Title: Fallen (1/?) (The Sequel to Ready for a Fall)
Author: Chelle Storey-Daniel
Pairings: Alex/Callie, Addison/Mark, Meredith/Derek, Cristina/Burke
Summary: In Ready For A Fall, Callie's marriage to George ended and she found love and happiness with Alex. Now, it's Addison's turn to get married, Meredith is engaged to Derek, and Cristina and Burke are slowly rebuilding their own life together. There are many ways to fall. Some are good. Some are bad. And when you hit the earth ... you've simply fallen ... and sometimes it hurts too much to stand again.

Prologue

"How long does it take for newlywed sex to stop?" Callie asked, putting her tray on the table in front of Addison. With a groan, she eased into the seat and shifted uncomfortably. "Because as much as I love it ... itís killing me."

"Your lipstick is smeared," Addison told her, looking back down at the open bridal magazine in front of her. "Do you think the gourds were a good idea?"

"Gourds are typically Halloween like," Callie replied, rubbing her mouth with her napkin. "Weíre doing the dress fitting this afternoon, right?"

"Yeah. Do you think the color I chose will work for you guys?" Chewing her bottom nail, Addison pulled a huge swatch of color samples from her purse, flipping through the ring of fabric until she found a shade called Latte. She moved into the chair beside Callieís and held it under her friendís chin, then against her cheek. "It looks great with your hair, but I donít know if itíll work with Cristina and Meredith. Itís more taupe than Latte. Thatís a fall color, right?"

"Itís fine," Callie assured her for what felt like the millionth time in the week she had acquired the color samples. When Addy flipped back to the orange swatch that she had been mulling, Callie snatched the ring and put it under her leg. "I refuse, refuse, refuse to wear Pumpkin. Itís not happening."

"It's an October wedding, Callie."

"And Iíll carry a gourd as a bouquet, but I will be wearing Latte when I do it. Or burgundy. Thatís a nice fall color."

"You did *red* at your wedding, which is a variation of burgundy. I want to be original." Addison watched as the black haired woman rubbed a hand over her face. "Youíre pale. Why are you pale? Oh my god! You cannot get sick! I am getting married in *twenty one* days, Callie.

"Iím not sick. Iíve been married for *four* months today. Alex seems to think that means we need to have sex every four hours to celebrate it. I cannot do it again today."

"I know what will stop the sex."

"What?"

"Have you told him about the air show yet?"

Callieís eyes widened and she shook her head. "Hell no. Heíd kill me if he found out I signed up to fly in it."

"Four months of marriage and youíre already keeping secrets?"

"Itís not a secret! My name is right there on the program."

Addison shook her head. "And because Alex will be getting one of those programs ... heíll know?"

"Itís a sin of omission. It just hasnít come up in conversation."

"Calliope, you should be ashamed." Addison sipped her Coke as she regarded Mrs. Karev. "Now youíre lying to me. It did come up in conversation. Alex asked you if you wanted to go see the air show and you said that you werenít interested. That was the perfect opportunity for you to mention that you were getting in for free ... you know ... because youíre performing."

"Shut up." Callie lifted her burrito and bit into it, taking a moment to savor the medley of flavors. "The hospital cafeteria has greatly improved since Irene took over."

As if on cue, Alexís mother walked out of the kitchen and headed across the lunchroom toward Callie. She kissed her daughter in law on the head as she slid two pieces of chocolate cake on the table. "New recipe. You ladies are my guinea pigs. Let me know what you think before you leave."

"Why wait?" Addison asked, ignoring her salad and digging into the cake. She bit into it and cried out rapturously. "Can you make this on a bigger scale, Irene?"

"What do you mean?" Irene asked, smiling as Callie had the same reaction to dessert.

"Well, I need a groomís cake for my wedding and Mark *loves* chocolate."

"You want it in any particular shape?" Irene replied.

"Boobs?" Callie suggested, then chuckled when Addison flipped her off. "Okay, not boobs."

"What boobs?" Cristina asked, sliding into the seat on the other side of Callie. Without asking, she scooped up Callieís cake and snatched the fork out of her hand. With her mouth full, she rolled her eyes heavenward and said, "No way Stevens baked *that*. That is too damn good for words."

Addison slapped Yangís hand when she reached for hers. "Get your own!"

Irene laughed. "Thereís plenty more. And you let me know what you decide, Addison. Iíd love to help. Callie, honey, you look tired. Maybe you should try to sleep after lunch."

"From your lips to Godís ears," Callie replied, then stifled a yawn with the back of her hand. "I feel like death."

The thought of getting near an on call room struck fear in Callieís heart. She had attempted to nap that morning and woke up to her pants slipping over her hips. The sex was *good*. There was no denying that the sex was good, but it was just. too. much. Alex was insatiable and while it made her feel wanted ... it also made her spend time hiding when she wasnít working. She snapped out of her thoughts when Addison demanded the color swatch. With a sigh, Callie handed it over and watched Cristina grit her teeth as Latte was pressed against every inch of her exposed flesh.

"Awww, howís my Bridezilla?" Mark asked as he arrived carrying his tray.

"Doing her best to walk down the aisle in traction," Cristina answered for the redhead. "If you press one of those pieces of fabric on my cheek again ... Iíll shove it so far up your ass that youíll need *neuro* surgery to take it out. Got it?"

"Ouch," Callie said. "Looks like someone is riding the cotton pony."

"I have cramps *and* bloating," Cristina replied.

Mark ignored everyone except his fiancé. "Do you want to come eat lunch with me? Where you and your neurotic behavior can be appreciated?"

"I canít," Addison told him. "Iím scrubbing in at one oíclock, but the offer is duly noted and Iíll repay you later."

"Iíll hold you to that." He winked at her and headed across the room to join Derek.

"Guess what?" Addison asked Cristina. "Callie still hasnít told Alex about the air show."

Cristina made a face. "CK, you already had one of the worldís shortest marriages. Are you trying for number two?"

"Heíll never know!" She smiled at the nickname her friend had given her. CK, her new initials.

"Uh huh," Addison replied, getting to her feet. "Youíre either a glutton for punishment or naive as hell."

"How will he find out? Iíve sworn all of you bitches to secrecy," Callie told her.

"Tell him. Iím serious." With that, Addison turned on her heel and left the cafeteria, pausing to kiss Mark, who watched her exit like a lovesick dog.

"You really should tell him." Cristina bit into her hot dog and glanced toward the door. "Nowís your perfect chance."

"Oh god." Callie watched her husband pause to talk to his mother, then he frowned Callieís way and she quickly turned her attention back to her lunch. A moment later, he appeared beside her and said, "Are you finished eating?"

"Yeah. I was just keeping Cristina company," she replied. Wearily, she added, "Why?"

"Come with me."

"Alex-"


"Come on." He took her arm, pulling her to her feet, then he gave her a kiss and traced the name on her jacket. "Calliope Karev. That sounds amazing."

"It feels amazing," she said, hugging him.

"I despise cute newlyweds. Go away now," Cristina ordered, waving her hands like they were annoying gnats. "Must digest."

"Letís go." Alex took his wifeís hand and led her to the fourth floor on call room. He walked behind her at one point, noticing the way she stepped gingerly, the way her hips didnít have their usual swing. When they were locked safely behind the doors, he kicked off his shoes and said, "Get in the bed."

"Alex, we need to talk." She held her ground, even as he advanced on her. "I love you dearly, but -"

He pulled his shirt over his head and she swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry. The tattoo over his heart, her kiss, rippled as he carelessly tossed the garment aside and she opened her mouth to speak, only to have him put his finger against her lips. "Youíre exhausted, baby. Letís go to sleep."

"Did you eat lunch?"

"Big breakfast," he replied, tugging her shirt off. He watched as she kicked her shoes aside and slipped her pants down, then frowned when he saw the bruise on her thigh. "Damn, Callie. I - when did I -"

She glanced down at her leg. "You didnít do that one. That was the gear shifter last night." Turning, she showed him her back. "But that was this morning."

He touched the bite mark on her bronzed skin, then leaned forward and kissed it. "It wonít happen again."

"Uh, yeah it will." Turning, she smiled at him, then poked a particularly nasty bruise on *his* chest. "We do it in equal measures and I *like* it, remember?"

"Are you okay?" he asked seriously.

"Iím *fine*, Jock Strap, but if you donít feel guilty enough yet to give me a massage ... I think I can cry from exhaustion."

"Evil." He pulled back the cover on the bed and waited for her to crawl in.

Callie smiled when he began to rub her back. Married life was definitely agreeing with her. She was happier than she had ever been. They had not fought *once* since their July fourth wedding unless you counted the minor disagreement during their European honeymoon. It was something they laughed at *now*, but at the time it felt horrible.

It was the stupidest fight known to mankind ...

"I donít want to do it." Alex vehemently shook his head. "No part of me is interested in this, Gothika."

"Couples do it all the time!" To prove her point, Callie gestured at the man and woman who were about to jump over the side of the bridge. They had their arms around each other and the manís screams were only slightly less pronounced than the girls when they dropped. "How many people can say that they bungee jumped in France?"

"Not me, but all those people can." He nodded his head at the impressive line. "Why do you *still* have a damn death wish?!"

"Itís safe!"

"Weíre not doing it."

"*I* will do it and you can stand here on the bridge and miss out on all the fun," she shot back.

"If you even *attempt* to walk past me ... youíre going over without the damn bungee cord."

"Alex!"

"NO!"

"Fine, letís just go sit in the hotel room and twiddle our thumbs. Thatís a nice, safe way to enjoy our first day in FRANCE!"

They didnít speak as they headed back toward their insanely small two seater car. Alex opened the door for her and she got in, her arms over her chest. He wanted to slam the door and kick the tire, but he didnít. Instead, he kneeled down beside her and took her hand. "Iím sorry, baby. Iím sorry if Iím that dull bastard who values your life a little more than a cheap thrill. You just mean the world to me and -"

"Can you please be the dull bastard who makes it a little easier for me to stay pissed?" She smiled at him. "Stop saying the perfect things."

Denying her anything was proving to be impossible for Alex. "Do you really want to do this?"

"Do you really *not* want to do this?"

"I really donít, but if you want to ... we can."

"No," Callie replied, leaning down to kiss him. "Some other time."

"Are you sure?"

"Alex, you give me so much. I donít want to be that person who abuses it. Do you want to go to Notre Dame today instead of tomorrow? Weíve got time."

"I actually liked the other idea. The hotel room, but we wonít be twiddling our thumbs."

"Now thatís a plan." She kissed him again. "Our first married argument. Letís never do it again."

"Youíll change your mind when I show you what married make up sex feels like."


And just like that ... the fight had ended.

They both mistakenly assumed that it would always be so easy.


Chapter One

The Sky High Air Show was always a big attraction, but this year surprised everyone, especially Callie. She had participated twice in the past and still had to do a double take when she saw the crowd from the air. People had flocked to see ĎPurple Hazeí, a jet propelled big rig who Callie would be playing chicken with at the end of her run. She knew that her friends were front and center and she would be passing right beside them for a complicated maneuver that involved being upside down and practically on top of the crowd, but she had done it effortlessly every time she rehearsed and she knew it would blow their minds. And it was fun. Sheíd be high on adrenaline for days after all was said and done.

She wasnít flying her jet today. She was flying an ethanol based stunt plane that she had fallen in love with. It had a skull painted on its underbelly and fireflames on the tail. And it handled so easily that she had decided to place an offer to buy it. So far, she hadnít heard back, but since she offered more than the plane was worth, she doubted it would be rejected. Flying was in her blood and she wanted to do it as often as she could. Her private jet was a great travel plane, but *this* plane was built for crazy stunts so thatís just what she did as she climbed into the air. She rolled, a move called ĎTsunamií that caused so much G force that she thought her chest would explode. To take her mind off the pressure, she turned her music up loud and executed another roll, this one as she did a nosedive for the earth.

"OH MY GOD!" Addison screamed, covering her eyes as the little plane raced toward the ground. "DID SHE LOSE CONTROL!?"

"Somebody sedate her," Cristina suggested, eating popcorn. Callie pulled out at the last minute and tipped her wings at the crowd as she zoomed past. The cheers were deafening. Cristina raised her arms as if Callie could see. "Damn, sheís good."

"SHEíS DEAD!"

Everyone turned and looked at Alex, who was a few feet away from them. "Busted," Mark said. "Hey, man."

"Hey, man?" Alex growled. "Did you actually just say Ďhey, maní like this is -"

"Callie Karev has been flying since she was a child," the announcerís voice boomed. "The move that youíre about to witness will bring her within twelve feet of the runway. Itís called a Ďboomerangí and youíre about to see why."

Addison covered her mouth when she saw the fear on Alexís face. He moved forward, gazing up at his wife who was once again barreling toward the ground. Callie flew so low that the plane disappeared for a moment and then she shot straight up, leaving a plume of smoke that looked just like a boomerang, v-shaped. "She knows what sheís doing," Addy said, attempting to calm him down.

Alex said nothing as his eyes followed the plane. He half listened to the announcer go on and on about each complicated trick and time seemed to drag so slowly that he wondered if there were *any* other pilots working that day. When Callie flipped the plane end over end at one point, his fingernails dug into his palms and he felt someone put a hand on his back, but he moved away. They had betrayed him just as surely as Callie had. They had kept her secrets.

"She made us promise not to tell you, dude," Cristina told him, watching his jaw tighten. "How did you find out?"

He still didnít look away from the plane, which was now a small dot against the clouds. "Webber asked me why I wasnít here when everyone else had begged off to watch her."

"OH SHIT," Addison cried. "I was supposed to tell Webber to keep a lid on it."

"You have a survival instinct, Addy. Use it and say no more," Mark whispered. "Heís pissed as hell."

The announcer kept on talking from a few feet away, oblivious to the drama unfolding. "The next move that youíll see will involve the bridge to our left. This bridge has a clearance of eighteen feet below it and like a camel through the eye of a needle, Karev will take the plane under ... upside down."

"No way!" Cristina cried, moving forward for a better view. The bridge was so close that she didnít need to move at all, but squatted down for good measure, so that she could see it all.

Alex moved forward involuntarily. The look on his face suggested that he was torn between staying and running. He felt his heart lurch in his chest and put his hand over it when Callie turned the plane upside down right before she got to the bridge. For the briefest moment, he thought he saw her black hair, and then ... then she cleared the bridge and zoomed past them, climbing back toward the sky. The applause was deafening and briefly ... it drowned out the blood rushing in his ears. But only for a second.

"And now ... ladies and gentlemen ... what you came here for. In your right hand corner we have Purrrrrrple Haze, the big rig capable of three hundred and ten miles per hour at the drop of a hat. In the left hand corner, we have Callllllllie Karev, in her stunt plane which is also capable of -"

"What is she doing?" Alex asked, snatching the program from Addisonís hand. He read through it and swore. "What the fuck!?"

"Alex, sheís been practicing for weeks. Itís okay." Mark clapped him on the shoulder. "Sheís fine."

"It should be noted," the announcer went on, "That there will be so much smoke on the runway that Callie will have to pilot her plane on instinct alone. She wonít be able to see the truck through the Purrrrrrple Haze it will create and sheíll have to -"

"I wish heíd shut up," Addison said, glancing at her best friendís irate husband again. "Alex-"

"Zip it," Alex growled.

They heard the big rig before they saw it. It thundered onto the runway and revved its engine. Callie flew down behind the trucker and it looked like she had landed on top of him for a moment. Instead she let her wheels skim the runway right in front of him, attempting for intimidation. The truck driver revved his engine, seemingly from anger, and then Callie was in the air again and executed a stomach churning loop that sent her flying back toward the truck. The driver hammered down and the jet fuel that propelled it sent flames shooting behind it as it darted straight toward Callie, who was letting her wheels graze the tarmac again.

The smoke that issued from the truck was indeed purple. Callieís plane was emitting white and as the two raced toward each other, everyone held their breath. Alex dropped the program in his hand when Callie disappeared into the haze, then she shot straight up and the truck, still flaming, broke through the white and let a parachute fly from its backside, causing black smoke to join the purple and white as tires squealed to a stop just inches from the end of the runway.

Alex snatched the program from the ground and flipped through it. Callie wasnít finished yet. She did a few more tricks while the truck set up for another run. She created a heart shape against the blue sky, then a figure eight, and then the truck was revving again and she flipped upside down in mid air and from the vantage point on the ground, it looked like the cockpit of her plane was resting on top of the truck as flames and smoke and noise propelled them down the runway so fast that you could blink and miss it.

Alex didnít blink.

And the tears that blurred his vision didnít erase enough of the scene before him to really ease his mind.

After another fifteen tense minutes, Callieís part of the show ended and she landed gracefully. She had gotten clearance for all of her friends to come into Ďthe pití and she smiled when she saw them walking toward her as she powered down the plane. That smile faded, however, when she saw Alex. One of the ground techs pulled a ladder over and Callie took a deep breath. Her getaway could not happen now. If she started the plane and took off again ... sheíd probably crush the tech.

Reaching up, she unhooked her oxygen mask and hung it over the yoke, then she unlocked the pit glass and got to her feet. She left her helmet on, with the visor covering her eyes so no one could see the apprehension there. The tech extended his hand and helped her climb down the ladder, then congratulated her on a fabulous run. Callie thanked him and turned in time for Addison to hug her.

"How long has he been here?" Callie whispered, daring to glance at Alex, who had moved to the other side of the plane.

"Almost from the beginning," Addy replied. "Callie, he was almost crying. He was that scared."

"Move," Cristina elbowed Addison out of the way and looked up at Callie. "Itís so sad that you lived through this madness only to be murdered by your husband. We told you to tell him."

"Weíre going," Mark said, grabbing both women by the arm. He gave Callie an unmistakable look of sympathy as he led them back the way theyíd come.

Callie took a deep breath and moved around the plane to join Alex when her friends were out of earshot. He had his arms crossed over his chest and he looked her up and down, making her feel like he was measuring her worth ... and finding her lacking. "Iím sorry," she said, adjusting the zipper on her flightsuit.

"Youíre not sorry," he snapped.

"I did this for charity."

He scoffed. "Whatever, Callie."

"I donít want to fight with you."

"Why didnít you tell me? Why didnít you look me in the face and tell me that you were doing this? Do you know what it felt like to watch you? How it felt to see you taking stupid risks and -"

"Iíve been training pretty hard for this, Alex. This is what Iíve been doing instead of helping Addison."

"So youíve been lying to me about that, too? All the times that youíve been telling me about dress fittings or about flower bouquets ... youíve been doing this?"

She nodded. "I had one dress fitting, but the rest ... Iím only telling you this so youíll realize that I wasnít just up there being foolish. Everything is planned and choreographed and itís *safe*."

"Do you know how many pilots die at airshows?" he asked.

"Not as many drivers who die on the road."

"Callie, most drivers donít purposely go out of their way to be reckless! Oh wait, you do, right? Youíre a street racer and youíre oh so proud of that." He threw his arms in the air. "Fuck it. Do what you want to do."

"Youíre overreacting."

"Mrs. Karev?"

Callie turned and gave the owner of the airplane a tense smile. He extended his hand and informed her that he was accepting the bid she had placed to buy the plane. "Anyone who can fly this death trap like that deserves to have it. Iíll even knock fifteen thousand off your offer. Iíll have my lawyer contact yours."

Callie thanked him and when she turned to look at Alex again ... she knew that he had only been pissed before. He was now so infuriated that she doubted he could speak.

She was wrong.

"YOU BOUGHT THIS THING!? YOUíRE DOING THIS SHIT AGAIN!?" he yelled, ignoring the glances that people shot their way. "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING!?"

Before she could reply, he told her to fuck off and walked away.

She didnít bother with the meet and greet that all the pilots participated in. Instead, she went home, still dressed in her flight suit and waited for him.

He never showed.

*~*~*~*~*~

Callieís food sat untouched in front of her the following day at lunch. Cristina approached her with caution, making a face when she saw the state her friend was in. Callie's black hair had been piled up on top of her head and she wore no makeup. The dark circles under her eyes suggested a night spent crying and when Yang heard her sniffle, she figured that the crying had extended into the new day as well. "Hey," she said, sitting down beside Callie. "Heíll come around."

"He didnít come home last night."

"I know. He spent the night on Meredithís sofa after he got so drunk that he puked on Stevensí shoes." Cristina opened her can of soda and glanced down at Callieís plate. "Youíre not eating?"

"Not hungry."

"Donít do this again, Callie." Cristina picked up Callieís can of tea and flipped the tab, holding it out until her friend took it. "You remember the feeding tube, right? You know that your dad will have it put back in."

"I have been married *four* months and my husband has already left me." Putting the can back on her tray, Callie started to get to her feet. Cristina caught her arm, however, and pulled her back down. "I have to-"

"He hasnít left you. Heís pissed. Itís better to be apart until he calms down because heís bound to say something he canít take back and youíll hold a grudge. So sit there and eat because he just walked in and if you leave heíll think you donít want to talk to him."

Callie turned and looked toward the lunch line. Sure enough, Alex was checking out the sandwiches and she bit her lip when he chose one and went to pay. Not wanting to be caught watching him, she stared at Cristina who nodded after a second and said, "Heís coming over here."

If Alex was shocked by her appearance, he didnít comment. Instead, he stopped beside her and said, "What time are you getting off?"

"Six," she replied hopefully. "Do you want to -"

"Iím stopping by to get some of my things. Iíd rather do it while youíre not there."

Callieís stomach felt like it was turning inside out and she was grateful she hadnít eaten. "You - youíre leaving?"

"Well, letís think about this, Callie." He finally met her eyes. "Do I want to stay with a woman who lies to my face or do I want to go? It seems pretty cut and dried to me." When she opened her mouth to reply, he cut her off, "Iíll go before you get off. Iíve looked at you enough today."

Alex headed across the room, not sitting with Mark and Derek who both waved at him. Instead, he sat at an empty table beside a group of nurses and turned his back on the room at large. Within minutes, he was laughing at something a cute blond was saying and Callie walked out of the cafeteria, not looking his way. She stayed locked in the bathroom for as long as she could, but she was paged after three hours. She had cried so much that her chest ached and her hands were trembling when she lifted the pager and checked the number.

ER. 911

Getting to her feet, she opened the stall and paused at the sink to wash her face. Her eyes were swollen and her cheeks were flushed and puffy so she grabbed a face mask from the hallway to cover the worst of it. For good measure, she tucked her hair under a scrub cap so she at least gave the appearance of working. Alex was standing just behind the small crowd and he glanced her way when she walked in, but didnít acknowledge her beyond that.

A multi car pileup on the freeway had several patients inbound and Callie felt like a zombie as she reached for the yellow trauma suit and slipped it over her scrubs. Yang tied it for her and handed her a pair of gloves as they headed out into the ambulance bay to await the incoming traumas. Addison and Meredith appeared a moment later and Addison put an arm around Callieís shoulder, hugging her. Neither woman spoke as the sirens grew louder.

Meredith reached down and squeezed Callieís gloved hand with her own. "For what itís worth ... he thought about calling you last night. We stopped him, though. It was three in the morning and -"

"I was awake," Callie replied, her eyes on the emergency entrance.

"He wasnít saying much that youíd want to hear," Mer said. "But heíll come around. He will."

The ambulance arrived and Callie opened the back door.

For the first time in her life, work didnít take her mind off her own problems.

Callie was needed in two surgeries so she worked with Derek, whose patient was the most critical of the two, first. She put pins in a womanís legs while Shepherd relieved the brain pressure. He tried to make small talk, but Callie mostly replied with grunts and nods so he gave up. She finished quickly and headed into Markís surgery, drawing up short when she saw Alex standing beside him.

Wordlessly, Callie examined the x-rays that had been tacked onto the light panel. Gazing at the films didnít relax her like it usually did. The manís wrist had been shattered, but it wasnít the worst she had seen by a long shot and a few pins and screws would have him back on the road to recovery. Rolling her neck, Callie picked up the scalpel and made the first incision, praying to fall into the zone and be oblivious to the brown eyes boring into her from across the table.

The phone trilled in the corner and one of the nurses answered it. When she hung up, she said, "Nine fatalities. And weíre busting our asses to save the guy who caused it."

Callie glanced at Mark, who nodded at her and said, "Our fearless Speedracer here decided to impress his girlfriend by racing another buddy of theirs on the highway. His girlfriend died at the scene."

Beside Callie, the anesthesiologist made a disgusted noise. "I say I wake him up and let him *feel* what heís done."

"Heís a patient," Callie said, clamping the incision she had made open and cleaning the area with water. "Right now heís just a patient. He can be demonized when he wakes up."

"Donít mind her," Alex said, his eyes narrowed over his mask. "Sheís got a soft spot for reckless endangerment."

Anger caused her cheeks to flush and Callie was glad that she was hidden behind the mask. "Thatís about all I have a soft spot for right now."

"Oooooh," said the nurse who had answered the phone. "Trouble for our resident newlyweds?"

"Our only trouble is that one of us is an idiot," Alex replied. "And itís not me."

"Thatís enough," Mark interjected, when Callie dropped an entire container of sterile screws in the floor. "Cal, do you need a minute?"

"No." She accepted a screw from a new box loaded it into her drill. "What I need is my head examined for marrying someone who canít be professional."

"Says the woman," Alex growled, "who doesnít know if sheís a pilot or a doctor."

"Donít be jealous, Jock Strap, just because I have many talents and you have *one*."

"Oh, and whatís that?" he asked.

"Letting *fear* dictate your life." Callie put the first screw in place and glanced back at the nurse who had teased them. "Our honeymoon? He refused to bungee jump, drive the Autobahn, or go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I mean, we should have just stayed in the states and saved our money."

There were several snickers and Alex shifted uncomfortably. "Itís not my fault that you didnít get the memo about honeymooners and sex. I may have a fear of heights, but Torres here has a fear of -"

"Did I not say thatís enough!?" Mark shouted suddenly, causing everyone to jump. "Alex, get out. Go."

"My pleasure!" Alex yelled, stepping away and yanking his surgical scrubs off. "Iíve got to go pack anyway."

*~*~*~*~

Alex did pack. By the time Callie got home, all of his drawers were hanging open and from the looks of the hangers in the floor, he had yanked his clothing from them. As hard as it was to see that his closet was mostly empty, the absolute worst thing in their bedroom was a photo of them, from their trip to Alcatraz, that he had broken out of the frame and ripped down the middle. That was left on her pillow.

And his wedding band was lying between the two pieces.

Instead of crying, she demolished the rest of the room and headed out to the garage, passing Leon and Irene who waved at her. She didnít wave back. Instead, she got into her car and sped off, not looking in the rearview mirror. She drove aimlessly for close to an hour. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she had not eaten all day. With a sigh, she headed into town and parked at a steakhouse. Inside, she scanned the menu absently before she placed her order.

She was contemplating calling Alex when her waitress approached carrying a mixed drink. "A gift. From the gentleman at the bar."

Callie let her leave it and nodded at the man, who lifted his own drink in response. She had never seen him before and she left it at a simple nod of gratitude. The last thing she needed was him thinking she was encouraging him. Instead, she gazed at the drink and hated the way her mouth watered as she grabbed the napkin and tugged it forward. What she should have done was send it back and call Marcel, the meeting leader at Alcoholics Anonymous. She could have called Chief Webber, too, but what Callie Karev did was bring it to her mouth and drink deep. It was gin and tonic, one of her favorites, and it burned all the way into her stomach.

The things she had learned in AA seemed to go right out the window and she fleetingly thought that sheíd be giving back her sobriety chips. If she even went back. As she finished off the drink, she was tempted to call Marcel and tell him that AA didnít really work and she wouldnít be wasting her time anymore. Then she thought of her liver and the damage she already had from almost dying the previous year from alcohol poisoning ... so she raised her hand and ordered another. Because it just made sense that if she was going to do it again ... sheíd do it right. And all the way.

"Hey, Callie OíMalley Karev." Sydney Heron, who was carrying two shot glasses, slumped into the booth across from her. She had obviously been crying as much as Callie had. "Life? Sucks."

"Tell me about it," Callie replied. "Whatís wrong with you?"

"I wanted to be Chief Resident. I wanted it really, really bad," Sydney tipped the first glass, then the second. "And now that Iíve got it ... I would give it right back. I live at the hospital. I do. I stay there. People say home is where your heart is, but I donít think so. My heartís not in the hospital anymore. Itís paperwork and schedules and Iím not learning anything except how to be a secretary. No surgeries for me."

Callie made a face at her when she belched. The woman was clearly drunk and she talked more in that state, if that were even possible. Dr. Heronís shirt was inside out and her hair was oily, slicked back in curly ponytail. "You could resign," Callie said.

"Oh, I donít quit. Quitters are shitters." Sydney said matter of factly, then buried her face in her hands and started to sob. "It needs to quit me."

"Okay, Brokeback Mountain," Callie put a hand on her arm. "Breathe."

"What about you? I heard your marriage is already over. Did Alex really move out?" Sydney asked as she pulled a mound of tissue from the metal holder. She noisily blew her nose, apologizing profusely as she did so. "Well?"

"Apparently."

Sydney laughed. It was a miserable, wasted sound. "I hate my job and youíre unlovable. What a pair we make."

Callieís drink arrived and she downed half of it, feeling the burn. "Did you order food yet?"

"Yeah," Sydney nodded, then hiccupped. She watched Callie for a moment, then cried out, pointing at the glass in her hand. "Youíre not supposed to be drinking!"

"Neither are you. Youíre still on duty." Callie watched as the bartender carried a plate of food toward them. She set it in front of Sydney and patted her on the arm in a familiar way that made Callie think that the other woman visited the bar frequently. before she walked away. Callieís own food arrived as the bartender walked off and she wrinkled her nose. The liquor had filled the empty spaces in her belly. "Hereís how itís going to work, Syd. Youíre not telling anyone what you saw tonight. And neither am I."

"What did I see?"

"Exactly." Callie cut her steak to give herself something to do. "And Iím not unlovable."

"Youíre right. Youíre Mrs. Lovely and Iím too drunk to enjoy this crap. Food has no joy anymore. Do you know that some tribes in Africa enjoy food during sex? They literally eat while they're fornicating because then all of the senses are involved and it's better." Sydney bit into her chicken, tears still coursing down her face. "Of course, I haven't had sex in over a year so if I tried to eat during it I'd choke to death. Do you want to walk back to the hospital and camp out with me tonight? You shouldnít drive and I shouldnít be alone. This is my cry for help."

"Youíre not drunken lesbian are you?" Callie watched her with a raised brow. "Because I canít handle that tonight. Or any night."

"Iím not a lesbian, drunk or sober. Iím just a miserable human being who wants another miserable human being to hang out for a while."

"Iím in," Callie replied, pushing her plate away.


They did two more shots before they headed across the road to the hospital.

Callie kicked off her shoes and climbed into the top bunk while Sydney took the bottom. She fleetingly thought that sheíd need to leave tomorrow at lunch to make sure Fratelli, her ferret, had plenty of fresh food and water, and then the alcohol sent her into a deep, peaceful oblivion that she welcomed.

And vowed to do again as soon as possible.

*~*~*~*~*~

Callie wasnít hungover. Not really. The headache was bearable, but she felt a million times better once she stole a toothbrush and paste from a welcome kit and showered. In the harsh light of day, her decision to drink felt like the worst thing she had ever done in her life. She was torn between confessing to Chief Webber and cutting out early to indulge again. She did neither. Instead, she dutifully headed to the morning meeting and leaned back against the wall with her eyes closed as Sydney rambled off the dayís agenda.

Callie spotted Alex as the meeting broke up and hurried from the room. Guilt prevented her from looking him in the eye ... looking anyone in the eye. She had made a horrible, horrible mistake. Addison waved at her from the end of the hallway and she rushed forward. "Addison, I need to -"

"The dresses are in today. What time are you getting off?"

"Uhm, six?" Callie replied. "Can we talk? I need -"

"I canít right now." Addison shook her head. "Iím sorry. Iíve got to go do a consult."

"How about lunch?"

Addison made a face. "I canít do that either. Iím going to be tasting the final menu at the catererís place. You - you can come if you want."

"Nah, itís okay."

"Seeya later"

Instead of heading to the pit to look for a patient to help, Callie headed into the chapel and lit a candle. There were no prayers, however. She was beyond prayer, beyond divine intervention. Addison *had* to know that Alex had left her. Mark had been in the same surgery where Alex announced it and she hadnít called, hadnít asked. Callie had never felt so alone in her life.

Her cell phone trilled in her pocket and she pulled it out, checking the phone number. He knew. He always knew. "Hey, Cambyses."

Her brother breathed a sigh of relief on the other end of the line. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Donít lie to me," Cam told her. "Any time I feel this way, my twin sister is either miserable or about to almost die."

"Maybe you have indigestion," she suggested. "It happens."

"Talk to me."

"I am talking to you."

"Where were you last night? I called your house until two in the morning. And I talked to Alex ... who wasnít at your house, either."

"What did he say?" Callie asked curiously, trying to keep her tone light.

"He said that he hadnít seen you. Why is that, Cal? Why would your *husband* not know where you are at two in the morning?"

Callie rubbed her eyes and lifted her legs into the pew. She fought hard not to cry, but it was no use. "He left me."

"WHAT!?"

"If you tell our parents ... I will kick your ass!"

"I canít repeat it! Itís too traumatic for me to even think it!" Cam shot back. "What the hell happened!?"

Callie told him, omitting the part about the alcohol. "He overreacted, right?" she asked at the end of the tale.

"No, Cal, he didnít. Iím sorry. You know Iím usually on your side, but having been in the stands when you do an air show, I know how it feels. And thatís with me having *months* to mentally prepare for it. Itís terrifying. You shouldnít have kept it from him. Hell, I canít marry Blake because of our homophobic government, but even *I* know that the most important part of marriage is communication. And honesty. Did he LEAVE leave?"

"He LEFT left. He took all of his clothes and left his ring."

"Where did you stay last night?"

"In the on call room."

"Why?" Cam asked suspiciously.

"Because, Cam, Iíve been married for *four* months and Iím already estranged! Itís a little hard to sleep in our house!"

"Are you okay? Do you need me to fly out?"

"No. To both."

"Do you want me to call him and threaten him?"

"No to that, too. Heís not George. He doesnít take that crap seriously," Callie replied. "Listen, I should go. I have to go pretend to work before I get caught doing nothing."

"Can you call me tonight? Iím worried about you," Cam said. "Weíll all be there for Addyís wedding, by the way. Even Stavros and Loukas are coming."

"Great. Now mom and dad will know that I canít keep a husband and -"

"Itís a fight. Heís not gone for good. Iíll talk to you later?"

"Iíll call you. I promise."

"You better. Love you, Cal."

"Love ya back."

Callie closed the phone and pulled her knees up, leaning her forehead against them.

If anyone ever found out about the alcohol, there would be hell to pay. The previous year, she had purposely given herself alcohol poisoning and almost died. Her liver had held up well, too well, but after months of being fine, she was hospitalized for pancreatitis and a liver infection that had turned her bright yellow and kept her flat on her back for almost a week. Even now, she had to have her blood taken every two weeks to make sure her liver was functioning normally. And she had taken all the correct steps, gone to AA with Richard, earned her chips, and swore that she would never drink again ... and just like that ... she had blown it. After *one* stupid fight.

It terrified her to think about what could -

"Hey," Alex said, interrupting her thoughts. "Where did you go last night?"

She looked up at him. He was standing at the end of the pew with his arms over his chest and she shrugged. "Where did *you* go last night?"

"Iím staying on Goon Docks. With my mother. I went to the house after Cam woke me up and you werenít there." He sat down on the end of the bench. "You fucked up the bedroom."

"You fucked up our life," she accused.

"No, no I didnít. *You* fucked up our life." He watched her for a few seconds. "So, where were you?"

"Here."

"Here?"

"I slept in the on call room."

"Why?"

"Because I felt like it," she sighed. "What do you want?"

"I wanted to know where you were. Now I do." He pushed himself to his feet and turned away, then glanced back toward her. "I took the ferret last night. To the yacht. You didnít bother feeding him. So much for your many talents."

"Youíre living with your *mother*. So much for yours."

Without another word, Alex stormed out of the chapel.

Callie didnít mention the alcohol to anyone.

She also didnít go to AA, even though Chief Webber reminded her about the lunchtime meeting.

*~*~*~*~*

"What the hell is Montgomery thinking?" Cristina said, turning side to side in the mirror.

"Is it the color or the cut?" Meredith asked, stepping onto the platform beside Yang. She got a good look at herself and grimaced. "Never mind. Itís both."

Callie came out of her dressing room and lifted her skirt as she stepped up beside the other two women. Her maid of honor dress was moderately better, but it was still uncomfortable and far too chiffon for her liking. "We look like shit stains."

"We look like frappucinos. Caramel ones," Meredith corrected. "Itís weird enough to be a bridesmaid for my fianceís ex-wife, I canít do it looking like this. There are ruffles at my *throat*."

"And bows on our asses." Callie turned and examined her backside. "This sucks. I was very specific about ass bows."

Addison pushed open the curtain and clasped her hands together as she gazed at her wedding party. "You guys look AMAZING!"

"Donít you usually wear glasses for the important stuff?" Cristina asked. "Cause hereís where you need them."

"You donít like the dresses?" Addison asked, her face falling. "Iíve spent *weeks* finding the perfect ... you really hate it? You hate it!!"

"Oh Jesus," Callie said, rolling her eyes. "Theyíre fine. We love Ďem."

Cristina coughed and said, "Bullshit" as she did so.

"How can you hate Versace?!" Addison cried, reaching out to adjust the frilly bow on Callieís ass. "Itís *Versace*."

"Itís a tent," Meredith said, pulling the sides of her dress out. "Now it looks like wings. Give me some wire and I can pretend to be Tinkerbell going down the aisle."

"Tinkerbell wore green. Not light shit," Cristina said.

"Damn it!" Addison sat down in a chair beside the entrance and put her face in her hands. She did it so that they couldnít see the smile on her face and not because she was upset. A moment later, the store clerk breezed through the curtain with three black bags. She put one in each of the dressing rooms that had been vacated by the wedding party. When Addison looked up again, she was fighting hard not to laugh. She looked at Callie and said, "Thanks for comforting me, Maid of Honor."

Callie watched curiously as the clerk winked at Addison, then she put her hands on her hips. "You asshole! Those are the real dresses, right?"

She started to step off the platform, but Addison held up her hand. "Wait."

And then Mark appeared and started snapping photos that caused all three women to gather their hideous skirts and rush back into their rooms. When they emerged a few moments later, they were much happier and didnít grumble at all about posing for photos. The dresses Addison had chosen were strapless, with trumpet skirts and a A-line cut. A dark brown sash fit around the waist and pinned in the back to create not a bow, but a gorgeous tie that hung almost the floor. It was definitely the kind of dress you could wear again.

"CALLIE!" Addison scolded as Callie adjusted the loose top of her dress. "What did I tell you? I said do not lose any weight. None."

With a grimace, Callie tried in vain to make her chest bigger. She stretched and pushed, but it was no use. Cristina poked her in the rib and said, "It was all that G-force against your tits in the airshow, right?"

"No." Callie shook her head. "It was all the exercise leading up to the air show so that my lungs could take it."

"I could strangle you," Addison replied, opening the curtain and calling for the clerk.

The two women pinned Callieís dress and then took new measurements. By the time all was said and done, Addison had threatened Callie within an inch of her life. She was to lose no more weight or sheíd be murdered, her friend promised. After she got dressed, Callie joined the other women. Addison and Meredith were both trying on veils, so Callie flopped down beside Cristina, who wore a matching look of disgust. "This sucks," Yang said softly. "As soon as we get Addison down the aisle, itís Meredithís turn."

"At least sheís waiting a while longer," Callie watched Addison twist her hair and gaze at the peacock inspired veil on her head. "Cristina?"

"Hmm?"

"She hasnít even asked me about Alex."

"Whatís there to ask? We all know." Cristina stretched her legs out and crossed her ankles. "And we all told you to tell him so maybe weíre a little pissed that you didnít. And a lot pissed that you put us in a situation where heís not just mad at you ... heís mad at us, too."

"I didnít think it would be this bad," Callie replied. "I thought heíd get upset and then get over it."

"Just like that?" Cristina asked. "You thought he'd ignore how easily you could been killed and-"

"Everything was fine! Everything! I was careful and -"

"Careful?" Cristina raised a skeptical brow. "Careful is flying from point A to point B in as much of a straight line as possible. Not careful? Rolling and flipping and going upside down from point A to point B."

"It was an *air show*. There is no point A to point B. If that was the case, youíd be bored. Iím a good pilot. I know what Iím doing."

"Youíre a great pilot," Cristina agreed. "Maybe you should marry the air because neither one of you can be tamed. Whatís that old saying? Wild as the wind? Thatís you. You wanted the shackles, but you donít want Alex to lock them. You wanted the ball and chain, but only when itís convenient."

"Thatís not true!"

"You know what youíre like? Youíre this storm cloud thatís so calm and then bam! Itís like something happens inside you and youíre destructive. You donít just self destruct, you throw a funnel cloud that quickly becomes a tornado and you spin out of control for a little while. And just like a tornado, you shake people up." Cristina glanced at her. "And you make storm chasers out of your friends who canít stop you ... so we just watch."

"Cristina-"

"In the George mess ... I was Team Callie. In the Izzie mess ... I was Team Callie. Now? Iím Team Alex because I was on the ground beside him while you were playing Top Gun and I saw how it hit him." With that, Cristina got to her feet and the fact that she actually put a veil on proved that Callieís company truly was the worst than *that*.

*~*~*~*~*~

The days leading up to Addyís wedding were tense. Alex, who was still staying on Goon Docks, would either pick a fight or ignore Callie every time she was within earshot. Their friends would simply walk away when he chose to go for the jugular and say something horrible, which he did frequently. Callie finally talked to Sydney and went on night shift to avoid Alex completely. And Irene. Her mother in law attempted to talk to her every time she saw her and Callie was polite. Sheíd discuss the weather or the food that Irene churned out in the kitchen, but she refused to talk about Alex at all.

George and Izzie were also working the night rotation and they both went out of their way to be there for Callie. Izzie brought extra food every night for dinner and insisted that Callie share it and George made sure he told her a joke or tried to make her laugh every time he passed her in the hallway. Ever since Izzie had joined the Angry Woman Club, she had drifted more towards Callie than the other members. Callie knew that it was her way of making amends, of burying the hatchet, and she happily met the blond halfway, but she wasnít close to her. She tolerated her. Izzie was still a symbol of her past and Callie wanted to forget her past. Still, she was grateful for the company as the nights seems to stretch for an eternity and Izzieís sympathy appeared genuine.

Callie didnít drink again. Sometimes, before her late shift started, sheíd park in front of the liquor store and stare at the bottles, but she didnít drink. Oh, she wanted to. She needed to, but she swallowed back the longing and always started her engine and headed back into the road empty handed. Callie worked on her off days and slept as long as she could during the day, thanks to a prescription of Ambien that Sydney gave her when Callie complained about having trouble adjusting to the night shift.

The day before Addisonís wedding, Callie was changing into her street clothes in the locker room when the morning crew came in. She sat in the corner, hidden by a row of lockers as she heard Alex laughing at something Meredith said. Addison, who usually dressed in the Attendingís lounge, sailed around the corner and glared at Callie. "Are you going to be there tomorrow or what?" Addison snapped.

"At the wedding?"

"At the wedding! You havenít returned any of my phone calls. You didnít pick your dress up and you didnít come to the florist to help me pick the final arrangement for your bouquet like you promised, either. So, Iím asking. Are you going to be in the wedding or not?"

"Of course I am," Callie replied. "And - I donít know where my phone is so I didnít get your messages. And ... all my appointments were programmed in there so I - I forgot."

"Iím an appointment now?" Addy shook her head. "Tonightís the bachelorette party. *Meredith* planned it because you werenít around to do it and I just saw your name on the schedule to work tonight! How can you work all night and then be in the wedding party tomorrow!?"

"Itíll be fine."

"Callie, you havenít done *anything* to help me lately. I never see you and -"

"Hello, night shift?" Callie got to her feet, glaring at her friend. "And you havenít done anything to help me either."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Oh, I think you fuckiní know!" Callie shouted.

"Guys!" Meredith said, moving between the two of them. "What the hell?"

Saying nothing, Addison turned on her very high heel and stalked out of the room. Callie snatched her purse from her locker, tears blurring her vision. She slammed the door so hard that it shook the entire row of lockers and then Meredith caught her arm before she could leave. "Are you okay?" Mer asked.

"Why wouldnít I be?"

"Callie-"

But Callie walked away, past Cristina who said her name and past Alex, who said nothing at all.

She left a message for Sydney, telling her that she wouldnít be in that night. She was supposed to be off anyway, she had simply volunteered to keep herself busy, to keep herself away from the ever present lure of alcohol, but she didnít give a damn anymore.

Callie simply didnít *care*.

*~*~*~*~*~

"I just donít *get* her." Addison paced the length of the on call room and retrieved her skirt from the window ledge, where Mark had thrown it. She slipped it over her thong panties and zipped it, then slipped her feet into her heels.

"This is the part where we bask in the afterglow of morning sex, baby," Mark replied, watching her appreciatively as she slipped her bra on and fastened it. "Itís bad enough that you were thinking about Callie the entire time I was screwing you half to death ... can you -"

"I was not," she replied, smiling at him, "because I was too busy thinking about that thing you were doing with your fingers and hoping you do it again in Hawaii tomorrow night."

"Oh, Iím doing things to you in Hawaii that would make Jenna Jameson blush."

"Mmmm." She leaned down and kissed him, cupping his face. "Iím happy, Mark. Iím really, really happy that weíre getting married tomorrow and Iím even happier that we waited to do it. Because itís going to be perfect."

Mark pulled her down on top of him and settled his hands on her hips. "It better be perfect. Youíve been a head case for months over this day."

Addison laughed. "I really have, havenít I?"

"You gave new meaning to the word Ďshrewí. And youíve proven that your temper matches your hair with the caterer, the limo driver, the DJ, the minister, and now your best friend."

"My *absent* best friend. She didnít even show up for the rehearsal dinner."

"We didnít have a rehearsal dinner," Mark replied. "We had a *dinner*."

"Still -"

"Addison, sheís going through hell. All you have to do is look at her to see that sheís miserable." He pushed her hair back and kissed her neck. "At the non-rehearsal dinner that Callie didnít come to ... you guys made it very clear to Alex that heís in the right and sheís wrong and you guys have no sympathy for her. She can probably pick up on that and thatís why sheís *absent*."

"And you think weíre wrong?"

"I think itís been close to three weeks since the air show and Alex is treating her bad enough for everyone. I think that you need to remember that this is Callie weíre talking about. The same Callie who almost died from alcohol poisoning when her last marriage imploded. She hurts a little harder than most people and thereís pressure on her right now from all sides. So-"

"You donít think she would ... Mark!"

"I donít know," he replied, rubbing her back. "If history is doomed to repeat itself, though, I think sheís at the breaking point. I saw her before she left today. I tried to talk to her and she didnít look right."

"Iíll call her." Addison grabbed her white lab coat from the floor and pulled her cell phone from the pocket. She dialed Callieís number, then groaned when it went to voice mail. "Damn! She told me she canít find her phone. Hey, Callie, itís me. Iím an ass and Iím sorry."

"If she lost her phone, why did you leave a message?" Mark asked.

"Because it made me feel a little better."

Mark sat up and unbuttoned her shirt. "Let me make you feel a lot better. Because Iím sleeping at Derekís tonight so I donít see you tomorrow before the wedding and ... I need to make up for lost time now."

Addison kicked her shoes off again. "Why did you let me get dressed?"

"Your ass in a thong?"

Within minutes, Addy forgot all about her problems with Callie. She lost herself in her fiancé and didnít think of anything except the moment.

