DISCLAIMER: Los Hombres De Paco and its characters are the property of Antena 3. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Despite the spoilers we've heard for the upcoming season, I'm writing this fic on the assumption that no cast members are leaving/that the status quo isn't really shaken. (In my perfect world, it wouldn't be, of course.) As you can see, this is going to be a somewhat long fic; I'm aiming to put out a chapter a week through January, but come February I may have to scale it back to a chapter every other week. So if you don't like reading WIPs, you should know that this one will probably not be finished for quite a while. As always, comments and constructive criticism welcome. Don't make me beg, guys! Also, thanks go out to random_flores and disturbed_muse for betaing this. I really appreciate it, you two. :)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Songs of Innocence & Experience
By mightbefound


Song 3


I'm miles from where you are,
I lay down on the cold ground
I, I pray that something picks me up
And sets me down in your warm arms


Week 1, Day 1, 22:30

"Excuse us, Juan, but we need a moment with Pepa."

Caterina López and Martina Ortega entered the small windowless room. Juan looked up in acknowledgment, then back to Pepa, who quickly masked her look of utter relief under a mask of studiousness.

"Any questions?" he asked, and Pepa shook her head. His briefing had been thorough (so thorough Pepa had had to pinch herself several times to keep awake, as her coffee rush had deserted her two hours ago), albeit interrupted. She made a mental note to get Caterina a nice Christmas present.

"I think any other questions are covered in the packet," Pepa said, waving the (very thick) folder he had handed her at the beginning of their session. "Or Caterina can answer them."

"Very well," he said, nodding, fiddling nervously with his glasses as he stood to go. (He reminded her of Povedilla, just a little.) "If that's all, Capitán, Directora…."

"Thank you, Juan," Caterina said gracefully, and they smiled at each other gently. He shut the door behind him.

Caterina, Pepa thought enviously, had the same touch Silvia did with subordinates. Firm and authoritative, but also warm and appreciative at the same time. Like you were valued, and for more than just the services you provided. There was a reason Caterina's squad was the hardest to transfer into in just about the entire city (and oh, that had been fun, when she—the eternally troublesome rogue officer with the astronomical arrest rate—had been accepted in over several of her more rules-bound fellows, when Caterina had taken the rough Pepa under her personal wing). Pepa knew more than a few agents and subinspectors from the Sevillan precinct who would have done just about anything for a personal word of praise from Caterina.

She often saw a similar expression on the faces of some of the younger agents in Madrid, especially when they looked at her lover.

Silvia was going to be a great police chief one day.

"Pepa," Ortega did not sound amused, and Pepa dragged her attention back to the present. Caterina was gazing at her fondly, with amused patience; Ortega definitely was not. Pepa shook herself.

Get your head off Silvia and into the game, Pepa, or you won't be playing for very long.

"Lo siento. Can you repeat that, please?" Pepa straightened in her chair, focused on her superior officers.

"I said we're moving up the timetable for your insertion."

Pepa looked up sharply. "Directora, with all due respect, I haven't—"

"We know you haven't finished your briefings or going over your background material, but an opportunity came and we can't let it go by," Ortega interrupted her. "You're going into the prison tonight around midnight. You'll be released tomorrow morning at nine, check in with your parole officer at ten, spend the morning and early afternoon settling into your apartment and checking out the neighborhood. You were being held in a high-security prison about two hours away from Granada, and were transferred the day before your release. Solitary in both prisons."

Pepa grimaced. She had already been told that her base was in one of the filthiest barrios in the 3000. The apartment itself sounded decent, the occasional cockroach and plumbing that worked most of the time and fellow tenants who looked away and asked no questions, but she was not looking forward to wading through piles and piles of shit to get there.

Get used to it, Miranda.

"And tomorrow night?"

"Pepa, do you remember Hector Ortiz?" Caterina spoke this time, and Pepa blinked in surprise.

"That little rat is still alive and on the streets?" The question was incredulous, but damn, Hector had already been a longtime snitch back when Pepa had transferred to Madrid.

