under them and forcing them on their knees.  Three guards stood directly behind them, guns pointed at the backs of their heads.  The rest of the soldiers surrounded them, guns also raised.  Dani immediately reached for Jamie’s hand.

 

“I’m really sorry I got you two mixed up in this,” Owen said sadly.  Dani was in the middle and reached for Owen with her other hand, connecting all three of them.

 

“Don’t sweat it, Owen,” Jamie said.  “We would have gotten dragged into this with or without you, I think.  And, this is not where our story ends.”  The confidence in Jamie’s voice gave Dani courage.

 

“Dani!” Thomas shouted.  “Any last words?”

 

Dani could hear the faint whirl of a helicopter in the distance and she smiled.

 

“Yeah. Fuck you,” she replied, her voice strong. 

 

Jamie smirked.  That’s my girl.

 

“Disappointing,” Thomas replied.  “And childish.  Dare I ask, but Jamie, any final words from MI5’s finest?”

 

“Yeah, as a matter of fact,” Jamie said, pulling the remote detonator from her sleeve with a flourish.

 

“Nooooooo!” Thomas shouted as he realized what was about to happen.  He was powerless to stop her.

 

“This is for my family, you son of a bitch!”  Jamie pressed the button and immediately threw Dani to the ground, covering her body with her own.  Owen dropped to the ground next to them, one arm across Jamie’s back.  The explosion was deafening.  It rippled through the base.  The ground shook and rumbled from the sheer force of it.  A fireball shot up into the air, reducing the building to rubble, as debris rained down on them.  Jamie’s only thought was of protecting Dani.  The guards that only a second earlier were poised to shoot them had also ducked for cover.

 

The explosion was so loud that almost everyone missed the fleet of helicopters that were now hovering over the scene— the helicopters with FBI emblazoned across them.  The scene devolved into utter chaos.  The base had been completely destroyed, a crater left in its place thanks to Jamie’s strategic C4 placement, and a dust cloud settled over them.  Many guards were dead as a result of the explosion, others were running away, some were advancing on the trio, and others were firing at the helicopters.

 

Dani’s hearing felt muffled from the explosion, but she could feel Jamie pulling her to her feet.

 

“This you?” She yelled, pointing up at the helicopters. 

 

Dani didn’t have a chance to answer as their gaze drifted upwards.  Ropes were lowered from the helicopters as agents began rappelling down.  Their attention was snapped back to the ground as several soldiers approached them, preparing to fire.  They were defenseless.  Before they could do anything, all of the soldiers were shot and fell to the ground.  Jamie, Dani, and Owen looked up in surprise as they saw Hannah Grose descending from the helicopter, smoking gun in hand.  She winked at Owen as she rappelled from the helicopter, shooting anyone who approached them.  She was like their own guardian angel.  A deadly guardian angel.  She never missed a shot.  No one could touch them with Hannah protecting them.  Owen stared up at her in awe.

 

“Isn’t she exquisite?” He asked Jamie and Dani, never taking his eyes off Hannah.

 

Jamie clapped him on the arm.  “She is, mate.  Well done.”  Turning to Dani, she asked, “Was this you?  How?”  Dani nodded enthusiastically.  Jamie was in awe of her wife.  I knew she had a plan, but this?!  Just wow.  I’d marry her again if I could.

 

Hannah reached the ground and unclipped herself from the rope in a quick, graceful motion.   Owen closed the short distance between them, picking her up in a tight hug and spinning her around.  FBI agents were rappelling out of all of the helicopters now, joining them on the group and rounding up the last of the terrorists.  Owen and Hannah were unaware of all of it; they were too wrapped up in each other.  When Owen finally put her down, Hannah grabbed his face and kissed him.  She didn’t care who knew anymore.  He was smiling when she pulled away.

 

“I missed you,” she said.  “I was so worried.”

 

“I’m safe, love, now that you’ve rescued me.  Can’t tell you how good it is to see you.”  He hugged her again.  “But how did you find us?”

 

Sensing it was okay for them to approach, Dani and Jamie walked closer to them.

 

“That’s a great question, Owen,” Jamie said.  “How did you find us, Hannah?”  Jamie turned her attention to Dani.  “ I thought Viola said you ditched MI5?”

 

Dani shrugged sheepishly, looking at her feet and kicking some dirt around.  “I, uh, sort of swallowed a tracker from your stash, Jamie.  I swallowed it on the plane.  I knew Viola was monitoring me and I knew she would search me.  So, I met with Luis before I left.”

 

“And Luis met me at the airport,” Hannah finished for her.  “And gave me all the information I needed to track Dani.  He told me everything that happened.”  She looked over at Dani and smiled.  “It was very clever.”

 

“And then what took you so long?” Jamie asked.

 

“Well, we had to wait for Dani to stop moving.  We had to be sure she’d reached her destination.  And  it still takes some time to get the FBI to cooperate.  But, as you can imagine, they were very receptive when Dani’s tracker finally stopped and they understood the magnitude of the operation here.  They don’t take too kindly to terrorists operating on American soil.  Dani handed them the biggest win of their careers.  They were all too eager to help once I had solid intel to offer them.”

 

Jamie turned to Dani, in awe.  “You’re bloody brilliant, you know that, right?”

 

“Turns out I’m not just a pretty face,” Dani said jokingly.  “I’m just glad it worked,” she added, relieved.

 

Jamie’s smile suddenly turned to a scowl when her attention was pulled to the horizon.  A single rider was escaping on horseback.  She quickly spun around, surveying the prisoners the FBI agents were rounding up.  Thomas was not among them.

 

“Shit!”  She exclaimed, taking off running at full speed towards the horse pen and grabbing a gun off the ground on the way.  I can’t let him get away!  I can’t!

 

Dani was left standing alone, her mind racing to catch up.  Within seconds, she realized what Jamie was doing.

 

“Shit!” She looked at Hannah and Owen, panicked.

 

“Go,” Owen said, his voice urgent.  “She’s going to need you.”

 

“We’ll be right behind you,” Hannah said.

 

But Dani didn’t hear her because she had already taken off after Jamie, running towards the horses.  She could see that Jamie was already mounting a horse and taking off, jumping the fence.  Damn, why is it always so hot when she does stuff like that?!  Dani decided to open the gate and forego the fence jumping.  The closest horse that was already saddled was a tall, white horse.  And, unfortunately,  a soldier was about the mount it, either in pursuit of Jamie or in an attempt to escape, Dani wasn’t sure which.

 

“Excuse me!” Dani shouted at him as she ran up to him.

 

“What are you—“

 

She punched him in the face before he could finish his question.  “I need this horse,” she said to him, as he clutched his bleeding nose, stumbling.

 

“Hey, boy,” She said to the horse, as she mounted it as quickly as possible.  I’m really thankful now that Jamie taught me how to do this!  The soldier, having recovering from the surprise,  tried to advance on her.  Dani kicked him in the face from the saddle, the force of the blow knocking him down.  She turned the horse around, clicked her tongue, and she was out of the gate!  Dani spurred her horse on, galloping after Jamie at full speed, desperate to catch up to her wife and terrified of what might happen to her or what she might do.  My dad took everything from her.  How is she supposed to come to terms with that?    

 

Up ahead, Jamie was gaining on Thomas.  She was riding a jet black horse, and he was fast.  She was thankful for that.  Thomas was on his favorite Palomino, the reason for his nickname now apparent to Jamie.  That pale haired bastard named himself for a pale haired horse.  Must be his favorite.  That has got to be the worst codename ever.  He led her deeper into the wilderness, far away from the base.  They were no longer out in the open but in the trees.  Jamie was forced to slow down, unwilling to risk injuring the horse as they navigated the terrain.  She pursued Thomas further and further, desperate to catch him.  He turned back and fired several shots at her.  She ducked but didn’t slow down.  She stayed on him; he would not shake her so easily.  He took his horse across a creek.  When Jamie got to it, she directed the horse to jump, gaining several seconds on Thomas.  He then led her through a few harrowing turns, jumping over several downed trees, but Jamie easily followed.  Jamie was faintly aware of Dani behind her, calling her name.  Dani!  Go back!  You don’t want to be here for this.  Please go back.

 

Abruptly, they were through the trees and back into the open.  Thomas spurred his horse on and so did Jamie, the sound of hooves beating against the dirt was almost comforting to Jamie.  She took her gun out and fired several warning shots, forcing him to change direction and lose speed.

 

Dani could hear the gunfire up ahead and prayed that Jamie was safe.  She couldn’t go as fast as either of them, but she was determined to follow.  She muttered a few encouraging words to her horse and continued on, her sense of dread only growing.

 

Dani emerged from the trees and was relieved to be in the open again.  She could see Jamie and her father up ahead.  Jamie was gaining on him.  Dani held her breath as she watched Jamie ride alongside Thomas.  He pointed his gun at her.  She grabbed his arm and twisted as the gun fired, just barely missing her.  Dani spurred her horse on faster.  I have to get to her.  I have to help.   

 

Jamie had never faced someone who was as skilled on a horse as she was.  If she didn’t hate him so much, she would have been impressed.  They were side by side, their horses practically touching.  Jamie managed to knock the gun out of Thomas’ hand and it skittered to the ground behind them.  He reared back with his left hand and landed a punch to her jaw, the force almost knocking Jamie off her horse.  He would not be pulling any punches, she realized grimly.  As he prepared to hit her again, Jamie lunged towards him, launching herself out of the saddle and using her body weight to knock him off his horse. She toppled over with him.  They both hit the ground hard, rolling with their shared momentum.

 

“Jamieeeee!”

 

Jamie could hear Dani’s panicked cries, but the fall had knocked the wind out of her and she didn’t have the breath to respond.  She and Thomas exchanged kicks and punches as they rolled, both of them landing painful hits to the other and neither of them holding back.  When they finally slowed, Thomas had Jamie pinned.  She looked up at him, looked up at the face of the man who gave the order to kill her entire family.  The man who had taken everything from her.  The man who had destroyed her childhood and innocence.  The man who had left her all alone in the world.  The man who inadvertently set her on a collision course with MI5 and turned her into a killer.  And also the man who gave life to the person her heart had found a home with.  How could someone so good, so pure come from someone so evil? 

 

Jamie was in turmoil.  But mostly, she felt rage.  She screamed as she used all her strength to flip Thomas over, switching their positions.  He was stunned and surprised by her show of strength.  She hovered over him, her eyes full of hate.  She brought her fist down in a hard punch to his face.  Blood poured from his nose, but he only laughed, seemingly impervious to the pain.  His laughter only made Jamie more furious.  She brought her fist up and down again and again. 

 

“This is for my father!” She landed a hit.  “This is for my mother!”  Crack.  “This is for my big brother!” Another blow.  Jamie was only barely aware that Dani had just ridden up on her horse, having caught up with them.  “This is for my little brother Mikey!” Jamie landed another punch to his face.  “And this is for Dani!” She didn’t even care that her own knuckles were bloody from the effort.  She couldn’t feel anything but blinding hate and vengeance.

 

Dani dismounted, taking in the horrific scene in front of her.  Her wife, beating her father to a bloody pulp.  “Jamie…”

 

“Dani, get out of here!  You don’t need to see this!” Jamie shouted, never looking up at her.

 

Thomas turned his head to the side, spitting blood out on the ground.  He sneered at her.

 

“I didn’t know you had it in you.  I should have known though.  You’re nothing but a killer.  It’s what you do best.  It’s what you’ve always done best.  You can play at being a florist all day long, but you and I both know the truth.  We both know what you really are, who you really are.  We both know you never have been and never will be good enough for my daughter.  All of this is your fault.  You brought her into this life.  At least I had the good sense to leave her.  But you couldn’t, could you?  You are selfish, just like your father!”

 

“Dad, stop!” Dani begged, tears falling.  It was all too much to take in.  The hurtful, untrue words being hurled at Jamie.  The primal rage in Jamie’s eyes, her beautiful face contorted in hate.  Jamie was in the most excruciating kind of pain and Dani felt helpless.  She moved closer.

 

“Don’t come any closer, Dani.  Please…” Jamie said, still not looking at her but hyper aware of her presence.  Dani stopped.

 

“Jamie, look at me,” Dani pleaded.  “Baby, please, just look at me.”

 

Jamie finally turned her head and their eyes locked.  “Dani, he killed my family,” she said in a small voice. 

 

“I know he did,” Dani said, “but killing him won’t bring them back and it won’t honor their memory.  It will only hurt you more.”

 

Thomas snickered.  “Don’t be weak, Jamie.  Show her how strong you are.  Show her what you’re capable of.  Do it!  Kill me!  Avenge your family! Show her who you truly are!”

 

Jamie drew her gun and pressed the barrel of the gun right between his eyes, screaming in agony, her mind and heart at war.

 

“Yes,” he goaded her.  “That’s right.  Do it.  Pull the trigger.  I know you want to.  I see it in your eyes.  Do it.  And then I can die with the satisfaction of knowing that my daughter will never look at you the same way again.  I should have killed you when I had the chance.  I could have saved Danielle all this heartbreak if I had just killed you back then.  You have taught my daughter so many things.  Teach her one last lesson— that love is weakness, attachment is folly, and that no one is who you think they are.  Kill me and teach her the most important lesson of all.”

 

Dani watched in horror.  “Jamie, don’t listen to him.  Don’t do this.  I know you want to, and I don’t blame you for that. Honestly, I don’t care if he lives or dies.  Hell, I was about to kill him myself.  For you.  But this would be in cold blood. What happens to him doesn’t matter to me.  It really doesn’t.  The person I care about is you.  Jamie, if you do this, you will have to live with it for the rest of your life.  And I know you’ll regret it.  I know you.  I know your heart.  You are good.  You are honest.  You are kind.  You are honorable.  And you are just.  This isn’t justice.  No matter what you do next, I will be by your side.  But I just want you to remember who you are.” 