*~*~*~*~
CH 2
*~*~*~*~

"Will this be all, maíam?"

Callie looked at the bottle of bourbon that the woman behind the counter was ringing up. After sitting in front of the liquor store for five hours, waiting for it to open, Callie almost felt like the one bottle was a disappointment. She felt herself nod, then paid for it in cash, clutching the long neck in her hand as she headed back to her car. Callie laid it on the passenger seat, gripping the steering wheel as she gazed at the front of the store again. Her mouth had started to water and she kept swallowing, kept licking her lips. She wanted the burn, the oblivion.

The bottle wasnít silent. It called to her, beckoned her, promised her that it could erase the pain, fill the emptiness, and make her feel better. Like a fool, she believed it could. At least for a while. She could black out and not hurt, not be angry, not be lonely. She needed to believe in something, after all, because there was nothing left to believe in as far as she could see.

Closing her eyes, she put her hands over her ears in an attempt to silence the hollow voice in her head that was begging her to drink. There were always big moments in life. Moments fill with crossroads and crosshairs. She felt like there was a target on her back and the bottle was the bullet that would rip through her center and demolish everything. With a look of determination, she picked the bourbon up and got out of the car, opening her trunk with the key fob. She tossed the bottle into it and slammed the, gazing down at her hand, which was shaking.

Her parents always told her that the past happened so you could learn from it. History books were full of fatal mistakes that were often repeated for the sake of growth and superiority. As Callie leaned against her car, she knew that she could either be superior or *inferior* to the sickness that she finally acknowledged with all of her heart. Alcoholism was a disease and an uphill climb and if this wasn't alcoholism, she didn't know what was. She had been on top of the mountain for over a year now and she was currently sliding toward the bottom again on her stomach, letting the roots and rocks and debris tear her apart. No, she realized, she had bottomed out when she drank with Sydney. Now she was being ripped apart by the need to do it again.

And she couldnít let that happen.

Hurrying into her car, she started the engine, fastened her seatbelt, and headed across town. She parked at the end of a crowded lot and retrieved the bottle, then headed into the church where todayís AA meeting was being held. Chief Webber was enjoying a cucumber sandwich while he spoke with Marcel and he smiled when he saw her. The smile quickly faded when he saw the tell tale brown bag in her hand. The meeting had just adjourned for the day, but as always there were several small cloisters of people remaining to offer that last bit of comfort and support to their fellow warriors. Webber nudged Marcel, the leader of the group, and pointed at Callie. Wordlessly, Marcel strode forward and took the bag from her hand.

"Come with us," Marcel said softly, whispering the words against Callieís ear.

She nodded and let the man lead her, and Chief Webber, into the churchís small kitchen. Chief Webber wrapped a protective arm around her as Marcel lifted the bottle from the bag and opened it. His movements werenít angry, werenít tense, but when he held the bottle out to her, his face was set. "Drink it or pour it down the sink."

"You - you can pour it - and -" Callie began.

"No," Marcel took a step closer to her, lifting the bottle high enough that she could smell it. "This is your fight, Callie. We canít do it for you."

"Take it," Webber urged. "Make your decision."

Callie felt bereft with the Chief moved away from her, leaving her exposed, leaving her *alone*. She gripped the bottle with both hands, hoping that they would cross cancel each other and not shake quite so badly. She was wrong. Some of the bourbon slipped over her hand and she was tempted to lick it off, tempted to tip the bottle back in front of God and everybody. After all, she was in HIS house and HE was not making the battle any easier.

Her eyes strayed to the sink then back to the bottle in her hands. Tears streamed down her face as her gaze met Chief Webberís. "Iíve fallen off the wagon already. Hard. I had gin and tonic and several shots of ... something ... and if I drink this now ... it wonít really matter because the damage is done. Iím back at square one and -"

"Still in the game," Richard said, not letting any disappointment show on his face. "Youíre back at square one, but youíre not off the board. Youíre here. You made a bad decision when you drank again, but you made a right one now. Pour it out, Callie."

"Richard." Marcel shook his head, his floppy blond hair falling into his eyes. "Donít sway her." Looking at Callie, he added, "The choice is yours."

She thought of Alex. She thought of the way her wedding band felt as it clanked against the bottle and imagined the look on her husbandís face if he could see her now. Then she thought of Cam, of her parents, of Addison ... and her decision was made. Her shoulders shook from the quiet sobs as she walked to the sink and tipped the bottle, watching the contents disappear down the drain. She held onto it until the last drop was gone, then she slipped it back into the brown bag and buried her face in her hands.

It was Webber who comforted her. He pulled her against his chest and spoke softly, telling her he was proud of her, that she was strong and *okay*. While the Chief clung to her, Marcel went into the other room and prepared a plate of food, then retrieved a bottle of water from the cooler. Back in the kitchen, he set it on the island, pulled out a barstool and looked at Callie. "Sit. Eat. Talk."

She did sit down. She mostly picked at the food, but she talked for close to an hour and it made all the difference in the world. Neither man judged her or interjected much, but that was okay, because neither left her hanging and neither told her off for her mistakes. They simply nodded and they *understood*.

Two hours later, she pulled on rubber wading boots and stared down at them. Richard handed her a fishing rod and the container of worms, which he offered to handle for her, but she shook her head, pulled out the plumpest, and put it on the hook. He was so impressed with her casting abilities that he watched her in silence for a few moments. "Did your father take you fishing?"

"My dad? Fishing? Not so much." Callie waded further into the river and turned her face toward the sky as a hawk flew overhead. "My *mother* took me fishing."

"Your mother is an impressive woman." Richard cast his own line and smiled at her. "Youíre the spitting image of her. And just as strong."

"I donít feel very strong," Callie replied. "My marriage is -"

"Donít." Webber shook his head. "I happen to know for a fact that Alex misses you."

"Oh, how do you that?"

"Because he told me. This is off the record, Callie. Totally and completely off the record. I had to write him up a couple of days ago for getting in a patientís face. I asked him what the hell was going on with him and he told me about you flying and about him leaving and he said that he misses you. He said that he wants to come home, but ... his pride keeps getting in the way."

"He said that?"

"I bet if you apologized ... everything would be just fine." He smiled at her. "Now, can you tell me something off the record?"

"Sure," she replied.

"Sydney Heron. Howís she doing?"

"The job or personally?"

"Both."

"Sheís rocking the job. Sheís got the schedules under control and sheís flexible and fair." Callie gazed out at the horizon, where the crisp fall air, even at three in the afternoon, had left a mist over the treeline. "Personally? I think maybe you should bring her along to an AA meeting."

"Iím certain I smelled alcohol on her breath the other day."

"Iím certain you did, too."

"And you didnít feel I should know this before now?" he asked.

"Iím not that girl. I donít tattle to Big Daddy. Everyone knows that I was in the running for Chief Resident and if something goes down ... I donít want it to be because of me. I donít want anyone thinking I tried to sabotage her." She shrugged. "But I think sheís ready to pass the title and the duties along to Bailey."

"Bailey? What makes you think Iíd choose Bailey?"

"Well, I donít want it." Callie shook her head vehemently. "Iím a newlywed and a mess. I only tossed my hat in the ring because I could. Itís Baileyís job, Chief. She deserves it and sheís waited patiently for it."

"Dr. Bailey has a son. If I give this position to her then it will put her under the same strain that Dr. Heron is currently under. Miranda would be at the hospital from sun up until sun down and -"

"Then donít count on one person to do it. Spread it out. Take half the responsibility from Sydney, give it to Bailey, and let them be joint Chiefs. If it works for the military ... it should work for them. You could even go a step further and choose a couple of second years to assume some of the lighter duties, too. You know people like Yang and Stevens would be all over that. OíMalley, too. Heís very organized." She reeled in her line and cast again. "You once told me that you started drinking while you were Chief Resident. Knowing what you know now ... it may be a good time to change how itís done."

"A person with this much wisdom, Callie," he replied, "has nothing to worry about when it comes to addiction. Youíre going to beat this disease and youíre going to be just fine."

"I donít think Marcel was very happy about you deciding to be my sponsor."

"They usually like for a sponsor to be the same sex as the person theyíll be mentoring. They also donít like for them to work together or see each other every day, but I think you need it. I think you need someone who can stay on top of it and be there any time you need them. And thatís me. Iím here."

"Thanks, Chief."

"I think you can call me Richard, Callie."

"Richard," Callie replied, grinning as she tugged her line. "I just caught the first fish of the day. So youíre cleaning it *and* cooking it."

"I shouldnít have made that bet. I didnít know you were so ... resourceful."

"You underestimated me because Iím a girl. Donít do it again."

"Yes, maíam."

*~*~*~*~*~

"YAY!" Addison cried, looking up from her fifth shot as Callie walked into Joeís. It wasnít much of a bachelorette party. Addy had a birthday hat on her head and the groom and his groomsmen were a few feet away playing darts, but the second she saw Callie, Addison felt festive and *happy*. She pulled her best friend into a tight hug, sloppily kissing her cheek. "I AM SO SORRY! IíM A SELF INVOLVED ASSHOLE AND YOU HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO BE PISSED AT ME!"

Callie didnít have to wonder why Addison was yelling. Olivia, like always, was singing karaoke. This time, she was warbling her way through Mandy Mooreís ĎCandyí. Callie grimaced and let Meredith put a birthday cone on her head as she slipped her jacket off. Meredith catcalled and drunkenly poked Callieís exposed cleavage. The black sleeveless shirt she wore tied behind her neck and plunged dangerously low between her breasts, where a triangle of sequins and faux diamonds drew all the attention. Her jeans were new, too, bought after the fishing trip with Webber because she wanted *something* to keep her mind busy and shopping usually did.

"Damn, woman," Cristina called. "We thought we werenít getting strippers tonight."

"What have you been doing today?" Addison asked as Callie pulled out a chair and sat down.

"Fishing."

"Huh?"

"Fishing. Like, rods and reels and worms."

"Why? Ew." Addison wrinkled her nose.

"Why not?"

Burke sauntered over and picked up his beer, taking a swig. He greeted Callie warmly, then tipped Cristinaís chair back and asked for a good luck kiss. He had fifty bucks riding on the dart game, he explained. Cristina gave him a kiss that was both tawdry and brazen, then grinned when he sat her back up. "That is *so* Markís move," Addison told Yang as they watched Burke strut back to the game. "He did that same thing to me."

"Alex pioneered it," Izzie said, then seemed to catch herself and changed the subject fast by pointing at the door. "I - uh - are those strippers?"

Four men had come into the Emerald City Bar. All four wore trenchcoats and the tallest smiled at Callie, who pointed at Addison. "Consider them my party favors," Callie told her friend, who was staring at the approaching men with her jaw hanging open. Lifting her purse, Callie pulled out several stacks of dollar bills and one stack of twenties, which she pressed into Addisonís hand. "Just wait. Your mind will be blown."

Olivia had stopped singing now thanks to Joe, who had unplugged the karaoke machine and silenced the bar entirely. The bartender was salivating almost as much as the women. One of the strippers carried a boombox that he set on the table behind Addison. He pressed play and flicked his tongue out at her, offering her the tie to his robe, but Addison didnít take it. She was still perpetually frozen in shock like a deer in headlights.

ĎItís Raining Mení began to pulsate from the radio and Callie reached forward, tugging the belt for Addison, who gasped as the man let the coat fall to the ground, revealing just how well he filled the elephant trunk thong he wore. The dancers called themselves ĎThe Skin Quartetí and as they all dropped their jackets, no one had to wonder why. Never had there been so much exposed, buffed, and *perfect* skin in one spot. And dance? The men could dance like there was no tomorrow. The choreographed moves were as much Cirque du Soleil as trashy hip hop video. They did lifts, tumbles, and pelvic thrusts that caused their packages to bounce around so much that Cristina declared that she had gotten dizzy watching it.

Four songs later, their g-strings were full and Addison was dancing between them, laughing her ass off. Callie headed to the bar and fixed herself a glass of ice water when Joe decided to join the dancers. She sat down on a barstool and pulled out her camera, snapping a few photos because if she didnít do something with her hands ... she was afraid her next drink would be something bottled and eighty proof. She was smiling when she noticed Alex heading her way. The smile faded and she started to get to her feet, but he caught her arm. "Hey," he said, his thumb absently rubbing her skin. "H- how are you?"

"Fine." She didnít meet his gaze, instead she concentrated on the water in her hands. "You?"

"Iím okay." He sat down on the stool beside hers and watched her, waiting for her to say more. When she didnít, he let her arm go, then touched it again when she yawned. "You hate the night shift. Dr. Heron said you requested it."

Still yawning, she nodded. "Yeah. I did."

"Why?"

"You didnít just ask me why, Alex. Really?" She pointed at the beer in his hand. "Have you had so much that you canít remember telling me the other day that the sight of me made you sick? Or how about when you said that Mark should think twice before getting married because marriage turns sane women into insane bitches who suck the life out of their husbands? Maybe the high point was you saying, in front of everyone, that I was a childish liar who wouldn't know the truth if it smacked me in the face."

He moved his hand off her arm and peeled the label on his beer. "Iím sorry."

"Thereís a lot of that going around." She glanced at him, smiling sadly when he met her eyes.

Alex hated the coldness in her eyes. He'd never seen it before. "I talked to Cam today. He said heís worried about you and that he had talked to you and you didnít sound right."

"How right can I sound?"

"Callie-"

"You know what? Iím not going to fight with you today. I lied to you about the air show, but you lied to me too. Christmas night last year ... you lied to me. When you asked me to marry you, you said that the butterfly in my ring was there to remind me that I could fly ... and youíd never try to hold me down. You said that the circle meant that weíd never end ... but you had no problem taking your ring off and ending it."

"I was pissed. And if you had told me about the air show and let me have a chance to get used to the idea ... maybe it wouldnít have been so bad."

"Yeah, it would have. Youíre always going to be that guy whoís afraid to jump ... and Iím always going to be the girl who volunteers to do it first." She got to her feet, leaving the water and a five dollar bill on the bar. She looked at him again, briefly, and nodded. "Have a good night. Iíll see you tomorrow."

Addison did another shot, this one poured by one of the strippers. She looked up in time to see Callie gather her purse and jacket, then jumped to her feet and followed her out the front door. "Youíre leaving?"

"Iím tired," Callie replied, hugging her. "I havenít been to sleep yet so Iím off to dream about falling on my face or something when I walk down the aisle tomorrow."

"As long as you *only* dream it and donít actually do it." Addison held onto her, not letting her go. "I love you, you know? Youíre the best friend Iíve ever had and I just really love you."

"Youíre going to be very sad that you got so damn drunk tonight when you wake up tomorrow, Addy." Callie stepped back and squeezed her hand. "Have fun."

"Wait."

Callie looked at her. "What is it?"

"Youíre okay, right? I mean ... youíre not -"

"No. Iím not suicidal again."

"If you need me -"

"Go enjoy your party. Tomorrow's you big day."

Addison watched her walk away, a sense of foreboding in her stomach that she couldnít quite explain. She remained rooted to the spot until Mark joined her and they both waved at Callie as she drove around the building and pointed her car toward home.

Mark wrapped his arms around her when she shivered. "Alex said he tried to apologize ... tried to make amends or whatever ... but she shot him down."

"Somethingís wrong with her," Addison said. "Iím scared."

"Her family will be here in the morning. You know Melana and Raphael will smack the shit out of both of them and fix it themselves."

"I hope youíre right."

*~*~*~*~*~

Melana Torres was frazzled after attempting to sleep through enough turbulence to wake the dead the previous night. Their private jet had weathered the storm beautifully, but she was no so fortunate. The bags under her eyes were deep enough for Gucci, her service monkey, to fit in and worrisome enough to her husband Raphael that he kept running his thumb over them. She finally threatened to swat him like an annoying gnat and he had kept his hands to himself since them.

Instead of going straight to the guest room at Callieís house, Melana headed into the kitchen to whip up breakfast for her family. Her sons, who were in various displays of laziness on the sofa and floor of the living room, were quickly sent scurrying to the market when she saw that Callieís cupboard was bare and she marched down the hallway to her daughterís bedroom with her hands on her hips.

Callie was lying sideways in the bed, both bare feet sticking out from one end of the cover and her hands out the other. Melana smiled and covered her feet, which were cold to the touch, then squatted down beside her hands and took one in her own. "Calliope?"

"Mmmph."

"Wake up and explain why you have no groceries."

"Mom!" Callieís head shot up and she scrambled from the bed, knocking Melana flat on her ass as she hugged her.

Melana laughed and held onto her daughter, rubbing her hair, her face. "How are you, mi vida?"

"Alex left me," Callie said in response, then clapped a hand over her mouth as the smile faded from Melanaís face.

"Can you repeat that?"

"No. Because I'm sleepwalking. And sleeptalking, apparently."

"Calliope."

"I didnít mean to just blurt it out." Callie got to her feet and extended her hands, pulling her mother to her own. "Heís been gone for about three weeks."

"Gone where?" Mel cried. "For Heavenís sake, Calliope, youíve only been married a few months! What could you possibly have done -"

"Oh, itís my fault! Of course it is! Blame me for everything!" Callie sat down on the edge of the bed and crossed her arms over her chest. "Maybe itís him!"

"Is it?" Mel asked, sitting beside her.

Callie shook her head. "Not *entirely*."

"Good morning, Mija," Raphael said, strolling into the bedroom and kissing Callie. He tilted her face and kissed her forehead, then frowned. "Whatís wrong?"

"Alex has left her," Mel told him. "And she was just about to tell me what she did to cause it."

"What she did?" Raphael snapped. "Maybe itís him! Maybe he-"

"Must you *always* take her side," Mel asked, rolling her eyes. "Youíd think she was incapable of erring."

"Must you *always* assume the worst?" Raphael shot back. "Youíd think sheís was incapable of doing anything right."

"Considering that she is half yours, Iím quite certain that she is just as capable as her father of making a total mess out of everything she touches." Mel glared at her husband. "You donít want to piss me off again, Raph. Not today."

Callie looked back and forth between her parents. "Whatís going on?"

"Minor disagreement." Raphael sat down on Callieís other side and took her hand. "Thatís all. Weíre-"

"MINOR DISAGREEMENT!?" Melana bellowed, causing both her husband and her daughter to jump. "MINOR!? DONíT YOU DARE IMPLY THAT MY FEELINGS ARE MINOR!"

"DONíT YOU DARE IMPLY THAT ITíS ANYTHING MORE THAN THAT!" Raphael shot back.

"YOU ARE TRYING TO COME OUT OF RETIREMENT!"

"I MOST CERTAINLY AM NOT! I AM LENDING A HAND WHERE IíM NEEDED!"

"IT IS NOT YOUR HAND THAT CONCERNS ME, RAPHAEL!"

"STOP!" Callie yelled. She looked at her father and said, "They want you back in the -"

"Not back, baby," Raphael assured her. "They want me to go to Iraq and interrogate someone who they believe is involved with bin Laden and can give up the goods on his whereabouts."

"Which is a fancy way of saying that our government wants you to go to Iraq and torture someone." Callie looked at her mother, who nodded, then back at her father. "I donít want you to go, either."

"Callie-"

"Daddy, thatís a warzone. Do you - they behead people over there! Thatís like ... begging to be murdered! And youíre not a young man anymore. You canít outrun an angry mob or fight off some crazy religious assholes who think of you as an infidel."

"Which is precisely the point that I made," Melana said, still glaring at her husband. "You *promised* me it was over, Raph, that you were done."

Raphael simply shook his head and squeezed Callieís hand. "Why did Alex leave you, kitten?"

Callie told them and waited expectantly for them to agree with her. Melana, who looked as if holding her tongue was killing her, shot to her feet and stalked out of the room at the end of the tale. Raphael put an arm around Callie and pulled her against him. "That same thing that drives you to do an air show is what drives me to take down terrorists."

"Itís not the same thing, Daddy."

"You donít think thereís just as much risk when you fly as there is of a ... crazy religious asshole ... who -"

"Iím trained to fly."

"Iím trained to fight. No matter how old I am." Raphael kissed her temple. "Weíre both in the same boat, Mija. Flying is in your blood and fighting is in mine. We crave the adrenaline rush."

Callie sighed. "So, what do we do?"

"Did I ever tell you about the time I got shot?"

With a gasp, Callieís spine straightened and she gazed at him in shock. "No."

"Itís why I retired. Your mother was seven months pregnant with Stavros. I was on an assignment in Germany and wound up getting most of my butt blown off." He smiled at her. "It was so bad that I spent weeks lying on my stomach while cute nurses kept the wound clean and put fresh bandages on."

Callie chuckled. "That sounds like hell."

"It wasnít hell until your mom got there. I had been away from her for five months so I didnít even know she was pregnant. Itís not like it is now. There was no email, no text messaging, and I was so far undercover that she didnít know how to get in touch with me most of the time. She waddled into the infirmary, big as a barrel, and she was so pretty that I couldnít stop looking at her. You know that look she gets right before she uses words like a whip."

Callie made a face and Raphael laughed. "Yeah, thatís the one. God, youíre so much like her. Anyway, she came up to the bed and she had her hands on that round, pregnant belly and she asked me if I was in any pain. I told her no. Wrong answer. She went *off* on me and made it very plain to me that for the two years we had been married she had been strong and let me go undercover. She said she had watched television through her hands every time news broke of something happening that had casualties anywhere in the world because she was afraid it was me.

"And then she pointed at the baby and said that she couldnít let our baby grow up wondering the same thing. She told me I had a choice to make. I could stay in the line of work I was in and say goodbye to my family or I could come home and start a business and have the white picket fence." He took a deep breath and smiled at his daughter. "I chose home. And Iíve never regretted it because your mother rewarded me with four of the best children God ever put souls in and I never looked back."

"Until now?" Callie leaned her head against his shoulder again. "Because Mom was right. Those four kids donít want to watch the television through their hands either, Daddy. Donít go."

Raphael kissed the top of her head. "I wonder ... do you think Alex watched the air show that way? I certainly have, while you performed. Iíve actually gotten up and walked away in the middle of it because it scared me that bad. And thatís with me knowing what to expect ahead of time."

When Callie didnít reply, Raphael pulled her a little closer. "I guess I wonít go, princess. As good as it would make this old daredevil feel to get back in the saddle ... I did make a promise to your mother. And I guess there comes a time when a person has to settle down and hang up their guns ... or wings. And the adrenaline rush ... well, I still get the best ones when she smiles at me."

Callie closed her eyes and Alex flitted through her mind. He gave her an adrenaline rush, too. When he smiled, when he laughed, when he said her name. "I have to grow up," she finally said. "I have to stop looking for cheap thrills and realize that the most thrilling thing in the world is that someone wants me. He wants forever. Or ... he did."

Melana sailed back into the room and waltzed around the bed, looking like she could bite a nail in two. "If you two have finished conspiring to give me a heart attack, breakfast will be ready soon and it would be very nice to have the family together for as long as we can ... you know ... until one of us heads into mortal danger and -"

"Iím not going," Raphael replied. "Iíll tell the officials after breakfast, Mel."

"Youíre not going?" Mel wiped her hands on the apron she wore, her eyes wide. "Really?"

Getting to his feet, Raph nodded. "Really."

"OH! Thank God!" Melana threw her arms around her husband, unable to contain the tears of joy. She sobbed against his shoulder and said nothing else as Callie got to her feet and walked into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. In a low, conspiratorial voice, Mel said, "She bought it?"

"Hook, line, and sinker. You should have been an actress," Raphael replied, kissing his wifeís neck. "I did tell her the truth about the way you forced me to retire, though."

"I could kick you in the ass every single time I see that scar."

Raphael puffed up importantly. "I told her it was a gun that did it."

"A gun?" Mel scoffed. "You should have told her the truth! You dropped your pants to use the bathroom and a rattlesnake took offense."

He simply looked at her. "That didnít sound as dangerous."

"If she had seen the state your ass was in ... sheíd think the snake was worse than a gun."

"What matters, dear," Raphael said through gritted teeth. "Is that our precious daughter has had an epiphany this morning. The words ĎI need to grow upí actually escaped her mouth. Did you invite Alex and Irene to breakfast?"

"Theyíre already here. And no one knows that Addison already told us everything."

"Did you give Alex the speech about accepting my career because it was such a part of me?"

"He had an epiphany, too, my love." Melana grinned triumphantly. "The words ĎI really shouldnít try to change herí actually escaped his mouth."

"Letís go eat."

"Calliope," Mel called. "Please put on something a little more suitable for breakfast."

"I will," Callie replied, her voice breaking over the words.

"Sheís upset." Raphael started toward the door, but Mel stopped him.

"Go tell Alex. Heís out front with the boys."

A moment later, Alex walked past Melana in the hallway, who crossed her arms over her chest in a last minute bid to intimidate him. He headed into the bedroom, pausing to touch the photo he had ripped. It was lying, frameless, on the end table and Callie had taped the back of it. His ring wasnít there, however, and he instinctively rubbed his left finger, which still had a tan line, though the indentation had already faded. He heard her sniffle behind the door and knocked lightly. "Open the door, Gothika."

"Just a second."

Alex tried the knob and found it unlocked. He stepped inside and saw her sitting on the edge of the tub with her face in her hands. His heart broke a little more, which he thought was impossible after watching her walk away the previous night. Wordlessly, he kneeled down and hugged her, then breathed a sigh of relief when she hugged him back, burying her face against his neck. "Itís okay, baby."

"No, itís not," she sobbed, clinging to him. "You were right. Iím an idiot."

"Youíre not an idiot. And I did promise you that I wouldnít try to stop you from flying. I knew exactly who you were when I married you, Cal, and I wouldnít change you if I could." He leaned back and kissed her forehead. "That lack of a fear gene thing? Itís sexy as hell."

"I miss you."

"God, I miss you, too." He rubbed his hand over her cheek. "I wanted to tell you all this last night. I wanted to apologize and make it right, but ... Callie, it was like you looked right through me and I know - I know I deserve it, but I donít think I can handle you ever looking at me like that again."

"I donít think I can handle you leaving me again. I believed you, you know, when you said youíd never do that. This is the third time now that youíve broken your promise and packed your things and *left*. Thatís worse than what I did."

"It is worse," he replied. "For both of us. And I wonít do it again, Callie. I wonít. I swear to God, if youíll let me come home ... youíll need a crowbar or something to get me out of here."

"I didnít buy the stunt plane," Callie told him. "And - and Iím gonna sell the jet. We can fly commercial and -"

"Absolutely not," he replied. "You were born to fly and I was born to love you while you do it. Just ... tell me ... from now on."

"Okay," she hugged him again. "One more thing, Alex."

"What?"

"The things you said to me," she began.

"Iím sorry. I didnít mean it. Any of it."

"I know. I know you said it in anger, but it hurt." Callie gazed into his eyes. "Iíd rather you hit me. Bruises ... they go away."

"No, baby, they donít." He swiped at a tear that dropped onto his cheek and kissed her. Nothing else on earth could have ripped his heart in two any faster than those words. "I told you Iíd never hurt you and I meant it."

"But you did."

"If you give me another chance -"

Leaning down, she silenced him with a kiss. "Come home. I want you to come home."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." She pushed herself to her feet and held out her hand, pulling him to his. "I guess we should -"

"Whereís my ring?"

She studied him. "Itís somewhere safe."

"Well, give it back."

"I donít know." Fighting hard not to laugh at the expression on his face, she hastily added, "I mean ... a guy that just takes it off and doesnít value it ... why would I -"

"Callie-" The warning in his voice was unmistakable.

"If you can find it, you can have it."

"Find it?"

She nodded and he quickly walked back into their bedroom, opening the Italian jewelry box he had purchased for her on their honeymoon. "Cold," she said, leaning against the door jamb.

Alex moved to his end table and pulled open the drawer.

"Colder."

Smiling now, he opened his closet door and looked at her. She shook her head and he walked to where she stood. "Can I have a hint?"

"Hot."

He glanced down at the tank top she wore, noting the slight bulge between her breasts. He reached up and pulled the chain out, looking into her eyes after he saw his ring resting beside the diamond that Cam had given her for Christmas the previous year. It touched him, seeing it there, knowing that she had kept it next to her heart. Wordlessly, he put his hand behind her head and kissed her. A second later, she opened the clasp on the back of the chain and let the ring drop into his palm.

It was warm and he started to slip it on, but she shook her head, taking it back.

And just like she had done nearly five months ago, she slid it onto his finger and smiled at him through tears.

And just like he had done almost five months ago ... Alex fell a little harder than he ever thought he could.

Crushing her mouth with his, he felt her hands go to his belt and he did his best to help her without pulling away. She was raking her nails under his shirt when Melana knocked on the door. "Oh, children? Did I or did I not say that breakfast was ready?"

"Fuck," Callie said, looking heavenward. "Perfect timing as usual, Mother!"

"You know it. Now get your asses downstairs before I lose *my* temper. We have a wedding to get to!"

"Hold that thought," Callie said to Alex, handing him his belt. "Maybe we can do it in the *cemetery*."

Melana shrieked in the other room. "I heard that, you blasphemous heathen! Dear God in Heaven, please donít smite her when sheís finally *growing up*."

*~

After a huge breakfast that Irene and Melana prepared together, Callie headed to the shower and dressed in sweats for the ride to the church. Alex had left the moment he had finished eating, saying that he needed to go help Mark and he had pulled Callie into the garage to ask her if everything really was okay between them. She assured him it was, kissed him goodbye, and then drove her mother toward the church in time to get a frantic call from Addison, telling her that she had already washed her hair twice and was so hungover she needed Tylenol. Callie dutifully stopped at the store for it and tried to warn her mother that Addison Montgomery had become Addison the Witch. Bridezilla, indeed.

Melana was skeptical that the red head could be *that* bad until they walked into the bridal suite of the church and found Addison lying face down on the floor sobbing her eyes out. "I lost my *last* contact," she wailed when she saw Callie.

Callie scanned the floor, then bent over and picked up the contact, which was actually stuck to the back of her friendís hand. "Tylenol, water, and chocolate. My work is done."

Addison leaped to her feet to hug Callie, but she tripped over her wedding shoes, which been left in the middle of the floor and landed on her knees just shy of Callie. "I hate my life!"

Callie was helping the other woman stand when Addison realized Melana was there. She screamed and darted forward, catching the hem of her flounce slip underfoot. There was the unmistakable sound of fabric tearing and Addison stopped moving at all. She stared at Melana with tears in her eyes. "This is why I wanted to elope. Look at my hair. Look at me!"

Melana hugged Addison close, rubbing her back, which was bare since Addy only had on her slip, bra, and stockings. "Sit down, sweetheart." Leading her surrogate daughter to the bed, Melana opened her purse. "I can fix it."

"Really?" Addison stared, wide eyed, as Melana pulled a small sewing compact from her purse. As Melana lifted the torn hem into her lap, Addy burst into full blow hysterics.

Callie shot her mother a knowing look. "Whatís wrong now, Ads?"

"I canít get married," Addison wailed. "After marriage comes kids and I donít know how to sew. Or cook. Or *anything*."

Melana threaded the needle swiftly, despite her perfectly manicured nails. "You learn those things as you go, honey. I was seventeen years old when I married Raphael and nineteen when we had Stavros. Itís true what they say ... instinct kicks in and you just *know*."

Addison wiped her eyes, sniffling. "Iím a wreck."

"Everyoneís a wreck on their wedding day." Mel told her. "Itís a requirement."

"Callie wasnít." Addy eyed her best friend, who was lounging comfortably while she watched their exchange.

Mel snorted. "Thatís because all she had to do was show up. I already had it planned. She had no stress."

"Wrong," Callie corrected, unwrapping a Hershey bar and breaking off a piece. "I was just so used to stress by that point, you know, from almost dying, then almost dying again and getting divorced and engaged and ... happy ... that nothing could possibly bother me anymore."

"How are you today?" Addison asked, holding her hand out for one of the squares.

Callie obliged, sharing her candy, then shrugged. "Iím good."

"Have you talked to Alex? He was going to go after you last night, but we wouldnít let him drive."

"I did talk to him," Callie replied, narrowing her eyes at her mother. "But *only* talked. It would have been more, but my mother seems to sense when nakedness is afoot and puts a stop to it."

"You make up with your words, not your body," Mel replied, rapidly sewing. "Unless you have no guests in your house. Which you do."

"Wait," Addison cried. "Youíre back together?"

"Heís wearing his ring. So... I hope."

Without thinking, Addy hurled herself toward Callie, hugging her.

The hole in the slip doubled in size.

Melana pulled a huge needle from her case and beckoned Addison, showing it to her. "Move again ... and Iím sticking this through your bony ass multiple times."

"Damn," Addison said, stunned. "Tough love."

"I prefer to call it child abuse," Melana replied, setting to work once again on the slip. "If youíre going to be my daughter ... you may as well act like one of the other kids and accuse me of cruelty."

*~*~*~*~

"And then you made up?" Mark said, trying to force the collar of his shirt down over his tie.

Alex nodded in response, toying with his ring.

Derek yanked his own tie off and started over. "Then why do you look like your dog just died?"

"Because it was too easy," Alex replied. "Way too easy. She didnít really fight with me. She said Ďcome homeí. Just like that."

"And you want to complain?" Burke asked, already dressed and reclining on the sofa with a book in his lap. "Because itís *easy*?"

"I know her." Alex took a deep breath. "I know her better than I know myself. Sheís either done something that sheís guilty about or sheís *going* to do something and sheís -"

"Maybe itís leftover guilt from the airshow." Finally wrangling his shirt into place, Mark smiled as his reflection. "I could be the GQ Man of the Year. I look *good*."

"You and Addison," Derek said, shaking his head as he pretended to wad his tie up and throw it across the room. "That much ego under one roof. God help us if you have kids."

Taking pity on his friend, Mark took charge himself and quickly made the perfect bow under Derekís chin. They had decided that Alex would take over as Best Man instead of Derek. Derek didnít feel comfortable doing the honors because Addison was the bride and because Callie was the Maid of Honor, he felt like Alex should be paired with his wife. Alex had been stunned when Mark asked him, but he agreed without hesitation. With Derekís attire complete, Mark looked at Alex and said, "Count your blessings, man, she could still withhold sex as punishment."

"Yeah, thatís what sheíll do," Derek agreed. "Itís their Angry Woman Club thing. I think itís at the top of their ĎHow To Punish Mení list."

Alex grinned a little. "We *tried* this morning, but Melana put an end to that quick, fast, and in a hurry."

"Gorgeous woman," Burke said, putting his book aside. "Youíre a lucky man, Alex, because if Callie ages that well ... wow."

"She is pretty cool." Mark nodded. "Although I think she broke my rib when she caught me trying to talk to Addison through the door earlier."

Laughing now, Alex told them about his own wedding day, when Melana had not only caught him sneaking toward Callieís bedroom before the ceremony, but found the naked Polaroid of Callie that he was on his way to thank her for. Melana had snatched the photo, glared at it, then him, then handed it back to him, turned him in the other direction, and kicked ... actually *kicked* him in the seat of the pants. Then kissed him on the cheek and told him that waiting made everything sweeter.

Mark agreed. "This long engagement has killed me, but I wouldnít change it. Cause here we are."

Someone rapped heavily on the door and Derek opened it, revealing Raphael, who was smiling from ear to ear. "Itís nearly time," he told Mark. "Are you nervous?"

"Nervous? No. Close to puking? Yes."

Raphael walked into the room and put his hand on the taller manís shoulder. "This will be the fastest day of you life. Youíll look back in twenty years and wonder what you said, what you listened to at the reception, but you will never, ever forget the way she looks when she says ĎI doí. Because in that moment ... sheís promising you everything and you will feel your life change the second you hear the truth in her voice."

Mark said nothing. He couldnít speak through the lump in his throat. Instead, he embraced Mr. Torres and nodded.

Raphael turned and looked at Alex. "Can I speak to you for a moment, son?"

"Yes, sir." Alex followed him into the hallway, feeling more apprehension than he would have liked.

"I didnít get a chance to inquire," Raph said softly, the gravel in his voice more pronounced when he tried to keep it low. "Are you and Callie on the road to recovery?"

"I think so."

"You think? You donít know?"

"She usually makes me grovel a little more than she did today ... for a lot less." Alex rubbed a hand over his face. "I want it to be fine, Raphael. I need it to be fine, but -"

"What I said to Mark goes for you, too," Raphael told him. "Remember what she said to you on your wedding day. And look at her today, really look at her. Sheíll let you know with her eyes if itís okay."

Alex nodded at him. "Yes, sir."

"For the love of all things holy, son, havenít I told you to stop calling me Ďsirí. Youíre making me feel old and -"

"Respected?"

Raphael smirked at him. "I command respect without even trying." He leaned a little closer to his son in law. "And actions speak louder than words. Just ask the many men who showed me respect when I ripped out their tongues. They couldnít call me Ďsirí, but I had no doubt they wanted to."

"I knew it!" Alex said. "You *are* a mobster! Or a gangster!"

"A gentleman never tells," Raph replied, smiling at him. "I will say, though, that old habits die hard. So fix it, Alex. Or I will."

"Did you just throw down the gauntlet?" Alex asked, grinning. "I distinctly heard a gauntlet."

"And youíre not intimidated at all." Raph chuckled. "Which is why I like you."
Ch 3
*~*~*~*~*~

Addison Forbes Montgomery legally became an orphan at fifteen. Her parents had been vacationing in Australia when they lost control of their rental car and flipped over an embankment. She was at home in New York at the time with the maid when the call came in. Addison took it well. She had been an unofficial orphan since birth. Truth be told, she took a little comfort in knowing that her parents would *never* be back ... as opposed to them coming and going like the tide. At least the finality of death kept her from wondering if theyíd be there for her band concert. Or at all.

She didnít cry at the funeral. She didnít shed a single tear when her aunt and uncle moved into Montgomery Manor and renovated the house, tearing down walls and putting up new ones. They rarely spoke to Addison and she didnít mind in the least. They gave her plenty of money and didnít bother asking her why she was out all night or who she was with. She never glimpsed a real family until Derek took her home with him for Thanksgiving after they had been together for a year. Sitting in the Shepherd living room while Mrs. Shepherd showed her photos of Derek as a naked baby and Mr. Shepherd insisted on letting her choose which game to watch ... she realized that the idea of family wasnít a fictional television sitcom. It could be real. Sheíd just never had it.

Sheíd never had it with Derek either. In all honesty, she had been the orphan in her marriage as well. It wasnít intentional on Derekís part. Like so many new doctors, he fell in love with medicine, with the power of performing surgeries alone and the high of saving the most critical people. The first couple of years had been as close to perfection as a marriage could be, but then he began to miss the little things, dinners, movies. By the fourth year, he forgot birthdays and anniversaries and by the eighth year, he was seldom home more than four hours a night. Addison was used to being alone by then. But it still hurt.

The Torres family, as motley and bizarre as they were, had officially adopted her. Callie may have waited until just before her wedding to have her first real girly sleepover, but Addison had waited just as long to have her first real holiday. The Christmas that she had hosted the previous year had been the highlight of her life. There was laughter, joy, and every Hallmark sentiment that a person could possibly want their holiday to include. She talked to the Torres clan weekly, even Stavros and Loukas, and usually awoke to find a funny email in her mailbox every morning from Melana, who somehow found the most hilarious news items to share.

If Callie was surprised when Addison asked her if she would be upset to share Raphael for aisle duty, she didnít show it. Instead, Callie hugged her and made it clear that they were as close as two sisters could possibly be ... without the horrible childhood where they probably would have abused and tormented each other relentlessly. So, Addison had asked Raphael in person, flying out for a weekend getaway alone in Miami and he had cried, saying it would be an honor to give her away.

Raph and Melana had surprised Addison as well ... paying in full for the honeymoon. Greece. Addison and Mark had both fallen in love with the photographs that Melana shared with them of her home land so she was sending them there to see it all in person. She even promised that there would be a surprise waiting for the newlyweds once they landed. Addison had been so overcome by the generosity of Callieís parents that she had sobbed, not wanting to leave. When she got back to Seattle, she stopped to see Callie first and thanked her for sharing her family by presenting her friend with her favorite Miami cheesecake.

Presently, she blinked at her reflection in the mirror and smiled when Melana fastened a string of pearls around her neck. "Something borrowed?" Addison asked.

"Something old," Melana corrected. "Those belonged to my grandmother and now ... theyíre yours."

"Oh, Mel, I canít-"

"Hush." Holding up a pair of diamond and pearl earrings, she added, "Something borrowed," and then "Something new" as she pulled a long blue box from her purse and handed it to Addison. "I hope you like it."

Addison opened the box and grinned from ear to ear. The bracelet was gorgeous, mostly diamond, but shot through with red and blue, her birthstone ... and Markís. "Itís so beautiful."

Melana pointed at a few empty spaces. "Plenty of room to add more stones. Your childrenís stones."

"Thank you so much!"

"Iím sure your mother is very proud today, angel."

"Are you?" Addison smiled as Melana put the bracelet on her wrist. "Because youíre the only one Iíve ever known."

Sniffling, Melana kissed her on the cheek. "Are you quite certain you must marry Mark today? Because Stavros really is -"

"Donít match make on her wedding day, Mother," Callie said.

Addison watched her best friend walk out of the bathroom looking like she had just backed over the groom. "What? Did you get your dress dirty ... CALLIE KAREV, IT DOESNíT FIT! I TOLD YOU NOT TO LOSE ANY MORE WEIGHT!"

Callie tugged the top of her gown. "Due to circumstances beyond my control ..."

"I have pins," Melana said, grabbing her purse. "Lots and lots of pins. And my goodness, Callie, that color is gorgeous with your skin. You look beautiful."

Working fast, Melana strategically pinned Callieís dress, giving her daughter a tongue lashing that promised feeding tubes and ass kickings in equal measures, before she stepped back and nodded. "Perfection! Damn it, Calliope! You HAVE lost too much weight!"

Addison narrowed her eyes at Callie. "As soon as I get back from Greece, you and me, big talk. Big."

"Are you starving yourself again?" Mel asked.

"No," Callie replied, adjusting the top of the dress again. "Iím fine."

Addison didnít buy it for one minute. Callie definitely looked beautiful. Her hair had been curled, and pinned to the top of her head just like Meredithís and Cristinaís had been and the caramel colored ribbon that wove in and out of the curls matched the dress. Unlike the other two women, however, Callieís hair had been *made* for that particular style. The hairstylist had used her natural curl as much as the curling iron and every lock fell into place in record time. It suited her, Addison thought. Callie, of course, didnít agree. Addison crossed her arms when her friend gazed at her reflection in the mirror, nose wrinkled.

"What!?" Addison snapped.

"I look like I have a gourd on my head. Get it? Gourd head?" With a small grin, Callie sat down.

"You better not steal my thunder today, Cal."

"You mean the way you stole mine by doing a drunken Thriller dance at my reception while I was trying to cut my cake?"

Narrowing her eyes, Addison retorted with, "I told you already! I got the hand signals mixed up! I thought you wanted me to distract everyone so you could make a getaway!"

"That doesnít explain why you toasted me in drunkenese."

Laughing, Melana checked her watch and announced that she was going to look in on the others, then hurried from the room. Addison gathered her skirt and sat beside her friend. "For someone whose husband is wearing his ring again ... you still look like heís not."

"Weíre not talking about me."

"Yes, we are." Addison put her hand on Callieís. "I know that Iíve been a mess lately. I know that Iíve been distracted and horrible to you, but I know you. Thereís something wrong. Is it Alex?"

"I forgave him."

"And?"

Callie chewed her bottom lip. "I didnít mean it. Not really. Heís been ... mean to me, you know? Heís called me names and yelled at me in front of everyone and ... he lied to me. He said heíd never leave me, that he wouldnít try to stop me from flying, and ... *he* didnít mean *that*."

"I know itís ridiculous to say it ... but this will pass. You know that, right?"

"No, I donít know." Callie finally looked at her friend. She wanted to tell her about the alcohol. She wanted to tell her that some part of her blamed Alex for that too because she was *fine* until Alex left her, but she couldnít because Raphael opened the door and smiled their way.

Getting to her feet, Callie accepted the kiss her father gave her and listened half heartedly when he complemented her and promised to kick her ass for the weight loss. She smoothed her skirt, then Addisonís and gave her a hug, whispering, "You look amazing, Addy. So beautiful. If you want to back out and run away with me then just start coughing and Iíll make a scene."

Addison wanted to smile at the joke, but Callie didnít. She didnít meet her eyes either. "Are you sure youíre -"

"Go get hitched, diva. Markís tired of waiting." Callie winked at her and left the room.

"Are you ready, honey?" Raphael asked, holding out his arm.

Addison took it and nodded. "Raph, how long are you staying in town?"

"Weíre going to be here the remainder of the week. We wanted to stay and celebrate the birth of the Wonder Twins." He referred to Callie and Cambyses, who were born on Halloween.

"Do you think you could stay until I get back?" Addison asked. "I know itís spur of the moment and you need to get back to work, but ... Iím worried about Callie."

"She has lost a considerable amount of weight again."

"Itís more than that," Addison told him as they headed down the hallway. "Sheís not herself."

"I see." They came around the corner and Raphael looked at Callie, who was leaning back against the wall, not laughing at whatever was amusing Meredith and Cristina. Her face told the tale. She was miserable. "Weíll stay."

"Showtime," Meredith announced as one of the wedding planners opened the double doors.

*~

Markís eyes widened to the size of saucers when the music swelled and Callie appeared in the doorway. Beside him, Alex smiled and stood a little taller to get a better view. She walked down the aisle looking as regal and majestic as Melana Torres on her *best* day and Melana seemed to know it because she had a hand over her heart as she watched her daughter sail past her and take her place. Alexís smile had faded by the time Meredith appeared. Callie had not looked his way *once*.

Meredith certainly looked their way. She gave Derek a dazzling smile and stood on the step below the one Callie stood on. Cristina looked miserable, uncomfortable, and self conscious as she did a half walk, half jog. Beside Derek, Burke chuckled and put a hand over his mouth, hiding his amusement behind a well executed cough. Finally, Addison appeared. Her dress had the same trumpet flounce as the bridesmaidís dresses and it was strapless as well, ivory, and covered in sequins. Her hair had been twisted into a complicated knot on the back of her head and the veil she wore was intricately designed with lace and ribbon.

Mark stopped breathing and Alex nudged him with his elbow to snap him out of it. It felt like the aisle got longer and she got further away and by the time she finally made it to his side, his palms were sweaty and he was breathing so hard that he was dizzy. When she smiled at him, he felt his heart stop ... or flip ... or both ... and he knew he was a goner. The words that he repeated after the minister were mechanical and precise. He heard her say her vows, knew that heíd said his as well, but the only thing he saw, as Raphael predicted, was the sincerity in her face. And he heard the raw honesty of her words. He hoped she felt the same as he spoke as well.

Bride and Groom rode high on their happiness as they posed for photo after photo. The professional photographer was insanely expensive and apparently well worth it because the inventive and *fun* ways that she posed Mr. and Mrs. Sloan held the promise of a lifetime of memories caught on film. The photoshoot lasted close to forty minutes, and then the bridal party headed to the large reception area.

"You look pretty. Skinny, but pretty." Alex took Callieís hand as they walked down the sidewalk. He didnít lace their fingers, something he always did. "Youíd be gorgeous if youíd smile, though."

"Thanks. I think."

He stopped walking, holding her back as the others went around them. When their friends disappeared into the large brick building, he said, "Iím gonna ask you again, Gothika. Are we okay? Because it doesnít feel okay. It feels like youíre a million miles from me."

"You certainly pushed me that far." She let out her breath slowly. If he only knew how far she had actually gone. She was angry at herself for drinking. She was. But she was *furious* at him for not seeing it on her face.

"And I apologized. Whatís it gonna take to make this right? All the way right and not just a little right."

