Bright sunlight engulfed Lily in magnificence as she stalked to her car. Her hair shone red gold and flapped like a satin sheet in the wind, rippling and shining. "Fool! Asshole!" she muttered to herself between clenched teeth. ‘He doesn't know how lucky he is to be alive.' Not only would she have liked to have killed him for the stunt he just pulled, but it was tempting to kill him for the years she suffered because of him. But then he wouldn't suffer enough, her evil mind said, and her rational mind concurred for once. George was having a smoke on the hood of her car, and Rupert seemed to be giving a fashion show. The back passenger door was ajar and there was a variety of clothing flung over the door and seats. The gleam of fresh white sneakers caught her eye and she couldn't help herself but smile. Nothing feels as good as new shoes, she thought dreamily. When you were a kid, and your mom bought you new sneakers, you felt as though you could do anything, maybe even fly. You always wore them home, with your old shoes in the box, never to be seen again, because you loved your new shoes more. George considered her while taking a long drag on his cigarette. She was pissed when she first appeared, then had softened as she approached. What was up? George looked at her with a meaningful flick of his brows and half smile. Lily tossed her head in response and George responded with a knowing nod. They never needed words to speak. Lily smiled at Rupert's obvious delight and he in return, was quite dumbfounded at the soft emotion directed toward him. He didn't know the proper way to respond. Lily hit a chord with him. She was nothing short of the goddess, incarnate. K had saved his body, but Lily, Lily had saved his soul. Rupert packed up his things quickly, not wanting to displease, while George smoked some more and Lily split her attention between the grounds in general, her watch, and the cell phone with last minute details. Finally Rock reappeared. Fifteen minutes later, according to Lily's watch. He looked flushed, and there was the drying wound to his temple the others noticed. Lily thought she smelled gunpowder as he got in the car, but he allowed George to take the front seat this time and chose to sit in the back, in silence. Rupert, still hyped from the shopping, attempted to make chit chat but was rebuffed by an icy cold stare. Although he tried valiantly not to, Rock locked eyes with Lily in the rearview mirror. Finally Lily broke the silence. Flicking her eyes quickly to the road and back again, she asked, "Got something you want to tell me?" Rock smiled his big, phony grin of steel and replied.

"No darlin', nothing to worry your pretty head about." The rest of the trip to the airport was pretty damn quiet.