 

Jamie kept the gun pressed into Thomas’ head, her hand shaking, her heart in turmoil.  She looked up at Dani, at the tears streaming down her face.  She’d never seen Dani so scared.  She’s scared for me.  Not of me, but for me.  I hate this man so much.  But I love her so much more.  I do know who I am.  I’m her’s.  And I’m so much more than what he says.  He has already taken so much from me, from her, from both of us.  But I’m in control now, and I will not let him take one more thing from us.  I will fight for her.  I will fight for us.  I always have and I always will.  This ends here.  She blinked a few times and shook her head, turning back to Thomas.  When she finally spoke, her voice was loud and clear, her mind made up.

 

“I may have taught Dani a lot, but she has taught me so much more.  She’s the most incredible person I’ve ever known.  She’s taught me the things that really matter.  Like who I am.  That I’m not defined by the things I did in the service of my country.  That light is greater than darkness.  That loves always triumphs.  That my soul is beautiful.  And I will not let you mar it.  I will not let you destroy what she has fought so hard for— my heart.”

 

“No,” he whispered, realizing that he had been defeated.  He had underestimated her.  And he had underestimated her love for his daughter.

 

Jamie brought the handle of the gun down on his head, knocking him out.

 

“I think we’ve heard enough out of you for one day,” she muttered to him, as she reached into her pocket for the zip ties.  She quickly secured his hands and sat down on the ground a few feet away, hugging her knees to her chest.  She suddenly looked so small to Dani.

 

Dani approached her and slowly sank down on the ground next to her, their shoulders just barely brushing.  Dani took a deep breath, choosing her next words carefully.

 

“I’ve never been more proud of you.”

 

Jamie looked over at her, her eyes sad, her voice defeated.  “How can you say that, Dani?  After what I just did?  After what I almost did?”

 

Dani placed a tentative hand on Jamie’s back, unsure if the gesture would be welcomed.  When Jamie didn’t flinch or make a move to scoot away, Dani began rubbing her back in soothing circles.

 

“What you almost did doesn’t count nearly as much as what you did.  What you actually did took more courage.”

 

Jamie sniffled and looked away from Dani, choosing instead to stare on her own bloody hands.  “I’m so sorry, Dani.”

 

“You have nothing to apologize for, Jamie.”  Dani spoke softly but passionately.  She didn’t want Jamie beating herself up like this. 

 

“And if I’d killed him?  Would you still be here, sitting next to me?”  Jamie asked, her voice cracking.

 

Dani reached over and gently took one of Jamie’s hands.  “Yes.  Jamie Clayton-Taylor, I will always choose you.  And wherever you are, I will always be by your side.  No matter what.  I believe in you, now more than ever.  I know who you are.  Your heart is good.  And you make the right decisions, even when they’re hard.  I can’t even imagine the pain you are going through right now.”

 

Jamie cut her off, “Dani, this isn’t just about me.  What you’ve gone through today—“

 

“Shhh,” Dani said, rubbing Jamie’s back and resting her head on her shoulder.  Jamie moved her hand to Dani’s waist, pulling her closer.  “There’ll be time to talk about it all.  We both have a lot to process.  Just promise me that we can do it together.”

 

“Yeah, I think I can make that promise.  Together,” Jamie responded, offering her other hand, pinky finger up.

 

Dani smiled at the gesture and intertwined her pinky with Jamie’s.  “Together,” she agreed.  Jamie brought their joined pinky’s to her lips and kissed Dani’s hand.

 

The sound of approaching vehicles pulled them out of the moment, as three SUVs filled with FBI agents and Hannah and Owen arrived on the scene.  Jamie and Dani stood up to meet them.

 

“Sorry we’re late,” Owen said.  “We had to go around all the trees.”  He saw Thomas unconscious on the ground, tied up.  “Seems we missed the party.”

 

Jamie turned to Hannah and the FBI agent-in-charge.  “He’s all your’s.  We just need to round up these horses and get them back to the ranch.”

 

“I’ll have an agent gather the horses, ma’am,” the agent responded.  “You did great work.  Looks like you all could use a lift though.  Maybe a trip to the hospital, as well?  Get checked out?”

 

“I’m fine,” Jamie protested.  “But I won’t turn down the ride.”

 

“Oh, you’re going to the hospital, too,” Dani said, her tone not to be argued with.

 

Owen chuckled. 

 

“Shut up, Owen.  If I’m going, so are you.” Jamie muttered as she walked towards the nearest SUV.  “Oh, and Hannah?” Jamie said, turning around.  “Later, you and I need to talk.”  Hannah looked perplexed.  “Owen, fill her in, will ya?” Jamie asked, opening the car door for Dani.  Owen nodded solemnly.

 

Jamie climbed in after Dani.  She smiled in spite of herself when she realized that Dani only scooted as far as the middle seat, not all the way across.  She put her arm around Dani’s shoulders and Dani moved closer to her, resting her hand on Jamie’s thigh.  They didn’t speak the rest of the car ride.  Partly, they didn’t want to speak in front of the two FBI agents in the front seat, but also, neither really knew what to say yet.  So, they spoke with their hands, their touches conveying what their words could not.  I’m here.  I’m staying.  I’m not going anywhere.  Seeing you on your worst day doesn’t scare me.  There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.

 

As they pulled up to the hospital an hour later, Jamie was still insisting that she didn’t need to be there.

 

“I’m fine, Poppins, I promise.  Just a little banged up is all.  You know I’ve been through worse.”

 

Dani exhaled, exasperated.  “That’s not the point, Jamie.  I need to hear a doctor tell me that you are okay.  Just do this for me, okay?”

 

“Fine,” Jamie huffed.

 

The agents informed them that they would stay in the waiting room.  Hannah and Owen were not far behind them, Hannah also insisting that Owen be seen by a doctor after his ordeal.  When they called Jamie’s name, Dani hesitated.

 

“Do you want me to come with you?” She asked.

 

“Yeah, I mean, that is, if you want to.”

 

“Of course I do,” Dani said, standing up and following her.

 

The nurse stopped them.  “Excuse me?  Are you family?  Only family is allowed back.”

 

Jamie answered.  “Yes, she’s my family.  She’s my wife.”  Dani beamed.

 

The nurse was flustered.  “So sorry, yes, of course.  Right this way.  Follow me.”

 

Jamie winked at Dani as they followed her.

 

A few hours later and they were still in the hospital room, waiting on Jamie’s test results.  She was laying in the bed with an IV hooked up to her.  Dani held her other hand, soothing Jamie’s sore knuckles with carefully placed kisses.  Jamie watched her in wonder.  What did I ever do to deserve this woman’s love?

 

Dani placed one last kiss to Jamie’s palm and then gently laid her hand back down on the bed, keeping their hands intertwined. 

 

“Jamie?” Dani asked, looking up at her, her voice small.  “Do you think Viola got away?”

 

“Yeah, I do,” Jamie answered truthfully.  “That one is clearly a survivor.”

 

Dani grew quiet, but Jamie knew she was running through every terrible scenario she could think of.

 

“Hey,” Jamie said gently.  “One day at a time.  One problem at a time.  Okay?”

 

Dani smiled weakly.  Then there was a knock on the door as the doctor finally came in.

 

“Mrs. Clayton-Taylor, I have good news.  Other than being dehydrated and suffering some bruising, you have a clean bill of health.”

 

“Ha! Told you!” Jamie said quickly to Dani, trying to change the mood with humor.  Dani glared at her in response.  “Thanks, Doc,” Jamie said.

 

“Of course,” he replied.  “The nurse will come discharge you as soon as you’ve finished these fluids.  Your body has been through a lot though.  You need rest.  Just take it easy for a few days, okay?”

 

“This one will make sure I do,” Jamie said, nodding her head in Dani’s direction.

 

“Thank you, Doctor,” Dani said.  “I’ll take good care of other.”

 

He looked between the two of them and smiled.  “I have no doubt of that.”

 

Shortly thereafter, Jamie and Dani trudged back out to the waiting room, exhaustion setting in.  The FBI agents stood up to greet them.

 

“Where to now, gentlemen?” Jamie asked.

 

“We’ve been instructed to take you to a hotel.  Director Grose and Agent Sharma will meet you there.”

 

“Lead the way then,” Jamie said, reaching for Dani’s hand.

 

It was dark by the time they checked into the hotel.  It wasn’t a nice hotel, but it also wasn’t the worst one they’d ever stayed in either.  The front desk clerk handed them their keys and they went off in search of their room.  When they opened the door, Jamie snickered.

 

“Oh look, Poppins, only one bed.”

 

“Were you hoping for two?” Dani asked sarcastically.

 

“Just brings back memories is all,” Jamie said, remembering fondly the first time they’d ever entered a hotel room together.

 

They walked in the room, latching the door behind them.

 

“That one bed was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Dani said, seeing it all in her mind again.  “I was secretly so happy about it.  I thought you were beautiful from the first moment I saw you, you know?”

 

“Mmm, you’ve mentioned that,” Jamie responded, smiling.  “That one bed scared the shite out of me though.”

 

Dani chuckled.  “I remember.  My brave Agent Taylor.  Not afraid of anything except falling in love with me.”

 

“Damn straight.”

 

“Jamie, there was nothing straight about it.”

 

“Touché.  I set you up for that one, didn’t I?”

 

“You really did,” Dani said, proud of her joke.

 

They were interrupted by a knock on the door. 

 

“Stay here,” Jamie directed, moving quickly and quietly to the door, glancing out the peephole.  She visibly relaxed when she saw who it was and immediately unlatched and opened the door.  It was Owen.  He was carrying two backpacks.

 

“Hey,” Jamie greeted.  “Come on in.”

 

“Thanks,” Owen replied,  “I brought you these.” 

 

Jamie took both bags, passing Dani’s to her.  “How did you find these?”

 

“The FBI retrieved your’s from your hotel room in Denver.  Dani, they found your’s in the field.  It looked like it had been tossed out of a vehicle.”

 

Dani’s heart began to race.  Her backpack had last been in Viola’s Jeep.  “Owen?  Did they apprehend Viola?”

 

“No, Dani, they didn’t,” Owen said.  “She got away.  I’m sorry.”

 

“Jamie…” Dani began, her voice laced with worry.

 

Jamie turned and placed her hands on Dani’s shoulders.  “Let’s just take one problem at a time, yeah?”

 

Dani took several deep breaths and nodded her head rapidly.  “Yeah, yeah, okay.  One thing at a time.”

 

“Jamie?” Owen interjected.  “I hate to interrupt, but Hannah is waiting for you by the pool.”

 

Jamie exhaled.  “Okay, yeah.  And you told her everything?”

 

“I did.”

 

“And?”

 

“And I think you two need to talk,” Owen said seriously.

 

“Right.”  Jamie suddenly felt nervous.  She looked over at Dani, who was unsure if Jamie wanted her to accompany her or if she needed to speak with Hannah alone.  “Come with me?” Jamie asked, holding out her hand and answering Dani’s silent question.  “I’m not sure what she’s going to tell me, but I think I’d feel better with you there.”

 

Dani took Jamie’s hand.  “Of course.  I’ll be with you as long as you want me.”

 

“I think I already told you that would be forever, if I’m recollecting properly,” Jamie replied, squeezing her hand.

 

Dani smiled.  “I think I seem to remember something to that effect.”

 

“You coming, Owen?” Jamie asked.

 

“No, I’m heading back to the room.  But, while we’re all here, I just wanted to say thank you.  I haven’t gotten a chance to properly thank you for coming to find me.  Both of you.  I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for the two of you.”

 

He pulled them both into a big hug and they wrapped their arms around him and each other.   “Don’t mention it,” Jamie said.  “Couldn’t very well let you die now, could I?  Then who would make me my favorite pie come Christmas time?” She added jokingly.

 

He chuckled.  “Pie love you both very much,” Owen said, with a twinkle in his eye.

 

Dani and Jamie both groaned. “Okay, that’s it for you tonight.  Go to your room,” Jamie said teasingly, pointing towards the door.

 

“Goodnight, ladies,” Owen said, still chuckling as he walked away.

 

Jamie and Dani made their way towards the hotel pool.  It was late and no one was there save for Hannah.  She looked lost in thought as they approached, only looking up when Jamie opened the gate and it squeaked on its hinges.  She smiled at them in greeting, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes.  Jamie could tell that Hannah was nervous.   They sat down opposite her on one of the chaise pool lounges, and Jamie was grateful when Dani scooted closer to her, their thighs and shoulders touching.  Dani’s close presence was always comforting to her.  Their hands were still joined and Jamie brought them to rest in her lap.  All three women looked exhausted.

 

Hannah spoke first.  “Jamie, Dani, I’m so sorry I brought you two into this.  I feel so responsible for what happened.  If something had happened to either of you—“

 

“Hey,” Jamie said softly.  “It didn’t.  We’re right here.  Plus, you know how tough I am to kill,” she added playfully.

 

“And I think we were going to brought into this one way or the other,” Dani added.  “None of this is your fault, Hannah.”

 

“Thank you,” Hannah said sincerely.  “That’s very gracious of you both.  I don’t have the words to thank you for saving Owen.  I don’t know what I would do without him.”  She choked up at the thought and Dan reached over and laid her hand on top of Hannah’s.

 

“We understand,” Dani said.  And Hannah knew that they did.

 

Hannah looked Dani in the eyes.  “Thank you, dear.  And you are incredibly brave.  You saved everyone,” she said emphatically. 

 

“That’s my girl,” Jamie said, the pride in her voice evident.

 

“It was a team effort,” Dani replied.  And she truly meant it.  “Thank you for coming to rescue us, Hannah.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure if that was going to work.”

