The Angel,The Devil,The Nerd

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Chapter 65 - It's never over

a/n: close to end,we are...hehe :P

let me know what you think :)

CHAPTER 65 - IT'S NEVER OVER

ERIC'S POV

"It's a huge risk, but it's the only solution." Jake told me after he'd informed me about his plan. Risk doesn't cut it, but he's right. It's the only solution. As he told me, they've been negotiating with the Armorer to have him withdraw the bounty he put on my head for that truck I dumped years ago.

Thinking back, it was a really stupid move. But I wasn't in my right mind, we'd just ended our job and I was supposed to send the truck back to its owner, but ... I was on the phone with my old partner when it happened. As a matter of fact, I remained in line as he died, shot to death by the Armorer in person. Just because. He even came to answer the phone, mocking me: "You surely didn't believe you'd get away with it, did you?".

He told me he'd taken care of the guy we helped and now of my partner ... useless to say I was the last one missing. I wasn't scared, I quite simply let him hear as I literally dumped 27 millions of his, careful to destroy them so that he wouldn't be able to retrieve them, and since then he's been chasing me all over the country, to the point that I have no idea how did I manage to always escape.

Despite all those people hunting me down to collect the bounty. It's fair to say that, among my enemies, the Armorer is the most determined and most ruthless. I have no doubt he'd see to torment every single person I care about or that cares for me before ending me. My stepfather was a newbie compared to this guy.

But, Jake and his friend Lukas, who I have never seen neither talked to, but he's also a friend of Natalie's and she trusts him, so ... anyway, those two have been working to fix my troubles, which I'm thankful for, even though the biggest part comes now.

You see, Jake just informed me that while they've been able to send most of my enemies off track, it still remains the Armorer, who's way too clever to believe I'm either in Australia or rotting in a prison in Russia. Hence, they believe that the only solution is to fake my death.

I argued with Jake that I did that already and it didn't work, the guy's too smart, but Jake retorted that, according to Lukas, this time it might work because it'd be different, namely, the Armorer needs to see it with his eyes. He needs to watch me as I exhale my last breath in front of him. Possibly and preferably, at the hands of the guy himself.

That's the complication. Till it's indirect, like ... he sees me from afar falling off a roof, it's not that hard, but it gotta be from a close distance and preferably he gotta do it himself. Knowing him, he'll want to look straight at my face when he does it, so he won't want to do it differently other than shooting me with his loyal desert eagle, so you see, the most suitable idea is for me to face him directly. Like ... only a few inches apart.

Now how do you pretend to be dead when your enemy has shot you from such short distance? Well, Jake has the solution, but it might not work, and it's not about losing a game here, there's no second chance, if everything goes south, my death might not be that fake after all, but it's a risk I gotta take. For Natalie and Noah. For the sake of our family. And because I'm damn tired of fleeing. I need to get this over with, so that my princess and I can finally live our love.

***

NATALIE'S POV

"What do you mean you want to go out for a walk?" I asked Eric. I entered upon him getting dressed, and when I asked him for reasons, he said he was going out for a walk ... with my cousin, no less. Talk about suspicious behavior.

Seeing he was struggling to put on his t-shirt, I helped him, though repeating my question because he wasn't answering, and neither did he this time, just dodged it: "Where's Noah?"

Rolling my eyes, I responded that our son was taking his afternoon nap, but he made me promise to tell his papa that he'd see him by four, when he usually wakes up, to which Eric smiled, but because he bent down to grab his shoes, I asked once more why was he going out.

"I'm just tired of being stuck here." He quite simply retorted, to which I narrowed my eyes, crossing my arms over my chest, fully aware that he wasn't saying it all.

"One would think, after so long, you'd first go out with me, not with my cousin." I half teased, though mostly to pretend I wasn't irked. Don't take me wrong, I'm not irked about the fact that after three weeks in a hospital, the first time he goes out, he chooses to take a walk with my cousin and not me, I'm irked that, one, he didn't tell me, two, that I can see all too well that there's something underling. They've been having these hush-hush talks almost every day, even more since that day we finally told Noah about who is father is, it's like they're planning something.

Well, it's obvious that they are, and I guess it has to do with my cousin and Lukas working to solve Eric's problems, but I've asked both my friends, I've even had their wives inquiring for me, knowing that both Jake and Lukas are not able to say no to their beloved other halves, but nothing, and Eric isn't keen on telling me either, so I've quit asking and just observed, and ... I've come to the conclusion that in these two weeks they've been working on the details of a precise plan.

The only problem is, for how much I tried, I was never able to catch one single word. They quit talking every time I enter the room and neither using Noah works, because when I sent him to his father, knowing there was Jake in there too, he did catch something, but those two, being sneaky, convinced him they were talking about some videogame whose movie was just released.

