DISCLAIMER: Los Hombres de Paco and its characters are the property of Antenna 3. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To lrogers[at]boardermail.com
Bring Me The Head Of El Gordo
There was no telling if Pepa would be home soon, or even if she would be home tonight. Lucas, Sara and Lola watched Silvia walk around the villa, but eventually gave up trying to distract her. Each was privately relieved that CNI had not asked Pepa to go on any missions before now. Silvia's health would not have held up to it, nor would the peace in the house.
It was nearly midnight when Pepa got home where she found both Lucas and Silvia waiting up for her.
When she walked into the living room, Silvia walked up to her and hugged her. "Did everything go alright?" she asked.
So here it was. The time had come for Pepa to choose. She could just not mention the bullet that impacted near her head. She had no way of knowing whether or not the shot was even meant for her. What if someone just didn't like police and took the opportunity to shoot at the main police building in Genova? It was not something that Silvia could actually do anything about, after all it had happened in a different country almost a day ago and now she was safe at home. Why worry her? The only reason Pepa could think of was because she promised. Who would have thought that promise that seemed so black and white at the time had so much gray in it? Pepa chose white.
As she pulled back from Silvia releasing the hug, she smiled at her. "It mostly went ok. I got there with no problems and saw Ricci. He didn't have a lot for me."
"But something happened," Silvia said.
Pepa nodded, "As soon as I walked out of the building, a bullet hit the building near me. I hit the ground, and Maura was right there. She and Andreu got us all out of there in a hurry. We wound up flying Iberia back to Valencia. That's why it took so long to get home."
Silvia pulled her into a longer and harder hug. Pepa returned the hug and whispered into Silvia's hair, "I'm here. I'm alright. I came home," again and again.
Lucas cleared his throat and said, "Santiago would like to come over and discuss what you learned."
Pepa didn't answer but raised her eyebrows at Silvia. "Why not?" Silvia said, "I don't think I'll be able to sleep anytime soon."
Pepa nodded, which Silvia took to mean she agreed with her and Lucas took to mean she wanted him to call Santiago and tell him to come to the villa. Both were correct.
While they waited for Santiago to arrive, Lucas went to the kitchen to make coffee and a snack because he reasoned, getting shot at always made him hungry, it was probably the same for Pepa. Besides, he was pretty sure Silvia and Pepa didn't need him to sit and watch while Pepa assured her wife that she was fine and Silvia processed that luck more than anything else made that true.
Pepa sat on the couch as wrapped around Silvia as she could manage. Her hands moved in a soothing pattern up and down Silvia's arm and back. She wasn't sure what to say to help Silvia deal with the reality that while working for CNI and even when working for the National Police there was at least a small chance everyday that one or the other of them wouldn't come home. And even though Silvia was the one who had been shot twice, because Pepa was the one in the field more, the risk of her being killed was much higher than the risk that Silvia would ever even be hurt again. Both women had always been aware of this, but Pepa hadn't been in San Antonio the last time that Silvia was shot and Silvia had not been in love. Nor had Silvia truly dealt with the first shooting when it happened. She had recovered physically well enough, but emotionally she hadn't dealt with the loss of her child and her inability to carry any more. Even when she and Pepa broke up at least in part because she had hadn't dealt with that loss; she hadn't understood what it was to love someone that you really couldn't protect. It had all been rather abstract. Now it wasn't. Not for either of them.
Silvia concentrated on the feeling of the lean, strong body wrapped around her. She listened to the steady heartbeat that got a little faster as Pepa became more concerned about Silvia. She looked up into worried brown eyes, and leaned in to kiss Pepa. The kiss started out gently, a welcome home, but soon Silvia pushed Pepa against the corner of the sofa and her kisses became less gentle and more possessive. Pepa for her part returned the kisses with an equal amount of passion, telling Silvia without words that she was also aware that all of this could have been taken from them today and reminding her that it was not the first time that they had almost lost everything.
Lucas cleared his throat standing in the arch the led to the foyer. Santiago, who was standing behind him, appeared to be contemplating whether or not the room would look better with crown molding, so intently was he looking at the ceiling. Pepa and Silvia sat up and separated enough that the men felt comfortable actually coming into the room. Lucas set the tray of shaved ham and bread down in front of Pepa and took his seat in a chair opposite the couch. Santiago sat in its twin.
"I understand that things got a little exciting in Genova," Santiago said as an icebreaker, making Silvia think that for a high ranking spy, he was occasionally short on smooth.
Pepa grinned, "Well, Maura was right there to cover me."
"She seemed to think you had it pretty well in hand. Do you think that Ricci betrayed you?"
The question was asked in such a way that it made Pepa think that Santiago genuinely wished to know what her perception was instead of comparing her response with his own already formed conclusion. For the first time in her contact with him, she felt as if he was seeking her input rather than evaluating her performance. The change was seductive she acknowledged to herself. Being treated like an equal with something of value to contribute was much more satisfying than being sized up like an asset someone was considering acquiring. Since the question felt like a serious one she thought for a minute before going with her gut reaction. "No," she said finally, "I don't think so. He told me about information that had to have come from sources close to, if not directly involved in the mafia. Of course, if he did tell El Gordo where to find me, he could have told me what he did assuming that I would be dead less than ten minutes later. I don't think that's the case. No one seemed to trying that hard to actually kill me. It really could have been anyone. There were maybe five other people in the room when I asked the officer at the reception desk to tell Ricci I was there. I passed probably another ten people in the halls on the way to his office. Hell, it could be the officer who escorted me up there."
"May I first hear what happened when you left the building?"
Pepa said, "I walked out the front door. The building itself is on an open piazza with parking on the right, but none except for a few spaces for police cars immediately adjacent to the building. I stepped to the left to get out of the doorway and was putting on my sunglasses when I heard a shot and saw a bullet hit the building a little further to the left. I dropped to the ground and pulled my weapon. I looked around, and saw Maura coming low and fast. Some officers ran by me, and then we went back the way Maura came, got in the car and Andreu drove us away from there. The whole thing from me going out the door until we got in the car couldn't have taken more than ninety seconds."
"So the shooting could have been nothing more than a professional courtesy," Lucas mused nodding his head.
Silvia favored him with a look letting him know what she thought of the "courtesy" characterization.
Santiago, not fully comprehending how much jeopardy Lucas's life was in, also nodded, "A message that your presence was noted, as we more or less thought it would be."
Pepa went on to tell them about her conversation with Ricci. When she had finished, Santiago said, "Your talk with Ricci brings up some useful avenues of investigation. We will need to find the draft of the Mafia Prosecutor's report long before it reaches the judge. More very tedious investigation needs to be done near Genova to find out exactly where El Gordo is. I think Pepa, that you have done a great deal of good in a short visit. I think that both you and Lucas will need to be a part of the team that goes in to apprehend El Gordo, but that any return at this time would undermine the good you have done."
Pepa's first instinct was to protest being told to stop her investigation. She took a breath and then another and considered what he had said. CNI was still committed to capturing El Gordo. A team would go in, a team she and Lucas would be a part of. The plan was still to bring him back to Spain for trial. But Pepa had done what they discussed. She had publically shown up near El Gordo's hiding place seemingly alone and bent on finding him herself. Someone in Italy had noticed, and tried to discourage her. Santiago, she realized was not removing her from the plan. He was asking her to allow others to further it until the time came for her to step in again.
Silvia watched Pepa's face. She saw a storm start to brew in her wife's eyes at Santiago's suggestion that she not return to Italy for the time being and braced herself for the storm to break. Then she saw Pepa frown, and the storm cleared as Pepa apparently worked through her thoughts. Silvia noted with a bit of surprise that whichever agency wound up with Pepa in it after this was over would be getting a Pepa that was more measured in her approach to missions. She hoped they valued this new maturity as much as she did.
Santiago and Lucas also watched Pepa. Both knew the possibility existed that Pepa would tell them both to go to hell and just storm back to Italy, banging on doors and breaking down walls until she either found El Gordo or got herself killed.
Finally Pepa looked at Silvia, then at Santiago and said, "Please keep me up to date on what you find out. I would also like to know if my visit has caused any problems for Ricci."
The other three people in the room seemed to collectively exhale. Santiago said, "You'll probably hear parts of the investigation before I do." He turned to Lucas and asked, "Can you go to Rome tomorrow?"
"Sure," Lucas said.
"Good, please find out where that report is and if we need to stop it from being delivered until we are ready."
