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It’s been a week, and I’m still in Medical. I’m going stir crazy. Lying in bed allows me a lot of time to think. Too much time. Why the hell do I keep falling for Michael’s tricks? I thought, finally, he’s opening up to me. I’m so stupid. I let it give me hope that maybe we could have a chance, or at the very least try for a chance.

“Stupid,” I say again, aloud this time.

“I sure hope you’re not talking about me.”

“Laci,” I say, startled.

Of all the people I expect to see, Laci is at the bottom of the list.

“How are you feeling?” she asks, pulling up a chair.

“A little confused,” I answer, honestly.

Laci’s never liked me, and makes no apologies for it. I can’t read her face. She’s neutral as she sits, leaning back casually in the chair.

“What are you doing here?” I narrow my eyes in suspicion.

“Can’t I come see how a fellow team member is doing without the suspicious look you’re shooting me right now?” she asks, blinking a few times.

“If I believed for a second that’s what this was then absolutely. But we both know that’s not what this is. So, what is it that you want, Laci? Is it to tell me how I can’t be trusted because I gave up the substation?”

My anger is rearing its beautiful head. Laci fidgets in her seat before speaking.

“Quite the opposite, actually. I don’t fault you for that one bit. I would’ve done the exact same thing. In fact, for Michael’s life there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do.”

That makes me smile. For all the love lost between us we do share that one common ground. As bad as Michael has been to the both of us we will still do anything, kill anybody, to save his life.

“I’m here because I have to know . . .” she stops.

I prompt. “Know what?”

Call my curiosity piqued.

“How does it feel to have Michael’s heart?”

The sadness is clear in Laci’s voice. However, that doesn’t stop my jaw from dropping to the floor. This bitch has finally lost her mind.

“What makes you think anyone could possess anything Michael has, especially his heart? In fact, I seriously doubt he has one,” I say, rolling my eyes.

“If you truly believe that then you’ve proven my point. You don’t deserve him.”

Her words are sharp and her glare, heated. I cut her a look. My glare matches the same fire she’s giving off. I want to call her crazy, but, I’m really curious on how her mind works, so I play along.

“Okay, let’s say for argument’s sake that a woman could possess Michael’s heart. Why do you think it’s me he gave it to?”

I’m truly confused. She obviously isn’t privy to the mission, or how could she possibly think Michael loves me? I know all too well how Michael feels. I’m still carrying the bumps and bruises to prove my point. But, I will let Laci explain her delusions.

“When I was a new recruit we went out on a mission. My first mission, and I got shot. I was careless and didn’t clear a room properly,” she pauses.

I see the far off look in her eyes and know she’s revisiting that day in her mind. Running through the countless ways she could’ve done things differently. Having done this job, now, for five years, she still kicks herself for that one rookie mistake.

“It was your first mission. I’m sure you clear rooms more carefully now because of it. It could happen to any new recruit,” I explain, trying to make her feel better.

Laci gives me a not so-friendly look before she speaks.

“My point is,” she says, harshly. “I was in the hospital for almost two weeks. Do you know how many times Michael came to visit me? None, that’s how many.” Laci doesn’t hesitate admitting. “You know how many times Michael’s come to visit you in the short week you’ve been here?” she asks, her tone surly.

I don’t think this week has been short at all. In fact, it’s been one of my longer ones. However, I do know the answer to that question. The answer is a profound.

“None,” I say with confidence. Laci laughs out loud.

“That’s what he would have you believe,” she states.

“I think I would know if he had visited, Laci.” She’s pissing me off.

“Not if you were sleeping.”

“How do you know any of this?” I sit up a little straighter.

“I have my ways.”

“Are you spying on him, Laci?” I ask, narrowing my eyes at her. I don’t know whether to be angry or creeped out.

“I love him, Shyira. I don’t expect you to understand that.”

Oh, I understand. I understand it all too well; although, I didn’t expect her to be so brutally honest. We share the same idiotic affliction, but that doesn’t give her the right. I’ll remember this when I’m alone with Michael. Not everything we say is private.