Eric gave me a crooked half grin as he stood up, certainly with less difficulties than before, but still, he clearly hurt, so I tried to help, but he claimed he was fine. His leg certainly was, better said, it was on its way too, he could walk without crutches, but the doctor still advised him to rest it as much as possible, as for the rest, his torso was still half gauzed, but overall, he was healing pretty well and fast. Thank God.

In these two weeks we've been working on our bond as a family, for as much of a mere feeble hope is the chance for us to actually remain together, but I'm thankful, at least Noah gets to spend some time with his dad and I get some time with my love. It'll hurt, but it's worth it. Noah is enthusiast, he's already told his friends about his "amazing papa", they've spent time alone and every time our son seems only happier. At his point, he's practically infatuated. And I couldn't be happier about it. It this could go on forever ...

Now, coming closer, Eric caressed my cheek as he spoke: "Don't worry, I'm not cheating on you. Of all people, certainly I wouldn't pick your cousin. Maybe his wife or sister, but not him. I'm still straight, you know."

Glaring at him, I shot back: "My cousin used to have quite a fame for being one hell of a player, for what I know, you two might be going out hunting."

Even though, it was a bit weird to see again, after seven years, a tiny sparkle of that smug boy he used to act so well that even I fell for it and used to be so afraid of him. Now look at us, after seven years, despite all the odds life has put against us, we're still here, the same lovebirds as we once were, with Eric pulling me in his arms and kissing me while reminding me he'd never cheat on me, I was his one and only, besides: "You know your cousin cut it off with his flings since he caught his wife."

I half grinned mischievously. "He better. I might be careless and let slip something about what is he doing here in Denver the next time I talk to Silvia."

"Hey, hey, my wife knows I'm absolutely loyal." A male voice injected from behind me and, turning around his Eric's arms, I spotted my cousin, hand still on the doorknob, an impish grin on his face. "Besides, Silvia's got her best friend being telltale."

"Oh, I guess I should tell Tess to control you better, shouldn't I?" I commented mischievously, though he rolled his eyes, smirking.

"Do what you like, but I've got a deal with her husband. He doesn't tell, I don't tell." I glared at him, ready to eat him alive for having even only implied he cheats on his wife when travelling for business with his vice, but Jake, probably seeing my scowl, immediately threw his hands in the air, pointing out that he was kidding, he'd never cheated on his wife, to which I gave him a dirty look, silently reminding him of that little mishap he had seven years ago, he rolled his eyes, complaining about his wife telling me even too much, so I pointed out that women confide, it's no secret.

"Yeah, and Silvia confides to Tess, you, Sam and even Tara. So every single mistake I make, I've got not one, but five women ready to kick my ass. Six if we count my own sister." I chuckled at that, though remaining in Eric's arms, who seemed amused by mine and Jake's little banter.

"Weren't you the perfect husband?" He gave me a dirty look, crossing his arms over his chest as he admitted that he certainly wasn't perfect, Silvia knew that, but he tried to be as best as he could as a husband and a father, to which I mockingly rolled my eyes, complaining that there was no fun in teasing him if he got so serious. In the end, we all laughed, at least till the two men locked gazes and they both returned serious, therefore so did I.

"So, what's this thing about you guys taking a walk on your own?" I asked, moving away from Eric's arms just to look at both of them, who avoided my gaze in every way possible, looking around, grazing their necks ... it's like they're brothers. All the same habits. Not even with Kyle, who's his actual brother, Eric shares so many traits in common.

Speaking of Kyle, Aisha has already moved to his apartment and they live together, they seem quite happy, as if everything they were missing was each other. Sure, Kyle is still stressed, due to his brother's conditions and his residency, but certainly Aisha is a great palliative when it comes to that. They make a great couple.

Now, because neither of them replied, I crossed my arms, scowling at Eric, partially using his feelings for me as a leverage, yes, which I've learnt from Silvia. She says her husband is all badass but when it comes to her, he's like Hulk turning back to Bruce Banner. Though she also uses her badass side too, so that it's clear to him that he's married no shrinking violet.

My Eric lowered his glance, I bet not to meet my gaze as he lied: "It's just that-uh ... we need to discuss something."

"You have these weeks already. Conclusion?" They both coughed awkwardly so I frowned, my tone getting peremptory as I asked for the last time: "Alright, what is it? And don't try to bullshit me. I'm a mother, I've become an anti-lies detector."

Both of them sly chuckled at the last part, but when I scowled, glaring at them, they returned serious. I waited in silence for them to speak up, though I mostly stared at Eric, always using Silvia's technique. My cousin might be immune when it's not his wife, but Eric never has been.

In fact, he was about to budge, but Jake prevented him, coughing nervously as he spoke: "It's a boys thing, Natalie. Don't worry, it's everything fine."

I narrowed my eyes, turning to him, not at all satisfied with his response, but before I could verbally abuse my cousin, Eric asked him to leave us alone, in a tone that was all too serious, so, just as Jake left the room, I disentangled my arms, turning to my right, already worried, which got worse as I spotted Eric's grim look.