Lucas nodded. Santiago stood up and said his goodbyes. Lucas also said goodnight to Silvia and Pepa and showed Santiago out.
Once again alone, Silvia settled into Pepa's arms as the two leaned back on the sofa again. "That was different," Silvia said.
"Which part, Santiago or me?" Pepa asked.
"Both, actually. He was acting differently toward you. I can't put my finger on how, but he I don't know, accepted you more. He was also afraid you were going to blow up when he told you that CNI wanted to handle more of this without you."
"I almost did."
"I know, but I also saw you work through it."
"Instead of just jumping in and doing something stupid you mean?"
"Pepa, you are sometimes rash, often a little ahead of yourself or anyone else, but you are never stupid."
"You didn't think that the time I pulled a gun on that idiot who was harassing us on that stakeout."
"I remember calling you crazy, not stupid."
"So you think I'm growing up?"
"Oh sweetheart, it happens to everyone eventually. Don't go too far in that direction though. I happen to love the impulsive, a little bit explosive you."
"The next time you're furious with me because of something I do, I'll remind you of that."
Silvia leaned in and kissed Pepa again. "You kept your promise. You told me about being shot at, and you didn't have to."
"You were right about our not talking to each other being why we had problems before. I don't want that to happen again. You asked me to do something, and I said that I would."
"But it was just a little hard because you knew the truth would upset me."
"Yeah it was, and I can't say that it never occurred to me to just keep it to myself. But it seemed better for us both to be a little upset now, than your being ragingly pissed off at me later."
"It did give me more to think about."
Silvia sighed, "When we were both members of the National Police, our jobs were more the same than different. In a way, I didn't have to acknowledge that you could be in danger because it was the same for both of us. If you do become a field agent for CNI, that won't be true anymore, even if I work for them too. Santiago is right about me. I am in no way suited for the kind of work that you and Lucas do very well. I won't be there when you get shot at. That is scary for me. I don't like not knowing who has your back."
"I've been thinking about that too. I am not sure that I want to go into the CNI and do what Lucas does if it means being away from you all the time. They have him involved in a lot of international stuff, and honestly, before we fell in love, I would have been dying for the chance to do it too. But now, I want to be here or wherever else we live, with you. When Lucas took the job with them he was gone a year the first time. I can't be away from you for that long. It would drive me crazy."
"Do you think we should tell Santiago that?"
"Let's finish with El Gordo first."
"Let's go to bed."
Pepa grinned, "I have a better idea. Let's go for a swim."
Silvia made a face, "I don't really want to deal with wet bathing suits before we go to bed."
Pepa's grin got wider as she grabbed Silvia's hands and started to back toward the French doors that led to the pool. "Who said anything about suits?"
"Pepa, we can't. Everyone is here."
"It's the middle of the night. Everyone else is asleep. Lucas and Sara's room isn't even on this side of the house. Come on, for a few minutes. We can burn off a little energy and we'll be able to sleep."
Silvia's resistance to the idea faded as her smile grew. They went quietly out to the patio just to be sure they didn't wake anyone. Once they were by the edge of the pool, Pepa pulled her shirt off over her head. When she looked up and saw that she had an appreciative audience, she slowed her movements and added a little theater to the show. She reached behind her back and unhooked her bra, which she slid down her arms and handed to Silvia. Pepa undid the button on her jeans and lowered the zipper, but when she moved her hands to hips to slip the jeans off, she stopped. Silvia raised a questioning eyebrow. Pepa moved toward her slowly and with the grace of a dancer. Pepa reached for the hem of Silvia's shirt and began to pull it off over her head with a little help. Silvia took off her shoes without breaking eye contact. Pepa stepped in even closer ostensibly to "help" Silvia with her bra, but mostly she just wanted to stand as close to her wife as possible while they both got more naked.
A few minutes and fewer garments later, Pepa dove into the pool. The hottest part of the year had come and gone, but the sun still provided plenty of heat to the pool. Even though the sun had been down for several hours, the water was still pleasantly warm without the aid of the pool's heater. Pepa swam over to where Silvia stood by the pool watching her. "Are you coming in?"
Silvia looked down into the pool. The faint light from the house and the light of the just past full moon gave her sufficient illumination to see Pepa with her wet, dark hair swept away from her face. She was standing in the water with her shoulders and upper chest exposed. The rest of her body and of most interest to Silvia at that exact moment, her beautiful breasts were distorted by the water. Silvia walked over to the stairs leading in to the pool with just a little more sway in her walk than usual. She walked down the stairs and over to her lover. As she got closer, the difference in their heights made her hair drift around her shoulders. Pepa loved how it looked like a dark cloud trailing behind Silvia. When she was close enough, Silvia put her arms around Pepa's shoulders, the water lending an interesting sensation as their bodies moved together. It seemed to both women this was an excellent time to kiss, so they spent a pleasant few moments doing that.
Silvia noticed Pepa's hands moving in increasingly stimulating patterns across her body. "Is this what you meant about swimming and burning off a little energy so we can go to sleep?"
"Maybe more interesting activities than sleep are coming to mind, and other destinations near you," Pepa said with her sexiest grin on display as her hands moved to hold Silvia's breasts.
After a lot more kissing and touching, but before they got too carried away, the two walked out of the water hand in hand. They dried each other off with a towel someone had left by the pool and then walked up the stairs that led to the balcony just outside their bedroom.
Lola was the first one up the next morning. It did not take her long to figure out why she was cleaning up two sets of clothes scattered a bit haphazardly around the patio.
It was one of relief. Silvia was finally home. She had gone to Mahon to teach the evidence class she had agreed to do two weeks before. When she and Santiago walked in, she gave her little sister a baleful look. "I understand why you didn't want Pepa to go with you, but did you have to leave her here?"
"What happened?" Silvia asked, trying to conceal her grin.
"You know how she is. When she's worried, she has the energy of a hyperactive Great Dane puppy. And she's capable of being just as underfoot. When she's worried about you she's like that and ill-tempered. I finally made Sara take her to the beach with her. At least there she has some room to run off all that nervous energy."
"Sorry. Let me change into some clothes that are better for walking on the beach and I'll go get them." Silvia turned to Santiago and said, "I know that you wanted to talk to Pepa, but it will be at least twenty minutes before I get back. Do you want to wait, or should I have her call you later?"
"If you and your gracious sister don't mind, I would like to wait. What I have to discuss with Pepa is not of earth shattering importance, but being here is far more appealing than going back to my office to review a few reports which will inevitably lead to working late. This way, I get to enjoy the sea air a little and can persuade myself I've worked long enough today once I am through here, so I will go home."
"Alright, I won't be long."
Not long after, Silvia let herself out the gate that led to the beach, while Lola and Santiago settled on the patio with a pitcher of cool drinks.
"I hope you don't mind my intruding on your afternoon." Santiago said.
"Oh no, I don't mind. Besides, this gives me a chance to talk with you."
Santiago raised an eyebrow, "What would you like to know?"
"Are you asking for information or objecting to my attempts to secure the services of a member of your family?"
"I suppose I'm not thrilled with CNI seeming to be determined to put someone I love dearly, and someone I honestly think my sister cannot live without in danger, but I am genuinely curious about what about Pepa makes her someone you would pursue so avidly."
"I told her once that I wished I had met her when she was twenty, and I meant it. She has a combination of mental, emotional and physical gifts that make her very much the kind of person I want working for us. Her only real downside is she is too good looking. Ideal agents are completely forgettable, something Pepa is definitely not."
"So she is smart and what else?"
"It's not just that she's intelligent, it's the pace at which she can evaluate a situation and decide on an action. She's physically strong and adaptable. There is nothing that we have shown her how to do that she wasn't good at. She's also next to fearless, or she was. Now she knows fear and that changes things. When she was twenty, or even the day before she fell in love with your sister, she would have been the ideal operative for our international division, and she would have had a wonderful time. I know that window has closed. She may even accept a few field assignments, but she will never again be prepared to make the sacrifices that that sort of career requires."
"So if she can't be what you wanted her to be, why are you still trying to get her to work for you?"
"Part of my job is to evaluate talent that is available to CNI. A great many people apply for positions with us, a few of whom are dangerously mentally ill and just want to go kill people. Every once in a while I come upon someone like Pepa, or for that matter Lucas. Someone who is simply good at the things that she needs to be good at to do this work and do it very well. When that sort of talent comes along, I can't simply pretend I never met her. I actually have no idea what she'll wind up doing for us if she does decide to come and work for us. All I know is that she's too special to pass up."