"He is," Caterina responded, and Pepa snorted, mentally reevaluating her estimation of Hector. Her respect (if you could call it that) for his self-preservation skills jumped several notches. Maybe I need to spend some serious time with the little worm.

"He's still feeding us good information?"

"Yes, and he's handling a major deal tomorrow," Ortega took up the explanation. "He received the okay from El Diablo's people just an hour ago. You're going to go in attached to him, same identity as last time, as a guard. He's going to vouch for you to El Diablo. We are going to send in agents to bust up the deal. They won't know about you, so be careful. You're to disable and disarm them, ensure the deal goes through, and assist Hector and El Diablo in moving the drugs. We're not sure how much El Diablo will remember from your previous infiltration, so we have to assume that you'll have to start from the bottom, as a street pusher, and work your way up. Record any and all information you can on your buyers, of course, but your main objective is to infitrate El Diablo's organization and get enough to take him and his entire organization down." A predatory expression flashed across Ortega's face. "You have license to do whatever is necessary to get this bastard off the street, Pepa. He's getting too powerful, and if he cements his alliance with the oil and arms cartels, we'll never be able to take him down. We need to strike now."

Pepa digested this, looked aside, took a deep breath.

Pushing drugs. Buying and selling. Enabling cocaine and meth to hit the streets. Enabling stupid kids to get high, get hooked, ruin their lives.

Sometimes going undercover made her sick to her stomach.

"You'll have a regular parole officer," Ortega broke in on her thoughts, having calmed her own emotions. "Again, who won't be aware of your identity, so try to fulfill all your parole requirements. We don't want to have to step in and smooth things over, that'll bring up too many questions. Remember that El Diablo regularly has all his people watched. Literally every move that you make will probably be recorded, either on El Diablo's orders, or by someone who will try to get over on you and use you as a stepping-stone." Ortega grimaced. "We can't even have real contact with you for fear of blowing your cover. The best way of getting messages to us is through Hector, but don't count on it being timely—he goes underground for weeks at a time and he has to be extremely careful himself of when he can pass on information and what he can say. And it will look suspicious if the two of you seem overly close."

Pepa nodded. "Are we aware of any other agencies with plants in El Diablo's organization?" There was a touch of hope in her voice; it was always nice to know whether you had an ally, even if you didn't know who it was.

"We don't know," Ortega answered with quick grimace. "We've been keeping this op in-house and extremely quiet. We haven't given any notification to Interpol or anyone else. The only ones who know the full details of the op are the three of us, and whatever Juan has put together." Caterina and Pepa both smiled faintly. They would have been a little more worried about a leak on Juan's end if he had not been Caterina's devoted spouse of twenty years.

But something in Ortega's voice caught her attention. Pepa looked up, eyes flickering from Caterina to Ortega and back. Her intuition, the little half-sensed, half-heard voice in the back of her head that had saved her life on more than one occasion, began to go off.

Something's not right here.

"What have you told the other agents?" Pepa asked, trying not to be too obvious as she fished for information. "You know there could be problems if I happen to run into any other officers at a bar and they let slip that they know me."

Ortega and Caterina exchanged looks again, and Caterina looked uneasy. Pepa's eyes narrowed.

"Well, given the places you'll be haunting, I certainly hope you don't run into any off-duty agents." Caterina's tone was wry, and Pepa grinned reluctantly before shifting her attention to Ortega for a more serious answer. The director did not disappoint.

"The other agents remaining from your time here have been notified that you're here in Sevilla, but on an operation being overseen by your superiors in Madrid, one that we have no knowledge of and are staying out of. Under no circumstances are they to let on that they know you. Only Rocio and Juan are aware that you're working for us." Well, that explains the lack of agents in the 'pen, Pepa realized; she had thought it strange for the bullpen to be completely empty. She bit her lip as she mentally reviewed what she had just been told, ferreting out what Ortega and Caterina were not saying.

