Lou awoke sometime in the middle of the night. She wasn't sure what it was that awoke her at first, but as she heard the light snore she smiled. She turned her head towards the figure lying next to her, his mouth agape. He snored again and stirred. She giggled silently as he settled himself on his side, facing her.
Now she was able to look more intently at him. He was a handsome man. His hair maybe longer then she usually liked, his nose was beautifully sculptured and his lips full. He was a great kisser. He was also great in bed.
They had amazing sex - he was her best friend, with benefits, as they called each other. Though she was perfectly clear with him that was all she wanted, she suspected sometimes that he might want to move to the next level. But for almost three years now they had kept their torrid affair strictly physical, and strictly under wraps. He was her partner at the agency, for one thing. For another, even though she cared about him, liked him, trusted him, and was incredibly attracted to him, she felt she could never love him quite as much as she knew he deserved.
Jimmy opened his eyes, feeling her gaze on him. "What time is it?" he asked sleepily.
Lou smiled. "Sometime in the middle of the night. Did I wake you?"
Jimmy smiled at her. "That's ok." He leaned over and looked into her eyes. "I can think of something to help me back to sleep."
Lou giggled and feigned trying to escape. She surrendered as his lips caught hers in a hungry kiss.
Lou walked in to her kitchen, tucking a white Oxford shirt into her neatly pressed dark slacks. She adjusted her holster, and clipped on the phone and badge hurriedly, before slipping a suit jacket on.
"Morning, Lou," Theresa greeted as she joined her sister by the kitchen counter.
"Hey, sweetie. Want some coffee?"
"Yeah, thanks. I wasn't expecting you to be up this early," the younger woman teased.
"What? Why?" Lou asked before she turned and saw the mischief in her sister's eyes.
"You know, you should try and be more quiet, Lou."
Lou was about to retort when Jimmy walked into the kitchen, carrying a small boy, of about three and a half years old, on his back. The boy giggled as Lou picked him and sat him in his chair.
Jimmy kissed Lou cheek before he greeted Theresa good morning.
"Want some coffee, Jimmy?" Lou asked from the counter as the man took his seat at the table.
"Yes, thanks. I really need something to keep me awake today," Jimmy answered.
"Hard night, Jimmy?" Theresa asked innocently.
Jimmy looked at Lou, embarrassed.
"Theresa, that's enough," Lou admonished with a smile. "Don't you have class this morning, or something?"
"Yes, ma'am," the young woman answered and took her cup to the sink. "Are you coming home tonight?" Teresa asked.
"I don't know yet," Lou answered. "I'll let you know as soon as I know anything. Keep your cell on, okay?" Lou smiled at her eighteen-year old sister. She'd taken Theresa in when their mother died just before Zach was born; but now the responsible young woman was a wonderful help to her. Their brother Jeremiah, now 21, had enlisted in the Army when their mother died, and was stationed in Iraq now.
Theresa nodded before heading out, grabbing her backpack by the door.
"She heard us last night," Lou whispered to Jimmy.
Jimmy almost choked on his coffee, making Lou giggle. "She told you that?"
"God, next time you're coming to my place."
"You know I can't, Jimmy," Lou turned serious. "The mornings I'm available, I want to be here with Zach."
Jimmy nodded and rose to take his cup to the sink. He kissed the top of her head. "We'd better get going, Lou. Or Teaspoon will have a fit."
Lou wiped her son's chin from the eggs and picked him up. "Let's get you ready."
"Mommy, can Uncle Jimmy help me dress?" Zach asked.
"Jimmy, do you mind?" Lou asked.
"Not at all," Jimmy answered.
They were all ready in half an hour. Jimmy and Lou dropped Zach at daycare and continued to their headquarters. They entered the building and took the elevator to the basement. The guard smiled at them and let them in the secured area.
Lou grimaced as she saw everyone else was already there. She didn't like coming in with Jimmy like that, making the guys suspicious about her relationship with Jimmy. She sighed in relief as so far nobody had noticed them coming in together. Buck was talking to Noah, while Ike was reading the paper.
"Nice of you two to show up," Cody snickered at them as he came from the kitchen area, holding a cup of coffee in one hand and a donut in the other. "Teaspoon is really anxious."
"Why? What's going on?" Jimmy asked. "Are they moving the operation sooner?"
Cody shrugged. "Didn't say anything. Just said to let him know as soon as you walk in."
Lou took a seat behind her desk, watching her friends with a smile. These five men were her friends and colleagues for the past three years, ever since she came to DC. Though she usually partnered with Jimmy, she trusted each and every one of them with her life.
She was so lost in thought she didn't even notice Teaspoon walking in, followed by a younger man.
"Louise, may I have your attention as well, please," Teaspoon addressed her.
"Sorry," Lou smiled, but her smile froze when she noticed the man standing next to Teaspoon. He also recognized her, and now they were both staring, oblivious to what Teaspoon was saying.
"Well, officers," Teaspoon started, "I was offered a position as a site director and I accepted. Officer Michael Kidd is replacing me on the job, effective immediately. I'm still going to be here, so if either of you needs my advice, don't hesitate. It's been a pleasure working with each and every one of you, and I'm going to miss it, though I'll probably suffer from less headaches."
"So, Officer Kidd, the stage is all yours," Teaspoon addressed the younger man.
At hearing his name, the young agent cleared his throat and looked around the room. "As Officer Hunter said, my name's Michael Kidd," Officer Kidd said with a warm smile.
Jimmy darted a look at Lou. She was shifting uncomfortably in her seat, glaring at the new commanding officer. He saw the way she and that Kidd guy stared at each other earlier. Something wasn't right, and he couldn't wait to get her alone and ask her about it.
"Well, I'll tell you about myself, then would like to hear some about you," Kidd continued.
"Didn't you get our files?" Noah asked.
Kidd nodded. "I got your files, but since everything was on such short notice and I had to tie up a few loose ends back in LA before coming here, I didn't get the time to go over them. Anyway, maybe it's for the best - I'd just as soon get to my own conclusions about everything and not be prejudiced by other's opinions."
He smiled at the nods of appreciation from his new officers. All but one.
"So, I was born in Manassas, Virginia. Moved to LA after I graduated and joined the agency..."
"Lou, psst," Jimmy whispered until he got her attention. "Did you know him in LA?"
Lou looked at Jimmy, contemplating what to say, when she heard Teaspoon speaking again.
"Well, I'll let you get to know one another. I'll be in my new office upstairs if you need me," Teaspoon shook Kidd's hand. "They can be bullheaded at times, but they're good officers."
Kidd smiled and turned his attention back to the group. Cody was the first to volunteer to introduce himself.
Lou jumped from her feet and ran out of the room after Teaspoon.
"Teaspoon, can I talk to you a minute?"
"Sure, Lou, what's up?"
"Uh... can we go to your office?" Lou asked, a little uncomfortable.
Teaspoon nodded as he waited for her to enter the elevator.
"What is it, Louise?" the older man asked as he closed the door to his office.
"Is it definite?"
"Is what definite?"
"You... the promotion... him..."
Teaspoon looked at her questioningly. "Is there something you want to tell me, Lou?"
Lou shook her head. "It's just that we worked really hard on this operation, he knows nothing about it..."
"Lou, I'll be there with you until you go out, and I already started going over it with him. Officer Kidd is a skilled officer. We're lucky to have him here with us. The site at New York really put up a fight for him, but he said he preferred DC."
Lou looked down, fidgeting with her fingers. Teaspoon smiled at her, obviously in a deep internal struggle, but his smile disappeared when she lifted her head and met his eyes.
"I want to transfer to a different site," she blurted.
Teaspoon registered what she was saying for a moment. "Why?"
Lou looked away. "I know him, Teaspoon. I don't think I'll be able to work with him."
Teaspoon nodded in understanding. He knew Louise McCloud too well to try and dissuade her, especially when she had that determination in her eyes. "You want to tell me more?"
Lou shook her head. "I don't care where to, just that it will be as quick as possible."
"It still might take a few weeks, Louise."
"I need to know you'll be able to work with him on this next operation, Lou, or I'm taking you off it."
"No, Teaspoon. We worked too hard on it and I have an important part in it. I promise I won't be a problem."
Teaspoon nodded and rose, opening the door for her. "I'll make the request for you and let you know when I have any news."
"Thanks, Teaspoon," Lou said, and went back to join her team.
She went straight to her working space and hurriedly snatched Zach's photos from the wall and hid them, as well as the framed photo she kept on her desk.
"Where did you go?" Jimmy asked, coming to stand next to her. "What are you doing?" he asked as he noticed her hiding her personal items.
"I went to talk to Teaspoon. I need to talk to you, Jimmy."
"What is it?" Jimmy asked, concern clear in his voice. He put his hands on her arms, rubbing them affectionately. "And what's with the hate glares? Do you know him?"
"Officer McCloud," Lou turned her head towards the man calling her name. "May I see you in my office?"
Jimmy dropped his hands from her and watched as her face grew red with hate and anger. He watched surprised he she stormed into Kidd's office, and jumped at the sound of the door slamming shut. All eyes turned to him for explanation, but he just shrugged, bewildered as the rest of them.
"What are you doing here?" Lou hissed.
"Well, it's so nice to see you again, Lou. But I guess it's only temporary since you're running off again." Kidd could not help himself and the last part of his sentence came out louder than he planned.
"What are you doing here, Michael?" Lou asked again, her arms folded over her chest protectively.
"My job," Kidd answered.
"Yeah, I know how much you enjoy doing your job..." Lou muttered.
"What was that?" Kidd asked, becoming even angrier.
"Nothing, sir," Lou saluted mockingly. "Well, continue with your job. I won't be in your way much longer."
"Well, running away is what you do best. I'm surprised to see you're still here after, what, an hour that I'm here."
Lou was about to retort when the phone rang and Kidd answered it. She opened the door and left, slamming it shut behind her.
Lou felt five pairs of eyes on her.
"What was that?" Cody was the first to react.
"Nothing," Lou muttered as she walked to the kitchen area, followed by Jimmy.
"What was that, Lou?" Jimmy asked, the concern clear in his voice. "What was he saying about you running off?"
Jimmy was surprised as Lou suddenly turned and buried her face in his chest. He put his arms around her protectively. "What is it, Lou? You're scaring me."
"I need to talk to you," she said into his chest. "Can we go out for awhile?"
"Sure. Wait for me by the guard. I'll tell Noah we're out and to call if they need us."
Lou nodded and watched him leave. She bit back the threatening tears and went outside.
Jimmy met her at the guard a couple of minutes later. They walked out of the building in silence. Lou looked around her, looking for distractions. She could not believe the day that started so playfully was becoming one of the hardest of her life. She didn't really want to talk about it, but she knew Jimmy deserved to know the truth now, especially that she planned on transferring elsewhere.
"Let's sit over there," she motioned for a bench in a little park, minutes away from their office.
Jimmy sat next to her and took her hand in his for encouragement. "You got me worried there, Lou," he smiled, more for his own benefit than hers.
"Well, you figured out already that I know Michael from before," Lou started. "We were stationed together in LA and we were involved..."
"We were engaged."
"Oh," Jimmy mumbled.
"We met on the same team, but after we got serious we were assigned to different units, with different supervisors. He was promoted to be the second in command in his unit, since his supervisor felt he needed someone to back him up. His unit was different from mine. He went on long missions, weeks or even months at a time..."
"Is that why you broke up?" Jimmy asked.
Lou didn't answer. She remained silent for a moment before the continued. "I put in a request for transfer."
Lou shook her head no. "I spoke with Teaspoon before. I guess he called Michael right afterwards, because you saw how he called me to his office right when I came back."
"You're leaving?" Jimmy couldn't hide his disappointment as Lou nodded. "Why?"
"There's something he doesn't know about, Jimmy. And I can't let him find out. Ever."
"What is it?"
"On our first undercover mission together, Michael's code name was Zachary."
Jimmy's mouth fell open as realization set in. "He doesn't know?"
Lou shook her head, unable to talk through the tears that choked her.
"Oh, Lou, how could you keep that from him?"
"I didn't get a chance to tell him I was pregnant before I left."
"Why did you leave?" Jimmy questioned again.
Lou remained silent for a moment. She knew if she told Jimmy the truth, it would diminish Michael in his eyes... maybe make it harder for Michael to lead the team. It was between her and Michael and it was best to skip the details. "It doesn't matter now, Jimmy. It was a long time ago. I just wanted to let you know that I asked for a transfer and Teaspoon has forwarded the request for me. I just hope that he won't find out about Zach until then. Please promise me you won't say anything."
"Don't worry, Lou," Jimmy promised as he put his arm around her shoulders and drew her to him. He kissed her head.
Lou lifted her eyes to meet his and smiled at him. "Thanks," Lou whispered before she kissed him back.
"But I'll miss you. Promise me you'll tell me where you're going, keep in touch at least?" As she nodded, whispering, "Of course," Jimmy pulled her onto his lap as they deepened the kiss.
"You know if you want me to call you, make sure your cells are on."
They both jumped at the sound of Noah's voice. Lou blushed and jumped to her feet, cursing herself for allowing herself to get caught with Jimmy like this.
"What's going on?" Jimmy asked as he too stood up.
"Kidd wants to go over the set up for next week."
Lou sighed heavily and started towards the office. Noah was about to follow, when Jimmy stopped him.
"What do you think of him?"
"Kidd?" Noah asked. At Jimmy's nod he continued. "I don't know. He seems to be a professional. You heard him talk about himself..."
"Actually I didn't," Jimmy answered, looking guiltily after the retreating woman.
Noah smiled knowingly. "Well, he has a lot of experience and he moved up pretty quickly. Hey, did Lou know him back when she was in LA?"
Jimmy shrugged. "Do you think we'll be ok with him just starting and us going on the mission next week?"
"He knows the case, Jimmy. And I trust Teaspoon's judgment," Noah answered.
"I guess you're right," Jimmy sighed.
Noah started toward the office again, but Jimmy stopped him again. "What is it now, Jimmy? We should really get going."
"Just... please don't say anything about... you know..." Jimmy said awkwardly.
Noah chuckled. "About you and Miss McCloud?"
Jimmy nodded, his face turning red.
Noah put a hand on his friend's shoulder. He tried his damnedest not to burst out laughing at his friend. Did they really believe they had anyone fooled? "Your secret's safe with me," he said in his most serious tone.
Kidd sat in his new office moodily looking out the window at nothing. He couldn't believe it. Couldn't believe she was here, not just in Washington, not just in the same office, but on his own damn team. He'd spent the last four years trying to forget her. He almost succeeded, too. He had moved on, best as he could... even managed to find love again. Not that it was the same. But Lou was my first love. Figured it was normal enough to always have a secret spot in my heart for her. But seeing her again. It's like... like the last four years never happened. I'm right back where I started.
He tried to flip through some paperwork, but his mind kept returning to Louise. She'd looked at him like they'd never even been friends, like she hated him. He passed a hand over his eyes. Maybe he should talk to her. Find out why, so he could put it to rest, move on for real. He couldn't believe the sweet, bright-eyed girl he'd loved so, could look at him with open hatred, like he was the one who did something wrong. She was the one who left without a word, without the decency of a goodbye, after all they'd shared.
He wanted to hate her back. He wanted to be able to forget her and act like she never hurt him. But... so many good memories. Even the sight of her in the squad room. He'd sat beside her every working day for a year, either in a squad room just like that, or in some van parked outside a surveillance site, or some other god-awful boring grunt work they'd had to do the year they were partners, both little more than rookies. They'd fought a lot at first, butted heads over approaches to cases, before earning a grudging respect for one another on the job.
Gradually, they'd gotten comfortable together, fortunately. All the hours of working together on low-level cases, it would have been unbearable if they hadn't gotten to like each other. Then, before he knew it, he found himself in love with her. Even now, he had to grin a little at the memory of sitting on a stakeout with her, desperately in love with her; and how hard he'd tried to hide it.
"For pete's sake," Kid muttered, as she took out a plastic knife and started sawing the Snickers Bar in half lengthwise. "Not this again."
"What?" Lou asked, her eyebrows puckered as she carefully picked peanuts from the candy, dropping them into the bag.
"If you dismember one more Snickers in front of me, I'm going to snap," he muttered. "It's gross and ridiculous."
She flicked a peanut at him. "So don't look," she grinned.
"After a year of watching you do that, can I ask, why? Why do you buy Snickers bars if you don't like the peanuts?"
"If you must know, it's because I like Snickers, but just not the nuts. They're too crunchy, I don't like them."
He sighed, looking at her and shaking his head. "So why, pray tell, don't you just buy a candy bar that doesn't have nuts, and you don't have to pick at for ten minutes before you can eat it?"
"There isn't a Snickers bar without peanuts."
"Well, then buy a Milky Way, for chrissakes."
"That's not the same," she explained patiently, reassembling the halves of the Snickers bar and raising it to her mouth.
"How is it not the same? It's nougat, caramel, and milk chocolate. Just like a Snickers without the nuts," he said irritably. This stakeout was making him cranky. Not to mention the heat. The air conditioning was broken in this stupid van. Lou was comfortable enough, she had stripped down to a white tank top and shorts... and sitting in this close car with her dressed like that was getting him... frustrated.
"It's not the same, because the Milky Way has chocolate malt flavored nougat. The Snickers has peanut butter flavored nougat. Everyone knows that."
"That's common knowledge, you're saying?"
"Of course." She was polishing off the Snickers and rummaging again through the bag.
"Do you have anything to drink in there? It's about 90 degrees in this stupid van."
She looked at him, her own good humor starting to wear thin. "Quit your whining, will you?"
"I would if I could. But it ain't easy sitting in here with you and all your food in this heat. Do you have any seltzer?"
She ostentatiously shook up a can and handed it to him. "Sure, here, you big baby."
He took the can and deliberately pointed the top toward her. "Oh, thanks. Looks refreshing." He opened it, and it spurted all over her, soaking her hair and tank top.
He looked over at her as she sat calmly, seltzer dripping from her, but somehow maintaining her dignity. He had to fight the insane urge to lick her face clean, as she turned and looked at him.
"Very mature." She pulled a wad of napkins from the bag and wiped her face.
"Sorry, Lou," he chuckled, as she got out of her seat and went to the back of the van.
He had watched her in the rear view mirror as she stripped off the tank top. She was wearing a pale blue satin bra underneath, and he caught his breath as he watched her fumbling through a duffel bag for another shirt, pulling it over her head. She was so beautiful, he had thought. She clambered back into the front seat and he'd sat dumbly looking at her.
"What now?" she snapped, finally irritable as he was.
"Nothing," he'd said softly. 'Nothing except I love you,' he thought. 'And you don't think of me as anything but your partner and a friend.' His heart had ached a little bit then, wanting and wishing... and deciding that he would ask her out, never mind any regulations. He couldn't hide how he felt about her much longer, he knew...
Kid sighed. He had asked her out soon after that, and found out that, incredibly, she had been harboring strong feelings for him for a long time too. They had fallen madly in love, or so he'd thought.
He turned away from the window and got up to go home. He needed to forget all the old days, somehow. It was just as well that she was transferring, because he could never work with her for long without letting his feelings show, he knew that. But at the same time, the thought that she had come into his life again, only to vanish again, had brought all the old pain back up as strong as it had been four years ago. He sighed again and turned out the lights, heading home.
The operation was in progress, with Kidd, Jimmy and Cody stationed in a van outside an expensive gentleman's club, monitoring several cameras and wires at once. Noah, Buck, and Ike were inside the club, posing as customers. And Lou was the center of the operation, with the hardest and most important role of all, one that had taken several weeks to set in place.
Teaspoon came up with the plan, for her to pose as an exotic dancer in this club, where Columbano Lamberti, a mafia kingpin, frequented regularly. Lamberti ordinarily wouldn't be of much interest to the agency, but he had branched out into selling arms to enemy states, and the agency was looking for a way to get close enough to plant a surveillance bug on him before a face-to-face meeting they believed was scheduled for later tonight. Lamberti surrounded himself with high security at all times, but the hope was that Lou could entice him to a private room and attach the device. To say the least, it would be tricky and somewhat dangerous for her.
Lou had been dismayed at first, and not at all because of the danger. She hadn't gone to college and through training as an agent, to end up in pasties and a g-string on some gangster's lap, she had blurted to Teaspoon indignantly. But Teaspoon had pointed out that the club was the only place where they could conceivably get to Lamberti.
"It's just a disguise, Louise, and I know you can pull it off, but if you aren't comfortable with it -" Teaspoon had started.
She had cut him off, sighing. "Fine. I'll learn how to pole dance, if the mission really needs it," she muttered, as the other members of the team snickered.
The job had required her to take lessons in stripping, then actually try out for a job in the club; and she had been working there as part of her cover for two weeks now. While she would rather have died than admit it, a small part of her was enjoying it; she spent most of her time in the agency uniform of plain suits, or in jeans or sweats when off duty. Prancing in front of strange men, decked out in hair extensions and stiletto heels, along with the enthusiastic attention she was getting from the "gentlemen", was oddly exciting. She came in the front entrance, pretending not to recognize her teammates stationed in the club as she hurried backstage to get ready.
Kidd, Cody and Jimmy listened in on her wire as she greeted Dieter, the makeup and costuming manager, backstage. "Hello, sweetheart," Dieter giggled. "And what are we going to be tonight?"
"I put myself in your hands, Dieter," Lou responded. "You're the expert."
"At least somebody appreciates me," Dieter said, sighing.
Lou lowered her voice. "I hear there's a high roller coming in tonight, Dieter. Mr. Lamberti. Do you know him?"
"Oh, yes, sweetheart. And you're right, he's a high roller all right. You looking to catch his eye?"
"Maybe. Does he have a favorite girl already?"
"The girl he's usually been picking isn't here anymore, honey. And you're just his type, nice and clean. How about this little gold number, nice and sparkly?"
"Thanks, Dieter," Lou said. "It looks perfect."
After Lou's hair and makeup were done and she was squeezed into her costume, she put on her earrings, which concealed a tiny transmitter and receiver. "Cody, do you hear me?"
"Loud and clear, Lou. Good luck," came the response from the van.
Lou stood behind the curtain to the stage, waiting for her musical cue; though she was brand new she had managed to do well enough to get the first number of the evening. Jimmy informed her over her wire that Lamberti had arrived, giving her his location right next to the catwalk. "Copy," she muttered, adjusting her costume, her heart racing excitedly as it had ever since her first performance.
In the van, the team watched idly as the music started, a blaring dance number. There was a camera trained on Lamberti, with a full view of the stage; but their jaws dropped as Louise ripped the curtains apart and strutted onto the stage wearing impossibly high heels and a low-cut gold spangled "dress" that barely covered her backside. She shimmied her way toward a pole stationed right in front of Lamberti, and Cody dropped his coffee on the floor with his mouth hanging open as Louise pulled apart the top of the dress and started working the pole to the music, her eyes trained seductively on Lamberti. Cody started coughing on his donut when Lou whirled up on the pole and hung upside down nearly in the gangster's face, spinning around by her leg.
Lamberti smiled at Lou and beckoned her to his table, holding up several hundred-dollar bills. She stepped slowly down the stairs and approached him and placed her hands on either side of his chair, leaning over him.
"Oh my God," muttered Cody, as Lamberti tucked the money in her g-string and leaned back for his lap dance.
Jimmy gave Cody a filthy look. "Watch it, Cody," he warned, irritated by Cody's drooling over Lou.
Kidd shot a look at Jimmy, surprised at his protective attitude; but Jimmy avoided his gaze.
For his part, Kidd uncomfortably watched Lou work, his hands crossed over his chest. He hadn't been thrilled with this plan of Teaspoon's, but had been reluctant to disrupt it, since it was already in progress when he came on. His heart ached painfully as he watched Louise bumping and grinding, nearly naked, for this criminal and traitor. He clenched his jaw when he saw Lamberti run a hand down Lou's leg, but she pulled back, smiling. "We can't let you touch us on the floor, Mr. Lamberti. Sorry, but you have to get a private room for anything... else," she whispered huskily, she started backing away, when Lamberti stood and grasped her wrist.
"I'll take a private dance, then," he said, tucking a number of additional bills in her g-string and pulling her, a little roughly, toward the stairs to a row of private rooms, each one wired with a camera in advance for the mission. He untied his silk tie as he walked, dragging her on tottering heels behind him.
"This guy is getting rough with her. Buck, Ike, Noah, get up toward the private rooms, in case she needs backup," Kidd snapped into the microphone.
Cody looked at Kidd in surprise, and rushed to Lou's defense. "Officer Kidd, Lou can handle this guy, believe me. And if he tries anything, I'm personally looking forward to seeing her kick his ass in that getup."
Jimmy's face twitched dangerously and Cody bit his lip, figuring he'd better shut up now.
Kidd frowned, nervously chewing his lip, as Lamberti pulled Lou into a private room. Cody switched the monitor to the private room, where Lamberti immediately grabbed the tiny woman and shoved her down under him on a couch.
"She's in trouble," Kidd blurted. "Officers, get in there and -"
But as he spoke, Lou hit the man, who was twice her size, across the neck with the back of her elbow, then used his own weight to fling him to the floor, planting her knee in his back. So fast it could barely be seen, she twisted his loosened tie around his neck, pulling just until he lost consciousness. Working quickly, she retrieved a miniaturized surveillance device that had been taped under the couch in the room, opened the back of his watch and planted the bug, then replaced it. She grabbed a robe that was hung on a rack by the door and put it on, before he emerged from the room, smiling up at Lamberti's henchmen waiting outside. "He's a little tired," she giggled, slipping past, and rushing down the stairs. She walked quickly toward the exit, where she met her teammates and got into the van.
As she reached the van, the surveillance camera planted in his watch showed Lamberti getting up, unsteadily, and muttering to his henchmen that he was okay... and they'd just as well get started to their meeting.
Cody nodded. "The wire she planted on him is working fine... mission accomplished."
When they were speeding away, Lou looked over at Jimmy, who seemed unusually flustered. "What?" she said.
"Nothing. You just missed your calling, that's all," Jimmy muttered, sounding abashed and looking away from her, blushing like a schoolboy.
"Yes, Lou. Very convincing," Buck said, admiringly. "I knew you were going to come out and dance, but... I'm blown away."
Noah chuckled and was about to say something appreciative as well, but a glance at Jimmy's set jaw made him think better of it.
"All right, that's enough," she said, exasperated. "It was just a disguise. It's still me, guys!" she admonished, as the team sat staring at her.
"You got lucky," Kidd muttered. "I don't know what kind of operations Teaspoon usually ran, but that's the last time you're using a subterfuge like that, while I'm your superior officer."
Lou turned a sour face to Kidd. "Is that so? You know, Officer Kidd, I heard you start to call the team in back there. I'll have you know I had the situation under control. I didn't appreciate your interference, you could have blown the whole operation."
Kidd flushed angrily. "You looked like you were in trouble to me, Lou."
"It's Officer McCloud to you," she snapped. "And I can handle myself, so save your patronizing attitude."
The others looked uneasily at each other, unsure what to make of Lou's fury.
"Okay, Officer McCloud. And while we're at it, you can save the insubordinate attitude, or next time you're on report, understand?"
They had reached headquarters, and Lou stood up and hurled the door to the van open. "Perfectly, sir," she sneered, storming from the van.
Jimmy cleared his throat. "Officer Kidd, I'm not tryin' to be... 'insubordinate', but it was a successful operation and she did a good job. I hope we can be free to speak our minds on this team without rank getting pulled," he said, his voice deadly calm.
Kidd looked Jimmy back, eye to eye. "I expect that everybody can have their say, and I'll consider it when I'm making decisions. But I've still got final say, and I'm still the head of this team and it's my responsibility."
Getting down from the van, he continued. "It was a good job, all of you, and especially her. I'll go tell her so, and we should go get a drink or something to celebrate," he added.
He caught up with Lou, emerging from the women's locker room, all traces of her stripper disguise removed. She looked like herself again in a straight skirt and white blouse, and she looked sulkily at him. "Officer," she said briefly, and started past him.
"Lou," he said. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have pulled rank, but you shouldn't disrespect me in front of the team either."
"Fair enough," she said, looking away. "Anything else?"
"We're going for a drink, to celebrate the good job. Since you did most of the work, I hope you're joining us. You were great, Lou."
She looked uncertainly at him. She didn't want to admit that she was tired and wanted to get home to her son, who should be getting to bed very soon. "Okay," she muttered. "I'll come along for a while."
An hour later, the team milled into their favorite club. This was their ritual - after a successful mission, they'd all go there, have a few drinks, loosen up, before heading back home.
"I have to go use the bathroom," Lou whispered to Jimmy as they looked for a table. "Will you order a glass of wine for me?"