 

“You weren’t?” Jamie asked, shocked.  “Because you seemed pretty damn sure of your plan earlier.”

 

“I was just trying to project confidence, like you do,” Dani explained sheepishly.

“I don’t project confidence, I am confident, Poppins.  There’s a big difference,” Jamie said playfully.

 

Hannah couldn’t help but smile at the interaction.  “Dani had nothing to worry about.  I was going to rescue you all no matter the cost.  I’m just glad we got there in time.”

 

“Yeah, you cut it a little close, Hannah,” Dani teased.  “You almost made me look bad.”

 

They all laughed softly, knowing they were just putting off the inevitable conversation.  They grew quiet.  Hannah finally broke the silence.

 

“Before we get started,” Hannah said, “Dani, I have to tell you that they’re transferring your father to a maximum security federal penitentiary in one hour.  He’s asking to see you.  If there’s anything you want to say to him before he goes, this is your chance.  They’re going to put him away forever.”

 

Jamie looked over at Dani, genuinely unsure of what her response would be.  She squeezed her hand, letting her know she would support whatever she decided.  Dani was thoughtful for a moment, considering her options and their consequences, weighing her next words carefully.  She stared at their joined hands and then looked over to meet Jamie’s searching eyes.

 

“No, Hannah.  I have nothing further to say to him.  Right now my real family needs me.   I’m exactly where I want to be.”

 

“Dani, are you sure?” Jamie asked gently, “Because I don’t want you to—“

 

“I’m sure, Jamie,” Dani said confidently.  “You’re my family.  He doesn’t get to take anymore time from us.”

 

Jamie smiled back at her and blinked back tears.  She lost her family just as much as I did, maybe even in a worse way.  And now I’m her family.  And she’s mine.

 

Hannah nodded in acknowledgment.  If she was surprised by Dani’s answer, she didn’t let on.

 

“Ok then,” Hannah said.  “Now that that’s settled…Jamie, I’m guessing you have some questions for me.”

 

Jamie’s heart was pounding.  She wanted to know and she was terrified to know all at the same time.  Dani squeezed her hand.  Jamie took a deep breath.

 

“Hannah, did you know my father was MI5?  Is that why I was recruited?”

 

“Yes and yes,” Hannah replied.

 

Jamie drew in a shaky breath, the truth hitting her like a semi-truck.  Dani brought her other hand around to squeeze Jamie’s knee.  I’m here.  I’ve got you.

 

Hannah continued, “I didn’t know at first, of course.  I joined the agency years later.  It wasn’t until I moved up in rank and had full access to your personnel file that I discovered the truth.   Your family’s death was a tragedy that rocked the entire organization.”

 

“Did MI5 know?  Did they know that it was murder?” Jamie asked, barely able to get out the question.

 

“No.  They suspected, of course.  It was suspicious.  The Taylor family killed on the same night as an electrical fire at your father’s lab?  It’s going to raise some questions.  But there was never any proof, and eventually their deaths and the fire at the lab were declared accidental,” Hannah explained.

 

“And me?” Jamie asked, voice shaking.

 

“And you went into the system, but MI5 never forgot Dennis Taylor’s daughter.  There was a picture of you that I found in you file,” Hannah smiled at the memory, “you were maybe 4 or 5 at the time— a fiesty little girl with unruly curls and a tenacious look in your eyes.   I knew that even then you were a force of nature.”

 

Dani smiled sadly thinking about a young Jamie.

 

“Is that why I was recruited?” Jamie asked bitterly.  “Just because my father was an agent?”

 

“The agency kept an eye on you the entire time.  When you displayed an aptitude for this line of work, it was a no-brainer to recruit you.  I didn’t know about your father when they sent me to recruit you.  You earned your spot, Jamie, there’s no doubt about that.  I suppose your recruitment was also a way MI5 could honor your father.  And you followed right in his footsteps.  He would be so proud of you, Jamie,” Hannah said, her voice thick with emotion.  “I know he would be.”

 

“It would be the first time, then,” Jamie said defensively.  Dani knew that Jamie was putting her walls up, trying to protect herself.  “He didn’t seem to give a shit about our family when he was alive.”

 

Hannah exhaled.  “There’s something else you should know.  When I became Director, I pulled your father’s file. What you don’t know is that, on the day he was killed, your father resigned from MI5.  His family was crumbling under the pressures of his job, and he wanted out.  In his resignation letter, he stated that he wanted to watch his little girl grow up.  He didn’t want to miss the important things anymore.  He no longer believed in the morality of the work he was doing.”

 

“You mean the serum?” Jamie asked.

 

Hannah nodded.  “That’s right.  He realized that no one should have that kind of power.  He had no intention of ever finishing the formula.  He wanted to be there for his family instead.  Jamie, he loved you.  He loved all of you.  And I’m sorry that I never told you any of this.  I should have.  I never told anyone, not even Owen.  I let you believe the worst because it was easier for me than telling you the truth.  I didn’t want to reopen old wounds.  You had made your peace with things.  You were happy.   And I guess, selfishly, I was worried I might lose my best agent— that you would be so angry that such a huge part of your past had been kept from you.  But I understand now that it was never my choice to make for you.”

 

Silent tears streamed down Jamie’s face.  He loved me.  He loved us.  This changes everything.  I could have had a very different life.  She looked over at Dani, who was also crying.

 

“He figured it out too late,” Jamie said sadly.

 

“But you didn’t,” Hannah said.  “When you left MI5 to be with Dani, I knew your father was smiling down on you.  You followed in his footsteps in every way.  You just chose love a lot sooner.  You got out in time.”

 

“Until my dad dragged her back in,” Dani interjected sadly.

 

Jamie’s mind was racing.  “You should have told me, Hannah.  This shouldn’t have been kept from me.  You should have trusted that I could handle it.”

 

“You’re right.  This is not how you deserved to find out any of this.  I am truly sorry.  Please forgive me.” Tears were streaming down Hannah’s face, the regret apparent.

 

Jamie nodded, clearing her throat.  “I do, Hannah, I do forgive you.  This is hard.  Really hard.  But I’m not angry with you.  I don’t have any anger left in me right now.  I just feel so tired.”  I also feel a strange sense of peace.  It’s like the missing puzzle piece of my life was just handed back to me.  I can finally see the full picture.  And it doesn’t look like I thought it would.

 

“I know,” Hannah said, softly.  “And I’m so thankful you have someone by your side in all this.”

 

Jamie sniffled.  “Yeah, me too.”  She smiled softly at Dani and then turned back to Hannah.  “And the serum?  Was it all destroyed?” She asked, shifting the conversation back to present-day concerns, her mind reeling from all of the revelations.

 

“As far as we can tell, yes.  You were, umm, very thorough in your destruction of the base.  With the Collective’s leader captured, their main headquarters destroyed, and Viola in the wind, the remaining cells are collapsing left and right.  Raids are happening in ten different countries tonight, taking out all the last known bases of operation.  The soldiers we picked up today were very cooperative, giving up all of the locations and other intel in exchange for lighter sentences,” Hannah said, pleased.

 

Jamie nodded.  “That’s good.  That’s all really good.  My dad wouldn’t want anyone to have that serum.  No one should have that kind of power.”

 

“That’s exactly what he thought,” Hannah said.  “You completed his mission.”

 

Jamie smiled and squeezed Dani’s hand.  My dad would be proud of me.  For all of it.

 

“Hannah?” Dani asked, tentatively.  “Did MI5 know about my father?”

 

“No, I can tell you with all honesty that we did not.  When Owen told me today that the Palomino is your father, I— well, I couldn’t believe it.  His true identity has always been a mystery to us.”

 

Dani nodded.  “Guess he had us all fooled,” she said sadly.  “And Viola?”

 

“Viola Willoughby being alive was also news to us.  She got away this time, but we’ll find her, Dani.  I promise you that,” Hannah said confidently.

 

“Thank you, Hannah,” Dani said, softly.  “I just want to take my wife home.  And I don’t want us to constantly be looking over our shoulders.”

 

“I understand.  And you have a flight booked tomorrow afternoon to take you home.  For now, you two look like you could use some rest,” Hannah said, standing up.  “And Jamie, I really am sorry.  You have no idea how sorry.  I— I’ll understand if this is the last time you ever want to speak to me.  And I will respect whatever your wishes are.”

 

Jamie let go of Dani’s hand to stand up, looking Hannah in the eyes.  Without saying anything, she pulled Hannah into a hug.  Stunned, it took Hannah a second to reciprocate.

 

“I’ve lost enough people that I care about, Hannah.  I’m not going to lose you, too.  This is going to take some time to process, I won’t lie about that.  You’ve told me the truth now, and that counts for something.  You mean so much to me, and I— I don’t want to throw that away.  I’m not going to let anything else be taken away from me, not when I have a say in it.”

 

Hannah wiped the tears from her eyes.  “Thank you, Jamie.  You are truly the most exceptional person I have ever met.”

 

“I won’t tell Owen you said that,” Jamie said, chuckling.

 

Dani stood up and placed a hand each on Jamie and Hannah, offering her silent support.  She didn’t know how Jamie was still standing after the day’s events, but she was determined to be her rock.

 

They cried and hugged some more before saying their good nights and heading back to their hotel rooms.  Dani locked and latched the door behind them and then moved a chair in front of the door to block it.  Jamie didn’t comment on it.  She knew why Dani did it.  She knew Dani didn’t want a repeat of the night Peter and Rebecca snuck into their room in Cairo.  They both still had nightmares about it.

 

“I’m gonna take a shower, Poppins.  I’m actually offending myself,” she said dryly.

 

“Yeah, of course,” Dani replied.  “Do you, uh, want company?”

 

Jamie smiled sadly at her.  “I appreciate it, but think I just need a few minutes to collect my thoughts, if you don’t mind.”

 

Dani was disappointed, but she also completely understood and was not surprised by Jamie’s response.  “Whatever you need, Jamie,” she said sincerely.  “I’ll hop in after you then.  I think I smell like a horse.”

 

Jamie chuckled in spite of the situation and grabbed a few toiletries from her bag.  “I’ll just be a few minutes.”

 

“Take as much time as you need.”

 

When Jamie emerged from the shower, she at least felt physically refreshed if not emotionally.  She knew that would take a long time.  She’d had a good cry in the shower though and that helped somewhat.  She came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her body.  Dani was sitting on the bed, hugging her knees to her chest.  It was clear she had been crying, too, the day having caught up with her, as well. 

 

“Hey,” Jamie said softly.

 

Dani looked up at Jamie in nothing but a towel.  “Oh, hey yourself,” she said, a smile tugging at her lips.

 

“Just came out in search of my pajamas,” Jamie explained.  “You alright?”

 

Dani noticed the bruises peeking out from the top of the towel.  She got up and walked over to her, her fingers ghosting along Jamie’s collarbone. 

 

“I’ll be okay.  How bad is it?” Dani asked.

 

“I’ve had worse,” Jamie replied.

 

“That’s not what I asked.”

 

“I know.”

 

“Can I see?” Dani asked, bringing her hand to the top of the towel.  She would make no move to remove it though without Jamie’s express permission.

 

“Might as well,” Jamie sighed.  “You’re gonna see sooner or later anyway.”

 

Dani tugged at the towel and it fell to the floor in a heap.  Dani choked back a sob when she saw the deep, angry bruises covering Jamie’s chest and abdomen.  She hadn’t seen them at the hospital when Jamie had been taken back for x-rays.

 

“Jamie!  What happened?  This wasn’t all from today,” Dani said, her fingers reaching out and grazing each bruise.

 

“Umm, no, I uh, got a little shot yesterday.”

 

“Jamie!”

 

“But!” Jamie said, pointing a finger in the air to punctuate her point.  “I was wearing my vest because I knew you’d get so pissed if I got shot!”

 

“Oh, you got that right!  You getting shot definitely pisses me off,” Dani said passionately.  She immediately turned gentle again though.  “I’m just glad you’re alright.”

 

“Yeah, I’m alright, Poppins.  I’ll heal.  Sorry I don’t look so hot right now.”

 

“You’re beautiful, Jamie.  You’re always beautiful to me.  I love you, body and soul.”

 

Jamie took Dani’s face in her hands and gave her a soft kiss.  “I love you, too, my beautiful wife and best friend.  Now, go take a shower.  Now that I’m clean, I can tell you that you do, in fact, smell like a horse.”

 

Dani laughed and lightly smacked Jamie’s upper arm.  She knew Jamie was just trying to make her laugh by taking her mind off her injuries, but it worked.  Dani gathered her things and headed towards the bathroom, leaving the door open.

 

Jamie rummaged through her backpack looking for her pajamas.  She smiled when her hand found Dani’s note that she had tucked into the bag just a few days prior:

 

Jamie,

I love you.  Come home to me.  Don’t make me have to come get you.  Because you know I will. ;)

Xoxo, Dani

 

Jamie chuckled.  Looks like she had to come get me after all.  Guess she wasn’t kidding.  She folded the note back up and tucked it away safely in her bag again.

 

When Dani came out of the shower, Jamie was under the covers but not asleep.  She had turned all the lights out except for the lamp on the nightstand.  She had a gun tucked safely under her pillow, as always.

 

“You didn’t have to wait up for me,” Dani said, seeing how tired Jamie was.

 

“Wanted to,” Jamie replied.  “Turns out I can’t really sleep without you.”

 

Dani pulled back the covers and climbed in next to Jamie.  “Yeah, me either actually.  Let’s not do this again, okay?”

 

“You’ll hear no argument from me.  I’m going back into MI5 retirement.  I’m getting too old for this shit.  If Owen’s smart, he’ll retire or take a desk job or something.  We can’t be saving his ass all the time,” she said sarcastically.

 

Dani laughed.  “Agreed.”