"What about Silvia?"
"In some ways finding things for Dr. Castro is much easier. I was incredibly impressed by the class she's presenting for us, not just the content but the way she presents the information. I would be thrilled to have her join our teaching faculty. She is also a very talented forensic scientist. Just because we don't prepare cases for prosecution doesn't mean there aren't things we need analyzed. As I told her, we have a laboratory in Mahon. I think that she would be happy with the equipment that was available to here there, and if she needs something else to do her work, we'll get it for her, within reason of course."
"You mentioned Lucas. What about him?"
"For now, he seems content working on the assignments that we have for him. Again, his being married may shorten the period of time that that remains true. Has he said anything?"
"No. I just think that this all just seems very temporary for all of us. For Silvia it has been about her recovery. For Sara, it seems now to feel like a vacation. Pepa and Lucas are focused on El Gordo. We all feel like things are sort of in a limbo until El Gordo is found. After that we don't even know where we will be living."
"Let me tell you a small piece of trivia about CNI. Once it was decided that Spain's intelligence agency would be a civilian agency rather than under the direct control of the military, some things changed, and some did not. One of the things that did not change was the strong ties CNI had to Catalan speaking parts of Spain and specifically the Balearic islands. CNI has always had a large contingent of agents who are from here. While not many are able to be stationed here, the facility in Mahon is there for a reason. This villa was the property of a gentleman who worked for CNI all of his adult life. When he passed away, the villa was not left to the agency as such, but was left in a way that made it clear that this property was to be used in almost exactly this way. All of that is to say that you needn't worry about how long this place is available to you. It's true that employment with CNI doesn't generally come with a housing stipend, and certainly not one that would include accommodations such as these, but while your family is enjoying living on Minorca, you are welcome to stay here. Even after El Gordo is no longer a factor. It could be that from time to time your family might be asked to host other weary travelers in need of a safe, temporary place to stay."
"A bed and breakfast for spies?"
"Something like that."
Movement beyond the gate caught their attention. Two figures came closer and revealed themselves to be Silvia, talking in a very animated fashion to a broadly grinning Pepa. When they had almost reached the gate, Pepa reached for Silvia's arm and pulled her laughing wife into a kiss that lasted a while.
"No, Mr. Santiago," Lola said as the two observed the sweet kiss taking place some yards away, "I don't think Pepa is going to be the spy of your dreams."
Don Lorenzo swore.
He was not at all happy about getting what amounted to a politely worded summons from CNI commanding his presence on Minorca. True, he wanted to see his daughters and granddaughter and this summons also probably meant there was news about the man who had killed his men. But he was not thrilled about CNI calling the shots in such an arrogant way. Nor was he particularly thrilled about his traveling companion. He had discussed the need to have a member of the National Police on hand when El Gordo was captured with Pepa and Silvia, but he still was not sure of the choice. As far as Don Lorenzo was concerned, Aitor was still unseasoned. After all, Aitor losing his cool and shouting inappropriate things at a suspect was what had led to Nelson being at the precinct in the first place. Don Lorenzo had been of the opinion that some day with a lot more training and experience, Nelson would have become a fine police officer. That he had been very brave, and died trying to save the others at the wedding was but one of the things that made it hard for Don Lorenzo to sleep these days. Don Lorenzo did have to concede that Aitor was showing pretty good judgment in keeping his mouth shut on this little journey of theirs, especially since he had to have about a million questions.
As the two men rode on the plane to Mahon, Don Lorenzo had time to stew about a number of things, like how he was starting to wonder if he would ever get Silvia and Pepa back. Things had changed so much since Silvia had made the decision to return home to work in San Antonio all those years ago. Things had changed for that matter since Pepa had made the same decision about five years after Silvia had made hers. Silvia had come home because that was where her family was. Now, Don Lorenzo was still there, but he was the only one. Sara and Lola had both reached stages in their lives that made returning to San Antonio out of the question for either of them. And then there was Pepa. Although he had hated it at first, he had known for a long time that Silvia loved Pepa, possibly before Silvia herself had known it. Silvia had thought she was in love before, and who knows, maybe she had been, but what she felt for Pepa, well even he could tell the difference. Wherever Pepa was, that is where Silvia would be.
He wasn't entirely sure why Pepa had come home. Maybe she had just needed a change or a sense of belonging. What she had found, Don Lorenzo knew, was the love of her life. And just as he was sure that Silvia would go anywhere to be with Pepa, he was equally sure that Pepa would willingly walk through the gates of hell if it meant being with Silvia. Don Lorenzo knew that Pepa loved her brother deeply, but he also knew that Paco was not enough of a reason for Pepa to go back to San Antonio.
Then there was the matter of CNI's earlier theft of Lucas from him. Ok, so it was true that Lucas's approach to police work was likely to have him wind up either in prison or dead, but still you didn't just go and raid someone else's personnel like that. Now that it appeared that there was some recognition that Lucas's marriage meant that he needed some sort of stable home base, and that CNI was willing to accommodate that need, Sara would not be coming back either. If Sara were staying on Minorca, why would Lola ever want to leave? It might be that none of his family would stay on Minorca, but that didn't mean any of them were coming home.
When he looked again at Aitor, he started to wonder if he would make it back to San Antonio with even this member of his squad. Since Pepa had been gone, Aitor had seemed a little lost. He had been keeping to himself, doing his job efficiently and taking part in as much training as he could get his hands on. But it was like the center of the whole family dynamic that made up the squad he was a part of had disintegrated. Paco and Mariano were barely talking, Pepa was gone, Sara was gone, and Aitor just didn't have that much in common with the others.
Don Lorenzo was also aware of Aitor's relationship with Sara while Lucas had been gone. As much as he had disapproved of Silvia and Pepa's relationship at first, it was nothing compared to how unhappy he was that Aitor and Sara had resumed their childish affair after Sara had married Lucas. Even as much as he had at first been convinced that Pepa was only using Silvia and that his little girl would be hurt, at least neither of them was cheating on anyone else. That whole fiasco was part of the reason that Aitor was on the plane now, before the mission to actually capture El Gordo was under way. It had to be firmly established that Aitor and Lucas could put aside the past and work together. Pepa really wanted the National Police presence on this mission to be Aitor, but if he was not mature enough to get over his feelings for Sara, or continued to fight with Lucas, then it would not work.
All in all, Don Lorenzo was feeling very grumpy when the plane landed. He had expected that he and Aitor would be met by some minion of Santiago's and driven in near silence to the villa. What he saw instead was his happy, tanned and seemingly relaxed daughter-in-law leaning on the fender of an SUV joking with a woman he did not recognize, but who he immediately concluded was a CNI operative, or if she wasn't she should have been. As soon as Pepa saw him, she finished her conversation and walked toward him smiling broadly. Seeing her like this didn't set him on edge as it once had. Where he had once seen arrogance and recklessness, there was joy. How much of the change was in him and how much was in her, he did not know nor particularly care. He liked this Pepa; the one that had nearly had to go through what he had when Silvia and Lola's mother died. That he saw joy in her face, and not the hollowness of sorrow that she just might not have made it through, was priceless because it meant neither of them had lost their precious Silvia.
Pepa wrapped her arms around Don Lorenzo and asked in a voice just barely above a whisper "What does he know?"
As he hugged her back Don Lorenzo answered equally as quietly, "Only that you need his help. It was all he needed to hear."
Pepa released her father-in-law and turned toward a guy that had spent the better part of the last year or so becoming her good friend. When she opened her arms to him, he moved into the hug with a very serious look of concern on his face. "Are you ok? What's going on?"
Pepa held him for a long moment. As she was stepping back a little from the embrace she said, "I'm doing well, and a lot is going on. You're going to have a lot more questions, but let's get the first part out of the way now. Follow me."