"It's bad news, isn't it?" I mumbled, discouraged already.

He sighed, passing a hand over his face, so I got closer, rubbing his arms to soothe him, asking what was the matter, but he remained silent, and when I asked again, all he did was take me off guard by pulling me in his arms and kissing me passionately, pulling back only to hug me tightly and speak into my ears words that had my heartbeat quicken immediately: "I talked to the doctor and I can leave for a day, I would have used it to go to the park with you and Noah or something, but ... I gotta do something important." He inhaled harshly. "It's to ensure our future. To make it real other than utopia. Though it's something reckless and ..."

I squeezed him against me, hiding my face in his shoulder as I filled in for him in a sigh: "And I might not see you again, right?"

Eric didn't reply, quite simply hugged me tighter, kissing my scalp as he reminded me it was for the sake of our family, I argued that he didn't have to do anything reckless, we might just leave the country and start over altogether, but he argued that Noah and I have our lives here and he wouldn't want to ruin them, to which I unconsciously poked his shoulder, didn't punch it not to hurt him, considering his wounds, reminding him that my life, and at this point our son's, doesn't have sense without him, to which he tried to comfort me, saying that thing he ought to do wouldn't necessarily end badly, so I asked why was he so blue and he cracked a small smile, pulling back and cupping my cheeks to reply flatteringly: "Only because I'm parting from you, princess."

I half grinned as I rolled my eyes, pointing out that that was a sneaky move, to which he grinned as well, pecking my lips as he admitted that it was true, though. I said I've got power over him ... it'll never be as much as the power he has over me. It's always been like this. Eric was always able to make me give in, in every sense, but after all, from someone whose only kisses have always annihilated my every ounce of strength, what else could I ever expect?

Hence, as he kissed me, I forgot everything for a moment, my legs suddenly wobbly. God, did it always feel like this? Were his kisses always this powerful? Sure they were. Or maybe it's just that this felt too much like a farewell, so we purposely basked more into that passion.

In the end, Eric pulled back, sadly, and, still cupping my cheeks, he gave me a small smile as he placed a tender kiss on my forehead before speaking: "I love you, princess. More than life itself, you know that. And I love our son. So I'm gonna do what it takes to ensure all three of us a real life."

I half smiled at his words, but something like an annoying and yet painful needle pricked my heart at Eric's following statement: "But if I don't come back, please, do it for real this time. Move on."

He kissed me once more, I bet to prevent me from speaking, even though I had no idea what to say, but also, I fear, as a manner of eventual farewell, then he left. I hope not forever.

***

ERIC'S POV

I took a deep breath. I've never been so tense in my entire life, I swear, and it's not like I've never faced situations like this, and yet ... maybe it's because this time it's not about my life only, this time it's not about accomplishing a mission that might cost me my life but I couldn't care less, because this time I've got people depending on me. I've got Natalie and Noah waiting for me to come back, and if I don't, I'm gonna break their hearts, and that's the last thing I might ever want.

"You alright?" Jake asked from beside me as he patted on my shoulder. I nodded imperceptibly, so he asked if I was sure and I pointed out that my wounds weren't a problem anymore, which is a half lie, because I haven't completely healed, though I can handle some stress, either way he shook his head, pointing out that he meant it emotionally. I turned to him, remaining silent for a long moment before taking a deep breath and gazing ahead of me.

"I should have told her the truth." I muttered.

Jake squeezed my shoulder. "You did. It's gonna be fine. We're here to cover you." I nodded as I beheld the distribution of our deployments for the thousandth time. I should have never even involved them. If everything goes south, too many people are gonna be grieving.

So I tried once more to convince Jake that he should back off till he could, I could face it on my own: "You've got a family to come back home to."

"So do you. We all do. And yet we're all here."

"Paying mercenaries would have been easier."

He smirked. "But it wouldn't have paid off in terms of loyalty." He reckoned our surroundings too, in a way that looked too military for him to have never been in the force, but he says he never has, just had a peculiar past. "We're here to help a friend, so we won't back off at the worst moment. A mercenary might have been paid by the counterpart to betray you. You should know that better than I."

I nodded, partially agreeing. "But still, you shouldn't be here in the first line. I can handle this on my own."

Of course, he rolled his eyes. We've been analyzing every single detail of this "operation" since two weeks already, and every time I've always reminded him that he didn't have to expose his neck for me, but he always insisted he did it without any remorse, and this time was no different, he just patted on my shoulder once more as he half grinned, pointing out: "Eric, you're used to this, but I'm no bored rich guy in search of adventure. I'm here to help a friend and here I'll stay." I turned up my nose, so he joked: "Besides, if anything happens, I've got one hell of an insurance on my life, so either way my family's gonna be just fine. Same goes for Lukas."