 

They were quiet for a moment, the heaviness of the moment settling on them. 

 

Dani held her arms out to Jamie.“Do you wanna—?”

 

“Yeah,” Jamie said, sliding closer to Dani and snuggling against her, laying her head on Dani’s chest and putting  her arm over her waist.  She draped her leg over Dani’s under the covers.  Dani wrapped her arms around Jamie’s shoulders, holding her tight.

 

“This doesn’t hurt, does it?” Dani asked, worried.

 

“No, this is good.”

 

“Good,” Dani said, relieved.  “It just feels so good to have you back in my arms.  Jamie, I was so worried about you.”

 

“I know, Poppins, and I’m truly sorry for causing you that worry.”

 

Dani kissed her head.  “I know, baby.  But we found each other again.”

 

“We always do.”  Jamie paused.  “Dani?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Are you alright?”

 

“No, not at all.  Are you?”

 

“No,” Jamie replied simply.

 

“Well, I guess at least we are honest about that,” Dani said.

 

“Any other answer would be bullshit and we both know it,” Jamie said bluntly.  “It’s been a pretty fucked up week.”

 

“Jamie,” Dani said sadly.  “How can you even look at me, knowing what my father did to your family?  Why don’t you hate me?”

 

Jamie sat up a bit to look at Dani, resting her hand on Dani’s heart.  “Dani, I could never hate you.  You were just a little girl.  You had nothing to do with it.  And you’re not responsible for the sins of your father.  You hear me?  Hmm?”

 

Dani nodded, tears falling from her eyes.  Jamie leaned over and kissed them off her face.  Dani hugged her tighter.

 

Jamie continued, her voice strained, tears rolling down her own cheeks. “What I want to know is how you can even look at me, given what you saw me do today?  I lost control, and I know it scared you.  Hell, it scared me.  I’m so sorry you had to see me like that.  I don’t want you to ever be scared of me.  And thank you.  For stopping me.  I would have never been able to forgive myself.  Thank you for reminding me who I really am and whose I really am.”

 

Dani reached up to wipe the tears from Jamie’s face.  “That’s what we do for each other.  We remind each other of the truth when the world tries to tell us lies.  I know who you are and you know who I am, and that’s what matters.  You’re mine and I’m your’s.  And I will tell you that every day for the rest of our lives.  You are kind, brave, and selfless.  I was scared, but I was only ever scared for you, Jamie.  I know you would never hurt me.  And, I’m not in a position to judge you for what you did.  I mean, when I pulled that trigger, I was fully prepared to kill him, Jamie.  My own father.  What kind of a sick person is capable of that? And Jamie?” Dani asked in a scared voice.  “What if I’m like him?  You know, I’ve thought over the years what he might be like.  But, never in a million years, did I think he would be like he is—  a cruel, evil person.  And what if I’m the same?”

 

“Thank you, Dani.  I don’t feel I deserve those things you just said about me, but thank you.  I mean that.  And Dani, you are nothing like him.  Believe me when I say that.  You did what you thought you needed to do.  And you did it to save me and Owen.  You are selfless.  I did what I did today for vengeance.   It’s different.  Today I was no better than Viola.  You are good and pure and kind and compassionate and smart.  And insanely beautiful, too, I might add.  He may have given you life, but he didn’t make you who you are.  I’m just so sorry for what you’re going through.  I hate to see you hurting like this, and I wish I could take it all away.  I would carry it all so you don’t have to.  I would feel everything for the both of us if I could.  I just wish I could show you how I see you through my eyes.”

 

“I know the feeling,” Dani replied.  “And thank you.  For what you said.  It means a lot.  It means everything, actually.  And, I wish the same for you, too, you know.  I would gladly take your pain if I could.  I would protect you from all of it so you never have to feel hurt again.  I wish you could see how beautiful you are to me, too, inside and out.”

 

“In that case, I suppose we’ll just have to keep reminding each other then.”  Jamie was quiet for a moment.  “And, I guess our stories have always been intertwined, huh?” She mused.

 

“I guess so,” Dani agreed.  “From the very beginning.  We were meant to find each other, to help each other carry this.  And Jamie?  You are nothing like Viola.  Please don’t ever compare yourself to her again.  You might have started what you did for vengeance but you stopped for love.  And that’s something she will never understand.”

 

Jamie smiled sadly.  “Thank you, Dani.”

 

“Anytime.  And your dad… MI5… wow….”

 

“Yeah, big wow.  Feeling pretty blindsided by that one. Everything I’ve ever thought about my family was wrong, Dani.  Gonna take some time to work through that.  I wish I could have known him, my father.  Might be we have more in common than I ever thought.”

 

“I hope you know that I’m here for you, however you need to process all of this.  I really mean that, Jamie.  I’m not going anywhere.”  She lightly rubbed Jamie’s arm.

 

“I know that, and it means more to me than I can say,” Jamie responded, sliding her hand under Dani’s shirt, needing to be in direct contact with her.  “You know, my whole life, I thought I was unloved, unwanted.  But my dad, he was going to try to make a real go of it.  I wish he’d gotten the chance.”

 

“I know, baby.  I wish you could have known them.  They would all be so proud of you.  And, in my experience, you’re a pretty easy person to love.”  Dani kissed her head.

 

Jamie was going to respond with a sarcastic comment about Dani being the only person to find her lovable, but she decided against it.  Dani was being so tender towards her.  “Thank you,” she said humbly in response.

 

“I just keep thinking though about how you could have been in that car, too.  About how I may have never known you, and I—“

 

“Shhh, that didn’t happen.  We found each other.  And everything that has happened led me to you.  Every decision we each made led us straight to each other.  I wouldn’t change that for anything.  Would you?”

 

“No,” Dani whispered.  “I can’t imagine my life without you.”

 

“And you don’t have to.  Because I’m not going anywhere.  We both learned some pretty earth-shattering truths today.  And it’s going to take us a long time to deal with the fallout.  But we’ll be patient with each other and we’ll be there for each other.  Right?”

 

“Right,” Dani confirmed.  “You and I…. we’re going to be alright.  When we’re together, there’s nothing we can’t overcome.  As long as we don’t let go of each other.”

 

“I’m never letting go,” Jamie whispered.

 

Jamie leaned in and kissed Dani, slowly and firmly.   Dani’s hand tangled in Jamie’s hair as she eagerly reciprocated, their kiss saying things that their words could not.  I’m here.  I’m staying.  I love you more than anything.  My love is not conditional.  I know you.  I know everything about you.  And I love you more for it.  You could never scare me off.  Please hold on to me.  We’re in this together.  And we can overcome any obstacle…together.

 

When the kiss ended, there were tears in both their eyes. 

 

“Let’s get some rest, Poppins.”

 

“I think that’s a good idea.  Goodnight, Jamie.  I love you.”

 

“Goodnight, Dani.  I love you, too.  Thanks for coming to find me.”

 

Dani smiled.  “I told you I would.  And Jamie?  Hold on to me… please,” she whispered.

 

“Always.”

 

And they slept soundly all night in each other’s arms, never letting go.

 


 

On the other side of the country, a plane landed.  Viola Willoughby sauntered off the plane, her steps confident and her head held high.  She was determined.  She would not fail this time.  She glanced around the airport terminal and smiled when she saw the sign that read:  

 

Welcome to Vermont

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Dani and Jamie woke up tangled in one other.  Jamie was the first to open her eyes, and she stayed curled up against Dani, so thankful for her presence.  She watched the rise and fall of her chest, reassuring herself that they were together again and safe.  And today we go home.

 

Dani stirred a few minutes later, her eyes opening into Jamie’s.  She smiled sleepily.  “You weren’t a dream.   You’re here,” she said, not fully awake.

 

“I’m here,” Jamie confirmed.  “And I’m not going anywhere ever again.”

 

“Good,” Dani said, more awake, wrapping her arms around Jamie.  “How much time do we have before we have to leave?”

 

Jamie looked over at the clock on the nightstand.  “An hour.  Maybe an hour and a half.  We slept pretty late.”

 

“Mmmm,” Dani hummed.  “I don’t want to pressure you or anything if you don’t feel up to it, but—“

 

Jamie cut her off with a searing kiss, shifting her body so she was directly on top of Dani.  Dani’s eyes widened in surprise.

 

“This is what you had in mind, right Dani?” Jamie asked, suddenly worried she had misread the situation.

 

“I was actually going to ask if you wanted to hit up the breakfast buffet?  I’m starving,” Dani said as seriously as she could, trying not to laugh.

 

“What?” Jamie asked.  “Are you serious?  Because I was thinking you wanted to—“

 

Dani leaned up to kiss her.  “No, I’m not serious.  I’m just messing with you, you lovable idiot.  What I want right now is you… everywhere.”  She grabbed Jamie’s ass with both hands to punctuate her point, pulling her closer.

 

“Oh, there’s gonna be serious consequences for this,” Jamie said, leaning down to kiss her neck and grinding her hips into Dani.

 

“I’m counting on it.”

 


 

A few hours later, Jamie and Dani were boarding a plane back to Vermont, having said their goodbyes to Hannah and Owen with a promise to see them again soon.

 

They had upgraded their seats to first class, wanting to be as alone as possible together on the plane.  Jamie took the window seat, as was their tradition, and Dani settled in next to her.  They both buckled up in preparation for their departure.  Jamie noticed that Dani was fidgeting and biting her nails, something she hadn’t done in a long time.

 

“You alright, Poppins?” She asked, concerned.

 

“What?  Oh yeah,” she looked at her fingers as if just realizing what she had been doing and rested her hands in her lap.  “Sorry.  It’s just that I didn’t have you with me on the last two flights, and I guess I’m still nervous from it.”

 

Jamie’s face softened at the admission, feeling awful for Dani that she had traveled halfway across the country alone.  She hadn’t realized how much Dani truly relied on her during flights.  Knowing that she was needed, that she actually helped Dani, made her heart swell.  She reached out and took Dani’s hands in her own.

 

“I’m here now.  I’m sorry I wasn’t before.  I won’t let anything happen to you.  You’re safe.”

 

The plane pushed back from the terminal and Dani gripped Jamie’s hands in response, her eyes locked on Jamie’s face.  Jamie met her gaze, never frightened by the intensity of their connection.

 

“I reallllllly missed you.  In so many ways,” Dani confessed.

 

“Yes, well, you made one of those ways pretty clear this morning,” Jamie replied, pleased with herself.

 

“You don’t have to be so smug about it,” Dani whispered to her in a tone of mock annoyance.

 

“Seems I have plenty to be smug about, actually,” Jamie retorted, smirking.

 

“You’re impossible sometimes, you know that, Jamie?”

 

“Not my fault that you can’t go three whole days without having sex with me…”

 

“Jamie, it was closer to four!” She exclaimed in a loud whisper, trying not to attract the attention of other passengers.

 

Jamie snickered.

 

“It’s not funny.  You know I can’t go that long,” Dani said, pouting.

 

Jamie whispered directly into Dani’s ear, her tone teasing, “Well, I should say that we more than made up for it this morning.  I’m surprised you’re even awake after, how many times was it again?”

 

“You know exactly how many times it was.”  Dani couldn’t help but smile even though she was pretending to be annoyed with Jamie.  She kept a tight grip on Jamie’s hand.  She leaned into her, whispering in her ear the way Jamie had just done to her, her lips barely brushing against her, and said, “And, if I recall, we tied.  I don’t think you can go that long without it either.” 

 

Jamie drew in a shaky breath, Dani’s effect on her unmistakable.  Dani leaned back in her seat, a proud smirk on her lips.  Not to be outdone, Jamie moved their joined hands to the apex of Dani’s thighs, pressing her own knuckles into Dani’s center through her jeans and rocking them ever so slightly back and forth and then in a circular motion.  It wasn’t enough for anyone else on the plane to notice, but it was more than enough for Dani to notice.  Her eyes snapped shut and a quiet moan escaped from her lips.  She pushed into Jamie’s hand, seeking more friction.

 

“Fuck, Jamie,” she murmured.

 

“Oh, look Poppins, we’re already in the air,” Jamie said, knowing full well that they had taken off.  “Seems I’m still pretty good at distracting you.”  She stilled her hand.  Dani’s eyes opened as she let out a small whimper, wishing they could continue but knowing they couldn’t.  Jamie winked at Dani, her eyes a mixture of amusement and desire, as she moved their hands to rest on her own leg instead, allowing Dani a chance to recover.

 

Dani shook her head, flustered, but no longer thinking about the plane.  Jamie didn’t miss the way she squeezed her legs together.  “Too bad we can’t go back to the cargo hold,” Dani said longingly, earning a snicker from Jamie.  “You always play so dirty, Jamie Clayton-Taylor.”  Dani paused for a moment, her heart feeling like it would burst with love for the woman seated next to her.  “Thank you,” she added softly.  “For everything.”

 

“Anytime.”

 

They were quiet for a moment as Jamie rubbed her thumb over the back of Dani’s hand.  Dani watched her in fascination, savoring the sensation of Jamie’s gentle touch.  Jamie shifted her eyes from their hands to Dani’s face.

 

“Sorry we missed that all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet back at the hotel,” she said lightly. “The airport food was shite.”

 

Dani looked over at her and quirked her eyebrow.  “Oh?  I doubt you’re that sorry.  And, it’s okay really, because I much preferred the meal I enjoyed in our room,” she whispered seductively.

 

“Shit, Dani,” Jamie replied, not expecting the comment, shaking her head and chuckling.  “Saying something like that to me on a plane?  I’m scandalized,” she said, feigning shock.  “I don’t even know what to do with you sometimes,” she added, smiling coyly.

 

“Says the person who just tried to make me experience two kinds of take off at once,” Dani said sarcastically, rolling her eyes.  “And, come on now, Jamie.  Don’t start being modest now.  You always know exactly what to do with me,” Dani whispered back, licking her bottom lip for emphasis. 