Aitor and Don Lorenzo did follow as Pepa led them to a building very near where the small plane that had brought them to Mahon had taxied to a stop. They entered through what appeared to be a side door and walked along a hallway that looked like any other hallway of an institutional building. Not too far down the hallway there was a faint smell that all of them recognized as coming from a laboratory. Pepa opened a door that made the smell stronger and stepped inside. Don Lorenzo was pretty sure he knew who was waiting for them inside the room, but he also knew that Aitor was in for a bit of a shock, so he stood aside at the doorway and gestured for Aitor to enter the room first. Aitor gave him a puzzled look and cautiously walked into the room. And stopped dead in his tracks. Sitting on a lab stool with her hands folded in her lap was his dearly departed friend and former superior officer, Silvia Castro. He looked at Pepa who was watching him with an expression that was hard for him to read, and then at Don Lorenzo who was not looking at him at all but was instead beaming at his daughter. His dead daughter, who was getting up and walking toward them. When Silvia reached Aitor she paused at about arms reach. She smiled at him and said, "Hi. Do you have a hug for an old friend?"
Aitor found that he did indeed have a hug for his very solid and not at all ghost-like friend. When he released Silvia and she went over to greet her father, Aitor looked at Pepa. He didn't need to say the word "why". The question was written all over the look on his face and the tilt of his head.
"It started out this way in a big confusing rush, and then to keep her safe while she recovered, it had to stay like this. After that, it gave me some room to move. We need to finish things with the Italian mafia. Then maybe we can go home." Pepa explained.
Aitor shook his head with a little grin on his face as he looked again at Silvia. "Does anyone else know?"
"Sara, Lucas and Lola." Pepa said, and sort of sighed to herself when Aitor's head snapped up at Sara's name. This is what she had been afraid of, that he wouldn't be able to get past his feelings for Sara. "They're at the house. What I need to know is can you work with us. Because if you can't, then we need to put you back on the plane and get you back to San Antonio."
He looked down and asked, "We're after El Gordo?"
At this he did lift his head, and looked Pepa straight in the eye, "Then I'm in."
She nodded, "Let's go."
Silvia drove for the first time in months. Her father sat beside her in the front seat making small talk while both of them kept half an ear on the mostly one-sided conversation going on in the back seat as Pepa filled Aitor in on the past few months and everything they knew about El Gordo. It got kind of quiet as they approached the villa.
Aitor let out a low whistle as he got out of the car and got a good look at the villa. "Playing dead has its perks," he quipped and then quickly ducked under the hand that Pepa was swinging at his head.
As they all walked in the house, they heard voices coming from the living room. As they entered, Sara jumped up and hugged her grandfather. Then she turned to Aitor and gave him a brief hug as well. Lucas walked over and greeted both men. It was lost on no one that Sara moved to Lucas's side and put her arm around him. It was not entirely clear at whom that message was directed, but it came through loud and clear to everyone in the room except Santiago, who remanded blissfully ignorant to the unfolding domestic drama.
Santiago said, "As Pepa and Lucas know, I'm not certain that we need another person to go on this mission. I understand why feelings are so strong about a National Police presence being necessary since all who died on our side were National Police officers, and also why it needs to be someone from San Antonio. And having said that, of the people who are available from San Antonio, I understand why the best choice is Agent Carrasco. But since the taking of El Gordo, whose name incidentally is Ludovico Buscandole, will have to happen in Italy and his actual arrest can't happen until we get him back to Spain, I think adding another person who must keep what is happening here a secret is a mistake."
Lucas spoke up before Pepa could, "It is not simply a matter of institutional pride or honoring the fallen. For practical reasons, we need a National Police agent with us. If something goes wrong, and we find ourselves explaining the seizure of an Italian citizen in Italy by a couple of CNI agents and at least one person without any recognized official status," he said nodding toward Pepa, "Aitor's presence and badge could keep things from getting terribly awkward. Pepa can't fill that role because she is on leave, and she wouldn't be taken as seriously as Aitor anyway because of the assumption that she is only acting because she and Silvia are married."
Aitor and Pepa both looked a little startled that Lucas had come to Aitor's defense. Pepa looked over at Aitor who shrugged his shoulders a fraction of an inch.
Santiago held up his hands, "I know that I am not going to be able to persuade anyone here that Agent Carrasco should not go on the mission." He turned to Don Lorenzo, "Will his absence for perhaps as long as two weeks raise any problems?"
"We were careful not to leave together. We didn't even meet until we got to the airstrip in Barcelona. I'll approve his leave when I return to San Antonio. People will ask, but I can explain that he has done such a good job of holding himself together while everyone else was falling apart, that now as the Christmas holidays are getting closer, he asked for some time to himself to sort through his feelings. No one will question that since the first part is very much true."
"And what about you, Agent Carrasco? Do you want to participate?"
"I have to admit that I'm still wrapping my mind around the thought that the person I was most upset about losing is sitting a few feet from me very much alive. I keep hoping that you'll all tell me that the others are here too, and that we can all go back to Madrid as soon as we get that son of a bitch, but I know that isn't going to happen. I sat part of the vigil for Gonzalo, and another shift for Kike. I know where their bodies were before they were buried. The only thing that I was told before I left Madrid was the Pepa needed my help. I knew why. I'm here because I want to be a part of this. Don't forget that a little more than half of the people who were on that hit list who are still alive are in this room."
Santiago nodded, "You'll have to stay on Minorca until we are ready to move. Are you prepared for that?"
"I didn't pack for the two weeks you talked about, but I have enough stuff for a few days."
"He'll stay here with us," Silvia said, "He'll be fine."
Everyone seemed fine with that and the meeting, such as it was, came to an end. Pepa and Aitor found themselves on the patio enjoying the last of the day as the temperature dropped. "If staying here is going to be too hard, there are rooms in Mahon that you could stay in," Pepa offered.
Aitor smiled "Hmm, the chance to stay in a fancy villa on the beach with my friends, or go be alone in a room that isn't, I'm guessing, even as nice as most hotel rooms. It's a tough choice, but I think that I'd rather be here, thanks." He glanced over at her and added, "I'm not going to lie and tell you that it didn't hurt like hell when she chose him instead of me. And even though I have had months to deal with it, it hurt a lot to walk in there and see her again. But she chose. If she had chosen the other way, I would have done everything I could to make her happy. I'm not going to do anything or say anything that would try to get her to change her mind. It's done. We all survived. Now we'll all move on. In a weird way, the fact the Silvia is alive makes it easier. Seeing you happy and with a chance to make that last a lifetime, that's a good thing. I think I want that too. Maybe it isn't in the cards for me, and definitely not with Sara, but I'm ok. And maybe in a little while, I'll be better than ok. It's probably true that Lucas and I won't wind up being best friends, but we can work together on this. When it's over he can go on being a spy and we can all go home."
Pepa looked over at him, "I'm not sure Silvia and I are going back."
Aitor nodded without looking at Pepa. "It's never going to be like it was before, is it?"
"No. Too much has happened. You know that I love Paco, but that and Don Lorenzo are the two biggest reasons for going back, and I'm not sure that those reasons outweigh the reasons not to. And then there are the reasons to stay. CNI is ready to offer me and Silvia jobs. I don't know what mine would be, or if I'm even willing to take a job with them if it means being gone all the time. But the job they we think they would offer Silvia could be really good. Then there is the chance that I won't be welcome at home because of the things I have had to keep from Paco."
"He'd never turn away from you. If anyone would understand why you couldn't tell anyone, it would be Paco. He's done the same thing more than once and kept you and me and everyone else in the dark about it."
"Intellectually I know that's true, but it is really hard for some people to know and not him."
"You mean like me?"
"I think it would be fair to say that he's going to have a hard time understanding why I wanted you and not him for this mission. It's true he's the person most likely to attract the attention of the people we're trying to surprise, but he's family. He isn't going to like being kept out of this."
"I've hated it the past few months without all of you. Paco and Mariano don't talk anymore, and it's hard to talk to either of them. Montoya has been replaced by someone who doesn't know us. We have a bunch of new trainees that Povedilla is always busy with. That leaves Rita and Curtis. I love them both like family, but man it's different than when we were all together. If you guys don't come back, I might have to think about moving on too."
They both started at the sound of Don Lorenzo's voice behind them, "Christ, am I ever going to make it home with any of my officers when they get around CNI?"
"Don Lorenzo," Pepa began, "Silvia and I haven't finished talking about this, and you know we wouldn't make a decision without talking to you."
"Calm down Pepa. It's ok. I realize that going back may not be something that is as attractive to you now as it was when all this started. Lola tells me that CNI wants you all to stay here. The only thing for Silvia in San Antonio is me. The rest of her family is here. Here might make more sense than there."
"Don't underestimate how large a thing it is for Silvia that you're there."
Don Lorenzo smiled, "Maybe there are worse places to think about retiring then on a beach."