"Time," she said.

"Time?"

"You were gone for close to three weeks. Thatís not a lot of time, but when youíre in Hell ... time seems to stop. It felt like three years. And ... I donít trust you right now."

Shocked at her words, Alex let her hand go. "You donít trust me. YOU donít trust ME? Hello? Which one of us has tried to commit suicide every single time something goes wrong?"

"Not you," she snapped. "Youíre too busy packing every single time something goes wrong."

"Bull shit!" he growled, madder than he could recall being. "I didnít budge when you were fucking up left and right. I stayed right beside you through the alcohol poisoning, through the damage to your liver, through *everything* ... so donít you dare stand there and act like three weeks is so horrible, by god, because anybody with half a fucking brain would have left your crazy ass a long time ago."

Recoiling as if he had hit her, Callie snatched her wedding rings off her finger and threw them at him. "Why wait another minute!?"

Alex bent to pick them up and when he stood, she was disappearing into the building and Cambyses was a few feet away, looking as thunderstruck as Alex felt. Slipping her rings onto his pinky, Alex straightened a little and stood his ground and six feet four of solid muscle stalked toward him. "Cam-"

But Cam walked past him and if looks could kill, Alex would have died on the spot.

*~

"Gin and tonic, right?"

Callie jumped when a man spoke behind her. She turned on her heel and gazed up at a vaguely familiar face. He was tall, easily as tall as Cambyses and his brown hair was clipped short. Underneath the crisp white shirt he wore, the outline of a wifebeater was evident and his broad, muscular shoulders filled out the shirt in all the right places. It took her a second to place him. He was the guy who had sent her the gin and tonic at Rayís Steakhouse that had sealed her downward spiral. She gave him a tense smile and shook her head when he lowered the tray full of champagne glasses he was carrying. "No, thanks."

"Let me guess, youíre not into waiters." He extended his free hand. "Iím Randy. And that actually is my name. Iím not telling you that Iím horny."

"I bet *all* the ladies fall for that." She laughed, shaking her head and his hand. "Callie."

"You - you probably hear this a lot, but you may be the most beautiful woman Iíve ever seen. Would you like to -"

"Iím married." Callie pulled her hand out of his when he clung to it a little too long. "But thank you."

Randy openly gazed at her left hand. "No rings? With friends like the people around here ... he should be able to afford a ring."

"It didnít go with my dress," she lied, then spotted her parents watching her. "It was nice to meet you Randy whoís not horny. I should go."

"Iíll see you around."

Callie could feel his eyes on her as she walked around the dance floor, where Addison and Mark were trying to act out the final scene of ĎDirty Dancingí and failing miserably. She decided to stay nearby just in case Mark actually did the lift and broke something in Addisonís body when he inevitably dropped her. He was *not* coordinated when it came to dancing.

"Who is that man?" Melana asked, narrowing her eyes in Randyís direction.

"A waiter." Callie dared a look behind her and saw that the man was still watching her with interest. It made her feel uncomfortable. And dirty. She chalked it up to him being a reminder of the way she had betrayed everyone, especially herself, and let her father lead her toward the table where dinner was being served.

"Heís weird," Melana said, still staring at Randy. "Do you know him?"

"No." With a shake of her head, she let her father seat her beside Addisonís chair. She thanked him and smiled when Addison flopped down beside her, winded. "I told you to start jogging with me, Addy. Youíd be able to dance without looking like a sixty year old chain smoker at the Boston marathon if you did."

"Bite me," Addison replied, spreading a napkin over her lap. "Are you still singing?"

"Do you want me to?"

"Duh! Yes! I spent *weeks* picking that song."

"Then Iím still singing." Callie lifted her own napkin and toyed with the ring that held it in place. Her left hand felt too heavy, too bare for her to even look at it.

Alex slipped into the chair beside Callie and put his hand on the back of it. He glared at her for a few seconds, then leaned a little closer as the first course was served. "I didnít mean what I said."

"You never do."

"Callie, I canít -"

"Youíre right. You canít. So shut up."

"Donít tell me to shut up!" Alex snapped, his voice carrying. "Youíre about to piss me off."

"Iím too crazy to care. Remember?"

"Stop it." Melana, who was sitting beside Alex, moved back in her chair and looked at her daughter, shaking her head. "You two donít want to start. Not today. You will *not* ruin Addisonís wedding."

Alex apologized under his breath and picked up his fork, pushing around the shrimp on his plate. He noticed that Callie was doing the same thing beside him.

*~

Addison swayed in Markís arms, gazing up at him. The smile on his face did funny things to her insides and she doubted that the two glasses of wine sheíd had during dinner had anything to do with it. It was him. It was being near him. It was calling him her *husband*, which had brought the smile to his face to begin with. "I love you," she said.

He kissed her nose, her mouth. "I love you, too, Mrs. Sloan."

"Montgomery-Sloan."

"Aww, Addison, come on!"

"Mark, I have been *published* under Montgomery. I canít lose that."

"Then get published as Sloan." He brushed his thumb over the pearls against her throat. "Baby, please?"

He stepped on her toe for the millionth time and she grinned. "Iíll think about it."

"Weíre going to *Greece*." He picked her up so that her feet couldnít touch the ground as he continued to rock back and forth. "Athens, here we come."

"We are *so* snorkeling in the Mediterranean Sea."

"And the Sea of Crete," Mark said. "Which Iím pretty sure is rumored to have a nude beach."

She shook her head. "I am not spending my honeymoon watching you lust over nubile Greek women with perfect tits."

"Iíll be too busy lusting over yours." He looked down at her cleavage with appreciation. "Letís leave now."

"What!? No!" She popped him on the shoulder. "Callieís singing the last song before I throw the bouquet and then we can go!"

"Well, tell her to start singing, then."

Addison checked his watch and nodded. "It is almost time. Iíll go remind her."

Callie was sitting at the dinner table, alone. Addison frowned when she saw the look on the other womanís face. "Are you chickening out?"

"What?"

"The song? Itís almost time for us to jump on your dadís jet and - youíre not wearing your rings. Callie, why are you-"

"Singing now." Callie got to her feet and pushed her chair under the table. "Are you gonna dance?"

"What are you doing?" Addison shook her head. "You are terrifying me. Cal. I donít understand this. I donít understand what youíre thinking or -"

"Iím thinking that your wedding was beautiful and what Iím doing ... is singing you on your way." Callie hugged her. "Youíll love Greece."

"No, I wonít. Iíll spend the entire time worrying about you."

"Well, thatís a waste of time." Callie kissed her cheek. "Worry makes you ugly. Mark doesnít want an ugly bride."

"What happened? Please tell me."

"Alex and I are on a break."

"But -"

The music stopped and the DJ grabbed the mic, urging Callie to take the stage. She gave Addison a smile and headed across the dance floor. Alex stood off to one side, watching her, but she ignored him. At the piano, she flipped the microphone on and took a deep breath. She had planned something witty and fun to say, but her mind was a blank. Her life ... was a blank. "From Addison to Mark. With Love."

Callie launched into ĎCome Away With Meí by Norah Jones, keeping her eyes closed as her fingers sailed over the keys. She knew she sang it well, she knew that she delivered it with conviction and sold the words. But she didnít feel a love song, she didnít want to sing a love song.

What Callie Karev wanted was a drink.

When the song ended and people clapped enthusiastically for her, she took a small bow and left the stage. Her mouth was watering again and her hands had started to shake. Despite how cool the room was, she felt a bead of sweat slip down her back and her eyes strayed to the many, many wine glasses that dotted every available surface. Most of them were half full ... or half empty depending on how you looked at it. She gripped the back of a chair as she watched Addison throw the bouquet and then she was hugging her friend goodbye and Addison was promising to call her.

The DJ was still spinning and Cristina and Burke were showing everyone in the vicinity what real dancers looked like when Sydney approached Callie. She was staggering and carried two wine glasses in her hands. When she stopped in front of Callie, she tipped one back, then belched loudly. Alex, who was standing a few feet away talking to Cam, Melana, and Raphael, turned and glanced their way.

"Syd, what are you doing?" Callie reached for other glass in her hand.

"GET YOUR OWN!" Sydney shouted, shoving Callieís hand away. "I know what you did! You talked to the Chief about me! You let him know what I told you. Privately. You even suggested that he make a *co* Chief. Iím a *co* Chief now, Callie OíMalley!"

"Iím not an OíMalley," Callie told her, watching the other woman down the second glass of wine. In that moment, Callie envied that Sydney could openly and completely lose herself in the bottom of a bottle and no one bothered stopping her. "You told me -"

"YOU TOLD ME NOT TO TELL ABOUT YOU AND I DIDNíT!" Sydneyís voice was usually loud, but now it was booming. It was so overpowering that people in the middle of the pulsing dance floor were turning to look at the source.

"Donít-" Callie began.

"DONíT WHAT!?" Sydney shouted. She looked over her shoulder at Alex. "DONíT TELL HIM ABOUT THE BENDER WE HAD THE OTHER NIGHT!? THE ONE WHERE YOU GOT SO DRUNK THAT YOU COULDNíT DRIVE AND HAD TO SPEND THE NIGHT AT THE HOSPITAL. THAT ONE?"

A feather could have knocked Callie over. Sydney continued to ramble about the many shots that Callie had taken, about the way they had both nearly gotten hit by a car because Callie fell into traffic and took Sydney with her, and then Raphael was gripping Callieís arm like a vise and pulling her into an empty sitting room. It was Melana who slammed the door after Alex and Cam followed and it hit so hard that two large paintings fell into the floor. Callieís eyes were riveted to the Virgin Mary who was staring upward, seemingly looking into Callieís soul.

"Is it true?" Melana demanded. "Is it?!"

Callie didnít speak.

"ANSWER HER!" Raph bellowed. "DID YOU!?"

With a nod, Callie walked to the window and stared out. Addison was climbing into the limo, making a secret getaway while everyone was still busy. For a moment, she thought the red head saw her, but then Addison was gone and Callie was wishing that she was locked away in the trunk. She drowned out the voices behind her, finally putting her hands over her ears when Melana began to yell in Greek.

Cam pushed her arms down and forced her to listen.

"Why in the hell did you do this? WHY!?" Raphaelís tone was so commanding that Melana was silenced in mid tirade. "You *know* that you have a problem! You know that your liver is --- explain yourself! SAY SOMETHING, CALLIOPE!"

"Thereís nothing to say." Callie still didnít look anyone in the eye. "Itís done. I - I canít take it back."

Alex rubbed a hand over his face. He had been unable to find his voice until he heard hers. "Have you had your liver checked since then?"

She nodded. "Twice."

"And?"

"Itís fine." Callie looked at him, then back at the floor. His expression devastated her. It was full of loathing, just like she had known it would be. "And Iíve been to a meeting since then."

"Only one?" Alex snapped. "You did this a few days ago. You were hungover that day in the chapel, werenít you? Thatís why you were -"

"Yes, but -"

"Then why did you just go to one meeting? They have several a day and -"

"I --- bought a bottle of bourbon yesterday morning when I got off work and I had this battle of wills with it for a while and then I went to a meeting and poured it out."

"BOURBON ALMOST KILLED YOU!" Cambyses shouted, grabbing her arms and shaking her. It was so rough that Callieís teeth clattered together and she bit her tongue, crying out. He didnít relent. "HAVE YOU LOST YOUR FUCKING MIND!?"

"STOP!" Alex moved between them, pushing Cam away from her. He absently touched the red marks that Cambyses had left on her upper arms, then tilted her chin, forcing her to look at him. His nostrils flared, his cheeks were flushed, and his voice was hard. "I am ashamed of you and I never thought Iíd say that."

Callie watched in horror as her husband stalked out of the room. Cam followed behind him, not looking back, not saying a word. Feeling like she was carrying the weight of the world, Callie slumped into the nearest chair and buried her forehead in her hands. The tears that she had been swallowing back for most of the day came rushing out and for a while, she was grateful that her parents were uncharacteristically quiet. She lifted her head after a few minutes had passed. She wanted to look them in the eye when she apologized.

The room was empty.


They had left her, too.

She sobbed now and it echoed around the silent room, vibrating through her like a drum. There was a sofa in the corner and she curled up on it, her knees pulled against her chest. She had no idea how much time elapsed, but when she looked back at the window ... it was dark outside. The music had stopped in the other room and she rolled over, putting her feet in the floor. Her tears started all over again, unbidden, and she leaned her head against the arm of the couch.

Then warm, strong arms wrapped around her and she said, "Alex - Iím -"

"Itís Randy."

She gasped and sat back, gazing at the man in shock. "What are you -"

"Comforting a pretty woman."

"I have to go."

"Go? Whatís the hurry."

"I need to get home and -"

When he pulled her against him again, he copped a feel, openly grasping her breast. She shoved him and he *laughed*, grabbing her wrist as he wrenched the top of her dress down. Her decision not to wear a bra left her exposed and *furious*. He roughly gripped her flesh, tugging, bruising, and she slapped him. He retaliated with a head butt to her face that forced her to see stars ... and him ... swimming in and out of her vision as he got to his feet and pulled a knife from the front pocket of his pants.

"Easy or hard? Vanilla or chocolate? You get to decide, sweet thing." He slid the knife between her breasts, then down to the cloth of her dress. "Letís see what the rest of you looks like."

"NO!" Callie punched him, sending him sprawling on his ass. She leaped to her feet and tried to jump over him, but he gripped her leg and dug the knife into her tender calf. The pain took her breath and prevented her from screaming. She choked on the sound and gagged on the blood that was running from her nose into her mouth.

"Hard, then," he told her, pushing her onto her stomach. The knife rubbed over her cheek as he tried to lift the bottom of her dress.

She elbowed him in the stomach, crawling to her knees, then her feet. She stumbled, her injured leg buckling under her. The blade sliced her ankle and she tried to scream, tried to rage, but the pain was almost unbearable and she could not make a sound.

Randy caught the end of her dress as she made a frantic dash for the door. It ripped at the waist, exposing her hip. Callie grabbed a lamp off the table and threw it at him, but he ducked fast and laughed again. Limping, she put the table between them, glancing at the door. If she tried to run -

"You ainít gonna make it," he told her, running the blade between his fingers to clean it. "Now, I donít want to ruin your pretty face, but I will."

The casual way he promised to destroy her sent fire racing through her veins. She drew herself to her full height and said, "Try it, asshole."

He leaped across the table, reaching for her. She ducked under him and raced to the back door, flinging it open. There was a small courtyard with round patio furniture and the parking lot was just around the corner. She opened her mouth and screamed, but it barely took flight because Randy tackled her from behind. With her wind knocked out, she couldnít fight him as she turned her onto her back and punched her. She lost count of the blows, lost track of the pain. Then the knife was at her throat and he was trying again to lift her dress and she was kicking with everything she had.

Callie brought her knee up into his crotch as hard as she could and it was *his* scream that was loud and clear. She had expected him to roll off her, but she wasnít so lucky. His pain seemed to renew his efforts and he snatched at her hair and she was convinced he was scalping her. She clawed at his face then bit into his chest hard enough to bring blood. He howled and slammed a fist into her gut. She drew inward, trying to get her lungs to fill with air and then someone shouted nearby and there was a flash of black, a flash of Latte and then more screams ... of outrage.

Then ... silence.


*~*~*~

Miranda Bailey became a doctor for the money. Thatís all there was to it. She had been smart enough to get a full ride to any school she wanted and she thought about going into law for a split second, then her father started calling her Doctor ĎRanda and medical school won out. She aced her exams, graduated top of the class, and buried her father just two short weeks after he had beamed at her from the front row. It made her feel helpless at the time, watching him bleed to death after a car had mowed him down right in the busy street she had grown up on. She was a helpless *daughter* who could not save a life, no matter how much schooling she had. He had been mortally wounded.

Now, at this moment, she was a helpless *doctor* who couldnít shut off the woman in her brain long enough to think clearly. Callie had not woken up yet and rape kits were hard on everyone involved, but Miranda had only done two in her entire medical career and one of those had been a practice run. She needed Addison. She needed Addison Montgomery to walk through the door, put on gloves, and do the kit correctly because you only got one shot to collect everything ... and Miranda was terrified that she would blow it. She also needed consent, so she shook Callie again, gently saying her name.

Chief Webber still worked on the two wounds to Callieís leg. He had decided that she would not require surgery, but as Miranda watched him stitch it, she thought that Callie would likely need an amputation before all was said and done because the Chiefís hands were shaking and he was moving slowly because of it. He caught her looking at him and said, "Did someone find Alex?"

"Not yet," she replied. "Can I get consent from her brother?"

"You want to get consent from someone who just committed murder?" Webber shook his head. "The police are still with him. Leave him alone."

"It was self defense," Bailey said. "Everyone saw it. When her parents get here, Iíll get them to sign everything."

"Or you can just do the exam. We need to know. The police need to know."

"Yes, sir."

"OíMalley is the only familiar face on duty right now. Do you want him to help?"

"No. Just send a couple of nurses in."

Miranda watched as he finished up Callieís leg and left the room. She shook her friend again and said, "DAMN IT! WAKE UP, GIRL!"

Callie complied, jumping three feet off the bed. "Alex-"

"Itís me." Miranda smiled at her, keeping her voice much calmer than she felt. "Can you remember what happened?"

Callieís head was a jumble of flashes and strange images until Randyís face emerged from the tangle and she pushed herself upright, opening her mouth to scream as pain shot through every inch of her. Bailey impulsively hugged her, soothing her the way Melana had when Callie would barrel into the master bedroom room after a nightmare as a littel girl. "What-"

"This is important," Bailey said, easing back to look at the other woman. "Did he rape you?"

"He - he tried." Callie stared down at her hands. She was missing several finger nails. "I - I fought."

"I can see." Miranda took one of her hands, so relieved that she could have sunk to the floor in prayer. "Iím not Mark Sloan so my stitches need a little work, but -"

"What happened? I mean - who helped me?"

"We can talk about all that later," Miranda replied, easing away. "Because of the nature of this assault, we need to still do the kit, Callie. You werenít conscious when you came in and itís possible that he - that you -"

"Okay."

"Do you want me to get someone for you? I know that Meredith and Cristina are here. Izzieís out there, too. Sheís the one stopped the bleeding on your leg at the scene." Bailey saw that none of the choices were the ones she wanted. "Weíre still trying to get in touch with your parents."

"Alex?"

"We left a message."

"Iíll be okay with just you."

The nurses that Bailey requested came in and Callie tried to get out of the bed. Miranda told them to leave and gently eased Callie back. "You relax. Iíll do this as fast as I can."

Callie nodded.

Miranda pulled on gloves and opened the kit, taking out several vials and swabs. "The last person I did a routine pelvic exam on was Addison. She had poison ivy on her ... hee haw ... and -"

Callie tuned her out, gazing out the window at the black sky. It had started to rain and water dotted the glass. She could hear thunder rumbling in the distance and she gripped the bedclothes as Bailey began the exam. Callie figured that the thunder was God, reminding her that lacking a fear gene wasnít always smart. Because someone bigger, badder, and stronger had given her a comeuppance.

And finally clipped her wings.

*~

Melana had changed out of her wedding attire, opting for jeans and a sweater. She rushed into the front doors of Seattle Grace with a frantic expression on her face. The call from Cristina had been taken by Raphael, who grabbed her shoes and his wallet and half carried her to the car. He refused to tell her what had been said, only that something had happened. Melanaís mind raced as only a motherís could. She imagined Callie, poisoned by alcohol again. What she *saw*, however, was Cambyses, covered in blood, a stark white bandage against his face, and she broke into a sprint. "Cam!"

He caught his mother as she flung herself at him, trying to feel every inch of him for injuries. "Iím okay."

Raphael, who had been delayed by parking the car, hurried to his wifeís side, pausing to take in the carnage around him. Cristina and Meredith were sitting side by side against the wall, both looking like extras in a horror movie. Their Latte dresses had been stained with blood and beside them, Izzie Stevens stood with her arms crossed over her chest. The bottom of her dress was ripped, revealing most of her leg, and both of her hands were crimson. "Where is -"

"Theyíre working on her," Cam replied.

"Who? Is - Callie -"

Cam opened his mouth to speak, but Alex ran through the double doors and drew up short when he saw everyone. Cam motioned for him and Alex hurried to their side. "What happened to her? They said there was an accident. Is she - was it the car?"

"No." Cam ran a hand over his face. "She was attacked. She was, uh, raped. We think."

Melana sat down in a chair and Izzie hurried to her side, kneeling beside her and speaking in a soft, low voice. Raphael put an arm around Alex, who swayed on the spot, and said, "Is she - what are -"

"The only thing theyíre saying is that sheís lost a lot of blood." Cam looked at the officerís behind him. "God, I donít know how to say this. I went back to check on her because I didnít feel right about how we left it. I saw that her car was still at the church and I looked around for a while and then checked the room we had been in. It was locked. I heard her scream and knocked it down and ... Meredith and Derek were there. Callie had run outside and that guy ... he was on top of her, he was trying to kill her. Before all was said and done ... he cut Derek and then came at me and ... well ... it was the last mistake he made."

"You ... killed him, son?" Raphael looked horrified.

"I got the knife away from him and - yeah, Dad, I killed him. And Iíd do it again. If you had been there to see it -" Cam shivered. "I called Blake. I know you wanted him to stay and handle things for the week, but -"

"Itís fine." Raphael touched his sonís arm. "And what do the police say?"

"They know it was self defense, Dad. There are more than ten witnesses." Cambyses reached down and clasped Alexís shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Alex couldnít form words at all.

Bailey took a deep breath as she peered through the door at the family. Straightening her jacket, she stiffened her upper lip and headed out to talk to them. "Would the family please come with me?"

She didnít object when Yang, Grey, and Stevens filed in behind the actual relatives. The Angry Woman Club was two members short, but the anger rolling off the remaining three was palpable. And justified. So she let them come along. When they were all seated in a secluded family room, Miranda sat down beside Alex and took his hand. "How much do you know?"

"Enough. How is she?"

"Sheís awake," Miranda replied. "The stab wound to her calf wonít need surgery. The one on her ankle was really close to the tendon, but we donít see any damage there that canít mend on its own. She --- she was *not* raped."

Everyone cried out their relief and Miranda raised a hand to silence them. "She did take a beating, though. I need you all to be prepared for that. Stay calm. If you fall apart then she will fall apart and thus far ... she hasnít. At all. Be gentle and donít crowd her. Donít grab her hands, either, because I had to stitch both and -"

"He cut her hands?" Cristina demanded. "Her surgeon hands!?"

Bailey shook her head. "No. She fought him. She fought for her life. Sheís missing a few fingernails and the backs of her hands were split open, either by his teeth or by the force of the blows. She may not want to be touched. Donít try to force her to talk about it or ask her a lot of questions. Sheís holding up okay, but sheís jumpy. The slightest noise startles her."

"Does she know what I did?" Cam asked. "Because before she blacked out she saw me. She saw ... it."

"She hasnít talked to me about it," Bailey replied. "She hasnít really talked at all. And thatís not uncommon, but weíre going to have someone from the rape crisis center come and see her ... maybe help her deal."

"Can we see her?" Alex got to his feet.

Bailey nodded and looked at Meredith. "You wait here. Iíll let Burke know where you are. Heís almost finished with Derekís surgery and heíll be in to talk to you soon." She watched Cam get to his feet and shook her head. "You need to clean up before you visit her. Iím sorry, but she doesnít need to see you looking like that. Stevens, show him where the spare scrubs are and let him use the residentís locker room. Callieís in seven twelve."

Cam accompanied the blond without complaint. Bailey nodded at Callieís family and said, "Follow me."

She led them to a large corner room in the ER, the biggest and most private that the hospital had. It was reserved for massive traumas. Turning, she took a deep breath. "She asked about showering. We can get some waterproof bandages for her leg, but with the blood loss ... weíre concerned about her standing for too long. Her blood pressure hasnít stabilized yet. So, if she needs to go to the restroom or insists on showering ... someone has to stay with her."

Alex nodded and opened the door. His wife was sitting on the bed with her legs pulled against her chest. Her face was down and he was struck, reminded of one of the first times he had really talked to her. She had been crying in the residentís lounge and when he peered inside, she was sitting on the window ledge in the same exact position. He said her name and she looked up, causing him to stop walking toward her from the shock. He had seen trauma. He had witnessed it firsthand as a child when his mother would crawl on her hands and knees to the bathroom to clean the blood from her face. He had iced her bruises, covered her eyes when they were swollen shut ... but seeing Callie this way ... he wasnít able to move at all until she lowered her head again, shielding the worst of the injuries from his view. Not seeing the carnage broke the spell and he hurried to her side. "Baby -"

"Iím okay," she said, her head still down.

Melana wiped the tears off her own face before she eased to Callieís other side and said, "Do you want something to drink? Some water? Juice?"

Callie didnít reply.

"Why donít you lie down, mi vida?" Mel continued. "You need to rest and -"

"It hurts," Callie replied. "My back."

Alex peered around her. The gown she wore was untied and he could see a couple of bruises. He gently eased one of the flaps to the side and Callie practically leapt off the bed. "Whoa." He held his hands up. "Iím sorry. Iím sorry."

Melana had grabbed her before she could jump too far. Wordlessly, she pulled her a little closer and kissed her cheek, holding her daughter against her chest. "Can you lie on your side?"

Callie shook her head. "I donít want to. Whereís Cam?"

"Heís coming, Mija." Raphael finally turned toward her. He had taken one brief look at her and gone to the window instead. The wounds he had inflicted on people paled in comparison and he was a *professional*. "Do you need something for the pain, kitten?"

"I donít want it." Even as Callie said it, her mother released her and the shift caused her to cry out in agony.

"You need it," Alex told her, trying to help her get comfortable.

She flinched away from him when he touched her knee. "Donít."

He put his hands in the pockets of his pants. The urge to touch her, all of her, to see the damage for himself, was simply too great otherwise. "Callie, is there anything I can -"

"You donít have to be here," she replied.

"I want to be here."

"Weíre not okay," she told him.

"Iím not going anywhere. And weíre fine, Cal. We are."

She put her head back on her knees, praying that the pain would stop. It wasnít fine. She wasnít fine and her marriage wasnít fine. Alex had made it clear that a *sane* man would have left her and that he was ashamed of her. She didnít look up again until Cambyses walked in and rushed to her side. She didnít have to ask. She knew. She simply knew that what she thought she saw was the truth. He had removed the source of her injuries. Patting the side of the bed, she reached up and touched his cheek when he sat down. "You killed him."

"I didnít want to. Well, yeah, I did, but I didnít - he came at me." Cam reached up and pulled a couple of bobby pins from her hair. Melanaís hands joined his and they quickly freed it, letting her black locks fall in soft waves around her shoulders. "Now youíre Callie. That up-do was *so* not you. Made you look old."

Saying nothing, Callie leaned forward, her head on her brotherís shoulder. It hurt, when he pulled her a little closer, but she said nothing. She stayed that way and when the nurse arrived to offer her the medications that the Chief had ordered ... Cam told her to take it and she did.

She fell asleep still upright against his shoulder.

And he didnít listen when everyone told him to let her go. He clung to her the same way he had years before, when they were ten years old and sank their uncleís yacht. He clung to her like she was his lifeline.

Because she was.

*~*~

"Melana Torres wins at *life*!" Mark announced, when Addison emerged from the airplane bathroom wearing a solid white lingerie set that left nothing to the imagination. He gazed at his wifeís milky thighs, where her stockings were held in place by garters that were diamond studded. His eyes moved hungrily over her body, pausing at the exposed patch of her belly below her corset. Holding up his finger, he motioned for her to turn around. She complied and he leaped from the bed when he saw the thong she wore. "Melana is also a dirty, dirty woman. Best damn wedding present we got!"

Addison cackled with glee when he tossed her onto the bed. "Airplane sex! Mile high club here we come!"

"Not just any old airplane," Mark said, climbing up her body, peppering her with kisses. "A gazillion dollar plane with a *vibrating* bed!"

Her eyes widened when he flipped a switch and the bed hummed to life. "This is where Callie gets her perversion."

"Are you kidding? The pilot told me the bed was new. Melana slept on the one like it on Goon Docks and it rocked her world." Mark kissed her on the forehead. "Are you going to let me take this off, Mrs. Sloan?"

"I really want to hyphenate it, Mark."

"Hyphenating it means that there is something between us."

"It does not!" Addy replied, running her foot up his bare leg.

"Yes, it does." He moved to one side to prevent her from distracting him. "It means that there is a minus sign after your name ... which implies that you can subtract me from your life any time."

"Now thatís just ridiculous."

"You married me! That means -"

"We talked about this already!"

"Right, we *talked* about it. Nowís when we decide," he snapped. "Either weíre together in name ... and everything else ... or weíre not."

She groaned. "Are you threatening to divorce me already?"

"Itís not a real marriage unless you-"

"Ooooh!" She pushed him completely off her and got to her feet. "You are acting like a damn caveman! This is -"

"And youíre acting like a damn femi-Nazi who-"

"Did you just call me a Nazi!?" She picked up the pillow and hit him with it. "I am so glad this plane has two bedrooms! Get the hell out!"

"Youíre already on your feet. You get the hell out." He snatched the pillow from her hand and put it behind his head, making a show of plumping it. "You want equality or whatever? Fine. Keep your damn name. I donít care. But donít ask me to do anything *manly* for you because you not taking my last name is emasculating!"

Addison grabbed a pair of flannel pajamas from her overnight bag and stalked out of the room. For thirty minutes, she paced the length of the second bedroom, which only contained a twin bed, waiting for him to come and apologize. When he didnít, she picked up the cabin phone and dialed Callieís cell. It rang several times and then went to voice mail. "Hey, itís me. God. We didnít even make it to the actual honeymoon before we had our first married fight. I donít know whether to choke him or toss his ass off the plane. If I turn that big handle on the door will it suck us all out or just him? ĎCause I can fix it so heís standing there. I wish you were here, Cal. I miss you already. The next trip I take ... itís you and me. Love you. Call me. Bye."

*~*~*~*~*~
CH 4
Derek awoke with a groan, holding up his bandaged arm. The knife had entered on the underside, just above the elbow. For good measure, he flexed his fingers and gripped the bedrail, breathing a sigh of relief when he realized that there was no nerve damage. He felt everything he touched and he could see that his grip was firm.

"Youíre awake," Meredith said as she entered the room. She looked at his arm, then his face and burst into tears. "You scared the hell out of me!"

"Iím sorry," he told her, tilting his head to one side as he watched her. Holding out his uninjured hand, he beckoned her forward and pulled her against his chest. "Better?"

"Maybe."

"Howís Callie?"

"They said she wasnít raped."

"Oh, thank God. I wasnít sure. It looked ... well, you saw it, too."

"Yeah, I did." Meredith lifted her skirt a few inches and climbed into the bed beside him. "I donít want to go to sleep. I think Iíll keep seeing it."

"How do my shoes fit?" Derek asked.

"Huh?"

He pulled her a little closer. "What you feel right now. Thatís exactly how I felt when I saw you floating in Elliot Bay. When you drowned ... I didnít want to go to sleep because every time I closed my eyes ... I saw your face. It was blue and you werenít breathing."

She sniffled and looked up at him. "Letís make a deal. I wonít get near the water again if you wonít be a knight in shining whatever ... ever."

"I accept that deal." He kissed her forehead. "Howís Alex?"

"I passed by the chapel while ago. He was in there with his head in Melanaís lap ... heís devastated."

"Iím so glad we heard Callie scream. If we hadnít been there-"

"We were." Meredith put her hand against his chest, feeling his heartbeat. "Cambyses ... he killed him."

"Cam is dead!?"

"No! Cam killed the man. You were knocked out by then."

Cristina knocked and poked her head in, looking grim. She had taken her hair down and was wearing Burkeís bloody tux jacket over her soiled dress. Cristina had been the first to get to Callie. While Derek had tackled the man, she had dropped to her knees beside her friend and tried to mop up as much blood as possible. It had terrified her when Callie lost consciousness. Burke had joined the fight and was busily tending to Derek and Cambyses by the time Izzie appeared. The blond had thought fast ... ripping her own skirt to make a field dressing for Callieís leg. Frazzled and exhausted, Cristina looked at Derek and said, "How do you feel?"

Derek smiled at her. "Iím okay. Have you seen Cal?"

"Sheís sleeping. Webber sedated her ... and Mel sedated Alex, too. Just now."

Meredith sat up beside Derek, pushing her hair back. "What -"

"Apparently Callie drank again and they all said some stuff to her before the attack so theyíre feeling pretty small and sheís not letting anyone except Cam near her." Cristina massaged her forehead. "I told Callie the other day that she was like a bad storm cloud and -"

"Stop." Meredith shook her head. "We were all pretty pissed and stand offish after the air show. I mean ... Alex called me a secretive asshole and I blamed her just as much as he did."

"This sucks." Cristinaís mood improved significantly when Burke walked in. He was dressed in the same dark blue scrubs he had always favored and his lucky scrub cap. While he was currently employed at Mercy West, Webber had made the exception to let him operate on Derek.

He pulled Cristina into his arms and gave her a kiss. "You ready to go home?"

"I havenít seen you in this outfit in a really, really long time."

"Over a year, but whoís counting?" Burke pushed her hair back and smiled at Derek. "How are you?"

"Iím good. Thank you. You saved my career."

"There are a lot of heroes tonight, man. A lot."

*~*~*~*~*~

Addison woke with a start, then frowned when she saw the reason why. The cute little flight attendant, blond and petite and giggly, was shaking her. Sitting up, Addison checked her watch. The attendant, appropriately named Bianca, gave her a wide, sparkling smile. "Weíre approaching Greece. Youíll need to take your seat and strap in soon, maíam."

"Thank you." Addison waited for the girl to leave, then hastily crossed the hall. The master bedroom was empty and Markís bag was no longer in the corner of the room. She gathered her own bag and pulled out casual slacks and a sweater, then quickly dressed and brushed her teeth. She carried her repacked satchel into the main cabin to store in the overhead and narrowed her eyes.

Her Ďhusbandí was watching a movie on the big screen television while he openly flirted with Bianca, who was seated beside him. The girl shot to her feet when she saw Addison and rambled off several breakfast choices. Addison chose a bagel and juice as she stowed her bag. Mark had gotten to his feet so she could slide into the spot beside him, but she stalked further up the aisle, taking a seat with her back to him. He chuckled behind her and went back to his movie.

Bianca brought out the food and glanced back and forth between the newlyweds. "My husband and I couldnít sit close enough together when we got married."

Addison noted the lack of a ring on her garishly manicured hand. "How long have you been married?"

"We were married for eleven months, but we got divorced."

"Maybe you should have sat apart." Addison turned her attention to the window.

"Donít mind her," Mark said. "Sheís a red headed she-devil."

Addison peered around the seat at him. "And youíre an old fashioned prude. Do I need to mention your reaction to handcuffs?"

"Only if I mention that for a modern woman ... you sure get off on being spanked like a naughty little girl."

"Donít talk to me."

"My pleasure."

Bianca smiled. "Are you *sure* youíre not blood related to the Torres family? You sound just like them."

The landing in Greece went smoothly. The pilot turned on the intercom and told them all about the scenery as they approached. It was like a history lesson in mid air and his wealth of knowledge was as impressive as the view. Addison gasped so many times that she was lightheaded from it. They left the plane, Mark carrying his suitcase, Addison carrying both of hers and the overnight bag. He didnít offer to help her. She alternated between pushing and pulling the largest of the two until an insanely attractive older man in a suit hurried forward, saying, "Addison?"

She stopped walking and blew a strand of hair off her forehead. "Iím sorry. Do I -"

"Iím Demitri Karakas." The man extended his hand. "Melanaís brother. She described you perfectly."

"Oh! Hi!" Addison clasped his hand, beaming at him. His black hair was shot through with gray and fell to his shoulders in curls. She briefly thought of Yanni. "So, everyone in your family has great hair, huh?"

Demitri smiled and touched his flyaway curls. "Itís only great when itís on someone else, my dear. How was your flight?"

"Long." Addison hefted her overnight bag again. "And exhausting."

The old man frowned and glanced toward the limo he had exited. Mark was standing behind it, handing over his luggage to the chauffer who had been wielding a sign that read ĎSloaní. "I mean no offense, Red Robin, but if all men in America leave their women to carry the luggage ... why are they able to entice such beautiful brides?"

"Loverís quarrel." Addison let the man lift her luggage and followed along behind him. "He seems to take offense to me keeping my name."

"Did he love you with the old name?"

"Yes."

"Then he should love you with or without his. Shall I break one of his bones to remind him?"

Addison laughed. "You sound just like Melana."

"Where do you think she learned it?"

After Addison introduced Demitri to Mark, the three settled into the back of the limo. Addison politely answered all of the manís questions about Callie and her brothers and showed him several photos of his niece that were on her phone. Demi entertained them with stories of Callieís youth and her many trips to visit him ... some without her parentís knowledge. As they made their way along the coastline, Demi pointed out various landmarks. Almost forty minutes later, they arrived at a large gate and Addison rolled the window down to get a better view of the place where Melana had grown up.

The house was even bigger than the Torres home in Miami. Parts of it looked modern, but most of it looked like castle. "The oldest part of the house was built in the eighteen fifties," Demi said. "Over the years weíve added on, but weíve never torn down the original structure. Most of the architecture has remained the way our ancestors envisioned it."

"Itís amazing," Addison said, breathing in the smell of the sea. "How many siblings does Melana have?"

"Eight. All brothers."

"Whoa!" Mark shook his head. "Nine kids?"

"Three sets of twins," Demi replied politely. The way he regarded Mark implied that he still had not forgotten the luggage. "Unfortunately only myself and Xenos, the youngest, are here in Greece. Our family has spread far and wide. Heís hoping to come and visit with you if his schedule permits. Neither of us reside here at Bountyís Keep so apart from the staff, youíll have the place to yourselves."

They finally arrived in front of the house and Addison smiled at the many people who had come to stand on the rough, stone steps. There were at least fifteen in all. The chauffer opened the door and a tall, lanky man with the most crooked nose Addy had ever seen stepped forward and bowed so low that she wondered if the tip of his nose scraped the ground. "Maíam," he said, "I am Barnacle, head butler. Itís a pleasure to meet you."

Addison shook his hand and watched him greet Mark in the same manner. "Youíre not from Greece. Your accent sounds New England. Are you a Gloucester man?"

"Born and raised," Barnacle told her. "Are you from there?"

"New York, but we vacationed in Massachusetts every year. Youíre a long way from home."

"No, maíam." He shook his head. "It took retirement from the fishing industry to bring me home. Please, let me introduce the staff."

They came forward one by one for the introductions. There were five housekeepers, several gardeners, and four cooks who were dressed in full Chef attire. Two masseuses were introduced last, both male, and Addison wondered what Callie thought of the Greek Gods. They were both giants, both cut, and both too gorgeous to put into words. She couldnít wait to see if their fingers were as talented as they were charming.

Demitri apologized after the introductions were completed, saying that he had to get back to his office for an important phone call. He hugged Addison, shook Markís hand, and climbed back into the limo. Willa, the head housekeeper, led the newlyweds inside the house, chattering with a thick Greek accent about everything under the sun. She was very short, very round, and wore a standard gray uniform with a white apron, which she nervously twisted in her plump fists.

"We donít get very many visitors," she said, looking back and forth between them. "Iíve been working here for over forty years so if you need anything at all ... you need only ask. Please, may I give you a brief tour?"

"Certainly," Addison replied, watching as the gardeners carried their luggage up a sprawling staircase.

The brief tour wound up taking close to an hour as there was nothing brief about the house. The floors in the old structure were stone and the carvings inside the stone caused Addisonís high heels to nearly break her ankles. She finally slipped her shoes off just in time to sink into the thickest, plushest carpet she had ever dug her toes into. It felt like marshmallows and the color was shocking and beautiful at the same time. Everything in the family room was navy blue. The walls, the carpet, the furniture. The only other color present was white. All the tables, trim, and accessories were brilliant against the dark blue and it could have been too much ... but it wasnít. It fit.

Next they were shown a theater and the fully stocked library of movies. The kitchen near the family room was small and unremarkable. Willa explained that all of the real cooking took place in another kitchen just off the dining room, which was in another wing of the house. The small kitchen was an Ďin betweení that was used as a wet bar or refreshment stand during parties. The library was easily three stories tall, round, and stocked with so many tomes that the scent of leather was almost overpowering.

It was all too much to absorb, even in the hour spent trying. Addison finally pronounced it the most breathtaking thing she had ever seen. Willa gave her a secretive smile and said, "Only because youíve yet to see the view."

The housekeeper opened two double doors and motioned for her guests to step outside. Mark and Addison both cried out in shock ... and fear. The balcony they stood on was glass on bottom so that none of the scenery was compromised. It jutted at least twenty feet over a cliff that was Grand Canyon like in its proportions. Water and rocks were all that could be seen for miles and Addisonís stomach lurched when she realized that parts of the back of the house appeared to have been carved right into the rocky cliff that they now overlooked. If they fell ... it would kill them. They were at least fifty stories from the waterís surface.

"This is unreal," Mark said, leaning casually against the glass railing as he gazed over.

"Mark, get away from there." Addison put her hand on his and he kept hold of it as he stepped toward her, not letting go.

"Itís safe," Willa told them, then pointed across the water. "Can you see the other keep?"

"Iím sorry, what?" Mark asked.

"I must apologize. No matter how much American television Calliope sends me ... my vocabulary is as old as me." The old woman laughed, her eyes crinkling. "Can you make out the house against the rocks there?"

Both squinting, Addison and Mark stared at the opposite shoreline. The sun was reflecting off the water, turning everything yellow and orange. Finally, he pulled his wife a little closer, his head against hers, and pointed. "There it is. See the windows? Itís right next to the rock that looks like ... praying hands."

"Oh! Yeah!" Addy nodded. "What is that place?"

"Talking Rock," Willa replied. "No one lives there now, but for many, many years it was a church. Different priests would reside there under the familyís urging to keep watch on Bountyís Keep. Every marriage until Calliopeís took place at Talking Rock. The soil is blessed a million times over."

"Thatís amazing," Addison told her, still staring at the cottage. "Could we visit?"

"Everything is yours while you are here, madam. You may use the boats, the cars, the horses, everything. When Demi flies you to Egypt, youíll be given an aerial tour of the estate here and the surrounding areas as well. If anything strikes your fancy and you want to see it better, simply let me know and Iíll arrange for someone to escort you." The woman curtsied. "May I show you your room?"

Mark and Addison exchanged amused looks. Being treated like royalty made them both uncomfortable and self important in equal measures. They mostly felt self important when another set of doors opened and they feasted their eyes on a room that was as large as their entire cabin back in Seattle. "Holy crap," Addison exclaimed, reaching out and touching one of the fabric covered walls.

The king size bed had a canopy that matched the silk walls and the pattern gave the room a middle eastern flair. Mostly oranges, reds, and yellows, everything was pristine and shining. The chandelier that hung over a sitting area was large and crystal and the paintings were all illuminated with special track lighting that showcased the artistís talents beautifully. When Willa saw Mark admiring a perfect oil replication of the view from the glass deck, she beamed. "Melana is quite the artist."

"She did these? All of these?" Mark asked, gazing at the room at large. "There must be hundreds."

"She was quite the prolific artist."

Addison could only gaze around her in wonder. "This room is fit for a king."

"The room was actually built for a queen," Willa corrected as she stoked the fire in the grate. "Many noble ladies have stood where you are standing. And ... woman are rare in the Karakas family. Melana and Calliope are the only females born into the direct line in over seventy years. So ... this is their room, decorated to celebrate their femininity and the hope that they can carry on the lineage. Stavros was conceived here."

Addison grinned and looked at the bed. "Was that before or after their wedding at Talking Rock?"

"Thatís rude," Mark chided.

Willa laughed, a hearty, rich sound. "Before, maíam. Which is why Papa Karakas had Raphael beaten within an inch of his life and invited no one to the ceremony. He saw to it that Raphael was whisked away almost immediately. Poor Melana ... she left home just a few short months later. Seventeen and all alone."

Mark shifted from one foot to the other as he listened. He was almost certain that Melana had said she married at seventeen and gave birth to Stavros as nineteen. He filed the information in the back of his mind, however, as Willa showed them the bathroom and instructed them to settle in while she saw to their lunch. When the old woman cleared out, he watched Addison kick off her shoes and climb into the bed, which was so tall that it required a step stool.

He followed suit, toeing off his own as he crawled in beside her. "Listen, Addison ... I *will* convince you to take my name, but until I figure out how ... can I just say that Iím sorry and give you a kiss? Weíre in paradise and thereís a rule somewhere that says you canít be pissed in paradise."

"I didnít get a wedding night because of you."

"Whatís one night when we have a lifetime?"

"A lifetime!? Iím *forty*." She crossed her arms over her chest as she gazed up at the canopy. "I may have twenty more years of good sex left in me."

"Just twenty?"

"Do you really want to have sixty year old sex?"

"Is my name not Mark Sloan?" He grinned. "Iíve been having sex since I was thirteen. Iíll still be doing it on my deathbed."

"Masturbation isnít really sex, idiot."

He leaned down and kissed her. "Montgomery isnít really a great name, idiot too."

"I *like* my name."

"Wanna explore or get naked?"

"Explore. Iím holding a grudge for a while longer. Grudges require closed legs and sarcasm."

"Then we explore." He hopped off the side of the bed and extended his hand. She took it and he lifted her into his arms, holding her against him the way he had done on the dance floor at their reception. "But Iíll make it hard on you. Groveling requires much heavy petting and seduction and I plan to grovel whole heartedly."

She smiled, then noticed something just behind him. "Whatís that?" Reaching up, she grasped a cord and tugged it. When nothing happened, she tugged again, then a third time for good measure.

There was a clattering of footsteps in the hallway and then a heavy knock on the door. "Come in," Mark called.

Barnacle pushed the door open, his hands clasped in front of the stiff waistcoat that he wore. His breathing was labored, indicating that he had run. "You rang?"

"Rang?" Addison looked at Mark for explanation and saw the rope still swinging. "Oh! We rang! Iím sorry, Barnacle, it was an accident."

"I see." Barnacle grinned at her. "The only cord that wonít chime is the one that flushes the commode. I used to pull them too, when I first came here. The response time is usually so fast that you wonder if there are secret passageways in this place."

Addison looked at him curiously. "Are there?"

"Arenít there always?" He winked.

*~*~*~*~

It had been a rough night for Callie. The pain never went away, no matter how strong the narcotics were, it couldnít erase the agony in her mind. Even when she went to sleep, she hurt, because in her dreams there was alcohol in her hand and she was standing on the ledge of a tall building. Everyone fought valiantly to save her, but Randy stood between them, stopping them from getting too close. It scared her, terrified her, and she kept drinking everything he gave her to take the edge off. And then she was falling, falling, falling and her dream self watched the ground come rushing up with ... relief. She jarred herself awake with a strangled gasp every single time she fell. Someone comforted her each time. Usually Cam, who sat beside the bed in the stiff mauve chair that every private room was equipped with.

Callie didnít ask for Alex. He wasnít there and she had little doubt that sanity had finally won and he was at home packing up anything that he had left behind. There was no one to blame but herself, Callie thought, as Cam currently held a straw to her lips and forced her to drink cool water. She had caused her own downfall and orchestrated her own demise. Somewhere behind her, Melana announced that she was going to tell the nurse to bring more pain medication, but Callie said nothing. She didnít reply when Raphael rubbed her arm or when Loukas asked if she was hungry. Stavros touching her leg forced her to roll onto her side and when the nurse brought in the medication, Callie welcomed the fuzz it added to her troubled brain and pretended to sleep.