"Sure," Jimmy answered as he watched her walking away.
They found a booth at the far end of the club. Ike, Buck and Kidd sat at one side of the table, while Noah, Cody and Jimmy on the other. A waitress came, looking appreciatively at the six handsome men at her table. "What would you like?" The men gave her their orders.
"This is a nice club," Kidd commented.
"Yeah, we like coming here after a well done operation," Buck answered.
"Where do you go after a not so well done operation?" Kidd asked with a smile.
"We don't have those," Jimmy answered, causing the others to burst out laughing.
Jimmy watched his new chief with mixed emotions. The man gained everyone's trust during the past couple of days. He was a professional, and a very talented officer and commander, yet Jimmy couldn't shake the sneaking feeling, that by liking Kidd he was betraying his best friend. Lou didn't hide her dislike of the man. She was practically hostile towards him. Kidd, on his part, tried to ignore her snide remarks, and only address her when it was necessary.
Lou came out of the rest room and watched the table wearily. For a moment she thought of sneaking off, but to her disappointment Ike saw her and called her to come. She was relieved when Jimmy grabbed her hand and pulled her gently to sit next to him. He put his arm around her shoulders and squeezed them affectionately, before dropping it to his side.
"So, Kidd," Buck started. "Tell us about yourself."
"I thought I did," Kidd smiled, feeling awkward talking about himself, especially with Lou sitting there.
"We're more interested in the personal side," Noah explained. "Are you married? Do you have a family?"
"What about you?" Kidd tried to buy some time.
"All singles," Ike smiled. "Not much to tell. What about you?"
To Kidd's relief, the waitress just came back with their drinks. They all watched in astonishment as Lou downed her wine in one gulp, before the waitress had the time to put the rest of the drinks on the table.
"I'd like another one of that," Lou said and the waitress nodded and walked away.
"So, Kidd, you were saying..." Cody reminded him they didn't forget their earlier discussion.
Kidd took a sip of his beer before he started. "Well, I'm engaged," he said, looking at his teammates, trying as best as he could to avoid Lou's eyes.
Lou stared at Kidd across the table, watching him laughing and joking with the others. He seemed so kind, so gentle with everyone. So... so gentlemanly. Her face darkened, thinking how deceptive that appearance was. He was no better than any other man, in fact he was worse... all the worse because he wasn't what he seemed, not at all. The waitress placed another glass of wine in front of her and she picked it up and drained it like it was water. Jimmy looked at her with some surprise, but her narrowed eyes were locked on Kidd with thinly veiled hostility.
The wine was rushing to her head, making her dizzy. She rarely drank, and never more than a glass of wine with a meal here and there. At her size, she couldn't really handle much liquor, and she blinked, rapidly, trying to fend off the fuzzy feeling creeping up behind her eyes.
"What's her name?" Buck asked with a smile.
"Samantha," Kidd said, a silly grin on his face.
"See, he can't even say her name without blushing," Cody laughed.
Kidd pulled a picture of a beautiful woman from his wallet and passed it around.
"She sure is pretty, Kidd," Ike appreciated the photo.
"Yes, she is," Kidd smiled proudly.
"Is she also an agent?" Noah asked
"God, no," Kidd chuckled. "She's a lawyer."
The picture was passed around to Lou, who looked at the polished, beautiful woman Kidd was going to marry. She hated him in that moment, with a ferocity that startled her, then left her weak. Tears welled up as she unwillingly remembered the last time she felt so weak with hatred for this man she had loved so much once... as much as she hated him now.
Michael was wearing a miniaturized camera, so small it could be hidden in a piece of jewelry... this time a wristwatch... and Lou could catch glimpses of a woman's neck as Michael's hands lifted her long, luxuriant hair. She could make out the outline of a woman's negligee as Michael's hand tilted the woman's head back, heard his voice murmuring her name... Marissa... and telling Marissa she was the only woman he loved. That she could trust him, trust him with anything. The camera lurched and Lou's stomach with it as Marissa's head landed on the bed. The communications room seemed to vanish, and all Lou's attention focused on the sights playing before her on the screen, the sounds piping into her earpiece.
The screen was jerking now, in a fast rhythm, Lou realized wildly, tears running down her face as she leaned over the screen, her head in her hands, averting her eyes from the other agent, who looked away in pity. She couldn't tear herself away, couldn't stop looking at her own betrayal by the one person she never believed would hurt her.
Lou now stonily stared... she was in shock, too shocked to move... too shocked and sore to do anything but watch until the other agent, overcome with pity for her, suddenly reached over, clicking off the video screen... but her earpiece was still on... and she heard the sound of the bed creaking heavily as he fell against it, whispering, "I love you, Marissa" .
She never remembered, later, how she got home. It was as if the drive from headquarters to their apartment never happened, but somehow, she found herself home. Or not home... but where they had lived their lie together. She had somehow packed, through her tears, and with all the efficiency of her training and experience as an agent, she left no trace, just her engagement ring in the box he'd given it to her in, set on the table... and vanished, from his life. She wouldn't demean herself with a confrontation... she couldn't bear the sight of him now. She knew she never, ever could trust him again... after seeing him make love to another woman, one who believed his lies as much as she had.
When Lou ordered a third glass of wine, Jimmy started to get alarmed. "You sure, Lou? You don't usually have more than one."
Lou looked up in his concerned eyes and started to giggle. The wine started to have an effect on her. She snaked her hand behind his neck and pulled him towards her for a passionate kiss. Jimmy's eyes almost popped out when she started letting her other hand roam over his upper body. She'd never acted like that in public, they tried to keep their affair discreet, and act professionally with the other agents.
"Lou," he moaned, as he felt her hand sneaking under the back of his shirt. He tried to break free, feeling uncomfortable with the stares of his friends and their cheering, but she held him tight and continued the assault, until he gave up and closed his eyes, returning the caresses.
Kidd averted his eyes, uncomfortable with the display of affection. He didn't remember her being so extroverted, but figured she'd probably changed in the past four years.
Jimmy sighed in relief when Lou's third glass of wine arrived and she released her hold on him. That was, until he saw her handle it the same way she did the first two. He was worried about her. She was plowing through the Chardonnay like he'd never seen her doing since they'd met three years ago. He laid a hand on hers. "Lou? Can I have a word with you... in private?" She tossed back the remains of the wine and lurched out of her seat, as he led her by the hand away from the table.
He guided her away from the noisy bar and toward a small private room. Trying the door, he found it unlocked and slipped inside the vacant room with her. She leaned her back weakly against the wall as he tried to find a switch. "Jimmy?"
"Yeah, I'm trying to find some light in here." He held her hand as he felt around.
"Never mind it." She drew him close, pulling his mouth down on hers. She was kicking off her shoes, and he knew what she wanted. He was as ever willing to oblige. He slipped his arms around her with a contented sigh. He could never figure how come things never had progressed beyond this with her... they were best friends 'with benefits' as the song went... loved each other deeply as friends; and what's more, the sex was earth-shattering for both of them. But somehow, the relationship stayed just as it was, he reflected, as they felt their way forward, bumping against a banquette.
Eagerly, he laid her down on the leather bench and made love to her.
"You're wonderful," she moaned, "Just what I needed right now," she told him. "You have no idea how much."
Afterwards, as they sat panting together, he stroked her back softly. "Incredible," he managed. "Marry me," he joked, and she swatted at him.
"It would serve you right if I took you serious one of these days," she reprimanded him, getting up and retrieving her clothes.
She dressed rapidly, glancing at her watch in the light from the banquette. "Damn it. It's late... Theresa picked Zach up for me from daycare but it's past his bedtime. He gets upset if I don't get there in time to give him a hug and a story."
Lou cursed herself for losing track of time. Jimmy pulled his pants up and followed her out into the hallway. Kidd, emerging from the men's room, was surprised to see Lou and Jimmy, disheveled, limping out of the empty room; and he stepped back into the recessed doorway as Jimmy pulled her close for a lingering kiss. "You going to be all right heading back alone? I'll leave now if you want me to."
She grinned up at Jimmy, making Kidd's heart skip a beat. "Ain't you had enough for one night, cowboy?"
"Of you? There's no such thing as enough." Jimmy kissed her again, pressing up against her as she wound her hands in his hair.
"And I thought," he continued, his finger tracing a line on her exposed skin just above her cleavage, "maybe you could show me again what you learned at the stripping school, maybe give me a little lap dance in that sexy outfit of yours."
Lou laughed and swatted his hands as he started to tickle her. "Maybe some other time. Now I better go; and you'd better stay here. I need some sleep tonight," she teased. "I'll call you on the cell to let you know I got in all right."
"Don't forget... you're sure now? You had a bit to drink tonight."
"I'll take a cab straight home. I'll be fine, but thanks. You stay and have a good time."
"Somehow I think the evening has already peaked for me, but okay." Jimmy walked her to the stairs. "I'm putting you in a cab myself, partner."
Kidd emerged from the shadows. He was surprised at how much it hurt to see her with Jimmy... he felt flustered, angry, though he knew he had no right. He was with Samantha now. But Jimmy and Lou were partners... it was against regulations for them to have an affair. That was it... that was what bothered him, he told himself... knowing full well it was a lie. That regulation hadn't meant a damn to him when he was Lou's partner. He sighed and turned sadly back toward the table, somehow not recognizing his own life anymore... and wishing with all his heart he was speeding downtown in a cab with Lou McCloud.
Jimmy returned to the table a moment later.
"Lou went home?" Buck asked.
Jimmy simply nodded, averting his eyes from Kidd.
"She must be exhausted after the physical exercise," Kidd remarked sarcastically, making Jimmy blush.
"No, it's always like that with her," Cody volunteered. "She's always cutting out early to tuck her son in."
"Her son?" Kidd asked surprised.
"Yeah," Cody smiled. "She doesn't look like a mama, does she?" he continued, oblivious to the murdering glares from Jimmy. "Zach is about three and a half. Ouch, who kicked me?" he exclaimed.
Kidd turned a hard gaze to Jimmy. "You're not the father, are you?"
Jimmy shook his head, unable to meet Kidd's eyes.
"Who, Jimmy?" Cody laughed. "She never said much about Zach's father. Only that it's someone she used to know in Los Angeles. I think she named the boy after him."
Kidd didn't avert his eyes from Jimmy. "You know, don't you?"
Kidd rose, his face red with anger. "I'll see you guys tomorrow." He pulled a few bills from his wallet and put them on the table as he left.
"What's with him?" Cody asked, nothing deterring his good mood.
"Somehow I have a feeling it's something you said, Cody," Noah answered, smacking his blond friend's head.
"You think he's Zach's father?" Ike asked. "They probably knew each other in LA..."
"But his name's Michael," Buck said. "And Lou named her son after his father..."
They all looked at Jimmy for answers, but he got up from the table and was rapidly dialing his cellphone. "Damn it," he muttered, frustrated. "Call's not goin' through." He headed outside, dialing and re-dialing frantically.
Lou's eyes drooped sleepily in the back seat of the cab, as she watched the streets flash by on the way home. She'd had a hell of a week, and just wanted to get home and into bed. In the morning, she'd think about her plans for the future, for Theresa's and Zach's futures. She didn't know how she'd tell Theresa she had to move again. Theresa was in college now and couldn't come with her. She would miss her sister so much. She'd miss Jimmy so much, her job and friends. Tears stung her eyes a little. Maybe it isn't worth it to keep Zach from him. Maybe I need to let go of the bitterness, let him get to know his son. Zach needs a father, too, a part of her reasoned.
But another part of her, that up to now had always won the battle in her heart, rose up and hardened her again. No. He isn't who you thought he was. He isn't the person he pretended to be, that you fell in love with. Forget him. Move on with your son. He's getting married... if you tell him the truth, he probably will take you to court, force you to give him visitation. He's engaged and probably living with that Samantha. I'll have to give up Zach on every other weekend, half the holidays. I can't do it.
Her tormented thoughts were disrupted when the cellphone at her hip vibrated. She looked at the number, but didn't recognize it. Clicking the phone open, she answered, "Officer McCloud," briskly as she could with the slightly nauseated feeling the wine was now giving her.
"Are you almost home?"
"Who is this?" Lou demanded.
"Zachary's father. I took the metro and I'm two blocks from your apartment."
She froze. "Michael?" she croaked.
"I said it was Zachary's father. How far are you from the house? Theresa answered your phone a minute ago and she said you weren't home yet."
"I'm almost at the metro station near my place." She sighed, tapping on the glass partition to the driver. "Let me out at the metro station instead."
"I'll go back there and wait. We have to talk," Kidd snapped, and hung up.
Lou trembled, as she stared numbly at the phone, before closing it and replacing it at her hip with shaking fingers. Damn it.
She climbed out of the cab, handing back the fare, and saw Kidd glowering at her from the sidewalk. Before she could speak, he accosted her, backing her against a nearby storefront. "How could you keep this from me? Bad enough you ran out without a word, just left your ring with no explanation, nothing. But this? What the hell did I do to deserve this?" he demanded.
He was too close; she turned, trying to squirm away from him, but he put an arm up to prevent her. Her training and instinct took over, and she kneed him sharply before sweeping his feet from under him with a swift movement, landing him prostrate on the ground.
He cursed himself as she started stomping into the distance, and pulled himself to his feet. He'd forgotten for a moment that despite her tiny size, she was if anything better trained in hand to hand combat than he was, and wouldn't hesitate to use her skills. He ran to catch up, but wisely refrained from any further physical contact.
"Listen to me, Lou. I want to know what happened. Why did you run away and take our child with you? Can you give any kind of reason? Damn it, Lou, this is crazy - I don't know who you are, anymore. I never thought you'd be capable of this."
"Well, the feeling is mutual."
"What are you talking about?" he nearly shouted.
She stopped, leaning her arm up against a wall tiredly. He was taken aback at the frank pain on her face.
"I'm talking about you. How I found out you weren't who I thought you were. How you broke my heart," she burst out.
Lou turned, blinking back tears. "I know you cheated on me."
Kidd's heart dropped.
"Don't you know what I'm talking about? I'm talking about Marissa, Michael."
His voice was low. "How did you know about her?"
She looked at him evenly, her tears falling freely down her face, unheeded. "I saw you."
He gaped at her, mouth open.
"I came to headquarters to tell you about the baby. You'd been out on a case for a few weeks, and I was impatient. Wanted to contact you through your wire."
He was pale now, pale with shame and humiliation.
Her voice was strained, as she continued. "I saw you making love to her. I heard it. I heard you say you loved her. I sat there, carrying your child, watching you with her." Barely whispering, she asked, "How could you?"
"It was for the mission, Lou-"
She turned away in disgust. "Oh for God's sake, Michael, don't."
"It's true, Lou- let me explain-"
"Explain? You had a chance to get a piece of action while you were undercover and you took it. That's all, Michael, don't insult me."
"I'm telling you the truth. I needed to get information from her, right away, make her trust me to-"
"And you couldn't just, oh, take her down to HQ and interrogate her, maybe? Ever hear of that? Or is this a new interrogation method? Last time I checked it wasn't in the manual."
"Please, Lou, let me tell you the whole story."
They had arrived at her building; she sighed. "We're here." Stepping inside the lobby and pushing the button for the elevator, she muttered, "I suppose you want to see him?"
Kidd hesitated. He hadn't even known he had a child half an hour ago. He was unprepared to meet a little boy who was his son. The door to the elevator opened and she held it open. "Well? Are you coming up?" she demanded. He nodded and stepped in to the elevator.
As she pushed the button for her floor, she folded her arms over her chest. "Whatever you've got to say to me about Marissa, it can wait. I don't want Zach or Theresa to hear us talking about that." She watched the indicator moving past the floor numbers a moment. "And if you don't mind, I think we should wait to tell him you're his father until we have more time to prepare him."
"Oh, and when will that be?" Kidd demanded. "When you say so?"
She looked down. "Zach is three years old, Michael. I don't know how he's going to react to meeting his father for the first time."
"What does he know about me?"
"He only started asking about his father the last few months. I told him you were a special agent like me and you live in California. That's it. Michael, I'm not trying to pull any fast ones on you. I just don't want to spring this on him when he's tired, with no warning, please understand."
"Let me help you put him to bed, then we can talk some more. Is that reasonable enough?" Kidd asked sarcastically.
"Fine," she muttered, stepping off the elevator.
Unlocking the door, Lou stuck her head in. "Theresa? It's me - I have company. Are you decent?"
"I'm fine, Lou. Hi, Jimmy," Theresa called back, as she came in the room carrying a sleepy Zach, dressed in his pajamas, in her arms. He had his head resting on her shoulder. At the sight of Kidd, Theresa looked taken aback. "Michael?" she asked, astonished. "Is it... is it you?" she said uncertainly.
"Nice to see you again, Theresa," Kidd answered, his eyes fixed on the little boy. It was like looking at himself as a child, he realized.
Lou explained, shortly, "Theresa moved in with me three years ago when Mom died."
Kidd looked startled. "Lou, I'm sorry. I didn't hear that Mary Louise had died. Where's Jeremiah now?"
"He signed up with the Army right after Mom died. He's been in Iraq for three years," Lou said regretfully.
Kidd nodded, his face softening at the thought of what Lou had been dealing with alone all this time.
Looking at Zach, Theresa murmured, "His teeth are brushed and he's ready for bed. He wanted to stay up and wait for Mama, but he's fading fast." She handed him over to Lou, who cuddled him to her. The little boy clung to his mother, smiling. "Read me a story, Mama?"
She nodded. "This is Michael, Zach. He works at Mama's office." The boy looked at Kidd politely, yawning hello. "Maybe he could read you your story?" Lou suggested.
"No! You are supposed to read it," the boy protested, a cranky look appearing on his face. "And say my prayers with me," he demanded.
"Okay," she sighed. "But can Michael come along and listen to the story too?" The boy shrugged and nodded.
Kidd followed Lou into a bedroom covered with pictures of cowboys and horses. There was a picture of Zach sitting proudly on a pony framed on the dresser. The little boy knelt next to his bed, with Lou, looking a little embarrassed, kneeling beside him. The pair clasped their hands, leaning their elbows on the bed, and chanted, "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. AMEN."
Zach continued, "God bless Mama, and Theresa, and Jeremiah, and Uncle Jimmy, and me."
Kidd's face stiffened visibly at the mention of "Uncle Jimmy", but Lou ignored him, watching Zach climb into bed. "Okay, which will you have tonight?" Lou asked, standing by the bookshelf.
As Zach considered the choices, the phone rang twice. Theresa tapped on the door. "It's Jimmy," she said awkwardly.
"Uncle Jimmy!" shouted the boy, jumping up and dancing excitedly up and down in his footie pajamas. "Let me say good night to him!"
Glancing at Lou and Kidd awkwardly, Theresa handed the boy the phone and made her escape.
"G'night, Uncle Jimmy. Am I gonna see you in the morning?" The boy listened. "Okay," he said, looking disappointed. He paused another moment, listening. "Yes, she's fine." He paused another moment. "He says he wants to talk to you," he said, handing the phone to Lou.
Lou took the phone and put it to her ear, walking over toward the window. "I know. He's here now." She glanced at Kidd, listening. "It's okay. Really. Yes, he knows now." She paused another moment. "Thanks. I'll see you tomorrow, partner."
"No 'I love you'?" Kidd asked a little bitterly as she clicked off the phone.
Her eyes flashed with anger, but she bit her lip. "First thing we need to get straight," she said evenly, an eye cocked toward Zach as he stood on his foot stool to reach a book, "is that you stay out of my personal life, and I'll stay out of yours. Fair enough?" She turned and took the book Zach offered and sat beside him, turning the lights off except for a lamp by the bed. Kidd stood by the door, watching the woman he had loved and their son bathed in half-light, as she read him a story about the Old West. Soon enough, the boy's eyes drooped shut and Lou closed the book gently, placing it on the nightstand. She gestured to Kidd and they slipped out and down the hallway to the living room.
Rubbing her head tiredly, Lou went into the kitchen. The wine and the stress were giving her a massive headache, and she opened a cabinet to take out some tylenol. She washed it down with a bottled water as Kidd stood watching her.
"I'm not used to that much wine," she muttered, sitting down at the table. They fell silent a moment as Kidd sat across from her. He looked up and studied her. "You just going to sit there staring at me all night, Michael, or do you have something you want to get off your chest?"
Kidd sighed. "Lou, I guess I see the reason you ran off like you did. It can't have been easy seeing what you did, without knowing the reasons behind it. But it hurts... a lot... that you threw away what we had so easy without even taking the time to face me."
Lou stared at him insolently. "Michael, I know what you said. You did it for the mission you were on, to get information. Like that justifies it. Even if it's true, you put your career over being faithful to me, plain and simple."
"It isn't that plain and simple, not at all." He looked down. "You don't know the case I was working. Lou, we had information that a white supremacist group was planning to make a terrorist strike on a major metropolitan target. Hundreds of people were in danger of being killed. The group was spread out over the country in different cells... I was trying to infiltrate one of them. Marissa... Marissa was in charge of the cell, and I needed to get her to trust me, so I could get in on the operation they were planning. I was running out of time, she was suspicious when... when I wouldn't..." he stopped. "I needed to get her to believe I was for real," he finished. "I did, and I got into the operation and we managed to avert it."
Lou looked strangely at him; he insisted, "Lou, I swear it. Standard interrogation wouldn't have done any good, Marissa would have rather died than betray her cause. I needed to make her believe in me."
She shook her head, dropping it into her hands. "And what about what it did to you as a person, Michael? To pretend to love her... make love to her, a woman like that, when you were supposed to be in love with me? How can you expect anyone to trust you if you'll go to those extremes?"
Kidd's face was stricken with guilt and shame; he remembered again exactly how he'd felt.
Lou watched Kidd's face as emotions shifted across it. She had never considered this, she realized. She had never dreamed that Michael could have had a reason to do what he did. Her own experiences, with her father, with other men, had taught her that no man could be trusted. So when the evidence seemed so clear, she assumed he was as guilty as he had appeared. Worse, she had never given him a chance to tell his side.
"My God," she whispered. "Michael..." she stammered, helplessly. "You're telling the truth? You had to do it?"
He recognized the regret and pain in her voice; not able to trust his voice, he put his hand over hers and nodded. She shook her head. "I... I just thought you were like all the other men I knew... my dad and..." she trailed off; he knew what she meant. They sat hand in hand for a long moment, contemplating what they had both learned about each other, and themselves, tonight.
"We have a lot to talk about, Lou," Kidd finally said. "We have a child together, and I want some part in his life."
"What about your fiancée? You need to talk to her before we decide anything, Michael. I won't have my child visiting overnight with you unless I know she is going to be all right with that. And I want to meet her, first, too."
Kidd realized that for the last few hours, he had barely given a thought to his fiancée. Guiltily, he nodded. "I'll talk to her when I get home, I guess," he said, checking the time and getting up.
Lou walked him to the door, where he turned and looked down into Lou's eyes. "Lou, you're doing a wonderful job with Zach, I can tell that."
She blushed, looking up at Kidd's eyes, she found herself getting lost in their blueness, just like in the old days. Kidd moved toward her and, to her shock, enveloped her in his arms. Standing in his arms, Lou found herself relaxing; found her surroundings getting warm and blurry.
Time stood still for both of them; Kidd realized with a guilty start that his heart was racing, and he was having feelings for her again, feelings that he'd thought were long buried. He remembered his fiancée again, and gently stepped back from Louise.
"I'll talk to Samantha tonight, and we can get back to this a bit tomorrow, after we've both had a chance to think, okay?"
She nodded, and saying goodbye, he stepped out. Sighing helplessly, she put the chain on the door and walked shakily to her bedroom, where she finally broke down in lonely sobs.
She could still feel his arms around her, could still smell his scent. For as long as she knew him, he always used the same aftershave, and now that he held her close, she could not escape breathing in that masculine scent that was so him. Her already blurry mind took her to places down memory lane she always tried hard to keep behind.
Lou looked at him skeptically. "I thought you were joking," she answered.
"Why?" he seemed to be offended. "Is it so laughable?"
Her heart melted at the hurt in his eyes and she put a hand on his arm. "Michael, you can probably take any woman you want. I'm sure you can do better than me."
"Better than you?" he asked surprised. "I've never met a better woman than you."
Lou was about to make a sarcastic comment, when she saw the sincerity clear on his face. "Ok," she smiled. "I'll go with you to the party."
A couple of days later he picked her up in his blue Mustang convertible. He got out of the car and opened the passenger door for her, then closed it after she was settled.
He was such a gentleman the whole evening, opening doors for her, bringing her drinks, making sure she was comfortable.
At one point in the evening, he stood up and held a hand out to her. "May I have this dance?" he asked shyly.
"You may," she smiled at him.
They danced to a slow tune. He held her close, but not too close, and Lou thought she'd never felt so comfortable and secure before. It was like their bodies were created for each other.
As they continued dancing Lou grew more comfortable and rested her head against his chest. The scent of him brought such peace to her that at one point she felt her eyes closing and she almost fell asleep in his arms.
"I had a great time tonight," he told her as he followed her to her building's entrance.
"Me too," she answered, taking his hands in hers. "I'm glad you insisted."
He chuckled and leaned to kiss her cheek. When he pulled away he looked into her eyes. She was so lost in the blue of his eyes, that she never realized her hands were now resting on his chest as she rose on her tiptoes and kissed his mouth.
Their first kiss was tender at first, but soon filled with passion as he encircled her waist and pulled her towards him.
They broke the kiss panting.
"I... I should go..." she stumbled.
He nodded in understanding and released her. "Can I see you tomorrow?" he called before she disappeared inside the building.
Lou stopped and looked at him mischievously, she thought of saying something else, but the look of hope on his face stopped her and she merely nodded.
The smile that came to his face was priceless.
They spent the whole next day together. Michael picked her up in the morning and they went for a stroll on the beach, they had lunch and ice cream and Lou found herself enjoying her time with him even more than she thought she would.
They also shared a few more kisses, when he met her by his car, when they sat on the bench by the ocean... he was a great kisser.
When he brought her home, later that evening, she asked him to come up to her apartment. She knew it could be considered too fast, but she couldn't help herself. She already realized she was a goner. That man had captured her heart already, over the months they had worked together.
"Are you sure, Louise?" he asked, stopping her from entering.
She just nodded and led him into her apartment. As soon as the door closed she kissed him deeply, wanting him to know exactly what she had in mind.
"Louise, honey," he tried between kisses, "slow down a bit." He chuckled at the confused look on her face and kissed her forehead lightly.
Lou broke free from his embrace, suddenly very aware of her fast progress.
He noticed her change in demeanor and went to sit on the couch. "Nothing has to happen, Louise. I've got all the time in the world."
She smiled at him, he was such a gentleman, which only made her want him more. "Would you like some wine?"
"Sure," he replied.
"Maybe you can put some music on the stereo," she suggested.
She brought the wine to the living room and was pleased to hear his choice of music playing from the stereo.
She put the glasses on the coffee table and reached a hand to him. "May I have this dance?" she asked, mimicking his line from the previous night.
"You may," he chuckled, playing her game.
They danced for a couple of songs, clinging very close to each other. Lou pulled his head down and kissed him, her hands roaming his chest over his shirt. As she tugged at the buttons of his shirt, she felt his hands pull her blouse out of her skirt and slide up her back under the blouse. She'd thought her heart was going to beat out of control as he bent to pick her up, and carried her to her bed.
That night they made love for the first time, and the second and the third. They couldn't get enough of each other. They explored every inch of each other, with eyes, hands, mouths, even as they had secretly dreamed of doing through months of longing.
Lou opened her eyes with a start. It took her a couple of seconds to realize she was in her bed, alone. Her memory of making love with Michael was so vivid she could feel it, but she knew that it was possible only in her mind. Kidd was another woman's man now. She lost him because she was too insecure about his love for her.
She felt her heart break, much the same way as it did four years before, and she let out a sorrowful cry before her body started shaking with sobs.
Kidd sighed wearily as he opened the door to his new apartment and trudged in. He tripped over the unpacked boxes in the hallway and careened into a small table, knocking it over.
"You home, Sugar?" Samantha called.
He walked back into the dining room, where pajama-clad Samantha had set up a study area. She had law books piled around her along with written outlines.
"I must really love you, Michael, to study for a bar exam again. Good lord, I've forgotten so much. I don't know if I can pass the Virginia bar," she worried.
Kidd picked up a set of flash cards. "Adverse possession?" he asked.
Her beautiful eyes looked up at him worriedly. "Adverse possession. Don't tell me." She wailed, "I was a Federal prosecutor for five years, Michael. I don't remember adverse possession..."