I glared at him for that, but he only winked, asking if I was ready. Of course I wasn't. Told you, I've never been so tense in my entire life. Though I nodded. I guess I should look badass at least. I argued once more, for the last time, with Jake that he might just retire to the backlines, not to risk too much, but he rolled his eyes, pointing out that for how our plan was, he ought to stay right there. To make sure I get out of this alive, that is. Actually, he's a key element when it comes to that. Along with the Armorer's aim, of course.

You'll wonder what's exactly our plan. Well, it's pretty simple: I face my enemy, he shoots me, I fall on the ground dead, he checks, hopefully within four minutes, believes me dead and leaves satisfied, so that I can finally leave the runaway life and start a new one with my family.

Our group if formed by five people, six counting the maul we have in the enemy's gang. The guy's a friend of Lukas, who claims he can trust him blindly, but I know this Vince's reputation, and it's not at all good. I've met Lukas a couple of days ago, by the way, apparently just like Jake, he insisted to be here, despite Vince's and Lewis' (his driver, other member of the group) opposition.

One would think, these rich guys have a death wish, but they both claim it's for Natalie. They love her like a sister, actually, as a matter of fact, she is a sister to them, they say. Weren't they both married with kids and loyal to their wives, I'd think either of them or both have a soft spot for my girl. But I guess it's my jealous side winning this time too. Can't help it.

Now, we were in a park, not my choice, of course, I mean, I would have never picked such a public and all too exposed place, but my enemy decided it was a suitable choice. I bet he's got a plan. He's not that stupid, he's not gonna make an execution in front of everybody and with cameras around, I bet he's gonna take us somewhere else, knowing him, it's gonna be some abandoned warehouse or something of the sort. Either way, we're ready for that. Our plan is gonna work everywhere till Jake is there to give me the antidote within four minutes. One millisecond late and I'm screwed. Like in a movie.

Lewis and Lukas were not too far, observing the scene, our billionaire friend with a gun in his hands despite his driver's protests, while Vince is supposed to arrive with the enemy, him being a maul for us. Much against my will, my father too was here. He entered upon me and Jake talking, but unlike Natalie, dad has a pretty fine hearing for being on his way to be 50, so he did catch something about our plan and didn't want to hear reasons, he wouldn't leave till I told him everything, hence, he now knows about all the misdeeds his son has committed these years.

He says he doesn't blame me, after all I've been through, but I still feel guilty. I'd sworn I'd never kill people, and I have. I keep trying to relent sense of guilt with the excuse of those being all bad guys, but still, they're lives I've taken. And much to my disgust, I'm pretty good at it too.

Either way, dad insisted, wanted a part in our plan, I opposed resistance as much as I could, but he played the sense of guilt card, saying he couldn't be there to help his son when he should have, now he ought to mend. Hard to beat that. He assured me his father taught him how to use weapons, he just never wanted to, having never been into hunting, but he knows his way round a gun. What he doesn't know is that I agreed with Lewis, who's a very efficient and highly skilled ex military, that he's gonna cover my father's back, keeping him as safe as possible, just like he's gonna do for his boss.

In a word, Lewis is here to make sure our plan works, yes, but he's also being body guard for both my father and Lukas. They're both grown man able to take care of themselves, yes, but these are very dangerous people, remember? Jake is a lost cause, no matter how many times I try to convince him not to risk so directly, he just shrugs it off, repeating that he's faced the Grim Reaper a few times already and he's not scared.

They're all here only for precaution anyway, in case the Armorer and his pals decide to shoot at random people, and I've got a feeling they might do just that. These are extremely dangerous people, and the more I think about it, the more I feel stupid for having treaded on their toes.

We're supposed to meet the Armorer and three of his guys in a park in Chicago, officially, he doesn't know I'm here, he's convinced Jake and Lukas are bringing him the money he asked for to withdraw the bounty he put on my head, actually, he's gonna find exactly who he wants, I'll claim I didn't want anybody to be endangered, hopefully, because he knows me too, he'll believe me. It's not such a lie anyway.

A lie was me telling Natalie that I was just taking a walk with her cousin. Well, I did tell her, more or less directly, that I'd be solving peculiar issues, just omitted to tell her I was leaving Denver. My doctor, with a bit of pressure from Jake's part, gave me a day out, on condition that I come back tonight because my wounds aren't completely healed yet, which is something that, obviously, only I know. It's not like I can't even move, but it's obvious that my bones are still a bit sore. I can handle things like this anyway.

Now, the appointment was for six pm, which is five in Denver, so by now Noah must be awake. I left him a message via his mother, to say I'd see him tomorrow, Natalie already gave me a dirty look, silently pointing out that I was already disappointing our son, well, she probably didn't mean it like that, but I took it that way, so I assured her I'd do my best to keep my promise ... this time at least.

These weeks have been amazing, with our family united, even if the ghost of what I had to do to keep it that way kept me awake every night, despite having my princess sleeping peacefully in my arms, it was supreme. I couldn't have asked for anything better. Well, we will have better if this works out.