Her family was there only because of what happened. They would have already been in Miami had it not been for that. Cam had never, in their entire life, been rough with her unless he was playing and the memory of his hands biting into her arms, of his shouts, his *anger* hurt worse than anything she physically felt at the moment. The same for Raphael. He had used a voice with her that she had only ever heard him use on Stavros and that was because her big brother had cost the family over fifteen million dollars after he ruined a business deal. Melanaís silence after the truth had come out felt like blades against Callieís skin.

But Alex ... Alex was ashamed of her ... the wife who lied to him, broke her sobriety and that shame prevented him from being there now. He had told her during one of their many heated arguments recently that he couldnít stomach to look at her ... and he never lied.

The door creaked and Callieís eyes flew open hopefully. It wasnít Alex. It was her breakfast tray being brought in. She tried to pretend she was sleeping again, but Cam had seen her and pressed the button to raise the head of the bed. He didnít bother to ask, he simply unwrapped the fork and held it out to her. She didnít take it so he lifted her hand and pressed it into her palm, then took the lid off her food, saying, "Itís not negotiable."

The smell turned her stomach and the sight of the runny, watery eggs was enough to have her scrambling to cover the tray again as quickly as she possibly could. "I need to go to the bathroom," she said when the food was hidden.

Cam watched her for a second. "And when you come out ... youíll eat?"

She nodded and he pulled the rolling table away, leaving it against the wall. He gently tugged the cover off her legs and helped her stand. Callie fought valiantly to hide her discomfort, to keep the pain off her face, but it was impossible. As soon as she put weight on her wounded leg it felt like it was happening all over again. She gritted her teeth and lifted her foot off the floor, reaching for her crutches.

Cam shook his head and easily lifted her. "It hurt your hands to use those last night."

She had no memory of trying and her back and legs ached from where he supported her, but she didnít remark. It hurt all over. Breathing hurt, moving hurt, thinking hurt ... being hurt. Cam carried her into the bathroom and she noticed that a towel had been hung over the mirror. She didnít need to wonder why. And no part of her was tempted to see whether or not Randy had kept his promise to destroy her face. She had avoided touching it as well ... because touching it would make it real and so far ... she had managed to convince herself that almost being raped was the least of her problems. She *refused* to acknowledge it had truly happened at all.

She did her business, then felt something flapping against her calf. Moving around the bathroom had caused the tape to break loose from her leg and the bandage was open. She bit her bottom lip when she sat down on the toilet and saw the stitches there. They were nicely done, but the scar would be inevitable. Even Mark, with his capable hands, couldnít have prevented it.

But she could have.

If only she had fought a little harder ...

She was staring at the wound when someone knocked.

"Cal? You okay?"

It was Alex. The sound of his voice made her forget the pain entirely. He was there! Whether it was obligation or devotion was of little consequence. She hastily pressed against the tape to put it back in place, then cried out when pain laced through her leg. In her haste, she had pressed the tape to the worst of the cut. Alex said her name again, then yanked the door open.

He forced himself to remain impassive, even though seeing her in the stark light of the bathroom was even worse than the previous night. Every inch of her that he could see was bruised, cut, or swollen. He envied Cambyses. He would have loved to be the one to wipe the man who had done it to her off the face of the earth. "Are you -"

"The bandage-"

Alex kneeled in front of her, keeping his hands on his thighs. He peered at the crooked gauze and said, "Can I - is it okay if I -"

"Yeah."

He eased his hand behind her leg and delicately pulled the tape from the wound. When she jumped, he looked up at her. "Iím sorry. I - about everything. I wanted to be here last night, baby, but your mother gave me something that she claimed was a Tylenol because my head was killing me and ... it wasnít. I fell asleep in the chapel and they put a blanket over me and left me there."

"Itís fine."

"How did you sleep?"

"Not much."

He longed to touch her, but he didnít think he could handle her pulling away from him again. "Were you in pain or -"

"All over."

"Did they give you something this morning?" he asked.

"Yeah. Can you help me?"

"Always. What do you need?"

"Theyíre trying to force me to eat. I - I canít. Not yet. I will, but - I donít want breakfast." She reached out and flipped his collar down. He was still dressed in his wedding attire, but his tie and jacket had been discarded and his shirt was rolled at the sleeves. "Can you make them stop?"

"Youíll eat lunch?" he asked, the feel of her fingers against his neck filling him with hope.

"Iíll try," she replied. His eyes were puffy, swollen and red. She ran her thumb over the worst of it.

He lightly put his hand over hers, holding it against his cheek. "Iíll have the kitchen send someone to get the tray. Anything else?"

There was so much more she wanted to say. She wanted to apologize, to ask him if he regretted marrying her as much as she thought he did, to beg him not to, to beg him to come home. Instead, she shook her head and the finality of it, of lying to both of them, cut her to the quick. She needed him to hold her, to tell her it would be okay even if they knew better. His shoulder had witnessed many of her tears as she leaned against him for support and she wanted to cry. She wanted to cry for what she had done, what had happened to her, and for the hell of it, but she didnít move.

Alex got to his feet, startling her, and when he made a move to lift her the same way Cam had done, she instinctively held up her hands, keeping him at bay. "Please ... donít."

He backed away instantly and sat down on the edge of the tub so that they were eye level. He noted the way her hands shook, the way she avoided his gaze, and took a deep breath. "You canít ask me to help you halfway, Gothika. Let me in. I know Iím not Cam. I know that I wasnít there to help you when you needed me the most and I know youíre still pissed at me for everything I said to you, but Iím your husband. And Iím here. And not helping you is killing me so please ... let me."

"You donít have to."

"I *want* to." He was careful when he lifted her hand in his. "Youíre not in this alone. When something happens to you ... I feel it. It happens to me, too. So -"

"Iím sorry ... about drinking. It just -"

"We donít have to talk about that right now."

She stared into his eyes for a few seconds before she spoke. "I know that youíve been through hell because of me. I know itís my fault and ... and you want to leave. Iíll let you leave if that makes you happy, but ... not today. Can you just ... maybe pretend that youíre not going to ... for a while?"

He slipped off the edge of the tub and kneeled down beside her again, this time his hands went to her hips. "Callie, I donít have to pretend. I love you and Iím not going anywhere. You could drink everything behind the bar at Joeís and Iím still not budging. I promise you ... I'm here. I'm sorry that it took this to make me realize that *nothing* is worth leaving over."

"At the wedding-"

"I canít undo what I said to you any more than you can undo the drinking. I canít change it. I can only say Iím sorry and I didnít mean it." He took a deep breath as his eyes filled with tears. "Iím not ashamed of you. Iím proud of you. I didnít know what pride was until I was able to introduce you as my wife. You - you could never shame me, Callie. Never. Iím not gonna lie to you, though. Iím disappointed that you broke your sobriety. Iím sad that it happened and Iím angry that we let ourselves get to the point where you felt like that was an option at all, but Iím not ashamed."

"You donít have to say tha-"

"Is she okay?" Melana called through the closed door. "Dr. Stevens brought her some fresh pajamas in case sheíd like to take a shower."

"Do you want a shower now?" Alex asked.

Callie looked relieved. "Very much."

"Do you want your mom to come in and -"

"Ask Izzie. Or Cristina if sheís here."

"You donít want me to-"

"No."

Without another word, Alex walked from the bathroom and a moment later, Izzie came in carrying a shopping bag. The blond launched into a story about Halloween decorations that were on sale and then pulled two fluffy towels from the depths of the bag. She laid them on the sink, then produced much better soap and shampoo than the hospital offered. Finally, she grinned at Callie and said, "I know how much you hate pink, but I had to get these for you."

She pulled pink pajamas from the bag and Callie wrinkled her nose until she saw the skulls, roses, and guitars. If you looked past the Pepto Bismol color, they were actually cute. Reaching out, Callie touched the fabric and said, "Itís so soft."

"I have a pair of daffodil ones that I live in." Izzie laid a toothbrush and paste on the sink, then pulled waterproofing tools from the pocket of her lab coat. "Weíll have to bandage your leg a little better. Webber doesnít want it getting wet."

Callie said nothing as the blond quickly did her job. A memory flashed through Callie mind and she blinked. "You - you ripped your dress and wrapped it around my leg. You were cry-"

"I didnít like that dress anyway. It made me look like a barn."

"Uhm, Izzie?"

"Hmm?"

"Can you help me with the shower? I - I donít want Alex to-"

"On it." Izzie pushed the curtain aside and adjusted the taps. When she looked back at the other woman, she put a hand on her shoulder. "Itís not uncommon. To not want your husband or your boyfriend or whatever to be around you after something like this. Because youíre intimate with him. And you think if he sees your body like this then heíll think of that once the bruises are gone and always remember what happened. Youíre hiding it from him to make *him* okay."

"You speaking from experience?"

"No. I watched my mom go through it when I was fourteen."

"Iím sorry."

"You donít need to be. The waterís ready. Are you?"

Callie let her one time enemy pull her to her feet and untie her gown.

There were tears in Izzieís eyes when she helped Callie into the shower.

Callie didnít have to wonder why. She had looked down at her mottled flesh only once.

And it was enough.

*~*~*~*~*~

"She hasnít cried. Or gotten angry," Stavros said, rubbing his face. Out of the entire Torres family, he was the only one who had gotten any sleep other than Callie. He had dozed upright, sitting in a horrible chair that had no back support, and he could only imagine how everyone else felt. They were running on emotion alone. "Could it be the sedatives?"

"No," Alex replied. "Itís not that strong."

"Sheís pretending to be fine for our benefit." Melana leaned her head against Raphaelís shoulder and he put an arm around her. "Alex, is she talking to you? She didnít really speak to us all night."

Alex shrugged. He was still annoyed that Melana had knocked him out the night before with her happy pill. "A little."

Raphael watched his son in law, weighing his words carefully. "I hate to suggest it, son, but perhaps we should consider rehab."

With a look of undiluted scorn, Alex shook his head. "You want to send her away right now? After this?!"

"Not right away, but eventually. She has a problem, Alex. She has a genuine problem with alcohol and we canít pretend it doesnít exist and hope it goes away. She needs treatment and therapy and structure," Raphael told him. "Do you think I want to see her go?"

"Iíve said it before and Iíll say it again. Being sent into seclusion, away from the people that love you, is not the answer. Itíll just make her feel worse," said Alex. "How can you even consider this?!"

"How can you not?" Raph snapped. "This is her *life* weíre talking about. If going away for a few weeks gives her a new lease on it then itís worth it."

"What if going away makes her feel like we donít want to deal with it, Dad?" Cambyses asked. "I say we vote."

"Vote? About your sisterís well being?" Mel asked, disgusted. "Itís not a joke or a -"

"Letís vote." Getting to his feet, Stavros looked from Loukas to Cam. "All those in favor of sending the baby of the family to an overpriced, horrible clinic in the middle of nowhere that will probably act like she's a prisoner and not let her use the phone unless she cleans the floor with her toothbrush ... raise your hand."

Only Mel and Raphís hands found the air.

"All those in favor of doing it ourselves?" Stavros added. Callieís three brothers and her husband raised their hands. Stavros shrugged. "Looks like weíll be staying in Seattle for a while. Dad, Iím sure youíll agree that the business can fuck off and die for all we care because some things in life are a little more important."

"Besides," Loukas added when Melanaís claws came out over the swearing. "You pay a staff of highly trained individuals who actually do all the work anyway so itís not like theyíll miss us."

"Speak for yourself," Cam snapped. "*I* happen to work very hard."

"Since when does playing online Jeopardy count as hard work, jackass?" Stavros demanded. "If all the fake money you had won was real ... youíd be richer than our parents."

"If the piles of blank paperwork that you push around on your desk actually had numbers on them, our parents would probably be a lot richer," Cam shot back.

"Do you really want to go there?" Stavros narrowed his eyes.

"Do you really want to tease the caged animal who just killed a man, Stavros?" Loukas quietly inquired. "Because I donít advise it. Our baby brother may be the bad ass of the family after all."

The icy look on Camís face faded and he started to laugh. "It took killing a piece of shit for you assholes to realize that? Please. Iíve always been bad ass, Iíll always be bad ass and -"

"Is that a rat?" Stavros gasped and pointed at the floor.

Cam emitted a strangled cry and lifted his long legs into the chair, standing up so fast that his head crashed against the ceiling.

"Why did we have children?" Mel rubbed her eyes, exhausted. "Why did we have *these* children?"

"Because someone had to do it," Raphael kissed her temple. Truth be told, he was proud as hell of the men his boys had become with the last Ďvoteí.

They would rehabilitate Callie themselves.

They had to.

When their sons left the room in search of food, Melana hugged Alex. "Are you okay?"

"What did you give me last night, Mel?" he said, unable to keep the bite from his voice. "I should have been here!"

"Alex, she couldnít have handled seeing you like you were. You were beside yourself, making no sense, and -"

"How can anybody make sense right now?" Alex shook his head, then pointed from Raph to Melana. "You two definitely arenít. Can you imagine what sheíd feel like if you told her that you were putting her away somewhere? I can. I can see it. It makes me sick."

Raphael pushed away from the wall and walked closer. "It makes me sick to think that you *left* her for something as trivial as flying and then didnít see the obvious warning signs that she was breaking again! Sheís thin as hell, Alex! And instead of helping her ... you didnít look back!"

"Stop!" Melana put a hand on her husbandís chest. "He didnít force her to drink, Raphael."

"He may not have held the bottle, but his actions bought it, Melana. She was doing so well and now sheís back in a hospital bed and weíre here because her *husband* broke her heart." Raphael took another step closer to Alex. "You are nothing like George OíMalley so stop channeling him."

The bathroom door opening silenced Alexís reply, which he would have regretted anyway. Izzie peered out at them and said, "Alex, can you go and tell the nurse to bring me both medications that Webber ordered, but to bump up the Valium three milligrams?"

"Why?" Alex asked, heading toward the bathroom door. "Is she -"

"Now," Izzie said. "Seriously."

Alex did as requested, but brought the two injections himself when Olivia said it would be a few minutes. He knocked on the door and Izzie opened it a fraction of an inch, holding out her hand. "Thanks."

"Let me in," he demanded.

"Just give me a second." She took the medication from him and disappeared.

"What does it mean? Three milligrams?" Raph asked, joining his son in law.

"Itís a higher dosage of the sedative," Alex replied, leaning his head against the door. He could hear Izzie saying something in a soft voice, but Callie made no sound. "I never meant to hurt her. I swear to God I never dreamed this could happen. Any of it."

Raphael put a hand on Alex's shoulder, tugging him around to face him, then hugged him. "It would appear that you and I share a horrible habit of speaking before we think. My apologies."

Alex started to reply, but Callie made the most horrible, gut twisting sound heíd ever heard and the men pulled apart, both reaching for the door handle at the same time.

Izzie opened it so fast that she hit them both. "Alex-"

He darted past her. Callie was fully dressed in her new pajamas and was sitting on the edge of the bathtub, her face in her hands. She sobbed, harsh and loud, and Alex straddled the rim of the tub, pulling her against his chest. He looked at Izzie, who simply pointed at the mirror, which was no longer covered. "Callie?"

"Look at what he did to me!" Callie cried, her face still in her hands. "Why? WHY!? Why did -"

"Shhh, itís okay."

Callieís sobs grew harsher still. "I never believed it. I said it couldnít happen to me. I said it. Alex - I was pissed when my dad put a guard in the woods and ... I even joked that he thought rapists were hiding behind every tree and ..."

"Youíre safe now." He kissed her head, rocking slightly. "Weíre all here."

"I - I canít ... breathe. Why did he do this? Why? I - I hate it!"

Izzie pulled the cap off the syringe. Callie had refused it moments before, but she had to try again. Reaching for her arm, she adjusted the IV and injected the valium first, then the pain medication. She knew it burned because Callieís sobs intensified and the black haired woman reached up a hand to stop her, but Alex caught it. "Iím sorry," Izzie whispered. "She moved the towel before I could stop her."

Alex nodded. Izzie hurried out of the room and he pulled his wife a little closer. It felt like an eternity before she quieted. He welcomed the outburst, though, because it meant that she had accepted it. When she eventually sat up and looked at him, her eyes were glassy. "Can I-" he began.

"I feel it."

"Youíre still in pain?"

"No." She shook her head. "For the first time in my life ... I really feel it."

"What do you feel, baby?"

"Fear."

"Iíve got you." He saw her wobble and lunged, catching her before she could fall back. Wordlessly, he scooped her into his arms and carried her to the bed. Melana quickly jerked the cover down and waited for him to lower her, but he held on for a few seconds, his head against hers. When he finally set her on the bed, she clutched the front of his shirt and said, "I want to go home."

"I think theyíre releasing you today. Tomorrow at the latest," he assured her. "Thatís what the Chief said last night."

"Stay with me."

Alex didnít have to be asked twice.

He climbed into the bed beside her and clung to her as she curled into him and fell asleep.

They let her go at six that evening. Chief Webber didnít want to, but Melana begged him and he caved like a house of cards when she turned her big, brown tear filled eyes on him. He had strict orders about Callie's leg and the medications he was prescribing. Alex signed the paperwork and lifted Callie into the wheelchair while Blake, who had arrived just before three that afternoon, gathered the many get well cards and bouquets of flowers. Callie quietly told her brotherís boyfriend to donate the flowers to other patients.

Dr. Bailey had stopped in on her day off to see how Callie was doing and she cleared the hallway for her friend, warning the staff to make themselves scarce as Callie was wheeled to the elevator and then into the crisp, cool, night where Alexís SUV had been pulled around by Stavros. Most of the staff, however, had their faces pressed to the glass in the front lobby and they all waved when Callie glanced back at the hospital. She didnít seem to notice.

Alex climbed into the driverís seat and smiled at her. "I know you never get tired of hearing it ... so here goes. Put your seatbelt on."

She tried to do just that, but her body wouldnít cooperate. Her muscles protested and she groaned. Stavros, who was riding behind her, reached around the seat and handed it to Alex, who fastened it. "Letís go home, baby," he told her with a smile.

Alex put the car in drive, his hand resting against the gear shifter.

A moment later, she put hers on top of his and said, "Donít drive fast."

When they finally pulled into the garage, Callie was shaking. Alex doubted she was cold. The interior of his Mercedes was warm and comfortable and his driving couldn't have startled her. Never, since he had known her, had she ever asked him to not drive fast. She was always the one threatening to take over if he dropped below sixty. He let Cambyses take control of getting her into the house while he confirmed with his mother that she had brought his luggage back home. She nodded and said his clothes were in his closet where they belonged and that she had cooked dinner. She had been out of town with Leon when Alex got in touch with her to let her know what happened and she headed straight back with Leon in tow.


The big bodyguard seemed smaller than usual when he saw Callieís face. It was just a brief glimpse, but it was enough to sag his shoulders and send him walking back to the guard shack with his head downcast. After talking to Callie briefly, Irene headed to the guard shack as well. Some things just hit a little too close to home for her and she didnít want her daughter in law to see her fall apart. Ireneís face had looked the same on many, many occasions thanks to Alexís father and she *understood* why Callie seemed to shy away from anyone seeing her. The black haired woman had not met her gaze once.

Cambyses carried Callie to her bed and smiled at her. "I think I smell lasagna. Do you want me to get your husband to dress as a French Maid and bring it to you on a gold platter or do you want to eat with us?"

"Mostly I want to sleep," she replied, glancing at the closet door which was ajar. Her gaze lingered on it, feeling exposed, like someone was lurking inside to watch her.

Cam followed her gaze and cleared his throat. "Remember when we were kids and I was convinced that there was a monster in the closet? You always came and checked it out so I feel duty bound to return the favor."

She watched as he opened her closet, then Alexís and flipped the light on in both. Her heart almost stopped completely when she saw that Alexís things were back in place. Cam shut both doors all the way and walked into the bathroom for good measure. "No ghosts on the coast," he said, using the phrase she had always used at their beach house, which Cam was convinced had spirits in every room.

"Can you make sure someone sets the alarm?"

Cam sat beside her on the bed. "Sure."

"And - check all the doors. I - I think maybe the window in the kitchen is unlatched and - well, there's a screen, but you should check it."

Cam brushed her hair back. Because she had fallen asleep with it wet, she had out of control curls all over her head. "Are you okay?"

"Are you?"

He nodded. "Iím perfectly fine."

Callie looked at the bandage on his cheek. "Is it bad? The cut?"

"It gives me character." Cam shrugged. "I havenít seen it yet, but Blake did and he told me it was sexy so I guess it adds to the whole criminal mystique Iíve got going now. Just call me The Punisher."

"H - how did you kill him?"

"Well, after he messed up my gorgeous sister and my even more gorgeous face ... I took his knife and thought about shoving it up his ass for two seconds ... but I picked his heart instead. It was pretty hard to find all things considered, but I didnít miss."

"Iím sorry you had to - that any of it -"

"Do you remember Kevin Salchel? Sixth grade. He beat me up during P.E. and you saw it from the window of your classroom and came running. It took two teachers *and* me to get you off him and his parents sued ours because you broke his nose. *That* Kevin Salchel."

"Oh, right. Oops." A hint of a smile flashed across her face. "Little bastard."

"I told you Iíd pay you back one day." He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. "The cops said that this guy had just been paroled about three weeks ago. He was convicted of assault of battery, attempted rape, and kidnapping when he was nineteen and served fifteen years for it. They said he spent most of his time in jail lifting weights and fooling everybody into believing he was reformed."

"The cops will want to talk to me soon, wonít they?"

"I think Mom told them to come tomorrow. Theyíve been hanging around at the hospital."

Melana came into the room carrying a tray of food. She set it on the foot of the bed and told Cambyses to leave. He rolled his eyes heavenward and smirked at Callie, who braced herself for whatever Melana would say to her as Cam complied and left the room. "Mom-"

"I didnít sleep on the plane flying out. And I didnít sleep last night either, mi vida." Mel chopped the salad on the tray a little finer. "And Iím exhausted. I want to go to bed, but I canít do that until I know that youíve eaten this and -"

Callie reached across the bed and pulled the tray closer, lifting the fork. She took a bite of the salad and chewed slowly. Melana sat down and handed her the knife she had been using to cut the lettuce. Neither spoke for a few minutes. Callie was halfway through the lasagna when her mother cleared her throat. "Calliope?"

"Hmm?"

"Did he - how far did he get with you?"

Wiping her mouth with her napkin, Callie revisited the encounter with Randy, forcing herself to recall every moment of it. She felt his arms around her, the top of her dress being yanked down and calloused hands groping at her flesh, and then ... those same hands trying to move under her dress. "Not too far," she said finally, putting her fork back on the tray.

"Oh, baby, donít stop eating." Melana pushed her plate a little closer. "We can talk about something else."

"Have you heard from Addison?" Callie asked, lifting the fork again.

"Not yet. Your Uncle Demi said they got there okay and were pleased with the accommodations."

"Donít tell her anything about what happened."

"Sheíll be upset if -"

"Sheíll come home and I donít need anyone else to look at me like Iím ... just donít tell her."

"Look at you like youíre what, Callie?"

Alex arrived carrying Callieís prescriptions. Loukas had stopped to get it filled and had just gotten back, grumbling about the wait at the pharmacy. Alex glanced at his wifeís half eaten food, but didnít comment. Instead, he said, "Are you in any pain?"

"I donít want that right now," she replied. "I hate the way it feels."

"Okay." He put the bag on the end table and eased down beside her. "Your dad is sound asleep on the sofa. Iím surprised you canít hear him snoring up here."

And just like that ... with no warning or obvious reason ... Callie burst into tears again.

She took the sedative without complaint after that, but not before she used her crutches to check the windows and doors herself.

*~*~*~*~*~
CH 5
True to his word, Mark groveled enough that Addison got her wedding night on five separate occasions before the sun set on their first day in Greece. She wasnít sure if it was the newlywed joy that propelled Mark, but whatever it was, she hoped it never faded because sex had never been so good and Mark had never been so hell bent on cuddling afterward. It wasnít until Addison saw one of the housekeepers using Windex to clean the perfect outline of her ass and Markís palms off the glass floor of the balcony that she put a stop to it. She told him that they would not being doing it again until that night ... then promptly repeated their brazen sex on the bathroom counter before they were summoned to dinner.


The first days in Greece flew by. There was so much to see and do. Despite the large staff, they rarely saw any of them as they walked through Bountyís Keep, learning her many hiding places and secret rooms. They attempted to watch a movie the third day, then decided that walking the grounds would be better. When Barnacle heard their intentions, he had two palomino stallions saddled and waiting for them in the yard. Addison smiled when she saw the one she would be riding. Itís coat matched her bridesmaid dresses. They didnít stray far from the house, but since the house was so large and the tallest spire could be seen for miles, they went far enough to be sore for two days. Of course, it didnít help that they had sex on one of the horseís backs, but they both enjoyed it and the horses didnít seem to think it was strange at all.

Greece was everything that Melana had promised it would be and after they toured the Parthenon on their fifth day, Addison called Callieís cell phone again. This time it went straight to voice mail and Addison reminded her friend that she missed her and wanted to hear her voice. She tried Alexís cell and even Camís to no avail. Frustrated, she vented to Mark, who had plenty of ways to take her mind off being homesick. He had her pinned against the wall and was working his way under her skirt when she accidentally kicked over an umbrella stand. The bookcase to her right opened at once and she froze as a gust of cold air lifted her dress for Mark.

"What the hell?" He took a step back, gazing at the hidden passage. "Why do I suddenly feel like a cartoon dog is going to come running out screaming Ďruh rohí?"

Addison pulled her belt back into place and peered around his shoulder. "You go first."

"Go? Did you just say go?"

"Youíre the big bad ... defender of your name or whatever. In the old days the men went first."

"Weíre modern, remember? That means that *you* can go first and I can enjoy your ass while you walk in front of me." He wiggled his eyebrows. "Sex in a strange secret passage could be fun."

"Or we could get locked in and never be heard from again. Whereís my cell phone? Do you think they have 911 here?"

"Do you really think youíll get reception?" He held out his hand to her and took a tentative step toward the door. "Where do you think it goes?"

"Wait. I saw a flashlight in the bureau." Addison rushed across the room and dug the flashlight from the depths of the drawer, flipping it on and shining it in her husbandís eyes for good measure.

"Now Iím seeing spots. How can I protect you if I canít see you?"

"Will you just go?"

"Sure, send the blind man in first."

The chamber they walked into was narrow and dead ended into Melanaís old room. There was only one way to go and judging by the sloping floor, that way was down. There were torches along the wall that were covered in spiderwebs and none were lit. It felt like walking back in time and Addison freaked herself out when she considered all the people who may have walked the path before her ... and died. Maybe even doing it. She glanced behind her, clinging to the belt loops in the back of Markís pants, and promptly stumbled over her feet, getting a face full of spider web for her troubles.

Before she could scream like she wanted, he clapped a hand over her mouth and wrenched her back to her feet. "Shhh, listen."

Addison stopped flailing her hands around her face to remove the web and barely breathed. There were voices up ahead and she gulped. "Letís go back."

"No. Come on." He took her hand and pulled her along behind him.

They rounded two more corners, still going downward, and then the aroma of food was overpowering and Addison felt her stomach rumble in anticipation. Light spilled through the stone wall and Mark stepped closer, peering through one of the minute cracks that were probably naked to the eye from the other side. "Itís the kitchen," he whispered.

Addison found a sliver of light to peer through and smiled when she saw Willa enjoying the Baclava that the head chef, Saunders, was preparing. She heard the old man admonish the woman and snickered into her palm when he slapped her hand and wagged a long, bony finger in her face. Willa pretended to bite it then clawed at her neck, tugging the turned down collar of her uniform. "Iíll not be sending Melana a care package this year. What was she meaning? Sending us such horrible attire?"

Saunders snorted. "Try wearing this thing?" He pointed at the tall hat perched on his head. "I cook! I donít need to wear this! The food proves it!"

"Barnyís miserable," Willa replied, then she smiled devilishly and tossed a dish towel at Saunders, knocking his hat off.

The manís shock of white hair stood up on end and he advanced on the woman, putting his hands on either side of her against the counter. Lowering his head, he kissed her, then stood and said, "Hmmm, perhaps the Baclava is too sweet."

"No, it was perfect," Willa told him, reaching for another.

He smiled as he watched her bite into it. "Then it must be you."

Behind the wall, Addison whispered, "Awwww!"

"I was thinking Ďewí," Mark said, grabbing her hand as Saunders moved in for another kiss that involved inappropriate touching and the collar of Willaís uncomfortable uniform being pulled away from her neck.

"I told you that sixty year old sex would turn you off," Addison replied, smiling.

"Watching it turns me off. Doing it is another story."

"Did you have sex with a geriatric already!?"

"She was the hottest old bird youíve ever seen," he shot back, leading her further and further down the sloping passage.

Voices could be heard periodically and they paused every time to peer out when it was available to gauge their bearings. They passed the blue room, which was being vacuumed and then the library, where two gardeners were arguing over something in a book that dealt with flowers. Barnacle was in the theater, unloading a shipment of new movies, and he was singing at the top of his lungs because of the acoustics. Even the acoustics couldnít save him however ... his voice was like a dying frog, but the enthusiasm with which it was delivered was infectious.

The tunnel eventually lost all light and sound and relied only on the beam from the flashlight in Markís hand. The floor sloped so deeply now that Addisonís toes ached from walking on them in her already high heels. Only the promise of seeing where the passage led kept her quiet, but she made a mental note to wear better shoes when prowling in strange places. The air against her bare legs eventually become icy and she shivered, still clinging to Markís pants.

"Cold?" he asked.

"No, Mark. We can only see our breath."

"How can you see *anything*. Youíre so far up my ass Iím bowlegged."

"Kinky, Dr. Sloan," she replied. Peering around him, she gasped when she saw a flash of gold light. "Turn it off."

"Turn my ass off?"

"No, goober! The light!" When he didnít respond right away, she reached around him and flipped the switch, the pointed at the prism of colors just ahead.

He put his arm around her as they moved forward together. The passageway widened and then they stepped under a rock canopy that had crevices all around that spilled sunlight into the cavern. "I hear water," Mark said, walking down the slope.

They realized a moment later that they were standing in a grotto. The sparkling blue water was clear and Addison practically leaped onto her husbandís back when she saw an eel dart out to catch a small fish just below the surface. "Oh my god!"

"Look at that," Mark pointed to the left, where an opening in the rock would allow a large vessel to come through easily. "I think we know why they call it Bountyís Keep now. I bet this place was the go to hideout for smuggled goods back in the swashbuckling days."

"Clever, but not quite."

Addison and Mark both turned at the sound of the voice. She moved behind him, peering out, hoping that Mark could use the flashlight like a baton if he needed to. The man who stood before them looked like Loukas, Callieís brother. He had the same unfortunate cowlick in the front of his hair, which was clipped short, and he wore round glasses. "Forgive me," he said, extending his hand to Mark, who clasped it. "Iím Xenos Karakas. I see youíve discovered one of the servantís walks."

"Weíre sorry," Addison replied. "We werenít snooping -"

"Please, snoop away. Bountyís Keep was built for it." Xenos took her hand, kissing it, then pointed at the large opening that had commanded Markís attention. "We did act as a hideout for smuggled goods, but we dealt in people ... the best bounty the Lord provides. During the Greek Revolution in the early eighteen hundreds many women and children were smuggled out of the heaviest war zones and brought here. The practice stopped after a ship capsized right about there and the tide came in, drowning over forty of the evacuees. One of the survivors, a woman who lost her only son in the tragedy, is said to have cursed the Karakas name, demanding that we only have sons in our family for retribution. And for the most part ... it stuck. Both Melana and Calliope are untamable spirits and they often run into bad luck. Perhaps itís happenstance, but our ancestors spoke of the curse with conviction."

Addison felt a new chill rush through her. The sense of foreboding she had experienced where Callie was concerned came rushing back. "What happened to the woman who cursed you?"

Xenos shook his head. "Because of her grief, she was given the grandest of accommodations, but she slept here for only one night. The glass balcony that you have hopefully seen used to be a simple stone ledge. She climbed to the top of it as the sun rose on her second childless day and leapt to her death. For years that ledge was boarded and no one could access it. My grand papa had the glass one built to remind us all that even when it feels like walking on air is possible, you need something there to support you. I believe his design was replicated in your states where the Canyon of Grand is."

Addison smiled. "I think youíre right. Iíve heard about the sky walk there."

"Would you like to see more of the island?" Xenos offered. "My boat is just around the corner. I was taking photographs when I heard your voices. I was on my way upstairs to introduce myself, but the light reflecting off the water caught my eye and demanded to be captured."

"It is beautiful." Mark stepped down off a ledge and reached up, grasping Addison around the waist and lifting her down. He gave her a kiss before he put her back on her feet and smiled shyly at the other man. "Sorry."

"If you donít enjoy every moment then youíll die with regret." Xenos winked at him, then led the way around a curved outcropping, reaching behind him to extend his arm to Addison. "Please, maíam, itís tedious here."

She clung to the man, letting him held her across a wooden plank. The sparkling white ski boat was a shock in such an untouched and old piece of history, but her feet welcomed the promise of being seated for a while. As soon as the man helped her onto the pristine leather seat, she kicked her shoes off and massaged her feet. Xenos helped Mark in and turned to watch her. "Whoever designed those torture devices called high heels was apparently related to the woman who cursed our family as well. Theyíve cursed all women to sore feet. Perhaps when I show you talking rock, youíd like to wade in the healing spring. Itís said to not only cure what physically ails you, but it allegedly gives you insight and a sixth sense as well."

"Have you waded in it?" Addison asked with interest.

"Many times." Xenos didnít elaborate. He simply started the engine and led them out into the sparkling sunlight, which was blinding after the shelter of the grotto.

Having a tour guide without the tourists was an amazing thing. He was knowledgeable and funny and so engaging that Addisonís sides were aching by the time they docked at Talking Rock. Because there was so much sand, she carried her shoes in her hand and enjoyed the walk from the beach to the old homestead. It was in ruins, mostly a hollow shell, but it captivated her anyway. Her legs felt warm as she dug her toes into the earth and when Xenos suggested that they pose for photos in front of the praying hand rock, she readily agreed. He snapped photo after photo of the two of them, urging them on poses, on how best to use the light.

When they finally made it to the healing spring, Xenos lifted a wooden handled cup and rinsed it, then filled it with the water that was trickling over a small waterfall and held it out. "Youíll never taste anything as pure."

Addison tried it first, her eyes widening. The water was mouth numbing cold and she wondered how it wasnít frozen. The oddest part, however, was how quickly it warmed her insides. As she watched Mark drink, she could tell that he was experiencing the same thing. Xenos drank last and set the cup back onto its rocky perch. "Iíd offer you more," he said, "but greed would cause it to dry up. Please, Addison, youíre already barefoot. Step into the water and see if it helps."

"Itís cold." She shook her head. "Iíll get frostbite."

"Not at all," he replied, reaching down to the touch the shallow water that had been collected in a pond. "It remains a steady eighty eight degrees year round."

"How?" Mark asked, mimicking the other man and touching for himself. "Whoa. Uh, how?"

"When you are specific in your needs and prayers," Xenos stated, glancing skyward, "someone always listens." He extended his hand to Addison and nodded at the pond, watching as she stepped into the water. When she gasped, he squeezed her hand and smiled. "I daresay your feet will not bother you for the remainder of your trip."

She stared down at her wiggling toes. It felt like she was having the best foot massage of her life and none of it made sense. She was a woman of science, a woman of medicine, and water was only ever water ... but *this* water made her believe that anything in the world was possible. She knew that Mark would scoff and not pull his shoes off to try it himself, but Willa had said that they could use the boats and she decided then and there that sheíd bring her husband back before they left Greece.

"Close your eyes," Xenos urged. "Close them, breathe deep and tell me what you see."

Addison did as he asked, not missing the amused look on Markís face. She breathed in and saw Callie. The smile on her own face fell fast as her heart flipped over and panic raced through her. Her eyes flew open again and she gazed at their host. "I - have you heard from Callie?"

Xenos shook his head. "Why?"

"Because I saw her."

"And how do you feel?"

"Scared." Addison stepped out of the water and pulled her phone from her pocket. She opened it and saw that there was no signal. "Xenos, I hate to ask, but would it be okay to make a long distance call from the main house?"

"Absolutely." Xenos looked from Addison to the water, which was still rippling from her hasty exit. "Perhaps youíd like to make that call right now."

"I would."

Mark waited until they were situated on the boat again to lean against her and say, "Okay, now youíre the old fashioned one. Tell me you donít believe in healing water or visions or whatever."

"What I believe is that somethingís wrong with Callie. Iíve been feeling it since before we even left the airport and no one is answering my calls."

*~*~*~*~

Just as Cambyses had predicted, the police arrived on Callieís first morning home and demanded to speak with her. She sat on the sofa and answered their questions honestly. When they asked her if she had ever seen Randall ĎRandyí McFry before the day of the attack, she confirmed that she had and confessed that he had bought her a drink at Rayís Steakhouse. Beside her, she saw Alexís jaw tighten and hastily added that she had not spoken with him or acknowledged him beyond a tilt of her head, but he had remembered her and approached her at the wedding because of that. She found her receipt for dinner in her purse and gave them the serverís name who had assisted her that night so that she could confirm Callieís story if need be.

The police officerís waved the notion away, saying that several women had come forward after the news story about Randyís death with a similar tale. Apparently, since his parole, McFry had been buying drinks for many women in the hopes of earning their trust. The victim he had attacked at nineteen had fallen prey to the same method of operation, accepting dinner and then making the mistake of getting into his car. The officers asked tough questions about the attack, about what led up to it, and then assured Callie that her statement was the final piece needed to close the case entirely. Randall McFry, they said, would stay dead and buried and bother no one again.

Reliving it took its toll on Callie and once again, she fell apart. Alex alone knew how horribly she had slept the previous night. Any time the house creaked from settling or someone walked down the hallway to the bathroom, she sat upright and gripped his arm. More often than not, she remained in a sitting position until there wasnít a sound, and only then would she curl up in his arms, her hand fisted in the front of his shirt. When they awoke that morning, she was dripping with sweat and her pillow was drenched with tears. Alex had offered to help her into the shower, but she dismissed the idea with a shake of her head. Cristina and Burke visited that night and it was Cristina who helped her bathe and change into fresh pajamas and Cristina who appeared nightly to repeat the task.

As the week progressed, Callie began to lapse into longer and longer periods of silence, allowing only Gucci, Melanaís service monkey, to touch her. She would sit quietly on the bench in the sunroom connected to the master bedroom, with her back pressed firmly into the corner and stare out at Whisper Cove for hours, while Gucci tried to touch every bruise and scratch. When Cam asked her why she wanted to sit there, she said that it let her see anything that may be coming. He told her the only things in the woods were birds and probably rats, but she didnít budge. She sat. She watched. And she waited ... for what, no one was sure, but the fact that she gazed, unblinking it seemed at times, appeared to be in anticipation. Or dread. And every night she checked the doors, window, and alarm ... and she made sure that the flood lights outside were on at all times.

The fifth day after the attack found Callie once again sitting in the sunroom, gazing out at the bright horizon while she rolled Gucciís marble on the floor. The capuchin monkey raced back and forth for it, returning to stand before Callie and hold it out in his palm. Melana sat beside her with a cup of coffee in her hand. Somewhere in the house a phone rang and Callie jumped, dropping her own cup into the floor. It was thankfully empty and didnít shatter, but Mel shattered enough to make up for it when Gucci lifted the cup, tugged Callieís robe, and held it up to her. She began to cry when she saw her daughterís wild eyed expression and as valiantly as Melana tried to control herself, should couldnít. Callie didnít look at her, she simply reached over and took her hand. "Do you think this will stop. One day?"

"What? Will what stop?" Melana asked, her voice trembling as hard as her chin.

"I forgot what it feels like to be okay ... to feel calm or at ease." Callie shook her head, lifting Gucci into her lap. "He didnít rape me, Mom. He killed me. Iím gone. I feel like Iím not here anymore and ... Iím a stranger in my own skin. I donít even look like me anymore."

"You look the same to me." Melana put an arm around her. It was a lie. The redness in Callieís eye had not gone away and neither had the bruises. They were still just as shocking, just as painful to look at as they had been the first night. And while they would eventually fade, everyone knew that they were indelibly inked like a regrettable tattoo on the souls of everyone who had seen them. Especially Callie. "And there will come a day where you will bury this pain and it will only haunt you when you let it. Time does that, honey. It does."

Cambyses walked into the sunroom, took one look at his mother, and sat beside her, hugging her. "Addison called again. Thatís the fourth one this morning. She said theyíre coming home if she doesnít get to talk to Callie soon. She knows that somethingís up and ... well, we should either tell her or -"

"No." Callie shook her head and Gucci burrowed against her, flopping onto his back and stretching out. She watched the little primate put his marble in the pocket of his overalls, then he closed his eyes, boneless and exhausted from playing all morning. "Iíll talk to her. Iíll tell her Iím fine and ... Iíll make her believe it."

"She would want to be here, Callie. You know she would," Cam stated.

"Sheís the only person," Callie said, her eyes filling with tears, "who doesnít know what I did. She has no clue that I had anything to drink and the moment she comes home sheís going to find out and sheís going to be as upset as everyone else. I need to know that thereís someone still out there who isnít disappointed in me ... because right now sheís not and I need her to not be for a little while longer."

Cam watched her wipe the tears off her face before he spoke. "Iím not disappointed."

"Yeah, right," Callie replied with a sniffle.

"You know what the great thing is about our family?" Melana asked, pulling her a little closer. "Weíre all too damn temperamental, except me and when my temper flares up thereís a good reason behind it, but all of our tantrums are usually like a match. They fire up and burn out so fast that theyíve come and gone in the blink of an eye."

"Mom," Cam interjected. "Your temper tantrums can, on occasion, last for weeks. Or in my gay case ... for years."

"Shut up before I drown you in the hot tub," Mel told him. "The point that I am making is that we run the gamut of emotions with each other. We get angry, sad, annoyed and yes, Calliope, disappointed, but all of that is consumed by an even bigger flame. Our love. Thatís the only torch you canít put out and the only fire that will rage for an eternity. And itís that love that makes what you did by drinking again seem very small in the grand scheme of things."

"Daaaaamn," Cam said, impressed. "Mamaís got mad wisdom, yo."

"Did you just say Ďyoí," Callie asked. "Are you Gothic or gangster? You canít pull them both off, Cambyses."

"Iím *gay*. And apparently I can get away with murder."

Callie belly laughed. It was a sweet, tinkling sound that dried Melanaís tears instantly and filled her with a renewed hope that time was already working wonders on her daughterís pain.

Raphael and Alex, who had been listening just inside the bedroom door, looked at each other and grinned. In a low voice, Alex said, "Have you ever heard anything better?"

"Her first cry," Raphael replied. "But this is a close second."

*~*~*~*~*~

"Hello?" Addison said, her voice full of exasperation as she picked up the phone in the blue sitting room. "Calliope Iphigenia Karev, is that you?!"

"Oooh, full name service. Iím in trouble," Callie replied, working hard to sound upbeat and playful. "Do you love Bountyís Keep?"

"Where have you been? Itís been *five* days and Iíve left twice that many messages for you. Something happened, didnít it?"

"Naturally. I have the worst luck. Iím fine so donít freak out ... I went head first down the stairs at the church and ... itís your fault because of those idiotic shoes you made us wear ... but Iím okay. Nothingís broken, but I did get a nice big prescription of hydromorphone for the trouble so Iím home recovering and being high."

"Why would you need something that strong after a fall?"

"Did you *see* the staircase at the church? It was so tall that I exhausted my entire library of swear words by the time I landed at the bottom."

"Are you lying to me?"

"Addison, are you going to spill the beans about your honeymoon or what!? How long did it take you guys to enjoy the glass balcony?"

"What makes you think we did that?!" Addison cried. "Okay, fine, maybe two hours."

"The glass will capture *everything* so take something to wipe your imprint off or everyone will know."

"*Now* you tell me. Yeah, I found that out the hard way. And how do *you* know!?"

"Have you met Eros yet?"

"Eros? Wait, the masseuse? The one with the six pack thatís more like a twelve, the butt that you could bounce a quarter off of and the magic fingers that rubbed all the tension from my body? That Eros?"

"Thatís the one." Callie chuckled. "Tell him I said Ďhií."

"Oh my god! You slept with the hired help!? How *old* were you?"

"Too young too care. Are you having fun?"

"Your uncles are fantastic! Xenos took me to the healing spring and let me get in."

"Were you hurt?" Callie asked, concerned.

"My feet were. I walked through the secret passageway in high heels. And the grotto? Amazing."

"There are tons of eels in there so donít go skinny dipping. Markís dangly parts may not dangle so prettily if you do."

"Like *anything* could make *that* ugly." Addison laughed when her friend groaned. "As much as I love it here ... I canít wait to come home. I miss you. How are things with Alex?"

"Better," Callie told her, glancing at Alex who was sitting nearby talking to Cam.

"I bet youíre having more sex than me and thatís saying something."

"High as a kite, remember?"

"Oh, right. Are you mangled?"

"You could say that." With a sigh that caused her ribs to ache, Callie added, "And I miss you, too, by the way. Maybe when you get back we can take a long weekend and get the hell out of town. I need it."

"Count me in. Listen, Demi just got here. He was either flying us to Egypt tonight or the airstrip to come home. I was heading back to the states because I was so worried about you. Do you know ... when I waded in the healing spring ... I saw you."

Callie swallowed back the lump in her throat. "Maybe you were sending me a little healing, too. Tell Uncle Xenos to send me some of the water, okay? Iíll add it to my bath and see if it helps."

"Iíll get it myself," Addison told her. "Weíre going back tomorrow."

"Thatís *hallowed* ground, Addison. *Hallowed*. Try not to bring any of it across the water in your ass crack. Do *not* have sex there."

"Why not?"

"Because itís very *fertile* land and every seed that gets planted there multiplies."

"Huh?"

"Just donít do it."

"Youíre a freak." Addison chuckled. "Happy Birthday, by the way. Itís already the thirty first here. Your present should arrive tomorrow. Iím there in spirit, okay?"

"Youíre damn right you are," Callie replied. "I love you."

"I love you back. See ya soon."

They said their goodbyes and hung up. In Greece, Addison clapped her hands together and announced that Callie was fine, grabbed her bag, and headed to the helicopter that was waiting in the yard.

In Seattle, everyone watched as Callie got to her feet and gingerly walked out of the room. Cambyses shook his head and said, "Sheís a good actress. Too damn good."

Alex nodded as Raphael followed after Callie, then he crossed his arms over his chest. "Who the hell is Eros?"

"First guy she ever slept with," Cam replied. "He worked for our uncle and -"

"WHAT!?" Melana screeched, rushing out of the kitchen like a mad woman. "She - he - are you - Eros!?"

"She was nineteen, Mother," Stavros interjected. "But believe me, when I looked up and saw them on the glass balcony ... I made him pay. I kicked his ass every single time I caught them after that."

"More than once!?" Melana crossed herself, praying in Greek. When she was finished, she glared at her children, including Blake and Alex. "Is it so difficult to abstain before marriage? Is it? Really?"

"Well, it is for me," Cam told her. "I canít *get* married. Still gay and all."

"And really, Mom," Loukas, who was usually so quiet that you never knew he was there, said. "If Callie had waited until marriage ... her first encounter with sex would have been George OíMalley and ... that may have turned *her* gay or forced her into celibacy."

"And Eros? So hot," Blake cut in. "So, so hot."

"Watch it," Cambyses replied, then narrowed his eyes. "You didnít really have back pain in Greece, did you? You were faking so heíd keep giving you massages and - I have a thirst for killing now, Blake. Donít go there."

Blake laughed. "Iíll behave, Murder One."