Pepa's lips twisted as the pieces finally added up in her mind. She tilted her head back, letting it hang off the back of the chair for a long moment as she fought the nausea. When she finally pulled her head up, she felt like a black hole had sucked out her insides, leaving only a frightening chasm. Her voice was coldly professional.

"You think El Diablo has someone in this precinct."

Caterina winced and looked away, and Pepa knew she was right. (That must have been how he found Marta, she realized, and promised a bullet to the back of the traitor's head.) She met Ortega's eyes unflinchingly.

"We're afraid of that possibility, yes," Ortega acknowledged. "But this is also an operation that calls for maximum discretion and misinformation. The less that is known, and the fewer people that know, the safer it is for you and the better the operation's chances of success."

Pepa had to admit this was fair, looked away. When she looked back, she again met Ortega's eyes levelly.

"Should discovering the identity of the mole be my secondary objective?" she asked. Her voice was still cool and professional.

Caterina and Ortega exchanged another glance, but this time Caterina gave a small shrug to her superior, a small smile. Pepa wondered what that was about. Focused again on tamping the rage and the fear down.

"I would say it has the same priority as getting us the names of your clients," Ortega answered after a moment of consideration. Her voice gained excitement as she spoke. "If you can, by all means let us know, but don't let trying to figure out the identity of the mole supersede your main objective. Bottom line, you need to get enough on El Diablo to take him and his men and his organization down and force them to cooperate with us."

"Besides, if you do your job right, we'll discover the plant regardless." Caterina quietly reminded them both. "El Diablo will be singing like a bird by the time we're done with him."

Pepa considered, nodded again. She glanced at the clock.


She took a deep breath.

"Directora, Caterina, it's ten fifty," Pepa informed them. "With your permission, I'd like to go start readying myself for insertion into the prison." I have an hour to forget all the best things in my life and make myself into someone else. Great.

"Of course, of course," Ortega nodded. Pepa stood and saluted the older women sharply. They returned the salute, and Ortega clasped Pepa's hand firmly.

"Good luck, Agent Miranda," she said. "Remember. Bring this bastard in no matter what. We'll protect you from the consequences of whatever you need to do. This is bigger than all of us."

Pepa swallowed hard and nodded. When she turned to Caterina, the older woman did not surprise her at all by pulling Pepa into a warm hug.

"I wish we could promise you more support, Pepa," she said quietly to Pepa as they disengaged. "But remember: your safety is your first priority. If start to feel like your cover has been blown, get yourself out. That's an order. We'll have other chances at this bastard, Pepa. We can't replace you…and neither can your family." She squeezed Pepa's shoulder. Pepa, surprised, just blinked before she saluted her superiors one last time. She turned on her heel and walked out the door.

The click was deafening.

"What do you think?" Caterina asked as they watched Pepa make her way through the deserted bullpen. Rocio rose immediately from the desk she was lounging at and approached Pepa, a clear question on her face.

Caterina's brow furrowed in interest as Pepa took Rocio by the shoulder, her face intense and serious. Pepa was talking quickly and forcefully, gesturing sharply, and she pulled a smaller plastic bag out of her duffel. Through it, Caterina could make out two relatively small, box-shaped packages. Pepa handed the bag to Rocio, still talking and gesturing. When Rocio looked down and nodded, murmuring what Caterina assumed was an affirmative, Pepa's face relaxed into relief. Whatever it was, it was clearly important to her. She and Rocio filed out of the bullpen door, Pepa talking more softly now. Caterina was so caught up in watching them that she almost missed Ortega's response.

"I think if anyone can do it, she can," Ortega answered with a small shrug. They stared out the door Pepa and Rocio had just exited through.

"I just don't know what it will cost her."

Caterina glanced sharply at Ortega, protectiveness for a woman she regarded almost as a niece flaring within her.

"And at what point do we pull her out, if she's not making progress?"

Ortega exhaled wearily, met Caterina's eyes in their window reflections. "When I think she's outlived her usefulness," the older woman answered, and left Caterina to stare out the window.