If it doesn't, Kyle has my testament. In my line of work you never know if you make it or not, as my boss, well, former boss at this point, because he knows I've resigned, always said, so he's had us write down a testament since the beginning, so that we could provide to those beloved ones we had to leave for major causes. I got paid for my job, you know. Quite well too. And I never really spent much of it, hence ... if everything goes south, Natalie and Noah have their future ensured. I changed the testament only a few days ago, you know.

Originally, I left everything to her and some of my belongings to my father and brother, now ... there's a pretty conspicuous fund Noah will be able to access as soon as he turns 18. The rest is his mother's and leaves also a monthly allowance for him. To dad and Kyle I left the same as in the old testament, including my motorcycle, which is about the only thing I've been keeping for all these years. Mostly for the memories. I would have kept Betsy too, but it was too recognizable, so I left it to Kyle, who's kept it since day one, although, he confessed, while he's been having it checked all the time, so it's in perfect conditions, he's barely ever driven it, unable to endure the memories.

I guess in this Natalie is right. I've been really selfish. I took for granted that she'd be the only one to mourn for me, I didn't consider both my father and brother, and even their wife and mother, plus Penelope, would have grieved for me. I only thought of my princess and of how much would I hurt her. But the thing is, I've grown up with the sole affection of my uncle, I never even considered people could care for me, so already the girl of my dreams loving me was utopian to some extents, then to think that also people I've frequented for so little could care so deeply for me, was pretty unbelievable. And yet.

Kyle and I have always been opponents, but I guess it was fairly easy to get fond of each other. Like those series where the detective gets fond of the thief he's been chasing for so long, as Natalie put it time ago. Back then, every time she talked to me about such things, I always smiled, finding her just too cute, but now she's a woman, a woman in career to be precise, and a mother, so the dreamer I fell in love with is long gone, my fault too, obviously, actually, it's mostly my fault, but she says she's fine like this, she can't daydream when she needs to think of our child and of her job, besides, she says, that was teenage Natalie, this one is a grown woman with her feet stably on the ground. I tried to argue that she was the one that always reminded me that no matter how many responsibilities we have, no matter growing up, we should never let the dreamer inside us fade, but knowing that'd lead her to reminiscing bad memories, I let it go.

Although, if I get out of this, I'm gonna make that lovely dreamer come back. That might have been teenage Natalie, but it's part of her, as long as I've known her, she's always been like that, and it was something I admired her for, because I didn't have it in me to keep dreaming while I had to face the harsh reality, but Natalie has always been able to see the bright side of everything. She's lost that ability for my fault. That's why I need to mend in some way.

Anyway, the point is, if everything goes south, both Natalie and Noah have their future ensured, but it doesn't necessarily have to go wrong, right? I've escaped to the Grim Reaper so many times already, who says I can get away with it this time too?

Jake and I remained there till the clock struck exactly six pm, but as it did, we didn't see anyone coming to us, while I would have expected at least one expensive black SUV with obscured windows, the Armorer's standard, but nothing. Jake and I glanced at each other, so I could see the movement of his eyes as they slightly widened and his body stiffened just as mine ... when we both felt an all too familiar cold tip against our backs. A gun, of course.

Thousands of thoughts filled my mind about ways to get us both, or at least Jake, out of this predicament, but at such closeness, it was hard to move. The most I could was to be as fast as light and shield him at least, but if we both feel the gun, then whoever it is has two weapons, so I wouldn't have time to move, the guy would shoot us both in the back before I could move one single muscle.

The rest of our group certainly saw our predicament, but I bet Lewis knew all too well they couldn't move without endangering us, unless they were able to sneak up on the guy as much as he did on us, but in that case, he still had guns pressed against our backs and the Armorer's men have enough death wish to just pull the trigger and risk digesting a bullet as well. Stuck in a dead end, weren't we? Wasn't it for Jake, I would have risked already. As usual.

But, I was completely taken off guard as the one behind us let us hear his voice. Or should I say her: "You've gone soft, Johnny. There was a time when it wasn't so easy to sneak up on you." I didn't know if I ought to be glad or not. The person behind me supposedly wouldn't kill me, but she was still ten time cleverer and deadlier than twenty of the men of the Armorer put together.

Sighing, I greeted her: "It happens when you spend weeks recovering from multiple gunshots." I moved to turn around, but she better pressed the gun against my back while Jake looked at me, confused, not scared, and neither would I expect him to be, he's a peculiar kind of man, of this I'm sure.

Anyway, she better pressed the gun against my back, so I froze. I never thought she'd betray me, well, at first I had the doubt she would, but it's been seven years, we've bonded so well ... ugh, of all people I should know people backstab you at the very first occasion they have.

"Let me guess, he paid you well." I spat, through gritted teeth. If there was someone I expected to be loyal, it was her.