"Great." Aitor said, "So I can go back alone."
"Carrasco, wake up." Don Lorenzo snarled, "If CNI didn't want you here, you wouldn't be here."
Silvia walked onto the patio carrying a jacket for Pepa. "What is everyone talking about out here in the cold?"
"The 600 hundred pound gorilla in the room, Sweetheart." Don Lorenzo said, "Whether any of you is going to come home."
"Dad, I "
"Mija, it's ok. I know that it isn't the same there and that really good reasons exist to stay here. I don't want you to come home just because it's where I am. When you decide, do it together and for the reasons that make the most sense for you. Not because you feel like you have to come home for me. Or for Paco," he added, looking at Pepa.
Silvia sat in the same chair as Pepa with her arm around her love, but her eyes were on her father and were starting to fill with tears. He reached over and took her hand. She said, "Thank you. I know you want us all to come home. I know that you can't leave there and I wouldn't ask you to, but thank you for understanding that we might not decide to go back."
"Well, it won't be the same as being able to see you every day at work, but you're not going far away. We will get to see each other frequently," he said, raising an eyebrow and shaking a finger at her and Pepa, "And as I was saying to Pepa, when the time does come for me to retire, this would not be a bad place to think about settling down, especially if all of my girls live here."
Lola came out to the patio then and greeted Aitor, who she had not yet seen. "I invited Commander Santiago to have dinner with us," she announced, "And we can celebrate having our father and Aitor here with us."
Silvia, Pepa and Don Lorenzo all shared a look with the unspoken question about whether Santiago's dinner invitation had more to do with Lola than with mere good manners. Silvia said, "Why don't I help you get things ready for dinner?"
When the two walked back into the house, Aitor leaned over and said to Pepa, "What's up with that?"
"Up until now, I would have said nothing, but I don't know."
"Well good for her," Aitor said, "It's not like Paco doesn't have something going on with Marina Salgado."
Lucas and Sara came out to the patio. Lucas handed a slightly startled Aitor one of the two beers he was carrying. Sara had a small tray in her hands that held three cups of hot chocolate for herself, Don Lorenzo and Pepa. Pepa looked at Lucas and asked, "Where is Santiago?"
Lucas gestured with his chin toward the door that led from the patio to the kitchen. "He's in there trying not to be too obvious that he's hanging out in the kitchen instead of out here with us."
"Isn't it kind of weird that my mom asked him to dinner?" Sara asked.
Don Lorenzo said, "Not really, Sweetheart."
"Grandpa! You think she likes him?"
"She's lived here for quite a few months. And before that she was by herself in Barcelona. Just because she's the mother of a grown up daughter doesn't mean she has stopped liking men."
Sara glanced at the kitchen door looking a little bit distressed. "I guess I never imagined her with anyone but Papa."
Pepa got up and kissed Sara's head. "It's kind of weird for me too. Your mom and dad had been together pretty much as long as I can remember. They got married when I was about ten. But when they finally broke up, it didn't seem to me like they were going to get back together."
"It's not even like I was waiting or hoping for that to happen. I mean I was there when Dad started seeing Marina, I just never really thought about my mom dating anyone."
"Well, let's not start talking about an epic romance here. She just asked him to stay for dinner," Pepa pointed out.
"So, let's go back inside and just try to go about a normal dinner. We don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable," Don Lorenzo said.
At that comment, Lucas and Aitor looked at each other and shook their heads trying not to laugh. At least this newest development would keep people from staring at them the entire night.
Later that night when they were going to bed Pepa asked Silvia "When you guys were in the kitchen, what was Santiago doing?"
"Mostly he just sat at the breakfast bar and made small talk. He said that he wasn't from here, but that he has lived here for a while now. He talked about the Feast of San Juan in Ciudadela which he said largely involves the horses that are raised here on the island. But it doesn't happen until late June, so if he was trying to figure out how to ask her out, he picked something that is more than half a year away."
"It had to be kind of intimidating for him. I mean here he is having dinner with someone he seems to want to get to know better, who is the only person at the table who is not certified by the National Police to carry a gun, oh yes and her father, her daughter, her sister, her sister-in-law and her son-in-law."
"He seemed to have handled it pretty well. He didn't do or say anything really embarrassing."
"What do you think about Aitor?"
"I really appreciated Lucas trying to make him comfortable, and I think it worked to a degree."
"I think so too," Pepa said as she pulled back the covers to climb into bed. "Both of them kind of said that the whole thing with Sara was over, and that no one had any hard feelings. I think that might be more the way they all wish it were, instead of how they really feel, but I like that they seem willing to try. I think their relationship was going to change any way, even without the huge Sara complication. When Lucas knew him, Aitor was a trainee who was not allowed to even carry a gun. While he was gone, Aitor really grew into the job, especially in the last year. Neither of them is what the other remembers."
"I can see that Aitor is really over the whole business of idolizing Lucas, and Lucas seems to be realizing that he needs to treat Aitor more like an equal." Silvia said as she settled herself onto Pepa's shoulder.
"I'm a little worried about Sara."
"Because of Aitor or because her mom invited Santiago to dinner?"
"A little bit of both I think. You saw how she was with Aitor before Lucas came back. I don't think she was able to shut those feelings off like a faucet. She may not have loved him the way she loves Lucas, but she wasn't just pretending to have feelings for him. I know that Aitor really got hurt in all of this."
"I want to say that it's his own fault for pursuing her when he knew she was married, but the truth is that all three of them should have known better. I think all of them wound up getting hurt. Lucas just doesn't whine about it because he thinks it's his fault."
"Has he talked to you about it?"
"He and I are much better friends than we were a married couple but no, he doesn't really confide in anyone, except maybe Sara. I'm not even completely sure he confides in her."
"That's not good." Pepa frowned.
"No, but it's their marriage and not ours, and even though we think we know better, we can't make them have the kind of marriage we want them to have."
"I suppose not. But if he thinks for one minute that I won't kill him if he hurts her, he is mistaken. What about Lola? Did that surprise you as much as it did me?"
"Yeah, it kind of did. I mean we were really little when she and Paco started seeing each other. I know that she almost had a thing with Mariano several years ago but .."
"Shh." Silvia soothed, "Sorry, I didn't know you didn't know that. Yeah, a few years ago she and Mariano nearly had an affair, but when it came right down to it, she didn't want to lose Paco so she didn't do it."
"And he has the gall to be pissed at Paco because Paco is involved with Salgado who he didn't even want to be married to?"
"Well, yeah. I haven't quite figured that out either. My point was that my whopping six lovers in my whole life is a few more than Lola has had, at least it was before she left San Antonio, and she never said anything to me about anyone while she lived in Barcelona. I think that she would have. So for her to kind of tell this guy and by the way her whole family, that she is interested in him was quite a step."
"Yeah, it was a little bold. I never really thought of Lola as not being very experienced with men and dating and all that. She and Paco just always seemed to have it all figured out until suddenly they didn't and it blew up. I wonder if it would have been different if he had just let her in on what was happening with Lucas and Sara instead of hiding the whole thing. I think that probably if he told Lola the truth, it wouldn't have changed many things. Lucas and Sara would still have had to run from the Kaiser, and Sara may even would have still wound up getting kidnapped and shot, but if he had told her the truth, maybe it would have been easier for her to handle and she wouldn't have had to take off like she did."
"Who knows, it might have changed everything. She might have been able to talk Paco out of some of the more dangerous stuff that happened, and that would have kept everyone out of the line of fire, including Paco. It wasn't just what happened to Sara. She nearly lost them both. On the other hand if she had talked them into a different approach to the investigation, the Kaiser might have gotten away. It's all too hard to second guess now. I am not sure that whole thing was the real problem. I got the feeling it was just the last straw."
Pepa sighed, "I saw Paco start to pick up the pieces and move on with Salgado, but it still makes me really sad that she and Paco couldn't make it work."
"Does it worry you that it could happen to us?"
"No. I mean it kind of already did happen to us when we broke up. I just couldn't let it stay that way and still be a whole, functioning person. And after the crap we've lived through for the last six months, I don't really feel worried about us. I'm sure that when Paco and Lola had been married for six months, they didn't think they would ever break up either. But I really can see us together more than twenty years from now, maybe even fifty years from now. When I thought about it at the wedding, it was terrifying, but in the best way possible. Do you know what I mean?"