"Do not joke about that!" Melana chided. "Even though the dead man is a son of a bitching asshole who not only had it coming ... but should have clung to life a little while longer to let *me* smother him with a pillow ... soaked in acid."

Alex watched Mel walk back into the kitchen with a new sense of wonder and awe where she was concerned. That faded when he looked back at the others. "But why does this Eros guy still work there?" he said. "I mean, he clearly took advantage of a young, naive girl and -"

"Oh my god, Alex. Did you have to take advantage of my sister?" Cam asked.

Alex turned bright red as he thought back to their first sexual encounter. They had argued on Goon Docks about whether or not she was ready for a relationship with him and she had taken control, leading him to the hot tub where she not only called the shots, she rocked his world harder than any woman ever had before.

"Yeah," Cam added, smirking when Alex looked at the floor. "I can see that you see my point."

"And donít think anything of her telling Addison to say hello," Blake suggested. "Because I have called more than once to do just that."

Cambyses shot to his feet, rushing after Blake who flew out the front door screaming with laughter.

*~

The Great Pyramids of Egypt were so impressive that there were simply no words to describe it. Viewing them in silence seemed to be the best thing anyway because the lump in Addisonís throat ... for reasons she didnít fully understand ... made it impossible to talk. Mark was also in awe and simply clung to her hand, trying to see everything at once. They had only set aside one full day to spend in Egypt, but two nights, having arrived the night before. Halloween at the Giza Plateau was amazing and Addison took photos of Mark in front of the most impressive pyramid and sent Callie a happy birthday greeting via cell phone.

Demi had work to attend with the Karakas Enterprise branch in Cairo and did not join them for the day so Addison and Mark soaked in so much culture that they were exhausted for the ride back to Greece. That night, they showered together, watching as the water turned red from the pyramid sand. Addison chuckled and told Mark what Callie had said about bringing sand back from Talking Rock in her ass crack. He decided that they would try to do just that the following day.

After they were clean, they retired to the bedroom where they both lay exhausted. They looked at one another for a while, then Addison laughed. "I canít have sex tonight. That camel ride? Horrible."

"Tell me about it. I think Iím chafed."

"What the hell will we do until we fall asleep?"

Mark smiled at her. "We could *talk*."

"Iím not talking about my last name again."

"Okay," he replied. "Then we could talk about the fact that I moved the lamp while you were drying your hair and that little painting right there opened up to reveal a vault with no lock."

Addison looked behind her where he indicated and gasped when she saw that the framed painting was slightly ajar. "Intriguing."

"Whatís intriguing is that there are two books inside and a ton of letters."

"To who?"

"Melana. From Raphael."

"You read them?!"

"You donít have that much hair, baby. No, I didnít read them. I read the front of the top envelope."

Addison pushed herself upright in the bed. "Maybe we should take them to her when we go back."

"If she wanted them sheíd have them. The two books look like diaries."

"Should we look?"

"Should we look at the private, personal diary of the woman who has welcomed us into her family, paid for our honeymoon, and invited us to stay at her family home?" He looked stern, then nodded. "Yes, I think we should. Sheís a mystery, you know? Iím interested."

"I was so hoping youíd say that!" Addison hopped to her feet and pulled the painting all the way open, then scooped up the diaries and the letters. She climbed back onto the bed and opened the first book, then the second. "Melana Eileen Karakas, age sixteen. The only one is seventeen."

"Read the first page and if itís too personal then weíll put it back."

Addison picked up her glasses from the nightstand and slipped them on, turning the yellowed page. "Dear Diary, today I turned sixteen. You, with your shiny leather jacket and gold trimmed pages, were a gift from Grandmama and I was so eager to fill your pages that Iíve left my party early and have hidden away in the grotto to do just that. No one lets me talk without judgment, but you, Diary, will do just that.

"My papa could not make it to my party again. I think sometimes that Iíve forgotten what he looks like, but every time he reappears my heart knows him well. Mother says that we mustnít complain because Papaís work is important and affords us luxuries that most people envy. I donít want to be envied. I simply want my father home.

"My party was a somber affair so I do not regret my hasty exit. Xenos is sick again and enjoyed the festivities from his wheel chair. They bled him again only three nights ago. Mother says that Xeno must have been touched by the Angel of Life because nothing can kill him. He should have died at birth according to her and sometimes, when his body wonít let him run and play with us, I think perhaps he wishes that he had. But Xeno came here for me, Iíve little doubt. Heís my twin ... only he was born two years later than me.

"I saw a young man today at the market. He had kind eyes, but they were sad. I do not think he is from Greece because Mother told him to move out of the way in Greek and he only smiled and stood his ground. He smiled at me as well and I spoke to him in English, but Mother tugged me away from him and then yelled at me in the car until I was certain her spleen would rupture. She vented it that well. Never talk to strangers, she said and I asked how a person could make friends if they never speak to the souls theyíve yet to meet.

"Most people donít have a cane taken to their legs for their smart mouth before their birthday party, but God made the exception for me. Mother says that my tongue will prevent me from gaining entrance to Heaven and I must confess that if logic is frowned upon by our Lord and Savior then Iíd just as soon spend my eternity delivering coal to other unfortunate sinners in the pits of Hell. Perhaps ... Iíll unseat Lucifer and reorganize things. A woman Devil could truly tempt herself back into the Lordís good graces.

"Alas, it has now gotten cold and Iíve no more bread to feed the eels so Iíll return upstairs and see if there is anything left to eat. Sometimes being the only girl in the family is not an easy thing. My brothers attack the dinner table like vultures on a carcass and you risk death trying to get into the mix. So, for now, Diary, goodnight. I feel we will be the best of friends." Addison put a hand against her chest. "She was lonely! She was lonely in a family of *nine*. That is so sad!"

"Read the next page. Same rules apply. If it gets to be too much weíll stop."

Addison flipped the page and cleared her throat. "This is about a week later. Dear Diary, Iím afraid that you were kidnapped and held hostage by Demi, but you seem to have weathered the unfortunate attack like a true champion. Although, the scratch on your spine ensured that Demi did not far quite so well. Iím certain heíll have a bruise the size of my foot on his backside for quite a few days.

"Papa came home! He was tired and surly as an old bear, but he lifted me into the air, spun me around, and gave me the most glorious easel and paint set that a person could ask for. I spent hours painting and then went to the orchard so that I could paint the fruit trees. We had a thief! The intruder didnít seem to realize that I was there to witness his dubious crime so when I bounced the first rock off his forehead, he stood there like a lecher with juice from our oranges running down his chin and he had the audacity to throw what was left of the mangled orange at ME!

"My goodness, I lifted up my skirt and dashed right at him. The biggest canvas that Papa bought me was smashed over his head and I tried very hard to poke him in the eye with my paintbrush, but he left running and I tripped over my own anger in my haste to pursue him. Iím quite certain he wonít be back, but just in case, I shall paint the trees for many days, not matter how boring it becomes when they only sit there and occasionally drop fruit to the ground." Addison laughed. "Poor guy."

"Keep going." Mark had rolled onto his side and was waiting for her to continue. "Wait, do girls really write in diaries and shit?"

"Some do."

"Weíre giving our daughter one as soon as she can spell. I want to know *everything*." He pointed at the diary. "More."

"Dear Diary, of all the nerve! I have seen many bold things in my family, the most notorious being the night that Demitri told my father to step into the front yard for a beating. It was bold and very nearly deadly because Demi walked out, crawled back in after the fight, and slept at the foot of the stairs because he was too sore to climb them. Iím quite certain that our thief has taken just as much leave of his senses.

"He was standing in the orchard just as pretty as you please when I arrived. I realized, when he wasnít caught in the act of thievery, that I recognized him. Heís the man from the market and his eyes were no longer sad today. They were amused and she pompously showed me a large orange that he dug from his pocket, then tossed it into the air. Well, you can rest assured that I warned him to drop it. I didnít just warn him, I issued a threat that would make my father break a cane on me if he could have heard my choice of words.

"The good for nothing fruit fly told me in an American accent that, I confess, was charming ... that he was a baseball fan. And to prove his point, he tossed the orange at me like a baseball. My heavens, I thought it would strike me and I would have been forced to kill him, however, it landed just shy of me and he said he had purchased it at the market to replace the one had stolen. Of course I didnít believe him and said that he could have stolen it from our tree as well and the bold, ridiculous thing said that the fruit from the market was a million times better and then he left me standing there with my mouth agape for so long that a gnat flew into it.

"I plan on going to the orchard again tomorrow armed with Demiís slingshot. I know that Iím sixteen and can no longer prance around like the boys, but Iím still the best tree climber and Iíll set a trap for him. Not only did he dare steal our oranges ... he insulted them as well. For that, he needs to bleed and I shall bounce a rock from his mouth to make it happen."

Mark was cackling with glee. The next few entries said nothing much. Melana had gotten into trouble for stealing bread to feed the eels and was prevented from going to the orchard or painting. She spoke at length about being forced to join the cooks and housekeepers with their daily tasks, but she used her kitchen time to make more bread for the eels and enjoyed learning a few recipes she had never cooked before. Fourteen short entries and days later, the mysterious man appeared again.

"Dear Diary, Mother specifically sent me to the orchard today to gather lemons for fresh lemonade. Xenos loves it and since he doesnít eat much or ask for much, we make sure he has his lemonade. I was gathering the citrus in a basket when a snake dropped out of the tree. It was large and sinewy, all muscle and mouth, and I screamed to the Heavens when it struck at my legs. I knew it was only an egg snake, but employing Papaís mentality of *all* snakes being poisonous adders has never failed me so I convinced myself that it was indeed the dreaded killer and shimmied up the tree it had just fallen from.

"My fear prevented me from thinking clearly because a moment later, the snake was slithering up behind me and I knew that I was about to leap to my death, but I jumped anyway. And wonder of wonders, the thief appears to have an affinity for lemons as well because he was lurking under the tree and I landed on top of him. I fared quite well, but he was less fortunate. My knee did what I had intended the sling shot to do and he bled profusely on my skirt and his shirt, but he didnít seem overly concerned because he took it upon himself to pat nearly every inch of me while asking if I was hurt.

"Never in my life has anyone taken such liberties with me and when he gripped my ankle, I slapped him across the face. He proclaimed that I was apparently uninjured and assisted me to my feet and began gathering my lemons for me. I was too shocked to thank him when he handed me my basket and bowed. I knew that I should have returned to the house straightaway, but I followed along behind him that ugly, mangy dog followed Xenos home last week. He told me that his name is Raphael and heís living in the woods like a gypsy for the time being.

"My goodness that was a big of intrigue. He would not tell me why heís there or what brings him to Greece, but he assured me that he would not be back on our land. I donít know why it upset me to think Iíll never see him again, but it did. So, because Iím now in trouble for bringing the lemons home so late ... Iíll have to sneak out to visit the woods in search of his elusive campsite. I forgot to thank him for breaking my fall. Yes, thatís what I must do."

"Itís Raphael!" Mark exclaimed, sitting up as well. "Did you keep a diary of how we met? Because this is incredible."

"No, Mark. I did not write about the way Derek introduced us and you puked on our clasped hands."

"Right. There was that." He took the diary and flipped to the next entry. "Dear Diary, I overheard Jonesy, the cook, saying that Xenos will die if he isnít submerged in the healing spring at Talking Rock. My mother refuses to allow him to go. She says that it will fill Xeno with false hope and shake his faith in God if nothing happens. She thinks itís a Heathen custom, but I donít agree. I think that hope feeds the soul and bandages the heart so Demi and I are going to kidnap him and take across the water.

"Iíve been praying especially hard as we make plans to do this. So devout is my conviction that I have abstained from searching out that troublesome Raphael, though he has retaliated by plaguing my dreams. I dreamed of his rough, gravely voice last night. Itís even deeper than Papaís and I used to love falling asleep on Papaís chest as he read from the Bible. Xenos commands all of my attention at the moment.

"Willa, Jonesyís daughter, is going to act as our watchman tonight while we load Xenos into the boat and row him to, what I hope, will be his salvation. We havenít told him much, but I think he knows enough to be excited. He ate two helpings of stew tonight and smiled even though that much food must have hurt his unstable belly." Mark frowned. "It ended there and ... the pen was apparently dropped on the page."

Addison looked impatient. "Can you flip the ink blotted page and carry on?"

Mark complied, checking the date. "This is a full month later. Dear Diary, we flipped the boat before we got to Talking Rock and Xenos very nearly drowned. The water was frigid and his poor, frail body wouldnít let him swim to safety. I helped keep him afloat until Demi could fetch the boat for us. It was upside down and no matter how Demi tried, he couldnít right it. We finally worked together to get Xen onto the boat and he was breathing so hard and shivering so much that I cried enough to warm the water for Demi and myself, but it didnít really work.

"We paddled and paddled to no avail because the current kept taking us further away from home, but no closer to land. Willa finally used the telescope and saw us in the moonlight when we didnít appear at the appointed time. Her screams awoke the entire family and even in the inlet, we could hear it echoing loud and clear. Papa came to retrieve us and the tongue lashing we received was only slightly less painful than the lashing he delivered with his belt.

"As I lay sobbing in the bed that morning, I was grateful that my body was still so numb because Papa had swung his belt wildly in his rage and left me bruised from my thighs to my shoulder blades. Demi begged to take my lashes as well, but Papa was enraged and said that if I was going to behave like one of his sons then I could accept the consequences. I was abed for close to a week because I physically couldnít move. Xenos suffered no ill side effects, however, and for that I would take another beating.

"Papa finally came into my room on the seventh day of my self imposed exile and he gathered me into his arms and cried his apologies. I told him I harbored no ill will and understood that we had frightened him and risked harming Xenos, but our intentions had been pure enough. He clung to me for a long while and promised me that he would never lift a hand to me in anger again. Considering my penchant for vexing him to delirium I donít think that is a promise he will keep, but I loved hearing his vow anyway."

"Oh my god." Addison shook her head. "He beat her."

"Addy, this is a long time before spanking was considered bad."

"Spanking!? He hurt her so much she had to stay in bed!"

Mark yawned and handed her the diary again. "Put it in the drawer. Iím exhausted. Weíll read more tomorrow."

"Tomorrow!? But -"

"Baby, we already know the ending. Itís a great ending. And weíve got time."

She reluctantly opened the drawer and put the diaries and letters inside, then she burrowed under the cover and watched him flip off the lamp. "I think Iíll start a diary when we get home. You know ... for our kids."

"Plural?"

"Plural."

"Letís practice."

She cackled with glee when he leaped on top of her.

She didnít think he was tired any more.

*~*~*~*~*
CH 6
*~*~*~*~*~

Cambyses awoke in a cold sweat. He sat up, breathing hard, running his hand through his damp hair. Blake wasnít there and the smell of breakfast cooking explained why. It suited Cam just fine to be alone. He didnít want anyone to see the tears on his face or hear him apologizing to a man who could no longer hear him. Killing Randall McFry shouldnít have affected him, but every night the dreams became more intense and the memory haunted his waking hours. Callie wasnít the only one who was a great actor.

There was a soft knock at the door and he wiped his face just in time for his twin sister to walk in. She carried a box wrapped in Barbie paper and she opened her mouth to speak, but she didnít. Instead, the smile faded from her face and she crossed the room in silence and sat beside him, putting the gift beside her. Cam reached out and took her hand, examining her swollen fingers in the morning light.

Callie bit her bottom lip as she watched him. She didnít have to ask what was wrong. "I dream about it. Every time I go to sleep."

His brown eyes met her matching ones. "You do?"

"I do. And every time ... Iím the one who kills him. *I* kill him, Cambyses, and you donít carry the weight of it. Itís not really a nightmare when it happens that way. But you suffering ... that is."

"Get out of my head," he replied, stroking his thumb over a bruise on her wrist.

"Iíve been in there since before birth. You canít fool me." She watched as he wiped at his eyes. "The first time I ever lost a patient on my own ... I shrugged and said it was part of the job and then I hid in a linen closet for the rest of my shift so no one could see me cry. Chief Webber found me and told me that a doctor canít save everyone. He said that some people die so that others can live, but I donít think itís just doctorís who -"

"Callie, it completely different and -"

"It must have been two for one day, Cam. I mean, you saved Derek and you saved me, but to do that ... you had to remove the threat." Callieís voice broke. "Iím sorry it happened. I am, but Iím not sorry that Iím still here ... and I donít think Iíd feel that way if you hadnít killed him. Because I really think if he was alive ... I wouldnít want to be and I do want to be."

"How do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Put a bandaid on my soul." He gave her a one armed hug.

"Because putting one on yours ... puts one on mine." She laid her head against his shoulder. "You didnít kill a man, Cambyses. You killed a monster. Donít you dare lose one wink of sleep over it."

"Letís make a deal," he replied. "Iíll get plenty of beauty sleep if you look me in the eye and promise me that youíre never gonna drink again. I need you to wake up and see what you stand to lose."

Sitting up, Callie lifted her chin and met his gaze. "I can look you in the eye and tell you that I donít *want* to drink again. I donít *plan* to. And I *promise* you ... Iím wide awake. Iím not living the dream anymore. I know what can hurt me now and I wonít ever forget."

"Alcohol can hurt you, Cal. Your liver -"

"I know." She lifted his birthday present into her lap and said, "I also know that youíve wanted one of these forever. Happy birthday."

He stared at the pink package, his nose wrinkled. "Dear God, Callie, why? Why Barbie?"

"You used to steal mine all the time."

"Why do you think Iím gay? If thatís what women are supposed to look like, Iíd rather have Ken." He took the box and shook it, then leaned over and pulled Callieís present from under the bed. Holding it out, he said, "Notice how I wrapped it in something *nice*."

"I notice how Blake wrapped it in something nice." She kissed his cheek. "Thank you."

"Open it before you thank me."

"Open yours, ass."

They opened their gifts together. Callie had given Cambyses a silver ring that read ĎI made a wishí on the outside. ĎAnd you cameí, was inscribed inside. He had given her a silver bracelet that said, ĎNot all who wander are lostí. They smiled when the put their respective pieces on. Cam lifted his fist, Callie did the same.

"Wonder twin power. Activate!" they said simultaneously.

"Are you two still doing that!?" Melana asked, watching from the doorway. She carried two cups of coffee and smiled when she crossed the room. She kissed Callie, then Cam, and held out the cups. "I think youíll find that I have prepared that exactly the way you each like it."

Callie sipped from the cup Mel had handed her and grimaced. Beside her, Cambyses did the same. They exchanged cups, sipped again, and nodded. Melana crossed her arms over her chest. "Happy birthday, heathens. Brunch will be ready soon."

"Brunch?" Cam asked. "I smell bacon."

"I smell lazy," Mel replied, tapping her watch. "I didnít think you two would ever wake up. Blake and Alex have gone into town to get more firewood. Itís supposed to be incredibly cold tonight."

"Whereís Dad?" Callie asked, getting to her feet.

"In the living room. Is everything okay?" Mel asked, watching Callie closely.

With a nod, Callie kissed Cam, then her mother, and left the room. She found Raphael arguing politics with Stavros, who greeted her with a boisterous rendition of ĎHappy Birthdayí. Loukas gave her a hug and punched Stavros in the arm for not being able to sing on key. Callie simply shook her head when Raphael hugged her. "Can I talk to you?" she asked.

"Sure," Raph replied.

"In private."

"Letís go outside. Thereís a fire going on the patio. The boys were out here earlier." He opened the door and waited for her to join him.

Callie gazed at the wide open space of the backyard. She would be completely exposed, out in the open. She had not stepped a single foot outdoors since she had come home and as she glanced at the grass, she remembered the way the ground in the courtyard of the church had felt biting into her exposed arms. "Dad-"

"Iíve got you, baby. Youíre safe with me. And itís a beautiful morning." He held out his hand. Melana had asked him to convince their daughter to get some fresh air and thatís what he would do. "Come on now."

She put her hand in his and stepped onto the back patio. The wind whipped her hair and she inhaled the salty smell of the water as she glanced left and right, trying to see every hiding place, every nook that could hold a person. Her father pulled out the wrought iron chair, causing it to scrape against the cement and she gasped, putting a hand against her chest. Raphael apologized, took her elbow, and guided her into the seat. Callie looked behind her three times before he could pull out his own chair.

"Whatís on your mind?" he asked, covering her hand with his. He watched her put her coffee cup down and frowned when he saw that it was almost full and still steaming. She hadnít been eating or drinking much.

"Camís not okay," she replied.

"I take it the reality has hit him?"

"Major league."

"I knew it would." Raph sipped his own coffee. "Iíll talk to him, kitten."

"Thanks."

He reached out and tilted her chin. Years of training had taught him how to keep his emotions off his face. It was hard work, however, because he wanted to cry every time he looked at hers. "Are you okay?"

"Not really."

"I didnít hear you pacing the hallway last night to check the doors and windows."

"Alex took a page out of Momís book and did a bait and switch with my pills." She decided that she hated the way people looked at her. Her father couldnít take his eyes off the bruises and she hated it. She felt unseen, like the bruises were all that mattered. "Can you hire someone to install security cameras?"

Raphaelís eyes widened. "Sure."

"And a fence?"

"And a fence," he agreed. "Consider it done. Iíll have someone out tomorrow."

She wrapped her hands around her cup. "I didnít pay attention when we moved in. Is the alarm system in the house a good one?"

"Top of the line. How are you and Alex? Is he being ... helpful?"

"Helpful?"

"Is he taking care of you, Mija?"

"Sure," Callie told him. "He always does."

"Not always. He hurt you."

"I hurt him first."

"Either way, I heard some of what he said to you at the wedding and I didnít approve. I may or may not have come very close to gutting him at the hospital. It was like the George thing all over again."

"Iím attached to this one, Daddy. Donít scare him off."

"Like I could," Raphael chuckled. "Every father wants the best for his little girl. Alex still has a few kinks that Iíd like to iron out with my boot, but I believe he loves you."

"I know he does."

With a twinkle in his eye, Raph rubbed the side of her face. "If you know he does then why are you keeping him at armís length? You donít let him in. You rely on Cristina more than Alex and thatís not very fair to him."

"My body ... it still looks bad." Callie glanced down at the bruises on her arms, then pulled her shirt sleeves down over her wrists to cover them. "I donít want anyone to see."

"You know, your mother used to hide her stretch marks from me like it was shameful. Sheíd try to cover herself and refuse to let me see her and it bothered me. A woman should be comfortable in their own skin, honey, not matter what that skin looks like. This is not your fault." He smiled at her. "Not that I want *anyone* to see you or know you in a biblical sense. Hmmm, perhaps I will gut Alex after all. And Eros too, apparently."

Callie choked on her coffee. "What!?"

"We heard all about it. I should make sure your uncle fires his ... ass."

With a sly smirk, Callie said, "So *that* is why Alex wanted to know everything about Greece last night. And Greek men. Thatís why he wants to go."

"You may as well take him," he replied. "Xenos and Demi are dying to meet him and perhaps Alex can handle Eros for me."

"Dad-"

"I paid for him to go to school to be a massage therapist and look at what he did!"

"He was good with his hands *before* he went to school."

"Calliope, I can not-"

A large bird flew across the yard, low to the ground. It cried out, a mournful, desperate sound and Callie jumped, frantically looking behind her. Wordlessly, she got to her feet and turned her chair so that her back faced the house and she could easily see every inch of the yard. Instead of looking at her father, she looked back and forth enough to mimic the movements of people who were at a tennis match. After a few seconds, she seemed to calm. "Everything scares me."

"Thatís natural."

"Not for me." She looked to her right as another bird appeared in her peripheral vision. "I hate it."

"Callie, youíre home. Youíre safe and -"

"Churches are safe, too, Dad. Right? And just look what happened." She wiped a tear off her cheek. "I need to not feel this way and I donít know how to stop."

For the first time in his life, Raph didnít know how to help her. He didnít know what to say, what to do, how to comfort her. He had witnessed the slightest touch from her mother cause Callie to yell out in fear. He had watched her burst into tears over the ringing phone and he was helpless.

The back door opened, causing a rake that was reclining against the back of the house to clatter noisily against the patio. Callie shot to her feet, spilling the contents of her coffee cup onto her lap and the front of her shirt. Alex, picked up the rake and leaned it back against the house, his eyes never wavering from Callie. "Iím sorry," he said. "I didnít know anyone was out here. I was gonna check the fire."

Wordlessly, Callie hurried into the house. Alex closed his eyes when the door slammed behind her. "I hate this, Raphael. Sheís scared of her own shadow and she doesnít know how to ... be."

"Go help her."

"She doesnít want me to -"

"Go. Help. Her."

Alexís eyes widened and he nodded, hurrying to the master bedroom. Callieís closet was open, but she wasnít there. He quietly walked into the bathroom and drew up short. Callie was tugging her shirt over her head and for the first time, Alex could see the magnitude of the damage. Her back and sides were dotted with purple spots and her waist had a ring around it, presumably from the attacker yanking her around by her dress.

She pulled the shirt off and tossed it aside, turning to grab the fresh one from the counter. She saw Alex and instinctively covered her breasts, but not before he saw the handprints there. They were unmistakable and still so sore that she couldnít wear a bra. Callie watched his hands fist at his side and tears blur his eyes. Saying nothing, he walked forward and pulled her into his arms.

"Alex-"

"Please. Just give me a second, Cal." He pulled her closer still, handing her like she was made of glass. "This shouldnít have happened to you. Not to you."

Callie wrapped her arms around him when the first sob wracked through him. She had seen him cry before, had felt him break in her arms after his mother had resurfaced, but it had never felt like this. He came undone as he clung to her and instead of falling herself, she found strength that she forgot she had. "Itís okay, Alex. Iím fine."

"Youíre not." He stepped back and looked down at her chest. "Does it ... hurt?"

"Only the cut."

"Cut?"

Taking a deep breath, she pointed at the underside of her left breast. "He - he put the knife down my dress to cut it away and -"

"Can I see?"

"Okay."

Alex peeled back the band aid that Cristina had placed over it the night before. The backs of his fingers skilled the bottom of her breast, her ribcage, but she didnít push him away. He kneeled down and ran his thumb over the two stitched. "God ... itís right over your heart."

"Derek attacked him while the knife was there. I donít know if he was trying to kill me or what that time, but ... when Derek hit him the knife cut me."

Moving his hand over her stomach, touching the explosion of color that covered her lower abdomen and hips, he said, "And this?"

"He kicked me. I think." She gasped when Alex kissed just below her belly button, then her side. She could feel his tears against her flesh and put a hand on his head, letting him touch every inch of her that he could see. When he urged her around, she turned and felt him smoothing over the marks against her back. He eventually got to his feet and kissed her shoulder.

"Iím sticky," she said, touching her stomach.

"You want to take a shower?" he asked.

She turned and looked up at him. "Do you?"

He nodded, leaning down to kiss her cheek. She watched as he turned on the water and pulled his shirt over his head. After locking the door, he crossed back to her and unbuttoned her pants, a task her swollen hands prevented her from doing. Her mother had dressed her that morning. She let him push them down and obliged by stepping out of them. Her thighs were bruised and while the water warmed, he touched the worst of it, his jaw set. "How in godís name can somebody do this to a woman?"

"Iíve stopped trying to figure that one out." She stepped into the shower and looked back at him. "You coming?"

"The last thing you need it a naked guy in the shower with you. Itíll just remind you that -"

"That I have a gorgeous husband whoís willing to wash my back." She smiled at him. "Come on."

He didnít look sure and when he joined her finally, he wore his boxer briefs. She glanced down at them, but didnít comment. Instead, she stepped into his arms as the water beat down against her aching body.

"Happy Birthday," he said. "Your presentís in the bedroom. I didnít forget."

She clung to him, her eyes closed. "This is all I want."

"This?"

"Us. I want us. The way we were."

"Weíre fine."

"Weíre not even close to fine, but -"

"How can you say that?" He pushed her hair over her shoulder and forced her to look at him.

"Because itís true, Alex. You wanted to leave me and you did. You werenít coming back until this happened and -"

"Youíre not gonna believe this ... so I saved the receipt because I know you," he cut in. "I was shopping for your birthday present when you were attacked. I was. Iím not even kidding. I felt like the biggest bastard on the planet so I was going to come home and give you this gift and beg you to forgive me."

"You went shopping?" One of her eyebrows arched. "After you found out I had something to drink? Why?"

"Because I have just as much blame as you in what you did. I know that. I realized it the second I drove away from the church and I wanted to make it right. Youíre not the only one who made a mistake, baby. I never should have left you for being you. You fly planes and you -"

"No. I was wrong to not tell you about the air show. I have to stop looking for a rush and settle down and -"

"I donít want you to resent me, Callie. I donít want to be that anchor that holds you down when you were never meant to -"

"I want you to be my anchor. There comes a time when a person has to decide their path and I want the family, Alex. I want the ground."

Alex sighed and shook his head. "Your mother sad that she had to let your father go and do crazy jobs while all of you were kids because she knew that her love would bring him home safe. She said she believed that he loved her enough to only take the right risks. She said that adrenaline junkies like you and Raphael canít be tamed and youíd die without it."

"Wait." Callie made a face. "My dad said that she told him to choose between his dangerous job or the family and he chose us. He said that it was time to hand up his ... wings. Oh my god, weíve been had. Manipulators! They played us!"

"So ... whatís the truth?"

"Who the hell knows?" She gave him an impish smile. "Wanna find out?"

"How?"

"Brunch. Just follow my lead."

Alex decided to follow her to the ends of the earth. Because she kissed him. It was their first kiss since before the attack and it felt like coming home. It was chaste, sweet, and sincere. He wanted to cry again.


This time from relief.

*~

Melana had cooked a feast. Everything that Callie and Cambyses favored was piled on the table. When Callie arrived at last, Melana nodded her approval at her flushed cheeks, and lifted her fork like she was conducting a symphony. Everyone sang ĎHappy Birthdayí, except Stavros, who suffered through the singing with Loukasís hand over his mouth. There were many laughs, many anecdotes and Blake and Alex were treated to one story after another about past birthdays, which The Wonder Twins vehemently denied. For the most part.

As she ate her birthday cake, Callie glanced at Alex and winked. "Daddy?"

"What, princess?"

"Iím gonna have a really bad scar on my leg."

Raphael frowned. "Perhaps not."

"I will," she replied. "But I was thinking ... you have a scar from being shot so ... weíll have something in common."

Sitting up a little straight, Raph looked at Stavros, who had opened his mouth to correct Callie. Raph moved to kick his eldest son under the table, but missed, kicking Melana instead. It startled the woman and she yelped. With a glare, she kicked him back, even harder, then slapped him on the arm. "What is the matter with you?" she snapped. "Control yourself or leave the table. Iíll have you committed to a retirement home if you canít keep your limbs to yourself. And Iíll pay them extra to let you sit in your own piss for a week."

"Sorry," Raphael replied, lifting his leg to massage it.

"Why did you kick her!?" Loukas demanded.

"He was trying to kick me," Stavros told him, smirking. "Dad, when did you get shot?"

"Any minute now," Melana replied, her eyes narrowed at her husband.

"Years ago." Raph, who had declared himself so stuff that he was miserable just moments before, dug into the cake again, refilling his plate. "I could eat this all day and -"

"Diabetic coma!" Callie cried, snatching it from him. "Can I see your scar? It would make me feel better about mine."

"Heís sitting on it," Melana growled. "Too bad it didnít paralyze the foot he canít control."

"I said Iím sorry!" Raph snapped. "Who wants to open presents!? Woo! Presents!"

Alex couldnít contain himself. "Melana, you didnít tell me about him being shot were you were waxing poetic about letting him do his job. You said the danger made the victory sweeter and you never worried."

"WHAT!?" Loukas cried, taking the cake from Callie and digging into it. "Mom used to cry every single time the phone rang thinking Dad wasnít coming home. She would -"

"Loukas," Melana said, snatching the cake from him. "If you canít contribute to the conversation then donít speak."

"What did I do?" Loukas asked Cambyses, who was watching the exchange with interest.

Raphael pointed to the island and repeated, "Presents. Woo."

Callie crossed her arms over her chest as she regarded her parents. "You guys arenít telling us something."

"For heavenís sake, Calliope, do you tell all of your secrets?" Melana inquired. "No? I didnít think so. Otherwise your dalliance with Eros wouldnít have given me heart burn last night."

"He didnít get shot," Stavros announced. "I remember it like it was yesterday. I was young, but some things *never* get erased from your mind." He looked at Callie. "Mom was pregnant with you and Cambyses and we flew from Greece to Virginia because General Wilkins called and told us that Dad had been wounded in the line of duty."

"Stavros!" Melana warned.

Stavros merely smiled and continued his story. "So, we got to Langley and Mom got mad as hell because they kept frisking her to make sure she actually had twins in her gut and not a bomb or something. Then they led us back to where Dad was and ... he had gotten sick during some training run and dropped his pants to use the bathroom. Well, a timber rattler saw that shining white ass coming down on top of it and struck him twice. And was it ever nasty?! God damn!"

Melana kicked her son under the table. "We just prayed over this food! I hope it upsets your stomach."

"Langley," Blake said. "Isnít that where the C.I.A. is?"

The Torres family stopped moving, stopped breathing, and looked everywhere but Blake.

"HOLY SHIT!!" Blake cried. "You were in the C.I.A.?!"

"What!?" Alex looked at Callie, who seemed to be engrossed in the grain of the wood table. "Seriously?"

Blake shot an accusing glare at Cambyses. "You never said C.I.A., Cam. You said he had dabbled in the FBI and -"

"Honestly, son," Raph said, glaring at Cam. "If youíre going to lie at least make it interesting. What happened to the Secret Service cover I gave all you kids? You were supposed to automatically say that I was away guarding the President."

"Guarding any President of late is not something to be proud of," Cam replied. "The FBI is pretty cool, though. They get nice hats."

Blake snorted. "In the C.I.A., you get nice guns. And gadgets. And bombs. And -"

"Itís really not like ĎAliasí." Raphael cut in. "No one looked like Jennifer Garner and we rarely had the need to wear lingerie on our missions."

"Are you sure you werenít wearing lingerie when your ass was bitten?" Cambyses asked.

"Presents!" Raphael snapped.

"Woo." Melana added.

*~*~*~*~

"Dear Diary," Mark read, fluffing his pillow against the headboard. "Today I stumbled onto something that I donít understand. Papa said that he was going to the market and disappeared. I went to the grotto to see if that pretty blue eel with the scarred head was back for more bread, but voices startled me. That man, Raphael, the thief, was standing toe to toe with Papa and they were yelling at one another in a language Iíve never heard. I think perhaps it must be Spanish, though I canít be certain. Iíve never heard Papa speak anything other than Greek or English, but he spoke whatever foreign tongue it was very well.

"And apparently Raphael didnít care for the subject matter because he got into his small motor boat after just a few minutes and sailed away. Papa was crimson. I thought that Iíd have to shove him into the water to extinguish the fire that seemed to erupt on his head. He paced for a while and then took the cave entrance to the house. I didnít follow. Iíve never been partial to that passage. Itís got too many hidey holes for spirits and ghouls.

"Xenos benefited from the healing spring, after all. Demi, after he was able to move again without being reminded of the beating he took (which Iím sure was worse than mine) swam to Talking Rock and filled a mason jar with water from the spring. Xeno was feverish and not able to keep anything down, even lemonade, so after everyone was in bed, I bathed his brow with the water and trickled some into his mouth. Oh, how he choked at first. I was quite certain heíd awaken the entire house, but no one came.

"Demi sat beside his bed reading the Bible while Xeno drank and drank from the jar. It was like his thirst could not be quenched after a while. My goodness, he drank until his scrawny belly looked like Buddha, though I can never let anyone know that I know what Buddha looks like. Mama and Papa would be beside themselves, weigh me down with rosaries, and drop me into the grotto to purify myself for looking at false idols.

"I donít know yet if the water will help Xeno. Iíve only just left his room and he was sleeping soundly. I put my ear against his belly and told Demi it sounds like he may have swallowed a fish as well. It was swishing and swirling like the water buckets when the ladies do the laundry.

"If Xeno is not near death tomorrow ... I will be looking for Raphaelís campsite. If he is near death ... Iíll stay until the very end. And then run because Iím sure the water will have killed him." Mark handed the diary to Addison. "Do you want to go downstairs and eat or have it brought here?"

"Here." She flipped the page, but waited until he called downstairs and asked for breakfast in bed before she started to read. "Dear Diary ... this is wrong, Mark. These are the private thoughts of a friend of ours. A friend who was clearly mistreated and misunderstood and -"

"Bad as hell." He smiled at her. "What else are we gonna do today? Itís raining outside and Iím still sore from walking all over Egypt. So, letís read. If you donít want to ... give it to me and Iíll do it in silence."

"Not happening." She lifted the book, settling back in his arms. "Dear Diary, Xenos woke me up this morning by jumping on my bed. At fourteen, heís so small and skeletal that he usually doesnít have the strength to hold himself upright. He walked with a perpetually curved back that caused Athena Niarchos to call him Quasimodo at the fair last year. Well, you donít even have to ask and since you canít ... Iíll just tell you that by the time I finished beating her into the mud she was not only sorry, she happily gave Xenos his first kiss. Sheís a bit of a troll, quite possibly a hag, but Xenos smiled for a week and hid the muddy shirt she had clutched when she kissed him under his mattress.

"But today his back was straight and he begged me to take him to the orchard so that he could pick the plumpest orange there. Naturally, I agreed. I dressed so quickly that my dress didnít match my hair ribbons, but he was frantically pacing just outside my door and I couldnít make him wait. His good days are so few and far between. He wouldnít let me drag his wheelchair out. Instead, he took my hand in his and led me down the slope. I kept telling him to slow down, but he only laughed and pulled me along behind him.

"He found an orange that was bigger than both of our fists and stretched out in the sun to peel it. Never has Xenos talked so much or so passionately. He laughed and joked and made remarks that were so out of character that I thought for a moment he was a changeling. We were laughing so hard that we didnít hear the snarling at first. A great black beast of a dog was coming toward us, hackles up, teeth bared. I threw what was left of my orange and it hit the animal on its slobbering mouth, but it didnít deter it. It charged at us and I gathered Xeno to his feet, shoving him up into the tree.

"I was pulling myself up when it lunged and caught hold of my ankle. Thankfully, I was wearing the boots that cover my ankle, but oh, the pain was incredible. I screamed and screamed and Xeno was frantically tearing my arms and shoulders to pull me further into the tree. When the gunshot rang out, I was certain that I had been shot. The dog tightened its grip in the moment before it died, then it whimpered, let go, and fell to the ground with its tongue rolled out. There was white foam still spewing from its muzzle.

"And then Raphael was there, examining my boot while I dangled between the branches of the tree. It was quite mortifying to have him unlace it and slip it and my sock off. It startled me so badly that I let go of the tree, but this time he was prepared for my descent and caught me with his arms and not his head. He set me on the ground, away from the dog, and reached for Xeno, who happily surrendered to Raphaelís much stronger arms.

"Only my pride was wounded. My ankle is now resting in a basin of ice water. Itís slightly purple, but the skin wasnít broken. Raphael said the dog must have been drinking sea water and it drove it mad. Xeno allowed Raphael to give him a piggy back ride to the house because he was exhausted from our ordeal and knew I couldnít support his weight on my ankle. Before he told us goodbye, Raphael mentioned that heíd be in the orchard tomorrow. Stealing fruit. His criminal deeds appear to amuse him because he winked at me when he said it."

Mark held out his hand and read the next entry. "Today ... oooh, she didnít say Dear Diary ... Today, was like a dream. I awoke with the urge to wear a new dress. Demi bought it for my birthday and Mother said itís too adult, too free spirited, but I like it. It has no real sleeves to speak of. Iíve seen similar dresses in magazines, but we have our clothing made from patterns here that mother cuts herself. At any rate, Demi saw me and said I looked like a movie star. I went to the orchard alone, feeling like a star and that feeling hasnít truly left me yet.

"Raphael was there, perched in the tree that had witnessed my snake humiliation. He jumped down when he saw me coming and handed me a red rose, saying he didnít realize that it would match my dress. We strolled through the orchard for so long that the shoes I wore began to pinch my feet. Raphael told me to take them off and I was embarrassed to show my feet, but I knew the lush grass would feel like cool water so I complied. We wound up at the beach and he took his shoes off, too. Iíve never seen a manís feet before unless you count my brothers, which I donít.

"We waded for what felt like an eternity and then I showed him one of the caves that led to the grotto. I donít know why I did it. He clearly knew how to get to the grotto because I had seen him speaking to my father there. When I asked him about it, he said that it was business and would not tell me what kind. My bare feet didnít enjoy the rocky floor of the cave and I stumbled. He caught me and ... well, he kissed me. It was definitely a kiss. A rather strange kiss that involved his tongue touching mine. Iím not at all convinced that people actually do that awkward thing regularly, but we did it so many times that Iím well versed in it should it happen again."

They swapped the diary back and forth, reading passage after passage, pausing only to admit Barnacle, who apologized for the rain as he delivered their breakfast. The poor old man seemed to feel personally responsible for the dreary day and made every suggestion under the sun on how he could rectify it. The newlyweds finally assured him that they were exhausted and need a day of rest and he excused himself. While they ate, they talked about Melana and Raphael.

Melana had chronicled their first real Ďdateí. She had packed a lunch and traipsed through the woods until she found his campsite. They ate on a blanket in front of his tent and he told her that he wanted to kiss the cook. She assured him that he already had and let him kiss her again. And again. And then some more. There were entries that talked more about Xeno and his mystery illness, which seemed to have come back stronger than ever, and several weeks past where Melana didnít write at all, she simply drew hearts and wrote Raphaelís name over and over again.

"Sheís so in love," Addison said, her thumb trailing over a particularly ornate heart.

"Fast forward this thing to the next chapter, Addy."

She sighed and looked at him. "We should take a moment and bask."

"Iíd rather take a moment and get to the smut."

"Pig." She turned the page. "I told Raphael today that weíre going to sneak Xeno to Talking Rock tonight. Xeno has turned yellow and the doctors say that he could go at any time. I havenít forgotten what the spring water allowed us to do the day after he drank it. We walked to the orchard together that day. We laughed. He was healthy. So I believe. Raphael said that if we come to the grotto with Xeno, heíll take us in his motor boat.

"I was frightened to tell Demi about Raphael, but he took it well enough. I think that heís been spying on us, in all honesty. Because he called Raph a Spaniard and I never once mentioned his name or his nationality. Are Cuban people Spaniards? Iím quite concerned with how Demi will treat him tonight. I must go and prepare. Iím taking more than one jar tonight to see if that will prolong Xenoís fortitude."

Addison frantically flipped the page. "Dude, this is written the same day."

"And?"

"Dear Diary, Iíll begin this entry by telling you that Xeno is okay. I, on the other hand, can barely move. Raphael was waiting for us in his boat and he held up his arms to accept Xeno, who was bundled in a blanket. I rode to Talking Rock with him in my arms and he shivered and cried the entire time. Demi didnít say much, he simply glared at Raphael and did what he could to add tension to an already tense situation.

"When we arrived at Talking Rock, Xeno wanted to walk. He was so weak that it took Raph and Demi both to support him and I was beside myself watching him struggle to get to the last puddle of salvation we have. When the spring came into view, he asked them to let him go and he half crawled, half walked to the edge, where he lay on his stomach and gazed at the shallow depths. The moon was reflected right over him, bathing us all like nymphs, and then we heard him praying and crying and asking God to let it work. I rushed to his side to add my own prayers and then Demi and Raphael fell to their knees beside us, adding their own fervent cries.

"Xeno pulled himself into the water and went under. I wanted to scream, to wrench his head back up, but Demi caught my arm and told me to give him a moment. I never knew that anyone could hold their breath that long and I donít understand exactly HOW he disappeared when we could see the bottom clearly, but I promise you ... Xeno was gone for a short while. When he finally did reappear, he was laughing.

"And he walked out. He didnít crawl.

"Our celebration, while incredibly heartfelt and full of praise, was short lived. My father came ashore looking like a madman. He went after Demi first, swinging his belt so many times that Demi, who is a grown man himself, was crying out from it. Then he came at me and Raphael, who had been waylaid by collecting water at the spring, got between us and refused to move. My father was a man undone. Raphael would not let him hit me and told him that if his temper needed to be sated that badly to hit him instead. My father obliged. It was so traumatic. By the time it was over, I had gotten my share of the beating by trying to help Raphael. It was Xeno who stopped it. He opened a jar of water and threw it at my father.

"I tell you ... I heard it hiss. And just like that, the melee was over and he was hugging Xeno, unable to believe his eyes. On the way back from Talking Rock, sitting sideways in my fatherís boat to watch Raphael as he sailed out of site toward his campsite, I began to cry. Papa said that Iím not to see him again. Demi told him that Raphael was HIS friend and that I didnít know him, but Papa doesnít seem to believe it." Addison didnít give Mark the diary for the next entry either. She read it, too. "Dear Diary, before the sun rose ... the passageway into my bedroom opened and Raphael appeared. I was crying into my pillow because I hurt so badly and it startled the tears dry. I could only stare at him as he rushed across the room and gathered me into his arms. I knew that they were strong, sturdy arms, but they chased away the chill and filled me with warmth like Iíve never known.

"He asked to see my back because there was blood on my dress and I let him. I let him because Iíve never really had anyone seem to care so much. He wet his hand in the jar of water I had brought back and trailed it over the welt on my skin from Papaís belt. It stopped burning right away and then I felt his lips against my neck and strange things started to happen to my body. And it kept happening as he pushed my tattered dress to the floor.

"I know what we did is wrong. I know it is. It shouldnít have happened and it ... it hurt, but then it didnít hurt and it was wonderful and I didnít want him to leave. I cried when he said that he should go and he clung to me, telling me that he loved me, that he had loved me since he had seen me in the market on my sixteenth birthday. That was only seven months ago, but I feel like Iíve known him all my life. I canít remember not knowing him.

"I love him, too. I love that he was there to help Xeno, that he prayed for him, that he came to help me and ... that he taught me what my body can do. I never, ever knew that people could do what we did and I donít regret it. I canít regret it because for the first time in my life .... I feel alive. I feel wanted. I told him just before he left that I would run away with him anytime. All he has to do is ask me and Iíll leave everything behind. Iíll leave the money, my life ... even Xeno, because my heart doesnít know how to keep beating unless I can see him.

"There was blood on my sheets this morning. I washed them myself and hung them on the line before anyone else woke up. Papa was in the blue room when I came inside. Unlike all the other times that he apologized for hitting me ... today he didnít. Maybe he doesnít understand love. Love propelled us to take Xeno to Talking Rock. And love propelled me to hug Papa and forgive him once again. And love propelled me last night and no one should ever feel badly about such a wonderful, pure feeling." Addison closed the diary and looked at Mark. "Oh my god."

"I know."

"I *told* you that there was something up with that healing water! I told you!" Addison pulled her foot from under her and flexed it. "I should be crippled. They hurt that bad."

Mark grabbed her foot and tickled it, causing her to forget the diary. She wore his shirt and he unbuttoned it pushing it over her shoulders. When she was naked, he licked his lips and smiled up at her. "Weíre going tomorrow. To Talking Rock."

"Yeah?" Addison tugged his pants down and slipped back up his body, grinding against him. "All by ourselves?"

"Completely." He slid his hand along her cleft, dipping inside her moist center. "And what we donít do there ... canít be done."

"Itís *hallowed*," Addison replied, groaning as he lifted her hips and pulled her down onto him. "Oooooh, so is this."

"I agree."

They made love for hours and fell asleep with their arms around each other. Their lunch arrived, waking them, and they decided to leave the diary alone for a while and head back down to the grotto.

They stopped at the kitchen first to ask for bread for the eels.

If anyone thought the suggestions was odd, they didnít comment. Instead, they supplied the two house guests with enough bread to feed an army and told them to watch for the lucky blue eel with a scar on its head. Willa said that seeing the eel was a sign of good things to come.