Kidd gently reminded her, "OCEANS?"
She grinned. "Oh yeah! The possession must be Open and notorious; Continuous and uninterrupted; Exclusive; Actual; Non-permissive; and for the Statutory period!"
He tried to smile. "Good job, sweetheart."
She looked at him more closely. "What's wrong, baby?" she said, concerned. She got up and guided him to the living room, where she sat on his lap and rubbed his temples.
He looked down. "I told you my ex-fiancée was assigned to my team."
"I know. You said she put in for a transfer, so she'll be gone pretty soon, won't she?"
He stroked Samantha's back absently. "She won't be transferring now."
Samantha looked serious. "You mean you'll have to work with her every day?"
"It's more than that."
Confused, Samantha asked, "What do you mean?"
He took Samantha's hand. "I found out today that when Lou left me, she was pregnant. She has a three and a half year old son." He looked up at Samantha. "I'm the father."
Samantha stared a moment, and then jumped up, shaking her head.
"Samantha, I didn't know, I swear it."
She was standing with her back to him, hands on her hips. "So, what's this mean?" she asked. "Is she married? With anybody?"
"She has a boyfriend. He's part of the team too."
Samantha nodded. "What does she expect from you? Child support?"
Kidd looked stunned. "She... she hasn't said anything about that, but now that you mention it, I should give her something. She's provided for Zach all by herself up to now, I owe her some help."
"Michael, are you even sure he's yours?"
"Lou wouldn't have been unfaithful," Kidd said, wincing a little. That was more than he could say for himself. "Besides, he looks exactly like me."
"You've met him already? Where? At her house?"
Kidd shifted uncomfortably. "Yes. I went back there to talk to her and meet Zach."
"Was her boyfriend there?"
"No, Samantha, he wasn't. What are you getting at?" Kidd asked.
"Just that you were alone with a woman you've told me broke your heart, and who's the mother of your child," she said, her voice breaking a little on the last comment. She turned her face away. "She gave you your first son," she said, with a short sob.
"Samantha," he said, moving toward her. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry we won't share that together. But he is my son. I want to get to know him."
"So get to know him then."
Kidd looked down. "I was hoping we could have him here overnight, once he's ready. Lou wants to meet you first-"
Samantha whirled. "Oh, she does, does she? Wants to give me the once over, find out if I'm good enough to watch her child for her?"
"She's just trying to do what's right for Zach," Kidd started.
"Well, I won't have time to meet her, not for a while. Since I agreed to leave my job and follow you out here, I have to study for my exam if I plan to have a job. I can't spare the time to meet your ex-lover right now." She stormed back to her table and sat down, picking up her books and pretending to study. But Kidd saw that her eyes were blinded with tears.
"Samantha, please," he said, kneeling by her chair. "I know I've asked a lot of you, coming out here and starting over as a new lawyer out here. I know this is a terrible shock to you. But please, I need your support if I'm going to have a relationship with my son."
She looked at him, with that keen, intuitive appraisal that had made her one of the best junior prosecutors in Los Angeles. She could size up a defendant, a witness, a juror, with uncanny accuracy; and Kidd was an open book to her. "It isn't your relationship with him that worries me. It's your relationship with her."
Kidd went scarlet. "My relationship with her ended four years ago, when she ran out on me. And she has somebody of her own now. She seems crazy about him."
Under her direct gaze, Kidd dropped his eyes. Samantha sighed, rubbing her eyes. She saw that Kidd was lying, not to her but to himself. Wearily, she nodded. "Let's have all three of them over for dinner, then. Saturday night. I'll have something sent in, find out what Zach likes to eat and I'll get it for him. Okay?"
Kidd hesitantly nodded, thanking her and kissing her on the forehead. "You coming to bed?" he asked. She shook her head. "I want to finish this section first."
As Kidd headed in to bed, Samantha dropped her head on her hand. She would have some time to consider her options and figure out what she was going to do about this, by Saturday. She sighed, turning back to her books, but stared unseeing at the pages.
Theresa knocked on her sister's bedroom door. When she received no response, she opened the door and looked inside. Through the dim light she noticed Lou lying on her bed, still wearing her clothes from the previous night. She went to the window and opened the shades, lighting the room.
Lou tossed in bed, trying to shelter her eyes from the offending light. "Theresa, what the hell are you doing?" she cried. "Close the blinds."
"Lou, you have to get up. You'll be late for work."
"I'm not feeling very well," Lou mumbled. "I called in sick."
"It's because of Michael, isn't it?" Theresa wouldn't let it go. "You have to face him sooner or later, Lou. He's your supervisor now."
"Please, Theresa. I can't face him yet." Lou jumped off the bed and closed the blinds, staring at her sister angrily for a moment, before she sat on the bed tiredly. "Where's Zach?" she asked as she started undressing.
"I already took him to day care," Theresa answered. She opened the closet door and took off a suit for her sister, but was surprised, when she turned back towards the bed, to find her sister curled under the blanket, her clothes from the previous night scattered on the floor. She sighed and left the room, closing the door behind her.
She contemplated on whether or not she should but then decided it was the right thing to do. She returned to her sister's bedroom quietly and took the cellphone from the nightstand. When she was out of the room she went through the contact list. When she found the person she wanted the pressed the send button and waited.
"Are you okay? They said you called in sick today, what's the matter?" Jimmy asked immediately.
"Jimmy, it's Theresa," Theresa said, smiling to herself. Jimmy cared so much about her sister. Now she was certain she did the right thing by calling him.
"Theresa? What's wrong? Has something happened to Lou? To Zach?"
At hearing their names, Kidd was by Jimmy's side in an instant. "What's wrong?" he asked.
Jimmy motioned for him to hold.
"I'm not sure what it is, Jimmy, but Lou's really upset. She says she doesn't feel well and that she wants to stay in bed. It's not like her."
Jimmy nodded. "I'll be right there. Are you still at home? I don't have a key."
"Well, I really should get going. I have a class in half an hour. I'll leave a key for you under the rug."
"Ok. I'm on my way."
"What is it?" Kidd asked as Jimmy flipped his cell and started heading out.
"I'm not sure, but I'm taking the morning off and going to find out," Jimmy said, then a thought occurred to him and he turned abruptly, staring Kidd straight in the eyes. "Did you do anything to her last night?"
Kidd's face flushed with anger. "I'll pretend you didn't just ask me that, Officer Hickok. We had a talk and she was fine when I left her."
Jimmy felt like a fool. He should've known better than to accuse his supervisor of mistreating Lou. He didn't know him long, but it was obvious he was not that kind of a man. "I'm sorry, Kidd. I'm just worried about her."
Kidd's face softened. "Let me know if she's ok."
Jimmy nodded and went on his way.
Jimmy found the key Theresa left for him and let himself in the apartment. He went straight to the bedroom and opened the door silently. His heart softened at the sight of the woman he loved curled on the bed, her hands under her face.
He sat on the bed by her side and stroked her hair. She stirred and opened her eyes, blinking before she focused on him.
"What are you doing here?" she asked sleepily.
"Theresa called me, worried about you, so I came," he answered nonchalantly.
Lou sat, forgetting to pull the blanket around her, revealing her bare breasts. Though it wasn't the first time he saw her naked body, Jimmy felt a little uncomfortable.
She noticed his flushed face and averted gaze and grabbed a shirt that was scattered on the bed beside her, muttering, "it's not like you hadn't seen them before."
"What's going on, Lou?" he ignored her snide remark.
"I think I had a little too much to drink last night," she answered.
"That's the understatement of the century, Lou. You had a lot to drink last night. Well, by your standards anyway. You know you can't handle that much to drink, that fast. What's got into you?"
Lou blushed as she remembered her shameful behavior from the night before. "I really made a fool of myself, didn't I?"
Jimmy pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. "No more than usual," he tried to joke. "What triggered it?"
Lou shrugged and pulled away. "It doesn't matter anymore," she said, getting up.
He put his hands on her hips and looked in her eyes. "Do you want to tell me about last night?"
"You mean about Michael?"
Jimmy nodded and Lou sighed and sat on the bed by his side. He took her hand in his, wanting her to know that no matter what, he'd be there for her.
"Well, I told you already that he's Zach's father, and you know that he found out about it last night." She took a deep breath before she continued. "We were involved for a couple of years and, as I told you, we were engaged. One day I found out he cheated on me, or at least I thought he did. I left him the same day, never gave him a chance to explain. I was two months pregnant by then, but didn't have a chance to tell him about the baby."
Tears were falling freely from her eyes, and Jimmy tried to wipe them, but she moved her face out of his reach. "Last night I found out I was wrong."
"He didn't cheat on you?"
Jimmy looked baffled. "What is 'not exactly' cheating?"
She sighed. "He was on an assignment, undercover. I went into the surveillance room to wait for a chance to make contact. I saw him with another woman."
"That sounds like cheating, Lou."
"That's what I thought. I saw the evidence with my own eyes... and I didn't want to deal with it. I just left him without a word."
"So what did you find out last night that you were wrong about?"
She looked down. "I found out he had to do it. He was trying to infiltrate a terrorist cell, and was running out of time. They planned to bomb a major target and he needed to get in on the operation that day, or it would be too late." She wrung her hands. "I assumed the worst even though I should have known him better than that."
"You couldn't have known that, Lou."
"But I could have stayed and faced him, instead of running away like a coward."
He took her hand again. "Why didn't you, Lou?" he asked quietly.
Lou shook her head. "There are things you don't know about me, Jimmy. Because of my past, I don't know how to trust men." She picked at Jimmy's sleeve, continuing, "My father cheated on my mother, beat her and us kids, before he ran out on us when I was twelve, leaving us with nothing but debts. My first real boyfriend, Lyle, was an older man who abused me, cheated on me, made me feel worthless." Breaking off, Lou hid her face in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably.
Jimmy pulled her into his embrace, heedless to her attempts to break free. He rocked her until her sobs subsided. His voice was choked a little, when he said wryly, "That just doesn't sound like you, Lou. I can't picture you letting anybody treat you that way."
She sniffled. "I decided after I got free from Lyle Wicks, I wasn't going to let any man hurt me again. I went through the training for the CIA and NCS, and learned how to stand up for myself. But deep down, I still feel worthless. Like nobody could really love me."
He kissed her head, then her eyes and nose. He kissed her mouth tenderly at first, then deepened the kiss.
Lou allowed herself to get lost in the kiss for a moment, before she pushed herself from Jimmy's embrace and walked across the room.
"Stop it," she snapped at him. "Don't you understand what I'm saying? I'm damaged, Jimmy. I can't trust men. The only man who ever really loved me, I pushed away because I just was afraid of getting hurt and abused again."
Jimmy couldn't bear to hear her say that; Doesn't she know how much I love her?. "Lou, come here," Jimmy said calmly, reaching out his hand to her. "Come here."
Lou looked at him. "What are you doing here, Jimmy?" she asked him again, standing in front of him, too far for his arm to reach her.
"I told you, Lou. I was worried about you."
"Why?" she questioned.
"What do you mean, Why?" he stood up, having to remind himself to remain calm. "Lou, you're my best friend," he moved closer to her, slowly so she won't back away. When he was close enough he quickly reached and pulled her into her arms. "What do you want me to say, Lou? wouldn't you be worried if you were me?"
Lou looked into his eyes and saw the truth in them. She always knew he loved her, but the raw emotions in his eyes startled her. "Jimmy," she started. "I can't love. Not truly love. I can't trust anyone. Not when it counts. I don't deserve anyone loving me."
"Oh, God, Lou. You are so wrong," Jimmy started. "You are the most amazing woman I've ever met. I don't think you're damaged, Lou. Maybe you made a mistake with Kidd, but it doesn't mean you're ruined. Everyone makes mistakes, regardless of their past; and there's no way you could have guessed the truth. You're being too hard on yourself."
He kissed her forehead before he pulled her head to rest against his chest, not wanting her to see the hope and fear in his eyes when he said what he was about to. "You are a loving and compassionate woman. You are my best friend, Lou. You are a wonderful person, a great mother, not to mention someone I trust completely to have my back anytime."
On an impulse he cradled her cheeks and lifted her face to his and kissed her more passionately than he'd ever kissed her before. When he pulled back, they were both breathless.
"You're wrong when you say Kidd was the only person who could love you. I love you with all my heart," Jimmy confessed simply. "I know you don't feel the same, Lou, but it doesn't change how I feel for you. I love you and there's nothing you say, no matter how hard you'd be on yourself, to change that. I'm here for you, whatever it is that you need." His eyes saddened just a little as he finished, "I... I know all you might be able to give me is 'best friends with benefits', but I stay around because that's better than nothing. I just wanted you to know you do deserve love and that I love you."
Lou caught her breath. "Jimmy," she stammered. "You... you know you're more than just that to me. A lot more." She felt her head swimming. I love him so much as a person. He's my best friend. We have everything in common. Our chemistry is incredible. So what's the problem? Am I just so screwed up that I can't see love when it's right there? she puzzled. "I don't know why I hold back with you. I don't know what's wrong with me, but I know I need you, and I want to have something more with you," she struggled to explain. His face lit up with hope, adding to her confusion. "Make love to me," she whispered, hoping to lose herself in him just for the time being.
Lou impulsively reached her hand and pulled his lips to hers again. She kissed him deeply and backed towards the bed. She fell back on the bed, pulling him with her. Jimmy laced his fingers in her hair and started kissing her neck, drawing a moan of pleasure from her. The sound brought him to his senses and he pulled away, bracing himself on his arms.
"I don't think we should do it now, Lou," he panted. "I don't have any protection."
Her eyes clouded with tears again. "You don't want me?"
"What? Lou, there's nothing I want more than to make love to you, but I don't think it's what you really want right now. I don't want you to hate me later for taking advantage of you when you don't feel like yourself."
Lou sat and cupped his face in her hands. "This is what I want," she insisted. "Make love to me, Jimmy, please."
He hesitated just a moment longer, looking into her pleading eyes. "You're sure? You don't want to think about this or wait until we can get protection?"
"If you want to wait, I will. But I don't," she whispered. "I don't want to hold anything back anymore."
Jimmy bit his lip. She wanted to really make love, no matter the consequences, for the first time. It looked like love shining out of her eyes... or was it just need and want? His heart wanted to believe it was love, wanted it so much he chose to believe it, and he caught her up in his arms, kissing her over and over while backing her onto the bed again.
Lou was overwhelmed by the look in his eyes; his face was shining with newly confessed love, taking her breath away. He bent down to kiss her again, his mouth soft and tender, his hands on either side of her face, stroking her hair. Her mind was swirling with emotions. She wanted to love him. She should love him, he deserved her love, he loved her so. It would be right to love him. She did love him, she did, she kept thinking it over and over, wanting it to be true, thinking it to herself.
The crashing waves of pleasure ripped through her, and she called his name out... and something else. "I love you," she moaned.
Lou turned the faucet in her shower, and pulled the knob to turn on the showerhead. The water came rushing out and over her, and she stood, dazed and confused, under it. She mechanically reached for her soap, washing without thinking about what she was doing. Jimmy was in love with her, really in love. She knew she loved him as a person; and that she got along better with him than she had even with Michael. They never really fought. They liked all the same things. What's more, he was her dearest friend. So what was wrong? She leaned her head against the shower stall. If she hadn't ever known Michael, she knew she would think she was in heaven now, with a man like Jimmy in her life, who she cared so much about and who made her feel like this. But... why? Why was something different? It occurred to her, faintly, that somehow it was different because Michael... Michael was part of her heart, somehow. Like they were two halves of one person... and senseless as that might be, she couldn't shake that feeling. And she couldn't make herself feel that way about Jimmy, much as she cared for and needed and wanted him. That one indefinable thing was missing. But she couldn't imagine her life without Jimmy, either... and now...
Jimmy tapped on the glass door. "Got room for one more in there?" She shook off the thoughts of Kidd; he was her past, and she needed to put him out of her mind and heart. She needed to focus on Jimmy. She was being a romantic idiot, and if she tried to forget all this silly romantic nonsense about soul mates, she could have a wonderful life with Jimmy.
"Get in here, partner," she said seductively, and he grinned, stepping into the stall with her.
He reached around her for the soap, and they stood together under the hot water, enjoying the closeness and familiarity. Jimmy was happier than he had ever been in his life, watching her, treasuring the words she had finally said to him. She loved him.
Overcome with love for her, he turned her to face him and held her close. "Is it me or is it even more incredible now that we... well, now that we've said how we feel?" he said, stroking her wet hair. "Yes..." she whispered; it was true, she realized. Something was different now, but... would she be able to force Michael's memory from her mind and make this work? Looking up at Jimmy's handsome, loving face gazing down at her, she made up her mind. She was going to make Jimmy happy. She was going to make this happen, and she was going to forget. She had to, she thought determinedly. She had hurt Michael and then lost him; he was never going to be hers again. She would never, never hurt Jimmy that way. Never.
Lou and Jimmy decided to head to work after lunch, feeling bad for not pulling their weight. They entered the building hand in hand, after deciding on the way to work that it was pointless to try and keep their relationship discreet any longer, especially after the way Lou behaved the previous night.
Lou blushed scarlet when Jimmy reminded her of their making out in front of all their friends, which made him laugh and pull her towards him for an embrace.
Jimmy, on his part, still couldn't believe the luck he had. He had loved Lou for almost three years, almost from the first mission they went on together as partners. He didn't know much of her past, but figured she must have been seriously involved with someone, with whom she created that amazing child he loved like his own.
All conversation stopped when the couple entered their unit's room.
"Now, what do we have here?" Cody was the first to come to his senses.
"Good," Buck exhaled loudly. "Now we don't have to play dumb anymore."
"You told them?" Lou looked accusingly at Noah.
Noah burst out laughing. "Lou, honey," he started, putting an arm around her shoulders. "We all figured you out a couple of years ago. Seeing you kissing in the park the other day, or... more than kissing in the club last night, added nothing to what we already knew."
Lou blushed again at the mention of the previous night. Jimmy, feeling her discomfort, rushed to her side. "Ok, so you had your fun now, but if you already knew, then nothing's changed. So bring us up to speed about what's going on."
Kidd tapped on his desk impatiently. He'd buzzed for Lou and Jimmy to come in to his office several minutes ago, as soon as he'd been told they had come back in after lunch, to finish the workday. Finally, just before he went to go look for them, the door to his office opened and they came in.
"You wanted to see us both?" Jimmy asked, awkwardly.
"I see you're feeling better, Lou," Kidd mentioned, glancing her up and down.
"Yes. I guess I was just a little under the weather after last night, is all. Sorry."
Kidd shrugged. "I checked both your files finally. I don't see that attendance is much of a problem, so I'm sure you won't make a habit of it."
"So what did you want to talk to both of us about?" Lou sighed.
"Two things. One I hope you won't mind, one I think you might, unfortunately."
Jimmy crossed his arms. "Go ahead."
"Well, I guess you two are a couple, from what I saw last night, true?" Kidd asked, embarrassed.
Jimmy ducked his head, glowering. Eyes narrowed, he growled, "And what business is it of yours what we are?"
Lou put her hand on Jimmy's arm, quickly.
"It's my business because I'm your superior officer, Hickok. And it's against regulations for you two to be partnered up if you're romantically involved. You must know that."
Lou looked alarmed at Jimmy. "Michael, what goes on in our personal life has nothing to do with the job, honestly. Please don't -"
Kidd shook his head. "No. If you two are in a situation on an operation, you'll be too inclined to think with your hearts, not your heads. You can't be emotionally involved."
Lou snapped, "You certainly were able to keep your personal life out of your job, weren't you?"
Jimmy cut in, before Kidd could retort. "That's fine, Officer. If it got out that you knew about it and looked the other way, I suppose it would be your head on the chopping block. Besides, you're right." He looked at Lou, a softened look in his eyes. "If it came down to the job or you, I would pick you any time."
Lou bit her lip, casting her eyes down. She nodded, defeated.
"What was the other thing, Officer Kidd?" Jimmy asked coolly.
"Well, Samantha and I thought it would be a good idea if we all got to know each other. She'd like to have all three of you over for dinner Saturday, say around 5:00?"
Jimmy looked at Lou, who shrugged. "That'll be fine."
"She wanted to know what Zach likes to eat," Kidd said awkwardly.
"Pizza's his favorite," mumbled Lou. "He eats most things though. He's easy to please."
"Okay, then," Kidd said. "Maybe you can speak to the others about switching partners today?"
Kidd got up from behind his desk, looking down a moment. "I hope you know I'm not doing this out of spite. And it's not easy for me, but I think it's for the best. I... I really want all of us to work well together, both here and with Zach. I'm sorry to get off on this kind of start, and hope we can go up from here."
"I hope so, Michael," Lou said; she was dying to get out of this office as soon as possible.
Kidd looked at her, then sighed. "That'll be all, then."
Walking back to their desks, Jimmy lightly punched Lou in the arm. "Look on the bright side," he said, trying to catch her eye. "At least we don't have to hide anymore."
"I guess so. But we worked so well together. We hardly need to talk to know what the other's thinking. And we had our setup down pat for this next undercover job, at the embassy ball."
Jimmy nodded. "That's true; I was looking forward to that one. Very James Bond-ish, not like the boring stuff we usually get stuck with. Wonder which one of us will get stuck in the van now?"
"Don't know, the whole operation is going to have to be reworked now. Damn it. We were such great partners."
He waited until a passerby turned a corner, then in a swift movement pinned her against the wall, pressed up against her, and kissed her hungrily, one hand in her shoulder-length dark hair, the other resting lightly on her breast. "We still will be great partners," he whispered huskily.
She grinned and nodded. "Sure thing, partner," she replied, kissing back.
"What's with the long faces?" Noah chuckled as the couple returned to the squad room.
Lou sat dejectedly in her chair, and put her legs on the desk.
Jimmy smiled lovingly at her, then turned serious. "Kidd told us we have to stop being partners."
"What? Why?" Cody asked.
"Because they're a couple and that's regulation," Buck sighed.
"But Teaspoon probably knew about the two of you for ages, just like we did, and he never said anything," Ike questioned.
Jimmy shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you. I know why he did it, I just don't understand it." He darted a gaze at Lou, checking if she was listening or not. "It feels spiteful," he said in a lower tone.
"What do you mean?" Noah asked.
"He means that Michael has an ulterior motive," Lou piped up, not changing her position by her desk.
"'Michael', uh?" Cody grinned. "Jimmy, did you know your girlfriend and the new boss are on first name basis?"
"Shut up, Cody," both Jimmy and Lou called.
Lou took her legs off the desk and came to where the boys sat not far away. There was no free chair, so she gratefully accepted Jimmy's offered knee. She sighed deeply before she continued.
"I know Michael from LA. We were partners on the job for a year, before we got too involved and we had to be assigned to different units."
"Involved how?" Cody needed more clarification.
"We were lovers, Cody," Lou blurted, exasperated. "We were engaged for a few weeks, but then something happened and I left him. I was expecting when I left, but I never told him."
"He's Zach's father?" Buck asked, though the answer was clear.
Lou nodded. "He only found out last night..."
"After Cody here opened his big mouth," Jimmy said, glaring at Cody.
"I'm sorry," Cody apologized. "How was I supposed to know it was a secret?"
"You weren't, Cody," Lou patted his knee. "It's ok. Actually I'm glad he finally knows. I thought of transferring so he wouldn't find out, but I'm glad I don't have to anymore."
"You were leaving?" Ike asked.
Lou nodded. "But I'm not anymore. Actually, I should probably go to talk to Teaspoon, ask him to withdraw the request." She rose, gave Jimmy a quick peck on the cheek and left.
The men all went to go about their business, but Noah approached Jimmy.
"How are you feeling about all this?" he asked his best friend.
Jimmy shrugged. "I always knew Zach had a father somewhere."
"Yeah, but now that he's here, your boss..."
"What do you want me to say, Noah? Of course I don't like it. I love that boy like he was my own." He looked down. "I hoped someday I'd marry Lou, adopt him legally, but that can't happen, now that Kidd's back in the picture."
"How 'in the picture' is he?" Noah asked, the concern evident in his voice.
"He has a beautiful fiancée," Jimmy pointed out. He looked sheepish and pleased, as he confided in Noah, "and today, Lou finally told me she loves me. I hope it's enough."
Noah nodded and squeezed Jimmy's shoulder. "I hope you're right."
Later that day Kidd approached Lou when he spotted her by herself at the kitchen area. "Hey." He greeted.
"Hey yourself," she answered, still a little upset about his decision to break her partnership with Jimmy.
He sighed and leaned against the counter. "Lou, I don't want to fight with you. I thought we reached some kind of understanding last night."
"We have, Michael," she said quietly. "I'm sorry, I still don't fully understand why you had to break Jimmy and me apart, but Jimmy seems to understand it, so I guess it's okay."
"Like I said, Lou, I didn't do it out of spite. Even when we were together we had to split and serve in different units."
Lou nodded, getting away and returning to her work area, unwelcome memories assaulting her as she walked.
Kidd and Lou exchanged looks before they headed into their supervisor's office.
"Have a seat," Sam offered as he sat behind his desk. He smiled at the young couple before him. They reminded him so much of himself and his wife, Emma, when they were their age. "Look, I want you to know that I personally don't have a problem with the fact that you are romantically involved," he started, smiling as he watched the two shifting in their seats uncomfortably. "The thing is, my superiors feel your relationship might become a distraction to you and the rest of your team."
"What?" Kidd cried out, standing up. "Sam, we never gave anyone a reason to feel distracted or uncomfortable."
"Kidd, sit down," Sam said calmly. "Like I said, I don't have a problem with the two of you as a couple, and so far your relationship hasn't been a liability, but I understand what my superiors are afraid of. I am sorry, but I have to break your partnership on the job."
"So, how's it going to happen?" Lou asked, taking a hold of Kidd's hand.
"Well, there's a new team in the planning, and we're changing the personnel within our team as well. For the time being, Lou, you'd be partnered with Josh, Kidd, you'd be partnered with Gregg."
"Is this final, Sam?" Kidd asked one more time, hoping he'd have a way to change Sam's decision.
"I'm afraid so, Kidd," Sam answered. "I'll call the rest of your team in half an hour and let everyone know." He rose, motioning that the conversation was finished.
The couple rose to their feet, their hands clasped together. They left Sam's office and Lou pulled Kidd to a secluded corridor. She wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face in his chest.
"I don't want to partner with Josh," she pouted. "I like working with you."
Kidd hugged her back and kissed her head. "I know, baby, me too, but you heard Sam, and I know it's not what you want to hear, but I can understand this."
Lou looked up in his eyes, feeling betrayed.
Kidd laughed at her face and kissed her lips lightly. "Besides, this way we'll miss each other more. Who knows, maybe it will be good for us..."
Lou leaned against the wall outside their work area. How wrong Michael had been... how much pain had resulted from that decision. She sighed and carried her coffee cup into the work area to make up for time lost that morning.
The intercom in Kidd's apartment buzzed, and he held down the button. "Who is it?"
"It's me and Jimmy, Michael. And Zach," came the answer through the intercom.
Kidd pushed the button to open the front door. "Come on up," he said.
Kidd turned nervously to Samantha. "They're here," he said. Samantha nodded, and put her apron on. "Everything's ready," she said calmly. Kidd looked at his fiancée. She was looking effortlessly beautiful as always, with long curly dark hair pulled into a loose ponytail. She had on jeans and a blue high-necked sweater. Yet she looked like she had stepped out of a fashion magazine, though she had been fussing in the kitchen all afternoon.
The doorbell rang and Kidd opened it. Jimmy and Lou stood outside, Zach between them carrying a bakery box. "Hello, Jimmy, Lou. Zach," Kidd said, trying not to seem too nervous when talking to his son.
"I brought cake!" Zach said proudly, holding it out. Samantha, coming up behind Kidd, took his arm and smiled at the group graciously.
"Well you must be Zach! I'm Samantha. Did you say that's cake?"
Zach, charmed by the pretty woman, nodded shyly.
"Well, that's just wonderful, because I love cake," she said confidentially. Lou, looking Samantha over, doubted Samantha indulged in cake often. But she kept her mouth shut and smiled.
"Nice to meet you, Lou, Jimmy. Come in, please," Samantha said smoothly.
They moved into the apartment, and Samantha suggested they go into the kitchen. "Can I get you two a drink before dinner? You look like a beer man, Jimmy, am I right?"
"Been known to have one now and then," Jimmy said.
"Well, there's plenty in the fridge, just make yourself at home. Lou, what can I get you and Zach?" She moved closer to Lou, whispering, "I have bottled water, chocolate milk and regular, and apple juice. If he doesn't like those, I can run down to the bodega and get something else."