"Not really, but in your own slightly twisted way, I think it was very sweet," Silvia said with a smile. "Changing the subject completely, do you really think the whole El Gordo thing will be over in two weeks like Santiago said?"
"God, I hope so. Really, I think the intelligence that CNI has about his location is very good, but it also means that as soon as we can confirm it, we need to move, because it could all be old news and a cold trail very quickly."
"I want to come with you."
"I don't think I have to tell you how I feel about the thought of you coming with us."
"Are you telling me I can't come with you?" Silvia asked turning to look Pepa in the eye.
"No, I'm not saying that. I'm your wife not your father. Santiago might say it, but I'm not. I can't tell you that you can't come. I would just like to point out that you don't have the tactical training the rest of us have mostly because you don't want it. If you come, it will be more dangerous for me, and Lucas and Aitor. We'll spend most of our time trying to look out for you rather than keeping an eye out for the bad guys."
"I can't stand the thought that you'll be there without me watching your back."
"I won't be there alone. Lucas and Aitor will be there with me as well as Maura. I really do trust them and I think that you can too."
"I've never seen Maura work, but I am all too familiar with how those other two work, and for that matter with your style, jumping into things without worrying about the consequences. Don't forget I'm the one that got to put stitches in all of you over the years. If anything were to happen to you "
"Shh." Pepa whispered, pulling Silvia closer. "Things are different now. I have way too much to come home to for me to take stupid risks. Lucas feels the same. Aitor isn't in love right now, but he doesn't have a death wish. Anyway neither of them would want to face you if anything happened to me. Kind of like I wouldn't want to face Sara if Lucas got hurt."
Silvia shook her head, and then laid it on Pepa's chest, listening to the strong heartbeat under her ear as she drifted off to sleep.
Pepa was pretty sure that the discussion they were having was not over by a long shot, and that Silvia was not really buying the whole "I wouldn't take stupid risks" line. But for now she got the impression they were both ready to let the subject go so they could get a little rest. She kissed the top of Silvia's head and scooted down to a more comfortable position on the bed, holding Silvia close all the while. Before she went to sleep, Pepa spent a little while coming to terms with the thought that she very probably was done with field work. Pepa's choice of career was never as accidental as she had at one point pretended it to be. She was the second of three generations of her family to do police work. The thought of this part of her life coming to an end scared her a little, but not as much as she thought it would have. She just had always thought that she'd be older when she stopped, or maybe she'd be dead and not have to worry about what came next. Ah well, youth did have its advantages.
He had always suspected that CNI's toys were cooler than the ones he got to play with in the National Police. He just wasn't quite prepared for how much cooler. The guy whose name he hadn't quite caught kept apologizing because the lightest bullet proof vest Aitor had ever picked up had not been custom cut for him. Still as the other man fussed with it, Aitor could see that it was going to cover the vital areas it was meant to and allow enough freedom of movement that this time, he actually wouldn't complain about having to wear it. And the guns, wow. He knew that composite materials made them lighter and easier to conceal, but more accurate too? Or maybe it was really that Pepa was STILL a better shot than he was. He was even finding a kind of rhythm and ease working next to Lucas that he had not felt when they last worked in the same place.
But it was working with Pepa that made him realize how bad the last six months had been. Yes, he missed Gonzalo, Kike and Nelson. Yes, the fact that Paco and Mariano had basically disappeared was hard. And yes, the hardest part had been missing Silvia, but not just because of missing Silvia herself, but because he was afraid that he had forever lost Pepa. He knew how much he hurt when Sara was suddenly gone from his life, but she was alive, and he knew she was well. He could even be angry about the way she had so easily walked away from him. But to have Silvia ripped from her like that well; Aitor knew that even if Pepa came home, there would be a hollowness inside her that would rattle when she walked. Now he looked across the room at the focused and yet laughing woman and he knew that he couldn't go back to San Antonio and just stagnate. He had heard Don Lorenzo say that CNI would want him too, but even if they didn't, he needed more than being one of Paco's men. He had outgrown that, and would need a lot more to challenge himself and become the agent he suspected he could be. He had decided in the past couple of days that after this was over, he would transfer somewhere else.
Pepa looked up from watching the last of the materials they had assembled to go to Italy being packed. She saw Aitor leaning against a table looking at his badge and walked over to him, "I don't care what Don Lorenzo says, they really aren't prizes that are handed out at carnival booths."
Aitor smiled and tucked the badge back under his shirt. "I really missed you," he said.
"Yeah. In a way after we got past the really scary first part, it has been great for us to be here together in this little cocoon. Silvia and I are closer than ever. We aren't even ready to kill each other because of all the time we've spent together, but it's been only family. I've missed having a good friend like you to talk to."
"Something you want to talk about now?"
"Well, there is the whole Silvia wants to come with us thing," Pepa said with a slight grimace.
"Come with us toooo dinner?"
"No. To Italy when we go get El Gordo."
"Ah. And so are you going to tell her that she can't go?" Aitor asked with a sly smile on his face.
"When exactly was it that the 'I'm stupid' sign appeared on my forehead?" Pepa asked rubbing the body part in question, "No, I won't be telling her anything of the kind. I like being both married and alive. The thing is that she has already had the experience since we have been here of me going off on what was supposed to be a nothing kind of job and I got shot at. She REALLY didn't like that. This next thing is not a nothing kind of anything. On top of which if there is anyone among us who has a reason to want to be in on catching that bastard after everything she has been through, it's Silvia."
"I don't know much about CNI, but I can't imagine anyone going along with her wanting to come."
"No, me either. But that just makes it a whole lot harder for those of us who have to live with her before and after we go. You know how stubborn she can be when she decides she wants something."
"Do you want me to try to talk her out of it?" Aitor asked.
"I'm a little afraid that the more people try to discourage her, the more determined she will be to go. And see, you already justified my wanting to bring you in on this. If I tell anyone else in the family what she wants to do, then everyone will get involved and it'll turn into a big mess. Telling you, I got to get it off my chest and still not cause a huge problem with the family."
"Yeah, my mom always pictured me as a priest that people would be able to confess to."
"A priest huh? I'm having a little trouble picturing you that way myself. Must be that time I caught you in bed with my niece, naked."
"What are you going to do?"
Pepa sighed, "For now I am going to hope that she comes to her senses and decides to stay here. But if that doesn't happen, then I guess I count on CNI telling her no."
The two picked up their private gear and headed home. When they got there, Santiago's car was already in the driveway. Each was thinking as they walked toward the house that the next time they left it, they would probably be on their way to Italy. Each was hoping that the plan they had in place was good enough so that everyone who went there also came home.
When they walked into the living room, Silvia looked at Pepa with such sadness and fear, Pepa knew that no one needed to talk her out of going. Silvia would wait with Sara and Lola. She'd hate every single minute of it, but she would do it.
"You will leave tonight," Santiago told them.
Pepa looked past him to see that the room also held Sara who was gripping Lucas's hand like it was the only thing that was keeping her from being blown away by a hurricane. Maura was sitting in the living room very quiet, seemingly aware that there was a hell of a lot going on that had nothing to do with her, and that she needed to wait for the currents to still so that they could go and get this thing done. For his part, Lucas's face was closed and still. She felt Aitor's excitement start to climb even though he was standing still. Truth be told, she felt a shot of adrenaline too, but first there were things to be dealt with. Promises to make. Words that needed to be said.
Pepa made her way to Silvia's side, took her hand and walked up the stairs without saying a word. On the way to their room, they passed a decidedly pale Lola who looked from one face to the other and concluded that she really didn't have anything to say to them at this exact moment. When they got to their room, Pepa pushed the door open and walked past the bed to the now seldom used sofa, where she sat down and pulled Silvia into her lap. They held each other for a long time and Pepa began to realize that though the promises she had thought about downstairs did indeed need to be made, maybe saying the words was not as important as she originally thought.
"It would be stupid to ask you to promise me that nothing will happen to any of you, but promise me," Silvia said.
Ok, so maybe some words were important, "I promise."
"I hate you for going when I can't."
"I love more than I ever thought possible."
"I know. I'll love you forever."
Silvia started to get up, "Let's go back downstairs."
"We have plenty of time before we go," Pepa said trying to pull Silvia back into her lap.
"Oh no. If we stay up here, we'll wind up in bed. No sex for you, until you get back."
"Wait, what? You think not having sex with me will make me more likely to come home safe?"
"Where do you get this stuff?"