 

Jamie blushed and leaned over to place a kiss on Dani’s cheek.  “I suppose I do,” she said.  “And I’m damn proud of that fact.”  She sat up straighter in her seat.

 

“You should be proud… of everything you do,” Dani added sincerely.  And they both knew she meant it about more than just sex.  They were both proud of each other, for everything.

 

“I love you, Dani.”

 

It was Dani’s turn to kiss Jamie’s cheek.  “I love you, too, Jamie.”

 

Not long after, Dani rested her head on Jamie’s shoulder and fell asleep, her hand still securely in Jamie’s.  Jamie laid her head against Dani’s and was also asleep within minutes, both of them perfectly content as long as they were together.

 


 

Jamie and Dani landed back home in Vermont later that day, emotionally exhausted and more than ready to be home.  They made their way through the airport terminal, knowing the way by heart.  Dani looped her arm through Jamie’s as they walked, wanting to be as close to her as possible.  Jamie smiled.  She never got tired of Dani holding on to her, and she loved that Dani had no reservations about showing affection in public.  It was one of the many things she loved about her wife.

 

They exited the airport, not needing to stop at baggage claim.  All they had were their backpacks.  They made the trek to long-term parking, and Dani found herself surprisingly emotional at seeing her car again, her eyes settling on her license plates that Jamie had special ordered for her— POPPINS.

 

“Dani?” Jamie asked, noticing a shift in her demeanor.

 

Dani explained, panic creeping into her voice, “It’s just that, when I left my car here, I didn’t know if I’d make it back.  Or, even worse, I didn’t know if you would be coming back with me.  The thought of leaving here alone, the same way I came, it’s just—“

 

“Hey, it’s okay,” Jamie said, pulling her into a hug and stroking her hair.  “You’re not alone.  You brought me back with you, yeah?  You did it, Dani.  I’m here.  Everything’s okay now.”

 

We did it,” Dani corrected.  “I may have swallowed a tracker, but you got us out alive, Jamie.  Just like you always do.”

 

“Team effort then,” Jamie conceded.  “Want me to drive?”

 

Dani nodded, “If you don’t mind.  But, Jamie, please be more gentle this time,” she warned.

 

Jamie took the keys from Dani and held her hands up in mock surrender.  “That was one time, Dani!”

 

Dani smiled and climbed in the car, relief flooding her body at the thought that they were going home.

 

It was getting dark, and Jamie turned the headlights on, placing her hand firmly in Dani’s.  Even though their hands had been intertwined most of the day, neither of them was tired of it.  Jamie asked Dani to check their home security system from her phone, which she did.  Everything appeared to be in order.  When they were about halfway there, it started pouring down the rain.

 

“Jamie, when we get home, do you know what I want more than anything?” Dani asked, her voice tired.

 

“What’s that, Poppins?” Jamie prompted.

 

“Just to cuddle on the couch with you, under a warm blanket, with your arms around me, listening to this rain.  I just want you to hold me, Jamie.  I just want to feel some sense of peace again.”

 

Jamie squeezed her hand.  “That can definitely be arranged, love.  That sounds perfect to me.  Maybe a hot bath, too, before bed?”

 

Dani smiled.  “Mmmm, sounds nice.  I love the way you think.”

 

They pulled into their driveway twenty minutes later, both of them more than ready to relax.  Jamie pulled the car into the garage.  As soon as she got out, Jamie felt uneasy.

 

“What’s wrong?” Dani asked, coming around to her side of the car and reaching for Jamie’s arm.

 

“Don’t know.  Just got kind of a bad feeling is all.”  She shook her head.  “I’m sure it’s nothing, just on edge from everything is all.”  Dani nodded empathetically.

 

Jamie unlocked the door and Dani followed her into their house.  The house was dark when they walked in.  Jamie was just about to flip the light switch on when she heard the click of a lamp being turned on.  The living room was suddenly bathed in soft light.

 

“Welcome home,” Viola said, sitting cross legged on the couch, casually flipping a butterfly knife in her hand.

 

Dani screamed.  Jamie instinctively shot her arm out in front of Dani, shielding her.

 

Viola’s voice was calm and measured, unbothered by their surprise.  “It’s about time you two got home.  You’ve kept me waiting long enough.  Gave me plenty of time to check out the place though.  You two really do have such a lovely home.  I love what you’ve done with the place.”

 

Dani reached for Jamie, placing her hand on the small of her back.  Jamie kept her arm in front of Dani.

 

“What. Are. You. Doing. In. Our. Home?” Jamie’s voice was barely contained fury.

 

Viola stood up, taking a couple of steps towards them.  Jamie stiffened at her approach.  “Oh, isn’t it obvious, Agent Taylor?  With Thomas out of the way—thank you for that, by the way—I am free to do what I wanted to do all along, what you know I am more than capable of doing, what I’ve thought about doing every day for five years.  My hatred kept me alive and the serum both of your fathers created gave me the power to destroy you.  I’m here to kill your wife, Agent Taylor.  And then, when I watch her death break you, when I see the hope snuffed out of your eyes, when you realize that you are all alone in this world and you beg me for death, only then will I kill you.”

 

Jamie felt a terror unlike any she had ever known.  Viola was more than capable of carrying out her threat.  Before, Jamie had always been on an even playing field with Viola.  But now, now Viola was much stronger.  She had easily bested Jamie on that rooftop.  And now I have Dani to protect.  Saving her is all that matters.  Jamie faced the grim realization that this was a fight she likely wouldn’t survive.  But, she also wouldn’t go down without the fight of her life.  This was her turf.  She knew where every weapon was stashed.  She was prepared.  Maybe I have a chance.  But I have to get Dani safe first.  Jamie started moving to the right very slowly, heading towards the basement door.  Dani matched her movements, seeming to sense what Jamie was doing.  Viola moved parallel to them, like they were slowly circling each other.  I have to keep her talking long enough for us to get to the stairs. 

 

“So, what?” Jamie asked.  “Working for Thomas wasn’t all it was cracked up to be?”  Distract her.  Keep her talking as long as possible.  She thinks she’s a cat playing with mice.  She thinks she has time.

 

Viola scoffed.  “Thomas was good at what he did, don’t get me wrong, but he kept me on a leash.  And, no one tells Viola Willoughby what she can and can’t do.  He turned me into his perfect little assassin.  But I didn’t ask for that!” She was becoming angry.  Jamie knew Viola became the most dangerous when she was emotional.  They were inching closer to the stairs.  “I didn’t ask to be saved!  I didn’t ask for any of this!  He experimented on me.  And what? I’m supposed to be thankful that his little serum didn’t kill me?!  That I was his first success?!  I wish he had let me die!  I lost everything!  Don’t you get it?!  And it’s all your fault!”

 

“You don’t have to do this,” Jamie said, trying to reason with her.

 

“Oh, yes I do.”

 

Viola lunged towards them.

 

“Dani!  Run!” Jamie shouted, pushing Dani to run down the stairs, keeping her hand on her shoulder.  She closed and locked the door to the basement behind them. It would only buy them a couple of seconds, but it would be enough.

 

Dani ran straight to their panic room, knowing they could wait Viola out there until help arrived.  She was getting ready to open it with her handprint when Jamie quickly put her own palm over the scanner instead, rapidly entering a code that Dani didn’t recognize.

 

“Jamie, what are you—?”

 

The door to the room slid open and Jamie pushed Dani inside, not following after her.  Dani turned around; Jamie wasn’t joining her.  The look of confusion on Dani’s face quickly shifted to utter devastation and betrayal as Dani realized what was happening.   It almost destroyed Jamie in that moment, knowing that she was the reason for that look on Dani’s face.

 

“Forgive me,” was all Jamie had time to say before the door slid shut, locking Dani in and Jamie out.

 

Jamie turned to face Viola as she charged down the stairs, Jamie’s back to the locked panic room.  I did it.  I’ve kept Dani safe.  

 

“Nooo!” Viola screamed when she realized what Jamie had done.

 

“This ends here and now, Viola,” Jamie said, her voice strong and steady.  “You will not haunt us the rest of our lives.  Dani is beyond your reach now.  This is between you and me.  So, let’s finish it.”

 


 

On the other side of the door, Dani frantically pressed her palm to the screen and entered her code, attempting to open the door.  The computer’s voice responded in an even, monotone voice.

 

“Access Denied.  Lockdown mode initiated by Taylor, Jamie.  Cannot be overridden.”

 

“DAMMIT JAMIE!” Dani screamed, pounding her fist repeatedly against the door in desperation..

 

Dani had no idea that Jamie had secretly programmed the room to ignore her access codes.  She was scared and furious.  She went over to the desk to turn on the cameras around the house, also pulling up the main controls for the panic room.  She watched in horror as the camera in their basement came online, showing a clear imagine of Jamie and Viola in a brutal fight.

 

“Why do you always have to be the fucking hero, Jamie!” Dani screamed at the computer screen.  “You’re going to get yourself killed!”  Dani began to break down, choking back sobs.  Her breathing became quick and shallow, a panic attack threatening to overtake her.  She’d never felt so helpless her entire life.

 

“Not now,” she told herself.  “Get your shit together, Dani.  She wouldn’t lock you in here permanently without giving you a way out.  Think!” 

 

Dani began furiously typing at the computer.  Jamie had taught her a thing or two about hacking.  Dani entered the back door of the security program, smiling when she found what she was looking for.  She heard the computer’s voice fill the room.

 

“Emergency override protocol initiated.  Authorization code required.”

 

“Authorization code POPPINS 1-0-0-9-2-0,” Dani stated as calmly as she could.

 

“Code accepted.  Override activated.  Lockdown mode will be disabled in ten minutes.”  A countdown appeared on the computer screen.

 

“TEN minutes?!” Dani yelled, frustration building.  “Jamie, you and I are going to have a very serious talk about this later!”

 

Dani decided that she would not sit helplessly for ten minutes.  She sent out messages to every organization she could think of— the FBI, CIA, MI5, local police.  She knew no one would get to them in time, but she had to do everything she could.  She then raided the weapons supply in preparation for the door opening, selecting a gun that she knew she had excellent accuracy with.  After that, she watched the fight unfold on the computer screen in horror, unable to do anything else until the countdown reached zero.  She didn’t want to watch, but she also couldn’t look away.   Jamie, I hope you have ten minutes.  Please hold on.  Please don’t die.  I can’t lose you.

 


 

Jamie was locked in battle with Viola.  With Dani safe, she was able to focus.  She had to put everything out of her mind except Viola. And she had to keep as much distance between them as possible.  One well-placed hit from Viola could be the end.  Jamie was rarely afraid in a fight.  But she was scared now.  She tried to channel that fear into action, willing her muscles to cooperate and her mind to clear.  She couldn’t think about Dani locked in the panic room.  Dani, the love of her life, who she had just betrayed.  She couldn’t think about the look of devastation on Dani’s face and whether or not Dani would ever be able to forgive her if she died today.  She knew that if she had joined Dani in the panic room, they would have both been safe, at least temporarily.  But Viola would always be a specter hanging over their happiness, waiting for the next moment to strike.  And Jamie would not live like that, and she would not let Dani live like that.  This is the only way.  This ends tonight.

 

Viola charged at Jamie again.  Jamie ran across the room to where she had mounted the gun Dani proposed to her with on the wall.  It wasn’t loaded, but she knew she needed anything she could find to attack Viola and keep some distance between them.  Viola was on Jamie as soon as she lifted the rifle off the wall and Jamie swung around immediately in a decisive attack.  The butt of the gun came into contact with Viola’s forehead, the force of the hit knocking her on her back.  Jamie stalked towards, preparing to strike again and hoping to knock her unconscious. Without warning, Viola swung her legs around in a kick, knocking Jamie’s legs out from under her and causing her to drop the rifle when she fell.  Viola was on her feet in an instant, grabbing the gun and bringing it down to hit Jamie, who rolled out of the way just in time.

 

Jamie ran towards their home gym, leaping up to grab their pull up bar and swinging her legs out towards Viola.  Her feet connected with Viola’s chest and sent her stumbling to the floor.  She dropped the gun and it fell to the ground, forgotten.  Jamie hopped down and reached for a free weight, intending to hit Viola with it.  But, Viola jumped up faster than Jamie anticipated.  She threw the 8lb weight at Viola instead, forcing her to dodge it.  Jamie then swung her leg around in powerful kick, aiming for Viola’s face.  She was shocked when Viola caught her leg in mid swing.  She used Jamie’s own momentum against her, lifting her off the ground by her leg and throwing her into the wall.  Jamie grunted as her body punched through the dry wall.  Shit.  I just painted that wall, she thought as her body crumpled to the floor.  She rolled out of Viola’s way before she could kick her, grabbing a handgun that she had stashed under the nearby couch.  She fired wildly, not having time to aim, but she managed to graze Viola’s arm.  Viola screamed in rage, and Jamie took the opportunity to quickly run up the stairs.

 

Viola caught her on the last step, grabbing her by the hair and pulling her towards herself, wrenching the gun from Jamie’s hands.  It clattered down the stairs.  Viola then forcefully thrust Jamie’s head into the door frame.  Jamie struggled to maintain consciousness, the darkness at the edges of her vision threatening to overtake her.  She could feel the blood running down her face, obscuring her sight.  She thrust her elbow back into Viola’s stomach.  It was just hard enough to get Viola to release her grip on her.  She scrambled away as fast as she could, but Jamie was dizzy and unsteady on her feet.  She realized grimly that she likely had a concussion.  Viola came up behind her, thinking she had already won, but Jamie turned around swinging.  Her fist made contact with Viola’s nose, and she felt it break.  Viola instinctively brought her hand up to her nose and Jamie stumbled towards the kitchen, going for her gun under the sink.