She smirked. "Well, you know, girls like shopping." I glared at nothing ahead of me, keeping to myself all the not at all flattering words about her that came to my mind. I know they don't exactly teach us to be fair in our line of work, but at least one thing should be taken as a Commandment: never betray your partner. And I know her moral compass isn't always pointed in the right direction, but I never thought she'd betray me. Hell, she's one of very few people I ever trusted.

And yet ... my jaw clenching, I hissed: "The less blood possible, Heather. Let him go."

***

"You should have known he'd have busted you. You really thought such a silly plan could work?" Heather scoffed as she pushed me towards a very narrow alley, gun always pressed against my back. After she listened to me and retrieved the gun pressed against Jake's back, after I kept him from even trying to disarm her, which might have cost him too much, I mean, he might be one hell of a fighter, but my ex partner here is even too highly skilled. Barely I am able to beat her. And I'm the one she learnt from, eh.

Maybe, with some luck, and possibly taking advantage of my being a man and physically stronger than her, I might have made it, but it would have been a risk, because she had a gun and she might have shot Jake, and because, knowing Heather and myself, I would have only wounded her, she would have fled and taken it against my family, and in no way would I ever allow this.

Hence, I mildly agreed to follow her and she brought me to a black SUV, we stepped on it, I was obviously blindfolded, and because Heather knows me so well, she had the guy driving make quite a few turns more than due to prevent me from taking mental notes. After a few minutes of drive, the car came to a stop and I was made step off, since then, I've been walking down this alley with my ex partner behind my back threatening me with her loyal .45, though she didn't really need to, I would have followed meekly anyway.

"Only if he had a maul he could. Thank you, by the way." I retorted bitterly. She smirked, explaining that it'd been fairly easy to eavesdrop, given our me and my "pals" had been careless, besides, he might have dressed up, but Vince Da Vinci was an all too familiar face in our line of work. Happens when you're an artist of crime, she said. The Armorer was able to bust him all too easily, so he had to take to his heels before being executed.

I couldn't help asking how comes he didn't contact us, but Heather quite simply grinned: "Because I caught him before he could. Obvious. You know me, Johnny."

I think she could see the veins on my neck pulsing, and I was seriously thinking of reacting, after all, in such a narrow alley, the chances were fifty-fifty, but ... this ends one way only. Natalie and Noah have their future ensured at the very least. I'd like to be part of it, but if they don't see me lying on a puddle of my own blood, they're never gonna quit chasing me and they're gonna go after my family too. Same old story, huh? I guess it's never really over. It'll never be. Till I exhale my last breath for real, that is.

In a couple of moments we reached the end of the alley, turned to the right, coming to the open, and found ourselves in front of a door, guarded by two pretty big and armed men, who almost immediately took out their guns and took a step towards us, but Heather grinned at them: "I've got a gift for your boss."

The taller guy studied her for a moment, or probably just shamelessly checked her out from tip to toe, not sure, and finally asked: "Colson?" She nodded, so he did the same at his pal and they let us pass, though before we could enter, the younger guy was stupid enough to dare fondle her ass ... gaining his family jewels to be so tightly squeezed that I wouldn't be surprised if he talked in falsetto for the rest of his life.

As we entered, we walked through a small hall and then found ourselves in an old pub. The Whale, of course. The Armorer's cover up business for his illegal one. Well, it used to be. He closed it a few years ago, now it's mostly the place he uses to waste his enemies. In there, we found at least four guys armed to their teeth, plus the obvious boss leaning against the counter, a wide grin on his face, carrying no more than his Desert Eagle tucked in his pants.

"I'm flattered. There was no need for such a welcoming party, Winston." I scoffed. Oh, yeah, the big bad guy has such a bourgeois name. He only smirked more, pulling off the counter and coming to the centre of the room, where Heather pushed me.

My enemy, you'll wonder how is he, well, not the typical villain you'd think. Well built, yes, but smart, clever, coming from a very normal family that gave him everything ... but for him it wasn't enough. He aimed to the stars. Well, he's close to it. His gun trade is even bigger than some legal weapon industries and he's on his way to engorge it. I guess he takes the phrase "only sky's the limit" too seriously.

"Well, you know, it's been seven years, Riley. You're pretty hard to catch." He commented, I shrugged, obviously needing to act badass now as ever.

"What can I say, I'm good at what I do."

"Yeah, not good enough, though." He peeked behind me and smirked at my ex partner, wiggling his eyebrows at her, I bet implying I wasn't good enough for her to want to remain beside me. In a very specific sense, that is. He explained that he'd almost fell into our trap, till Heather here came in and warned him, then offering to catch me with her own hands, saying she had some unsettled accounts with me, letting understand that we've been more than just partners and I've pissed off the wrong girl.

That rang a bell, though. Heather and I have lived in symbiosis for the past seven years, true, because of our job, but we've never been together. There has never been anything between us except for a few kisses and touching now and then, everything innocuous. But why would she lie about it?