When they got back downstairs, Lucas and Sara were nowhere to be seen in the living room. Aitor had settled into a chair near Maura and seemed content to wait. Lola was as far across the room from Santiago as she could get, and seemed disinclined to look at him. Something Santiago apparently took notice of, based on the glances he tossed her way on occasion. Silvia led Pepa to the table that had some food laid out on it, and started to fix a plate for her. Aitor got up and prepared a small serving, which he then offered to Maura. She took it from him with a slight smile. He went back and got himself some food as well.
After eating in near silence Pepa, Aitor and Maura all went to don the clothes and gear they would need for the first part of the mission. As they rejoined the others in the room, Lucas also turned up dressed and ready to go. Pepa suspected that Sara was not an adherent to the no-sex-before-the-mission policy. That was ok, Lucas could just suck up having to sit in the very back of the plane and the van for that matter. Not a few quiet tears and long hugs were exchanged, and the team made its way out the door. The last thing Silvia saw was Pepa's amazing smile as her love closed the door behind her.
El Gordo stared.
Who was the redheaded woman the Spanish cop with the long, dark hair was hugging? His informant had said that both the redheaded cops the bride and the gay guy - had been killed. How could the dead bride from the wedding be standing there, smiling and laughing in the other woman's arms? The spectacle before his eyes made it hard for him to show the appropriate level of disdain as the annoying young cop read him his rights caution, now that he was back on Spanish soil and officially under arrest. He supposed it now made some sense that he had not been able to goad the dark haired cop, the one he had been led to believe was the hot head in the bunch the widow, into killing him when they burst into his hideout in Italy. He wondered if anyone would believe him when he told the truth of his kidnapping and if it would help at all in his trial. Damn, he wished the dark haired one had just killed him. He really didn't want to spend the rest of his life in a Spanish prison. An Italian one would be much easier to run his businesses out of. He also really wanted to wipe the smug look off the face of the guy who looked like he was in charge. That guy must be with CNI.
When the boat docked, it had seemed to Silvia that it was taking forever for the damn thing to get tied off so that the gangway could be attached. After that, a bunch of people got on the stupid boat before anyone got off. And though she was very pleased to hear that all had gone "according to plan", the plan was not over for her until Pepa was off that stupid boat and in her arms. Whose stupid idea was it to use a boat any way? Planes were much faster. This all would have been over yesterday or the day before even, if they had used a stupid airplane. Then finally on the deck there she was, dressed in black t-shirt and cargo pants with various weapons draped on her, in holsters hung from her shoulders and hips and her hair pulled back in a pony tail. And not one of her slicked back "I'm on a mission" ponytails; it was one of her relaxed, carefree ponytails. Silvia thought that Pepa looked absolutely gorgeous and not a little butch. Then Pepa was off the boat walking toward her. Silvia laughed out loud when Pepa picked her up and spun her around. That was when she noticed they had an audience. The man in handcuffs being led away by Aitor and Maura had to be El Gordo. He was looking over at them and clearly ignoring Aitor while Aitor was reading him his rights. For a moment, Silvia's insides felt cold and heavy. He might not have pulled the triggers himself, but she knew she was looking at the face of the man that was responsible for Gonzalo's death. Gonzalo who could be pompous and clueless, but was also sweet and caring and who had literally given his life for his friends, the man she had nearly married. The face she was looking at now had also caused her very grave injuries that had hurt so much in so many ways, and the deaths of dear, sweet Kike and oh-so-young Nelson. By the look on his face, she was pretty sure that he knew who she was and that he was probably trying to figure out why she wasn't dead. She remembered at the beginning when she was in so much pain trying to figure out the same thing. While she stared at El Gordo, she felt Pepa move her body behind her and wrap her long arms around her waist. "It really is over," Silvia heard Pepa whisper to her. Silvia wasn't naïve enough to think that El Gordo's arrest ended everything. There was the trial to get through, which might come with some awkward questions about how exactly El Gordo had found himself again on Spanish soil. But Silvia did admit that the thought of this man being behind bars made her feel safe in a way that she hadn't since before the wedding. She was beginning to let herself feel as though the limbo they had been living in would end as well. The problem was now the time had come for the whole family to make difficult decisions they had been putting off. Right at this moment in the arms of her love with the bad guy being loaded into a prisoner transport truck, even that little bit of scariness was easy to set aside.
Pepa was starting to get nervous. The elation of the successful mission that literally went off without a hitch was starting to give way to worry about her so far silent lover. As Silvia stared at El Gordo while he was led away, Pepa wondered what was going through her mind. She tried to reassure Silvia that it was all over, but Silvia gave no indication that she had even heard her. She knew she should have just shot the bastard when she had her gun pointed at his head, when he was talking all that crap about them. She also knew that if she had done that in Silvia's mind, and to be honest with herself in her own, she would be nothing but a killer. She wasn't sure that her relationship with Silvia would have survived that, not just because of how the killing would affect the way that Silvia felt about Pepa, but because of the way it would affect how Pepa felt about herself. It wasn't even as if she had never killed before. Hell, at the wedding she shot the first two guys who were running at the hotel after the shooting started. She wasn't positive she had killed them, but she sure as hell had shot them and they sure as hell went down. But that was different. That was a fight to protect her family. That wasn't shooting a guy on his knees with his hands on his head, shooting off nothing but his mouth. So she hadn't killed El Gordo, but she had done that for her and for Silvia. She couldn't help that it happened to result in the rat bastard staying alive. Finally, she felt Silvia start to relax and lean back against her body. She closed her own eyes in relief. There were demons that still needed to be worked through, but they could get to that. She felt like for the first time in a long time she wasn't running, trying to catch up with her life. Maybe they could just slow down and enjoy life for a little while, which seemed a little odd to her given the very long period of time that they had all sat around doing nothing other than helping Silvia to recover. This doing nothing would be different though. This would be doing nothing because they chose it.
Aitor closed the door to the prisoner transport van quietly patting himself on the back because he hadn't beaten the living daylights out of that arrogant ass as he walked him from the boat to the van. He turned around and saw Silvia lean back against Pepa. They both looked a little less elated than when they first were in each other's arms after Pepa went ashore, weary in a way. He felt a little that way himself. He hadn't spent the months here that the others had waiting for news and waiting for the mission to start, but in a way he had been waiting too in San Antonio. Waiting and realizing that his world had fallen apart. Now big pieces of that world had been given back to him. He thought for a minute about what had happened in Italy. The moment that Pepa had led the way into the room whose reinforced door they had blown off its hinges. He remembered how complaint El Gordo had been as he got to his knees as ordered. Then he remembered the taunting words. El Gordo gloating over the deaths he had engineered, especially Silvia. He remembered watching the muscles in Pepa's forearm tighten as she got closer to pulling the trigger. He hadn't said a word. He felt Lucas come in behind him and watched him survey the scene. Lucas then turned his back and watched the door. If Pepa was going to kill him, Lucas seemed to be saying, then he was ok with that. Aitor knew at that moment that he wouldn't try to stop her either. It was Pepa's call and he'd be there for her no matter what that call was. Then Pepa had pulled El Gordo forward on to his face and Aitor was running forward and putting the handcuffs on him. They were inside the house less than five minutes and then they were out and into the van that Lucas had parked a few feet from the door. Maura was breathing hard from having run up from her covering position, but she was in the driver's seat and ready to go. Aitor's favorite moment was carefully seat belting El Gordo in explaining that they must of course obey the traffic safety laws. His eyes now moved along the dock and found Sara in Lucas's arms. He prepared himself for that bitter little pain in his ribcage that such a sight usually evoked, and was mildly surprised not to feel it this time. He saw Santiago looking at him and knew that he needed a couple of minutes alone with that guy, because if there was a chance that he could stay here and get to work with Pepa, he really wanted that. Hopefully she did too. Maura who hadn't said more than a couple of words to him during the entire mission patted him on the shoulder and walked over to Santiago. He wondered if that was as good a thing as he hoped it was.