"Thanks, Samantha. He drinks water between meals, milk with his dinner. I'll get him some," she offered. "Is there anything I can do to help you with dinner?"
"Well, we're all going to be doing that. Zach, how would you like to make pizzas tonight?" Samantha said.
"Yeah!" Zach enthused.
"Well, let's all sit down and make pizzas then," Samantha said, bringing out pre-baked pizza shells and placing them at the ready.
"Uncle Jimmy, you sit next to me," Zach ordered. "Mama on the other side."
Samantha and Kidd sat on the other side of the table, and Samantha removed her rings and put them in her pocket as they began assembling pizzas.
The five sat companionably around the table, making pizzas and small talk. Samantha subtly observed Jimmy and Lou. She noted that Jimmy was handsome, and had a rugged kind of sex appeal that was palpable. He adored Lou, Samantha saw at a glance. Turning her eyes on Lou, Samantha found herself a little baffled, which was unusual for her. There was a wall there... a set of defenses... but exactly what lay behind that Samantha couldn't immediately discern. Lou was small-boned and delicate looking, with beautiful skin, wide, doe-like eyes, and shoulder-length straight hair. But Samantha detected both strength and vulnerability there.
Zach asked, "How come you took off your rings, Samantha?"
Spreading sauce on her pizza, Samantha smiled. "Because with all these toppings and things, it could get messy, Zach."
"Can I see your rings?" Zach asked.
"Sure, if you want," Samantha said. She handed two rings across the table to Zach. One was a large engagement ring; the other was a gold ring with a letter V and a letter C imprinted on top of each other.
"What's this?" Zach said. "VC?"
"Vassar College," Samantha replied. "Where I went to college."
"This one? It's pretty," he persisted, pointing to the diamond.
Samantha said, "Oh, that's a ring Michael gave me."
"Look, Mommy. Isn't it pretty?" Zach handed it to Lou, who sat with it in her hand a moment before nodding, whispering "yes," and glancing up at Kidd briefly.
Kidd caught his breath, just a moment. She'd looked like that when... when I proposed to her... His mind went back five years to a warm night in Paris, when they had met up after completing different missions. He'd taken her for a walk along the Seine, and it had started raining, but they'd been so lost in love they didn't mind. They'd kissed in the rain, leaning against a lamp post, and he'd slipped the ring into her hand. She'd looked up with those impossibly big eyes, and whispered her answer. He'd slipped the ring onto her finger, and they'd melted together as the rain streamed down over their faces. Kidd's heart constricted as he remembered how happy he had been at that moment. He'd left for the U.S. on another mission the next morning, after making love to her for hours at their hotel in Paris, and kissing her sleepy face goodbye the next morning. He'd never seen her again until the other day in the office. And he'd never been that happy again, he realized.
Samantha slipped the ring back on her finger. Lou's and Kidd's expressions hadn't escaped her notice, but she gave no sign of it. Brightly, she said, "OK, is everybody done decorating their pizzas?"
"Well, it's been a nice evening, but I'd better get Zach home," Lou said, as the clock struck ten. "It's way past his bedtime."
Samantha looked at Kidd, then said quickly, "Zach, would you like to come into my room for a minute? Michael and I had a few books that we wanted to give you to take home, but we forgot about it in all the fun." She took the boy by the hand and led him into the back room.
Kidd looked after them, then turned to Jimmy and Lou. "It was a nice evening. I hope you see Zach will be fine coming over here... and I hope we can decide when to tell him I'm his dad soon."
Lou hesitated. "Samantha seems really good with him," she said. "It's... it's very hard for me to..." she swallowed hard.
"I understand how you must feel, Lou, and I'm willing to be reasonable. But... let's try to work something out soon. Maybe right after this next mission?"
Lou nodded. "Have you given any thought on how to reconfigure that, now that... now that Jimmy and I can't be partnered in the field anymore?"
"I figure the easiest way is to bring in another female agent to replace you, Lou, and put you in the van on surveillance."
Lou sighed. "Who do you have in mind?"
"Rosemary Burke is supposed to be really good, how do you feel about partnering with her for this mission, Jimmy?"
"Fine," said Jimmy, looking at Lou nervously. She raised an eyebrow. Rosemary and Jimmy had a history too; Jimmy had been quite a ladies' man before becoming involved with Lou. "If she's okay with it, that is."
"I'll set it up, then," Kidd said. "Thanks for coming tonight," he added, as Samantha came back in with Zach, carrying two new picture books.
Jimmy drove his car, sneaking glances at the woman beside him. He knew the night was hard on her, and the thought of having to share her son was very hard for her.
"That Samantha seems to be okay, at least," Jimmy started, attempting to make a conversation.
"I guess," Lou shrugged.
"I like her," Zach piped up from his chair at the back seat, "she's beautiful."
Lou's face fell even more at her own child's genuine comment.
"She's not half as beautiful as you," Jimmy said, squeezing her thigh affectionately.
"Mama, did you see the ring Michael gave her?" Zach asked, oblivious to the discomfort his question caused Lou.
"Yes, honey, I did."
"When I'm big enough I'll buy you a ring just like that," the child said determinedly.
Tears sprung into Lou's eyes and she shared a tender look with Jimmy.
They reached Lou's building and Jimmy stopped the car by the sidewalk.
"Aren't you coming up?" Lou asked surprised. Since they declared their love, they had spent every night together.
"I'm kinda tired tonight, Lou," he said sheepishly.
"We don't have to... you know..." she said awkwardly, glancing behind at Zach. "I would just like to spend the night with you."
Jimmy watched her, his heart bursting with love for her. "Tell you what," he started after a moment. "You go up and I'll just go to my place to grab a change of clothes for tomorrow. I'll be back in forty minutes."
Lou nodded and pulled her set of keys from her pocket. She took off one of the keys and handed it to Jimmy. "Here, take this," she said, averting her eyes from his. "Um, you can keep it."
Jimmy let out a short hearty laugh. "Hey, Lou, slow down. Next thing you'll find yourself asking me to move in."
"Yes," Zach cheered from the back. "Uncle Jimmy's moving in with us."
Lou darted a small glance at him and saw he was not mocking her but, in fact, hoping she would. "Well, maybe you should," she said with a mischievous smile.
"You're not joking, are you?" Jimmy asked hopefully.
Lou leaned and kissed him softly on his lips. "No," she answered, "I'm not joking. I would like it if you'd move in with us."
Jimmy pulled her to him and kissed her passionately. "I'll grab some things from my place now and come over. We'll get the rest of my stuff later."
Lou nodded and opened her door. "I'll see you in forty minutes then," she said as she got out of the car.
Lou opened the door to her apartment and let Kidd in. He stepped into the living room and looked around awkwardly.
"Glad you're finally here, that must have been some accident you got caught behind," Lou said nervously. "You're over half an hour late."
Kidd's eyes fell on some taped cardboard boxes in the corner. "Packing up?" he asked suspiciously.
"No," sighed Lou. "They're Jimmy's. He's moving in. And I'm expecting him any minute, so let's get Zach if you want to tell him before Jimmy gets back."
Kidd turned quickly as Lou left the room to get Zach, hoping she didn't notice his pained reaction. Jimmy was moving in, taking his place in Lou's life, their son's life. He felt a pang of resentment, but then realized. He didn't deserve any better. He'd hurt Lou terribly, and worse, he hadn't fought for her. Maybe if he had tried, things would have turned out different.
Looking idly over Lou's bookshelves, he remembered how he'd felt when he came back from that God-awful assignment when he'd used sex to get information. He'd never felt so low in his life, even though the operation was a success as a result. He'd been dreading facing her, having to tell her what he'd had to lower himself to do... tell her he'd given himself to someone else, for whatever reason. He didn't know if she could forgive him for that. But he knew he could never look in her honest brown eyes and lie about it. He'd come in to their apartment and found she'd removed all traces of herself from the apartment. All but her engagement ring, left carefully in the middle of the coffee table. No note, no explanation, nothing.
He had made a half-hearted effort to find her, of course. He'd called her mother, a lovely woman who'd always seemed to like him before; but she had coldly told him that Louise had moved away and wanted nothing to do with him again. He checked with some of her friends; none could or would tell him where she was. But he dropped it at that. Certainly, if he'd made a serious effort, he might have found her... the agency's resources would have made that possible, if he'd chosen to look into it. She'd kept working for the agency in another state; he never even tried to find out if she had left the agency entirely or just relocated.
Why hadn't he looked harder? At the time, he believed she had decided she didn't love him after all, and had just taken off. Feeling as low as he did about himself at that time, he couldn't picture tracking her down, when she clearly wanted nothing to do with him... and then have to tell her what he had done to top it off. If only he had fought for her, he thought. If only, then he might be living with Lou and their child now.
As he stood staring blindly at her bookshelves, lost in regrets, Lou cleared her throat behind him. He turned and smiled at his little boy. "Hi Zach," he said.
Zach nodded back, "Hello, Michael." He looked at his mother and Kidd, with their serious faces, and a worried pucker formed between his eyes. Lou tried to look lighthearted to reassure him.
"Sit down, Zachy. We have something really cool to tell you," she said brightly.
The boy sat on the couch, sneakered feet sticking out in front of him. He looked uncertainly between Kidd, seated on his left, and Lou on his right.
"You know how I told you about your dad, in California?" she asked carefully. Zach nodded. "Well, Zach, Michael is your dad. And he's moved here to Washington and... and he's going to be getting to know you. Isn't that exciting?"
Kidd looked hopefully at Zach, who looked dubiously at him. "Okay," Zach said.
Lou looked a little awkwardly at Kidd. "Well, Zach, do you have any questions or... or anything?"
Kidd fumbled for something to say. "Well, I was hoping maybe you might like to call me Dad, now that... now that..." he trailed off, uncertain.
"Okay, I'll call you Dad." The boy seemed to lose interest in the conversation; and at that moment, the door opened and someone came in the apartment.
"Uncle Jimmy's here! He's here!" Zach shrieked, jumping down and running to the hall. In a mirror on the living room wall, Lou and Kidd could see Jimmy bending to catch the boy in his arms and rise up to throw him in the air.
"There's my buddy!" Jimmy laughed. "How ya doin' roomie?"
Zach chortled with excitement, clinging to Jimmy. "I'm great, Uncle Jimmy! Are you going to be here all the time now?"
"I'm all moved in, buddy. This is the last of it. And I got you something since this is a special day. Movin' in day." Jimmy produced a child-sized Redskins jersey. "Try it on, buddy," he said affectionately.
"It's just like yours, Uncle Jimmy! Like you wore when we went to see the game! Can we go again and I can wear mine too?"
Jimmy laughed. "You bet, pal. I got season passes for us and your mom all set, soon as the season starts up."
The little boy cheered, excitedly, and Jimmy lifted him on his shoulders to carry him in.
Reaching the entrance to the living room, Jimmy paused, awkwardly, at the sight of Kidd.
"Look at us, Mama! We match!" Zach shouted.
Jimmy shifted uncomfortably. "Am I early?" he said awkwardly.
"No, Jimmy. But I guess you have some unpacking to do... and I'd be glad to help. Maybe Zach would like to go to the park with... with Daddy, and have dinner and ice cream after?" Lou suggested.
"Can you and Uncle Jimmy come too?" Zach asked.
"Not this time, honey," Lou said firmly. "You and - and Dad go on ahead."
Kidd took Zach's hand and looked at Lou gratefully. The two went out the door, and Lou turned to Jimmy.
"Well, that's that," she said, hurriedly.
"You okay?" Jimmy asked.
Lou nodded, but Jimmy pulled her into his arms. "You sure?"
She rested her head on Jimmy's chest, sighing. "I'll have to be. This is how it's going to be, I guess." She pulled away and went into the kitchen. Jimmy headed to the shower, and soon she heard the water running.
Turning to the sink, she sighed. Jimmy wasn't much of a housekeeper. In fact, at his own place he had a maid who came in three days a week to clean up after him, and sent out his laundry. Lou noticed that he had only been here two days and already had started piling glasses and dishes in the sink as if he expected a maid to come and clean up after him here as well. She looked grimly at them, and resolved to have a little talk with Mr. Hickok about this. As she tended to the dishes, she heard the water stop and went to the hallway to mention it to him. She caught her breath at the sight of him walking from the bathroom to the bedroom, a towel hung low... very low, on his hips. She reflected as she stood staring after him, that there were certainly plenty of benefits to having Jimmy around. She'd be patient about the messes... and maybe it would be a good idea to have some help around the house like Jimmy did. Tossing the dishtowel onto the table behind her, she raced into the bedroom behind Jimmy, and surprised him by snatching the towel from him mischievously.
"That's better," she chortled, running and jumping onto and over the bed in an effort to keep the towel out of his reach. He cut her off as she rounded the bed and wrestled her playfully to the bed.
"Say Uncle!! Uncle Jimmy!! Say it!" he said, pinning her down. She shook her head, helpless with laughter as he tickled her. He leaned down and kissed her, deliberately. Lou lifted her hand and stroked his damp face. The moment was broken when the front door opened again and shut.
"Theresa," Lou whispered, and Jimmy, still naked as a jaybird, jumped off frantically. Lou went to the open bedroom door, shutting it behind her.
"Hi, Theresa," Lou said, as Theresa placed her knapsack on the table. "How was school today?"
"Fine," Theresa said. "Get caught in the rain?"
Lou looked down at her damp clothes.
"Never mind," grinned Theresa. She flung herself into a recliner and clicked on the television. Jimmy came out of the bedroom dressed in sweat pants and a T-shirt. "Hey, Theresa," he said. She nodded back, "Hi Jimmy."
Lou had seated herself on the couch, and Jimmy spread out on the couch beside her, resting his head on her lap comfortably. Lou absently ran her fingers through Jimmy's hair as they watched the news. Looking over at them, Theresa rolled her eyes and got up. "I'm going to my room," she said.
"Okay," Jimmy said absently, still watching CNN. But Lou tapped Jimmy to let her up and followed Theresa to her room.
Standing in the doorway, Lou paused a minute. "Theresa, is something wrong?"
"Nothing. It's your apartment after all, you're entitled to do what you want in it."
Lou looked down. "Theresa..." she came into the room and shut the door. "I know I invited Jimmy to live here kind of spur of the moment, and I should have consulted you first. This is your home too; but I thought you liked Jimmy," she said anxiously.
Theresa looked up guiltily. "I do, Lou. You two have been going together for three years, for heaven's sake. I'm 18 years old, in college. There's no reason you shouldn't have a life of your own after all you've been through, all you've done for me. I... I think that maybe I should move on and grow up a little too. I'd still be glad to help you with Zach whenever you need me to, but maybe I should think about moving to the dorms next semester."
"Is that what you want? Because I can talk to Jimmy if there's something we're doing that makes you uncomfortable -"
Theresa shook her head. "It's not that, Lou. I just think maybe it's time for me to give living at school a try. It might get a little crowded in here with four people. But I meant what I said, anything you need with Zach, don't hesitate. And I won't be leaving until I get a roommate at the start of the next semester, and that's a few months off."
Lou's eyes misted over. "I'll miss you, though, Tessie," she said.
Theresa laughed. "I go to college in the same city, I'll be spending summers here, and I will be babysitting for you just the same, Lou. It's not the end of the world. I'm just growing up," she chuckled, hugging her sentimental sister.
Kidd pulled a soccer ball from his car, before he and Zach strolled down the street to the small park and playground, not far from Lou's building. Zach ran to the slide, climbing up the ladder quickly. Kidd watched him carefully, his heart nearly dropping when Zach missed one of the steps.
It amazed him how in such a short time the boy got under his skin like that. He loved Zach with all his heart, feeling blessed to have him in his life.
Zach played at the playground for some time before he and Kidd played soccer on the grass. Kidd could not remember the last time he laughed so hard. He hoped Zach enjoyed their time together as much as he did.
"Zach, come over here," Kidd called his son from the goal.
"What is it, Dad?"
"I thought we could go have dinner, it's getting late," Kidd said with a smile. "What do you want to have for dinner tonight?"
"Can we have pizza?" Zach squealed with excitement.
"We sure can. What's your favorite topping?" Kidd asked as they headed towards the street, in search of a pizza place.
"I like pepperoni," Zach said. "Can I have pepperoni on my pizza?"
"Of course," Kidd said, ruffling the child's hair. "That's my favorite kind of pizza too," he confided.
Zach grinned, pleased. "We're exactly alike, aren't we, Dad?" he asked, proudly.
Kidd nodded, smiling down at his little look-alike. "Exactly," he agreed.
When they finally found the pizza place and got in, Kidd ordered a small pepperoni pie, and drinks for the both of them.
The food and drinks arrived to their table and they sat comfortably, eating their dinner.
"Zach," Kidd started when they finished their pizza. "I had a great time with you today."
"I had fun too, dad," Zach answered before he took another sip from his straw. "Can we go home now? I'm tired."
"Yes, Zach. Let's go home," Kidd rose, disappointed that the night has come to its end. He decided he would talk to Lou when they got back, ask her if maybe Zach could stay with him overnight some time soon. Every time, every minute he spent with his son only made him want more, and each good bye was hard for him. Still, he knew he should be very careful about talking to Lou about it. He wouldn't want to risk the visits he did get with his son, not that she ever insinuated anything of that kind, but he didn't want to test her with his and Zach's time together.
Kidd parked his car and started up the walk to the door of Tiny Tots Daycare, nervously. He was grateful Lou had invited him to attend Zach's parent-teacher conference tonight, even if he knew that Jimmy would be there too, now that he had moved into Lou's apartment with her. As he entered the building, a pretty woman in her early twenties smiled. "Can I help you, sir?" Before he could answer, the door opened again and Jimmy and Lou hurried in. The young teacher smiled, "Hello Jimmy, Lou. I'm all set for Zach's parent teacher conference, go on in to the Lollipops room and wait, okay?"
Kidd said stiffly, "I'm here for Zach's conference too. I'm his father."
The young woman looked embarrassed, and put out her hand. "I'm sorry, Mr. McCloud. I'm the teacher in the Lollipop room, that's Zach's room. The children call me Miss Amy."
"I'm Michael Kidd," he said, trying to correct her without embarrassing her further.
Clearing her throat, Lou intervened. "Michael, is Samantha coming tonight?"
As they followed Miss Amy through a door decorated with several paper lollipops, each one with a child's picture in the center, Kidd shook his head. "She has bar review class tonight, she couldn't make it."
Miss Amy pulled out four tiny chairs, lining three of them in a row and placing her own opposite them. "Have a seat," she invited, gathering some materials.
After looking at the child-sized chairs, the two men glanced at each other uneasily. Lou sighed and sat in the middle chair, and Kidd and Jimmy took their seats awkwardly on either side of her. Miss Amy sat in her chair and smiled at them.
"Well, Amy, you can see that Zach's father is a part of his life now. He just moved here with his fiancée Samantha. And Jimmy here has moved in with me. So I guess we should add Michael and Samantha to the pickup list, and Jimmy's home phone and address on his contact card will be the same as mine now," Lou said.
Amy nodded. "The office will need you to fill out some forms for that, Lou, and give them pictures of Mr. Kidd and his fiancée. We have to check ID's until all the workers get to know them."
Kidd pulled out the same picture he'd shown in the bar, and handed it to Amy. That's Samantha Edgars and me," he said.
Amy was starting to look a little confused, so Lou changed the subject. "So how's Zach been doing?"
Amy beamed, and held out Zach's work notebook. "Just take a look," she said.
Lou took the book on her lap. She self consciously leafed through Zach's artwork, acutely aware of the two muscular, handsome young men sandwiching her between them on their absurdly small chairs. She reflected that the future probably held a lot of moments like this, and probably Samantha would be part of the picture most of the time as well. She stifled a sigh, reminding herself that no matter how uncomfortable she might feel, she needed to do what was best for her boy. Eventually, she hoped this would stop feeling so... so weird. But for now, she could barely focus on Amy's words, caught as she was, literally, between the two loves of her life.
Kidd, Lou and Jimmy worked overtime with Rosemary, going over the operation and her part in it in detail. Rosemary was a good agent, but had a tendency to improvise in the field, more than was sometimes prudent, if she felt the need. That was all well and good in a solo operation, but they stressed to Rosemary that in a team mission, timing and cooperation with the other members of the team was essential.
Rosemary promised she would stick to the plan and stay in close contact with Jimmy. Eying Jimmy, Rosemary sighed. She'd fallen for him pretty hard, even though he made no secret of the fact that he was seeing several other women at the same time. To him, it had been just a casual affair, but Rosemary had hoped it would grow into more. Once Officer McCloud had come to Washington, Jimmy had seemingly lost interest in other women, much to the dismay of the female population of the agency. Rosemary was looking forward to working with Jimmy again, and couldn't help hoping that it would become a regular occurrence.
"Jimmy, do you think Rosemary is ready?" Lou worried when Rosemary took a break for a few minutes. He looked at her amused.
"Rosemary is a great agent, Lou. She can really think on her feet," Jimmy answered. "She'll be fine."
Lou nodded. "But... but I don't like it that I won't be there to get your back," she worried. She couldn't figure what had her so worried. But Jimmy grinned. "Jealous?" he teased.
She looked down, hurt. Jimmy bit his lip at his own gaffe. "I... I didn't mean..." Jimmy stumbled over his words.
Lou looked up, tears in her eyes. "I know you didn't mean to bring up memories of Michael and what he did when he was undercover, Jimmy. I'm sorry."
Jimmy put his hands on either side of her face and looked into her eyes. "Lou, I didn't mean to bring that up. But you know you can trust me. I'd never cheat on you, never. Believe me," he said softly, giving her a soft kiss.
Lou's eyes shone at him through her tears and she nodded.
Neither saw Kidd standing at the doorway, or his face as he heard their exchange, before turning and silently leaving the room.
Finally, the day of the operation arrived. The team was in the office, going over the final details and having their final briefing. Rosemary and Jimmy were dressed to the nines for the ball, and Lou pulled Jimmy aside, to place his wire. "It's in this button stud," she said softly, tapping it and placing it over his top shirt button. "You feeling comfortable with Rosemary? You have to look like a couple for this. And communication will be really important to this mission... are you two ready?"
He nodded. "Wish you were with me instead, but Kidd's probably right."
She looked at him carefully. He looked amazing, she reflected, watching him adjust his cufflinks. Rosemary looked beautiful too, in a low cut beaded gown... her wire concealed in a necklace.
Kidd shouted, "Okay, positions, everybody. It's time to roll."
Lou and Kidd were stationed in a van outside the hotel where the ball was being held. Rosemary and Jimmy were supposed to blend in at the party and seek out two assassins who were believed to be attempting to infiltrate the same event to murder a high-ranking foreign official. They had precious little information about the planned assassination, other than the target, who was being guarded by other agents.
Lou plugged in her earpiece and watched intently as Rosemary and Jimmy circled the ballroom, dancing and mingling with the other guests. Kidd was watching her from the corner of his eye. "So, you and Jimmy are getting pretty serious, I guess. Moving in together."
She shifted impatiently. "Yes," she said shortly. "You and Samantha set a date yet?"
Kidd looked back at the screen. "No, we haven't."
Lou's heart skipped a beat, but she forced herself to remain focused. That doesn't matter, they're still engaged. And things are going so well with Jimmy. Don't speculate on what it means that they aren't setting a date, it doesn't mean anything.
Kidd scanned the screens, looking for any suspicious activity. No, they hadn't set a date, though Samantha had been asking him to. Something was preventing him from committing to a wedding date. Something. Something that was sitting in this van with him, he admitted to himself. Working with her again had reawakened all his old feelings for her and now he was in the unenviable position of being engaged to a woman he cared about and respected, and watching the love of his life involved with someone else, in his very face. He wasn't sure how long he could go on like this...
Lou sat up. "Rosemary's leaving the main ballroom," Lou muttered. She opened her microphone. "Rosemary, where are you headed?" she spoke into it. "Rosemary, you're supposed to be covering Sector 16."
Rosemary didn't answer; Lou saw that she was passing by some other guests. She waited, confused about Rosemary's plan.
Jimmy's voice came over the wire. "Lou, I can't get Rosemary to answer... where's she going?"
"She hasn't answered us either, Jimmy, but she's gone by herself down toward the basement. I think she's following somebody."
Jimmy cursed, low. "She's supposed to stick in sight of the target," he said, frustrated. "She shouldn't be going off alone, especially without telling anybody where-"
Jimmy stopped talking suddenly. Lou could see through the camera at Jimmy's throat that a man was walking rapidly toward the target, his hand over his pocket. "I'm moving in," Jimmy whispered, heading toward the man, taking him down rapidly and disarming him in a single motion. But Lou saw another man at the corner of the room, where Rosemary should have been stationed. "Jimmy-" she cried - "Sector 16 - another one," even as the other assassin started toward Jimmy.
The next few moments were in slow motion to Louise, staring horrified at the screen. The second man shot Jimmy as he turned back toward him in response to Lou's warning. Jimmy was blown backwards, spun to the ground.
"Officer down," Kidd radioed over all available wires - and Rosemary and the other agents closed off the ballroom, whisking the targeted official out another door, unharmed. But Lou's eyes were riveted to the screen, where Jimmy lay choking in his own blood. Jimmy's wire was still live, and he whispered into it.
"I'm here, Jimmy," she sobbed.
"I love you."
"Jimmy..." she choked. "Hang on - help's coming -"
"I love you."
She wept into her hand helplessly. "I love you too, baby," she cried.
"Turn off the camera, Kidd. Turn it off," Jimmy whispered hoarsely. He was tugging weakly at the wire, trying to dislodge it. "Don't let her see -"
Kidd leaned over to cut the wire and Lou flew at him. "Leave it!" she screamed. "Jimmy, please hang on. Please..."
She watched as the EMT's crowded around Jimmy, desperately trying to staunch the bleeding, but Jimmy was unconscious now, a pool of blood spreading out in all directions from his chest...
Kidd tried to pull her away from the screen, and she threw his comforting hands off. She pulled off the earpiece and flung open the door to the van.
With Kidd hot on her heels, she raced toward the door to the hotel, where she was just in time to see Jimmy being wheeled out on a gurney. As he was being loaded into the ambulance, she hurtled herself through, flashing her badge, and jumped in with him. She sat in the corner of the ambulance, tears streaming unheeded down her face, as the EMT's worked furiously over Jimmy's motionless body. But she knew... she knew it was too late... even before the gurney was unloaded at the hospital and she heard the words. "Dead on Arrival." The last words she heard before collapsing in the middle of the emergency room in merciful unconsciousness.
She woke up in a bed with a curtain pulled around it, slowly realizing she was in the Emergency Room where Jimmy had been brought. She sat up dizzily, as a doctor pulled the curtain back.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, taking a small penlight from his pocket and flashing it back and forth in front of her eyes. "You fainted in the ER." He ran through a neurological exam, and nodded. "We ran some blood work on you, just in case."
"I'm not sick," she said dully. "I just need to go home. After I see my partner."
"No, you aren't sick. But you should call somebody to take you home. You've had a bad shock."
She sighed. "I'll call my sister," she said. "Just, please, can I see Officer Hickok, he was brought in with me."
The doctor hesitated.
"I know he... passed away. I just want to see him, please."
"Officer McCloud, the tests did reveal something. I don't know if you know it, yet -"
"Nothing is important now. I need to see Jimmy," she said, starting to become hysterical. "Why are you talking about some damned blood test now? I don't care, I need to see him, now," she sobbed.
"Officer, the hCG test was positive for early pregnancy," the doctor blurted, as she stood and unsteadily started to walk toward the exit to the cubicle.
She stopped. "I... I'm not even late..." she mumbled.
"It's early. But the test is positive. I thought you would want to know it."
Lou stared dully at the doctor. "Where's Jimmy?"
The doctor sighed and guided her toward the hallway. Jimmy's body lay on a gurney in the middle of the hall, a sheet pulled over it.
Lou stood shaking. Seeing her face, the doctor muttered to a nurse, "For God's sake, can't we find an empty cubicle or room to put that body in?"
Lou flinched. The nurse looked pityingly at her, and called to an orderly to wheel the gurney into a curtained off cubicle. Lou pulled the sheet back and stroked Jimmy's face. Her eyes were blinded by tears. The sounds of the busy ER went on around her. The world was still turning, somehow; buzzers still ringing, people talking. Someone was laughing at some joke. But Jimmy's body was turning cold under her hands just the same.
"Jimmy... I'm... we're having a baby, honey." She brought her face down to his, shaking. "I'm sorry... it's all my fault. If I'd been your partner, I never would have left you alone - I would have been at my post - this wouldn't have happened," she whispered. "You'd be so happy to be a daddy. And now you'll never even know -"
From the corner of her eye, she saw a commotion through an opening in the curtain. Kidd and the rest of the team were at the hospital, flashing their badges, asking the doctor questions.