In the grotto, Mark saw it first. The scar was only a blue when the eel darted out at the first drop of bread against the waterís surface. When the second piece was dropped, the animalís entire head came out and left no doubt that it was the eel that was mentioned in Melanaís diary as well.

"How long do these things live?" Mark asked, watching as several more joined the feeding frenzy.

"Apparently pretty damn long. Weíll ask Xeno."

Side by side, they sat at the waterís edge, listening to the eels splash and the thunder reverberate through the cavern. "This is the best honeymoon ever," Addison said. "Remind me to take Melana a souvenir of some kind."

"What do you give the woman who has everything?"

"Iím sure weíll think of something."

"Iím sure we will." He put an arm around her. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

"Wanna move to Greece?"

"I got a feeling we'll be carrying it with us no matter where we wind up."


*~*~*~
CH 7
"Where were you?" Burke demanded when Cristina opened the door. "Have you ever heard of a telephone?"

Cristina reached into her back pocket and pulled out her cell. "Itís dead."

"Iíve been worried sick. Youíre two hours late. I called the hospital and they said that you left a while ago." He pulled her into his arms, hanging onto her.

She rolled her eyes. Ever since Callieís attack, Burke had become so overprotective that he called her the second she was out of sight in the mornings to make sure her car doors were locked. No matter how often she reminded him that they locked automatically, he still wanted to hear the click. He had actually taken the day off at Mercy West to have an alarm system installed in their apartment. She patted him on the back and said, "Paranoia will give you ulcers."

"Not calling me will give you a night on the sofa."

She smiled up at him. "Do I smell baked chicken?"

"You do." Leaning down, he kissed her and took her coat, hanging it on the hook behind the door. "Have you seen Callie?"

"Yeah. Itís her birthday. I took her something from Hot Topic. Sheís scaring me," Cristina replied, letting him lift her onto the kitchen counter. She plucked a yeast roll from the pan and bit into it. "Itís like she goes in and out of herself. Sheíll be fine for a while and then ... sheís just ... not there anymore."

Burke accepted the bite of roll she gave him. "You havenít been sleeping and last night I had an entire conversation with you that you didnít hear. This thing ... this horrible, horrible thing that happened to Callie is making *you* go in and out of yourself and you only saw it. She lived it."

"I know." Cristina finished off the roll and pushed her hair away from her face. "Meredith said that Derekís been having nightmares. She said that he keeps talking about Callie and -"

"We see things like this every day in our profession." Burke reached up to touch the necklace he had given her for Christmas the previous year. He had taken her engagement ring to the jeweler, where the diamonds were removed from the ring and set into a locket. It made him feel better to know that she wore the ring he had painstakingly chosen, even if it was like this. "We see it from a professional standpoint. Callie made it personal for all of us. Weíre all feeling it in different degrees."

"It feels like Ďcagefighter Callieí is down for the count."

Burke shook his head. "You canít keep a woman like her down for long. Sheís strong and she has an amazing support system."

Cristina grinned. "I love your brain."

"I love yours too." He kissed her, lingering over her lips for a while. "Erica Hahn called me today and mentioned that she wasnít happy at Seattle Grace any more. She suggested that perhaps Iíd be interested in returning to my old position."

"But youíre the Chief at Mercy West!"

"I miss *my* support system."

She watched him as he took the chicken out of the oven and stirred the contents of two saucepans. "Your support system misses you too."

"I could resign. Iíve had over a year of experience as Chief of Surgery and ... that may look good down the road."

"Or it could look like you got the job, hated it, and bailed."

"Or it could look like I got the right job at the wrong hospital. And - I donít want to work eighteen hours a day anymore. I never see you. This was a great job before we worked out our problems, but now ... I miss you. I miss you more than I did when we were apart because ... I know youíre here. And I could be here, too."

"You would give up the Chief of Surgery job at a prestigious hospital because you *miss* me?"

"I know what my priorities are. And youíre at the very top."

"This is your career, Preston."

"This is my *life*, Cristina." She picked up another roll, but he took it from her and dropped it back onto the pan, saying, "Stop stress eating."

"I donít want you to regret this. You got your dream. Youíre *Chief*."

"I got the *job*. Iím looking at the dream."

With a smirk, she pulled him closer. "Well, now Iím not hungry at all. Wanna get laid?"

Their dinner was forgotten.

Cristina couldnít *wait* for him to return to Seattle Grace.

*~*~*~

Callie woke with a start. She always woke with a start. Glancing at the clock on the end table, she realized that her afternoon birthday nap had drifted toward evening, then she let her gaze fall on the photo that was illuminated by the glow of the clock. It was the photo that Alex had ripped. Not that one precisely, but a duplicate. He had found the negatives and had one blown up to an eight by ten to replace the one he had destroyed. It was in a new frame, a silver one that said ĎForeverí at the top. Alex had given it to her for her birthday along with her wedding rings. He had even gotten on his knees to beg her to wear them again, swearing on everything in the world that heíd never hurt her, never leave her, never make her regret it. She believed him. She had to believe him.

Lifting her hand, she gazed at her rings. They were a little snug because of the swelling, but she felt complete again. She heard the door creak open and rolled over, smiling at Irene. Flipping the lamp on, she sat up. "Hey."

"Hey, honey," Irene replied, closing the door behind her as she walked into the room. She carried a large package, gaily wrapped. "Happy Birthday. I just got off work so I had to miss most of the party."

"There wasnít one. We had brunch together and then I slept most of the day away."

"Thatís understandable." Irene held out the box. "I hope you like it."

"You didnít have to get me anything," Callie told her, accepting it. She opened it and smiled when she saw the snowglobe inside. It was a scene from ĎThe Wizard of Ozí which they had watched together recently. Winding it, Callie grinned up at her mother in law as the tinkling of ĎSomewhere Over The Rainbowí began to play. "I love it. Thank you."

Irene smiled and sat down, watching as Callie shook it, making the snow fall. "Can I talk to you?"

Meeting her eyes, Callie frowned. "Okay."

"I know that you love Alex. I know. I know that you two are perfect together and heís a better man because of you, but - I didnít know that you had an alcohol problem." Irene shook her head. "I just found out today at the hospital. You know how gossip is at that place."

Callie didnít reply so Irene continued. "I also know that alcoholism is a disease. I know that you canít help it, but, Callie, he had to live through this once already with his father. It destroyed him every single time his dad would come home drunk or use our food money for more alcohol. He used to force Alex to go into the kitchen to get him more beer and -"

"Itís not like that with me."

"Did you really almost kill yourself intentionally with liquor?"

"Yes, but -"

"Then itís worse." Irene stared at her, unblinking. "Iím asking you as his mother to not do this to him. Iím asking you to remember your wedding vows and think about him first. Addiction is a beast and I understand that itís hard to be strong, but my son is miserable and you can stop it."

"I have stopped it. I had one slip up in over a year." Callieís palms had begun to sweat so she laid the globe back in the box and swiped them over the cover. "Iím not perfect."

"No one is," Irene agreed. "All Iím saying is ... think. Think about where he came from, Callie. Donít make him overcome that just to relive it again and again with you. Donít be like his father because if you ever have kids ... itíll damage them for life and Alex will wind up like me." Getting to her feet, Irene took a deep breath. "I have to go. I hope you have a good night, sweetheart."

Callie nodded, watching the other woman leave. The last strings of the song finished playing and she lifted the globe again, peering into it. She decided then that sheíd give anything to be picked up and taken to Oz, to anywhere. She wanted to vanish for a while. It didnít help that workmen would be arriving the following day to install the security cameras and fence. Finding out that the house and yard would be crawling with strange men had prompted her to self medicate and go straight to bed. As much as she wanted it done, the thought of it left her panicked inside. She wanted to run. She needed to run.


Since she was a child, at the first hint of trouble ... Callie ran. After wrecking her first bike, she had hidden in the woods overnight and that trait had remained with her through adulthood. When she learned of Georgeís infidelity, she hopped a plane to North Carolina for fifteen days and didnít call anyone to say she was alive. Alex was the first person she had ever invited along for one of her self imposed exiles and she knew, as she gazed at the globe, that it was time for another one. This time ... Alex couldnít go.

She needed to help herself, she decided. She needed to get away from the pitying eyes of her friends and family and *think* for a while. She couldnít do that surrounded by people who coddled her and made excuses for her. No matter how they tried, they didnít take away the pain, the fear, the anxiety. She was terrified in her own home, scared to walk into a darkened room and shocked at her own reflection when she walked past a mirror. A change of scenery would be perfect. And sheíd call from wherever she landed to assure them all that she was okay.

Thinking required a change of venue sometimes.

Running felt like the smart thing to do.

She got to her feet and located her cell phone. Within fifteen minutes, her plane was being fueled and readied for a flight to Alaska. It was the first place she thought of. Miles and miles of empty stretches with no one to see her. She had little doubt that she could secure a small cabin, hide away, and be alone with her thoughts. Locking the bedroom door, she hastily threw together an overnight bag and pulled a wad of cash from the fireproof box on the top shelf of her closet. She stowed the bag underneath the bed just as someone wiggled the doorknob.

"Callie?" Alex called.

She adjusted the dust ruffle before she let him in. "Sorry. I was gonna change clothes and I didnít want anyone walking in."

"How do you feel?"

"Fine. Good. Iím good. Great. Really."

He cupped her cheek, looking into her eyes. "Are you *sure*?"

Her stomach twisted. She loved and hated the way he could see through her, into her. "Iím better," she assured him, not feeling the false conviction in her own voice. She looked away first, motioning at the bed. She sat down, but he remained on his feet. "Is something wrong, Jock Strap?"

"I donít know," Alex replied, crossing his arms over his chest. "You tell me."

Callie shrugged innocently. Because his gaze was becoming unbearable, she finally said, "Are we ever gonna talk about the drinking? Because ignoring it doesnít make it go away."

He cleared his throat, more to buy time than because he needed to. It wasnít a topic he cared to discuss at all, but she had tried for several days. "Letís talk about it then."

"Youíre still mad at me for it."

"Youíre still pissed at me for shooting my mouth off, too."

"Alex."

"Fine, Iím mad as hell." He nodded. "It infuriates me to think about it. You ruined your sobriety over something stupid as hell. It was stupid. And it makes me sick to know that you did it. If youíre waiting on me to yell at you though ... itís going to be one hell of a wait. I think youíre sorry for it. I think youíre punishing yourself enough for everyone. Right?"

"I am sorry," she confirmed. "And scared that Iíll do it again."

"Why?"

"Because I like it. Because I really think I have a problem and - and I want it to go away."

Alex sat down beside her, his fingers digging into his thighs. "Baby, do I not make you happy anymore? Did I push you so far that you canít come back? Because you were fine until we fought about the air show."

"I havenít been fine. All along."

"Cal-"

"Iím a great actress, Alex." Reaching over, she took his hand. "Iím strong. I have willpower, but I think about drinking every day. Good or bad."

"Since when?"

"When I was married to George ... it was like a drinking game. If he left without saying he loved me ... Iíd take a shot. If he hurt my feelings ... Iíd do two. If he made me feel inferior to his friends ... Iíd shoot whatever was left in the bottle and try not to hurt for a while. It was the only way I could deal."

"Do I make you feel that way?"

"You made me feel worse, Alex. George ignored me, which at the time was awful, but you - you made it very clear that I was a mistake you made and you werenít coming home."

"I was verbally abusive. I get that. I shouldnít have said -"

"Youíre forgiven," she replied, cutting him off.

"Youíre forgiven, too." He gave her a sad smile. "I donít know how to help you through this drinking thing, Callie. I really donít. I can only tell you that if me leaving played any part in it that you wonít ever have to worry about it again. I know Iíve said it before, but Iím not going anywhere. None of *us* are going anywhere. Weíre all here for you."

Callie looked away. "My parents will probably try to send me to rehab. Maybe I should have gone last time."

His eyes widened. "You want to go?"

"I want to never drink again," she replied.

"Rehab doesnít guarantee that," he said, choosing his words carefully. "And neither does running away to rehab."

She swallowed hard. Surely he didnít know. "Iím not -"

"Itís what you do. You get scared and you run. And youíre terrified right now. Right?"

"No."

He leaned a little closer. "Youíre not *that* great of an actress."

Callie forced herself to smile at him, even as she thought of the packed bag under the bed.

She let him talk her into going downstairs for dinner after that, but the smile never returned to her face.

*~

Melana sat on the bed, rubbing lotion into her skin. Raphael sat next to her, rigid and fully clothed, flipping through a book. She took a deep breath and looked at him. "I have a bruise on my leg."

"I have an even larger one, Sasquatch," he replied, lowering the book to look at the purpling bruise that marred her bronzed skin. With a grin, he sat up, lifted her leg, and kissed it. "Better?"

"No. Your children and I were the ones blessed with full lips, Raphael, so try a little harder. Chickens peck, not men."

With a grin, he lowered his head and did a much better job. Despite the tension he felt, he lost himself in the task and a full minute passed before she tapped him on the shoulder. "What, honey?" he asked.

"We need to take the twins to Greece. Tomorrow. Stavros and Loukas are ready to return to Miami. I took it upon myself to speak with Chief Webber about Alex taking some time off and he agreed." She continued to rub lotion into her skin. "Please, Raph? We both know what they need. Callie in particular."

"A massage from Eros?" Raph asked, bitterness creeping into his voice.

Mel smacked his arm. "I still canít believe she did that. Thatís *four* men that we know about."

"FOUR!?"

"George, Alex, Mark and Eros."

Raphael sat up. "Yes, we can go to Greece tomorrow. I need to make Addison a widow."

"Stop that."

"Sorry, mi vida. Itís just ... sheís -"

"Not a virgin, Raphael. We established that months ago."

"We better change the subject before I go choke Alex." Scratching his chin, Raphael added, "The construction crew arrives tomorrow. Leon should be able to oversee it."

Mel chuckled. "You never told Callie that he was your partner for a while, did you?"

"Sheíd call it overkill."

"It could make her feel safer, sweetheart. Alex and Blake were duly impressed with your work history."

"They better be. Iíll slip right back into agent mode if they hurt my kids."

"Thatís so manly I could just *die*." She breathed deep, sniffing the air. "Nothing like misspent testosterone. I think I shall refer to you as Pepé Le Pew if you keep spraying it."

He kissed her lips, cupping her face. "I wonder what people would say if they knew who actually had the bullet scar in this family."

"That is not something I care to revisit."

"Youíre brave, Melana. And our daughter has your guts." He ran a hand through his hair and finally told her the truth. "Sheís about to fly, mi vida."

"Fly?"

"Branson called. She had her plane prepared today. For Alaska."

"WHAT!?"

"Alex questioned her indirectly and said she didnít let on. I even spoke a little at dinner about it, but sheís not - why would she run away now?"

"Iíll find out!" Melana started to rise from the bed, but he caught her arm. "If you know whatís good for you-"

"We want to see if sheíll go through with it. Iíve put a special code in the alarm. If she tries to exit *any* door or window itíll wake the dead." He pulled her back down beside him. "I donít understand what sheís thinking."

"I donít know either. I donít know how to help her, Raphael. Iíve been beaten, certainly, but never by a stranger who would see me dead."

"It probably hurts less when itís a stranger," he said. "You should tell her about your father. Perhaps-"

"Goodness, no! Iíve built him up so much that it would devastate the children to know the truth about him." She snuggled against him, hoping his warmth would chase away the chill she now felt. "They think heís some dashing figure who loved his children and -"

"He did," Raph assured her. "But his misdeeds seemed to outweigh his goodness."

"Iíd never speak ill of the dead. Donít you."

"Iíd never speak ill of your father, but we both know he wouldnít take offense to it if he were still alive. He would agree."

"Hmm, do you think our children would speak ill of us if they knew what we had done?"

"Which part?"

"All of it."

Raph kissed her forehead, pulling her closer still. "No, I donít think theyíd speak ill. Although, Iíd rather we live silently forever in our own painful memories than add anything to Calliopeís. Sheís miserable."

"She needs to be. Itís well earned pain, honey. She very nearly killed herself with alcohol and then -"

"Leave her be."

"How can I? Now you tell me that sheís leaving. Running away again. Do I need to remind you what that does to you when you have to track her down all over the world? Alaska, indeed."

As if on cue, the alarm system wailed. Raphael shot to his feet and didnít miss a beat as he raced from the room. Alex was a few steps ahead of him in the hallway and when they rounded the corner, Callie was rushing out the front door. It was Cambyses, however, who stopped her. He was leaning patiently against the garage doors and when she ran around the side of the house, he casually caught her around the waist. Lifting her off her feet, he carried her right back where she had come from and put her down on the front stoop.

"Well, well, well," Raphael said, taking the bag from her arm. "I canít wait to hear what you have to say for yourself."

Callie didnít meet his eyes. Or Alexís. Her husband had stepped over the threshold of the door and she didnít need to see him to know that he was furious. From three feet away, his anger was scorching. Cam put a hand on her back and forced her to walk inside the house. When she headed for the hallway, he gripped her arm and pulled her to the sofa, standing over her like a sentry. Leon arrived last, out of breath, his gun drawn. Raphael waved him away put his hands on his hips as he glared at his daughter.

"What are you doing?" Alex asked, breaking the heavy silence.

She let her head fall forward, then jerked it up again, pretending to be startled. "Am I sleepwalking?"

"That only ever worked when you were a toddler and even then not well." Melana moved to stand beside Alex. "Alaska, Calliope? Honestly, what is there in Alaska other than bears?"

"Thatís kinda the whole point," Callie replied. "I - I want to be alone."

"No." Alex and Raphael said together.

"So you can drink?" Mel inquired sternly. "Because if thatís the case, if youíre so proud of your ability to get drunk, then do it here in front of us. Cambyses has wine and Iím fairly certain that Leon has beer in the shack. Which do you prefer?"

Stavros, Loukas and Blake entered the room in various states of dress. "Whatís going on?" Loukas asked, tugging his T-shirt over his head.

"Callieís running again," Cambyses told him. "As usual."

Stavros stalked forward, leaning down so that he could see his sister eye to eye. "Look at me." When she complied, he lifted his finger. "Number one, I love you even though you make it very difficult." He lifted a second finger. "Number two, I voted in your favor against rehab. Number three, if you make me regret that youíll be visiting me from the afterlife at the prison, because I will choke you to death with my bare hands."

"And what he doesnít choke," Loukas added, "Iíll drown."

"Cambyses," Melana said. "I suppose since these two will have thoroughly killed her youíll be left to the burying."

"Sheís burying herself without our help," Cam said, crossing his arms over his chest. "Cal, do you know what it would have been like for us if we woke up tomorrow and you were gone? Do you care?"

"Has she ever?" Stavros asked, throwing his hands in the air. "Iím going back to bed."

"We all are." Melana tapped her foot on the floor. "We need to get up early tomorrow, by the way. Our flight to Greece leaves at ten in the morning and Iíll expect you all to be up and ready."

"What?" Cam looked at his mother as if she had grown two heads. "Weíre going to -"

"We obviously canít help your sister," Melana snapped. "But I have *no* doubt that Demi and Xeno will shake some damn sense into her. Calliope, if you wish to be alone once weíre there, Iíll happily lock your ass in the cellar. You want to hit rock bottom? Iíll help all I can."

One by one, the Torres family headed back to their bedrooms, leaving Alex and Callie alone in the living room. Alex retrieved her bag, locked the door, and reset the alarm. When she made no move to follow him, he said, "Letís go to bed."

"I donít want -"

He held up his hand to silence her. "We can either go to bed or we can fight about this. Those are our choices and the things I want to say to you would make everything else Iíve said recently seem pretty tame. So, Iím telling you that your best option is to come with me and go to sleep."

Callie got to her feet and trudged behind him. In the bedroom, he tossed her bag into the corner and snatched his robe off, throwing it over the foot of the bed. Callie went into the bathroom to change, but he appeared in the doorway, watching her like a hawk. His intense scrutiny made her so nervous that she dropped her nightclothes twice. When her pajamas hit the floor for the third time, she started to cry.

"Donít you dare cry," he snapped. "Itís not gonna work this time."

Callie retrieved the tank top and boxers and laid them on the sink, sobbing quietly as she fumbled with her belt. Her vision was so blurred that she could barely see the buckle and she fumbled for what felt like an eternity before Alex shoved her hands out of the way and opened it himself. The silence was punctuated by her sniffles and the hitching of her breath as she pulled her sweater over her head. "Alex, I wasnít going to let you worry. I was going to call you when I got there."

"Stop talking."

"I just needed to clear my head."

"I mean it."

"I was only going to be gone a couple of days and -"

"Stop. Talking."

Her sobs intensified as she pushed her pants down and moved them aside with her foot. "You mom said that Iím like your dad and -"

"WHAT!?"

"I donít want to be like him, Alex. I canít do that to you. I canít."

"She said that to you? What the fuck!? Is that - this is why youíre leaving? Callie, answer me!"

"Sheís right!" Callie wailed. "I-"

"You are not like my father. Youíre not. He refused to admit he had a problem and he was a piece of shit asshole who lived to hurt people around him." Alex glared at her. "Okay, maybe you have *that* in common, but -"

"Go to hell!"

"Iím there, Callie. Iím there!" He stalked closer to her. "You swore to me, SWORE, that you would never run from me! You said it! You said it on the roof of the Archfield and -"

"And you swore that youíd never leave so I guess weíre both liars!"

"A person can only be pushed so far!" he shouted. "Our *five* month anniversary is just around the corner and look at us! We spent most of the fourth month apart and now youíre trying to leave and -"

"For a couple of days!"

"I donít want you gone for a *minute*!"

"It didnít bother you for the three weeks you -"

"STOP THROWING THAT IN MY FUCKING FACE!" he bellowed. "I SAID I WAS SORRY AND I CAME BACK!"

"Stop screaming at me!"

"THEN LISTEN TO ME! BY GOD, CALLIE, TRYING TO TALK TO YOU IS LIKE SITTING IN THE RAIN AND WONDERING WHY YOUíRE WET! I CAN FEEL MY BRAIN CELLS DYING!"

"THEN STOP TALKING TO ME!"

"I told you! I said this would happen if we tried to discuss this mess tonight! Get your ass in the bed and -"


"Donít tell me what to do! I am so sick of you acting like -"

"Callie-"

Melana charged into the room like a bull. Her nostrils were flaring, her hair was wild, and her cheeks were flushed with anger. She moved between her daughter and son in law. "Alex, go sleep on the sofa. Callie, not another word."

"Mom-"

"I SAID NOT ANOTHER WORD!" Melana commanded. "AND I MEANT IT! I AM NOT LISTENING TO THIS ALL NIGHT! MAYBE WE SHOULD SKIP GREECE AND GO SEE A LAWYER TO PUT AN END TO THIS MARRIAGE AND PUT BOTH OF YOU OUT OF YOUR MISERY!"

"How can you-" Callie began.

"Look at the two of you," Mel snapped. "Does this feel like a marriage to you? Because it doesnít look like one from here. Oh, you both wear the rings, but you take them off far too easily. Those rings should act as a tourniquet that stops you both from going for the jugular and thatís all youíve done lately."

"But-" Alex cut in.

"You left her," Melana told him. "So you deserve the panic you felt when you *thought* that she was leaving you tonight. Thatís how she felt for weeks." Turning her attention to Callie, she added, "And that fear youíve been feeling lately, where everything makes you jump, thatís how he felt watching you in that air show. So, you idiots need to decide if youíre even yet because if youíre not ... then end it ... because one upping each other could get you killed. By me."

Callie began to cry again. She looked at Alex and saw that he was just as shocked as she was by the suggestion of divorcing. He met her gaze and shook his head, reaching for her. She buried her face against his shoulder as he wrapped his arms around her, hanging on tight. "Iím sorry," she said. "Iím so sorry."

"Itís okay," he replied, kissing her head. He met Melanaís eyes, still stunned at her words, and the woman actually winked at him before she sashayed out of the room. He rubbed Callieís back and said, "Letís go to bed. Please? I canít do this any more tonight."

She nodded and followed him to their room, where she crawled under the cover. A moment later, he spooned against her back. Neither spoke, but when his hand found hers, she threaded their fingers together and clung to him.

Losing him was suddenly far too real.


*~*~*~*~*~

"Donít even think about it," Mark said, lifting his head from the pillow when Addison turned on the light and grabbed the diary. "Weíre doing this snooping, nosy thing together."

Addison kissed him and yawned as she opened the book. "I dreamed about this thing last night. It was like I was watching a movie. Melanaís movie. It was so vivid."

"I did, too, actually." Mark stretched and got comfortable again. "So, read it."

"Dear Diary, I went to see Raphael in the woods today. I stopped at the orchard and found the biggest orange we had. When I arrived at his campsite, his tent was as tattered as my dress had been. It was lying on the ground in a heap and I didnít see him anywhere. I was frightened to call out to him. I was building myself up for a full blown panic attack when he emerged from the depths of the forest.

"I didnít have to tell him I was upset at the state of his campsite. He simply took one look at me and knew. He hugged me, kissed my face, and said he needed to find someplace safer. I donít understand why he wonít tell me what heís doing or who would have ransacked his pitiful home, but someone certainly did. I helped him pack his belongings and showed him another grotto, this one accessible only after a short underwater swim. It is set apart from the house and Iím fairly certain that only Demi and I know of its existence.

"I swam with him to the hideout and promised to bring him food. I didnít notice that his movements were slow and exaggerated until he saw me shiver and walked to where I stood. He was hurt! I had his shirt off in mere seconds and the cut on his shoulder blade indicated that someone had attacked him while his back was turned. I had no special water to aid him toward relief, but he assured me that my tears had a similar effect. I kissed his shoulder for quite a while and it amused him so much that he smiled at me and told me that he loved me again. I wonder if anyone else in the world has ever felt the way that we do. I hope so because itís a wonderful thing."

"My turn," Mark told her, holding out his hand for the journal. "Diary, Xenos has been cured. Mother thinks that the lord has finally heard her please, but Iím not at all certain that the Lord was there at Talking Rock. We prayed for Him to come, but I donít believe he would have allowed the beating. A full month later and I still wear the marks of it. Perhaps Papa takes Ďspare the rod and spoil the childí too literally. If I have a family one day, I wonít allow anyone to hit them. I would never want anyone to feel the way that I feel.

"I digress. Xeno is doing quite well. In just the four short weeks since his midnight swim, there is meat on his bones and color tinting his cheeks. He awakens at dawn to frolic in the surf and I can already see muscle beginning to overtake his limbs. Athena Niarchos, that old cow, has apparently noticed this remarkable change as well because she has been calling on Xeno nearly every day. She claims that she cooks the pastries and tarts that she brings, but I feel quite comfortable in my belief that she only gets near the kitchen to steal food.

"Mama and Papa have gone to Egypt on business. Theyíre leaving from there and going to the United States. Oh, Iím so envious. I have never been to American, but since Raphael creeps into my room every night and tells me all about his home in Florida, I feel as if Iíve been a million times. He takes me to wonderful places every time he touches me.

"I told him that we are sinners, but he touched the scar on my back and disagreed. He said that I was a wingless Angel who could never truly sin. He said that my wings had been snatched away when I fell to the earth because people were jealous of them. He spoke with such conviction that allowed myself to believe that it had not been a belt after all ... that broke my flesh open. Of course, I know itís a foolish notion, but his stories amuse me nevertheless.

"I want to fall asleep and wake up with him for the rest of my life. I told him a much and he swore he felt the same way. If we are the only people who share such a dream then I feel sorry for the rest of the world. Love is safe and strong and it renders me speechless every time he awakens those emotions in me. Which is quite often. I think perhaps we are hell bound, but what a partner Iíve found for the ride."

Addison smiled as she took the diary and flipped the page. There was more artwork there. Melana had perfectly captured what a young Raphael must have looked like. His smiling eyes had not changed in the slightest. "Dear Diary, Papa and Mama have been gone for six weeks. They do not get to see the full extent of Xenoís recovery or witness my own deterioration. That night at Talking Rock, I told God that if he would spare Xeno, I would gladly take my brotherís sickness into myself. Well, God truly must have been within earshot because for a while now ... Iíve been very ill. I cannot go near the kitchen because the stench of food repulses me and even though I rarely eat ... I awake every morning in Raphaelís arms and lose the contents of my stomach.

"I do not feel well at all. I try to hide my discomfort because we are all overjoyed at Xenoís good fortune, but Demi keeps asking me why I have a gray face and he worries himself over my full dinner plate returning the kitchen every night. I told him that I simply miss our parents, but that is a lie that I told with no real sincerity or conviction. Raphael brought me water from the spring last night and told me to drink it this morning. He still slumbers in the bed and I awoke to do as he requested.

"I pray that it helps. I fear, every time we fall asleep, that I will perish in the night. I know how it would wound me to awaken with my lover dead in my arms and I do not wish that on Raphael. I hope this affliction ends soon. If it must kill me, Iíd prefer it happen while Iím alone." Addison shook her head. "Sheís pregnant. Oh god... you donít think her father will beat her for this, do you?"

"Turn the page and letís find out."

A knock on the door forced her to shove the journal under the pillow. "Come in."

"Good morning, maíam. Sir." Willa bowed, tugging at the stiff sleeve of her uniform. Barnacle said you wanted to journey to Talking Rock today. Itís a fine morning for travel. I think youíll find that Greece after a rain storm is even lovelier than without. Weíve prepared a food basket for your lunch and stocked the boat with plenty of water. Will you be needing anything more?"

Mark watched the old woman scratch her belly, then her arm. "We need you to wear regular clothes. All of you."

Addison nodded her agreement. "The formality makes us uncomfortable."

"It does that to all of us, maíam." Willa looked down at her uniform. "Thank you so much."

Mark grinned at the passion in her voice. "And weíd love it if the staff joined us for dinner tonight in the largest dining room. Weíre lonely for company and Iím sure you all get tired of eating in the staff wing."

Willa was so excited by the invitation that she gathered up her already short dress and started to leave the room. She gave Mark and Addison quite a shocking glimpse of her garters before she stopped and looked back at them. "By the way," she said, letting her skirt fall. "Talking Rock is a magical place. It has been trod upon by nobility and blessed by Saints. You are welcome to everything she has to offer, but I must warn you not to consume her bounty with greed. If you are hungry, eat her first. If you are thirsty, drink your fill. However, remember that moderation is the perfect measure for everything and use restraint. There are eyes there that see all, hear all, and know all."

Addison and Mark exchanged amused looks when Willa bowed herself out of the room. The diary was forgotten while they dressed in comfortable clothing for their excursion. As promised, the boat was fully stocked with not only food and water, but several blankets as well. Barnacle, who escorted them to the small boat, warned them to go slowly and return before the sun set. He thanked them for the dinner invitation and waved them off. Addison turned at the halfway point to look back at Bountyís Keep. She saw that he was still there and lifted her hand. He did the same, then turned and walked back into the grotto.

They pulled up to the dock at Talking Rock and Addison used an entire roll of film on Mark. She clicked her camera fast as he fell off the boat and into the water as he attempted to tie off to the dock. "You would think," she said, laughing. "after all the sailing trips with Callie and Alex ... that you would have your sea legs."

"I donít see you doing it!" he snapped, pulling himself into the boat for the second time. "Do you think there are towels on this thing?"

Addison opened a hatch and nodded. "There are. Oooh, and dry clothing, too! Our clothes! They must have done our laundry."

"Can the Karakas-Torres clan adopt us?" he asked.

"AHA!" She pointed at him. "You said Karakas-Torres. I *heard* the hyphenation."

"No, you didnít. And itís not the same thing. Iím talking about two *different* families."

"Wrong. Youíre talking about two different families who became *one* through marriage."

"Melana uses just Torres."

"So?"

"Take a page from her book."

"Itís a very nice book." She smiled when he stepped onto the dock and reached for her, helping her out. "Do you think itíll be horrible? The rest of the story?"

"Probably, but we know the happy ending, baby." He leaned down and kissed her. "Letís go play explorer."

"Your shoes are wet."

Mark led her to the end of the deck and toed off his sodden sneakers. "Barefoot explorer then." He dug his toes into the sand and sighed. "Ahhh, nice."

Addison handed him his dry clothing and shucked her own shoes, leaving them beside his. For good measure, she took a photo of them and laughed when he called her a Ďdamn touristí. She was still laughing when she followed him into the woods. She got a nice photo of his naked backside as he changed and hung his wet things over the limbs of the tree that had failed to hide his nudity.


Their first visit to the island had been brief. Xeno had been a gracious host, but they had not stayed very long. Now, they explored the ruins more closely and enjoyed the many stories they hatched about what could have happened to cause such destruction to the old church.

"Why do you think they didnít rebuild it?" Addison asked, running her hand over a wooden pew that was pristine, though covered in ivy.

Mark glanced up at the gleaming white cross that rose high into the air out of the rubble. "I donít know. Maybe they decided not to believe in fairy tales or -"

As soon as he said the words ... something bit into his foot. He yelled out from the shock and looked down. A scorpion was a few inches away from his heel and there was blood rolling down his skin. Addison followed his gaze, saw the creature, and threw the camera at it. Naturally, she missed and the heavy Nikon landed on his foot, causing him to hop up and down. "Addison, for Heavenís sake!"

"KILL IT! SQUISH IT!"

"Stop yelling!" Mark snapped. He retrieved the camera and pushed the scorpion away. "Do you think itís poisonous?"

"Arenít they always?" Addison leaped onto the pew when the scorpion scuttled her way. "AHHHHH! KILL IT!"

"No!" Mark flopped down beside her, crossing his leg so he could see the damage to the back of his foot. "Can you focus here? I may be dying."

"Healing spring!" She jerked her thumb over her shoulder. "Letís go."

"I really think I should -"

"Come on!" Addison stood up in the pew and made a wide leap to the side to avoid the scorpion.

Mark followed her, limping slightly. He crossed his arms and watched as she rinsed the wooden cup and filled it at the waterfall. She held it out to him and he obliged, taking a few sips. She followed suit and nodded her head at the pond. "Okay. Get in."

"We are people of science, Addison. Iím poisoned and I need to go -"

"Get in before I shove you in," she replied, her eyes searched every inch of sand around her for another scorpion. "Hurry up."

"Please tell me you donít believe this." Mark stepped into the pond, arms still crossed. "Because if youíre gonna go crazy Iíd at least like you to .... wow."

"I know, right?" She grinned at him. "Isnít it amazing?"

He squatted down and touched the surface of the water. "Itís hot."

"And tingly?"

"That too," he agreed. "Come in with me."

"I donít have a reason."

"Jesus, Moonbat." He scowled at her. "Itís water. Water is only ever water and it canít cure sickness or bites or cancer or -"

"Youíre wrong."

Addison spun on her heel to look at Xenos, who was walking toward them with one of the most beautiful women she had ever seen. Her chestnut brown hair was streaked with gray and her sparkling blue eyes seemed to match the water behind her. Addy watched him assist the woman over a fallen limb and smiled in greeting. "Hi."

"Addison, Mark, this is my with Athena Niarchos Karakas. Athena, these are the newlyweds."

"Congratulations," the woman said, clasping Addisonís hand, then Markís. "I understand youíre friends with Calliope. Tell me, how is she?"

"Sheís good," Addison replied. This was the Athena that Melana had beaten up for making fun of Xenos. She was tempted to comment about it, but the diary was supposed to be private. "She took a bad spill the other day, but she said sheís fine."

"Sheís always fine. Nothing can keep that one down. Sheís got her motherís fire and her fatherís heart." Looking down at the pond and Markís submerged feet, Athena added, "Did you hurt yourself, son?"

"Scorpion." Mark shrugged. "At least I think it was."

"Theyíre relatively harmless." Xeno shook his head. "I hate that you encountered one, though. Are you okay?"

"Yeah, Iím fine. Let me just get out and -"

"Wait," the old man held up his hand. "You must close your eyes first and tell us whatís there?"

"There?"
"Just do it," Addy told her husband. "Before we shun the nonbeliever. Shunnnn."

Mark took a deep breath, shot her a look, and closed his eyes. For a moment there was nothing there and then Derekís face appeared. He pictured his friend the way he had seen him in high school, after they had taken Derekís fatherís car out for a joy ride and wrapped it around a tree. Derek had suffered a broken leg and wore the same troubled expression that Mark saw him with now. Opening his eyes, he gasped and looked at Addison.

"I saw Derek," he told her and while he would never admit it, the hairs on the back of his neck danced upward. He looked at Xeno and said, "What does it mean?"

"You usually see your heart twin," Xeno explained. "But it could be anyone."

"Whatís a heart twin?" Addison asked, recalling the way that Callieís face had swam in and out of her mind when she had waded.

"The person your heart makes family. Everyone sees someone. Itís the ones that the closest, however, that matter the most. When you see a loved one ... you take them water." Xeno held up a mason jar. "I believe you saw Calliope. Sheís the reason Iím here."

Athena pulled another jar from her purse and held it out to Mark. "Please. Help yourself. Take some to this ... Derek, is it?"

"Oh, I donít think -" Mark began, stepping out of the water.

Addison elbowed him and accepted the jar, smiling at Athena. She kneeled down and scooped water into it, watching as Xeno did the same. "Is it okay ... can I ask you how you know about this place?"

"Certainly." Xeno screwed his lid back on and watched her do the same. "Every family has their tales. Some are funny, some are scary, and some defy logic. Every one of our ancestors wrote about this pond. They claim that people came from all over the world to bathe in it. They claim that it could cure whatever ailed a person.

"Iím not certain what affliction I had as a child. Research suggests that it may have been polio or cystic fibrosis, but I was never formally diagnosed. I was brought here at fourteen to wade into the water and I was never sick again after that." Xeno grinned at Mark. "And it *can* cure cancer. Athena was told that she would never have children because of cervical cancer and we have three sons and she never had treatment. Have you met Anita and Mario? Callieís godparents?"

Addison nodded.

"She was told that she had three months to live. She had endured several horrific surgeries and then refused treatment after that. Her dream was to see Melanaís homeland and Mel brought her here to live out the rest of her days, but she wasnít ready to die. So, we brought her here and now ... sheís in remission." Xeno shrugged. "Donít ask me how."

Mark chuckled. "You really expect us to believe -"

"It is of little consequence to me what you believe, Mark." Xenoís words were dismissive, but his tone was light. "But I challenge you to show me where the scorpion stung you."

Mark lifted his foot.

After five minutes, he still couldnít find the wound.

Xenos and Athena said their goodbyes while he was still looking. Addison set the two jars of water in the sand and grinned at her husband. "Are you freaking out?"

"Itís not possible. As soon as my foot doesnít look like a prune, Iíll show it to you."

"Athena mentioned that thereís a flower garden nearby. Want to go see it?"

"And risk running into more scorpions? Sure, why not?"

"Chicken." She took his hand, leading him around the pond. The thought of scorpions kept her eyes firmly on the ground.

After walking for a few minutes, they stepped into a clearing and gasped. For as far as the eye could see there was an explosion of color and blooms. Bluebonnets, daisies, roses, and more dotted every spot of the ground. Bending down, Addison gently pulled a rose closer, breathing it in. "Callieís bastard flower! In abundance."

"Should these things be growing in this climate?"

She shrugged. "Iím a *scientist*. Not an agriculture geek. But it looks like theyíre thriving."

"God, it smells good," he replied, squatting down beside her. "Or maybe thatís you."

"It does smell good."

Their eyes were hooded when they looked at one another. Addison reached for him first, running her hand over his face before she kissed him. A moment later she was on top of him and he was flat on his back crushing the bluebonnets as he tugged her shirt over her head. As frenzied as their passion was, the moment they were both naked, they slowed. Flesh against flesh should have had the opposite effect, but Mark was suddenly overcome by the desire to rub her down with rose petals so he did just that, slowly covering her belly and pubic area with the silky, soft petals that he plucked one by one. His only comment was that the thatch of red hair between her thighs matched the rose tips and then he was massaging the petals against her skin.

He settled between her thighs after a while, sliding his tongue along every inch of her until he buried his face against the source of her heat and devoured her. She arched her back, digging her nails into the thick, hearty soil that had grown such beautiful flowers. Their coupling was lazy, unhurried, but their release was anything but. They made love twice, discovering new and inventive ways to touch each other.

Spent, Addison curled against his chest and closed her eyes as the sun warmed her well sated body.

They were asleep within minutes.

*~*~*~*~*~*~
CH 8
*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Mark, wake up. God, itís freezing!"

Rolling onto his back, Mark watched Addison fumble with her clothing. She was right. It was cold enough for him to see his breath in front of him, which was illuminated in the glow of the full moon over them. "Jesus. How long did we sleep? What time is it?"

"My watch stopped working."

He sat up and hit the light on his own watch. "Hmmm. Mine, too."

"Someoneís here. I heard them calling us." She threw his pants toward him. "Get up!"

"Iím trying! Hypothermia, here!"

Addison yanked on her pants, shivering when the cold fabric pressed against her skin. She pulled her shirt over her head and wrapped her arms around herself as Mark dressed. He had just as much trouble getting his limbs to cooperate as she had. He was fastening his belt when Barnacle rushed into the clearing and bellowed that he had found them to the high heavens.

"Weíre sorry," Addison hastily told him. "We fell asleep and -"

"Bloody hell," Barnacle replied, tugging his long pea coat off and putting it around her. "You look like youíve frosted over. Come on, letís go. It ainít wise to stay here so late."

"What do you mean?" Addy asked, letting him lead her back through the thatch of trees.

"More than just the ruins of that old church haunt this island."

Addison heard Mark groan behind her, but she ignored him and let her eyes dance left and right instead. "Someone died here?"

"Yes, maíam. Papa Karakas, Melanaís father, died in the wreckage of the church."

"What!?"

"Many people perished that day. Some good, some bad." With a shiver of his own, Barnacle bypassed the ruins entirely and half jogged to the dock. "We ought not to speak on it here. Or ever. Nothing rustles up restless spirits like calling their memory."

Willa, Jonesy, and Demi were standing on the pier, watching their approach. Willa wrapped a blanket around Addison, then did the same for Mark as Demi helped them into the boat. Demi started the engine and pulled away quickly, not looking back. Addison did look back, watching the remaining three staff members climb into their own boat and speed away. There was a thick, heavy fog hanging over the island and when she looked forward, at Bountyís Keep, she noted that there was no fog there at all. She leaned closer to Mark and mentioned it.

"Maybe there are ghosts. On that show ĎHauntingí, thereís always mist or -"

"I didnít know I married that psychic from Poltergeist. Could you stop?" he snapped. "Itís not cute anymore."

"Mark, thereís something about that place! I know you felt it! You did!"

He shook his head. "No, I didnít."

"Liar."

"Addison, stop." He shook his head. "Youíre not this damn gullible. They probably cook this shit up and do it to everyone who visits. Donít be stupid and -"

"Enough." Demi slowed the boat, letting it idle at the halfway point. He turned and glared at Mark. "You didnít make a very good first impression on me. You were forcing your *wife* to carry her luggage and I overlooked that, young man, but I will not let you imply that sheís stupid or that my family and staff are less than honest. So, unless youíd like to swim ... be silent."

Addison had to fight hard to hide her smile. She shot Mark a look that was mocking and slid off the seat, going to stand beside Demi. The old man put an arm around her shoulder, positioning her in front of him. "I donít want you to fall. You steer us into the grotto, Red Robin."

Addison shook her head and started to protest, but he lifted her hands onto the wheel and pointed out the opening in the cliff. She stiffened when he throttled ahead and he put a reassuring hand over hers. "Xeno told us about the ship that capsized and the child who died. He also told us about the mother and the curse."

Demi made a soft sound behind her. "We thought with Melana it was broken, but it wasnít. Granted, she had Calliope, but bad luck has followed them for it."

"Callieís not doing so bad." Addison assured him. "She has a great husband, a beautiful home, and her career is really taking off."

Demi eased the wheel to the left. "Sheís uneasy. Our Callie. I sometimes wonder if her soul ever sleeps."

They crept through the cliffs and Demi sailed the boat right up to the rocky ledge. He tossed Mark a rope and asked him to tie it off, then stepped out and helped Addison. She thanked him and turned, blinking in shock at the sight that greeted her. Most of the staff had come down into the grotto and she was pummeled with questions as they ushered her through a different passage that led straight into the kitchens. "Is this the cave entrance?" she asked, nothing that they had all changed out of their uniforms.

"Yes, maíam," Eros told her, extending a hand to help her up a set of rocky steps.

"Iíve got it. Thanks," Mark said to him, taking Addisonís elbow.


Eros nodded politely, pushing his dirty blond hair out of his face. Cut short, the out of control curls still flopped onto his forehead occasionally. As Addison watched him, she wondered if Callie had enjoyed playing with those curls. She had little doubt that she would. He wasnít the type of man Addison could see Callie finding attractive. He was almost too pretty. The roots of his hair were dark, dark brown, but he clearly spent time in the sun because of the blond streaks and his impressive tan. His blue eyes looked natural, nothing like Cambysesís eyes, which were lightened to blue due to the contacts he wore. She smiled at him he insisted on giving her his hand over the roughest step. "Thank you."

"Thereís a very large fire in the dining room. Your dinner is ready," he replied, inclining his head. "If youíd still like for the staff to join you, weíd be honored. If youíre tired and wish to have dinner in your room-"

"No, weíd like to have dinner with you all," Addison told him, beaming. "Lead the way. I donít know where Iím at in this massive house."

They did have dinner with the staff. Demi even joined and made a spectacular toast to the newlyweds that included a thinly veiled threat about what can happen to men who donít honor and cherish their wives enough. By the time they ate dessert, Addison and Mark were warm, full, and extremely amused at the antics of the staff. They found out that Eros was actually Willaís son, but Jonesy never piped up to say that he was the manís father. Jonesy stiffened and left the room when the old woman mentioned her ex-husband, causing Willa to excuse herself and say goodnight. Eros apologized and said that his motherís new boyfriend had an impressive jealous streak.

They avoided talking about the island or anything paranormal. Instead, the staff brought story after story to the table until well into the night about Melana, her brothers, and her children. It was in agreement by everyone in attendance that Callie and Cambyses were by far and away the Bonnie and Clyde of the family, always in trouble, always bringing Melanaís wraith down on them. Addison yawned once, after two in the morning, and the party ended, the staff apologized for keeping them overlong, and then Demi was saying goodnight.

Walking through the drafty rooms renewed the chill that Mark and Addison had awoken with at Talking Rock and they were relieved to see that the fireplace in their bedroom was roaring. They took a shower together, bathing only, then they dived under the cover and discovered hot water bottles in place to keep the sheets warm. "I want to live here," Addy said, rubbing her icy feet over the bottle on her side of the bed.

"It reminds me of Hogwarts," Mark replied, splaying his hand against her belly. "Wanna roleplay? I could be Ron, you could be Hermione, and -"

"Peeves could come and throw dungbombs at us?" She smiled at him. "I donít think Demi likes you."

"I donít think I like the way he flirts with you."

"He does *not*. Heís a sweet, caring old man who -"

"Enjoyed being pressed against your back on the boat and you let him."

"Whatever." She chuckled. "Youíre jealous of a geriatric, baby."

"Manwhores know manwhores."

"Youíre reformed. Maybe youíre losing your mojo."

Mark stuffed his hand under the pillow and his knuckle brushed against the diary. He pulled it out and grinned. "Want a bed time story? Weíre almost finished with this one and can jump straight into the one when he was seventeen."

"Absolutely!" She put her hands behind her head, getting comfortable.


He watched her for a few seconds. "Addy?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you think I treat you bad? I mean, Demi said -"

"Demiís the old fashioned one, Mark. I know I said you were, but heís got that whole mentality of the dashing, debonair gentleman. Itís okay." She met his eyes. "But if you call me stupid again Iíll let him know. I bet he has old fashioned skills, too, and will put your ass in a rack. Or a guillotine."