 

“Tsk, tsk, tsk.  I found that one already,” Viola taunted her, wiping the blood from her face.

 

Shit.

 

Jamie reached for one of their kitchen knives, but the entire set was gone.

 

“Yeah, I hid those, too.  Looking for this?” Viola said, enjoying Jamie’s panic, as she brandished one of the knives.  She sauntered closer to Jamie, like a tiger stalking its prey.

 

Jamie opened the nearest cabinet and pulled out a baking sheet, using it as a shield as Viola approached.  Viola brought the knife down and Jamie held up the baking sheet, the knife going right through it and stopping inches away from her eyes, which widened in panic.  She tossed the baking sheet back towards Viola, the knife still stuck in it.  Jamie ran around the kitchen island and back towards the living room.  Viola followed her, jumping and sliding across the island, her feet connecting with Jamie’s chest as she sliced through air, knocking Jamie down.  Jamie coughed and clutched at her chest, Viola having hit her where she was already bruised.  Giving her no time to recover, Viola picked up one of the end tables and smashed it down on Jamie’s body, breaking it and causing pain to radiate throughout Jamie’s body. 

 

I can’t win.  She’s too strong.

 

Jamie was curled in a ball on the floor.  She was vaguely aware of Viola kicking her repeatedly in the stomach, the force of the blows almost lifting her body off the floor.  She vaguely heard the sound of her own ribs snapping.  What she was focused on, however, was a broken picture frame that had fallen from the end table in front of her.  It was their wedding photo.  Jamie looked at Dani’s smiling face and her beautiful white dress.  It was the best day of their lives and the pure joy was evident on both their faces.  It can’t end like this.  It can’t.  Fight for her.  Jamie, get your ass up and FIGHT.  GET UP!

 

Jamie let out a primal scream as she lunged off the ground, catching Viola by surprise and taking her out at the knees.  Viola fell on her back.  Jamie reached for the nearest lamp, yanking the plug out of the wall and bringing it down on Viola’s head as she tried to stand up.

 

“You bitch!” Viola raged.

 

To Jamie’s horror, Viola still got up.  The blow barely slowed her down.  Jamie limped to the fireplace, where she had mounted two swords crisscrossed on the wall.  She only had time to grab one before Viola was on her and grabbing the other.

 

Swords in hand, they exchanged blow after blow, matching each other equally.  Jamie was able to push Viola backwards enough that they were forced to exit out the side door, emerging into the dark night, rain pouring down on them.  They were both soaked in seconds.  Jamie was almost thankful for the rain as it cleaned some of the blood out of her eyes. 

 

The sword was heavy and Jamie was injured, having to use both hands to control her swings.  But she held her own against Viola, continuing to beat her further into the yard.  She parried every blow, locking eyes with Viola each time.  Their hits became faster, both of them desperate to gain the upper hand.  Jamie ducked as Viola sliced towards her head.  When she came up, she scored a cut to Viola’s thigh.  Viola screamed and dropped her sword.  She stumbled backwards as Jamie advanced on her, determined to win.  Viola fell near a group of flower pots, and Jamie brought her sword up to strike the killing blow.  For Dani.

 


 

Dani was watching the entire fight unfold from the safety of the panic room, tears streaming down her face.

 

“Jamie, Jamie, Jamie,” she whispered repeatedly.  Seeing the love of her life hurt was a fate worse than death for her.  Every blow to Jamie felt like a blow to Dani’s heart.  She bounced up and down with anxiety, watching the countdown.  She needed to get to Jamie.

 

5…4…3…2…1…0

 

CLICK.  The door unlocked and slid open.

 

“Finally!” Dani exclaimed, her pent up energy and nerves spurring her out the door immediately.  She bounded up the stairs.  “Hold on, baby, I’m coming.”

 

Dani tried to ignore all the blood and destruction as she ran through their house and out the side door; she tried not to think about how much of that blood was her precious Jamie’s.  Right now all that mattered was getting to Jamie.  She tightened her grip on her gun and burst outside into the rain.

 


 

Jamie’s victory was imminent.  She was the better swordsman and she was fighting for love— it gave her power.  Her skill and determination had prevailed over Viola’s raw strength and hate.  Or so she thought.

 

As Jamie brought her sword down, Viola reached into the nearest flower pot and grabbed a fist full of dirt.  She tossed it up into Jamie’s eyes, blinding her.  Jamie screamed.  Her sword hit nothing but grass as her blow completely missed Viola, who was now on her feet.  Jamie clawed at her eyes and stumbled backwards as Viola brandished her butterfly knife.  She advanced on Jamie and plunged it into her abdomen, twisting it as she pulled the knife out.  Jamie gasped and clutched at her side, her hands immediately stained with blood.  She fell to her knees.

 

“Goodbye, Jamie.  You put up a good fight today.  You should be proud of that,” Viola said as she picked up her sword and brought it to Jamie’s neck, lining up her strike.  She reared back.

 

BANG!

 

The gunshot was deafening, even over the rain and thunder.  Jamie knew without seeing that it was Dani.  She looked up and saw Viola clutching her shoulder.  Good shot, Dani!  The shot was not life threatening though and Viola straightened herself out, glancing towards the house where Dani stood with the smoking gun.

 

Dani pulled the trigger again.  Nothing.  She pulled it again.  Nothing.  It was jammed.

 

“Shit! Fuck!  No!” Dani exclaimed, trying to fix the gun.  Jamie watched in horror.  Viola smiled.

 

“I see we’re back on track now.  So, good of your wife to finally join us,” she said to Jamie as she brought the pommel of her sword down on Jamie’s head.  Jamie collapsed, her sword under her, useless.  The world was spinning.  She could hear Dani screaming her name, the fear in her voice stabbed at Jamie in a different, but no less painful, way.  She realized that Viola purposely hit her hard enough to incapacitate her but not kill her or render her unconscious.  She wants me to watch what happens next.  Dani, run….

 

Viola sauntered towards Dani and closed the gap between them quickly.  Dani tried to hit Viola with the gun, but Viola was faster.  She grabbed Dani’s arm and twisted hard.  Dani cried out in pain as her arm broke.

 

“Dani,” Jamie said weakly, trying to reach for her.  “No….”

 

Viola sneered at Dani.  “I hope you know this is nothing personal, my dear.  You simply fell in love with the wrong person.”

 

“Feels pretty fucking personal to me,” Dani said through gritted teeth, clutching her broken arm.

 

Viola shrugged and violently grabbed Dani by the neck, dragging her behind her.  Dani couldn’t breathe.  She feebly attempted to break Viola’s hold on her with her left arm, her right hanging uselessly from her body.  She clawed at Viola’s arm, but it had no effect.  Viola squeezed as she dragged Dani towards the lake.  Jamie tried to get up as they passed her, but her body would not cooperate.  Dani reached weakly for her, but all Jamie could do was watch in helpless desperation.  She was forced to watch as Viola marched purposefully into the lake, dragging Dani by the neck into deeper water.  She watched as Viola held Dani’s head mercilessly underwater, Dani fighting her every step of the way, her efforts futile.  She saw Dani thrash out in a final attempt to save herself.  Jamie began crawling towards the lake on her stomach.  I have to get to her.  I have to save Dani.  And then Jamie saw the exact moment that Dani stopped struggling.  Her body went limp and only then did Viola release her.  Viola turned her face down and pushed her toward the center of the lake, Dani’s body floating lifelessly.

 

“DANIIIIIIIIIII!!!!  NOOOOOOOO!!!!!” Jamie screamed in agony.  It was an agony worse than any pain she felt in her broken body.

 

Viola emerged slowly from the lake, savoring the moment, the rain and mist making her appear like a ghost.  She walked towards Jamie.

 

“Your wife… is dead!” She said with glee.  “And now I have my revenge.”  She took a deep breath and looked up, letting the rain wash down her face, reveling in her victory despite her own injuries.  She finally looked down at Jamie, who was staring up at her from her stomach with immeasurable pain in her eyes.  It wasn’t even hate, it was unimaginable grief and loss.  Viola knew she had won.  “Are you ready to join her?”

 

Viola took a step closer to Jamie and leaned over her, no longer seeing her as a threat.  Without warning, Jamie rolled over quickly onto her back, bringing the sword she had been hiding under her body up and plunging it directly into Viola’s heart.  Viola’s eyes widened in shock.  She didn’t have time to speak. She just stared blankly at Jamie, who twisted the sword.  Jamie watched as the life left Viola’s eyes.  She’s definitely dead this time.  No question.  Viola’s body collapsed down onto the sword and Jamie rolled out from under her, forcing herself to stand.

 

“DANI!”  She yelled as she limped as fast as she could towards the lake, clutching her side.  Dani was still floating face down.  Jamie’s body was failing her but she gathered every last bit of strength she had to run into the lake, swimming when her feet could no longer touch the bottom.  She reached Dani in the center of the lake and turned her over.  Dani’s lifeless blue eyes stared up at her.  It was the worst sight Jamie had ever seen.  It was the stuff of her nightmares.  She threw her arm over Dani’s shoulders and began swimming to shore, bringing Dani with her.

 

“No, no, no, no,” Jamie chanted over and over as she pulled Dani’s body to the shore.  She dragged her out of the water, her body nothing but dead weight.  She felt for a pulse that she knew wasn’t there.  Dani was gone.

 

“No, Dani, no!  Don’t you leave me!  Don’t you dare leave me!”

 

Jamie hovered over her and began performing CPR, choking back tears when her lips touched Dani’s.  For the first time ever, Dani’s lips did not reciprocate.

 

“Dammit Dani!  Breathe!”  She shouted as she did chest compressions, then going back to mouth to mouth, forcing her breath into Dani’s lungs, willing her to come back to her with everything she had, bargaining with Death itself to take her instead. Not Dani, not Dani…

 

“I can’t lose you, Dani, I can’t lose you!  Wake up!”  Jamie was desperate.  She was doing everything right, but it wasn’t working.  She brought her fist down repeatedly against Dani’s chest, hitting her as hard as she could and screaming into the night, her grief beyond what mere words could convey. 

 

And then… finally…

 

Dani coughed.

 

“Dani!” Jamie immediately rolled her to her side, as Dani coughed lake water onto the ground, gasping for air.  She sputtered and struggled to breathe, coughing up more water.  Jamie held her on her side, lightly patting her back to help her cough up the rest of the water.  Dani finally rolled over and her bright blue eyes found Jamie’s hazel eyes. Jamie was crying.  Dani tried to speak but she couldn’t get the words out.

 

“Shh, don’t try to speak just yet, baby,” Jamie said, helping her to sit up and hugging her close.  Dani threw her one good arm around Jamie and buried her head in her neck, vaguely aware of the sound of sirens in the distance.  Jamie pulled back and placed a soft kiss to Dani’s lips.  One last kiss.  

 

“I love you, Dani.  Never forget that,” Jamie whispered.

 

“What?” Dani said, her voice just a rasp, not understanding.

 

And then Jamie fell forward into Dani’s arms, finally succumbing to her injuries.  I saved Dani.  That’s all the matters.  I made her safe again.  It was all worth it… for the time I got to spend with her…

 

“Jamie,” Dani patted Jamie’s face with her hand.  She was  unresponsive, her body limp.  “Jamie, Jamie.  Jamie!  No, no, no, I can’t lose you.  Wake up!  JAMIE!”

 

She saw the lights from the police and ambulance coming up their driveway.

 

“Help!  We’re over here!” Dani yelled as loudly as she could, waving her arm.  “Please, please save my Jamie,” she added softly as the tears fell and she cradled Jamie’s body protectively to her chest.   Jamie, why did you trade your life for mine?  Don’t you know I can’t live without you? 

 

I didn’t even tell her that I love her back…

 


 

“Dani.”

 

Jamie said her name before she even opened her eyes.  “Where’s Dani?”

 

A hand squeezed her’s.  “I’m right here.”

 

Jamie opened her eyes.  They felt like sandpaper.  Everything hurt.  She heard the beeping of machines.  As her vision came into focus, she saw the most beautiful sight of her life.  Dani.  Alive.  Smiling and crying, looking at her like she’d hung the moon.

 

“You’re awake,” Dani said, through happy tears.  She could see the confusion all over Jamie’s face.  “You’re in the hospital.  The paramedics got to you in time.”

 

“How long have I been out?” Jamie asked, her voice raspy.

 

“Three days.”

 

“Three days?!” Jamie tried to sit up, but pain shot through her body. She grimaced and gasped in pain.

 

“Shhh, lay back down.”  Dani placed a gentle hand on Jamie’s shoulder and directed her to lean back.  “You’ve had multiple surgeries over the past couple of days.  You suffered a concussion, fractured ribs, a collapsed lung, a punctured spleen, and massive internal bleeding.  But, the doctors say you will make a full recovery.  Jamie, you’re lucky to be alive.”  Dani choked up when she said it, the fear of almost losing Jamie still so fresh.  The turmoil and uncertainty of the past few days had taken a toll on Dani.

 

Jamie raised her eyebrows.  “Blimey, is that it?” She asked sarcastically.  “I guess I really am hard to kill.”  She could see the exhaustion in Dani’s eyes.  She didn’t know where to begin with the enormity of the events of the past few days.

 

“Jamie, I thought I lost you,” Dani said, her voice laced with pain at the memory of Jamie dying in her arms.

 

“I know,” Jamie said, tears welling in her eyes.  “I thought I’d lost you, too.  Was pretty sure I was a goner there myself, as well.  Rather shocked to still be alive honestly.  Can’t say I’m complaining though, waking up to your pretty face.” She offered a smile.

 

“Jamie, I didn’t know if I would ever hear your voice again…”

 

Jamie choked back sobs.  “I know, Poppins.  But I’m here now.  I’m going to be okay.  It’s all okay now.”