“Okay, tell me. How many times has Michael come to see me in the short week I’ve been here?”

“Don’t mock me, Chandler.” She’s showing her anger.

“I’m not,” but I am. How dare she imply my being shot, and having been hospitalized for a week a trivial matter?

“How do you know he didn’t visit you while you were sleeping as well?”

“Like I said, I have my ways,” she states, dryly.

“Okay, so because he visited me a couple of times while I slept, you now think he loves me? I don’t get your logic, Laci.”

“It’s so much more than that, Chandler. You don’t see the way he looks at you when he thinks no one is watching. To him, you’re the only one in the room. I can see him battling himself every time, not to go to you-”

“You’re crazy,” I say, interrupting.

As the words come out, I remember the tenderness I saw in Michael’s eyes while in the cage. It flashes, if only momentarily, across my mind.

“Have you ever asked him why you’re here? You were never part of the profile. He killed a team member for you,” Laci reveals, with a look of hate in her eyes.

“What?” I ask in denial.

“Ask him, Chandler. Ask him what happened to McDaniel.”

Laci stands then, walking out the door. She’s lying, my inner companion spits. Michael would never kill a member of his own team. Threaten, yes, but kill? No way. Laci must know the things she just said will get back to Michael. That she can’t spread rumors like these, and not face the consequences. The doors open, stealing my thoughts. I couldn’t have been more grateful.

“Godfrey,” I exclaim.

I want to jump out of bed to give him a much-needed hug, but my body has other ideas. Instead, I gingerly walk over and wrap my arms around him.

“Well hey, sugar plum. I think that’s the best hello I’ve ever had. Let me guess, you’re going crazy being cooped up in here.” He laughs, returning my embrace.

“You have no idea. Not to mention the unwanted visitors.”

“Judging from my warm embrace, I’m not one of those unwanted visitors, thank goodness. Let me guess, you’re talking about Thing One and Thing Two,” Godfrey says more quietly, speaking of the General and Sonja.

Laughing, I say, “No, actually, I was talking about Laci.”

I make my way back to my bed. I feel better, but not completely healed. I’m still very sore, and my ribs are still very much broken. As happy as I am to see Godfrey the tight embrace might have been a little more than my ribs could handle.

“I think the girl has really lost her mind. She’s borderline psychotic,” I confess.

“What did she say? Let me guess, whatever it was, it had to do with Michael. She’s been in love with him since training,” Godfrey confirms, taking the seat Laci vacated.

“You know what? I don’t want to talk about her. I do have a question, and I hope you can help me with the answer.”

“If I have the answer, frosted flake, you’ll have the answer. Shoot.”

“Why am I here?”

Godfrey sighs, leaning forward in his seat to rest his elbows on his knees.

“I wish I had an answer for you, but I’m afraid that’s an answer only Frankenstein and his bride can give you, or Michael,” he answers, sitting up, shrugging his shoulders.

“Laci said Michael changed the profile. I’m not supposed to be here.”

I lean my head back against the pillow, closing my eyes. I can’t believe I’m saying this last part at all.

“She said Michael killed a member of his team to get me here.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Godfrey admits without hesitation.

My eyes pop open as my head flies up.

“What do you mean, that’s true?” I ask in disbelief. I just knew she was lying about that.

“I don’t know the details. All I know is McDaniel was in the N.E.P. program, and it was up to Michael when and if he expired him. He must have done something off-profile,” Godfrey says, matter of fact, shrugging his shoulders again.

“What’s the N.E.P. program?” I ask, confused.

“Non-Essential Personnel. If you have too many marks on your record, you’re placed on suicide missions only, unless your handler thinks they can still use you. It’s at their discretion when to do you in. Once you’re in the program, you only have so long to live,” Godfrey explains. More and more this place gets harder and harder to take.

“That doesn’t make any sense. Not to mention it’s disconcerting as hell,” I say more to myself, but Godfrey comments anyway.

“This is the Collective, cupcake. It doesn’t have to make sense. In fact, you’ll find things in here rarely do make sense.”