"Shit." Markís eyes widened. "You scare me."

"Read."

"Can I apologize first?"

"For?"

"Making you carry your luggage and for ... for the things I said. On the plane and earlier. Iím sorry."

She pushed herself up on her elbow and kissed him. "You are the love of my life. Iíll give you a free pass on a few things because of that."

"Well, thatís mutual." He kissed her again. "I love you."

"I love you right back."

"Can I tell you something?" he asked.

"Oh God." She sat up all the way, glaring at him. "If you have flirted with or had sex with *anyone* in this house or - or that damn Bianca person who was useless on the plane -"

"What!?"

"Mark!"

He sat up as well, his mouth agape. " was going to say that for the first time in my life Iím homesick for a place where it always rains and I usually hate it, but Iím *so* ready to get back and see everyone again."

"Oh. Well, I feel the -"

"You think Iíd cheat!?"

"The last time you said you wanted to tell me something ... you told me that you had cheated."

"The last time you said Ďlove of your lifeí you were telling that it was Derek and that was why you were going to Seattle."

"If you want to hear yourself talk, then read!" Picking up the journal, she slapped it against his bare chest. "Otherwise, Iím going to sleep!"

Mark flopped onto his back and opened the journal, angrily flipping to the page they had bookmarked. "Dear Diary, today Raphael and I fought. He wanted to steal one of Papaís cars and drive me to the doctor. Itís a very long drive and Iím not very partial to riding in automobiles, but he kept pushing me until I lost my temper. He shouted at me and it startled me so badly that I dove into the water to leave the grotto that he has been hiding at for close to four months now.

"He grabbed my ankle before I was under the water entirely and forced me back onto the ledge. He said he was concerned and that his love for me causes him to lose control of himself. We made up as quickly as the fight started and he was very concerned when he saw my naked body. He thinks Iím deteriorating, but I disagree. The red dress that Demi bought for me for my birthday is tight. I donít know how Iím gaining weight when I seldom eat and lose that each morning, but Iím definitely fleshier.

"A letter from Papa arrived. He said that the business he is attending in America is taking longer than they anticipated. I fear they wonít be here for my birthday. Itís only two days away. Seventeen. Iíll be seventeen and I hate to greet that new chapter of my life while Iím feeling so poorly, but Raphael has promised a surprise and I will greet that day with a smile because of that no matter how horrible my condition is."

Mark handed her the journal, saying nothing. Addison flipped the page. "Dear Diary, itís my birthday. I awoke to the wonderful aroma of flowers. There must have been hundreds lying on every surface of my bedroom, even my bed. Raphael stood in the corner, smiling at me, with a small box in his hand. After he gave me seventeen kisses, he pulled me from beneath the warm cover and kneeled down at my feet. When he opened the box, I saw the most glorious ring inside and he asked me to marry him.

"I was crying too much to say anything. Iím fairly certain that I nodded because he whooped his relief and lifted me in the air, spinning me in a circle. That was not a wise thing to do. It made me very dizzy and I barely made it to the bathroom before I collapsed, sick once more. He held my hair back, bathing my neck with a cloth, and that ... that is where Papa found us. Me in my night clothes and Raphael seeing me that way.

"Everything happened so quickly that even now, Iím not at all sure Iíve remembered it correctly. Papa flew at Raphael, bellowing his rage to the high heavens. Then Mother appeared and added her own dulcet tones to the choir. I was a pitiable mess, still hovering over the basin, when she grabbed my arm and wrenched me to my feet. I donít know how many times she slapped me, but it was enough to cure the nausea and replace it with anger.

"I remember shouting that I loved Raphael, that we were getting married, and then my father took his belt off and began to hit me. Oh, it was horrific, but he only got two licks in before Raphael grabbed the belt and wrenched it from him. He hit my *father* with it, striking his back, his legs, his shoulders and all the while he was screaming ĎHow does it feel!?í. Demi and Xeno burst into the room and separated the two of them. I was sobbing, losing my meager dinner again, and Raphael rushed to my side, swiping at the blood on my back.

"Mother shocked us all then. She jerked me upright and pressed her hand against my stomach. In front of everyone, she asked me when my last monthly cycle was. I hadnít realized that it had been three months. Time has flown with Raphael ... or maybe it stopped. When I told her, she crossed herself and announced that I was expecting a child. A child! Oh, my hand hasnít left my stomach much since then. Iím so ecstatic to carry a life inside me, to carry a part of Raphael, but I digress.

"Raphael told everyone that we were getting married. The fight started once again. Father lunged at him and knocked me off my feet with the force that he struck Raphael with. He kept screaming that Raphael was supposed to protect the family, not plunder it. He kept saying something about guarding us in his stead and not making him regret turning against The Triad. Iím not at all certain what it all means, but I didnít like the sound of it.

"Father kept saying that he had trusted Raphael because The United States said he was the best at his job. It was Mama who stopped it. She marched into the fray and screamed at the top of her lungs to make them stop. Quietly, she turned to Demi and instructed him to tell the Priest at Talking Rock to prepare. Well, naturally I thought she meant to give my intended his last rites so I screamed as well. That was when she announced that we would wed immediately.

"So, I write to you now as a seventeen year old child. When we speak again, Iíll be married and a woman. Mother says I can not wear a white because it will undo all the good at Talking Rock and erase the prayers of the Saints and quite possibly cause my death. Iím wearing blue instead. Raphael seems to like it and itís made from the fabric we purchased at the market the first day I ever saw him. Iím excited, diary, but Iím terrified as well. Papa is angry. He wonít speak to me or look my way."

"Damn," Mark said, rubbing a hand over his face.

"Damn," she agreed.

They let the silence hang around them as they looked at the room. Both were imagining it filled with flowers and the proposal that took place just beside the bed. Addison finally opened the journal again. "Thereís blood on the page."

"What?"

Addison held it out and watched him take it. He held it closer to the light and nodded his agreement. "I canít read it," she said. "Itís tear stained, too."

Mark cleared his throat. "Dear Diary, oh, my hands are shaking so. Raphael and I were wed at noon. The old bell at the chapel celebrated our union with so many chimes that it my ears hurt from it. The only souls in attendance were Mama, Papa, Demi, Xeno, Raphael, me, and Willa, who sobbed into her handkerchief so loudly that Mama told her to wait outside. I saw her peering through the window and had to smile.

"How I wish we had all waited outside, however. When the first gunshot rang out, I thought it was the bell again, letting the world know that the wedding was over and we were one. Then I realized that the Priest was clutching his neck and blood was soaking through his fingers. Papa yelled something in Spanish and while Raphael has been teaching me ... I didnít understand it. Raphael grabbed me and Mama, forcing us under a wooden pew, where we clung to one another in confusion and fear.

"Demi opened the seat on another pew and pulled out guns. Guns in church! I didnít believe my eyes. Raphael snatched up a particularly offensive looking black rifle that fired so many bullets it could cut someone in two. I covered my eyes unable to watch as men in black suits began to return the gun fire and run into the church. There were so many of them and so many that were falling under the spray of bullets that Raphael and Demi were sending into the onslaught.

"I remember screaming and screaming and then Raphael was pulling me to my feet. I grabbed onto Mama and we followed him out the front of the church. He made us lie down behind the praying hand rock and stood with his back against it, watching the doors. Demi and Xeno rushed out next, shouting that they had set the charge. Xeno covered me with his body and Demi covered Mama with his and then the earth exploded and I was convinced that the island was going to be ripped apart. I felt debris hitting me and I couldnít breathe because of the dust and sand that was billowing.

"When I finally did look again ... the church was gone.

"And so was Papa.

"I saw his hand, with his Karakas ring sparkling in the sunlight, in the wreckage of the doorway. He must have tried to leave with his family and was crushed at the last minute. Demi and Xeno were frantic, trying to dig him out, screaming that they had done it, that they had set the explosives, that he must not have heard them yelling that it was time. Raphael dropped his gun in the sand and dropped to his knees to help dig my father out. I didnít hear the gunshots until one of the bullets penetrated my hip and pulled me out of my stupor.

"I turned my head and saw one of those men, the ones in black suits, crawling toward us. One of his legs had been blown apart, but his trigger finger was in working order. I picked up Raphaelís gun before he could get to it and I was still shooting the man even though there was nothing left of his head after a while. Raph took it from me and lifted my dress yelling for Stavrosís shirt. I didnít want to leave Papa and neither did Mama because she sat beside him, clinging to his hand, begging him to squeeze her own.

"Raphael carried me to the boat, apologizing, begging me to be strong. I was. I think. When we pulled into the grotto, Mama was screaming, begging for someone to go back and get Papa. Raphael lifted me into his arms and took me through the passageway to my room. I looked back at the grotto over his shoulder and I could only think of my first entry into your pages, Diary. I had sat there with you in my lap and I spoke about the somber party I had hidden away from. Iíd give anything to go back in time and remain at that party a little longer with Papa. He was angry with me when he died. He didnít walk me down the aisle and when I tried to speak to him just before the ceremony, he wouldnít let me. He walked away.

"Raphael has many friends in the area because while he attended to the wound on my hip, our house filled with visitors. Theyíre all men, all carrying weapons, and one big hulking man named Leon wordlessly helped him bandage my hip. Raphael says the bullet went through cleanly and he stopped the bleeding, but he wants me to remain in bed because of the baby. A doctor finally arrived, one that I did not know, and he examined me himself before the sun rose.

"Grandmama gave me another journal. She couldnít be here today. I just know that she will regret that. Papa was her baby son, the youngest, and this will destroy her. Xeno came to visit me before the medication sent me back into oblivion and he said that he had gone back to Talking Rock with Demi and some of Raphaelís friends. They retrieved Papaís body. I asked about the state of his face because I want to look upon him one last time to apologize, but Xeno simply shook his head. As I closed my eyes, I could only conjure the image of the man I shot ... I wondered if Papa looked similar. There was so much debris on him.

"Raphael crawled into the bed with me and held me as I drifted off to sleep. I didnít cry. He had asked me to be strong and I donít want to ever disappoint him, but I cried inside. I screamed inside. Then I felt guilty thinking the baby could hear it so I stopped. Raphael says he must speak with me today. He was gone when I awoke and I sat about filling your remaining pages. One year. In one year, I have lost my father, gained a husband, and nurture a life that grows in me.

"I think perhaps I will never go back to Talking Rock. I simply canít. Papa beat me there once and then Papa was beaten there in the ultimate fight. His life was stolen, taken away underneath a place of salvation and beauty. I canít look at that place with fondness ... even if it did cure Xeno of his affliction. Perhaps to cure someone ... it must take another.

"I bid you a fond farewell journal. There are only a few lines remaining. I will cling to you for the rest of my life and even though I must replace you now ... the pages of the new journal are not gold trimmed and Iím certain that itís imitation leather so itís no match for you in quality, but I hope the quantity I fill it with never rivals yours in sadness. Goodbye."

Addison brushed tears off her face as Mark closed the diary and held it out to her. She gazed down at the tear stained pages and shook her head. "I never dreamed - Mark, she watched her father die."

"Raphaelís in the mafia. He is."

Putting the sixteen year old diary down on the comforter, she retrieved the one for Melanaís seventeenth year and opened the first page. "She was right. Itís not as nice."

"Letís read it, not judge the quality."

"Dear Diary, Iím not entirely certain I like your layout or the way your pages want to curl, but youíre all I have at the moment so I shall make the most of our relationship. Raphael has gone. Papa, even in death, found a way to separate us. Itís been two months since Iíve seen my husband and Iím not altogether sorry about the miles that keep us apart. He told me a story, you see. He told me a story that Iím angered by, frightened by, and so unsure of that I donít know what to believe. Mother wonít confirm it, but Xeno and Demi assure me that itís the truth.

"My father was a member of an organization called The Triad. It was a group of three countries who rallied supporters to fight against The United States. Why anyone would choose to go after a country that I have enjoyed learning about is beyond me and apparently my father had a change of heart when he saw Pearl Harbor. I was not yet born for Pearl Harbor, but with my fatherís help, in 1941, hundreds of people lost their lives. The United States blamed the Japanese and they were definitely responsible for the worst of it, but my father funded it and helped lay out the game plan.

"After that, my father fell into the background of The Triad and only funded it, he didnít participate in the horrible misdeeds that were occurring. But he didnít stop them either. Iím not sure why he had a change of heart, but when I was only a child, he began working with the C.I.A. Thatís an agency in America that I donít fully understand yet, but they tried to do something good. They accepted my father, took the wealth of information he provided, and were able to arrest many, many bad men because of his testimony.

"For years, while I was angry at his travels, Papa was going to a state called Virginia to meet with the C.I.A. And thatís where he eventually met Raphael. Raphael was a Ďnewtí. He was just graduating from the academy there when I was fourteen years old. For two years after that Raphael was assigned to protect our family. I never saw him until that day at the market so I canít be sure that he was really there, but he promised me that he was, that he was always just outside the house, watching and keeping us safe.

"Demi ran across him just after my sixteenth birthday and demanded to know the truth. Because of that, Leon and Raphael told him everything and began to train him as well. They wanted someone inside the house who could keep watch and understand weapons. Thatís what Papa and Raphael fought about in the grotto the day I overheard. Papa didnít want Demi fighting, but Raphael told him that it wasnít to fight, it was to protect if need be.

"Xeno, once he was healed, began to spy on the training sessions and then appeared one day as pretty as you please and demanded to be included. They had little choice but to allow it and thatís why muscles began to spring up all over his body. It wasnít due to the morning swims. There were no morning swims. He was running with Demi at the time. Papa was enraged by this development as well, according to Raphael, but he allowed it to happen when he saw how happy Xenos was with his accomplishments.

"I wonder if Papa would have been proud of me, who has never touched a gun, yet opened fire on the man who would have killed me. And Mama. Raphael said Iím a perfect shot, but I donít feel perfect. The baby inside me is growing and moving. I can feel him all the time. Raphael is gone and the loss of him can not be chased away by the baby, no matter how often it kicks me. He left only two short days after Papa died. He stayed for the burial and to carry me to and from the gravesite because I couldnít yet walk at the time.

"He had to go to Virginia to give a Ďbriefingí about what transpired at Talking Rock. He left behind a swarm of agents, as he calls them. Theyíre always patrolling the hallways and grounds. Leon, I believe, spends most of his time patrolling Willaís bedroom, but I canít say anything. Iím angry at Raphael for leaving me. He claims that heíll send for me as soon as my paperwork is in order. Mama isnít helping us. She never leaves her bedroom and when I ask her for any documents on my identity, she throws something at me and says that she wonít talk to the devil who caused her husbandís death.

"She says that the curse on our family, the curse on me because Iím the only girl to be born in years, is what caused Papa to have to die so horribly. I did not remind her that I was not yet born when Papa put the ball into motion that eventually crushed him. He was not a good man. He was not a very loving man, but he was Papa and I can forgive him in death.

"I cannot forgive my husband, however. He has left me and the letters that arrive every week do little to make up for my empty arms and wounded soul." Mark had paused to stare at his own wife many times during the reading of that particular entry. She had met his eyes with the same disbelief, the same shock every single time. "Dude. Raphael is in the C.I.A.?!"

"Thatís minor." Addisonís eyes grew even wider. "Pearl Harbor? Papa Karakas paid for that, Mark. At least part of it. This place - this happy, beautiful place is stained with blood money. Itís stained with - destruction. Thatís why they never rebuilt the church." She took the diary from him and shook her head. "I donít want to read anymore tonight."

"Me either."

Addison put the diaries and the letters back behind the oil painting that swung open and headed to the fireplace, where she opened the metal curtains and threw another log into place. "Do you think Callie knows?"

"I donít think she does. I donít think any of the kids do. Not all of it. Melana said she got pregnant at nineteen, but we know thatís not true. So, sheís been pretending to be two years older than she really is or -"

"That would explain why she looks so young."

"Itís two years, Addy, not ten."

She shrugged and crawled back into the bed. "Weíll read the letters tomorrow. At least the ones that came before the next journal entry."

"Weíre supposed to go snorkeling tomorrow."

"Fuck it," Addison shook her head. "I need to know what comes next."

"Sleep first, baby. Itís almost dawn."

She didnít need to be encouraged beyond that.

She fell asleep and despite her troubled mind, she didnít dream.

*~*~

"Willa," Melana snapped, her hands on her ample hips. She eyed the head housekeeper, her best friend up and down. "Why are you wearing *overalls*? I sent you a suitable uniform. Iím sure Addison and Mark think weíre backwards and crass."

"Sorry, Mel," Willa replied, trying to hide her denim clad body behind Eros. "They insisted that we not wear the uniforms. Said it made them uncomfortable, they did."

"And did you complain at the top of your lungs to make sure they knew *you* were uncomfortable?" Melana snapped.

"Of course not." Willa shook her head so hard that the gray bun on the top of her head fell to one side, looking like a lopsided horn. She watched as Cambyses emerged from the limousine and raced forward, flinging herself into his arms. "Oh, you big hulk! Look at you! Why must you wear those devil eyes, son? You have brown eyes! Not blue!"

"Hi, Willa." He gave her a kiss on the forehead and plucked on of the suspenders on her overalls. "Nice. All you need is a straw hat and a banjo and you can be a Greek hillbilly."

"What is that?" Willa demanded, swatting him on the backside when he winked and walked past her. Greeting Blake next, Willa pinched his cheeks and told him there were cookies in the kitchen and then she turned back to the limo and her smile faded. "Calliope?"

"Hey, Will." Callie hugged the woman fast, not wanting her to see too much of her face. She had not bothered with makeup and she knew that the bruises were still shocking, especially in the mid-afternoon sunlight. She started to walk around the housekeeper, but Willa wouldnít let her. The old woman touched her cheek, her eyes filling with tears. "Iím fine," Callie assured her. "It looks worse than it is."

"Who did this to you?" Eros asked, striding forward. He brushed her hair back and shook his head. "Iíll kill them with my bare hands, gorgeous."

"Cam already did," she replied, letting him hug her. Behind her, Alex cleared his throat and she pursed her lips together to keep from smiling. "Willa, Eros, this is my husband Alex Karev. Alex, these are two of the greatest people youíll ever meet."

"Oooh, he's adorable," Willa said, hugging Alex tight, her arms around his waist. "Welcome to the family, son."

"Thank you." Alex patted her on the back, glaring over her head at Eros, who was touching a bruise on Callieís neck. He extended a hand to the other man, one eyebrow lifted. "Nice to meet you."

"Likewise, Iím sure," Eros said without so much as a look in Alexís direction. "Callie, do you need to lie down? Iíll happily take you upstairs and -"

"Iím sure you would," Alex replied, finally prying Willaís arms off. "But I can handle it."

Eros finally gave Alex his full attention. At six foot five, he had several inches on the other man and he looked down his nose at him. "Is that right? You plan on aimlessly wandering around the upstairs until you find an empty room or would you like for me to show you Callieís favorite room so that she can be comfortable?"

"Iím sure Callie knows the way." Alex reached down and took her hand in his, then walked past Eros through the front doors. "Excuse us."

Melana smiled at Raphael, who looked amused. "Ahhh, jealousy."

"Jealousy?" Willa asked, looking up at Eros. "Why would -"

"Apparently our children had difficulty keeping their pants on while Calliope was visiting the summer before her nineteenth birthday." Raphael crossed his arms, also looking at Eros. "Would you like to explain that to me?"

"EROS!" Willa shouted, slapping his muscular bicep. "What do you mean?!"

"She was older than me!" Eros cried, rubbing his arm. "I was seventeen! I didnít know what I was doing!"

"You didnít know what you were doing?" Raph asked. "Why then ... did it keep happening?"

"EROS!" Willa shouted again, slapping the exact spot she had moments before. "WHAT DO YOU MEAN!?"

"Owww, Ma!" He took a step back, out of her reach. "It was mutual! And - she seduced me!"

Raphael marched up the steps. "Run, Eros!"

The man complied, ducking back through the house. They heard the clattering of his feet on the stone floor and Melana laughed into her hand. Willa and Raphael joined her. Finally, Melana said, "How are Addison and Mark?"

"They gave us a fright last night." Willa explained about them falling asleep at Talking Rock and about Barnacleís mad dash to find them. "Naturally, none of the rest of us would set one foot off the pier."

Melana looked troubled. "They never should have gone alone."

"Theyíre no worse for the wear, Melana, but please ... what happened to Calliope?"

As they walked into the front hall, Melana told her everything. Willa began to cry and had to sit down on the steps. Mel sat beside her, an arm over her friendís shoulders. "When you collect yourself, Willa, please call Demi and Xeno and let them know weíre here."

"Yes, I will."

"Thank you."

"Is - is she okay? Calliope?" Willa asked, swiping her face with a bandana she pulled from her pocket.

"No." Melana shook her head sadly. "Most assuredly not. She pretends to be, but I know better."

"Perhaps the healing spring -"

"Can come to her. She will never go there again." Melana sighed. "Nor will I."

"Mom?" Cambyses walked around the corner, his hands in his pockets. "The barís fully stocked and there are hundreds of bottles in the wine cellar. Maybe you can get a lock put on it?"

Melana nodded and looked at Willa. "She almost killed herself with alcohol a while back and then she drank again the other day. Before the attack. She has a problem, Will. See that there is nothing left out for her to find and have Barnacle give me the key to the lock."

"Iíll take care of it." Willa nodded, squeezing her hand. "Despite the circumstances, Mel, Iím glad that my best friend is home."

"Your best friend is glad to be home."

*~*~*~*~*~

Melana crept into her old bedroom. She wouldnít have entered without knocking, but the dueling snores that came from the room indicated that it would be safe enough. She was only interrupting their sleep, nothing more. With a smile, she pulled the cover a little more snugly around Addison, who was half on top of Mark, and kissed her head. "Wake up, honey."

Addison opened her eyes, gazing up at Mel. "What -"

"We decided we were homesick and came to interrupt your honeymoon." Melana patted her face, then smiled at Mark, who was blinking at her like she was a ghost. "Hello, handsome! Sleeping the day away?"

"Am I dreaming?" he asked. "Two beautiful women in my room and -"

"My room!" Melana pointed her finger at him, then pinched his chest. "And donít flirt with the elderly. If you give me heart palpitations I may succumb."

Grinning, Addison sat up, grateful that she had worn her faithful flannel pajamas. "Your home is so beautiful. And your paintings ... oh god ... that one of the view of Talking Rock, Iíve never seen anything like it."

"Itís yours if youíd like it." Mel looked over her shoulder at the painting in question. "Iíve no use for it."

Mark and Addison exchanged a quick look before she turned back to them. With a deep breath, Melana said, "Weíre very sorry to intrude on your honeymoon. If youíd like to go back to Egypt for the remainder or possibly to the United Kingdom, Iíll make certain youíre -"

"Are you kidding!?" Addison shook her head. "Weíve been homesick, too! Howís Callie? She told me about falling at the wedding and ... Iím glad that I can give up my reigning title as klutz of the year."

"Sheís here." Mel forced herself to smile.

"Callieís here!?" Addison jumped out of the bed. "I have to go talk to -"

"She didnít fall down the stairs." Mel shook her head. "We wanted to tell you the truth, but she wouldnít let it ruin your honeymoon and even now ... sheís trying to think up something that will lessen the blow, but - I donít think anything can."

"What are you talking about?" Mark asked, sitting up.

"I need to let her explain it and -"

Addison didnít say another word. She raced from the room calling her friendís name. She spotted Alex first, carrying luggage down the hallway toward one of the smaller, darker rooms. He put the suitcase down and hugged her, hanging on tightly. Swallowing hard, Addison said, "What happened?"

"Sheís outside." He let her go and picked up the luggage, not meeting her gaze. "She looks bad. So-"

"Outside where?"

"Out front. She said she wanted to see the orchard for a minute. And I canít tell you what happened, Addison, because I donít know what sheís gonna tell you. She may lie again to keep from-"

Addison darted down the stairs. Her bare feet were freezing, but she didnít bother to turn around for shoes. She spotted Cambyses and Blake, but they didnít speak and neither did she. She had *known*, she thought. Even when Callie was explaining about the nasty spill she had taken at the church, Addison had doubted the validity of the story. Some part of her was not shocked that it had been a lie because she had expected to hear at any given moment that something horrific had happened to her best friend.

She ran down the stone steps of Bountyís Keep, darting around Raphael, who simply pointed in the distance. Callie was sitting with her back to the house and Addison was so relieved to not see a wheelchair or crutches or loss of limbs that she stopped running and worked on catching her breath as she approached. "Callie?"

Shoulders stiffening, Callie pushed herself to her feet, but kept her back to Addison. "Hey. Have you tried the fruit yet? Youíll never taste anything sweeter."

Addison stopped a few feet away. "Yeah, itís good."

"I think Iíll walk down there and find an orange. Iíll be in later."

"Callie, wait." Addison closed the distance between them and put her hand on Callieís shoulder. "Turn around."

"Theyíre just bruises. Theyíll fade."

"Turn around."

Callie took a deep breath. "Iím sorry. The last thing I wanted to do was ruin your honeymoon. I didnít want to come here, but -"

Addison stepped around her and gasped, covering her mouth. With her free hand, she cupped Callieís cheek, then pressed a kiss to the worst of it. Saying nothing, she wrapped her arms around her friend and clung to her. Callie buried her face in her neck and gripped her flannel shirt. It felt like coming home ... for both of them.

"I missed you," Callie said softly. "A lot."

"I missed you, too." When Addison stepped back, she was crying. "You didnít fall down the stairs."

"No." Callie wiped her own eyes. "I donít want to talk about it, though. I want to forget it."

Addison looked into her eyes for a few seconds and that was all it took for comprehension to dawn on her. "Who did the rape kit?"

With a gasp, Callie shook her head. "Bailey, but it wasn't - they stopped him before he - how did you know?"

"Because Iíve seen that look on a lot of female faces. I never, ever wanted to see it on yours." Addison started to cry harder. "Can I help you? What - what do you need me to do?"

"Thereís more."

"Tell me."

"You look cold. It can wait."

"Iíll freeze to death before I walk away from here not knowing."

"Iím about to see a look on your face that I never wanted to see there either," Callie sobbed and shook her head. "Youíre going to be so disappointed and I hate it, but I canít change it. I drank again, Addison. A couple of weeks ago. I got drunk with Sydney and then I almost did it again the day before your wedding and I - so help me God, Addy, Iíd do it again right now, too."

Addison purposely kept her face impassive, even though it took all of her resolve. Her heart had fallen even further and she had thought that was impossible. Reaching down, she took both of Callieís hands in hers. "Youíre not going to do it right now. Or ever again. Because I wonít let you and because ... you owe me for lying to me about what happened to you. What the hell were you thinking!?"

"I didnít want to ruin your honeymoon," Callie repeated. "This should be the best time of your life and -"

"Cam may be your biological twin, but Iím your heart twin and I knew that something was wrong. Youíve been on my mind this entire time and -"

"Youíve been hanging around Uncle Xeno."

"I didnít need him to tell me that. I know what you are to me." Addison brushed a tear off Callieís cheek, lingering to touch the discoloration on her jaw. "Who did it?"

"A waiter at your wedding."

"WHAT!?!? This - this happened at the Church?"

"Yeah. I think my relationship with God has been annulled."

"How far did he - I mean -"

Callie didnít need to let her finish. "He was cutting my dress off when Derek tackled him. Derek got hurt and needed surgery on his arm, but heís fine. Heís okay. And Cam --- Cam killed the guy. Heís wracked with guilt over it because --- you know, he *killed* somebody. And all I can think it that Iím the reason and -"

"Donít you dare feel guilty." Addison shook her head. "Because itís *not* your fault. Any of it."

"The guy who attacked me bought me the first drink the night I got drunk with Sydney. So, yeah, Addison, it is my fault. If I hadnít done the air show, if I hadnít forced Alex to leave me, I would have been home with him that night and that guy wouldnít have remembered me at your wedding."

"That guy was probably a sick bastard who would have gone after you no matter what, Cal."

Callie regarded the red head for a while. "Youíre supposed to be yelling at me."

"Oh, I plan on it, but right now Iím basking in having you here and itís impossible to yell and bask at the same time."

"I want someone to yell at me. I need someone, anyone, to be as pissed at me as I am. I was kinda hoping that would be you."

"Weíre Thelma and Louise, Callie. Iíd go over a cliff with you and Iíd smile the entire time because you were there, too." Addison pushed her friendís hair back. "When it doesnít hurt to look at you ... I can yell at you .. itís thatís what you need from me."

"Promise?"

"I do."

Callie smiled at her. "I really do love you."

"I really do love you, too." Addison bent her toes. "But Iím going to lose my feet if we donít go inside."

"Iím going to go to the orchard." Callie glanced up at the house. "Yeah, oranges are good."

"Nope." Looping her arm through Callieís, Addison headed for the front steps of Bountyís Keep. "Iím not going to yell at you and to compensate for that ... Iím going to stick to you like glue and make sure you donít give me any more reasons to snap your neck like a twig."

"Damn! Youíre taking a page out of my motherís book."

"If you only knew."

*~*~*~*~*~

Mark put his hand on Alexís shoulder. "Iím sorry. I wish - can I do anything?"

"You can check the stitches on her leg," Alex replied. "She was supposed to be getting them removed later this week, but here we are."

"You donít seem too happy to be here."

Glancing out the window of the bedroom, Alex could only shake his head. He definitely was not happy. At all. Callie had stayed in a private room of the plane for the most part, not eating, not talking. He had tried to talk her into watching a movie or playing a video game, but she refused, gazing out the window and not really meeting his eyes. He had stuck by her side for the entire trip, asking her questions and trying to engage her in conversation, but the most he got was an occasional yes, no, or Iím not sure. She hadnít spoken to her family either. The most she had said was to Eros and that was just infuriating as far as Alex was concerned.

"Is there something else going on? You two arenít back together or -"

Alex looked at him. "We caught her trying to run away last night. She had fueled her plane to go to Alaska and we had a horrible fight. I donít want to fight with her while she looks the way she does, but itís like ... she wants me to. She wants all of us to."

"Of course she does," Mark replied. "Having you all scream at her while sheís black and blue proves that nothing has changed. She's still Callie, she's in there. If you can lose your temper it means that youíre still passionate and you still care enough, even with the bruises, to let her have it."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Mark chose his words carefully. "I do a lot of reconstruction on victims of violent crimes. A lot. Too much. And they always say the same things. That theyíre getting the scars removed or their face put back together because people donít treat them the same way. They donít want that to be the first thing people see. They want it to be like it was. Callieís probably thinking the same thing. That you all look at her and see the bruises and you wonít speak up and take her ass to the mat for being dumb. Thatís why she was running, Alex. To make you lose it, to prove that you can open both barrels and not feel sorry for her."

Callie and Addison came into the room. Mark flinched when he saw her, but he pulled her into his arms and said, "Bet the other guy looks worse."

"Bet the other guy looks dead," she replied, smiling at him. "Do you like the house?"

"Love it." Mark let her go and watched her close the blinds. "Youíre blocking out a perfect view of Talking Rock. That place -"

"Is evil," Callie said. "I hate it."

"You hate it?" Addison asked, frowning. "We loved it. Itís beautiful over there. You told me it was hallowed, you didnít say -"

"Oh, itís been blessed. Many, many times." Callie shrugged. "Itís consecrated, but I donít think prayers can go that deep. How far did you go when you explored it?"

"We got to the flower garden."

Callie shivered and flipped a switch, starting a fire in the grate. "Beyond that ... thereís a clearing with a stone altar. The women of my family used to go there and practice The Thesmorphia. It was a ritual sacrifice where they would call on Kalligeneia to bless their crops and fortify their land while they slaughtered pigs to mix with their corn seed. They eventually graduated from pigs to people. They killed a child, a boy, who was sailing through with his mother. She put strange symbols all over the house and desecrated the altar and then she killed herself.

"And one by one all of those women who participated in The Thesmorphia died that same year, but the flower garden, which was never there before, cropped up bigger and better every day. A lot of people say that Karakas women carry a curse and that each individual flower type that grows there was born of their deaths. There are eight types that grow in abundance and none are really native. There were eight women, too." She looked back at the closed blind, picturing the island in her mind. "It should be burned to the ground."

"Youíre mother named you after Kalligeneia." Addison said. "Right?"

"Yeah." Callie took a deep breath. "She thought that giving me that name would break the curse and stop pissing off Kalligeneia. Clearly, she was wrong."

"I have no idea what you people are talking about," Alex said. "All I can say is Ďhuhí?"

Callie grinned at him. "Everything planted on that island multiples. The Karakas women who slaughtered *people* for their crops got their wish. Everything blooms year round. But over here, on this side of the water, itís a struggle to get *anything* to grow on our land."

"The fruit trees are doing great," Mark said. "Iíve eaten so many oranges I may never be the same."

"No one with Karakas blood can tend the orchard," Callie told him. "Everything dies if they do. My great grandfather was the one who realized that. He hired men from the market to work instead of using his sons and the crop was huge. Since then, weíve always had gardeners."

"Let me see if I can get this straight," Alex scratched the back of his head. "Thereís a demon island across the water where your ancestors, all women, killed people to get a better crop. And now youíre cursed because of that and Karakas blood kills fruit trees. Am I doing okay so far?"

"But the healing spring," Addison blurted. Mark nudged her and she added, "Your Uncle Xeno told us that it cured him of his sickness."

"Heís an old man," Callie replied. "Just smile and nod."

"But you asked me to tell him to send you some water." Addison reminded her. "What was that?"

"That was me humoring him."

"You donít believe it?" Addison asked.

Callie scoffed. "Uh, no. Water is only ever water and it canít *cure* anything except dehydration."

"Oh my god!" Mark pointed at her. "I said almost that same thing word for word."

"Letís see where the scorpion stung you, Mark," Addison snapped. "Oh, thatís right. He got in the water and it went away."

Callie chuckled. "Of course it did. We used to purposely get stung because it was an adrenaline rush and the welts faded within ten minutes."

"He was bleeding," Addison pointed out. "It should have left *something*."

Mark and Callie exchanged amused looks. Callie said, "Is she a believer?"

"I think so," he replied, shaking his head. "Sheís about one step away from joining the Ghostbuster Admiration Society or the Psychic Friends Network."

"I have a jar of water in my room, Callie," Addison told her, ignoring Mark entirely. "Why donít you prove that water is only ever water."

The smile faded from Callieís bruised face and she shook her head. "Some other time."

Melana knocked on the door and poked her head inside. "Calliope, why have you chosen the darkest room here? For Goodness sake, the yellow room is available."

"Thatís why itís available. Itís *yellow*." Callie wrinkled her nose. "I like *this* room."

"Alex?" Melana shot him a pointed look.

"Itís fine." Alex glanced at the black walls and navy blue curtains. "Who was the decorator?"

Coming all the way into the room, Melana moved closer to the fire, prodding the wood with a poker as she turned the gas starter off. "My mother took my fatherís death very badly. This was his office for a while, the place he spent a majority of his time when his business travels allowed him to be home. After he passed away, my mother had the walls painted black for mourning and the bed brought in for herself. She stayed here in this room for years, never coming out, because she felt closer to him here."

Addison glanced at Mark. "Uh, Melana what happened to your mother?"

"Oh, honey, thatís not a very good story and -"

"She committed suicide," Callie said, cutting Melana off. "She jumped off the glass balcony and fell to her death. Which, you have to admit, took balls."

Melana gave her daughter a look that caused Mark and Addison to back up. Alex casually moved between the two women. Undaunted, Melana addressed Callie. "You think that takes balls? Youíre right. It takes a hell of a lot more than *you* have. Itís not difficult to drink yourself into a stupor, is it? After a while, you donít even think at all. The liquor numbs everything. Thatís a *selfish* way to die because you should *feel* it, but youíre nothing if not selfish."

Addison took Markís hand and pulled him from the room. Alex watched them go, wishing he could join them. "Melana-" he began.

"No, let her say it." Callie interjected. "The floorís all yours, Mom."

"Loving you is exhausting," Mel told her. "Exhausting. You seem hell-bent on pushing Alex away, pushing us away, and destroying yourself, but youíre forgetting one very important thing when it comes to me. I canít give up on you. I carried you inside me. Iím youíre worst enemy and youíre biggest fan. So, you can push with both hands, hell, you can drink with both hands and after I finish knocking you on your ass ... *I* will be the one who pulls you back up because I have to. Youíre *mine* and you will never push hard enough that I canít reach you."

"I know -"

"Calliope, Iím not finished so keep your mouth shut." Melana straightened her spine, pulling herself to her full height. "I am very sorry that you were attacked. I am very sorry that anyone would dare hurt you as much as this man did, but you will not hide behind those bruises. You are accountable for the drinking and as God is my witness ... you will admit that, face it head on, and bury it because it will *not* happen again."

Callie opened her mouth, but Melana held up a hand. "Still not finished, sweetheart." Strolling forward, Melana looked her in the eye. "Welcome to rehab. Perhaps we should call it Camp Hell."

"What?"

"The first thing youíre going to do is move to the yellow room. Because itís *cheerful* and itís high time you leave the dark." Melana tilted her head to one side. "Then youíre going to eat dinner and not pick at it or push it around on your plate and then - then youíre going to sit your *cheerful* ass in the blue room for an intervention. Now, Iím finished, but the only thing out of your mouth better be Ďokayí."

"Okay." Callieís eyebrows had vanished behind her bangs.

Melana nodded and started to walk out of the room, but Callie caught her hand. She waited to see what her daughter would say, then gasped when she wrapped her arms around her. "Honey?"

"Thanks, Mom. You - you heard me. What I couldnít say."

"Loud and clear, mi vida."

The remainder of the evening progressed just as Melana said it would. Callie and Alex moved into the yellow room and Alex told his wife it was much, much better. They had dinner and Callie ate, aware that everyone was counting her bites ... in Camís case ... out loud. Her uncles arrived after dinner and they both had horrible reactions to her bruises. Xeno wanted to fly to Seattle, find Randyís body, and strangle him for good measure. Callie had to laugh and it felt good. Because Xeno was the runt of the family and had a case of Napoleon complex that always made him go for violence first.

The intervention was informal. Everyone lounged comfortably in the blue room with their bellies full and a stack of cookies in front of them. Alex sat on Callieís left, Addison to her right, and Mark sat in the floor with his back against Addyís legs. Instead of putting Callie on the spot by telling her how her drinking had impacted *them*, they each told her how it affected *her*.

Melana talked first. "Seeing you in the hospital after you almost died was surreal. Because youíre not that person. Youíre not weak or sickly, but alcohol made you both of things. You still wear the scars inside, on your liver and pancreas, and itís something youíll have to deal with for the rest of your life."

Raphael cleared his throat. "Youíre smart. Youíre way smarter than your brothers which is why I only got one doctor out of the bunch, but that one doctor is amazing. Youíre good at your job. Iím proud of you, but you canít be a doctor and have this addiction because there could come a time that youíre hungover or still a little tipsy and someone gets hurt. I want you to have the career, Mija, because you worked hard for it."

"Well, that was kind of rude and insulting to *me*. I could have been a doctor. A witch doctor." Cam bit his bottom lip when Callie smiled at him. "I can always tell when youíve been drinking, Cal, because your voice is sad. I donít think drinking makes you very happy and life is so short that we have to hang onto what makes us happy and let go of the rest."

Beside him, Blake nodded. "I agree. Plus, youíre game face is more believable when youíre sober. A drunk could not have pulled off the demon dog. That was the genius work of a non-intoxicated mind."

Demi took a deep breath. "I gave you wine when you were ten and you spit it all over me. You hated it. Iíd gladly let you do that again and again if it would help. I would gladly die if you'd only-"

Xenos rolled his eyes. "Demitri, must you always make the grand, sweeping gesture?"

"Itís a gay thing," Cam told him. "Weíre all about exaggeration."

"Youíre gay?" Mark asked Demi.

With a nod, Demi said, "I would make the exception for your wife so keep walking the chalk line, buddy, because Iím watching you."

"Heís a hair puller," Xeno told Mark, then looked at Callie. "Youíre our girl, Opie. Our pride and joy. I held your hand when you took your first step and I remember thinking that you were one step closer to walking away. Alcohol makes your step crooked and you struggled so hard to stay upright. Stay upright, darliní."

"I wonít lie to you ... youíre a funny drunk," Addison said, taking her hand. "But youíre a lot wittier when youíre sober and we have more fun without it than we ever did with it. I mean, how many people can say theyíve glued their head to the wall and their ass to the toilet and canít even blame beer?"

"God, that was funny," Mark laughed. "The first time I met you, Callie, you were drunk. You were very, very drunk. And ... you didnít have ... well, you know what happened and -"

"We donít." Demiís eyes were narrowed. "Please, enlighten us, Mark."

"Some of us know and wish we didnít," Raphael told his brother in law. "Letís leave it at that."

"Red Robin," Demi called to Addison. "Does being a widow appeal to you at *all*? Because now itís personal for me."

"Sorry." Addison kissed Markís head. "Heís a changed person which means that thereís hope for Callie, too."

"I was never a sex addict," Callie said softly, so that only her friends could hear.

Alex and Mark both coughed, masking their Ďbullshitsí as they did it. They grinned at one another, then Alex looked at his wife. She had her eyes downcast and the smile on her face wasnít convincing. "I guess Iím the last one who needs to say something, huh?"

"Be gentle," she told him under her breath.

He lifted her hand and kissed it, then kissed her cheek. "I love you. Even at your worst, you are still the best thing thatís ever happened to me. I know you. Thatís the worst part, Gothika, because I know that youíre better than this, that you donít know *how* to let something beat you. Drinking for you will be a slow suicide because of the damage that you've already done. To quote our favorite movie ... would you consider me as an alternative to suicide? Because itís forever either way. Death is final, but so are we, and thereís still so much of our story to tell. Iím not ready for that last chapter. Iíll never be ready and it kills me to think that you might be."

"Iím not," she replied, swiping a tear off her cheek. "I donít *want* to drink again. I swear to God, I donít."

"Then donít," Melana said. "Your first word was Ďnoí. You said it nonstop. Keep saying it ... it should come easy to you."

Callie nodded, leaning her head against Alexís shoulder. He hugged her, kissing her head. "Are we done?" he asked. "Sheís tired."

"Are we done, Callie?" Raphael asked, his eyes locked on hers.

"I heard you," Callie glanced at Melana. "Loud and clear."

"Then goodnight. Sleep well." Melana got to her feet and hugged Callie. "I love you. Always."

"I love you, too." Callie kissed her cheek and looked around the room. "All of you. Well, maybe not Mark, but -"

"Hear hear!" Demi said.

"But I like you an insane amount," Callie told Mark, who grinned at her, then caught her leg. "What?"

"Let me take a look at those stitches."

"Oh, itís fine," she told him, but he lifted her pants and did it anyway.

"This *has* to be Chief Webberís doing." Mark shook his head. "He always drifts to the left. I think heís asleep at the wheel sometimes."

"Donít talk about our boss!" Addison smacked him on the back of the head, then looked at the wound herself. "Damn, it is crooked."

"Guys!" Callie held her hands up.

"I can fix it when we get back to Seattle. I am a scar expert!" Mark smiled up at her.

"Egotistical *and* rude," Demi said. "This is why I donít like pretty men."

"Pretty men don't like you," Xeno replied. "Yanni wannabe."

"Dwarf."

"Old coot."

"Chihuahua."

"Kitten."

"Shut up!" Melana snapped at her brothers. "Why am I the only one in this family to mature past fifteen?"

"You're a solid ten at the most," Xeno told her, snatching the cookie from her hand. "But we'll keep you."

*~*~*~*~*~
CH 9
Dedicated to:
tv_junkie118 <http://tv-junkie118.livejournal.com/>, nycbadgirl <http://nycbadgirl.livejournal.com/>, and greys_addict <http://greys-addict.livejournal.com/>, who are a constant source of inspiration, motivation, and celebration. You guys are made of win. :)

Callie sat on the edge of the boat, her feet dangling in the water. The black bathing suit she wore was modest, but it plunged in the back to reveal bruises that Cambyses had not yet seen. He had been unable to hide his reaction when she took her shirt off and no matter how she tried to reassure him, he had still gone below deck and she found him crying in the bathroom. It put a damper on the scuba diving trip, but only a brief one. She cracked a joke about Blake and his Speedo and Cambyses pulled himself together. He also told her that every bruise he saw on her made it easier to deal with the fact that he had killed someone. So, she showed him several on her thigh and pulled her suit aside to show him her ribs. After that, there was a bounce in his step and Callie breathed a sigh of relief.

She tired easily, which was why she returned to the boat to watch the others. She hated that her body simply would not let her stay in the water any longer. Muscles currently ached, her head was pounding, and her ankle was throbbing from the stab wound there. Lifting her foot, she gazed down at it. Mark had removed the stitches in both her leg and ankle that morning and she thought it looked pretty good. How it felt, however, was another story altogether. Both areas had swollen slightly from the stitch removal. And probably from her walking the orchard for over two hours.

"Hey." Alex kissed her knee and smiled up at her, still submerged in the water. "What are you doing?"

"Being lazy," she replied, smoothing his wet hair off his forehead. "You really took to this snorkeling thing."

"Itís fucking cold." Alex rested his chin on her leg, smiling. "Come back in and get me warm."

"The water is like ... four degrees."

"You in that suit? That would heat it pretty damn fast."

She slipped off the side of the boat, her arms around his shoulders. "Howís that?"

He moaned a little when she wrapped her legs around him. Cupping her backside, he kissed her, long and slow ... and they promptly went under. They came up laughing and she playfully tugged his ear. "Youíre supposed to hang onto the boat, Jock Strap. Otherwise weíll sink."

"What man in his right mind would hang onto the boat when youíre here?" He hooked his arm through the ladder anyway, and pulled her a little closer. "Put your legs back around me."

She complied, smiling when she felt how hard he was. "My goodness, Alex. There are eels in the water. Do you really want them to have anything else to bite?"

"If we were alone ... Iíd make sure it was hidden." The smile on his own face faded when she stiffened in his arms. He could have kicked himself. The rape crisis worker had warned him privately against making sexual references or advances for a while. He moved his hand from her backside and placed it on her waist. "So, that story you were telling about your women ancestors ... that was a joke, right?"

Callie pulled the top of her suit a little higher, hating that she felt the need to. "No. Not a joke. Cam and I made a career out of snooping. We found old journals that were probably a hundred years old or more in the secret passages of the house. I donít think anyone else ever read them because they were in pretty bad shape, but everything was chronicled there. My uncles like to tell the story that was passed down for generations, though. Theyíll tell you that a boat capsized in the grotto and a child drowned there, causing his mother to say that we were cursed to have only boys for taking hers."

"Where did they hear that?" he asked, willing his hard on to go away.

"I donít know." She looked over his shoulder at Bountyís Keep. "What I do know is that they carved the place right into the rocks because they knew that the only foundation they had was made of lies and supported with destruction. So, they built it there ... thinking that the rock would be strong enough to hold it up. It may look impressive, but itís a house of cards."

"Do you hate it here that much?"

"I donít hate Greece. I love the food, the people, and the scenery. But I donít like the history here and I donít like that any part of that runs in my veins."

"Everybody has a bloody history, baby. Everybody."

She rubbed her hand over his shoulder, which was sunburned. "Have you called your mother?"

"No."

"You should. Sheís probably worried."

"Melana left her a message. And the ferret."

"Iím sure sheíd like to hear that youíre okay."

"Iím not okay where sheís concerned. I have not forgotten what she said to you or that you were running right after she said it. I know that was a big reason you were flying to Alaska."

"I really cannot handle messing up your relationship with your mother. So, forget it happened and call her. She didnít mean anything by it, Alex."