 

Tears streamed down Dani’s face, and Jamie was wracked with guilt thinking about what Dani had been through over the past three days, not knowing if she would live or die.  She knew how she would feel if their roles were reversed.  I’m so sorry, Dani, for putting you through all of this.  She noticed Dani’s arm was in a cast and she had bruising all over her neck.  Her voice was strained, as well.

 

“Jamie…” Dani’s voice was thick with emotion, words failing her.

 

“Viola certainly packed quite a punch, didn’t she?” Jamie said dryly, the heaviness of the moment almost too much.  She wanted to make a joke to help cope, but she turned serious, knowing that’s what Dani needed from her.  She knew that Dani had been waiting three days to process this with her.  “Dani, I’m so sorry.  For everything.  How mad are you at me?” She asked sheepishly, her hand weakly squeezing Dani’s.

 

“Oh, I’m furious, both for that little stunt you pulled with the panic room and for almost dying, but I’ve decided to forgive you since you’re going to make it,” Dani said, trying to lighten the mood in her own way.

 

“That’s a relief.  I did what I thought was best, you know that, right?”

 

“I know you did.  And truthfully, I would have done the same.  I know you did everything you did to protect me.”

 

“I did,” Jamie said.  “But, if I recall, seems you saved me, too.”

 

“I think we’re even,” Dani said.  “We save each other.  It’s what we do.”

 

Jamie smiled.  “But what about you?  Are you okay?”  Her voice was laced with worry.

 

Dani chuckled softly.  “Of course you would be more worried about me.  You’re the one laying in the hospital bed and you want to know how I am?”

 

“Of course I do.  I always wanna hear about you.”

 

Dani rubbed her thumb along the back of Jamie’s hand.  “I’m going to be fine.  My voice should come back in time once my larynx heals.  My arm is broken but it will mend.  I’m fine, Jamie, really.”

 

“Dani, you died…” Jamie choked on the word, the memory fresh and painful. Tears fell from her eyes.

 

Dani brought her hand to Jamie’s face, lightly cupping it and running her thumb over her cheek, wiping away the tears as they fell.  Jamie leaned into her hand.  Dani said,  “I know, baby.  But you saved me.  I don’t know how you did it, but you did.  It seems that even death can’t keep me from you.  I will always come back to you.”

 

Jamie sniffled.  “And it seems I’m too stubborn to leave you.  I guess we’re stuck with each other.”

 

Dani smiled.  “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” 

 

Jamie returned her smile, but then grew concerned again.  “Did I hurt you?  When I performed CPR?  I’m so sorry, Dani.  I hope you know I never meant to hurt you.”

 

Dani took Jamie’s hand and brought it up to her lips, kissing her palm.  “I know that, baby.  I’ve got some bruising, but honestly Jamie, bruising is way better than being dead.  Thank you… for saving my life...again.  I don’t know how you did it, going into that lake, saving me—”

 

“I couldn’t live without you,” Jamie said by way of explanation, her voice raw with emotion.

 

“I know the feeling,” Dani replied.  “Also, I’ve been waiting three days to tell you something.  I was so afraid I would never get to.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“I love you, too.”

 

Jamie smiled.  “Then will you come over here and kiss me?”

 

Dani leaned over Jamie and placed the softest kiss to her lips, both of them smiling into it.

 

“I’m feeling much better now,” Jamie said, smirking.

 

“I am, too,” Dani agreed.  “I really needed that.”

 

They were quiet a moment, reflecting.  Dani ran her hand lightly up and down Jamie’s arm.  It was equally comforting to both of them.  Their eyes stayed locked on one another.  Jamie was the first to break the silence.

 

“I killed Viola, Dani.  She’ll never hurt us again.  I made sure of it.  We’re finally free.”

 

Dani squeezed her hand.  “I know you did, baby.”  She smirked.  “The sword through the heart was certainly very thorough.”

 

“Had to be sure this time.  Can you admit now that the swords in the living room were a brilliant home decorating idea?”

 

Dani chuckled softly.  “I suppose so,” she said, conceding.

 

Jamie gave her a smug smile.  She then paused and groaned.

 

“What is it?  Are you okay?” Dani asked frantically.

 

“Yeah, I’m just thinking about what a wreck our house is.  Dani, it’s going to take forever to fix everything.”

 

Dani smiled.  “You don’t need to worry about that.  It’s already being taken care of.”

 

“It is?”

 

“It is.  Hannah, Owen, Luis, Maria, Amber, and half of MI5 have been at our house all week fixing it for us.”

 

Jamie beamed, speechless at their friends’ generosity.  “Wow…” she said quietly.

 

“Seems we have quite a few people in our lives who care about us.”

 

“We’re so lucky,” Jamie said, and she truly meant it. 

 

“We really are.  And, you should see Maria.  She is in her element.  She has been cooking for everyone all week.  And she and Owen have been trading recipes and collaborating together.  I think they are besties now.”

 

Jamie chuckled.  “Should have known those two would get on so well.”

 

“And she has fully stocked our freezer.  We won’t have to cook for a month.”

 

“She was a fantastic hire,” Jamie said, unable to keep from smiling.  “I can’t wait to go home,” she added.

 

“The doctors think it will be a few more days, but I can’t wait to take you home.  I’m going to take such good care of you.  Until then, I will be here by your side every minute.”

 

Jamie smiled softly.  “I know you will, Dani.  And I know I’ll be thoroughly tended to.  I’m in good hands.  I can’t thank you enough.  Hopefully I’ll be back on my feet in no time.”  She paused a moment.  “You’ve been here this whole time, haven’t you?” Jamie asked, already knowing the answer.  She knew that she would never leave Dani’s side if their roles were reversed.

 

“Yeah,” Dani confirmed.  “You’ve never been alone.  I’ve been here the whole time, watching over you.  At your side is where I belong.  And you don’t ever have to thank me for being here.  I’m exactly where I want to be.”

 

“I love you so much,” Jamie said, trying to convey all of her emotions in those five little words.

 

“I know,” Dani said.  “And I love you, too, more than anything.  You’re my hero, you know that, right?  You have been from day one, you still are, and you always will be.”

 

Jamie smiled and reached for Dani’s face.  Dani sighed contentedly at the soft touch.  “And you’re mine.  You’re the bravest, most selfless person I know.”

 

“Funny.  I was going to say the same thing about you,” Dani replied, eyes bright with love.

 

“Just shut up and kiss me again.”

 

And so she did.  And they both knew that everything would be alright.  They were together, they had survived, and they were finally safe.  And, in time, they knew their wounds would heal, both the physical wounds and the unseen ones, deep beneath the surface.  But they had each other, and together, they would mend.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

1 Year Later

 

The flight attendant’s voice came over the loud speaker.  “We are now making our final descent into Paris.  Please return your tray tables to the upright and locked position.”

 

Dani stirred next to Jamie, but she didn’t want to sit up yet.  Her head was on Jamie’s shoulder and Jamie’s arm was around her.  They had a blanket over them that Jamie kept pulling up with her other hand every time it slipped down.  She’d been watching Dani sleep for the past hour, perfectly content just holding her.

 

“We’re almost there,” Jamie whispered to her, placing a kiss on her forehead.

 

Dani hummed.  “Good.  You know how much I hate these transatlantic flights.”

 

“I know,” Jamie replied softly.  “But, I’m glad you slept.  And, Hannah and Owen are only getting married once.”  She paused. “Well, I mean, it better only be once.”

 

Dani smiled.  “I’m just so glad they finally figured it out.”

 

“Me too.  Took them long enough.  I was starting to worry they never would.  Owen getting abducted though, it was a wake up call.  I knew when he put in a request for a desk job that him leaving the agency wasn’t too far behind.  I didn’t quite foresee Hannah resigning, too, though once he proposed.”

 

“Right?” Dani said, finishing Jamie’s thought.  “And now they’re moving to Paris and opening a restaurant together?!”

 

“I’m so happy for him.  He’s talked about that damn restaurant almost as long as I’ve known him.  Never thought he’d actually do it.  I still think the name’s shite though.”

 

“A Batter Place,” Dani said, laughing.  “It suits him though.”

 

“It does, it really does.”  She grew quiet, pensive.  Dani leaned in closer, wanting to hear what she would say next and giving her space to sort it out first.  Jamie continued, “I didn’t think we’d all make it.  But look at how far we’ve all come.  We’re going to be okay, all of us.  It all worked out… somehow.”

 

“It did,” Dani said, reaching for Jamie’s hand as the plane descended, the ground rushing up to meet them.  “It really did.”

 


 

Jamie and Dani were in their hotel room in Paris, getting ready for the wedding.  Jamie was in the bathroom and Dani was in the room, flipping through the TV channels.

 

“Oi, what the fuck is this shit?!” Jamie muttered from the bathroom, clearly agitated.

 

“Everything alright in there, babe?” Dani called to her.

 

“No, Dani, get in here.”

 

Dani practically ran to the bathroom, unsure of what she would find.  Jamie was standing in front of the mirror, holding a piece of hair out to the side.

 

“Umm, what’s going on?” Dani asked, confused.

 

“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Jamie huffed.  “I’ve just found a gray hair, that’s what’s going on.  A gray hair, Dani!  I’m only 36!”

 

Dani chuckled softly.

 

“It’s not fucking funny, Dani.  I’m gonna pluck it.  I have to.  It has to go,” Jamie said in all seriousness, stealing herself to pull out the offending hair.

 

Dani closed the gap between them and gently wrapped her hand around Jamie’s wrist.  “Please don’t,” she said.

 

“Dani, it’s Owen’s wedding today.  I’m the best man… woman… whatever.  I can’t have this reflecting in all the photos.”

 

Dani placed a kiss to the side of Jamie’s head.  “I love it.”

 

“What?  See, now I know you’re full of shite.”

 

“I’m serious, Jamie.  I love it.  And I wouldn’t change a thing about you. This gray hair, it shows how long we’ve loved each other.  The odds were against us.  But we’re still here.  This is proof of that, of the passage of time.  Jamie, we’re going to grow old together and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

 

Jamie blinked back tears.  “You’re a sap, Dani.”  She moved to stand behind Dani and wrapped her arms around her waist, resting her chin on Dani’s shoulder as she looked at their reflections in the mirror.  “And I love you so much.  Thank you for always reminding me of what really matters.”

 

Dani tilted her head back, her lips finding Jamie’s and kissing her deeply, one hand reaching up to cup Jamie’s face, her other hand resting on Jamie’s hands around her stomach.  Jamie squeezed her tighter, humming in contentment.

 

Jamie chuckled.  “You keep kissing me like that and we’ll miss the wedding.”

 

Dani smiled.  “We’ll pick this up after.”

 

“Oh, that’s a promise.”

 


 

Hannah and Owen were at the alter, saying their vows, but Dani couldn’t take her eyes off Jamie.  Jamie was standing behind Owen in a black and white suit, complete with suspenders that drove Dani crazy, and her hair in an elaborate updo that Dani did herself.  Jamie looked out into the crowd, her eyes immediately landing on Dani.  Dani absolutely took her breath away in her blue dress that matched the color of her eyes.  Her hair was down, falling in beautiful golden waves across her shoulders.  They smiled at each other from across the room, remembering the day they made their own vows, both of them thinking that no one had ever meant those words as much as the two of them.  For better or for worse.  They’d had more than their fair share of both.  Their vows had been tested.  But every time, they proved their love to be true, tackling each obstacle together, the way they promised each other they would.

 

After the ceremony, Dani waited eagerly for the wedding party to join the reception.  She couldn’t wait to feel Jamie’s touch and to enjoy the evening with her.  As soon as the wedding party made their entrance, Jamie began scanning the room for Dani, who was already running over to greet her, a bright,  enthusiastic smile on her face.

 

“Careful running in those high heels, Poppins,” Jamie cautioned, as Dani practically fell into her arms when they reached each other.

 

“I knew you’d catch me,” Dani said confidently.

 

“Always.  You look beautiful,” Jamie said, the awe in her voice evident.

 

“So do you,” Dani replied, pulling Jamie’s closer by the suspenders, their lips meeting in a quick kiss.  “I loved watching you up there.”

 

“Hmm,” Jamie replied.  “I did notice you staring quite a bit.”

 

“Couldn’t help myself.  My wife is gorgeous.”

 

Jamie smiled, took Dani’s hand, and let her to their table.  Dani hugged and congratulated Owen and Hannah.  Owen looked handsome in his tuxedo and Hannah was stunning in her wedding dress, and Dani made sure they both knew it.  Jamie smiled watching their interaction.  Dani’s warmth, kindness, and generosity were some of Jamie’s favorite qualities about her. Jamie looked on at her friends, her heart full, and she smiled. Jamie may have lost one family, but she had found another.

 

When it was time to sit down, Jamie pulled Dani’s chair out for her and helped her scoot it in, her hand brushing Dani’s bare shoulder as she took her own seat, the touch sending a shockwave through Dani’s body. Jamie gave Dani a smug smile as she sat down.  She knows exactly what she does to me, Dani thought, flustered.  Dani leaned forward in her seat and Jamie slipped her arm around her waist, exactly like Dani hoped she would.  Dani’s own hand came to rest on Jamie’s thigh, both of them turning to smile at each other. 

 

“You know,” Owen said, “none of this would have ever been possible if it weren’t for the two of you.”  He raised his glass towards Jamie and Dani.  “Jamie, you’ve saved my life more times than I can count.  But, the two of you together, you saved my life in another way, too.  You both showed me how to be courageous in love, not just in life.  You showed us the way, and I’ll be forever grateful.”

 

“Cheers, mate,” Jamie said, raising her glass in response.

 

“We love you two and are just so happy for you,” Dani added, rubbing Jamie’s thigh.