Week 1, Day 2, 13:00

Pepa, sighing in disbelief, finished unpacking her small bag of clothes into the (disgusting) chest of drawers. She flopped onto the bed, shutting her eyes and curling around a pillow into the fetal position. At least the damned bed was relatively clean. Fighting the cold feeling that kept trying to creep up her spine, she pulled the comforter over herself, tightened her hold on the pillow.

She was unpacked and, considering she had no personal items to place, all moved in. Her lips curved as she rolled her head to the right, surveying her personal armory. Handguns, shotguns, even a grenade or two….

Caterina gave me enough guns to stock all the precincts of Sevilla, Pepa thought, and felt supremely satisfied.

Glancing at her watch, she decided she had enough time to take a nap. There remained a few hours before her rendezvous with Hector, she needed to be at the top of her game tonight, and she felt worn out from the events of the past, damn, not even two days.

It had been twenty-nine hours since she had last seen Silvia.

Silvia, Pepa thought, and the crushingly empty feeling she had been fighting since the moment she had learned of Marta's death crashed over her. She actually shook with the force of her emotion. She did not even try to suppress her tears.

Dios, Silvia. Pepa hated this, hated leaving her lover. Hating even more what it was doing to Silvia; when they had woken up the morning of Pepa's departure, Silvia had already looked five years older and haggard. At the train station they had both almost, almost lost it. Pepa had no doubt Silvia had gone home and sobbed her eyes out. Only pride had prevented Pepa from crying in front of Rocio and Caterina and Ortega; she had had to excuse herself to shed a few tears and gather herself in the train bathroom, and Rocio had discreetly passed her a Kleenex when they had passed in the train hallway.

What made it worse were Silvia's (sweet) attempts to be strong for Pepa when she was so obviously falling apart. Silvia had tried to cry in the bathroom of Pepa's apartment, away from Pepa, but Pepa had followed her in and held her. Silvia's hot tears had burned her shoulder as Pepa sat there and hated herself.

Pepa hated being the cause of Silvia's pain.

She bit her limp and whimpered softly. There was so much she wanted to say to Silvia. Starting with 'Princesa, I'm sorry' and ending with 'I'm never letting us be separated again.' Christ, she hated this.

She had not told Silvia, either, that there was a good chance she would miss Silvia's birthday. Operations like this took time, patience. Pepa's gut was telling her that three months was not going to be nearly enough for this op. She growled as a fresh wave of guilt swamped her. Missing Silvia's first birthday with them as a couple.

I am the worst girlfriend ever.

Despite herself, she had to snort slightly. Dozens of missions and two years with Marta, and she had been perfectly fine before, during, and after. Had missed her girlfriend, sure, but nothing like this. Six and a half months with the snorting, irritable, nerdy, impossible (impossibly beautiful) redhead, and twenty-nine hours into her first operation she was going to pieces. It figured. It just figured.

Then again, she had never had this much to lose before.

Sniffling, she reached into her pocket and withdrew a folded, faded photograph. It had been taken the first weekend they had gone away as a couple, on a picture-perfect beach by a sweet old woman. They were playing in thigh-high water, Pepa's arms wrapped around Silvia from behind as she tried to drag the smaller woman down (and Pepa grinned, remembering thinking any excuse to get my hands on Silvia). They were both laughing and water droplets were sparkling in the sunlight and Silvia's hands were covering Pepa's and Silvia's smile was pure happiness. (Pepa's, of course, was pure mischief.)

It was her favorite picture of them. She affectionately, traced Silvia's face with her finger, glanced around the apartment. She should not have the picture here, she knew, not when it could lead too easily back to Silvia, but she just had not been able to leave Madrid and do this without Silvia. Without at least one reminder of her girlfriend to come home to, in lieu of Silvia herself. Absently, she fingered the chain around her neck. She would find somewhere to hide the photo. Maybe in one of the drawers, or in the ratty loveseat in the other room….