Kidd and the others approached the curtained area - slowly, Kidd pulled back the curtain the rest of the way. He saw Lou standing next to Jimmy's body.
"Lou," he said, gently. His heart was breaking for Lou. He stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry."
She turned dead-looking eyes on him. "I know," she said.
Kidd still spoke gently. "They need to take him now, Lou - the autopsy and inquest -"
Lou's eyes went wild with pain. "No - not yet," she begged. "Please-"
Federal agents were pouring in now, taking custody of the body - and Lou turned to Kidd. "Please, Michael, don't let them take him and... and cut him up. Why, Michael, why do they have to do that? Please," she sobbed incoherently, as the gurney was wheeled away. She slumped to the ground in Kidd's arms, and he held her, not knowing what to say or do that could possibly help her.
Kidd drove Lou home; she sat dully slumped in her seat, staring hopelessly out the window. He double parked his car and went around the side to open the door. Slowly, she put her feet out, moving as if they were made of lead. Kidd reached his hand out and helped her stand up. Putting an arm around her shoulders, he took her upstairs.
Riding up in the elevator, Kidd was worried about Lou's pale, shell-shocked face. The door opened and Kidd walked her to her door. She fumbled with her keys, her hands shaking; the keys dropped to the floor. Theresa's footsteps approached from the other side and she opened the door.
Lou straightened up, after retrieving her keys. Theresa drew back in dismay at the expression on Lou's face. "Lou, what is it?"
Lou and Kidd stepped in to the apartment. "Is Zach asleep?" Lou mumbled.
Theresa nodded. "Where's Jimmy?"
Lou looked at Theresa miserably. "He was shot to death. The new agent who took my place on the team left her post and he was shot to death." She started crying weakly into her hands. "if only I'd been there with him, I know he'd be alive."
Kidd looked down, murmuring, "Lou, there's no way to know that."
Theresa's eyes had filled with tears. "Lou," she cried, reaching her arms out. "I'm so sorry," she said, drawing her sister into her embrace. Lou slumped against her sister. Kidd reached out to help Theresa take her to her room. Lou sat on her bed, blindly.
Theresa started removing Lou's shoes and jacket, and looked over her shoulder. "Thanks, Michael. I'll take care of her from here."
Kidd paused a minute, then started to turn. As he did, he bumped against little Zach, who had come out of his room, rubbing his eyes sleepily.
"Hi Dad," the boy said. "Where's Uncle Jimmy?"
At his words, Lou started shaking uncontrollably. Turning to Theresa, her eyes went wide and frantic. "Zach?" she whispered tremulously. "What will I say to him?" The boy pushed past his father and looked confused at Lou. "What's the matter, Mama?"
Lou put her arms out to her boy, and tried to control her emotions. "I... I have to tell you something sad, honey."
Kidd stepped forward. "Lou, are you sure you're up to this?"
Lou continued as if she hadn't heard Kidd. "Uncle Jimmy... he died tonight, honey."
Zach looked at her, uncomprehending.
Lou went on, her voice shaking. "Jimmy... he had to leave us. He didn't want to. He loved you a lot, but he had to go... to heaven," she managed.
"But will he be back tomorrow?" Zach asked.
Lou shook her head. "Jimmy's body got... got broken. And his heart stopped working. He can't come back again, honey. He would if he could."
Zach's little face crumpled up.
"It's okay to be sad, Zach. Mommy's very sad too," Lou said, tears starting to flow.
Zach flung himself into Lou's arms, and Lou clutched him to herself, crying. She scooted back and held her crying son on the bed.
Theresa got up with wet eyes and gestured to Kid. "Let's leave them alone, Michael."
Outside the door, Kidd turned in the hallway. "I'll put in the paperwork for a leave for her. She'll need crisis counseling, I'll put in a request for that too. If she needs anything, or Zach, let me know."
Theresa looked slightly disgusted. "Go home to your fiancée, Michael. You've done enough."
Kidd looked as if someone had slapped him across the face. "Excuse me?"
Theresa snapped, "You heard me. That replacement agent screwed up the job. You were the one who insisted on pulling Lou out of the operation. Jimmy might be alive if you hadn't interfered."
Kidd flushed. "Lou shouldn't be telling you agency business," he started.
Theresa cut him off. "Save it, Michael. She didn't tell me anything confidential. I'll keep you informed about your son until Lou gets herself together. But never mind interfering where my sister is concerned. Jimmy is-" she choked. "Jimmy was good for her. He made her happy after what you did to her. He was a good person. You were a fool to let her go, but don't think you're going to play with her emotions and keep your hot shot fiancée too."
"I told Lou, what happened back then-"
"Yeah, I heard. You did it for your country. But why didn't you track her down after?"
"I don't owe you an explanation, Theresa," Kidd attempted feebly.
"No, you don't. But I saw how you look at my sister when you're here to see Zach, even if she and Jimmy didn't. And this is the second time you've caused her pain. Point is, you're engaged, Michael. Don't get any ideas that you can have my sister on the side too, now that she's vulnerable."
Kidd looked at Theresa dumbfounded. "I'm sorry you feel like this, Theresa. But I will always care about your sister, and I'll help her however I can."
"Help yourself out, Michael. I need to get back to my sister."
Kidd turned to respond but Theresa slammed the door in his face.
Shaking with emotion, Theresa went quietly back into Lou's bedroom. To her relief, Lou and Zach had cried themselves to sleep, locked in each others' arms. Theresa looked in at them, her own heart sore, remembering her own friendship with Jimmy over the three years he'd loved her sister. She'd hoped for Lou to have her own life, finally, with a good man. But again, Lou had been blindsided so unfairly. She moved toward the bed, pulling a blanket from the closet, and draped it over the pair softly. Turning out the light, she tiptoed out.
Kidd stepped into his apartment and closed the door behind him. He wasn't sure how he gotten there. He felt like he was living a nightmare. One of his officers was dead, and it was his responsibility. His fault. He kept replaying the whole night, play by play, and he couldn't understand why everything went wrong.
He remembered Lou calling Rosemary to come back. He had no doubt that if Rosemary was still there at Jimmy's side, that he wouldn't have been shot, but there was nothing he could do about that now.
Like Theresa said - it was his doing. He insisted on breaking Lou and Jimmy as partners in operations. There was not a doubt in his mind that Lou would never have left Jimmy uncovered. Yes, it was all his doing.
Once again he'd unintentionally hurt Lou. Now self-doubt and guilt plagued him. Was it his jealousy that caused him to break Lou and Jimmy's partnership, or was it pure agency regulations?
"Michael, is that you?"
Samantha's worried voice came from the bedroom. Kidd dropped his keys at the bowl on the table by the door and plodded into the room. He rested against the doorframe, looking sadly at Samantha. She instantly jumped out of bed and walked over to him. She put a hand on his cheek.
"What is it, Michael? You're worrying me."
"Jimmy..." he started, choking back tears. "Jimmy was killed..."
Samantha gasped, shocked. "What happened?"
"I screwed up," he cried. "The new officer I brought in to replace Lou didn't back him up."
"That's not your fault, Michael," Samantha tried to reason. "You did what you had to do. The regulations..."
"Screw the regulations," Kidd cried suddenly. "This would never have happened if Lou was there. I got him killed, Samantha. I'm his supervisor, it's my job to keep them safe, and I screwed up."
"How's Lou?" Samantha asked, remembering the young woman.
"Heartbroken," Kidd answered shakily. "I took her home. She didn't say much."
Samantha didn't know what to say, what words of comfort she could offer the man she loved. She pulled him into her embrace, his head resting against her chest.
The squad room fell silent when Kidd entered. Noah glared at Kidd and returned to his desk without a word. The others looked awkwardly at each other and drifted back to their own desks. Kidd cleared his throat, and stepped toward the group.
"I know this has been a rough couple days, losing Jimmy. And I'm not sure when Lou will be up to coming back. But -"
Noah snorted. "But. But, they'd both still be here if you hadn't busted them up just for spite."
Cody intervened. "Noah, you know that's standard operating procedure, once Kidd found out they were involved."
"So what? They've been involved for three years, it never caused a problem. You come in and pull a member of the team off on a job like this? And God knows when Lou'll be all right. I called her this morning and she sounds like hell."
The officers turned at the sound of a clearing throat. Teaspoon was in the doorway. "My office, Officer Kidd."
Kidd followed Teaspoon into his office, and the older officer shut the door.
"I guess you know there'll be an inquiry about what went wrong last night, son."
Kidd nodded, downcast.
"I approved an indefinite leave for Louise. We'll have to find a replacement for both of them for the time being," Teaspoon added.
"Officer Hunter, I... I can't tell you how sorry I am about what happened."
"Can't figure on how it coulda happened. When I ran that team, none of them woulda left their post like I hear Officer Burke did. Guess you couldn'ta known she would do that, though."
Kidd nodded again.
"Course, if Lou had been left on the job, she wouldn'ta left her post. I know why you pulled her out of the operation, son. But the two of them have been... more than partners for years. It never interfered before."
"You knew?" Kidd said, astonished.
"Yeah, I knew. But like I said, it never seemed to create a problem. And one thing you might want to consider next time... If somethin' ain't broke... don't fix it." Teaspoon patted the younger officer on the shoulder.
"That's all, Officer."
Jimmy's sister Celinda flew with her husband Nathan into Washington for Jimmy's funeral at Arlington Cemetery. Jimmy was a decorated combat veteran, from his two year stint in Afghanistan before he'd joined the agency. At his family's request, Jimmy was buried with full military honors. Approaching the graveside, Celinda caught sight of Lou, sitting in the row of seats closest to Jimmy's closed casket draped in the American flag, and tapped Lou on the shoulder. Celinda was shocked at the hollow-eyed face Lou turned to her.
Recognizing Celinda dimly, Lou stood up quickly and threw her arms around her. "I'm sorry, Celinda," Lou choked. "It's all my fault... if only I had been there -"
Celinda shook her head and took Lou by her frail shoulders. Looking her in the eyes, Celinda smiled through her own tears. "Don't say you're sorry, Lou. My brother called me the night you asked him to move in. I never heard him so happy in my entire life. You made him happy, Lou, he loved you so much." Lou was trembling violently, and Celinda, worried, helped her sit down weakly in the chair as the service started.
Celinda looked across at Theresa, both exchanging worried looks as the service continued, when Lou looked paler and paler. But she stood up slowly, walking between Celinda and Theresa, to pay her respects.
When Celinda was presented with a flag folded in a tight triangle, Lou looked down numbly, and Noah reached out from behind her to press her shoulder. Seeing her face, Celinda turned to Lou and handed her the flag. "He loved you so much, Lou. You were his whole world. You should take this," Celinda offered, and Lou clutched the keepsake to her chest, her eyes smarting with tears.
Celinda kept her arm through Lou's as seven servicemen raised their rifles together, and fired simultaneously. Lou's arm jerked and her face went white, as the sound reverberated in the air. The second shot made her flinch a second time, shutting her eyes to try to shut out the memory of the blast of gunfire that felled Jimmy. At the third round, Lou started sobbing, and Noah again reached out from the row behind her to grasp her shoulder comfortingly. He kept holding on to her, along with Theresa and Celinda, as the bugler played Taps the final time.
After the service, the three women walked slowly back toward the limousine, when Kidd and Samantha approached. Lou had stopped sobbing but the tears were running unchecked down her numb-looking face.
"Lou, I'm so sorry," mumbled Kidd.
Lou inclined her head just slightly and nodded, her eyes unseeing, and got into the car, staring ahead.
Samantha pressed Kidd's arm. "That poor girl," Samantha murmured. "Can't imagine what she must be suffering right now."
Kidd looked down, nodding absently. All he could imagine was what Lou was suffering. Her heart was broken, and he couldn't do anything to help her.
The next morning, Zach woke up early and padded to the TV in the living room, putting on cartoons. Theresa wearily came out and smiled at the boy, getting him his breakfast. She glanced into Lou's bedroom, and was surprised to see Lou's bed empty.
"Lou?" Theresa called, sticking her head in the doorway and glancing around. She jumped, startled by the sight of Lou, still in the clothes she wore for the funeral , sitting curled up on the floor by the bed.
Theresa glanced uneasily back at the TV room and came in the bedroom, shutting the door behind her. "What are you doing there, Lou?"
She moved closer and saw that Lou was clutching Jimmy's favorite jacket in her arms. Theresa sighed. "Oh, Lou." Lou wasn't looking up; she had her head buried in the jacket and something clasped in her hand.
"It still smells like his aftershave," Lou mumbled weakly, when Theresa sat on the floor next to her. Theresa stroked Lou's matted hair. "I'm so sorry, Lou."
Lou raised her eyes just a little. "I found this in the pocket." She opened her hand and Theresa saw a small wrapped box with a small card in an envelope slipped under the ribbon. "Open it for me?" Lou said numbly.
Theresa hesitated, then took the package. Pulling out the card, she read, "Happy Birthday, Lou, Love, Jimmy." She caught her breath. In all the upheaval, she had forgotten. Next week was Lou's 29th birthday. Her fingers trembling, Theresa pulled the ribbon off the box and opened it, dropping her head onto her hand when she revealed a sparkling diamond engagement ring. Theresa gasped and looked at Lou through her own tears. Lou took the box and removed the beautiful ring, looking at it a moment, then placing it on her finger.
"Lou, why don't you come out to the kitchen, and let me make you something before I take Zach to daycare?"
Lou simply shook her head, clutching Jimmy's jacket to her and climbing into bed with it. She curled on top of the blankets, shutting her eyes tight.
Theresa looked helplessly at her motionless sister. "So... I guess you want me to take him to daycare, then? I think he's up to it."
Lou whispered, "Fine," without lifting her hand, the diamond reflecting light from the doorway, away from her face. She was weeping silent tears, and Theresa stroked her arm again, not sure what to do. "Well, you rest then."
Theresa walked quietly to the door and pulled it shut, leaving Lou alone in her darkened room.
A couple of nights later, Theresa sat worriedly in the living room. Samantha and Kidd were due to stop by and take Zach for a few days, and Lou still refused to get out of her bed, and lay motionless in her room. She had only left the apartment to go to Jimmy's funeral since he had died, and spent most of her time lying in the dark crying.
The doorbell rang and Theresa sighed, getting up to let Kidd and Samantha in.
"How's Lou doing?" Kidd asked quietly.
"Not very well," Theresa admitted, worried. "I have to go to classes tomorrow, and she's still too shaken up to watch Zach."
She was surprised to hear Lou's voice call out weakly. "Michael? Samantha? Can you come in here a minute before you go?"
Kidd pushed open the door, and looked around the darkened room. "You mind if I turn on a light in here?" he said, switching it on. He and Samantha looked at the small woman huddled on the large bed alone. She still wore the same clothes she had on for the funeral, and she still clutched the jacket weakly. Her eyes winced at the bright light. Her hair hung around her face limply, and there were dark circles under her eyes. She didn't sit up at their entrance, or look directly at them.
"I just wanted to thank you for taking care of Zach," Lou said hoarsely. "I'm glad he'll have you two to look after him."
Samantha looked strangely at Lou from the door.
Kidd awkwardly stood by the bed. He longed to pick Lou up in his arms and hold her, kiss her pain away, but of course Lou wouldn't want him to. And his fiancée was standing a few feet away. A large diamond ring that he hadn't noticed before glittered on Lou's left ring finger. An engagement ring, he realized, his heart aching both with jealousy and pity.
"We'll be glad to do anything we can to help out," he said, feeling inadequate.
"I know," Lou mumbled. "I know Zach can count on you, right?"
Samantha's keen eyes moved over Lou's face sharply, then dropped. She shook her head, barely perceptibly.
"We'll take good care of him, Lou," Kidd assured her.
"Good, then I guess I'll just get some rest," Lou said, turning away from them.
Kidd walked out of the room, and Samantha followed, but stopped him before he could ask Theresa to get Zach.
"I know I don't know Lou as well as you two. But I don't think it's a good idea for her to be alone in this apartment," Samantha said.
"What do you mean?" Theresa asked. "She's sad, I know, but-"
Samantha interrupted. "That's beyond sad, Theresa. She isn't moving. She isn't bathing. She can barely talk. She's obviously clinically depressed."
Theresa's face darkened. "My sister is the strongest person I know, Samantha. She'll pull through this. She will. She loves Zach with all her heart, she will get through this for him."
Samantha sighed. "It isn't about being strong or weak, Theresa. And I wouldn't leave her alone; I don't like how she sounded. Like she's giving up."
Kidd looked grave. He had been shocked by Lou's face and manner as well. "But what can we do?"
"Go in there and talk her into going to the hospital for some help, Michael. Before another tragedy happens." Samantha looked down. "I know what I'm talking about - my mother had severe depression," she said quietly. "She hung herself when I was sixteen. I see the signs; maybe if Lou can get some help things can be different for her."
"Ok," Theresa sighed. "You two take Zach with you as we planned, I'll take her to the hospital."
Samantha nodded, but Kidd was not convinced. "How will you take her, Theresa? She can barely walk. You can't carry her. Maybe I should go with you. Samantha can take Zach home."
Theresa shook her head determinedly. "No, Michael. You take care of your son. I'll take care of my sister. I'll call an ambulance after you leave. I don't want Zach to see her like that."
Kidd wanted to retort, but Samantha put a hand on his arm. "Come on, Michael, let's take Zach. It's getting late and he should probably go to sleep."
Kidd turned and looked again at the closed door of the bedroom ,then nodded. "You call the ambulance, Theresa. I'll drop by the hospital tomorrow morning on my way to work."
Theresa nodded and went to get Zach.
Theresa held Lou's hand as the paramedics pulled the gurney. She was really worried - Lou hadn't said a word since Michael and Samantha left with Zach. She kept staring ahead, and Theresa wasn't sure she was even aware of her surroundings.
The EMT's had taken Lou's vital signs and information, and when they arrived, Lou's gurney was wheeled into a cubicle. Theresa was given a clipboard and filled out several pages of information about her sister, handing it back to the nurse. The nurse glanced at it and remarked, "A Physician's Assistant will be in to see you."
Theresa sat in the cubicle nervously for nearly an hour. Finally, noting that Lou was falling asleep on her gurney, she jerked the curtain back and caught the arm of a nurse. "When is somebody going to see my sister?" she demanded.
The nurse glanced at the gurney. "Miss, it's a busy night. We've got gunshot wounds, heart attacks, you name it to deal with here. Your sister is Triage III, she can wait until someone is free to see her."
Frustrated, Theresa sat back down, chewing on her nails anxiously. It was nearly another hour before a young female physician's assistant approached, glancing over Lou's chart.
"Says here she's 28 years old, recent violent loss of significant other, severe depressed mood, loss of appetite, insomnia for several days?" the P.A. asked briskly.
"Yes, that's us."
The physician's assistant nodded. She tapped Lou on the arm. "Can you sit up for me, Louise?"
Lou blinked, confused, and needed help to sit up. The P.A. checked Lou's mouth and eyes with a penlight; listened to her breathing; and checked her pulse and blood pressure. "When's the last time you ate something?" she asked.
"She hasn't had anything all day, and not much in the last several days," Theresa interjected.
"Louise, do you want help?" the P.A. asked, while checking Lou's arms and legs for bruising or scars.
Lou nodded. "Yes," she said weakly. "I need help." She looked down dully, not making eye contact.
"The paperwork doesn't say when your last menstrual period was."
Theresa hesitated. "I didn't really know..."
Lou put a hand over her eyes. "Six weeks ago."
"Nurse," the P.A. called. "Start an IV with normal saline solution, she's dehydrated. And get a blood draw and run a CHEM-7, urinalysis, and pregnancy test."
Lou sighed. "Forget the pregnancy test. "
Both Theresa and the doctor turned to her, surprised.
"I'm pregnant," Lou said hoarsely.
The P.A. looked at her a moment before she nodded. She told the nurse, "Run the pregnancy test anyway, just in case; and call Dr. Walters down here from Psych to see if she needs to be admitted." She smiled kindly at Louise, patting her arm, and left.
Theresa wanted to ask, wanted to know more about it, but Lou returned to her shell. Her eyes were closed now, tears falling from her closed lids.
A worker came to draw Lou's blood, and another to start and hang an IV. After about a half hour, a tired-looking man approached and introduced himself. "Ms. McCloud? I'm Dr. Walters. I'm a psychiatrist, and I was asked to come down here and see you. I hear you're having a rough time of it," he said, checking the chart.
Lou nodded slightly, tears still falling silently.
Dr. Walters asked a number of questions about Lou's emotional state and history. Most of them were answered by Theresa, since Lou was barely able to pay attention.
Finally, the doctor looked Lou in the eyes carefully and asked, "Louise, have you had any thoughts about dying recently?"
Theresa held her breath; Lou looked down. "I don't know. I wouldn't do anything to hurt myself. It would hurt my son too much. And I want to live for my new baby. But... but at the same time, I wish I would just die... Zach would be better off with his father and his new wife," she whispered brokenly.
Theresa passed a hand over her eyes.
The doctor nodded. "Louise, if you want to stay for some help, we can admit you upstairs in our mental health unit until you're feeling more stable. I think it's a good idea. I'm going to admit you as a voluntary patient." He handed her some forms to fill out to request admission to the mental health unit, then patted her gently. "When you get upstairs we'll talk again."
When Dr. Walters walked away and pulled the curtain again, Lou slumped down on the gurney dejectedly. Before Theresa could ask her any questions, two staff members came in and put up the side rails of the gurney. "She's going up to the third floor, west," one of them said to the other.
They started pulling the gurney out of the cubicle and down the hall to the elevator, with Theresa fast on their heels. Soon they were up outside a locked unit; the men pushed the buzzer and were admitted to the unit. Lou was helped from the gurney and into a wheelchair, and wheeled down to a room. Theresa sat by her as the charge nurse looked over her chart. An aide came in and helped her change into pajamas and a robe without disturbing the IV line and pole, and directed her to take off her watch, earrings and engagement ring.
Lou started crying again at the mention of the ring. "Can't I keep it on? It's the last thing he ever got me," she wept piteously.
Theresa stroked Lou's arm. "Lou, it's the rules. Give it to me, I'll make sure it stays safe." She took the ring and the other jewelry that Lou handed her.
Dr. Walters entered the room; a group of interns were gathered in the hallway. "Is she admitted, nurse?" The charge nurse nodded, "Yes, Doctor."
The doctor spoke to Louise. "Louise, this is a teaching hospital, and I'm rounding with these student doctors who are doing their psychiatric rotations. With your permission, they would like to be present when I assess you. But if you'd rather not, they can wait outside."
Lou shrugged. "They can stay," she muttered.
Dr. Walters nodded, and turned to the group of young doctors assembling in the room. "Louise entered the emergency room via ambulance and was admitted on a voluntary basis. She is a 28 year old single mother of one child. She is a law enforcement officer, and has had a recent trauma in witnessing the murder of her significant other. She is," he glanced at the chart, "by labs five weeks pregnant." Lou looked down, averting her eyes from the interested young doctors.
"By report of family member, she has had insomnia, loss of appetite, with loss of interest in daily activities, poor attention to hygiene, and reports of thoughts of death with no specific plan of suicide. No delusions or hallucinations reported," Dr. Walters continued. "Mental health history, unremarkable."
The student doctors nodded, jotting down notes. Dr. Walters rambled on. "Her blood work shows evidence of dehydration, but otherwise within normal range. No reported allergies. Dr. Peters, what do you recommend as treatment?"
Dr. Peters put his clipboard down. "Start her on a low dose of Wellbutrin. That's considered safe in pregnancy. If she responds well, titrate up to therapeutic levels. Continue IV and repeat CHEM-7 in the morning. Dietary supplements and prenatal vitamins."
Dr. Walters nodded. "What else? Dr. Yee?"
"Group talk therapy; individual therapy and grief counseling. Monitor intake and output?" Dr. Yee suggested.
The lesson continued, with Lou drooping listlessly against her sister. Theresa sat dully by her sister, whishing her brother was there as well, but Jeremiah was stationed in Iraq, and she was unable to reach him since Jimmy died. They hadn't seen him in a year and they couldn't wait for him to come back home when his tour of duty was scheduled to end in a few months.
Finally, the interminable lesson ended, and Dr. Walters and the class filed out. A nurse came in and gave Lou her medications with a glass of water. "Breakfast will be at 8:00, but do you want an Ensure now? I hear you haven't eaten today," the nurse offered, taking a can out of her cart. Lou looked at it listlessly. "You should think of your baby, Louise," the nurse said kindly. Lou nodded and the nurse smiled. "That's a good girl." She poured the liquid into a cup and handed it to Louise, who choked it down. "Good job, Louise," the nurse said encouragingly. "An aide will be in to help you get washed up for bed in about an hour."
Theresa sat next to Louise's bed until the nurse stuck her head in the room, indicating that visiting hours were nearly over. Theresa's eyes rested on her sister again. It seemed that Lou had fallen asleep. Theresa's eyes filled with tears when she noticed Lou's hand was placed protectively over her abdomen.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Theresa cried, resting her head over Lou's.
She couldn't stop the sobs that shook her body. Until that moment she hadn't allowed herself to cry, wanting to be strong for her sister. She cried for her sister, for Jimmy, for the baby who would never know his father.
Now, she looked at her sister, who still hadn't uttered a word, after sitting like that for almost an hour.
"Lou..." Theresa tried for the umpteenth time. She was surprised when her sister turned her face towards her. Her heart broke when she saw Lou's eyes clouded with tears.
"I can't do it again, Theresa," Lou whispered suddenly.
Theresa was surprised to hear her sister's voice.
"I just can't have another child alone, without its father there... it was so hard the first time. I can't do it, Tessie."
"You're not alone, Lou. I'm here for you."
Lou didn't answer her, but sighed and turned toward the wall. The nurse came back and gestured to Theresa that it was time to go; and she got up. "I have to go now, Lou. I'll come see you tomorrow, okay?" When Lou didn't answer, Theresa walked slowly down the hall, praying her sister could get through this horrible time and be all right again.
Kidd came up in the elevator to the mental health unit, and walked toward the glass doorway. He pressed the buzzer and the nurse at the nurse's station opposite the door to the unit looked up and smiled, buzzing him in. It had been three days since Louise McCloud was admitted to the unit and that young man was one of the two people who visited her most frequently. Kidd signed the visitor's log, and smiled up at the kindly head nurse. "They're eating lunch now, Officer. You can go on down and visit with her while she eats."
"Thanks," Kidd nodded. He walked up the corridor and turned toward the small dining room where the patients were seated eating. He spotted Lou sitting by herself in a corner, her food untouched in front of her.
He cautiously approached her, watching her small form huddled in the chair. She was wearing pajamas and a robe, like many of the other patients on the unit. He pulled out a chair next to her and sat down, touching her arm gently. "Hi, Lou."
Lou didn't look up, but kept sitting, her arms resting on the table listlessly. Kidd was startled that she seemed even more lethargic than she had in her apartment before they brought her in. On his previous visits to her over the past couple of days she'd been asleep the whole time, but now she was awake, yet not fully so. A middle aged nurses' aide was cleaning the table nearby, and Kidd addressed her. "Why is she so sleepy?"
The aide shrugged. "Lots of them get like that when they're adjusting their meds," she said. "I'll feed her her lunch when I finish this."
"I'll do it," Kidd offered. The aide looked pretty harried, and two patients were quarreling about something in the opposite corner. "Thanks, sir," the aide said, going over to mediate the dispute as best she could.
Kidd pulled his chair closer to Lou's, placing an arm around her and picking up her fork. Her head lolled over onto his shoulder weakly. "That's okay," he said gently. "You're just a little tired, I guess. But I should tell the doctor, you probably don't need much medication. You never could hold your liquor either if I remember right." He smiled down at her, and she looked up at him dully.
He fed her a forkful of lunch, and she obediently opened her mouth to take the food. He waited while she chewed and swallowed it slowly, then he picked up the fork again. Feeding her another bite, he remarked, "Remember what day it is?"
Lou didn't answer. He went on, "It's your birthday. You're 29 today."
Her face didn't register understanding. Biting his lip, Kidd placed the fork in her mouth again. "Remember the last time we celebrated your birthday together?"
He thought her eyes were focusing on him a little. Encouraged, he picked up her cup and held it to her mouth. She tried to drink a little and he set the cup down, taking up the fork again.
"I picked you up to take you up to Napa Valley, remember?"