He went on doing the usual speech villains do about me having been quite a pain in the ass for him, and that he congratulated for my being such a great opponent, to which I argued that I was unarmed and surrounded by four big guys with big guns plus a petite redhead that could bury us all if she wanted, so I couldn't really prove my value, he smirked, and another bell rang when Heather propose he let her handle me. He was suspicious, but she proposed we have a regular fight, coming enough close to grab my chin between her slender hands as she claimed: "Girls wanna have fun, you know." Could it be that she ...

"And you certainly take that literally." I scoffed, which made the men laugh, Armorer included, she smirked, but obviously kneeing me in the stomach so forcefully that I fell to my knees, my wounds being still quite a problem. The provocative banter between Heather and I went on for a couple of cues only, the Armorer stopped us soon, saying he ought to be at home for dinner and didn't want to waste time.

"Although ... for one like you, Riley, I might enjoy my vendetta a little more."

I smirked. "Do what you like, Winston. I can take pain."

"Yeah, but your bitch? Can she too?" I didn't even blink. Blood travelled all the way to my brain in a nanosecond and Heather just had the time to say that, that despite all the guns pointed at me, I snapped and wrapped a hand around her neck, raising her off her feet of a couple of inches.

"You touch her, I see to drag you on my way to Hell before you can even say a word." The men around us only sneered, clearly amused, especially as she struggled to free herself. It's a bit weird, though. She knows damn well my bones are injured and she's not at all weak, she could fight back all too easily, and yet she only smirked, menacing me emptily, saying I wasn't in the conditions to make such threats. I pointed out that her so called new friends didn't give a shit: "I could snap your neck in two and they'd only laugh."

Amusedly, the Armorer nodded, even clapping as he admitted this was a pretty nice show, so he snapped his fingers and two of his men came to free Heather from my death grip. Sadly. He agreed a small boxing match before dinner might be enjoyable, though, as he put it.

In a few minutes the center of the room became a ring, and Heather and I were in front of each other, ready to fight. We've done this a lot in training, but this time was for real. Maybe.

Because it was for a split-second, but Heather winked at me in a pretty significant way and mouthed four simple letters: POOH. Acronym for Pull Out Of Hole. Her very womanly way to say "I'm here to save your ass". We've used that more than a couple of times for each other. Well, I guess I was wrong. Heather wasn't that backstabbing bitch I thought till a moment ago, after all.

***

NATALIE'S POV

I could feel mom and Aisha gazing at me worriedly as I paced the small square outside the hospital, which I had been since more than three hours already. Noah was in his grandmother's arms, staring at me as well, but weirdly enough, he was silent. He'd bombarded me with questions till I admitted I was waiting for his papa to come back. After that, he became silent. All he did was stare at me and then look around, as if searching to see if Eric was arriving or not.

It's been a whole day. They were supposed to come back by eight and now it's eleven. We all know what were they really up to, but naively enough, I've been calling my cousin to have news, also because his wife phoned me, anxious, because she hadn't heard of her husband all day while normally he calls thrice. I tried to reassure her most I could, but in the end I had to budge and tell her the truth ... she nearly burst my eardrums with her yelling at her Jake, as if he was beside me listening, but in the end she calmed down, well, proposed she left everything and went looking for him or came here, but in the end she calmed down and I promised I'd call her as soon as I got news.

I got only more anxious when I received another call from Sam, asking where was her husband, saying he'd left that morning for Denver, to settle everything once for all, but he wasn't answering his phone and neither was his driver ... it's like a freaking old style movie: we girls are anxiously waiting for our men to come back home, possibly intact.

Though Silvia was a fury, said she'd make Jake pay, I don't exactly know how, but she said she would, and she'd never forgive him if he didn't come back home. I apologized to my friends wholeheartedly, because it's my fault, but they both snorted at me, contradicting me by saying that their husbands were too stubborn, even if I hadn't told anything to anybody, they'd have hunted me down and acted the exact same. "Overprotective stubborn and proud brothers towards their little acquired sister they are", Silvia reminded me. And Jake was the most stubborn bull.

But I'm tired of waiting here like a stupid damsel in distress. I wanna do something. Celaena raised hell to save her Chaol, I won't be less. But I don't even know where they are.

Just as I thought that, Kyle came out of the hospital, out of breath. I worried instantly because I knew that grim look all too well, it was the same he had seven years ago when he informed me that Eric had left me. Before he could speak, once he was in front of me, I prevented him: "Don't say anything unless it's good news."

He cracked a small bitter smile as he handed me the phone, saying it was for me. Confused, I took it. My Smartphone, I threw it in the fountain out of exasperation only an hour ago, so this was his.

"Hello?" I answered warily, not even knowing why didn't Kyle just tell me who it was. He knows as well as we all that his brother was out to take care of something that big, and even their father is with him, Kyle said he insisted to go with, but neither of them accepted, he fought with his brother ... till Eric downright punched him, knocking him out. "Someone had to watch over the ladies", he claimed.