I laugh, bringing a frown to Godfrey’s face.

“Did I miss the joke, beautiful?”

“You have no idea how right your statement is. Laci also said Michael’s in love with me.”

As I say it out loud, I can’t help but laugh harder at how ridiculous it sounds coming out of my mouth. My ribs cut my laughter short, however. As I gather my composure, I look at Godfrey’s straight face.

“Oh, come on, Godfrey. Don’t tell me you’re drinking the water as well? I look to you as my one place of sanity in this new world of chaos. Please don’t let me down,” I plead with him.

“Should I tell you what would appease you, or should I tell you what I think?” he asks with no humor in his voice.

I hold his gaze as I answer his question. “I would like to know what you think.”

“I think Michael cares for you as much as he knows how. Michael is not like you and me. He’s mission oriented. Little else matters in his life. When he brought you here he changed. It’s small, and to someone who doesn’t know him, and I use that term loosely because no one really knows Michael, we can see it. I assure you, Laci is looking for it. I see it in his eyes when he looks at you. They soften ever so slightly,” Godfrey explains.

His words steal my thoughts, and for a while I’m quiet. Godfrey stands to leave, I suppose it’s to leave me with my thoughts. Thoughts--I’m not quite sure I want. He leans down, kissing me sweetly on my forehead.

“Get some rest, cupcake. You’ll be out of here in no time.”

Godfrey is almost to the door when I speak, “You’re slipping, Godfrey. You already called me cupcake,” I smile faintly at him.

“You’re right,” he says, opening the door. “Check you later, peach cobbler,” he smiles, winking at me.

“That’s the Godfrey I know and love.”

I roll over on my side--the one that doesn’t have broken ribs--and try to absorb what Godfrey said. I don’t want to think about all the ways Michael has shown me he doesn’t care. And, I really don’t want to think about what signals I may have missed that would’ve told me he does in fact care about me. I don’t want to think, period because the whole thing’s a mess. I need to get out of here before I have a complete melt-down. I can rest and heal easy enough from my own apartment. In my own bed. The door opens and the one person who can grant me what I need most, enters.

“Dr. Cavanagh. Just the man I want to see. If you’re not here to release me then you can leave, right now,” I say, eyeballing him.

“Good afternoon to you, too, Ms. Chandler,” the doctor mocks. “I need to examine your wounds.”

“I’ll save you the trouble. I feel fine.”

“That’s my decision, not yours. Now, stand up for me,” he demands.

I stand, walking over to him. He tries to begin the exam. As he reaches for me, I grab his hand twisting it hard behind his back. When I have him where I want him, I speak sweetly in his ear.

“Let me tell you how this is going to go. You’re going to sign whatever papers you need to sign, and release me. Do we have an accord?” I ask, releasing his arm from my grip.

The doctor turns to face me, rubbing his wrist. “All you field operatives are the same. All you know is violence to get what you want. I’ll sign your papers for release, but if something goes wrong I won’t be held responsible.”

The doctor scribbles something on his paper before handing it to me to sign. He walks out the door without another word. I quickly change, gathering my items before walking out of the infirmary.

In my haste to get the hell out of the cave, I didn’t think about my appearance. Walking around in public looking the way I look, apparently causes people to forget their manners. All eyes are on me as I walk into my building and they don’t stop until I’m sequestered in the elevator. My mother always said: it isn’t polite to stare, but it’s obvious these people didn’t get the memo. I can only imagine what they must be thinking. I look as if I’ve gone twelve rounds with Mike Tyson, and lost, badly. The swelling has gone down, but the bruising is more than apparent. I hit the button for the third floor, and home. It’ll feel so good to be home, behind closed doors and away from all the Looky Lou’s. Reaching my door, I fish my keys from my bag to unlock it. A familiar voice calls from down the hall, stopping me in my tracks.

“Shyira?” he asks, skeptically.

I force in a deep breath, ignoring the pain before turning around. I know his reaction to me will be great. I need to prepare myself. When I turn around, his reaction isn’t what I expect. Griffin stops dead in his tracks and just stares at me. Just as I start to feel uncomfortable he starts towards me, not breaking stride until he’s right in front of me. He reaches up, caressing my cheek.