He fed her slowly but steadily as he spoke, memories flooding over him. How different that birthday was, he thought sadly. You were so happy then. We both were.
"We went in a balloon," Lou whispered slowly.
"That's right. We took a hot air balloon ride," Kidd answered her. She is listening. That is a good sign... I should keep talking to her, he thought.
"We went all over wine country, remember? Remember what a beautiful day it was?"
She nodded slightly, and he hugged her shoulders gently to him.
"You had on a sundress. It was pink. And you had a pink scarf tied around your hair in case it was windy," he remembered aloud. "I'll always remember how beautiful you looked that day."
The memories, beautiful as they were, at the same time were starting to hurt a little now as he talked. Those days are lost forever now; I made a promise to Samantha. And Lou's grieving so deeply for Jimmy that she'll never be able to feel anything more than friendship for me again, even if I were free. He saw that Lou's eyes were fixed on him more intently now, and he forced himself to continue, to sound cheerful for her sake.
"There wasn't any wind, though. Not even a cloud in the sky. And then we took our wine and had a picnic in one of those beautiful vineyards. The smell of the grapes was all around us, remember? And you got drunk, on what, two glasses of red wine?"
He smiled down at her. She was looking even more tired, but tried to nod.
They were silent a moment as they both remembered; she'd been tipsy, they both had, and that and the romance of the setting had caused one thing to lead to another, there in the deserted vineyard with no one else in sight. They hadn't been able to wait to get back to the car and drive all the way home down the coast; he'd made love to her right there on their picnic blanket, with the sun beaming down on them overhead.
"Then I gave you my present," he continued, his voice shaking a little. He offered her another bite from her tray, but she turned her head away, resting her face against his neck tiredly. God, he thought, stroking her hair, and bending his cheek to rest on the top of her head. I can't... I can't do this. I can't see her like this, he thought wretchedly, his heart sore and aching with love and pity for her. I can't bear it.
"I gave you a gold charm bracelet, with my house key on it like a charm. I asked you to live with me, forever. You said yes. You kissed me... I never knew," he choked a little. "I never knew I could feel like I did right then. I never knew what true happiness was until you made me feel it that day. And every day after that when I woke up next to you," he blurted out passionately, before he realized.
She was asleep in his arms. Kidd sat holding her for a few moments, when the aide came around to pick up Lou's empty tray. "She's out for the duration, looks like. I'd better wake her up and take her back to her room," the aide started, moving toward Lou.
Kidd objected. "She's too tired, she should rest. Let me carry her back to her room."
The aide looked dubious. "We don't usually let male visitors go in female patients' rooms."
Looking at Kidd's pleading face, the aide relented. "Go ahead then. She's in 386. Just don't say I told you it was all right if anybody asks."
Kidd nodded, and carefully stood, slipping his arm under her legs and lifting her. She felt like a child in his arms, and he held her close to him as he walked her back to her room and laid her gently on her bed. She slept on soundly, and he sat in a chair next to her bed watching her. At least she isn't suffering when she's asleep, he consoled himself.
His eyes rested on a book of photographs next to her bed. Picking it up idly, he flipped through. The book had only a dozen pages; he saw many of Zach, one of Lou with her mom, Theresa and Jeremiah, which he recognized as a copy of a picture Lou's mother kept on her mantel. There were also a couple of pictures of Jimmy and Lou. But the last page... he saw that the last page was a picture of him with Lou, taken when they were on their first undercover job, when they finally stopped bickering and had become friends. He'd taken the code name Zachary then, and the job had gone on so long that she got in the habit of calling him that, and kept doing so accidentally for several weeks afterwards. It became a private joke between the two of them. He looked at the picture again, at the two friends they used to be. He had no idea she'd kept this file picture, and his heart skipped a beat when he realized she had placed it in this book with her other treasured photographs. Maybe that means she still cares..., he thought, before cutting himself off. No. She loved Jimmy. All I can hope for now is to at least rebuild our friendship, help her raise our son. I can't read anything into this, and even if it meant anything, it would be wrong to pursue it. She's sick with grief over Jimmy. I'm engaged to someone else now.
Kidd shut the book and set it back on her nightstand, standing and looking down at her peaceful face. He brushed the hair out of her eyes, and bent to kiss her face softly. He whispered "happy birthday", then straightened and walked out the door without looking back.
"Lou?" Celinda came to sit by Lou.
The younger woman looked at her and smiled meekly. "Hello, Celinda."
"I called you yesterday. I thought maybe we could have coffee together before I had to go back to Texas, and Theresa told me you were here," Celinda explained. "How are you feeling?"
Lou shrugged. "I'm not suicidal," she tried to joke.
Celinda frowned at that.
"I guess I was pretty messed up after the funeral. Michael and his girlfriend convinced Theresa I could be hazardous to myself, and I ended up here."
Celinda nodded. "It's not necessarily a bad thing, Lou. They can help you get over what happened."
Lou shook her head. "I'm not sure I'll ever get over it, Celinda. He was my best friend for so long. I keep hoping he would come or call so I could tell him what I'm going through, all that's happened..." Lou's voice broke.
They sat in silence for a few minutes before Lou started again. "I'm sorry, Celinda. I didn't mean to upset you. I just don't know how to do it."
Celinda put a comforting hand on Lou's shoulder. "Take it one day at a time. You have your sister here, and Zach, and there are your friends. You'll go back to work soon, and you'll get into the routine, it will get easier."
"I don't think I'll get back to work soon," Lou mumbled. "At least not in the field."
"Why not?" Celinda asked, concerned.
"I'm going to have a baby," Lou blurted.
Celinda opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. She shook her head, trying to focus. "What? When? How long?"
Lou's eyes filled with tears. "Not for a long time, it's early. Jimmy didn't even know. I only found out when they did a check up on me after I fainted when they brought him to the hospital."
Celinda hugged Lou, having trouble hiding her emotions. "Oh, Lou. Jimmy would've been so happy. He loved your son and having a child of his own with you would've been the best thing you could give him."
Lou nodded. "I'm happy about it," she said truthfully. "It means a part of him, a real part of him, will always be with me."
Celinda wiped the tears from her eyes and rose. "I have to go now, Lou. I'm sorry, I'd really like to continue our talk. Please call me when you get back home."
"I will," Lou promised.
Celinda kissed Lou's cheek. "I'll talk to you soon. You take care now. Of yourself and that baby."
"Hello, officer," the nurse smiled when she buzzed Kidd and Samantha in. Kidd signed the log. "She's at the visitor's area."
Kidd and Samantha made their way to the visitor's area, when Kidd stopped abruptly at the sound of Celinda's voice.
"Oh, Lou. Jimmy would've been so happy. He loved your son and having a child of his own with you would've been the best thing you could give him."
Lou's voice was answering, "I'm happy about it. It means a part of him, a real part of him, will always be with me."
Kidd looked as if someone had thrown a bucket of cold water over him; he turned quickly and faced the wall a moment.
Watching the display of emotions on Kidd's face as the conversation revealed Lou was expecting a baby, Samantha fought back the tears that formed. Kidd leaned against the wall, obviously composing himself with difficulty, after hearing the news.
He still loves her, Samantha thought morosely. She knew she wasn't one to fight a battle that she could never truly win. She wasn't one to take second place, be a consolation prize. It would only be a matter of time before Kidd started to resent her as the obstacle to having his first love back, the mother of his child. She had a lot of thinking to do. Really deep soul searching, but she realized she would probably cut her losses when push came to shove. But her heart was sore and heavy at the thought.
She straightened and followed Kidd as he sighed and went inside the visitor's area. Kidd pulled another chair for them to sit with Lou.
"Hello, Louise," Samantha forced a smile on her face. "How are you feeling?"
Lou plastered a smile on her face as well. "Had better days."
Samantha nodded, the smile disappearing from her face.
"How's Zach?" Lou asked. It was the first day that she felt somewhat better. She knew Michael came to visit daily, as well as her sister, but until now, she never asked about her son.
"He's a great kid," Samantha answered. "He's real smart."
"I miss him so much," Lou blurted.
"He misses you too, he asks about you all the time. He drew you a picture." Samantha pulled a folded paper from her purse. "He asked me to tell you that that's you, that's him..." she explained, pointing at the picture, "and that's his Uncle Jimmy..."
Lou's eyes were clouded by tears and she nodded, not trusting her voice.
Samantha's cellphone rang and she answered it. "Excuse me," she apologized, before she stood and walked away.
Lou and Kidd sat in silence, Kidd averting his eyes from her.
"What is it, Michael?" Lou finally asked, exasperated. The last few days he'd visited her there, he was always talkative, but now...
"Why didn't you tell me, Lou?" he asked sorrowfully.
She looked confused. "Tell you what?"
"About the baby. I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but I heard you just now."
"I wasn't trying to hide it, Michael," Lou explained, tiredly. "I just found out myself."
Kidd regretted prying and upsetting her, now of all times when she just needed comfort and support. He was confused by his envy and longing. He already realized he'd never be able to get over her, but the intensity of his emotions scared and depressed him. He was engaged to another woman. It was wrong of him to feel like that.
"Lou, I'm sorry," he said, putting a hand on her knee. Her eyes dropped. He gathered himself and continued, "I just want you to know I'm here for you. Whatever it is that you need. As your friend. I wasn't there to help you when you were pregnant with Zach, but I'll be here for you for this baby. I want to do it for you and for Jimmy."
Lou's eyes filled with tears and she put her hand on his. "Thank you, Michael. That means a lot to me."
Samantha, just coming back, stood staring as Kidd leaned forward and kissed Lou's cheek. She hid behind the wall, trying to regulate her breath, as she saw him standing and walking towards her.
Kidd and Samantha sat silently in their car as they drove to pick Zach up from daycare. Samantha stared out the window, lost in thought. I don't even recognize my own life anymore. A month ago, I was working, climbing the ladder in the prosecutor's office, in California. Happily engaged. Now, I'm driving from a visit to Michael's ex-lover at the mental hospital, and now we're going to pick up his son with her. She shook her head a little at the surrealism of it all. And like it or not, he's in love with her. I can keep pretending, but it's still the truth whether he admits it or not.
She turned and studied him. "Michael. Why did you and Lou break up?"
He looked at her, surprised. "I told you. She just left one day without a word. I didn't even know she was pregnant at the time until-"
"I know what you told me, Michael. But even though I haven't known Lou long, I doubt she would run out on you and keep a pregnancy secret from you, for absolutely no reason. Haven't you asked her why, now that you've seen her again?"
His face went white and he stared forward.
"It was something that I did, or that she thought I did. She had a good reason."
"I see. And did you set her straight about whatever it was?" Samantha persisted.
Kidd nodded grimly.
"I can see whatever it is, you don't intend to let me in on it." She looked out the window again a moment, then back at him. "That's fine, I suppose. It's all in the past now, right? You're over it, she's over it. Water under the bridge."
He didn't answer, but his knuckles were gripping the steering wheel tightly.
She nodded. "Pull over, Michael."
"I said pull over. The daycare is open until six, we have time," she said, evenly.
He pulled the car over and looked at her, almost defiantly.
She stared him down, eye to eye, then spoke. "How long you intend to lie to yourself is your business. But how long you lie to me is my business."
"What do you want me to say?" he demanded. "I'm with you now."
"I want you to tell me the truth, Michael. Do you think I don't see how you look at her? The look on your face when you found out she's carrying another man's child? Do you take me for some kind of idiot?" she said, finally losing her temper.
"It doesn't matter. She's moved on, she loved him and is having his baby now."
Samantha shook her head again, disgusted. "Is that supposed to make me feel better? I should be fine with this because she doesn't want you? I don't care what she wants. She could want you till doomsday, it wouldn't matter. What matters is what you want, whether you can have her or not."
"You're being irrational, Samantha."
"That's the one thing I'm not being. I still haven't heard you deny that you're still in love with her."
He struggled to speak, but the words caught in his throat.
Finally, the words came. "How did you know? I've tried so hard to do the right thing, not to betray you. How did you know it?"
Her face softened. "I knew it because I know you, Michael." She paused a second. "I started suspecting when we first came here and you saw her again. You... you started saying her name in your sleep." She looked down. "I convinced myself you just were dreaming, because you saw her again, that's all. But then... I kept seeing how you look when she's around. You've... you've never looked at me like that," she said, brokenly, before looking out the window again, tears blinding her.
Kidd was overcome with remorse. "Samantha, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry that I'm hurting you like this. It's the last thing I wanted. You deserve so much better than this."
She looked back at him, smiling weakly through her tears. "You're damn right I do. I deserve to be someone's first choice, not second." She blinked her eyes. "Much as I love you, I can't accept less than that. And I want you to be happy too, not settle for 'good enough'."
He nodded, stroking her hair softly. "What will you do?" he asked gently.
"I'll be okay. It'll take a while, but I'll be okay. I'll go back to California. Either go back to the prosecutor's office, or find a job in a firm. I'll leave as soon as I can get packed and book a flight." As always, she was businesslike, logical about it, though her heart was breaking. But she knew she was right... there was no point in fighting a losing battle, ending up hating him.
"Let's go get Zach. And let's take him someplace he likes for hamburgers and ice cream, and have a fun night. Because tomorrow's goodbye," she said sadly. She'd miss Michael's little boy, who she'd gotten to care about quickly the time she'd helped out with him.
He nodded and pulled back into traffic. Samantha knew that she'd done the right thing. He hadn't even tried to fight for her... and she knew for certain now that she had been right. He didn't love her. She leaned against the window, knowing being right was truly cold comfort.
Kidd drove his car, glancing at the rear view mirror at his son, sitting in his car seat. He tried to explain as best he could why Samantha left. He couldn't really tell him the whole truth, confuse him by saying he still loved his mother.
Kidd shook himself mentally, focusing on his son. "Yes, Zach."
"Mama said Uncle Jimmy is in heaven."
"That's right," Kidd said, wondering what triggered the conversation and where it was headed.
"I miss him."
"I know you do, buddy. We all do."
"Can we go visit him?" Zach asked.
"Can we go visit him in heaven?"
Kidd swallowed. "I'm sorry, Zach. But we can't visit him in heaven."
"Because when you go to heaven you can never come back. Jimmy is happy there now, but he wants you to stay here and take care of your mother for him." Kidd hoped Zach won't continue on that topic. He felt uncomfortable talking with a three and a half year old about death and heaven.
"Dad," Zach started again after a few silent moments.
"Are you going to go to heaven?" Zach asked.
Kidd choked, shocked by the question. "I'm not planning on it anytime soon, Zach. I hope to spend a long time with you."
"Did Uncle Jimmy want to go there?"
"No, Zach. He didn't have a choice. He wanted to stay with you and your mother, but he didn't have a choice."
Kidd looked in the mirror at Zach as he nodded.
The little boy's voice was small as he twisted his fingers together. "Is Mama sick? Is she going to die too?"
Kidd hastily answered, "No, Zach. She's... getting some rest right now. That's all. She isn't dying. I know she can't wait to get her rest and be able to come home to you."
"I don't want to go to heaven either," the boy said. "I want to stay with you and mama forever."
Kidd felt the tears tingling his eyes and a big grin appeared on his face.
Lou packed her bags carefully, getting ready to go home. She'd stayed in the hospital for ten days... and she felt strong enough to go home now. Theresa was waiting downstairs in the lobby with Zach to take her home; and Lou couldn't wait to get there and see her little boy again. She placed her photograph album in her bag last, zipping the top.
Dr. Walters stuck his head in the door. "So you're going?" he asked, grinning.
"Yes, Doctor; thanks so much for all your help."
He nodded. "You know you're just getting started, Lou. You've got a lot of issues, with your past history of abuse, this recent trauma, the pregnancy to deal with. I hope you'll find a therapist you're comfortable with and keep working on everything."
"I will, Dr. Walters."
Lou looked around the little room, sighing. "I'll do whatever I need to not to have to come back here," she whispered to herself, holding her hand over her belly. "My children need me..."
She picked up her bag and headed toward the door, determined to get through this and be a good mother to Zach and to Jimmy's baby.
Kidd had dropped Zach and his stuff with Theresa the day Lou was scheduled to be discharged, and left immediately, not wanting to disturb the family reunion.
Lou let Zach stay at home the day after, hoping to make up for their lost time together. She took him to the park, bought him ice cream and a new train set.
She was surprised that he never once asked about Jimmy, but at the same time felt relieved for not having to explain what happened once again.
The following day was back to routine for Zach, while Lou started her sessions with Dr. Nafti, the therapist Dr. Walters recommended.
Kidd took it upon himself to pick up Zach from day care every day, sometimes bringing him straight home, other times, taking him to the park or even to the zoo first.
He never stayed when he dropped Zach off after his outings, always coming up with an excuse why he needed to go.
Lou, on her part, was happy to see that Zach's attitude towards Kidd had improved. The boy would excitedly tell her all that he and his dad did after day care, with great detail. It surprised her that Samantha's name never came up, but she figured the woman was deep in study for her coming bar exam and didn't have too much time to spend with them.
A week had passed since Lou was discharged from the hospital. She had just put Zach to bed, after reading him three stories, and now she came into the living room, where Theresa sat on the couch, reading a book.
Lou slumped on the couch with a loud sigh, drawing Theresa's attention.
"What's wrong?" Theresa asked.
"Oh, nothing really. I'm just a little anxious about tomorrow," Lou replied with a small smile.
"You know you don't have to go back already. Michael said Teaspoon gave you indefinite leave."
"I know, Tessie, but I'm getting cabin fever staying here all day. I want to go back. I think I need it to really move on. It's something I still have to face."
"You mean Jimmy not being there?" Theresa asked quietly, tears forming in her eyes.
Lou nodded. "I can't put it off forever."
"Do you want me there with you?" Theresa asked.
Lou smiled gratefully. "I'm afraid you won't be able to get in anyway. Besides, Michael said he'd pick me up tomorrow morning."
Theresa made a disgusted face at the mention of Kidd. "I don't understand why you keep contact with him."
"Theresa..." Lou sighed. They already had that conversation numerous times.
"I know, he's Zach's father, but other than that, I don't understand how you can even be civil to him. It's all his fault that..."
"Don't even say that, Theresa," Lou snapped angrily. "Jimmy's death, as tragic as it is, is not Michael's fault. He did what he thought he had to do."
Theresa was not convinced, but said nothing. It hurt her to see Lou, so clearly in battle over her feelings. She knew her sister never did get completely over Michael, but she also knew Lou had loved Jimmy and wanted to make it work with him. Theresa worried about how Lou would deal with all her guilt and grief and confusion, working with Michael in the very room where she had spent so many years with Jimmy.
When Kidd and Lou entered the squad room, all eyes rested on them. All the boys came to hug Lou, welcoming her back.
"How are you?" Buck asked, putting a hand on her shoulder, looking into her eyes.
"I'm fine, Buck, thank you. I just want everything to be as normal as possible."
All the man around her nodded and soon they were discussing the next assignment. There wasn't a replacement for Jimmy yet and anyway, Kidd didn't think it was wise to put Lou in the middle of the operation in her condition.
"But I don't want to be on desk duty," she retorted when Kidd handed out the assignments.
"Lou, you're not going on the field. That's final."
"Michael, this isn't a dangerous assignment. If you're worried that I can't handle my job, you're wrong."
Kidd sighed. "I never said you couldn't do the job, Lou. But you never know when a job will turn dangerous, and I don't think you should risk it in your condition."
"I don't have a 'condition', Michael," she started angrily. "I'm having a baby."
Four pairs of eyes turned to her in surprise.
Ike was the first to regain his senses. "You're going to have a baby, Lou? That's wonderful, congratulations."
The rest followed suit and soon Lou was engulfed in hugs and kisses again.
Noah, who'd been closest to Jimmy, rubbed Lou's arm comfortingly. "I know how happy Jimmy would have been to be a father. It's a great memorial to him you're carrying, Lou. I see now why Kidd wants to keep you at headquarters."
"What?" Lou asked, shocked. She thought that at least her teammates would back her up.
"He's right," Cody said. "You shouldn't be out there in your condition."
"I..." she started her retort, but Buck held his hand to stop her.
"Yeah, yeah. It's not a condition. Still, you have more responsibility than ever before. If you keep working while you're pregnant stick to desk duty."
Cody added, "Think of it this way, Lou. You'd never bring your baby along in a Snugli while you were out on a field job, would you? This is no different."
Lou sighed, realizing they were right. "Ok, ok. But other than that, I expect everyone to treat me exactly the same as before, got it?"
Everyone nodded and Lou shot an angry glare at Kidd.
They discussed the mission for a couple more hours before they decided to go out for lunch. Kidd excused himself, saying he had a meeting scheduled with Teaspoon.
The boys and Lou entered the café and found an empty table. It was a busy lunch hour and it took several minutes before a waiter approached them, and they gave their orders.
"So, a baby." Cody grinned, leaning back in his chair.
Lou glared at him. For some reason it sounded like an insult.
"How's Zach doing?" Buck asked, changing the subject. "I haven't seen him in so long. He's probably really big now."
"He is," Lou smiled.
"How's he getting along with Kidd?" Cody asked.
"Pretty well, I guess. He took a real liking to Samantha too, so I feel better about him spending time with them."
"What do you mean with them?" Ike asked.
"Michael and Samantha," Lou said matter of factly, looking at the men before her confusedly. Surely they knew who she was talking about... she didn't miss the looks the four men exchanged. "What's going on?"
"They broke up about ten days ago. Samantha moved back to LA," Noah explained.
Lou looked shocked at Noah. "What? Why?"
Noah shrugged. "He didn't give us the details. He just mentioned by passing that they broke up and that she left. I don't really remember what brought it on in the first place."
The rest of the lunch passed quietly. The boys kept glancing at Lou, who was just pushing the food on her plate, not eating a bite.
"You ok, Lou?" Noah asked when they headed outside to go back to the headquarters.
Lou nodded. "I just wonder why he didn't tell me. He's been coming over every day after picking up Zach from day care. Why didn't he say something?"
Noah shrugged. "Maybe you should ask him."
Before Lou had a chance to answer they were already at their squad room. "That's exactly what I'm going to do," she said, striding to Kidd's office.
He was on the phone when she entered and she felt her resolve disappearing as the minutes passed.
Finally, he hung up the phone and smiled at her. "So, how's your first day?"
"Interesting," Lou said sarcastically. "Why didn't you tell me about Samantha, Michael?"
Kidd took a deep breath. "You had so much on your mind already, Lou. I just didn't want you to think about that as well."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"If I told you she left me you'd want to know why," he answered sheepishly.
"She left you? Why?" Lou asked, surprised.
"She realized there will always be someone else first in my heart."
"Don't say that, Michael," Lou begged.
"That's why I didn't want to say anything," Kidd sighed. "I know you loved Jimmy, and I told Samantha that. I told her that you didn't want me anymore. I can't help it if I still care about you, Lou. Probably always will, and there's Zach. I love him so much, Lou. I didn't want to make you feel uncomfortable and risk you not feeling comfortable with me coming over to visit him."
Lou kept silent for long moments. She knew he was telling the truth, she saw that in his eyes. He never could lie to her. She nodded. "Zach loves you too. I would never keep you away from him, Michael. Thank you for telling me the truth now." She rose and left his office rapidly, her face down.
She found her way to the women's bathroom and leaned against the sink, weakly.
Michael had said Samantha was gone, because she and Zach would always come first in his heart. He'd said he always would care about her. And his eyes... his eyes had said even more. She felt nauseous and dizzy, confused. She pulled a paper towel from the dispenser and held it under the cold water, then pressed it to her face, trying to compose herself.
She'd never dreamed that he still loved her, not when he had a woman like Samantha. But was he saying he wanted her back? And if he did, what would she do? Her heart had never fully healed after watching him and Marissa. She knew he'd fallen in love with Samantha, he must have, or why would he have gotten engaged to her? But he was Zach's father. And she needed someone to talk to and lean on so much right now, with her new baby on the way and her terrible grief and guilt plaguing her.
But the pain in her heart over Jimmy was so intense, she didn't know what she was feeling for Michael or about anything. She felt an absurd urge to call Jimmy and ask him about it, all the while knowing of course she never could. Her confidante for three years, he would never be there to listen, nonjudgmentally as he always did, not ever again.
Her legs were trembling, her face pale in the mirror as she blinked back tears and struggled to control herself from sobbing. At that moment, the door opened and Lou stood face to face with Rosemary Burke.
Rosemary stared at Lou for a moment, before casting her eyes down. "I'd heard you were back, Lou. I'm glad you're feeling better."
"A little," Lou said, looking down.
Rosemary fidgeted. "I'm sorry about Jimmy's death, Lou. You can't imagine how much. I relive it every day," she said.
"I know that everyone is saying it was all my fault," Rosemary burst out. "I know they're right. I know that. I just thought I was doing the right thing by following that suspect, that I'd only be gone a few minutes. If you had been there, you never would have made my mistake."
Lou flinched. There it was again. It was her fault, as much as Rosemary's. If she hadn't let her guard down, hadn't let Michael find out about her and Jimmy, she would have been in that ballroom instead of Rosemary, and Jimmy would still be alive.
She brushed past Rosemary and her pleading, apologetic face, and ran down the hall. Running into Noah, he caught her by the arms. "Lou, are you okay?" he asked, worried. He pulled her into an empty room and she collapsed, sobbing incoherently into his arms. Noah stroked her back, and whispered over and over, "Let it out, Lou. It's okay."
But Lou didn't feel things would ever be okay again.
Tired after her first week back at work, Lou walked slowly in to Zach's daycare to pick him up. Taking his coat and lunch bag from their cubby, she went into Zach's room. His teacher Miss Amy looked up. "Hi Amy," Lou said. "How was Zach's day?"
Amy glanced over toward Zach, who was coloring at his seat quietly. "I'd like to talk to you about that, Lou," she said, motioning to go outside before Zach, lost in his own little world, looked up.
Outside the door, Amy paused. "Zach messed his pants today. Twice. We used his emergency clothes and then we had to borrow some from the office for him."
Lou blushed. "I'm sorry, Amy. I can't understand it. Zach's been trained since he was two... and he hasn't had an accident in I don't know when."
"He's been having some behavior problems too, since..." Amy paused delicately. "I know there have been a lot of changes in his home environment."
Lou looked down, shamefaced.
"Lou, I don't mean to pry. I just wanted to let you know, because often this kind of regression and acting out can mean the child is having trouble coping with stresses in the home."
Whispering her thanks, Lou nodded and headed blindly into the daycare room, where Zach finally looked up and yelled with delight that she had come to take him home, running into her arms.
Taking Zach by the hand, Lou walked him to the car and put him in his car seat. She berated herself as they drove home, Zach humming softly along with his Raffi tape. In the last three months, he's gained a father and a 'stepmother'; had Jimmy move in; lost Jimmy, who'd been so important in his life since he was a baby; Samantha's left; I was away sick for almost two weeks and he had to go stay with Kid and Samantha, who he hardly knew. And I still have to tell him about the baby, and Theresa was going to move out to the dorms in a few months. No wonder he's having a tough time of it, the poor baby, she thought, guiltily, looking back at him in his car seat.
She turned onto their street and pulled into the parking lot. I have to focus on Zach now. On keeping things as stable as possible for him. I should call Dr. Walters for a referral for a counselor for him, to help me figure out how to tell him about the baby, about Theresa. He needs to know he can count on me, to feel secure. My children have to come first, before anything else, she resolved.
Theresa was shaking her, begging her to wake up. Lou looked around dimly; the bed was empty, but the feeling of Jimmy's blood all over her from her dream persisted. She shook off Theresa's hands and ran to the bathroom, stripping her clothes off and starting the shower. But as the water ran down over her, she was overcome with memories... Jimmy... he was everywhere in this apartment, everywhere she looked was another memory of him. His laughing face, his strong capable hands. She slumped down onto the floor of the shower, weeping. She couldn't wash off the guilt or the pain. She couldn't escape the haunting memories of the man she felt she'd killed, by loving him - and couldn't stop torturing herself with the thought that though she had loved him so much, all the same, she hadn't loved and appreciated him as much as he deserved.
Over the next few weeks, Kidd insisted on driving Lou to work and back on days he was not in the field. At work, he watched over her carefully, worried about her emotional state. And they started spending more and more time together with Zach. Seeing how Kidd cared for Louise, and working with him on their cases, the members of the team began to revise their opinion. Even Noah began to have a grudging respect for Kidd.
One morning, Kidd rang Lou's bell, and Theresa opened it. Nodding, she said hello in a civil tone, surprising Kidd. Though she had taken Jimmy's death hard, and at first hadn't trusted Kidd, Theresa seemed to be coming around and accepting that Kidd would be around in Lou and Zach's life. Kidd was relieved that her coldness was wearing off, but he wisely said nothing, just asked, "Are Lou and Zach ready?"