A pretty stewardess was standing at the front of the cabin, smiling and pointing while an unseen attendant entered into a soothing monologue of monotony regarding oxygen masks, emergency exits and flotation devices, blah, blah, blah... Lily thought this was a pointless exercise. If this big bird headed earthward suddenly, no crappy oxygen mask was going to help. Parachutes, maybe, but otherwise, she sighed with the tedium and the stress of it all. George, in the seat next to her, smiled like a big kid and patted her hand. He offered her his headset, and when she declined, he stuck his finger in her ear and she giggled and bobbed her head along with his, as though she were now "plugged in". The pretty stewardess, or flight attendant, as was now proper, glared their way in a polite, restrained fashion. Lily covered her mouth with her hand and George raised his eyebrows and tried to look non chalant. Then they both laughed wantonly, causing everyone to look at them. Lily regained herself, then flashed a big, "cat-who-ate-the -canary" smile at them all and waved at the rest of the passengers, half of whom looked away immediately. Some embarrassed, some indignant. A few heads were still turned, some drinking up Lily, some admiring George. Some wished they knew what they were laughing about and some who wished they were laughing like that. A nervous twitter ran through the cabin, and the stewardess appeared fairly steamed. Having lost the train of the voice recording and all. Lily more than made up for it, tipping generously for their drinks. She could feel Rock's eyes on her from his dark seat across the aisle. Lily tried to close her eyes and rest, but it eluded her. Her brain was clicking and whirring and processing the events of the last few days, and what she could piece together of the past. Jesus help me, she thought. So tired. The feeling was similar to having stayed up for several days and not being able to rest or relax when you finally could. Where your skin sort of crawled and your body had a fine tremor all over from exhaustion and you could scream with the burning in your muscles, except, you're too exhausted to take in the breath such a scream would necessitate. How could you be so angry with someone, and yet feel such a bittersweet yearning in your gut? Her mind was starting to ask the hard questions she didn't want to deal with and she rolled her eyes. She rolled them to the side and opened them again directly into Rock's gaze. Her stomach dropped and she let her eyes speak for her. Rock's eyes softened into a tranquil sky blue until tender memories assailed them both. Lily's fond remembrances ended with her confusion and pain and Rock's eyes changed to pity and Lily's changed again to anger. Her face followed suit and got hard around the lips. Rock looked startled for a moment and lily used his confusion to her advantage and closed her eyes. She tried to focus on hate. Easier, less to lose. But she knew she was lying to appease her brain-bitch. Her long starved body craved his willing touch. She shook her head and scrunched her eyes shut, unwilling to meet his gaze. She willed herself to think of Daniel. Daniel Tortuga, "turtle Dan" in his native tongue of Cherokee, literally. Her love. Daniel. Dark curly hair, long, to his mid back if you were to stretch out one of his glossy curls. His eyes, so blue, when he looked her way. Like cornflowers. Open and honest. Surround those eyes with thick black lashes, full lips, high cheekbones, mmmmmm. So thick and rich and sensual. All over. So thoughtful, and smart. So gentle and loving. And why exactly was this short, cold, blond man intruding on her peace of mind? What was wrong with her anyway? Daniel had everything Rock did, and more. Lots more, Lily grinned inwardly and started really thinking about Daniel. The last time they were together it was wonderful. She was in Buenos Aries, posing as a visiting princess, to steal the famed Ruby of Buenos Aries. An eccentric arms dealer in Kiosk took it off her hands for a worthy sum. Daniel had been in South America on a dig, in lesser known areas of Inca inhabitation. They had slept in his small tent, after dining on barbecued Iguana. Just like chicken, the skin was the best part. They had curled up like spoons and the weariness of their days had overtaken them into sleep. Lily was awaken by a sensation building in her lower abdomen. Rippling waves of pleasure filled her as she realized Daniel's gentle touch had awakened and aroused her. She arched back against him, Knowing now that she was awake, he slipped his hand around to cup her round, warm breast. He began nibbling her neck and her mind whirled away in a confusion of sensations. She twisted around in his embrace and their lips crashed together and their tongues splashed into each other's mouths like waves. Crashing and rolling and tossing. Lily could feel how aroused Daniel was. A silky iron bar of desire was prodding her in the belly between them, she urged him over onto his back and gazed into his oh-so-blue eyes. His eyes held passion, lust, love and trust. Running her hands over his chest and upper arms she admired his husky muscularity. Gently she massaged his chest and nibbled his neck from ear to collarbone. Closing his eyes and rolling his head back, Daniel allowed Lily to do what she would with him. His lips parted in a soft moan and he whispered tenderly, "Please return your seat and tray table to it's proper, upright position." Her eyes came open at once. Obviously, she had dropped off. It was a long flight but it seemed like mere moments to her. Damn, just when I was having good dreams for a change, she grumbled in her mind. Against her will, she threw a look in Rock's direction. He was still looking at her in a troubled way. Had he spent the entire flight this way?

"Welcome back sleeping beauty." George's voice intruded on her thoughts, quieting them. Lily smiled a puffy, sleepy half grin at him and stretched a moment before straightening her seat and fastening her belt.

"Hello yourself. Did you sleep?"

"Yeah, after a few cocktails and a full belly of cardboard bitties. I knocked off for an hour."

"How many did that leave? What time is it?" He showed her his watch. An attendant was passing warm damp towels and Lily gratefully accepted one to refresh her tired face and eyes. From her purse she pulled out a small hairbrush, moisturizer, carmex and cologne. In a few moments she looked dewy and fresh. George was staring at her now.

"Amazing. and no makeup."