She snickered suddenly, smirked a little. She remembered the first fight they had had as a couple. It had been over her damned futon, of all things, the one piece of furniture that had been with her ever since she moved to Madrid and the one thing Pepa absolutely refused to part with, even for Silvia.

"Pepa, that thing has got to go!" Silvia exclaimed, indignant. She crossed her arms and stamped her foot. The sight was so cute that Pepa just had to smile.

Which, of course, just infuriated her girlfriend even more.

Pepa's smirk widened. After Pepa had pushed her down and proceeded to demonstrate to Silvia exactly what the benefits of having a couch, however ratty and uncomfortable, in the living room, Silvia had acquiesced and let her keep it. (Although Silvia had sworn that she would need a chiropractor after being on the bottom. Pepa had just waggled her eyebrows and offered to give Silvia a backrub. They had ended up on the futon for a second round, and Silvia had not complained about her back again. Obviously, Pepa's prescribed cure had worked.

Pepa always knew she should have gone into medicine. People would perk right up under her care.)

Smiling, sighing, Pepa set her watch alarm and let herself drift into a light sleep.

"Pepa?" Silvia's voice, vulnerable and shy, summoned Pepa out of her daydreams. They were drowsing on Pepa's bed, naked under a light blanket, Silvia sprawled all over her.

"Princesa?" Pepa nuzzled Silvia's jaw, dragged a finger down the cords of Silvia's neck. Relished the feel of the soft skin sliding under her fingertips.

"Pepa," Silvia's voice was serious now, and nervous, and Pepa reared back a little. "Stop, not right now." She batted Pepa's hands away, pushed up and away, absently running hands through her long hair. She was blushing and would not meet Pepa's eyes.

Pepa felt a prickle of alarm.

"Silvia? What's wrong?" She craned her head back, trying to get a better view of Silvia's face.

"Nothing, nothing…where did my purse go?" Naked, Silvia padded out the door, across the living room, and into the kitchen. Pepa let herself indulge in a long, loving glance at Silvia's body, perfectly proportioned and covered with smooth, mostly-unblemished skin.

She shivered. The bullet scar scared her, reminded her how fragile Silvia was, the danger her girlfriend put herself in sometimes. Instead of the baby (and hadn't that been a fun conversation), it could have been Silvia.

Over Pepa's dead body.

"Here it is," and a still-flustered Silvia trooped back in, hair even wilder than before, something clenched in her hand. Pepa had to smile, but it was gentle and warm. Silvia had come so far, grown so much more comfortable if she, the oh-so prim and proper princess, was willing to walk around Pepa's apartment with not a stitch on her. Pepa lifted the blanket invitingly.

Silvia collapsed back onto her, and Pepa's arms came up around Silvia, pulling her back in, rearranging the blanket around them. A wave of affection flooded her. She felt Silvia bury her face in the crook of Pepa's neck, and Pepa shivered as Silvia's heavy exhale hit her skin.

"Silvia?" The squeak in her voice was so embarrassing.

Silvia was quiet for a moment. Then, "sit up" she said decisively, leaning back, and Pepa, mystified, complied. Silvia took a deep breath.

"Hold out your hand." Pepa did, and Silvia eyed it nervously. Pepa could see her muscles starting to tense.

"I thought we established that I don't stain," Pepa said, laughter in her tone, and Silvia had snorted, untensing. Then she had glanced up and gazed lovingly, deeply, into Pepa's eyes. Pepa was a deer in the headlights, she was a druggie caught shooting up, she was frozen. She was captured.

"This is for you." So saying, Silvia placed her closed hand into Pepa's and opened it. Pepa felt a weight hit her palm, and looked down.

It was a key. It matched the key she had been fumbling with two days ago, when they had both drank a little too much and she had kissed Silvia against the door to her house and they had almost been caught by Don Lorenzo.

It was a key to Silvia's apartment.

Shocked, her eyes lifted to Silvia. Who was smiling gently, openly. Silvia never smiled like this, but when she did she was beautiful. She could conquer the world with that smile. Pepa wanted to make her smile like that every day for the rest of her life.