"Be right there, Michael."
Zach marched down the hall wearing his tiny backpack, stuffed with his special teddy bear. "Ready, Daddy."
Kidd looked at Lou as they drove toward the daycare. He noticed that she looked healthier, stronger. Spending most of his time with her, helping her with things around her house, spending time with Zach, he'd grown to know her and love her even more than he had before they'd broken up the first time. He longed for her; but he hadn't told her how he felt. With all she'd been through, all she was facing now, he thought it was best to wait and let her come to him if she wanted to. It was enough to be there for her as a friend, though he wanted so much more.
Finally, one night about four months after Jimmy's death, Lou looked shyly at Kidd as he walked her and Zach up to their apartment. "Theresa's out on a date tonight," she mentioned, trying to sound casual. "Why don't you stay for dinner?"
He looked searchingly at her. "I'd like that, Lou."
After giving Zach his dinner early, they got him into his pajamas and sat at Zach's craft table, busily coloring with crayons. Lou looked across at Kidd and her son, a tiny version of him, sitting side by side, each coloring one side of the same coloring book. They had identical puckering between their eyebrows, and bit their lips in the same way as they colored. Her heart warmed, watching them together. They belonged that way, she realized. She'd been so wrong, so terribly wrong, to keep them apart as she had. A cloud passed over her face and she looked down a minute. She'd made so many mistakes.
Kidd whispered, "I think he's going to sleep." Indeed, Zach was slumping against his father's arm, his mouth wide open. Smiling, Kidd picked him up gently as Lou turned back his covers. After he was safely in his bed, they slipped out of his room.
"Well, I guess I'd better get going," Kidd said reluctantly.
She glanced at the clock. "It's not that late. Relax a while," she suggested, sitting on the couch.
He looked down at his feet, that funny pucker coming out again.
"What is it?" Lou asked, curiously.
He raised his eyes to hers. "Don't you know?"
At her dumbfounded look, he came and sat next to her, taking her hand. "I want to go home now because it's just you and me. No Zach, no Theresa. No buffer." As she kept looking baffled, he said, low, "You know how I feel about you."
She shook her head. "How do you feel, Michael?"
After a brief pause, he spoke simply. "I'm in love with you. Even more than I was before."
His heart raced as she looked up at him, her eyes wide and loving. "I love you too," she whispered, shakily. "So much," she breathed.
Tears in his eyes at her statement, he leaned in and touched her lips softly with his.
Their eyes closed as he slid his arms around her waist, pulling her close, kissing her tenderly, almost reverently. She slipped her arms around his neck, tears rolling down her face and wetting his face. He pulled back and wiped her tears away with his thumbs, staring into her eyes gratefully. They sat gazing into each other's eyes, hands clasped, her head on his shoulder, until she fell asleep in his arms on the couch. He put his head down on hers and stroked her neck, drowsily, but fighting sleep. He wanted to stay awake and holding her... but towards midnight he drifted off holding the woman of his dreams.
Theresa entered the apartment quietly. She glanced at the big clock, 1:00am. Good thing Lou was asleep already, or she would grill her over where she'd been, with who, and so on. Theresa rarely had a date, but when she did she usually kept the details to herself. Truth be told, she had never stayed this late while on a first date with a new guy.
She tiptoed across the apartment, but stopped abruptly at the scene before her. The TV was still on, though the light was off. Lou was curled on the couch, her head on Kidd's lap. Kidd, on his part, was sprawled half sitting on the couch, his head thrown back, his mouth slightly open. His hand held hers over her belly.
Theresa looked on, until she felt like an intruder. The sight was so tender, but she couldn't help the anxiety that filled her.
Like she told Kidd the day that Jimmy died - she saw exactly how Kidd looked at her sister. She knew that his fiancée left him because she saw the same thing, but up until now, she never had any indication that Lou was also aware of his feelings toward her.
She felt a little jealous on Jimmy's behalf - how could her sister move on so quickly, but then again, she always knew that Lou had always secretly dreamed of Kidd's return to her life.
She decided to wait till morning to make sure Lou was thinking for herself and not being pulled into something she wasn't ready for.
Kidd tried to turn to his other side, when a sharp pain in his back shot through him. He opened his eyes quickly, and tried to focus on his surroundings. It took him a moment to realize he was in Lou's TV room. He tried to get up when he felt someone lying on his lap. He looked down and his heart warmed at the sight of his sleeping love, her eyes closed, her hand under her head on his thigh.
He got up as carefully as possible, not wanting to wake her up. He found a blanket on the recliner and covered Lou with it. Noticing that the sun was already up, he decided to make a big breakfast.
He entered the kitchen and looked for milk, flour and eggs, deciding on pancakes. He cut some fruit and juiced a few oranges. He was so caught up in his work that he didn't hear anyone coming behind him, until he felt arms hugging him from behind.
"Good morning," Lou said sleepily, kissing his back.
He turned in her arms and encircled her waist with his. "Good morning yourself. Slept well?"
Lou nodded. "Better than I did since..." she caught herself before she continued. "Better than I did in a long time."
Kidd didn't miss the almost slip, but decided not to say anything. He was grateful for this second chance with her and he wasn't going to do anything to jeopardize it.
"How about you?" Lou asked, resting her head on his chest, taking comfort in the rhythm of his heartbeat.
"Better than I did in four years, I think," he mumbled into her hair.
Lou lifted her face to him, looking skeptical.
Kidd chuckled. "Swear to God, Lou. It was never the same without you." He leaned and kissed her lips softly, pleased when she parted her lips to deepen the kiss.
They pulled apart, embarrassed, at the sound of a throat being cleared.
"Good morning, Theresa," Lou entangled herself from Kidd's embrace and went to sit at the table. "Looks like Michael made breakfast."
"Yeah, I hope you're hungry, Theresa. You two sit down and I'll cook the pancakes."
By the time the food was ready Zach joined them and the foursome ate together.
"Dad, these pancakes are really good," Zach declared, spitting food all over.
Kidd chuckled. "I'm glad you like it, son, but maybe you shouldn't speak with your mouth full."
"Ok," Zach said, his mouth still full of pancakes.
The three adults laughed. Lou looked from her son to her sister to the man sitting at her table. It felt so natural for her like this, but she knew she had to take things slow. She needed to be sure about his commitment this time, and hers. She needed to be sure she would not run away, that she would trust him, give him the benefit of the doubt, be sure that he would not betray her.
When they finished their breakfast, Kidd rose, clearing the table.
"Oh, no you're not," Lou quickly grabbed the dirty dish from him. "You cooked, we'll clean. Anyway," she continued in a whisper, "don't you think you should head home to change clothes?"
Kidd looked down at his clothes and smiled sheepishly. "I guess you're right. I'll go take a shower and change clothes. I'll pick you up in an hour, ok?"
Kidd leaned in to kiss her, but she sneaked away. "Not here," she hissed, pulling him with her to the front door.
She wrapped her hands around his neck when they were alone. "I don't want to confuse Zach, Michael. I'm sorry." She apologized.
"I understand," Kidd said, as he pulled her closer to him and kissed her lips. "I'll see you in an hour," he said when they parted and he opened the door.
Lou turned and saw Theresa standing in the hallway, looking at her intently.
"So you and Michael are back together?" Theresa asked bluntly.
Lou sighed, and gestured with her head to Theresa. "Let's go in my room a minute, okay?"
As Theresa came in, Lou shut the door softly. "Look, I don't want to say anything about this to Zach just yet, but yes, Michael and I are going to try to see if we can make a go of it again."
Theresa shook her head. "Lou, he hurt you so much before. And you're so fragile right now. I'm just worried about you getting hurt again, can't you see that?"
"Yes, Tessie, I know how you must feel. But I know Michael won't hurt me again, it'll be different this time, really."
"But what about Jimmy?" Theresa asked, a catch in her voice.
Lou's hand went to her small rounded belly. "I will never forget him, Theresa. Never. If I wanted to forget him, I could have chosen not to have this baby. But I wanted to have it because it was created out of love. And because it's a part of him." She caught Theresa's hand. "I know you loved Jimmy like a brother, and I want you to know I'm still missing him and always will. But I love Michael, and I want to try again with him. I'm being careful, honestly. I have my children to think of too, you know."
Theresa nodded, hugging her sister. She hoped Lou was right, and that her vulnerable sister wasn't setting herself up to be hurt yet again.
"Teaspoon, can I come in?" Lou asked, tapping on the opened door.
"Officer McCloud," Teaspoon grinned, standing up to greet her. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"
"I wanted to talk to you about something. Can I come in?"
"Sure, sure, have a seat."
Lou sat on the other side on the table from her former boss and mentor.
"I want to ask for a transfer. I would like some desk job. Maybe research or intelligence. I don't want to be in the field."
Teaspoon listened intently, still not saying a word.
Lou started getting nervous. "Well, the thing is... Michael and I... we've been getting pretty close... and since he's my superior officer, I know Michael could get in trouble if we pursue a relationship. So I think it's better if I don't have to report directly to him."
Teaspoon stopped her. "Actually, Kidd was here a few minutes ago. He told me about the two of you and asked the same thing."
Lou jumped to her feet. "That snake. I can't believe he asked you to transfer me, and behind my back no less."
"Louise, sit down," Teaspoon said calmly. "You got it all wrong, sweetheart. He asked me to transfer him, not you."
Lou stood, rooted to the spot. "He did what?"
"He asked me to transfer him," Teaspoon answered, smiling at her.
Lou sat in her chair, unable to speak. After a few moments she looked up. "Teaspoon, it has to be me who changes jobs. He's the team leader, and," she looked down shyly, "I'm expecting a baby." She spoke softly, "Jimmy's baby."
Teaspoon nodded, "I heard about that, honey. I'm happy you have something to remember Jimmy by."
Lou wiped away a tear, and continued more briskly, "So, I wouldn't be able to go out on the field much longer anyway. And I'm going to have two kids to think about, especially now that I don't even have Theresa to count on since she's moving out." She took a deep breath. "It really should be me who changes jobs, Teaspoon."
Teaspoon nodded. "I'll look for a new position for you, Lou. I'm glad to see you this happy."
Lou nodded and rose. "Thank you, Teaspoon. Please don't say anything to Michael, though. I would like to tell him myself."
"No problem, Lou. Actually I'm glad you do, I was going to suggest you might try to speak more between yourselves next time," he winked at her as he walked her to the door.
Lou couldn't get back to her squad room fast enough and decided against the elevator. She descended the stairs quickly and hurried into the room. Her eyes scanned the room for one person in particular. She found him talking with Buck and she hurried over to the two. He was talking when she grabbed his shirt and started pulling him toward a secluded corridor. She pinned him to the wall and kissed him before he even realized what was going on.
"Lou," he panted when she broke the kiss. He held her at arm's length, watching her eyes. "What was that for?" he chuckled.
"I just came back from Teaspoon's office. I went to ask for a transfer, but guess who was there just minutes before me..."
Kidd looked sheepishly, "I'm sorry, I should have talked to you about that first, but I wasn't sure how you'd react. He didn't give me an answer, though, so I don't really know what will happen." He kissed her lightly, then remembered, "you went to ask for a transfer? Why?"
"Same reason you did, I guess," she shrugged. "I should be the one to transfer, Michael. With this pregnancy now and both children later, I think it would be better if I'd be on a job where I can be home every night, pick them up from daycare every afternoon. I told Teaspoon that and I asked him not to approve your transfer. Michael, this team needs you. More now than even before."
Kidd wrapped her in his arms and looked into her eyes. "I love you, Lou."
"I love you too, Michael," she replied and kissed him.
Lou came into the squad room alone, because Kidd was needed on a different floor for a meeting.
She was a little baffled by the silence and averted looks. It was as if her teammates tried their best to avoid looking at her.
"What's going on?" she asked Noah, coming to lean against his desk, facing him.
"Nothing new, I guess," he said sarcastically.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked, not missing his tone.
"Nothing new, Lou. Same old stuff, same old man..." he snarled, looking straight into her eyes.
Lou's eyes clouded with tears at the obvious anger in her friend's eyes.
"I saw you down the hall a few minutes ago. I guess I just thought Jimmy meant too much to you to just forget all about him in a few short months."
Lou looked around the room, searching for sympathetic eyes, someone to speak up for her after the horrible accusations from Noah, but her friends all looked the other way uncomfortable with the situation.
"Is this what you think, Noah? You think I forgot about him?"
"What do you expect me to think? Jimmy's dead what - four months? And you're already involved with someone else. Tell me, Lou, have you taken him to the bed you shared with Jimmy already?
All the occupants of the room held their breaths after Noah's statement.
Lou reached and slapped Noah's cheek loudly. "Don't you dare talk to me like that ever again, Noah Dixon. You have no right to judge me and you have no right to question my loyalty to Jimmy. I thought you were my friend too, all of you," she said, looking around accusingly. "I guess I was wrong. Good thing I asked for a transfer. I just hope Teaspoon will hurry it up." She stormed out of the office, leaving four stunned men staring after her.
Buck was the first to focus, and he ran after her.
Noah tried to follow but Cody stopped him. "I don't think you'll do her any good now, Noah."
Buck saw her entering the women's bathroom and he went to follow her there. He stood by the door, calling, "Can I come in, Lou?"
When there was no answer of any kind, he decided to take the risk and he entered the room. He found her huddled on the floor, hugging her knees, crying into her arms. He sat by her and put his arm around her shoulders pulling her into his embrace. She cried bitterly into his chest for long minutes.
"I'm sorry, Lou. We should have said something. We were wrong to think what we did, and Noah was wrong to accuse you of forgetting Jimmy."
She sobbed brokenly, "I've suffered more than any of you can imagine because Jimmy died, Buck. And I'm having his baby now, alone, because I loved him so much. It hurts that all of you begrudge me any happiness with someone else. I know Jimmy better than any of you, and I know wherever he is, he would want me to try to keep living, even though I'll never forget him. I'm sorry if all of you don't feel the same."
Buck protested, "It's not that, Lou. It's just that it all took us by surprise. We knew you had a past relationship with Kidd, but you seemed to be just good friends, nothing more. I mean, with Jimmy we knew right from the start that there was something between the two of you."
She stifled her tears. "And still you said nothing for three years. Why do you take my relationship with Michael so personally? My relationship with Michael now, as well as my relationship with Jimmy back then, is my business." She wiped the tears from her face. "I loved Jimmy, he was my best friend, and I don't understand why I need to defend myself or prove to you that my feelings were true."
"You're right, Lou." Buck said, looking at the floor. "I'm sorry for doubting that. You don't have to prove anything to us. Jimmy knew you loved him, and I guess you're entitled to move on at your own pace. None of us has ever been in your situation, and we shouldn't make judgment."
They sat quietly for a couple of minutes, before a female agent walked into the bathroom.
Buck rose awkwardly. "I guess I'd better go back now. Are you coming?"
"I'll be there in a few minutes," Lou answered.
Buck nodded and apologized to the female agent on his way out.
Lou returned to her desk ten minutes after Buck. She looked around wearily, but was relieved to see Noah was nowhere to be seen. Cody and Ike came and hugged her, apologizing for not speaking up earlier. Lou told them she was ok, and to forget about it.
The three men went out for lunch, after Lou declined their invitation to join them.
She was going over her notes, when someone put a small chocolate box, wrapped in a bow, on top of her papers. She looked up and saw Noah, smiling sheepishly at her. He grabbed a chair from nearby and sat next to her before he spoke.
"I'm sorry Lou. So so sorry." He took her hand in his. "I know you loved Jimmy. He knew that too. I guess I was surprised at how quickly you got over him and moved on."
Lou shook her head. "There's a difference between getting over him and moving on, Noah. I don't think I'll ever get over him. He was my best friend for three years," she took a deep breath before she continued, "just like I never really got over Michael in all those years. Jimmy knew that too. I loved Jimmy and I committed to him, but there was always something else in my heart too. Do I make any sense?"
Noah nodded. "Yes. I think I understand."
"I didn't rush into Michael's arms as soon as Jimmy was killed, and Michael didn't make any moves on me. We only talked about how we feel for the first time last night and no, Noah, I haven't brought him into Jimmy's bed."
Noah flinched at hearing the cruel words he'd thrown in her face. He deeply regretted his hasty words. "I'm sorry about that, Lou. I shouldn't have said it, and it's none of my business anyway. You are right. We are your friends too, and we should back you up on your choices. I hope you would still consider me a friend even after what I said."
Lou nodded and smiled before she kissed his cheek. "You are my friend, Noah. All of you."
Noah's face lit up in a smile. "Now, what was it that you said about transferring?"
"I spoke with Teaspoon earlier. I'm not sure where I'm going yet, but it could be problematic if Michael and I get even more seriously involved and keep working together like this, especially with him being my superior officer."
Noah nodded. "But why should you be the one to leave? Why not him?"
Lou smiled at Noah's concern. "He asked Teaspoon for a transfer as well. But it makes more sense that I will be the one to change jobs, Noah. I'm pregnant with my second child. I want to be there for my children every afternoon and every night. I can't do that if I stay on this team, as much as I love working with you all."
Noah kissed her cheek. "I'll miss working with you."
"Me too," she said and hugged him.
Lou's transfer was processed quickly, and by the end of the week she was already assigned to the research team, located a couple of floors above her old squad room.
Kidd helped her carry her box, filled with her old notebooks, her personal items and her pictures of Zach. There was also a photo of Jimmy she hung on the wall by her desk when she got back to work after he died. Kidd helped her get organized in her new place, and pulled out a little wrapped item.
"What's that?" she asked with a small smile.
"Just a little something for your new desk," he replied sheepishly.
Lou hurriedly unwrapped the weird shaped gift. She gasped and tears started in her eyes at the colorful ceramic replica of a hot-air balloon.
"The basket is for pencils," he explained as he saw her bewildered face. "I just thought it would be cute on your desk."
Lou looked up at him through her tears. "I love it, Michael," she whispered and kissed his cheek, wary with the eyes of her new teammates staring at them. "Thank you."
A week later Lou sat at her desk, going over the last information she received. She got up from her desk and walked to her roommate.
"Jenna, can you please check this intel again? It's totally different from the last reports we got and the team's already in the field."
"Sure," Jenna said, taking the paper from Lou. She started running data on her computer, Lou watching intently over her shoulder.
"I'm just worried," Lou started explaining. "Wrong information can be the difference between a successful operation and an unsuccessful one..." Lou felt the tears choking her,Jenna stopped and looked at Lou. "Don't worry. They'll be fine." She turned back to the computer. "Look, you're right, the data is changed, but not too much. Just go there and update them. They should be fine."
Lou shook her head to refocus. She thanked Jenna and ran out towards the control room, where she knew Ike was on duty.
Lou stopped at the entrance to the control room, remembering her last time on surveillance... when Jimmy had died. And the last time she came into a control room while Michael was on an assignment didn't end well either. Remembering what Dr. Nafti had told her to do when she felt overwhelmed by her bad memories, she took a few deep breaths, telling herself that it was different. That even back then things weren't exactly as they seemed, but this did nothing to ease her mind.
She jumped as someone knocked on the closed glass door from the inside. She smiled sheepishly at a grinning Ike. He opened the door for her.
"Hey. To what do I owe the pleasure?" he asked
"There's new info that just came in. I have to let Michael know ASAP."
Ike nodded. "He's with Noah," he motioned towards the screens. "Help yourself with the wire."
Lou sat by the wall of monitors, a little nervous. Ike smiled at her encouragingly and she placed the earplug in its place as Ike turned on her wire.
She didn't start talking right away, wanting to assess the situation first, before she started. She was surprised to hear that Michael had teamed himself with Noah. She loved Noah, and he was one of her best friends, but she knew, though he tried to hide it, Noah was still wary about Michael, and she knew Michael felt something was off.
She saw on the monitor that they were in some kind of surveillance. From the miniature camera hidden in a pair of sunglasses one of them wore, she could make the inside of a car.
As she put on the earplug, something Kidd said caught her attention.
"I never forgot about her, Noah. I thought I got over her, but then when I saw her again here, all the old emotions came back."
"So, did you make your move on her right away, or did you wait for Jimmy to..." the anger in Noah's voice was clear even over the wire.
"No!" Kidd protested, frustrated. "I didn't pursue her while she was involved with Jimmy. I didn't even want to accept how I really felt about her. I was engaged, she was involved with a good man that took good care of her and Zach... I would never have come between them. I respected Jimmy."
Lou felt the tears filling her eyes, blinding her as Kidd continued.
"I didn't even tell her Samantha left at first, not until you did, because I didn't want her to feel like I was expecting something from her. I only told her how I felt a couple of weeks ago."
"How do you feel about her?" Noah questioned, his voice calm, to Lou's relief.
"I love her. Even more than before, now that she's my child's mother. I'd rather die than do anything to hurt her again."
"What was it that you did back then to make her run away pregnant?" Noah's curiosity won over him. They all realized it must have been something very big to make Lou not even tell the father of her child about him.
Lou heard the intake of breath Kidd took. She bit her bottom lip. She glanced sideways at Ike, who was looking at her, the curiosity obvious on his face as well.
"I did something ethically questionable for information while on a job. All I can say in my defense is that it wasn't easy for me to do what I did, but it saved a lot of innocent lives."
"What did you do?" Noah asked quietly.
"I slept with another woman," Kidd blurted out.
Lou felt Ike's eyes boring into her. There was silence on the wire and Lou was certain Noah was taking in what Kidd told him.
"When I came back home after that mission she was gone. I didn't know why and I tried to find her for a few days, but I felt so low and disgusted with myself that I couldn't blame her for disappearing like she did, and I felt unworthy to ask her to take me back."
The tears fell freely from Lou's eyes and she did nothing to wipe them away. After that first night when he came into her place after learning about Zach, they never discussed the events that caused their breakup. She remembered seeing the sorrow and shame on his face when they talked at her kitchen, but hearing him now say it aloud, confessing to his feelings back then, filled her heart with sadness.
She couldn't quite explain it even for herself, but at hearing his words, her heart filled with even more love for him. She felt her heart ache for him and if she could she'd wrap her arms around him and never let go.
"That night I found out about Zach I told Lou everything. I think she forgave me, or at least we moved on. At first as friends and parents to Zach, but lately we got closer." Another pause and then Kidd continued. "I admit, if Jimmy was still alive, we'd probably just be friends. I know she loved him, and I wouldn't have tried to complicate things."
"So, what are your 'intentions' about Lou now?" Noah asked.
Kid chuckled. "Now? Now I just take one day as it comes. I'm grateful for every day I have with her, and with our son. If she'd let me, yeah, one day I would like to marry her, raise our family together, and that includes Jimmy's child. He helped raise Zach, so for me it's only right that I'd help take care of his. I know he will always have a place in Lou's heart and I accept it. I love her, her past and her future are part of her."
Lou suddenly felt an arm around her shoulder and she was pulled into an embrace.
"He really does love you Lou," Ike whispered.
Lou laughed through her tears. "I know. I love him too."
"You know what, maybe I should let them know about the new info, what do you say?" Ike offered.
Lou nodded and told him of all the changes and updates. She hugged him again and thanked him. Before she opened the door she turned back to Ike. "Ike, they don't have to know I was here," she said, uncomfortable.
Ike grinned at her. "Don't worry about it. Your secret's safe with me."
Over the next few months, Kidd and Lou spent every evening together. They went to movies, restaurants, or just stayed at home, spending time with their son. After that first time, when they talked about their feelings, they made sure not to fall asleep like they did.
They rediscovered things about each other, fell in love even more deeply and more strongly than they had all those years before.
The physical aspect of their relationship hadn't developed to more than kissing and hugging. Both longed for more, but something held them back.
They talked about it and decided it was better like that - not confuse Zach until they were sure where they were headed. After Lou's talk with Zach's teacher, Lou was even more careful about introducing new things and changes.
After consulting with the social worker Zach was seeing to help deal with all the changes in his life, Lou told Zach that she was expecting a new baby in a few months, and that Jimmy was its father. She explained it in simple words, not getting into too much detail, and was glad when Zach seemed to accept it without a problem. But she was not willing to push Zach with too many changes at once.
The sonographer applied the gel, then placed the transducer on her swollen belly. The monitor blinked on and a baby's heartbeat could be heard. "Looks good," the technician said, noting measurements. "Right on schedule."
Kidd stood by Lou's head, transfixed. Lou was nervous about her sonogram and had asked him to come along.
"Do you want to know if it's a boy or a girl?"
Lou shook her head. "No," she whispered. "I want to be surprised."
She clutched Kidd's hand; her heart was aching with happiness tinged with melancholy. So much about this baby was bittersweet to her, since the baby and father would never know each other.
"That's it, you're done," the technician said. "Here's some pictures for your family album." He handed Lou a set of black and white prints. As the technician left, Kidd helped Lou sit up and handed her some paper towels to wipe her belly. He couldn't help but be amazed at the change in her. He helped her down, and kept staring as she pulled the front of her maternity pants higher.
"Michael, please. I'm self conscious enough without you gawking. I know I look horrible, but I'll get back in shape after the baby's born, just like last time," Lou said, a little irritably. She picked up her bag and carefully put her new baby pictures inside.
"You don't look horrible."
"Right," she muttered sarcastically. "I'm sure you can barely keep your hands off me," she said darkly as they walked toward his car in the far corner of the darkened parking lot. They had gotten the last appointment of the night, and it was nearly eight o'clock. Theresa had offered to babysit, while studying for a big exam, so Lou wouldn't miss her big appointment.
Kidd opened the door to the passenger side of his car. He stopped at her comment, and turned her to him. "You look just as beautiful to me as you always have, Lou. If... if you were ready and able to make love again..." his voice was unsteady, as he gazed into her eyes by the car's ceiling light, pressed against her by the car.
"Sure you would," she retorted.
He responded by shutting the car door, pulling her close and kissing her intimately, his tongue inside her mouth, his hands slipping over her desperately. She dropped her bag on the ground and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing back just as passionately.
"Michael," she whispered, when he drew back a moment, breathless. "I am ready. Please."
Staring at her, he nodded and opened the door. "Where?" he asked, hoarsely. The need to be alone with her, was overwhelming him.
"Just drive someplace deserted, I can't wait. I can't, Michael," she said, as he helped her into her seat.
He got into his seat and started the car.
"Pull over first chance you get," she ordered him.
He saw a park and drive ahead on the highway and turned into it, noting with relief that it was deserted. He parked and turned the headlights off, then turned to her. He felt uncertain suddenly. He hadn't made love to her in so long... so much had changed. But as she leaned toward him, sliding her hands up the sides of his face, he melted into her embrace without hesitation.
He pulled away suddenly, and she whimpered a protest. He smiled gently at her. "I don't want it to be too fast, Lou. I've waited too long for this night," he said, tracing her face with his finger. The stars were now twinkling in front of them; but Kidd was lost in Lou's eyes. He opened his door and came around to her side, helping her out and into the back seat of the car.
Before anything could happen, they were suddenly startled by a light flashing in their faces. A police officer was standing by the car, tapping their window... they'd been too preoccupied even to notice his car as he'd driven up without his siren or lights on.
"Okay, kids. Move it along before somebody gets in trouble," he started to lecture. Looking a little more closely at the mortified pair, and at Lou's swollen belly, he grinned. "Looks like I might be a little late for that warning. You folks try to wait till you get home next time, okay?"
Lou nodded, mortified, and Kidd mumbled. "Yes, officer," praying that the young lawman would simply let them get dressed and go home, without making an incident of it. Fortunately, the officer walked off grinning and got in his squad car to leave. Lou and Kidd looked at each other, bursting into giggles. "I guess we are a little old for this," Lou said sheepishly. "I hope we never get too old for it," he teased, before leaning in for another kiss. The officer turned on his blue lights; Lou muttered, "Okay, we get the hint." They clambered into the front seat of the car and turned toward Lou's apartment.
The next day, Lou had a hard time focusing on the papers in front of her, and was relieved when after a few hours Kidd arrived.
"You ready to go home?" he asked with smile.
Lou grabbed her stuff and hurried out the door. He took her hand in his as they walked to his car. Kidd pulled out of the parking lot, stealing glances at her.
"Do you want to go home?" Kid asked, blushing.
Lou felt a tingling sensation starting at her toes, spreading through her whole body. "Well, Theresa's babysitting Zach, so we can have a little detour."
Kidd fumbled with the keys as he tried to open the door to his apartment. Lou's hands traveling down his back weren't helping him focus.
Finally, he opened the door and the two of them slipped through. Kidd kicked the door shut behind them as his hands already started undressing her.