 

“And you two are truly special, beautiful inside and out,” Hannah said, smiling warmly.  “I’ve never met two braver, more selfless people than you.  Thank you, for everything.  I never thought I could be this happy.  And now I’m just so excited to spend the rest of my life with this incredible man.”  She leaned into Owen and kissed him.  He couldn’t keep the grin off his face.  “I only wish I’d listened to you sooner,” Hannah added.

 

“Well,” Jamie said sarcastically, “sometimes it takes an international incident.  Take it from us.  We know all about that.” She winked at Dani, who blushed.  “I’m just glad someone else has to put up with Owen’s puns from here on out.”

 

“Oh Jamie, you love my puns,” Owen teased her back.

 

“She does,” Dani confirmed.

 

“Traitor,” Jamie whispered to Dani, and they all laughed.

 

Jamie and Dani laughed and talked the night away with Hannah, Owen, and the other guests.  Jamie gave a speech for Owen and Dani cheered loudly as she got off the stage, causing Jamie to blush.  They ate cake and drank champagne and felt such genuine joy.  Then the lights were dimmed and the DJ invited everyone out onto the dance floor.  Dani became giddy with anticipation.  She loved dancing with Jamie.  Jamie sensed the shift in her mood and noticed the way her foot was bouncing up and down under the table. 

 

“So…” Jamie said slowly, reaching over and taking a lock of Dani’s hair, twirling it slowly around her finger.  “You hoping to dance with someone tonight?”

 

Dani’s eyes snapped to Jamie’s and saw the twinkle in them.  “Hmmm,” Dani said thoughtfully, playing along.  She brought her hand to the base of Jamie’s neck, lightly scratching. “There is someone, but she just hasn’t asked me yet.”

 

Jamie looked down and smiled, remembering a similar interaction six years ago when she had not understood that Dani turned everyone else down because she only wanted to dance with her.  Her smile grew bigger as she realized that Dani had not danced with anyone but her since that night.  She was special to Dani in every way, and the thought made her feel warm all over.  Jamie scooted her chair back slowly and stood up, offering her hand to Dani.

 

“Would you do me the honor of dancing with me this evening?” Jamie said as formally as she could.

 

Dani slipped her hand in Jamie’s and stood up, never breaking eye contact with her.  “The honor is all mine,” she replied.

 

Jamie smiled shyly and led Dani out onto the dance floor, making their way through the crowd to dance near Owen and Hannah, who both turned and smiled brightly at them, the happiness on everyone’s faces evident.  Jamie put her hand on Dani’s lower back and pulled her impossibly close.  Dani let out a small gasp when their bodies touched, her pulse quickening.  Dani put her hand on Jamie’s shoulder, lacing her fingers through Jamie’s other hand.  The electricity between them was palpable.  If anything, it had only intensified over the years as they got to know and appreciate each other more and more.  Their love had only deepened.

 

“I’m never going to get tired of dancing with you,” Dani said, in awe.

 

“I’m glad to hear that.  Because I’m never going to stop asking you,” Jamie replied, twirling Dani and earning a giggle from the blonde.

 

“Do you remember when we danced like this on our wedding day?” Dani asked, her face beaming, knowing full well that Jamie remembered every detail of that day.

 

Jamie smiled at the memory.  “Of course I do.  It was the happiest day of my life.  By all rights, we shouldn’t have made it to that day.  And then, we definitely should have never made it to this one.  But we fought for each other, and I hope you know that I will always fight for you, every day for the rest of my life.”

 

“Oh, Jamie, I do know that.  And I will always fight for you, too.  You are so worth fighting for, every hour of every day.  I love you, and I love our life together.”

 

“Me too, Dani, me too.”  Jamie placed a gentle kiss to Dani’s forehead, her lips lingering longer than necessary.  The tenderness of it brought tears to Dani’s eyes, which she rapidly blinked away, not wanting to ruin her carefully applied makeup.  She held on tighter to Jamie.  She knew that things would always be alright as long as they held on tightly to each other.

 

They got lost in each other’s eyes as they danced, both of them thinking about how many times they almost hadn’t made it to this moment.  It made them appreciate the beauty of the moment all the more, knowing that it had almost been taken away from them.  They both knew exactly how lucky they were; they cherished each other and what they had.  They were both still there, still them.  And they were still standing, both of them, together.

 

They danced the night away, and as the last slow dance played, Dani rested her head on Jamie’s shoulder, their arms wrapped around each other as they swayed back and forth, the electricity dancing between them like magic.  They felt completely at peace, completely safe, completely known, and most of all, completely loved.  When the last note faded, Jamie took Dani’s face in her hands and kissed her deeply.  They were both smiling when it ended.

 

“You wanna get out of here?”  Jamie asked, breathlessly.

 

“Yeah.”

 


 

Jamie and Dani were driving home from the airport.  They had spent an extra week in Paris and were ready to be home.  Hannah and Owen were off on their honeymoon in the Caribbean and excited to begin their new life together in Paris after.  They promised to come visit Jamie and Dani as soon as they could.  After all they had been through, they were all truly happy for one another and the peace and love they had all found.

 

Jamie turned her car into their driveway and glanced over at Dani.  She looked exhausted.  “What’cha thinking, Poppins?  Maybe a nice hot bath?  Wash all these planes and airports off of us?”

 

“Yeah, that sounds nice,” Dani said, smiling.  “And then a movie and cuddles after?” She asked hopefully.

 

“Sounds perfect, yeah.”

 

The house was dark and quiet when they got in.  Jamie went around and flipped on the lights while Dani began bringing their suitcases in.  Jamie had to force herself not to think about the time a year ago when they came home to find Viola waiting for them.  It had been the worst night of both of their lives— the night they had almost lost each other.  Jamie glanced around their home.  There was no trace of that night.  By the time Jamie had made it home from the hospital that week, their friends had fixed all of the damage and put everything back together, even reframing the picture frames of them that had been broken during the fight.  Jamie would be forever grateful that she and Dani had been spared having to clean up their home after what had happened.  The memories were so painful and still haunted them in their nightmares. 

 

Jamie walked over to the fridge and smiled when she opened it.  Maria had come by and stocked it for them.  There was even freshly made baklava on the counter.  Jamie took a piece immediately, savoring the sweet  flavor.  Dani came over and joined her.

 

“Oh my gosh, Maria is the best,” she said, taking a piece and biting into it. 

 

“Looks like they all left us a card, too,” Jamie said, pointing to the counter.  Maria, Luis, and Amber had all signed a “welcome home” card for them.  “Guess they missed us,” she said warmly.  “I’m gonna go run us a bath.  Is that okay or did you want to wait a bit?”

 

“Now is great.  Thank you, Jamie… for always taking such good care of me.”

 

“I think you’re the one who takes such good care of me,” Jamie said as she walked away, not seeing the soft smile she earned from Dani.

 

A few minutes later, Dani joined Jamie in the bathroom.  She was just adding in the bubbles and lighting a few candles.  Dani smiled at her thoughtfulness.  Even after a long day of traveling, she wants to do special things for me.

 

Jamie caught her smiling.  “What is it?” She asked, genuinely curious.

 

“You just make me feel so special.”

 

“‘Cause you are,” Jamie said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

 

Dani just shook her head and began undressing.  No matter how many times Jamie saw her do that, it never got old.  She stopped what she was doing to watch.  Dani smiled, enjoying the effect she’d had on her since the beginning.

 

“Are you going to stand there fully clothed and stare, or are you going to join me?” She asked playfully as she glided under the water.

 

Jamie began frantically removing her clothes, earning a chuckle from the blonde.

 

“Want me to get behind you?” Jamie asked as she prepared to get in.

 

“I was thinking you could get in front of me,” Dani said, tentatively.  “I just want to hold you and make you feel as special as you make me feel… if that’s okay.”

 

“Blimey,” Jamie said, caught off guard by Dani’s tenderness.  She stepped in the tub and scooted back against Dani, who placed her hands on her shoulders and gently helped her settle back against her.  She didn’t know how Dani could make her feel the way she did, so loved and cherished with just a few words and gentle touches.

 

“Is this okay?” Dani asked.

 

“It’s more than okay,” Jamie said, relaxing against Dani’s chest and sighing contentedly.

 

Dani wrapped her arms around Jamie and hugged her close.  She frequently just needed to remind herself that Jamie was here, that she was alive and safe.  That they both were.  Her fingers began tracing the scars along Jamie’s body, each one telling a story.  They were stark reminders of how close they had both come to death, of not being here together in this moment. 

 

In front of her, Jamie was enjoying the feeling of Dani’s fingers exploring her body.  She knew what Dani was thinking; she felt it, too.  They’d had too many close calls.  And she knew that those close calls gave them a perspective that many couples didn’t have.  She and Dani did not get hung up on the little things.  They understood that life was fragile and they had an unspoken promise to appreciate each other in every moment.  They knew that the little moments mattered and that sometimes the little moments were really the big moments.  They understood that their lives were made up of series of moments, all of them significant, and they were not going to waste one single second of their time together.  They learned that moments turned to memories all too quickly, and they wanted all of their memories to be good ones.

 

Dani began gently massaging Jamie’s shoulders and Jamie rolled her head forward to give her more access.  Dani hands skillfully began working the knots out and Jamie moaned in appreciation.

 

“This alright?” Dani asked.

 

“It’s perfect,” Jamie replied, resting her hands on Dani’s legs under the water, lightly running her hands up and down them.

 

“I know how tense your back gets when we travel.  I just want to make you feel good.  If you go to bed like this, it’s going to be worse in the morning.  And we can’t have that.”  The care in Dani’s voice almost took Jamie’s breath away.  No one before Dani had ever treated this way.  And she had come so close to losing Dani.  But I didn’t lose her.  She’s right here.  With me.  Where she belongs.

 

Dani continued working on Jamie’s neck, shoulders, and back, enjoying the appreciative sounds Jamie was making.  When she was satisfied that she had worked all of the tension out of Jamie’s back, she lightly ran her hands up and down Jamie’s arms.  She knew Jamie loved it when she did that.  And Dani loved anything that involved her touching Jamie.  She needed the constant reminder that Jamie was there with her.  I came so close to losing her.  But I didn’t. She’s right here.  With me.  Where she belongs.

 

“We’re so lucky, you know?” Jamie said, as if jumping into Dani’s internal monologue.  “Six years with you now and I still can’t believe this is my life.  I wake up every day feeling like the luckiest woman in the whole world.”

 

“That’s funny because here I was under the impression that I’m the luckiest woman in the world,” Dani said, her brow furrowed in mock confusion, her hands coming to rest on Jamie’s stomach.

 

Jamie rested her hands on Dani’s forearms, lightly rubbing.  “You’re so silly, Poppins.”

 

“Am I?  Because from where I sit, I married the most badass, sexy agent in MI5 history, who also turned out to be the most kind, caring, and gentle person I’ve ever met.”

 

“You forgot ‘great in bed,’” Jamie said, smirking.

 

Dani nuzzled into Jamie’s neck from behind.  “More like mind-blowing in bed,” she whispered in her ear, causing Jamie to shiver at the compliment.

 

Jamie leaned back to kiss Dani, just barely brushing their lips together.

 

“Just in bed?” She asked seductively.  “Have you forgotten how good I am in the tub?”

 

Dani’s eyes darkened.  “Hmmm,” she said, playing along, her own hand sliding down Jamie’s body to settle between her legs.  “I seem to have forgotten. Perhaps you can refresh my memory?”

 

“Be glad to.”

 


 

Jamie and Dani were sitting in bed after their bath, pillows propped up against the headboard, watching a movie. 

 

“My long awaited cuddles,” Dani said, sighing, as she snuggled into Jamie’s side.

 

Jamie smiled and put her arm around Dani, pulling her flush against her side.  She tangled her legs up with Dani’s under the covers. 

 

“Our long awaited cuddles,” Jamie confirmed, kissing Dani’s head.  “There’s nothing like being in our own bed again after a long trip.  No matter where we go, this is always my favorite place.  Being right here, with you, in this home we’ve built together.”

 

“I love our life, Jamie,” Dani whispered.  “I love you.”

 

“Me too, Dani.  I love you so much.  More than I can say.  We’ve been through so much.  Too much, really.  But it’s all only made me love, appreciate, and respect you more.  I couldn’t do any of this without you.”

 

“I feel the same,” Dani said.  She wrapped her arms around Jamie’s waist, holding her tight and breathing in her scent.  Home.  My home.  “And we have our whole lives ahead of us, Jamie.  This is still only the beginning.  There’s nothing stopping us.  We have so many more adventures ahead of us.”

 

“Aye, we do.  Whether those adventures are here at home or out there in the world, there are so many more chapters in our story, and I can’t wait to live them all with you.  But Dani?” Jamie asked, softly.

 

“Yeah, Jamie?” Dani said, her eyes shining up at Jamie, full of love and promise.

 

“I just need you to know, that no matter what we do or where we go, you Dani Clayton-Taylor, will always be my greatest adventure.”

 

Dani smiled brightly and leaned in to kiss Jamie with everything she had, as if willing Jamie to understand that she felt the same way.  Me too, Jamie, me too.  My life with you is everything I dreamed it would be and more.  I love you completely and you love me the same.

 

When the kiss ended, they stared into each other’s eyes, both of them overwhelmed by the depths of their feelings.

 

“You know,” Dani said, “you said this was an adventure, but it’s not only that, is it?”

 

“No?  Then what is it?” Jamie asked, genuinely curious.

 

“It’s a love story,” Dani said so softly, her voice full of awe.

 

“Hmm,” Jamie replied, thoughtful.  “Same thing really.”

 

Dani smiled and kissed her again.  Because it was and the truth of it settled deep in their hearts.  Their love story was an adventure, and it would go on… forever.