Pepa's own smile grew, and they beamed at each other like a pair of idiots for a solid minute before Silvia cleared her throat.

"I trust you're still as good at sneaking into my room and avoiding my father as you were when we were seventeen," she said, and Pepa laughed and tackled her.

"Even better," she breathed, and claimed Silvia's lips.

Pepa jolted upright as her watch alarm went off. Groaning, stretching, she turned it off as she let her head clear.

Two hours.

She shoved the covers off herself and stood up. Time to hide the picture, rendezvous with Hector, and start her new life.

Week 1, Day 2, 23:00

Silvia, laying in Pepa's bed, hung up her phone and sighed.

Rocio had just called. Subdued, probably acting on Pepa's orders (and how sweet was her girlfriend, Silvia thought adoringly), Rocio had called Silvia, offered the words of awkward comfort shared between people who barely know each other but love the same person. She had also quietly promised to keep Silvia informed of whatever they heard about or from Pepa, whenever they heard it, and Silvia had almost cried she was so grateful.

Then the tears came, and Silvia surrendered to them, muffling her sobs in Pepa's pillow, breathing in Pepa's scent, trying to calm herself. She was dressed in one of Pepa's t-shirts, one that was too large on Pepa and that Silvia drowned in. (Pepa, stroking Silvia's hair, had shyly revealed one night that it was her favorite look on Silvia, and Silvia had taken to wearing it to bed ever since.

Pepa smiled every time she wore it.)

Pepa. Even now, her girlfriend's presence permeated the apartment. Pepa's apartment. Full of shirts that smelled like Pepa, which Silvia could wear when she missed her lover. (Which she would be wearing every day.) Now Silvia's apartment, implicitly, while Pepa was away. She had to smile as she remembered Pepa giving her the key.

"I'm sorry," and Silvia heard the frustration and regret in Pepa's tone as the lanky agent ducked into Silvia's lab. It had been a crazy day, with multiple arrests and investigations. But now, finally, Silvia was getting ready to leave, to primp for her date with Pepa.

Pepa, she noticed with a sinking feeling, did not look like she was doing the same.

"Montoya and I just collared a guy, I'll be here at least another hour doing the paperwork," Pepa snarled. Scowled. "And I have the early shift tomorrow." Seeing the look on Silvia's face, Pepa softened slightly. She sounded exhausted, guilty. "I'm sorry, Princesa. I know we were going out tonight. But I don't think I'll be out of here until really late."

"It's okay, I understand," Silvia murmured softly, staring at the ground by Pepa's sneakers. And it was okay. She did understand. Duty called, and they had both taken the oath.

It was just that she and Pepa had not had an evening together in almost a week, and she missed her girlfriend. Not necessarily the sex (although damn, Silvia missed that), but the togetherness, the feeling she got when she looked at Pepa and Pepa looked at her and her stomach felt like she was on a rollercoaster.

Too many of her feelings must have shown on her face, though, because Pepa frowned, stepped closer, lifted a hand to cup her face. "Princesa…."

"It's alright, I understand," Silvia repeated, stepping back. She forced a smile, looked up, saw that Pepa was not fooled. "Really, Pepa. It's okay." (She winced internally. That had been convincing.)

Pepa was still studying her, though, in the way that both made Silvia want to cry and made her feel like the most beautiful woman in the world.

"Why don't you go to my apartment and get dinner started?" Pepa asked unexpectedly, and Silvia blinked in surprise. Pepa was smiling, suddenly, satisfied and happy.

"If you go now, we can eat right when I get home, and you can spend the night," Pepa continued. "I know we haven't seen each other all week…let's not let our plans for tonight be ruined by some idiot who was dumb enough to run around a crowded street shooting bullets into the air."

Silvia winced. "Overzealous husband?" she hazarded.

Pepa grimaced. "Thought he was being robbed," she corrected. Then her face brightened. "Well, Princesa? Will you start dinner for me?" She waggled her eyebrows.