I thought of the worst, but that phone call was the best I could ever receive. He was out of breath as well and most certainly wounded more, but that voice sounded like angels' singing hallelujah to me: "You're gonna have to put up with me for a while longer, princess. I'm not that easy to get rid of after all."

***

ERIC'S POV

"Do not even dare think of standing up from this wheelchair, Eric Rivers. You're stuck here till you're completely healed. Understood?" Natalie scolded me, in an authoritative tone that I've never heard from her just as I tried to stand up. We were walking out of the hospital, finally. Well, she was escorting me out, I was stuck on a wheelchair because my wounds only worsened after the last battle and I caught a couple of bullets more, but thanks to Heather I'm still here. Her plan was foolish, just like her style, but it worked.

The Armorer had been close to busting Vince, because of his renowned name in the criminal circle, so she made a scene of coming out of nowhere and killing him as a proof of loyalty to her new boss. Of course, the guy wore a bulletproof vest for the occasion, considering they'd agreed on details only an hour before. Reckless as they both are, that I'd call such plan, but again, it worked. Because the Armorer believed Heather when she told him she wanted revenge on me too, I believed her when she pointed a gun at me and Jake, but in the end, it was all an act.

They'd planned it all: Vince would conveniently appear at the right moment to lend us a hand, or, shall I say, a firearm, while we had to hold back the enemies as much as possible till the feds arrived, at that point, we ought to get lost quickly because, you know, neither of us can exactly claim a clean record, you know.

Things didn't go entirely as planned, they only went better, because when Heather and I quit fighting, a sniper had already taken care of three out of four men, the fourth got his neck snapped when she took him by surprise, while I made sure the Armorer remained to welcome his party. I was a bit skeptical about him getting what he deserves, I mean, he's already escaped to a few sentences, but ... the perks of having billionaire friends, you know. They can get anywhere.

So, my enemy number one is safely locked up in a major security prison, the others have been sent off track. Safe to say I might just be able to live my dream after all. I'd be stuck on a wheelchair only for a few weeks, I'll be perfectly fit in time for Noah's birthday.

Now, all of our friends and our son was back home, Natalie only remained here, plus Kyle and Aisha, of course, but they live here. I convinced dad to leave because he'd been through too much stress already, Jake and Lukas returned back home glad to have their wives burst them over the coals for having been so reckless, and Vince and Heather ... well, two of a kind. They found each other. I'm not sure it'll last, but if there's someone that can handle her, that's him. Natalie and I were heading to New York as well, we couldn't wait, so we're gonna live together till I heal, and then ... then we'll be a lawful and traditional married couple.

I didn't argue with what she said, just gave her military hail, gaining a dirty look we both laughed at as we reached the cab that was to take us to the airport. Despite her protests, I stood up from the wheelchair and sat properly, arguing I could use crutches if needed be, she accused me of being a stubborn bull but in the end she let it be.

The drive was silent for a few minutes, we just cuddled all the time, not really needing to say anything, words being even out of place for such content moments, but when the driver took a different turn from what I expected, I leaned in to look into the lateral mirror.

How couldn't I notice it before? The guy wore a cap and sunglasses. Well, I did notice that, but Natalie argued I was paranoid, so I let it be. Turns out I was right. Not wanting to let him know I recognized him, I leaned in to whisper in Natalie's ear, seemingly telling her sweet words, but in fact warning her to stay put and calm, but the car came to a stop and we found ourselves in a construction site.

"I know you know, Riley, so just do me a favor and get out. If you collaborate, I might even spare your pretty little girl here ... after we've had some fun, of course." He ordered in that menacing voice of his. I should have known he'd escape. Damn legal justice. It never works for me. Oh, no, this happened seven years ago. I won't do a repeat. Yet I had to do what he said not to involve Natalie. Thankfully, I've got my gun with me for once, despite Natalie protesting.

Kissing her, hopefully not for the last time, I warned her to remained there till we were enough far, then she ought to take a run and hide somewhere or just call for help. But he ordered her to step off as well and cuffed her to the lateral mirror.

The Armorer, born as Winston Hampton, stood in the middle of the construction site, like in a western movie, though he didn't know I had my own gun. He was just as wounded as I was, but he surprised me as he threw his Desert Eagle to the floor and proposed we finish this like real men: with a barehanded fight.

I agreed, but because he busted me, I had to threw away my weapon as well. We studied each other for a while, but when we finally started, it was clear to both of us that our blows couldn't be as efficient as usual. We were both pretty wounded after all. His was just a matter of pride, I guess.

Odds seemed to be favorable, Natalie in the background followed our every moment and held her breaths consequently, but she was brimming with hope when I was finally able to knock my enemy down.

The only mistake I made was to look up at her for a tiny moment before knocking him out for good. It was enough for him to reach his ankle and pull out the knife I had no idea he hid. I barely had time to call out my princess' name before feeling the blade pierce through my flesh. I dropped to my knees. Then it was all dark. Damn fate.


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