"Pretty is as pretty does." she replied. A quick glance Rock's way verified the fact that he was just as amazed as George. A soft light shone in his eyes, his nostrils flared, his breathing became more noticeable. Suddenly it was if his aura had expanded and Lily swore she could feel it's pressure on her in a palpable fashion. A blush crept into her face, lighting her from within with a soft, rosy glow. Rock was nearly trembling with restrained yearning. He was acutely aware of his heart beating in his neck. He focused on his body and checked his responses to prevent himself from lunging across the aisle and exercising some base need on Lily. Her blush had only inflamed his desire for her. How delicate she appeared now. But he knew better. A quick touch to the wound on his temple cooled his jets a degree or two. "Control..." He reminded himself. The landing was without incident and the group held their seats until they were last to disembark into the terminal. Katherine and Aurora were waiting to greet the group. George rushed forward to enthusiastically greet the two old friends. Rupert, now half hid behind Lily, despairing of K's displeasure. Rock followed a few steps behind the crowd. After George put K back on the ground from a swinging bear hug, K hugged Lily fiercely, possessively, and kissed her full on the mouth loudly. Lily and Aurora also embraced and kissed on the lips, although somewhat more restrainedly. Lily was just recovering from the motherly, bosomy hug of Aurora when she saw an ugly look cross K's face and saw her nod a halfhearted greeting at Rock. Rock nodded slightly and then bowed shallowly, a gesture of contempt in some countries and the subtleties were not lost entirely on Katherine. Aurora however, was tickled to allow Rock to kiss her hand and bow deeply before her, to show his respect for her while simultaneously showing his disdain for Katherine. Aurora reveled in any little victory over K. Men were her number one weakness. K turned to Lily, dismissing Rock as though he wasn't there.

"The car is waiting, your bags were picked up by the boys, and they are also waiting with the car. Basil traveled, first class, with us. He loved the meatloaf." K filled her in with an important air.

"You let him eat meatloaf? He sleeps with me, you know. Anyway, I suppose we should be getting on. Which way? What kind of car? How far to home this time, I'm beat, got diet coke?" Lily asked in a quick fashion.

"yep, yep, yep, this way, the mini van is waiting outside, not too far, and, yes, I have a cold, icy diet coke waiting for you. Just the way you lik-a!" K joked and tried to be more jovial with this homecoming. Lily certainly didn't object to this welcome. She was so used to arriving places only to go and hide in other places. It was nice to have someone fuss over her. Just once, she'd like to stay in one place. Somewhere. Somewhere warm. Not much snow, but some. Some storms, but not tornado alley. Somewhere that felt safe. All her life she'd been running, and she longed to slow down. To stop. How could she? This was all she'd known since early adulthood. The game. Soon they were at the van, the steamer trunks she lugged about filled the back. Lily shook off this sense of malaise and got in the front, next to K of course, a big, icy diet coke waiting, as promised.

"How far to home?" Lily queried, hoping for a direct answer.

"Twenty minutes and out of airline alley." K replied, never taking her eyes from the swarming road ahead of her.

"Good. I can hardly wait... Where the hell are we?"

"Seattle."

Lily sat back and took a deep drink of her soda. Something about the cool liquid coursing down her throat relaxed and soothed her. K and Diet Coke were her only constants in life. Diet Coke being the more readily available. K was almost as available, but she did have human needs, like sleep. Many a night Lily had soothed her loneliness in the universe in a total dive restaurant with a diet coke. Some good, some really crappy, but always diet coke. Dive restaurants like Wags, Dewey's, Broadway Cafe, were always safe. Who would look for a master thief in a dive? Shouldn't they eat lobster? eeechhhkkk. Lily thought. Bring on the patty melt, extra catsup. Just thinking of the greasy, ever ready fare at these places soothed her into a half napping state. George and Aurora were alternately telling tales and were laughing together. Dog had fallen asleep finally, after staying awake the entire four hour flight, worrying about crashing. It didn't even occur to him to worry about K until they landed. Vain worries to be sure. K had assessed the situation immediately when she saw dog hiding behind Lily and realized she had lost one of hers to Lily. Nothing new, but disappointing as ever, and as usual, Lily would extend protection to those that were hers. That was okay, boys were a dime a dozen, Rupert would serve Lily well and faithfully as he had her, a testament to her good training. K gazed over at Lily in a loving fashion and Lily caught this look.