Silvia, suddenly on top of the world, happily agreed. (Really, it was ridiculous how extreme her emotions were when it came to Pepa.) But a stressed Montoya had ruined the moment, sticking his head in and demanding that Pepa come now and help him with the guy they had arrested. Pepa had made a face and pulled her key off her keychain, tossing it to Silvia. Silvia caught it in pure reflex as Pepa turned to go.

"Pepa, in case I forget to give it back, where in your apartment do you want me to leave it?" Silvia called.

Pepa turned, and the expression on her face was the same one she would wear when, in the near future, she would out Silvia to Paco. "Keep it, Pelirroja," she said, and winked. "I have a spare."

Pepa slipped out, leaving Silvia dumbly holding onto her key. Then she broke into the happiest, most beautiful smile she had ever worn, and though it was ridiculous, she was not able to suppress it. As she left the building, she whistled to herself. Rita and Sara asked her why she was smiling so brightly, but she had just laughed, shaken her head, and kept on walking.

Even now, Silvia felt the echo of that same smile stretching her face. Reaching out, she grabbed Pepa's headboard, stretched like a cat. Her thumb ran across an indent in the headboard. Glancing up, she saw that she was holding onto a particularly long scratch on the headboard. A wicked smile split her face.

The first time she had used Pepa's key without Pepa noticing, she had felt daring; scandalous. Her girlfriend had been working round the clock to tie up the loose ends of a particularly troublesome case. Tomorrow was Pepa's birthday, she and Silvia had both arranged to have it off, and Pepa was determined not to have any leftover work to do. (Silvia had said that Pepa should have birthdays more often if it motivated her to do her reports on time, and Pepa had stuck her tongue out before returning to her scribbling.) They had spoken briefly on the phone; Pepa's plan was to come home, crash, and spend the entire next day with Silvia.

Silvia had decided that Pepa had been such a good girl recently, she deserved to get her birthday started a little early.

Sitting on Pepa's bed, wearing nothing but a pair of outrageously high stiletto heels (Lola had stared, blushed, and covered her face when Silvia had asked to borrow them), and holding a champagne flute, she felt decadent. She felt powerful. She felt like she was borrowing some of Pepa's unshakeable self-confidence.

Of course, the moment she heard the key in the lock, she lost all her bravado. A thud, the click of heels on the wood floors, a long pause (Pepa had obviously found the candles and the rose petals), more clicks and oh my God what was I thinking, Silvia wondered frantically.

What if Pepa hates it? What if she's mad I used my key without asking? What if—

Then it was too late, and Pepa was there, in the doorway. She was not moving. Her eyes started at Silvia's feet, climbed slowly upward. Silvia felt herself blush badly.

"Hi," she croaked.

Pepa's eyes met hers, and Silvia froze.

No one had ever looked at her like that before.

Pepa's eyes were on fire. They were making Silvia burn.

Confidence returned to her in a rush. She held up her key, summoned a cocky smile. She jangled it.

Silvia's hand flew back when Pepa all but tackled her, pressing against her hard, and the key gouged a chunk out of the headboard with a dull scraping sound.

"Pepa, your—" She was cut off by a kiss that left her dizzy, gasping.

"Fuck it," Pepa whimpered, and lowered her mouth to Silvia's jaw. Silvia tangled her fingers in Pepa's hair.

That was the first night she made Pepa scream.

The next morning, Pepa's neighbors left on her door a politely worded note about keeping the "television volume" down. Silvia had wanted to die of mortification; typically, her girlfriend had taped the note above the mantel and laughed and laughed and teased and tickled until Silvia was laughing, too.

Silvia, as had become routine, had glanced at the note on her way in tonight, and she could not resist a small smile even now. Pepa could always make her laugh. Pepa brought out things in Silvia that she herself had not even known existed.

Pepa's absence crashed back over her, and she let out an unsteady breath.

Pepa, come back to me soon.

Curling around the pillow again, she tried to convince herself it was Pepa.

As the tears dripped down her face, she had to concede defeat.

Part 4

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