They were so desperate they didn't even make it to the bed; they sank to the floor and made love on the living room rug, their lips locked the whole time.
Kidd reached out for her and pulled her closer to him. "Please stay, Lou," he whispered into her hair.
She turned her head to him and kissed his lips. "You know I can't, Michael. I need to go back to Zach."
Kidd nodded and helped her get up. "Then you'd better go now," he said, reaching for her discarded clothes and handing them to her. "I'm not sure if I would be able to let you go if you stay any longer."
He pulled his pants on and watched her as she got dressed, the desire still very much alive in his eyes.
"I can't get enough of you, Lou," he admitted huskily, hugging her before he opened the door. "I love you." He kissed her before she left.
"I love you too," she answered. "Will you pick me up tomorrow morning?"
Kidd shook his head. "You should take your own car tomorrow. I'm not sure I'll be able to get you home."
Lou nodded, understanding what he didn't say. The team was going on an assignment the next day, but he didn't want to worry her. "I love you, Michael," she said again and kissed him one more time before she closed the door behind her as she left.
Kidd leaned against the door, sighing. He jumped at the sound of a knock on his door. He opened it, surprised to see Lou standing there, a sheepish smile on her face.
"I don't have my car here. Can you take me home?" she tried her best not to burst out laughing.
He grinned and pulled her closer for a passionate kiss, he couldn't resist her being so cute and embarrassed. "Well, let me grab a shirt and I'll take you home," he said when he released her.
She watched his muscled back as he moved back into the apartment and bit her bottom lip, the desire for him building up within her again. She felt foolish, like a teenage girl, but it was like tasting a forbidden fruit, and now she kept wanting more.
She shook her head when he came back, smiling broadly as he noticed the faraway look in her eyes, realizing where her mind wandered. He moved a stray hair from her face, and kissed the top of her head.
"I'm going to miss you so much the next couple of days," he whispered huskily.
"Come on, let's get you home before I won't be able to hold myself back..."
"You come up to say good night to Zach?" Lou asked when they neared her building.
Kidd nodded and pulled the car into a parking space.
Lou waited for Kidd to open the door for her, giggling as he pulled her by the hand out of the car. They kept laughing as they went up the elevator to her floor and down the hall to her apartment. Lou opened the door and the both of them entered the apartment.
"Zach? Your dad's here, come and say good night," Lou called as she walked towards Zach's room.
She stopped dead in her tracks at the sight that caught her eyes in the living room. Zach was jumping up and down on the couch, obviously excited, while Theresa was talking to a man in fatigues with his arm in a cast, sitting on the edge of the couch with his back to the hallway. Lou started getting angry at the thought of Theresa entertaining strange men while Zach was still up, when she got closer and thought there was something very familiar about the uniformed man...
"Jeremiah!" Lou squealed, rushing towards her younger brother.
Jeremiah stood up quickly at the sound of his older sister. Lou flung herself against his chest, tears of happiness flowing down her face.
"When did you get here?" she asked, pulling back to check him over. "What happened to your arm?"
"It got broken a few days ago," he said offhandedly. "That's why I was able to come home a week earlier."
"Oh, God, Jeremiah! It's so good to see you." Lou hugged her brother close, unable to get away from him.
"Dad, come see, it's Uncle Jeremiah," Zach called, running to Kidd and pulling him into the room.
Kidd stood in the middle of the room awkwardly. It had been a few years since he last saw him, and Kidd wasn't sure how much Jeremiah knew about the reasons for his and Lou's breakup.
"Nice to see you again, Michael," Jeremiah smiled and reached his hand over Lou's head.
Kidd smiled and shook the hand. "Nice to see you too, Jeremiah. Good to have you home. Your sisters missed you a lot."
"I missed them too," Jeremiah smiled and kissed Lou's head.
"Well, I should get going," Kidd started after a moment. "Zach, would you walk me to the door?"
Zach nodded and ran to the door before his father. Lou hugged her brother again, and followed her son to the door.
She smiled as she saw Kidd taking Zach on his arms, hugging him and whispering something in his ear. Zach looked at his father, nodding eagerly and smiling. Kidd kissed Zach and put him down. The boy immediately ran back to the living room.
Lou came closer and wrapped her arms around Kidd's waist. "I love you," she said. "Please take care of yourself."
"I will. I love you too. I wish I could stay, but I have to go get some sleep before tomorrow."
Lou nodded and opened the door for him.
"I'll come by your office tomorrow before we leave," he promised before he exited.
Lou turned to see Jeremiah standing in the hall, watching her with a smile.
"What?" she asked, smiling herself.
"Nothing," he shrugged. "Just like they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same, right?" At her blush, he reached out and hugged her with his good arm. "I'm just glad to see you so happy. Why didn't you tell me you're back together?" he asked.
"I don't know. I guess I wanted to be sure where we're heading first."
Jeremiah nodded, keeping his arm around Lou's shoulders. "I understand you're sure now."
"I know I love him and I know he loves me. We still have more to figure out, but we're getting there."
"I'm glad," Jeremiah said. "And it looks like Zach's getting along well with him."
"They're like best buddies now," Lou grinned proudly. "The beginning was a bit rough, but now sometimes it seems like Zach prefers his company over mine."
"I'm sure it's not like that," Jeremiah chuckled.
Lou pouted. "It is sometimes."
After they put Zach to bed, later than he usually went to bed, the three siblings sat in the living room, chatting. They only touched safe topics, reminiscing on old memories.
When Theresa went to make some coffee, Jeremiah moved to sit by Lou. "I was so sorry to hear about Jimmy, Lou. When Theresa told me what happened I wanted to get over here as soon as possible, but I was unable to get a pass."
"It's ok, Jeremiah. I had help," Lou smiled, patting his knee. "It was very hard in the beginning, and Zach also missed him so much, but being with Michael... and having Jimmy's baby to look forward to, helped to ease the pain."
Jeremiah nodded. "And how does Michael feel about you being pregnant with Jimmy's baby?"
Lou touched her rounded belly. "Michael is ok with it. He said he wants to be there for me and help me raise this child too. I think he wants to make up for not being there for Zach." She paused and took a breath. "Michael knows Jimmy will forever have a place in my heart, but he knows I love him."
Jeremiah said nothing as just then Theresa came into the room. The three siblings talked until the wee hours of the morning, when Lou decided to get a few hours of sleep before she had to get to work.
A couple of weeks after Jeremiah's return the small family celebrated Zach's fourth birthday. They had a small event with only his parents and aunt and uncle.
They had a nice festive dinner and when Theresa took the cake out of the fridge, Zach gasped in surprise. The cake was the shape of a soccer ball, colored black and white. The cake platter was green with small soccer players standing around the cake.
"Ok," Lou smiled at her son, after they all had a piece of the cake. "Would you like to open your gifts now?"
They all laughed at Zach's enthusiastic nod. He opened the first wrapped box. Jeremiah had bought him an electronic train set. Theresa's gift was a new Dora and The Pirates computer game.
His dad and mom gave him a kite, and a brand new two-wheeler. "We can go tomorrow to the park and I'll teach you how to ride," Kid suggested.
With each gift the boy's squeals of delight grew louder and louder.
Kidd and Jeremiah stayed with Zach in the living room, building the rails for the electronic train while Lou and Theresa went to wash the dishes.
"Congratulations, Lou," Theresa said, hugging her sister.
"What for?" Lou laughed, surprised.
"Four years ago you became a mother. I think it's worth congratulating you for."
"Thank you," Lou choked, tears blinding her. "Thank you for everything you've done for me, especially since Jimmy died, Theresa. I could never have done this without you. I love you so much"
Theresa hugged her sister tightly. "Lou, you gave me a real home when Mom died, and have always been a perfect older sister. I'd do anything for you," she sniffled.
Zach, Jeremiah, and Kidd had filed into the kitchen to get another piece of cake, and found the two sisters weeping and laughing together. Little Zach raised a contemptuous eyebrow, looking at his uncle and father. "Girls," he muttered, opening the refrigerator and taking out a juice box.
Zach was running through the grass, dragging his birthday kite behind him through the dirt. Lou and Kidd looked at each other and laughed and cringed at the same time, as the kite was ripped to shreds behind the little boy.
"Zachy, you have to hold the string up more," Lou laughed, but the boy was content dragging it behind him and she shrugged, turning to Kidd.
"I guess that kite's done for," she smiled. Her smile faded nervously as she saw Kidd staring at her, transfixed. "What?"
He dropped his gaze. "You look so beautiful today, that's all," he said softly.
Lou looked down at her swollen belly. "Are you nuts? I'm big as a house. I wasn't half this size last time, I can't even imagine how big this baby is going to be," she worried.
"I said you're beautiful and I meant it."
Lou met his gaze, then got up with difficulty, and walked away. Puzzled, Kidd walked after her. One eye on Zach, he pulled her close and whispered, "Lou... there's something I've been trying to ask you for weeks now. Please, listen-"
She pushed his arms away. "Don't. Zach is right there."
Kidd was taken aback. "Can I talk to you later, then?"
"Fine, we can talk, but keep your hands where they belong, we're in public and Zach is right there on the monkey bars."
"I was thinking we could talk about that. About telling Zach about us, and... and moving in together."
She turned her face away and sighed. "No."
Hurt, he asked, "Why not? We still love each other - as much as ever, so why can't we start to move things to the next level?"
"Because, I'm thinking of Zach. He's been through too much upheaval lately, with you coming into his life, Samantha coming in and out of it, Theresa moving into the dorms, the new baby, and Jimmy..." she stopped, catching her breath. "I don't want to rush into a new living arrangement. I can't do that to Zach. He's still not over losing Jimmy."
Kid glowered a little. "Are you sure it's Zach who isn't over him, or you?"
Lou bit her lip. "I'm not apologizing for caring about Jimmy, or for hurting because he died. The fact is, we both were in serious relationships with other people just a few months ago. You were engaged, and perfectly content to marry Samantha not too long ago. I cared about Jimmy and was with him for three years... he was my best friend and my partner. And the father of my new baby. I don't think I'm asking for too much to have a little time to get past that, let Zach get past it."
Packing Zach's toys into her bag, Lou continued. "When we're ready to commit to each other for life - yes, I mean marriage- then we can move in together. Not before. I'm not disrupting Zach and the new baby after Jimmy and Samantha have only been gone a short time, really. What if we do another 180 in another few months? What then? I'm not ready," she said, fighting tears. "And if you really loved me, you'd understand."
He pulled her around, looking troubled. "Lou, I do know I want you forever. But... if you need time to be sure... I have all the time in the world. Our whole lives. I'll wait until you feel ready, for you and for the children's sake."
Lou blinked her tears back and nodded, resting her head against his chest. "Please think about it, Michael. Think about whether you're ready to be a father to someone else's child, whether we're ready to move on together, before we bring the children into this. I know you think you're ready now, but I want you to take your time and think about what that will really mean, when the new baby gets here."
He nodded, stroking her hair. "About that. I was wondering... if you needed a coach... for the delivery... I'd be proud to help you," he murmured.
She clung to him gratefully, nodding yes. "I do love you, Michael," she whispered. "Let's just not go too far too fast this time, please."
Kidd tapped on Lou's door, and was surprised when no one came to open it. He tapped a little louder, and heard Zach's feet padding toward the door.
"Who is it?" called the little voice.
"It's Daddy, Zach. Get your mommy, okay?"
"She's in bed, she won't get up."
Kidd was alarmed. "Zach, open the door for me, okay?"
The sound of a chair being dragged over to the door could be heard, followed by several long moments of Zach fumbling with the chain on the door and the locks. Finally, the door was unlocked and the chair dragged away. Kidd came in and hugged his son, who was still in his pajamas.
"Go on and turn on your Curious George DVD in the living room, okay, buddy?" Kidd said, concerned about Lou, but not wanting the little boy to follow him into Lou's room. Zach grinned and bounced off into the living room to turn on the TV.
Kidd tapped on Lou's door. "Michael?" came a faint voice. He pushed the door open and looked in. Lou was in bed, in her pajamas. "I called you and left a message on your cell, telling you I called in sick today," she said faintly. "Zach can stay here with me, it's okay."
"What's the matter, honey?" he asked, coming closer. He could see that her face was tearstained and her eyes rimmed in red.
"Nothing," she said. "I'm just tired and didn't feel like going in today, is all." She turned toward the wall, hiding her face in her hand.
He stroked her shoulder gently. "It wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that today's Jimmy's birthday, would it?"
She let out a sob. "I'm sorry, Michael. I'm sorry."
He pulled her into his arms. "Don't be. It's bound to happen that some days are harder than others."
"He would have been thirty today," she whispered into Kidd's arms. "He loved birthdays. He always made a big deal of my birthday, Zach's. He always wanted big celebrations, lots of presents. He was generous, to a fault sometimes. And he loved his own birthday," she said, a slight smile playing over her mouth, but it soon faded. "I planned his birthday months in advance, because it would have been a big birthday this year and he liked it when I made a big deal about it. I'd forgotten the present I ordered. It came yesterday, and he's not here to open it."
Kidd kept holding her, just listening.
She looked up at him. "How did you know it was Jimmy's birthday today?" she asked.
"I saw it in his personnel file when I first came on. I remembered it, because it was exactly six months before mine. I figured it would be a hard time for you. I know birthdays are important to you too," he said calmly, wiping her wet eyes.
She sighed, and cuddled closer to him. He put a hand to his pocket, and pulled something out, his hands shaking. "I noticed you've been wearing the charm bracelet I got you for your birthday five years ago. I got these for you, and was waiting for the right time," he said.
She opened the box. There were three charms inside.
She pulled one out - it was a delicate gold charm shaped like the silhouette of a baby's head. It bore Zach's name and date of birth on the back. The second was similar, but unengraved. "You can fill that one in when the new baby comes," he said quietly.
She pulled out the last charm. It was a small gold cross, with "JBH" and Jimmy's year of birth and year of death on the back. He turned it over. "The jeweler's told me they can mount a stone here if you want to," he told her, indicating.
"You're thinking of the diamond from the ring Jimmy bought me," she said, looking up at him. "Wouldn't it bother you to see me wear it on your bracelet?"
He put his hand over hers and shook his head.
She looked dubiously at him. "I feel terrible about still grieving for Jimmy, when you and I are together again," she said. "I'm so confused. I know I love you so much. But-"
He interrupted her. "But, life isn't simple, is it? Feelings aren't simple. You might love me with all your heart, but that doesn't mean you can't remember someone else who was important to you. I got this for you to prove I understand that."
Lou looked up at him. "It's one thing when the other person is dead, Michael. But what if the other person isn't? Do I have anything to worry about? Are you ready to move on after Samantha?" She glanced across the room at her dresser mirror, at her ungainly pregnant figure and unkempt hair, and remembering elegant, beautiful Samantha. "She's so much more together than I am," she said ruefully. "She doesn't have all this baggage."
He smiled, ruffling her hair. "Everybody has baggage, Lou, including Samantha."
Lou smirked. "Samantha's is more like a carry-on bag, Michael. Mine is a full set of luggage."
He sighed. "Lou, I'll always care about Samantha and want to be her friend. And if God forbid she died, I'd be sad too, like you are about Jimmy. But you're the love of my life. You never have to worry about her that way."
Lou nodded. She got up and went to the dresser, taking her beautiful charm bracelet out of the top drawer. The bracelet already had several delicate charms on it representing her life and their courtship in different ways. She snapped the three new charms onto it, and then reached back into the drawer. She slipped Jimmy's engagement ring onto it. She fastened the clasp and smiled up at Kidd. "I'll have the stone put on the cross," she said quietly, fingering the different charms. He put his arms around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head, knowing she needed to allow herself her feelings, if she could ever really deal with them.
Her arms tightened around him, and she whispered, "Thank you."
The last half of Lou's pregnancy flew by, between work, caring for Zach and learning about each other again. Kidd had been thrilled to attend Lamaze class with Lou, but when the day came for her baby to be born, found himself pale, shaking, and sweaty, watching the woman he loved laboring bravely.
Kidd held Lou's leg back and flexed against her shoulder as the nurse was instructing him to do. He was terrified; the doctor had shouted something about the baby's shoulder being caught - ordered the nurses to push her legs back and apply pressure at the pubic bone. Lou was already bleeding from an episiotomy Dr. Jones had cut, and a dark-haired, dark-eyed head was literally sticking out of Lou's body. Kidd felt the room swaying slightly.
"Hold on there, Dad," a portly nurse barked at him. "We don't need a fainter to deal with right now."
Kidd shook his head to clear it as Dr. Jones expertly swept her fingers inside Lou's body, rotating the baby's shoulder and releasing it from where it was trapped. The little body slid out effortlessly, and Lou panted with relief, slumping back against Kidd.
The baby, squalling furiously, was swept into the arms of a pediatrician standing at the ready, who took it to a corner where a team of nurses and the doctor worked over it for a few minutes.
"Lou, it's a girl," Kidd whispered. "She's beautiful."
Lou weakly nodded. "A little girl..." she whispered. Her eyes took on a faraway look. Kidd felt a little jealous pang, knowing that she was thinking of her new baby's father, who hadn't had a chance to know his daughter. But he stroked her hair silently. He knew Jimmy had loved Lou with all his heart; and he knew Lou had loved Jimmy almost as much. This beautiful baby was created from what they shared. Looking at the little angel as she was placed in her mother's arms, Kidd knew it wouldn't matter, not really. He knew he would love this little girl because she was Lou's.
"She's big, nearly ten pounds. But perfect," Dr. Klein told them. "Congratulations."
"Hello, little Jamie," cooed Lou. "We are so happy to meet you," she added, tears in her eyes. "Thanks so much for being here, Michael," she said softly, as the nurse helped her place the baby to latch on.
Watching Lou focus on helping Jamie nurse, Kidd felt another sharp pang, this time of regret. He'd missed seeing Lou do this for their first child. But he shook it off, kissing her gently as Jamie dozed at her breast. The past was the past; he would focus on making a future now with Lou and their children. "Thank you for letting me be here," he whispered.
Celinda knocked on Lou's open hospital room door and entered, smiling and carrying a large bunch of balloons reading "It's a Girl!" Lou was nursing little Jamie and looked up, smiling.
"You can hold her in just a minute," Lou said.
Celinda set the balloons by the other gifts at Lou's window. Turning, she sat in a chair next to Lou's bed, reflecting gladly that Lou's face was happy and healthy looking, if a little tired. Such a change from the last time she had visited Lou in a hospital. Her eyes fell on the wheeled bassinette. It had a card in it reading "Jamie McCloud." Celinda's eyes turned toward Lou's.
"You aren't going to call her Jamie Hickok?" she asked hesitantly.
Lou looked uncomfortable. "I... I just wanted her to have the same last name as me and Zach," she explained awkwardly. "Her middle name will be Hickok."
Celinda nodded, but still looked a little upset, Lou noticed.
"What is it, Celinda?" Lou asked gently.
Celinda hesitated, then asked, her voice trembling a little, "I understand from Noah that you and Michael Kidd are involved again."
Lou nodded. "That's true, Celinda."
Celinda reddened. "I don't mean to interfere, Louise. But I just hope you aren't going to forget about Jimmy," she said, her voice choking. "Or that he was Jamie's father."
Jamie released Lou's nipple, and Lou quickly covered her breast and put her baby girl on her shoulder to burp her. "I won't forget, Celinda. And I promise, Jamie will know about Jimmy. I'll see to that." She looked seriously at Celinda. "But I hope you can see that if Michael and I end up together, and he is a father to Jamie, she'll be better off than with no father in her life." She handed the baby carefully to Celinda, who looked down at her niece tearfully.
"And I hope you know that you're Jamie's family, and I hope you will be close with her too. That's another way to help her get to know her father," Lou said softly .
"Thank you, Lou," Celinda said, crying. "I just don't want him to be forgotten, left behind."
"Every time I look in her eyes, I remember him, Celinda. I'll never forget. But I need to move on, keep living. Jimmy would want that for me and Jamie."
There was another tap on the door, and Cody, Buck, Ike and Noah came in together with Teaspoon.
"Who's holding down the fort, you guys?" Lou teased.
"Hey, we're on our lunch break," Cody protested. "And if I give up lunch to come see a baby, that's saying something. Wow, she's beautiful, Lou."
Noah smiled and kissed Lou on the cheek, presenting her with a large stuffed bear.
"What's her name?" Buck asked, bending over the baby in Celinda's arms.
"Jamie Hickok McCloud," Lou said, tears coming into her eyes unwillingly.
Noah nodded. "He'd be really proud of her, Lou. She's perfect. You've done a good job. And I know you and Michael will do a good job taking care of her for Jimmy."
Lou smiled through her tears and pressed Noah's hand gratefully.
Zach sat in his room on the floor, playing with his blocks, when Theresa came in and said, "Zach, your mother and father just called. They're coming up in the elevator with your little sister."
Zach turned his back, without answering. Theresa looked a little worried, but heard the door opening and Lou and Kidd coming in. She rushed to the door, exclaiming over the baby. Zach sat in his room listening to the fussing over the new baby, and kicked angrily out at his towers of blocks, knocking them down.
Lou came into Zach's room, and found him glowering darkly. "Hey, Zachy, I'm home. I missed you so much," she said, hugging him. He buried his face in her shoulder, clutching her. Theresa came in holding Jamie, and said, "Zach, come see your little sister."
Zach's face darkened. He looked at the baby and muttered, "She's funny-looking."
Lou smothered a smile. "Honey, that's because she was just born. Her face is a little mushed up, but she'll look better in a day or two, really."
Zach looked disdainfully at the baby, then turned his back again and started rebuilding his blocks. Lou looked a little hurt, but Kidd, watching from the doorway, placed a hand on her back and whispered something to her. Lou nodded, got up and took the baby into her room, to lay her in her bassinette, and Kidd closed Zach's door.
He sat down on Zach's bed and watched him playing a moment. "I guess you missed your mama a lot the last couple of days, huh?"
Zach nodded slightly, still focused on his blocks.
"I know she missed you a lot too. She said so a lot of times."
Kidd tried again. "And now that Mama is back, maybe you and I can spend some special time together today, how's that sound?"
Lou came in as Kidd spoke.
"Is she coming?" Zach asked, his voice cracking a little.
"Jamie?" Kidd asked.
"No, honey, she's got to stay in now, and I'm very tired, so I can't come right now either. But I will take you someplace special, just you and me, tomorrow, okay?" Lou said.
Zach sniffled, "You like her better than me. You don't want to come out with me and Daddy because she's here now."
Kidd rushed to put an arm around him. "Zach, I know how you must feel. But Mama and I don't love you any less because we love Jamie." Zach looked up dubiously. "Think about it, Zach. You didn't love Jimmy any less because you got to know me, right?"
Zach nodded slowly. "Well, it's the same thing. Love's like that. Your mama and I can love you just as much, even if there's a new baby to love. We always will, too."
Kidd drew Zach into his arms, and Lou wiped the tears from her eyes. Zach put an arm out to hug Lou at the same time, and Lou whispered to Kidd. "It's time to tell him, I think." Kidd looked her in the eyes, and nodded.
"Tell me what?"
"We wanted to tell you, that mommy and daddy love you very much. And we love each other very much too," Kidd said, putting an arm around Lou.
"Are you going to get married?" the four-year old asked innocently.
Kidd looked at Lou, then said, "I hope so, someday, Zach. But for now I'm your mama's boyfriend."
Zach chortled with laughter. "Boyfriend!" he guffawed. "Gross!" He bounded up and said, "Come on, Daddy. Let's go out and play football, just us guys."
Lou grinned and nodded, picking up Zach's football and tossing it to Kidd. "Fine," she laughed. "I know when I'm not wanted."
Zach looked a little remorseful, and kissed his mother, flinging his arms around her neck. "I want you, Mama. I missed you. I just meant because you're tired, is all."
She held his little body and stroked his hair. "I know, Zachy. Go ahead and have fun." She smiled as Zach planted another sticky kiss on her cheek and bounded out the door with Kidd.
Kidd and Lou walked from the exclusive restaurant where they'd shared a romantic dinner together. They strolled out together hand in hand, and Lou murmured, "Sure is a pretty night."
He stared at her, and she looked curiously at him. "You sure are," he said admiringly, slipping an arm around her waist. It had been only four months since she'd had baby Jamie, but she felt as tiny as ever in his arms, he thought.
"That was a wonderful dinner," Lou said. "Worth the long wait for that reservation you made. Though I guess it should be good with the prices they charged." He still stared at her, lost in her eyes.
"You have something on your mind tonight, Michael? You seem a little distracted."
They had reached the National Mall, and Kidd said, nervously, "Why don't we go over toward the Monument? By the Reflecting Pool?"
"Okay," she said, letting him lead her to the pool. He stopped under a cherry tree and broke off some blossoms for her, handing them to her with a nervous smile. She took the small branch, the charm bracelet she always wore jingling a little as she raised the blossoms to her face.
As they stood looking across the pool, Kidd turned to her, taking both her hands. "Lou, you know how I feel about you by now, I hope. I hope I remind you of that enough."
"Every day," she smiled.
"I want to spend the rest of my life reminding you every day, Lou. And taking care of you and the children."
She beamed at him, as he knelt down and looked up into her eyes. "Louise McCloud, will you marry me?"
The world stood still for the two of them as she nodded, eyes wet, and he slipped a diamond ring on her finger. He rose and captured her lips with his own, as they both forgot the milling tourists and surroundings and lost themselves in each others' kiss.
Kidd and Lou joined hands in front of the judge. Waves lapped at the shore and the moonlight reflected off the water... and Kidd couldn't take his eyes off Lou, dressed in a softly clinging strapless white gown, with a white flower tucked behind her ear. She carried a small bunch of white flowers in her other hand. "You look beautiful," he whispered to her, and she smiled softly up at him.
Theresa held a sleeping Jamie in her arms as she looked on, standing behind her sister. Little Zach proudly held his Uncle Jeremiah's hand as he stood next to Theresa. The team had all managed to fly out to L.A. to attend the simple ceremony, and were standing in a group behind their boss and former teammate.
The pair turned their eyes to the judge as he spoke the words joining them, finally, as man and wife. After they made their vows to each other, the officiant gestured to a small table, where a large unity candle was set alongside four smaller candles.
Lighting the four small candles, the officiant handed them to Lou, Kid, Zach, and Theresa.
"These candles represent Louise, Michael, Zachary, and Jamie... the unity candle is lit from all four candles, to show that they form one family now, from this day forward."
They carefully placed the candles together, lighting the larger candle. Lou handed two pins to Kidd from her bouquet. He bent and pinned one to Zach's lapel, and the other to Jamie's white dress. "I give you these pins, as a symbol that you are both our children now, and that I'll love and take care of you both from this day forward." Jamie kicked up her little feet and squealed suddenly, drawing a laugh from the guests. Kidd straightened up and took Jamie on one arm, while Lou held Zach's hand. Handing her bouquet to Theresa, Lou took Kid's free hand. Standing hand in hand, the four listened while the officiant solemnly proclaimed, "I now pronounce you man and wife... and family. You may kiss the bride."
Without letting go of their children, Kidd and Lou turned and kissed, to the applause of their friends and family.
Zach looked over across Aunt Celinda at his two year old sister Jamie in her car seat. She was sound asleep, her mouth open and her eyes buttoned shut. Up front, Aunt Teresa was driving, and Mama was resting in the front seat next to her, her hands rubbing her big round belly. Mama had a smile on her face; she was always so happy and smiling now. His and Jamie's new baby sister was coming soon, and Mama had stopped going to work a month ago to get ready. They'd had a wonderful day with Aunt Teresa and Aunt Celinda. He looked out the window, sleepily, and yawned, feeling contented and safe in the cozy warm darkness, with his favorite CD in the player. His eyes started drooping shut.
Mama's sudden scream jerked him awake; he looked up just in time to see a pair of headlights speeding right into and through the windshield - before the world seemed to explode around him in a rain of shattered glass and blood. He sat dazed in his carseat... Jamie was screaming in terror as Aunt Celinda frantically unsnapped the harness on her carseat. With baby Jamie screaming in her arms, Aunt Celinda unsnapped his seatbelt, and staggered to the side of the road, carrying him and his sister away from the wreckage. As Zach looked over her shoulder he heard sirens were sounding in the distance... and the car horn was blaring.
Zach screamed for his mother - - but though her eyes were open, she didn't seem to hear him, but just sat staring, with a trail of blood running from her open mouth, before the EMT's surrounded the car. One of them shouted to the policeman who ran to the car. "Fatal accident... drunk driver in the other vehicle, unharmed... " as Aunt Celinda clutched him and Jamie to her, sobbing.
To be continued . . .