“Are you okay?” he asks with such compassion.

Looking into his eyes, I can’t say what came over me. I close the extremely short distance between us, kissing him urgently. Reaching up, I wrap my arms around his neck, pulling him closer, drinking him in. For some reason I need warm, safe hands on me, comforting me. Griffin senses my need for him, causing his to grow with every caress of my tongue on his. He backs me against the wall, and my ribs protest. I stifle my cry against his mouth. He takes it as a sign of pleasure, and kicks it up a notch. He grabs my upper thighs, lifting me. I comply by wrapping my legs around his waist. So far, the pain is manageable, for the pleasure it’s bringing me in this moment. He walks with me in his grasp, still kissing me fervently. He finds the door, unlocks it, and opens it all by touch. He closes the door behind us, walking us over to the couch. Griffin lays me down softly, straddling me. He puts all his weight on his forearms, which he has resting on the arm of the couch. He breaks our kiss, resting his forehead to mine. We are both breathless as he sits up, facing me, prompting me to do the same.

“What happened to you, Shyira?” he asks with the same concern he held in the hallway.

“It’s not what you must think, so please do me the courtesy of not looking at me like I was brutally raped and beaten,” I say, breaking eye contact with him. I’ve already come up with a cover story, but that doesn’t make lying to him any easier.

“After you left that night my mom called saying my grandmother had a stroke. My mom was afraid my grandma didn’t have much time, and I should come right away. I took the first flight out. On my way to the hospital from the airport, I was side swiped. My car flipped and I landed in a ditch,” I laugh. “I made it to the hospital, only not the way I intended. Gotta love the irony,” I say, selling the story like the pro.

“Why didn’t you call me?” Griffin asks, sounding a little annoyed.

Really, is this guy serious?

I take offense to his tone. “I was lying in a hospital bed, Griffin, with broken ribs and a busted-up face, on the other side of the ocean. What would calling you have done for either of us?” It’s mostly true, except for the ocean part.

“At least I would’ve known you were alive!” Griffin stands as his voice elevates a few octaves.

“We’ve been on exactly one date. That doesn’t qualify you to know my itinerary,” I say, standing as well.

Only I do so a little too quickly, and my ribs protest, again. This time, I don’t have Griffin’s mouth to stifle the pain against. I touch my side and moan. Griffin is next to me in seconds, helping me back down to the couch.

“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to fight with you. I just want you to know how worried I was about you. I called you and came by several times, and nothing. I thought something awful happened to you. I guess it turns out something awful did happen to you.” He pauses before speaking again. “I know we haven’t known each other that long, but I really care about you, Shyira.”

“I care about you too, Griffin.”

As the words come out of my mouth, I realize I mean them. If only I allowed myself, I could really fall for this guy. He’s caring, understanding, and easy to talk to. All the things Michael isn’t. My mind starts to drift to Michael, and what Laci and Godfrey told me. I need a hard distraction.

“If you need anything, all you have to do is ask,” Griffin offers.

“There is something I need,” I state.


“Make love to me,” I say as I stand, taking his hand.

If I’m going to have to have sex with strangers, and sell it, I need more practice. I care for Griffin, so being with him is easy. I lead him up the three short steps to my bedroom. He gently caresses my arm with his fingertips.

“Are you sure?” he asks, but I can hear the wanting in his words.

Carefully, I pull my shirt over my head. That’s all the confirmation he needs. Standing there in my black satin bra and black yoga pants, I watch his reaction. I watch him as he takes in my bruised and battered body. Will he be disgusted at the array of colors my bruised face and torso take on, or will he look past all that, and see me?

“My God, Shyira. You’re so beautiful.”

There’s power in his words. It’s exactly what I need to hear. I close the distance between us, kissing him with everything I have in this moment. All my fears, regrets, sadness, and loss I pour into that kiss. Griffin, careful not to hurt me, gives me exactly what I need in this moment.

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