"What?" Lily asked.

"Nothing."

"My ass,...what?!"

"I just think it's so cute that Dog follows you around and you seem to have grown fond of him." Lily was tempted to lay into her, but decided the fight wasn't worth it, and restrained herself to saying,

"His name is Rupert, not Dog, and if you don't mind, and even if you do, I'll keep him. I'm thinking of taking him to paris for cooking school."

Lily said this very matter of factly, as if there was no choice and this was pre-decided. K acquiesced quietly, but a frown crossed her brow.

"Did Magnus displease? I knew he should have pushed harder."

"No! No, it's alright. I'm confused right now and Magnus would have made it worse. You know me, my heart rules. Not my loins. Not anymore, anyway," Lily finished in a mumble. K threw her a glance she couldn't read. Oh lord, thought Lily, now she's going to try and find the way to my loins. Lily rolled her eyes and then lay back and watched the scenery go by.

"Damn, it's hilly here. Does it always rain like this?" Lily kvetched.

"Yup, that's washington."

"Great." Lily felt somehow like she'd been cheated. She thought K and Aurora would have picked a warm sunny spot. She hadn't been in washington in years. Fall was best, fresh apples, changing leaves, cider and festivals. But springtime? She understood how more people commited suicide here more than any other place, save siberia. It was dark, it was raining, it was noon. It seemed like her lot in life lately. Lily sighed, and K glanced her way momentarily then turned into a secluded drive. Soon a house came into view. The house itsself was large and unfortunately decrepit. The porch in front sagged so that one more dog on it would collapse it. As providence would have it, there were already two dogs on the porch. Mongrels from neighboring farms, probably. Vines overgrew the porch, some flowered, some not. Lily made a mental note to get someone on these problem areas. She coudln't go to a safe house if it was in disrepair. She felt it was her duty to improve the property. To contribute to society in a positive way. It was what kept her sane. K laughed.

"You look so worried! Don't, the water and such are just fine, it just looks bad."

"Tell me you already have plans for it's reimprovement." Lily peered at the house through the rain spattered windshield dubiously at the structure. K laughed again.

"What, with your money? Of course. Local labor is scheduled to be here monday." That relaxed Lily a bit. she always insisted on local folks to repair her homes. One, it was good for the local economy, two, it was less likely to house a double agent. Lily felt relatively safe here though, despite first appearances. Who knew she was here? Furthermore, who would look here at a rundown, ramshackle house? Not usually Lily's type of place. She usually stayed at hotels. With room service. Just the thought of this all made Lily smile and relax a little. For the first time in days, Lily felt her equilibrium returning. K parked at the back door and honked. Magnus and a few other good looking boys rushed out to grab the luggage. Magnus was obviously in charge since he carried no burdens. Lily rolled her eyes as he came around to her door. Who were these new boys? This bothered her for a moment until her door was suddenly opened. Why hadn't she opened her own door. What was wrong with her. She felt so irritable. Magnus offered up a hand to assist her but she waved his hand away. Magnus saw her mood and assisted the back seat passengers instead. They all tumbled out eagerly and headed for the house. Magnus cuffed Rupert in the back of the head and Lily snapped.

"What in the hell do you think you're doing? Hands off! He's mine!" Magnus had dropped to his knees, and Lily then kicked him in the chest with the flat of her booted foot, pushing him to the ground.

"K!" Lily yelled with frustration. "this one just smacked rupert upside the head, and in the mood I'm in I can't be responsible, deal with this!" Lily stalked off to the house as K helped Magnus to his feet and explained quietly that some changes had occured.

end chpt


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