Lucas smiled over Sara's head at Pepa, who made a face at him. When they had left the villa, according to CNI, he had been in charge. He knew that wouldn't last. Pepa would lead and Aitor would follow. That was ok. As fond as he was of those who had died, Lucas knew that he had not come close to feeling the kind of pain that Pepa had. When they had landed in Italy and gone to the farm where they were told El Gordo was hiding, it was every bit as quiet as they had been told it would be. As they got closer to the house, what Ricci had told Pepa appeared to be true, no guards. Still they dropped Maura on a rise to watch the approaches to the house while the other three went on. Pepa and Aitor went inside while he moved the van into the best position to get out of there in a hurry. When he heard the explosion inside he hurried in, just to make sure there were no nasty surprises. When he went through the door, he found El Gordo on his knees obviously trying to push Pepa into killing him. Lucas kind of understood that. Prison in Spain wasn't going to be much fun for him. He could see that Pepa was considering it. He was pretty sure that if it had been Sara and not Silvia who had been shot, he wouldn't have hesitated to pull the trigger. Still, he was proud of the woman he regarded as kind of a little sister for sticking with the plan and bringing El Gordo back.
As the van carrying El Gordo drove away, the band of agents and their family got into a pair of SUVs and drove south to Barcelona. The plane to Mahon was not big enough for the people who needed to have private conversations to do so. The SUVs that carried the family members "home" afforded even less privacy.
Silvia and Pepa went to their room so that Pepa could change her clothes, and to the surprise of no one, so that they could talk.
"Well Princesa, we are free now. Do you want to go home?" Pepa asked as she pulled on her pants and shirt.
"If I am with you, then I am home." Silvia replied.
"While that is a really sweet sentiment, which I happen to share, it doesn't really answer the question. Do you want to go back to San Antonio?" Pepa asked sitting on the bed and facing her wife.
"Are we sure we can? I know that El Gordo is in jail, but does that mean that we can tell everyone the truth now? Can we really stop hiding?"
"I guess I was assuming that, and from the conversation I had with Ricci I believed that was the case. We can ask Santiago about it and also your Dad, but I think that we'll probably only get their best guesses. It may in fact be the case that we won't really know until we try. I guess we don't really have to try. We could accept Santiago's offer and stay here. We could either get them to let Aitor to stay as well or just make him promise to never tell our secret if he can't or won't stay." Pepa mused.
"If at all possible, I want to be able to tell the truth and stop hiding. Not just because there are people I care about who don't know, but because I don't like feeling like a liar or a coward."
"No one who knows you believes that. But yeah, I want to Paco to know that while we collectively did lose a lot, it wasn't as much as he thinks. He doesn't need to carry the guilt of your death."
"It also bothers me that my Dad has had to lie all this time. He would do anything to protect us, but it's not in his nature to lie, especially not to Paco. He never had a son, and with Paco in his life, he never really needed one."
"So do we stay or do we go?"
"What do you want?" Silvia asked sitting down next to Pepa.
"I want you to be happy. Wait," Pepa said to forestall the objection she saw starting from Silvia, "that isn't the copout you think it is. I want you to have challenging work. I want us to have opportunities that appeal to both of us. I want for our work to matter to us. If you think that we can get that more in San Antonio, then we should go back there. If those things are more available to us here, but being away from the family is something that will make you unhappy, then we need to weigh those things. If you want to talk to Don Lorenzo and then decide, that's fine too."
"I think that my father said what he needed to say on the subject when he was here last time. Of the family, only he and Paco are left there. The chance to do the kind of work for CNI that I have seen and believe that they would ask of me is very appealing to me, but not at the cost of you being God only knows where, doing God only knows what for days or weeks or months at a time. If what they want is for you to be in field position, then I don't want to take this. I want to go home where the work may not be as challenging or fun, and is certainly not the world's safest, but I feel like the dangers are less scary if that make sense."
"It does make a certain amount of sense. I had already decided that I won't accept a position as a field agent in the international division like Lucas. I just don't know what else they would have me do."
"Let's go ask."
When the couple walked downstairs, they found Aitor in the living room staring out the window. He didn't turn around as they passed, and Pepa raised her eyebrows at Silvia as they walked into the kitchen. Santiago was in the kitchen talking to Lola. He turned as they came in. "So," he said.
Pepa smiled. "Yes," she said "So. Assuming that I was interested in working for CNI, and further assuming that I don't want to be a field agent, what else might I do for you?"
"Pepa, I have known since shortly after meeting you that you were not going to be going into the field. It doesn't make me less interested in hiring you. The position that I have in mind for you has not really existed up to this point in a formal way. My thinking about it has evolved as I became more hopeful that we might hire the lovely Dr. Castro for our forensic science section, but also for our training faculty. I think that you teaching our beginning agents some of the skills that you possess would also be of value. The training staff that we currently have is small, and supplemented by field agents sharing what they know. The problem is that being a good field agent doesn't make you a good teacher. The process can be very frustrating for both teacher and student. There is also the matter of your family maintaining this residence and being what your sister-in-law called a bed and breakfast for spies."
Pepa frowned, "What if I suck at teaching?"
Santiago laughed. "I am very much not concerned about that. But if after a period of time you hate it, or we don't seem to be getting the results we hoped for, we will find something else for you to do."
Silvia spoke up, "So no field work?"
"Only if she specifically asks to go. Which brings us to another subject. What of Agent Carrasco?"
Pepa looked up sharply, "What about him?" she asked in an ever so slightly menacing voice.
"I am given to understand that he might consider joining us as well, especially if it meant he could continue to work with you?"
"As much as I would love to work with Aitor again, I don't think he is as eager to leave the field as I am."
"I was thinking more of the sort of a hybrid position, more along the lines of what Lucas does. Based here, but sent into the field as needs require. And when needs are less, perhaps a help to you both in teaching."
"Two things," Silvia answered, "first, he is absolutely not going to teach about the careful collection and preservation of evidence. He is just not very good at it. And second, he and Lucas shouldn't work together. I know that this went well, but they won't make good partners."
"As for the first matter, I will of course bow to you superior knowledge of Agent Carrasco's handling of evidence and your expertise in the subject matter. As to the second, most of our agents, including Lucas work without partners. It is the exception rather than the rule that two agents would be assigned the same task. The danger in the El Gordo matter made a team approach a necessity. But I will bear in mind that not pairing them is a better idea. Did I otherwise understand the situation correctly?"
"I think that he would seriously consider such an offer." Pepa said.
"Then perhaps I should go extend it, and give your family a moment or two to talk." With that Santiago walked into the living room.
Lola turned from her busy work at the counter and asked, "So is that your decision? Are you staying here?"
Pepa looked at Silvia who said, "I think it is more of a question about whether we all would be staying here. Do you want to, and do you think that Sara and Lucas would stay too?"
"With you and Sara here, there is no where I would rather be. I think that Sara would much prefer all of us to stay together as well. And Lucas will want what Sara wants."
"What about me and Lucas?" Sara asked as she walked into the room.
Pepa put her arm around her niece and said, "We were talking about all of us staying here and Silvia and me taking the jobs that CNI is offering us."
Sara looked a little puzzled, "I had just assumed that was what was going to happen. I didn't really think that any of us was really going back to San Antonio."
"Well," said Silvia, "I'm glad you had it all figured out. Some of the rest of us were struggling with the decision. But if this package that is being presented with a big bow on it includes Aitor staying too, are you still as happy about it?"
Sara tilted her head up attempting to assume a superior attitude, which only served to make her look a lot like the bratty adolescent that she had very recently been. "Aitor knows that I'm with Lucas and that he hasn't got a chance of coming between us. We are all adults and can deal with the situation."
"So you're ok with him living here with us?" Lola asked.
Sara at first frowned, then smiled and shrugged. "It's a big house. If it doesn't bother him, I'm fine with it too."
A slightly stunned Aitor came into the kitchen and walked directly up to Pepa, pretty much ignoring everyone else in the room. "So it's true, we are all going to stay here and work together?"
"Well, Silvia and I will work together. You and Lucas will run around being spies, but not together. And sometimes, you and I will teach the new guys how to go do the spy thing and not get killed, but still get the job done. So far, no formal job offers from CNI for Lola and Sara."
Aitor slowly shook his head. "This is definitely not how I thought I would be spending this Christmas."
"But you're happy?"
Pepa turned to her wife, "And you Pelirroja, are you happy too?"
Silvia smiled, "Yes. Please go get our coats so we can take a walk along the beach before we come back in and sign our lives away to CNI."
Pepa went to the living room where she and Silvia had left the requested garments and took a moment to tell a visibly pleased Santiago that he had three new hires he needed to process. Then the rest of the family watched as she and Silvia walked through the gate that led to the beach with their arms around each other and heads bent toward one another, sharing the thoughts of lovers. Since it was still early afternoon, it wasn't quite walking off into the sunset, but it would do.
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