"She has only been in our lives for ten months. Thatís not enough time for her to know *anything* or have the right to comment about it." He absently adjusted the strap of her suit. "What did she say exactly?"

"Iím not doing this."

"Tell me. Please?"

"She just reminded me that your dad had a problem with alcohol and she said that you didnít deserve to live through that twice. And sheís right." Callie let her legs fall from his waist and climbed the ladder, lifting a towel and wrapping it around her body.

Alex followed behind her, grabbing one for himself. It was warm, having been left in the sun. "Callie, itís different."

She pursed her lips and stared out at the horizon, trying hard not to cry. "I just want you know ... if we have kids -"

"*When* we have kids."

"When we have kids," she amended. "I wonít treat them the way your dad treated you. And you wonít have to be like your mother."

"Where is the coming from?" He ran a hand over his hair, then his eyes widened. "Did she say that? Did she mention kids, Callie? Did she actually imply that you - that we -"

"Sheís worried about you."

Alex pulled her around to face him. "My dad was more than just a drunk. He was addicted to cocaine for a while, then he moved on to heroin. And he never, ever had a year of sobriety from *anything*. He was cruel, abusive, and didnít give two shits about his family. He couldnít hold down a job, he didnít know what self respect was, and he tormented my mother every second of the day. You are *nothing* like that."

"Are you sure? Because my family may tell you that I donít give two shits about them. And I seem to be really good at tormenting you."

"You have *got* to stop this. I have never known anyone who loves their family more than you do. And I think I made it very clear last night that I love you. Yes, you have flaws, but so do I. Weíre not perfect ... unless weíre together and then weíre *invincible*." He hugged her. "So, can we stop now? Can we just stop the doubt and the guilt and the second guessing and be *happy*?"

She nodded against his shoulder. "That sounds really good."

"Good." He kissed the tip of her nose then smiled when Addison shrieked in the distance, cursing Mark for scaring her. "Addison seems pretty hell bent on believing in healing springs and stuff."

Callie sighed. "Apparently. She never should have gone to Talking Rock."

"What happened there? To make you hate it? Was it just the sacrifice or -"

"No, but that was enough."

"Then what -"

Cambyses climbed onto the boat and Callie breathed a sigh of relief. She did *not* want to discuss Talking Rock. "Hey, you," she said to her brother. "Waterlogged enough?"

"Iím cold enough to hang in a meat locker to thaw out." He told her, bundling a towel around his shoulders and putting another over his lap. "Mark found a dead eel and ran it over Addisonís legs so sheís trying to drown him and Blake is trying to mediate. As for me ... I come out of the water when thereís any kind of death around."

"I heard that," Callie told him, sharing a knowing look.

"Uncle Xeno said he spotted a blue shark right around here the other day. Said it was about fifteen feet long, but that makes it closer to twelve because he claims to be five nine and we all know heís closer to four nine." Cambyses chuckled when Alex dropped his bottle of water and scrambled to get it. "Awww, is somebody scared of a wittle fish?"

"There are sharks?" Alex asked, scanning the crystal clear water.

"Uh, ocean," Cam replied, pointing around them. "Thatís where they live."

"Blues are pretty harmless," Callie assured Alex, leaning her head against his shoulder as she stifled a yawn. "I think I have jet lag."

"Letís round our shark bait up and go show them the waterfall and cave and see if we can convince someone to jump off the Lager Cliffs." Cambyses got to his feet and whistled, waving at the others, who swam their way.

"If weíre going to get someone to jump, Cam, then it should be off the Devilís Pitchfork." Callie grinned at Alex. "Itís eighty five feet of pure, stomach dropping free fall."

He didnít look very impressed as he stepped forward to pull Addison onto the boat, then Mark and Blake, who scrambled into the towel that Cam held out. Callie was the only one Demi trusted with his new boat so she sailed them to the waterfall, but no one wanted to get back into the water. The wind from the ride had chilled their wet flesh to painful proportions so they contented themselves with snapping photos and listening to Cam talk about the rock formations.

After sailing through underwater caves, which they did explore for close to an hour, they were dry and warmer. Alex didnít have to wonder why the rock formation that eventually loomed ahead of them was called the Devilís Pitchfork. There were three towering rocks that were jagged and pointed at the top. The one in the middle stood taller than the ones that flanked either side and Alex could see the many ropes that had been secured to the sides of the stones to make it easier to climb up.

"Holy crap," Mark said, staring straight up. "Do people actually jump off that?"

"All the time." Callie idled the engine and smiled at him. "Feeling brave?"

"How deep is the water here?" he asked.

"Deep enough." Cambyses pulled on a pair of rubber shoes and tossed a pair to Blake, who shook his head.

"I did it once. Thatís more than enough for me. I woke up with gray hair the next day." Holding the shoes out to Alex, Blake smiled. "No one should visit Greece and not do it, though."

Alex was aware that Callie was watching him closely. He slipped the shoes on and looked at Mark. "You coming?"

Mark glanced at Callie. Melana and Raphael had told them all about how scared she was. Of everything. "If she does."

"Oh, Mark," Addison said, shaking her head. "I donít think thatís a -"

"Okay," Callie said, shutting the boat off and dropping the anchor.

Alex opened his mouth to protest, but Mark shot him a look. Callie pulled on a pair of water shoes and held a pair out to Addison, who gasped, "Who me?"

"Yes, you," Callie laughed. "Thelma and Louise, remember?"

"Damn it," Addison grumbled, pulling the shoes on. "I have *no* upper body strength so Iíll probably plummet straight to my death just trying to climb up there."

"What a way to go." Cam patted her on the back and dove into the water, breast stroking toward the rocks.

Mark followed suit, then Addison. Alex caught Callieís arm and said, "Are you sure youíre up to this?"

"I was *born* for this," she assured him, kissing his lips before she dropped over the side.

"Sheís not lying." Blake joined Alex at the edge, watching her cut through the water. "Markís got the right idea. If you let her hide behind you then she may always hide. She has to confront her fear head on and if *this* can give her back a little of the bad ass we *know* she has ... then make her jump ten times."

Alex grinned when she climbed up onto the rock and put her hands on her hips, glaring at him. "I better go."

"You better." Blake shoved him off the side and bowed, grinning when he heard Callieís laughter, then he reclined comfortably in the captainís chair to watch the show.

*~

"Okay, itís almost like a ladder," Cam said, touching the grooves in the side of the rock to prove his point. "There are hand and foot holds the entire way up and the rope is there in case you need it. It leans, so you donít need a lot of strength to do it. You could almost do it with just your feet."

Addison started to walk back the way they had come, but Mark caught her around the waist and said, "You go ahead of me. Iíll catch you."

"Iíll go up first," Cam told her. "You just step where I step and let me know if you need a hand."

"Jesus fucking Christ," Addison said, watching Cam begin the climb. "I can see it now. The headlines. Four Idiots Who Claimed to be Educated Doctors Fell Off The Devilís Pitchfork In Greece, Thereby Proving That Medical School is a Crapshoot."

"Go," Mark told her, half lifting her up the wall. He watched her dig her toes in and hang there. "Up, Addison. You look like a bat."

"If I were a bat, Iíd bite you. Or at the very least Iíd flail all over your head." She took a deep breath and reached up, grabbing a handhold. "Oh god, this sucks."

Callie watched her friend, telling her which place to put her hand. When she was a good twenty feet in the air, Callie nodded at Alex. "Youíre next."

"I should go behind you," he said. "Of the two of us, Iím the one who is mostly likely to fall and -"

"If Iím under you ... youíll take me with you and believe me, Iíd want you to. Couldnít live without you." She gave him a kiss, hugging him. "Thereís one part thatís a little tricky at the top. Cam will be there to help you."

"I feel like the Dread Pirate Roberts." Alex began to climb. "And these are the clearly the Cliffs of Insanity."

She let him get several feet up the wall before she climbed up behind him. To amuse him and take his mind off the fact that he was not very fond of heights, she started the dialogue from the ĎThe Princess Brideí. In a heavy Spanish accent, she spoke Inigoís line. "I donít suppose you could speed things up."

"If you're in such a hurry, you could lower a rope or a tree branch or find something useful to do."

She couldnít say the next line. "Iím enjoying your ass. Thatís pretty useful. For me at least."

"Donít deviate from the script!" he said, glancing down at her. It was the wrong thing to do. He stopped climbing and dug his fingers deeper into the crevice.

Callie stopped as well. "Alex?"

"Gimme a second."

She wrapped the rope around her arm and swung out to one side, landing to the right of him. She climbed up so that they were face to face. With one arm still tangled in the rope, she kissed his cheek. "Youíre almost there, Jock Strap. Donít look down. Look up."

He did as she requested and saw that Cam was peering down at them from ten feet higher. Addison and Mark had already scaled the top. "Okay."

"Youíre about to understand why I do things like this," she said, her eyes never leaving his. "When you get to the top and jump ... youíre weightless. Youíre flying. Without wings, without a safety net, without a care. The only thing you hear is your heartbeat. The only thing you feel ... is free. Itís just a few seconds ... but youíll never forget it."

"Are you freaks coming?" Cam called. "Because Addisonís threatening to call for a helicopter to come and get her."

Alex gave her a kiss before he climbed up the rest of the way. Cam pulled him up and leaned down to help Callie, but Alex shook his head, dropping onto his stomach with his hand extended. The view down caused his heart to drop again, but seeing her crawling toward him was enough to make it worth it. He fleetingly thought that it was like pulling her from the abyss to be with him. That, more than anything, made it worth it.

When she was on the solid rock surface, Callie hugged him. "Good job."

"There are rocks in the water," Cambyses said, rubbing his hands together. "So choose where you land very carefully because weíre a pretty damn good looking bunch and if we have to die ... we should be able to have an open casket. Pancakes arenít pretty."

"Shit, Cambyses!" Addison cried, slapping his arm. "Can you stop acting like your sister!?"

Mark gritted his teeth, looking down for the second time. He could see plenty of rocks and none of it made him happy. Cam clapped him on the back, causing him to gasp. "Donít worry, pretty boy, Iíll go first." Cam looked at Callie. "You gonna talk them down?"

"Iíll talk them or kick them," she replied.

"Good show." With a salute, Cam turned and pushed away from the rock, leaping head first.

Callie moved to the edge, smiling when she saw him do a couple of flips and break the water with a clean splash. He waved at her and swam toward the boat. "All clear. Whoís next?"

"Mark," Addison said, hugging him. "Just in case one of us -"

"Stop it!" Callie shook her head. "If you speak it, youíre inviting it."

"Cam said pancakes!" Addison cried. "And-"

"Itís okay." Mark gave her a kiss and moved to the edge, scanning the rocks. "Should I go head first or -"

"Nope. Hit the water feet first." Callie pointed at a big, clear spot between two rocks. "That way you wonít get turned around. Hopefully. Try to land right there."

Mark took a deep breath and exhaled. Without another word, he pushed off the rock and a moment later, hit in the exact location Callie had told him to aim for. He surfaced and waved to say he was okay and Addison almost sat down from relief. Instead, she clutched Callieís arm and said, "This is crazy."

"Mi vida loca," Callie said, pulling her closer. "Tuck your arms over her chest. Itíll hurt your boobs if you donít."

Addison covered her breasts and nodded. Five minutes later, and with a little impatient nudge from Callie, she jumped (fell) and screamed the entire way down. Laughing, Callie shook her head and watched her friend emerge choking and sputtering. "I forgot to tell her to breathe on the way down."

"I should have jumped with you on our honeymoon," Alex said suddenly. "On the bridge in France. Because you wanted to and it would have made you happy."

"I didnít need to jump for that. Everything you did made me happy. Everything you *do* makes me happy."

He joined her on the edge, taking her hand. "Can we do this together?"

"Youíll have to let me go before we hit the water," she told him.

"I can let you go." He touched her cheek. "Because I trust that youíll always come back."

"I trust that youíll always come back, too."

"Iím not going anywhere. Ever again. Do you trust *that*?"

She nodded. "I do."

They faced the water and she said, "Aim between those two rocks. Weíll hit side by side. On three. One, two -"

"Three," Alex said, jumping.

Callie was right, he thought. They were weightless, flying, but still attached to each other. He felt her wedding ring just before he let her hand go and crashed into the water. When he surfaced, she was grinning at him. "Did you feel it?" she asked.

"I only felt you." He pulled her closer. "My wings, my safety net. And Iíll be high on that for the rest of my life."

"Get a ROOM!" Cambyses called. "Letís go! Itís fucking cold!"

"I SHOULD BE AN ONLY CHILD!" Callie called. Her brother pulled his swimming trunks down and mooned her. She pretended to vomit as she pulled away from Alex and swam for the boat.

Cam tugged her on board and reached for Alex, then drew up short. "Youíre bleeding, Callie."

Mark slipped off the deck seat and kneeled behind her, swiping at the blood. "Itís the cut on your ankle. I guess climbing wasnít such a great idea."

Alex checked it for himself and swore, digging through the side panels of the boat for a first aid kit.

Wordlessly, Addison pulled a jar from her beach bag, unscrewed the lid, and threw the water inside on Callieís leg. It was ice cold and Callie cried out from the shock of it. "Addison!"

"Sorry. It looked dirty." She put the lid back on the jar and stowed it in her purse, her eyes never leaving Callieís ankle.

"Is that healing water?" Mark asked, rolling his eyes.

Callie gasped. "Is it?"

"What if it is?"

Cam shoved Callie off the boat and jumped in behind her. She came up coughing, but said nothing as her brother stayed under and rubbed her leg and foot like he was bathing it. When he came up beside her, his eyes were wide. Aware that everyone was watching them, she shook her head and smiled. "Youíre so clumsy!"

"I canít help it." Giving her the biggest, fakest laugh of all time, he added. "I slipped."

"What are you doing?" Mark asked, gazing back and forth between them.

"Nothing. Accident." Cam took the hand Mark extended, then helped Callie into the boat once more. Everyone noticed that he lifted her *over* the water that Addison had thrown. He went so far as to carry her below deck and when he emerged, she was not with him. He carried a mop instead, which he wet in the ocean, then scrubbed the deck with it. For good measure, he used a towel last, soaking up any excess. He left the towel *and* the mop on the rocky ledge and started the engine, sailing them toward home.

Alex headed below deck, followed by Addison and Mark. It was nothing like Goon Docks. The quarters were small and cramped, but they sufficed. Callie was sitting at a small table with her head down. "Whatís going on?" Alex asked.

"Cambyses doesnít like spring water," Callie replied, not lifting her head. "He thinks itís dirty."

"Iím sorry," Addison said. "I didnít think about germs or anything."

"Itís cleaner than the ocean," Mark assured her, still watching Callie. He spotted a first aid kit on the wall and opened it, rifling through the contents. "We should clean the cut and bandage it."

"Iíll do it." Callie stood, then quickly sat back down thanks to the glare Alex gave her.

"Let me see it," Alex said, reaching for her foot.

"I said Iíll do it."


"Callie, come on."

She took a deep breath and lifted her foot. Alex pulled the water shoe off and set it aside, then raised her leg. "What the -"

Mark squatted down beside him and ran his fingers over the wound. It had been red that morning, swollen and puckered. Now it felt smooth except for a small welt. "Holy fuck."

"Tooooold you," Addison sang, looking pleased with herself.

Callie glared at her. "The day you got in the spring ... your feet hurt, right?"

"Right."

"How far did you wade?" Callie asked her.

"Just to my ankles."

"Notice anything?" asked Callie. "Like, *my* ankle."

"What do you mean?" Addison made a face.

"Itís how it works." Callie pulled her foot away from Alex and Mark. "You went in to your ankles and then Mark got bit on the foot by a scorpion. And because you put the water on me, someone else will have to carry my pain so that means that *theyíll* get hurt."

Markís brow wrinkled. "I donít get it. Are you saying I got stung because Addison walked into the water in the first place?"

"Yes. Nothing is ever free."

"You said it wasnít true! You said it was fake!" Addison reminded her.

"Like everything else on Talking Rock, it gives more than it takes, but it does *take*. It never stops taking." Callie looked at the back of her leg, where the cut to her calf had been splashed as well. One side of the incision looked like a crudely drawn smudge with a red crayon, the other side was still swollen. "Everyone should be careful for a few days and -"

"You should get in the spring, Callie. It would help your bruises and -"

"Addison, have you heard me at all? Suffering through pain makes a person stronger. Giving it away when you *know* that someone else will have to deal with it in your place ... that makes you a coward." Callie gripped the edge of the table. "I could submerge in there right now and tomorrow ... or maybe the next day ... my dad could fall down the stairs and bruise his entire body. Or my mom could get in an accident. Or Alex could -"

"I think any of us would take your pain," Addison interrupted. "So, if you really think this spring could -"

"No!" Callie emphatically shook her head. "Listen to me! You know that movie ĎPay It Forwardí? Well, thatís what you do when you go in that spring. You pay your pain forward. Whateverís ailing you. My uncle Xeno was sick. He was *dying* when he got in there. Two days later, one of his best and only friends, was crushed to death under a rock. It bent his spine like an accordion, the same way Xenoís spine was always bent."

"Who paid for my pain?" Mark asked.

"Who do you think?" Callie replied, looking down at her foot again. "It wasnít bothering me until *you* took the stitches out. And if *someone* had not ambushed me with water, it would have ended there and I could have broken the cycle."

Alex massaged his forehead. "Is this really a conversation that weíre having? Weíre talking about a *pond* that can apparently think for itself. Weíre having an actual talk ... with that in it."

"You canít argue with the proof!" Addison said.

"Guys, weíre home!" Blake called. "I can smell lunch from here. Iím *so* hungry."

They walked up the steps and watched Blake tie the boat off to the rocky surface of the grotto. He turned and smiled at them, then hopped onto the stone. He was not wearing his water shoes and both of his feet went out from under him at the same time. Laughing, he slid into the water and waded back to the ledge, reaching for Camís hand. "Thatís why I didnít even *think* about climbing Devilís Pitchfork. I feel clumsy today and - and - Cam, oh God."

"Blake?"


"OH MY GOD! ITíS GOT ME!" Blake screamed.

Alex and Mark rushed forward and grabbed any piece of Blake that Cam wasnít clinging to. As they pulled him out of the water, Addison screamed.

The blue eel with the scar on its head had its jaws clamped around Blakeís ankle.

Callie splashed into the water and pried its mouth open, causing her own fingers to bleed as its teeth knicked at her skin. Finally, it let go and she tossed it behind her. Alex tugged her onto the ledge and she bent down, pressing around the bite on Blake's leg, feeling for broken bones. Blake cried out and she nodded. "Definite tib fib separation. Heíll need an X-ray. Weíll call Demi. Heíll take him in the helicopter."

Cam nodded, shot Addison a look that could kill, and with Markís help, carried his boyfriend through the cave passage. A passage that he despised as much as Callie.

Callie put her hand on Addisonís arm. "You didnít know."

"Iím pouring out the water we were taking to Derek," Addison replied.

Alex watched the red head hurry after the others before he looked at his wife. "Callie-"

"Do you believe it now?"

He raked a hand through his hair, causing it to stand on end. "Can we just go home? You know, where water is water and curses are what Bailey does to us every time we fuck up?"

~*~*~*~*~*~

Blake, Cam and Demi returned after dinner. Blake used crutches to walk and modeled his cast for everyone. Addison, who had barely said three words, looked ready to cry. Demi hugged her, rubbing her back. "Xenos never should have introduced you to the power of the spring. If he was going to show you, he should have fully explained what you were dealing with."

"Itís okay. I got an aerial tour of Greece," Blake told her. "Plus, Iíve never been hurt before. I get to milk this for all its worth."

"You already are," Cam said, kissing Blake on the side of the head. "Now sit down before you bust your ass again."

Demi watched as Addison sat next to Blake, then turned and looked at Callie. "How bad are your hands, Opie?"

"Not bad."

Demi motioned at her, indicating that he wanted to judge for himself. He tsked over the cuts on her fingers and she joked that perhaps her fingerprints had been permanently altered. No one laughed. With a sigh, she returned to Alexís lap and looked at her mother, who was gazing at the fire. "Mom, you okay?"

"I thought that Xeno had gotten it out of his system, the infatuation with that place."

"Heís the only one of us who will set foot there," Demi told her. "I have it on good authority that heís sneaking water to people who could benefit from it. Without their knowledge, of course."

"Willa says that Athena *cooks* with it. I should have smothered her when we were children." Melana crossed her arms over her chest, still regarding the fire. After a moment, she looked at Callie. "Thereís an Izzie Stevens in every generation, mi vida. She lost interest in Xeno for a while and tried to tempt your father. I was quite pregnant with Stavros at the time and when she lifted her skirt under the pretense of tying her shoe and showed him her garter, I beat her with a piece of driftwood that made her wear *pants* around us from that day forward."

Everyone *did* laugh at that. Raphael reached over and took his wifeís hand. "I was so angry at you for that. For exerting yourself so much in your eighth month."

"Yes, I know," Mel said. "It forced you to *leave* me for five months."

"WHAT!?" Callie and Cam both cried.

"I was on *business*. I had no choice in the matter. I only came back for a weekend to visit with her and make sure she was okay." Raphael smiled at Alex. "As unforgiving as Callie can be ... I can assure you her mother is a million times worse. Stavros was a *toddler* before she would speak to me in whole sentences."

"Stop talking, Raphael, because I can feel myself building toward a tantrum because the memory of your abandonment doesnít sit well with me." Melana smiled at Willa, who carried in two large pictures of lemonade and glasses for everyone. "Will, do you recall when Raphael visited for the weekend after Papaís death?"

Willa crossed herself and glanced heavenward. "Itís been etched right into my brain, Mel. Iíll never forget the way he ran through the house when you took out after him with a rolling pin."

"It was an iron skillet. Perhaps your brain has been shaken like an Etch-A-Sketch." Melana accepted the lemonade Willa gave her. "Though, Iím sure you well remember his screams when I caught him."

"Yes, maíam." Willa gave Raphael a good natured pat as she handed him a glass. "Sounded like an orca whale that was being beaten about the head. Such pipes. Thatís where Calliope gets it."

Demi had to laugh. "I was in the orchard and *I* heard it. It was horrific."

"Why were you so pissed at him, Mom?" Cam asked.

"Well, how would you feel if your husband of a very short period of time left you pregnant, alone, and in turmoil?"

Cam looked at her. "Shocked. Because I donít have pregnancy parts or a husband."

"Sure you do. The last part anyway," Blake told him, taking his hand. "So, what did he say that made you so mad?"

Demi leaned forward and his seat. "Yes, Raph, do tell what you said."

Raphael cleared his throat. "I said, ĎHello, mi vidaí. And she flew at me with a pan as big as she was. I thought for sure she had lost her mind."

"I didnít know what you were calling me." Melana smiled, clearly recalling it. "And I didnít know who you thought you were to speak to me at all. Much less in a language I didnít understand. So, after I beat him into the sand ... he told me what it meant."

"My life," Raphael said. "Hello, my life. And even though I could barely move for two weeks ... I was very, very pleased with my life."

"You werenít so pleased that you stayed," she retorted.

"I wanted to. You know that I tried."

Melana looked at Alex and Callie. "Thatís the difference, see. He wanted to stay and *couldnít*. People today *can* stay and take the easy way out when thereís the hint of trouble."

"I donít think thatíll be a problem from now on," Alex said, resting his chin on Callieís shoulder. "Raphael, you were gone for five months? So, you missed Stavrosí birth?"

"I did. It wasnít as easy to get messages to people back then. And he came two weeks earlier than what we thought." Raphael sipped his drink. "But I came back when he was two weeks old, thinking it was time, and there he was. Mel was feeding him and I felt like she had hit me with the frying pan again. All the wind was knocked out. I had gone from having a wife ... to having a family. It was enough to scare me to death."

"You did faint." Melana shook her head and grinned at Addison. "Do you see that a lot when you deliver babies, honey?"

"All the time," Addison replied with a smile. "But itís usually during and not after."

"I fainted from the fear that she would attack me again," Raphael chuckled. "Luckily she only threw water on me and stalked back to the bed."

"I heard him clatter to the floor and by the time I got there," Demi said, "she was standing over him with a vase and I swear to God I thought she had murdered him while she was still holding her baby."

"So, why did you forgive him, Mel?" Mark asked. "If he left you and you were that upset, then why-"

"My forgiveness seemed like a pretty small gift when I was holding the baby he had given me." She held her hands up. "Just wait until you have children. You learn that nothing matters as much as keeping your family together."

"You donít have to have kids to know that." Getting to her feet, Callie stretched. "Iím exhausted."

"Yes, jumping from cliffs is very taxing, isnít it?" Mel narrowed her eyes.

"WHO TOLD!?" Callie snapped.

Addison raised her hand. "Accident."

"It wasnít an accident," Mark corrected. "She canít keep a secret. Ever."

"She asked me what we did today." Addison looked apologetic. "But since we *all* did it ..."

"CALLIOPE was just injured." Melana got to her feet and hugged her daughter. "And I canít imagine youíd enjoy rectal surgery to remove my foot. Which youíll need if you donít keep your damn feet firmly on the ground for the time being."

"Goodnight, Mom." Callie kissed her father, then ruffled Blakeís hair. "You feeling okay?"

"Morphine? Good." He gave her a lunatic smile. "Who knew?"

Alex said goodnight as well and followed Callie from the room. He took her hand in his and kissed it. He was so busy watching her that he didnít realize that they werenít heading to their room. He opened his mouth to ask where they were going, but she flipped on the lights in the largest bathroom he had ever seen in his life. The tub looked like a pool and it was filled, steam fogging all the mirrors. "Wow," he whispered.

"I need to wash the ocean off." She stepped away from him and pulled her shirt over her head.

He enjoyed the view, watching her strip down to nothing. When she turned to face him, he held his hand out and led her to the tub, helping her into it. Sitting on the edge, he helped her lean back. She looked up at him with wide eyes a second later. "You coming in?"

Alex shook his head. Once again, his body was betraying him and his desire for her was painfully evident in the front of his jeans. "Not tonight. I already took a shower. Remember?"

"Itís a huge tub."

He smiled when she went under and wet her hair. He lifted a bottle of shampoo and filled his hand with it. When she resurfaced, he massaged it into her scalp, laughing when she groaned. "Feel good?"

"So good."

He moved to her neck, massaging the bubbles in there as well. She dropped her head down and he lifted a plush wash cloth, soaping it with something that smelled like cherry blossoms. He ran it over her back, careful not to press too hard, then took her hand, soaping her arms. Taking a moment to study the marks on her fingers, he said, "Did I mention that you're brave?"

"Iím not brave. Eels just donít bother me."

He brushed shampoo off her forehead before it could drop into her eye. "Not much does. Youíre fearless, remember?"

"Vaguely. I - I used to be. I feel like he - he stole my spirit or something. When he attacked me."

He tilted her chin, giving her a soapy beard. "That man didnít take anything from you, Callie. If anything, he shook us up just enough to make us remember why weíre here. I hate him, but he made me see how fast I could lose you so he didnít take anything ... he put us back together."

Alex moved to her legs, soaping one, then the other. "I mean ... I wouldnít be sending him a Christmas card or anything ... you know ... if he was still alive ... but I have to give him credit for pulling my head out of my ass. It was wedged in there pretty fair. Thatís why I was such an asshole to you. I was in constant pain."

She smirked because he was rambling and he usually rambled when he was nervous. When he moved the cloth over her stomach, she saw how tight his jaw was and how he was not looking down at her. He was focusing on the tile behind the tub. "Alex?"

"What?"

"Make love to me."

He stopped moving at all and met her eyes. "Itís too soon. I - I donít want to hurt you."

"Youíll hurt me more if you donít." She pushed herself to her knees and took the wash cloth from his hand, letting it fall into the water beside her leg. He was definitely looking at her now. "Iím ready, Alex."

"Baby-"

She kissed him, pressing her wet chest against the front of his shirt. A moment later, she felt his hand tracing her hips, her back. "Iím ready," she repeated, then clapped a hand over her eye as shampoo dripped in it.

"Maybe you should rinse first," he laughed, watching her dig for the rag again. "Tell you what ... Iíll go start a fire in the bedroom and you think about this while you finish up. If you still want -"

"I do."

"Then Iíll be waiting." He kissed her again and left the room.

Callie finished her bath in record time. She took just enough time to dry her hair, brush her teeth, and rub lotion into her skin before she put on a robe and headed down the hallway. Melana was walking toward the double doors that led to the glass balcony and she jumped when she saw Callie. "What are you doing roaming the halls, Calliope? You looked like a ghost."

"Sorry. I took a bath in the big tub."

Melana nodded, pulling the sleeves of her own robe down self consciously. "Well, goodnight."

"What are *you* doing roaming the halls?" Callie asked, looking her mother up and down. "And red lace? Really?"

The doors to the balcony opened and Raph peered out, wearing only his boxer shorts and socks. His eyes widened when he saw Callie and he slammed the door, then reappeared a moment later wearing a fluffy white robe that matched Callieís. "Is something wrong, Mija?"

"Well, there wasnít!" she cried, scandalized. "What are you doing!? On the glass balcony!?"

"Oh, for heavenís sake!" Melana snapped. "Do you think that you pioneered it with Eros? I can assure you that your naked ass isnít the only one to leave an imprint. We should call it Peepshow Hill."

"Ew. Ew. Ew." Callie put a hand over her face. "Iím gonna walk away now."

"Wait," Melana said, catching her arm. She looked at her husband and raised a brow. "Go back out there, Raphael. I need a moment."

"Okay, okay." Raph winked at Callie and slipped back out onto the balcony.

As soon as the door closed, Callie sniggered. "Mom, he has on sock guards! Can you please tell him thatís not sexy?"

"Listen to me." Melana touched her cheek. "If youíre about to do what I think youíre about to do then let me remind you that Alex has hands just like your fatherís. Theyíre firm, but soft. Strong, but gentle and youíre safe in them. You chose someone just like your father, actually. He has a temper, he can rage like a wild fire, but he will eat out of your palm if you let him."

Callie looked confused. "What do you think Iím going to do?"

"You really are *not* as good at acting as youíd like to believe." Melana pushed her daughterís hair to the side, then straightened the collar of her robe. "It would appear that this place erases inhibitions. Your best friend is in the theater and she is *not* watching a movie."

"How do you know that?"

"We donít stock porno. Sound effects, honey."

Callie smiled. "Must be something in the water."

"Must be." Melana wiggled her eyebrows and opened the door to the balcony. "See you in the morning. Now get!"

Freezing, Callie hurried to the yellow room and was relieved to see that Alex had kept his word. There was a fire roaring in the grate and she hurried to the hearth, facing it, enjoying the heat. She had not seen Alex, but she could feel his eyes on her. Looking over her shoulder, she saw him in the corner, sitting in a wing back chair. Saying nothing, she untied her robe and let it fall to the floor. The chair creaked and he joined her, kissing her shoulder so softly that she barely felt it, but her pulse quickened all the same.

It had been over a month. The longest, most grueling month of her life. When his hands moved to her hips, she leaned back against him and closed her eyes. If she had expected a reminder of the attack, a flash of Randyís face, it didnít come. What she saw was Alex the day they got married when he was given the go ahead to kiss his bride. He had moved in slowly, looking at every inch of her face before he leaned down and captured her mouth with his and that ... that kiss happened again when he turned her toward him.

It was slow, deliberate and full of promise ... just the way it had been that day. "Alex," she sighed, euphoric at the feel of his breath against her neck. Reaching up, she unbuttoned his shirt and pushed it over his shoulders. Hungry kisses landed all over his chest and when he bent down and scooped her into his arms, she didnít have to be told to wrap her legs around him. He carried her to the bed and held onto her, easing her back against the cover so slowly that she felt suspended in mid air for hours.

He kissed the valley between her breasts, her neck, then palmed her breast, rolling her nipple between his thumb and forefinger. She cried out, arching her back and he stopped, moving his hand away. "No," she whispered. "Donít stop. It didnít hurt."

Smiling, he kept his hand at her side and lowered his mouth over the dusky peak. He traced it with his tongue, flicking, circling and when her hands tangled in his hair he gave the other the same attention, then moved to her ribcage. Lower and lower he traveled, pausing to let his tongue drop into her belly button. Her legs were still around him and he wiggled through them, letting them rest on his shoulders. Rubbing his palms over her thighs, he pushed them further apart and tasted the sweetness between her legs.

"Oh, god," she moaned, grinding against his face. She was insatiable, she thought. There was no way he could extinguish the fire he had started within her, but oh, she needed him to try.

His hand moved over her breasts again and she caught it, sucking two of his fingers into her mouth. It was his turn to moan and he looked up, watching her tongue trace his skin. When she let go, he slid those same fingers into her, pumping slowly, curling to touch the spot she liked the best. His tongue found her clit again and he rolled it as he said her name.

Her orgasm hit hard and her heels dug into his back, holding him flush against her. Her fingers hurt from digging into the cover and she didnít care, she couldnít think, it was only a blip in the radar. She rode the waves even after he pulled his fingers from her and got to his feet. Dimly, she was aware that she heard him undressing and she needed to open her eyes and watch him, but all she could think about was the *feel* of her body.

Alex kissed her thigh and was relieved when she didnít jump. Naked, he joined her, lying on his side as he watched her fight to catch her breath. He would never get tired of seeing her like this, he thought. Never. When she reached for him, he went willingly, slipping between her thighs again. His own need was rapacious and tormenting, but he didnít try to enter her until she reached between them and stroked him, pulling him toward her center.

As he sank into her, she gasped and her eyes locked on his. Fully seated, he kissed her, one hand in her hair. When he did move, it was slow, deep ... powerful. His own eyes filled with tears when her chin trembled and he shook his head. "Please, Callie, donít cry. You know it kills me."

"I love you," she said, her hips coming up to meet him.

"I love you, too. So much."

She wiped the tear from his cheek the moment it fell. "Harder. Please?"

He nodded and pulled back, slamming against her. She cried out and this time he didnít fear that it was from pain. Her passion was unmistakable, lustful and wanton. Her fingernails dug into his back, her legs wrapped around him even tighter, and she said his name over and over again, each utterance huskier than the last. She had come before, just from him being inside her, but when she did it this time, he had kiss her to muffle her cries. And his own.

Her walls clamped around him and he gripped her hip, increasing his pace. It was frenzied and even after his own release found him, he kept moving, kept sliding against her grasping flesh, unable to get enough. For hours, they touched, they felt, they made up. His touch erased the memory of his cruel words and her smile obliterated everything else.

They fell asleep just before dawn, limbs entangled, her face against his neck.

Sated.

Complete.

*~*~*~*~*

"Donít you think weíre courting disaster by openly reading this when the author is just down the hall?" Addison asked, yawning and blinking in the morning light.

Mark took the diary from her and shook his head. "Weíve come this far. At least now the suspense isnít just on the page. She could come in any minute. Ooooh."

"Weíre supposed to read some of the letters first."

"Letís do those last." Sitting up, he stretched and fluffed his pillow. "Dear Diary, I think that the baby inside me is fully grown. Almost overnight my stomach has bulged and grown so much that it gives me a backache. I can see by the date of my last entry that I havenít written in over three months and Iím truly not intentionally neglecting you. I just have nothing of substance to say. Raphael is still gone and with him ... my will to think at all.

"Mother, when she speaks to me, tells me that I am at least seven months pregnant. This is usually followed up with a hurtful insult and an attempt to strike me in my face. Her aim is significantly altered by inebriation more often than not so I easily duck her. Her breath is foul and Papaís office reeks of wine and cigarettes. Itís something heíd be ashamed of and I told her as much. She threw her glass at me and hasnít emerged in over a week. Willa says that she is alive, though. But only just.

"Raphaelís letters are still arriving every week. Iíve stopped reading them, stopped opening them. His promises ring false and I fear Iíve become one of those girls that the nuns warned against. A loose, amoral girl who, while married, has no real husband to speak of. I fear that our child, may be just my child at this point, and will grow up and not know that man who stole my heart. I want this baby to have a father and I do not doubt that Raphael would be the kind of Papa a child could be proud of and never, ever fear. Heís so kind, so gentle and sure. And he has destroyed me.

"I donít go to the orchard anymore and the oranges I used to enjoy only remind me of him. Demi says that the baby is a succubus that is sucking my beauty away, but I donít care. I donít need to be beautiful. I need to be loved and I canít be loved until Raphael comes back. Demi and Xeno, they love me, but itís a necessary love because we share secrets and lies. Raphael ... he loved me despite those secrets and lies. Or maybe because of them.

"The baby kicks all the time now. I think he can sense that Iím upset and he lashes out to remind me that despair is a self imposed prison and heís already locked inside me. I canít wait to have him here, to hold him, smell him, touch him. I pray that he looks like his father. I want nothing of the Karakas line to stain his features. I need my husband. I need him."

"I hate how miserable she is," Addison sighed, taking the book. "Dear Diary, a letter arrived from Raphael last Friday ... delivered by the sender. Yes, my appeared in the kitchen while I was Ďnestingí as Willa calls it and he held it out to me like I should be pleased to have it, to see him. He called me what Iím sure was a vile name as well. Heís only lucky that the frying pan I reached for did not have hot oil in it and it was smaller than all the others. I lifted it over my head and flew at him. His eyes looked like dinner plates when he dropped the letter and ran. He actually ran from me and I donít think I would have thrashed him quite so badly if he hadnít done that. And if he hadnít tripped.

"My girth alone makes me clumsy, but he rolled down the steps and covered his head and I hit him several times. He kept screeching my name, wailing from the pain, and Willa eventually wrestled the pan from my hands and stuffed it behind her back. He rolled onto his back and grabbed my wrists when I tried to hit him and I saw that he was crying. I fear I made him feel the same way Papa made me feel so many times. I struck the man who once took a beating *for* me. So, naturally I had to kiss him until we were both so weak and breathless that it was hard to stand when Demi pulled us to our feet.

"Raphael accepted my apologies and I accepted his. Until Saturday, when Athena Niarchos showed him her garter and he actually LOOKED. Oh, my blood threatened to boil out of my body and apparently pregnancy makes me a gladiator because I found a piece of driftwood and beat her about the head until she looked as splintered as a porcupine. She left running and I was tempted to take off after her, but Raphael decided to lecture me on the importance of taking care of myself for the babyís sake.

"You can bet that I clawed his face. How dare he lecture me, I demanded. Who does he think has been taking care of me? He certainly hasnít. Who does he think drinks horrible warm milk because the doctor said I must and who eats those tragic oats because of the vitamins? That would be me. Heís done nothing except stay away and look at garters. I tried to go for the driftwood again, but he threw it into the water and shouted at me to stop being crazy.

"I had to walk away because the urge to murder him was so great. When he found me in the orchard, he told me that he only had one more day with me and he would rather we make it count. He said Iíd have a lifetime to punish him for his career and for his loyalty to his country, but he begged me to bear with him. He swore to me that he would take me with him soon. I believed him. He dropped onto his knees and he felt our baby kick for the first time.

"I was right. Heís going to be a wonderful father. He talked to the baby as if it was already in his arms. We made love underneath the canopy of lemon trees in a way that weíve never done before. We had to use our imagination to compensate for my belly, which he seems to enjoy kissing.

"Seeing him leave on Sunday night was harder than I thought it would be, but easier, too. Because now I know heíll be back. One day. He swears heíll be here in time for the babyís birth, but there is a trial he must testify at in the coming weeks so I do not have much hope. I fear that Iíve fallen in love with a man like my own father, but only in that his career comes first. I smiled and waved at my husband as the helicopter took him away. I kept waving until it disappeared into the clouds and then I collapsed on the ground.

"Demi and Xeno pulled me to my feet and helped me to bed. I can still smell Raphael on my pillow. I hope it will linger long enough to lull me to sleep." Addison closed the diary and wiped her eyes. "Itís way too early in the morning for emotional roller coasters."

Markís phone rang and he sat up, grabbing it. "Saved by the bell. Hello?"

"Hey," Derek said. "Howís Greece?"

"Itís about time you return my seven messages," Mark snapped.

"It was eight, Stalker, but whoís counting?" Derek chuckled. "I take it Callie and her family made it there safely?"

"Theyíre here. How are you?"

"Iím fine. Sore. Still not back at work. Iím doing a little bit of physical therapy."

"Put it on speaker!" Addison hissed.

Mark complied and laid the phone between them. "Addisonís here."

"Hey, hero! Callie says you saved her life," she said.

Derek exhaled on the other end. "Did I? She wasnít in a good place before she left here. I kept expecting a call to say she had tried to kill herself or something."

"Sheís much better," Addy assured him. "Are you?"

"I will be. Burkeís back at Seattle Grace and heís been helping me with some therapy. Thereís no nerve damage or anything, but itís a little weak."

Addison and Mark looked at each other. Mark scratched the side of his head. "Itíll be fine, man. It will."

"I know. Hey, you better not bring me home a shirt that says Ďmy ex-wife married my best friend and went to Greece and this was all I gotí, by the way. Weíre tacky enough without it."

Addison laughed. "Damn it, did Callie tell you about that?"

Derek joined her, chuckling. "Iím a great guesser. Richard said that you guys had extended your trip indefinitely."

"Weíre trying to help Callie right now. She needs us."

"I thought you said she was fine, Addison."

"Sheís *better*. Better is not fine," Mark put in.

A pager sounded on Derekís end. "Thatís Meredithís beeper. Sheís in the shower. I better go."

"Call us again!" Addison demanded. "Since you canít be bothered to answer the phone."

"Go! Be honeymooners!"

"Bye."

Mark looked at Addison and shook his head when he closed the phone. "Heís definitely *not* okay."

"No," she agreed. "Heís not. But Burkeís there, right? Thatís good."

"Yeah." Mark laid the phone at his side. "Weíll call Cristina later. Sheíll tell us everything that Derek didnít."

"Knock knock!" Melana called, wiggling the door knob.

"Shit!" Mark stuffed the diary under his pillow while Addison shoved the letters under hers. "Come in."

Carrying a tray, Melana said, "Apparently Iím room service. You missed breakfast just like Callie and Alex did. Why donít you kids eat fast because Iíve decided that the ladies in this house should go to Crete and do some shopping today and the *men* can do whatever they like."

"Shopping?" Addisonís grin was huge. "Count me in."

"You get that from me, honey," Melana kissed her on the cheek. "Now I need to go convince the *other* girl that she needs to come along."

"Good luck with that," Addy called, biting into a slice of toast. "Sheís *not* a shopper."

"Or a morning person," replied Mark. Both women glared at him and he hastily added, "According to Alex."

"Maybe we should have Mark come along as the designated bag carrier." Melana crossed her arms over her ample chest.

"No way. Heíd whine the whole time and Iíd go to jail for murder."

"You get that from me, too." Melana winked at her. "Weíll leave in an hour. Assuming Calliope can be roused in that amount of time."

Mark watched the woman leave and shook his head. "You really are starting to act like her."

"Scared?"

He nodded.

"Good."

*~*~*~*~*
Ch 10
Special thanks to
tv_junkie118 <http://tv-junkie118.livejournal.com/>, for kicking my ass tonight.
Callie wore makeup on the shopping trip. After she finally crawled out of bed, she decided that the luggage under her eyes needed to be covered and she felt like herself again when she saw the results. The worst of the bruising had been covered completely and while one eye was still a little red inside, it didnít look bad. Alex had kissed her for twenty minutes, prompting Melana to physically pull them apart and there was no doubt in Callieís mind that both Addison and her mother knew the reason her smile was firmly in place. As she flew them to Crete in Demiís helicopter, Callie caught them both looking at her several times.

Shopping in Hersonissos was enough to give anyone attention deficit disorder. There were kiosks, stores, flea markets, and even peddlers who approached the three women with their jackets open to show them the jewelry inside. That was where Callie found a silver chain with an anchor pendant. What really sold it was the mermaid clinging to the anchor. The mermaid had the entire ocean to vanish in, but still held onto something. And that, she decided, was how she felt with Alex. She wanted to hold on, to be grounded, to have roots. She wanted the safety he provided her with. So, she tucked it into her pocket to give him that night after she paid far too much for it.

By the time noon rolled around, the three women were laden with packages, giggly, and out of sorts. They flopped down at an outdoor cafe and talked about everything. And nothing. Callie enjoyed a fresh Greek salad and rolled her eyes when her mother launched into a discussion about the latest fashions in Paris and what Vera Wang was doing in the new year with leather. Addison seemed as well versed as Melana in all things couture so Callie tuned them both out and concentrated on eating. She let her mind wander over the past few weeks. She never dreamed that agreeing to do the air show would throw her entire life into a tailspin, but it definitely had.

If she had it to do over again ... she would have changed *everything*.

Not wanting to take a swim in the pity pool, she dug into a basket of rolls and dipped it into Mediterranean butter as she listened to Addison talk about Fendiís new line. It was the most boring thing sheíd ever heard in her life, but the rapturous look on Melanaís face kept her silent. She had never been able to talk about such things with her mother. Callieís idea of high fashion was getting into and out of the mall without losing her temper and finding at least two pairs of jeans that fit, made her ass look good, and were long enough to cover her ankles. In her opinion, runway clothes were as ugly as the stick thin women who modeled them.

She glanced to the left as their waiter approached. He was carrying a fancy little drink with an umbrella and cherry and set it down in front of Callie. "A gift, madam, from the man at the bar. Do you have a message for him?"

Callie leaned back slightly and grimaced when she saw who had sent it. There it was, raw temptation. She lifted the glass and handed it back to the waiter. "Tell him no thank you. Iím flying."

"Are you certain? He says itís your favorite."

"Iím positive."

"Very well, maíam."

Callie quickly turned back to her salad. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her mother craning to see who had sent the drink. Callie was tempted to pretend to that she was choking to draw the attention back to her. It took her a moment to realize how badly her hands were shaking. She could still smell the gin that had been in the glass and it made her mouth water. Suddenly thirsty and miserable, she put her fork down and lifted her glass of water, drinking deep. She did get choked and it did cause her mother to stop trying to give herself a neck sprain.

Melana studied Callie closely. Reaching out, she touched her damp brow. "Your grandmother used to get the same look on her face."

"She did?"

"After Papa died, she drank herself into a stupor every night. Sheíd start to sweat and shake if we kept the alcohol from her. And her eyes were just as haunted as yours are now," replied Mel. "She was drunker than Iíve ever seen the night she killed herself."

"You never told me that!" Callie gasped. "She was an alcoholic?"

"Iím sure she was, mi vida. We didnít know much about it back then, only that it consumed her. To death. We were quite sheltered at Bountyís Keep, but knowing what I know now, I have no doubt."

Her heart sinking, Callie looked down at her plate. "It must have destroyed you to know that I tried to kill myself ... with alcohol."

"There are no words to describe it. Losing a parent, even as violently as we lost Nana, is still the natural order of things. No one should lose a child. No one."

"Iím sorry," Callie said softly.

"Apologize to me by staying strong." Melana brushed Callieís forehead with a napkin. "This too shall pass."

"Calliope, darling, I thought that was you!"

"Fuck," Callie muttered, sitting up straight. A six foot tall, broad shouldered and dimpled piece of her past was approaching and she didnít know whether to run or hit him. "Hi, Nicky."

The man leaned down and kissed her cheek, smoothing his hands over the curls in his hair. "You look *ravishing*. What brings you to Crete?"

"Shopping." Callie shrugged away from his touch and gestured at Addison. "This is my best friend Addison. Addy, this is Aniketos Niarchos."

Nicky smiled at Addison, shaking her hand, and turned to Melana to do the same. Mel simply arched her brow. With a chuckle, Nicky said, "Still clinging to old grudges I see. Calliope and I put our differences aside several years ago. How long has it been, Cal?"

"Ten years."

"Has it really been that long?" He touched her hair again. "I remember it like it was yesterday."

"Remember what? Precisely?" Melana asked, her hands fisted on the table.

"Calliope and I had drinks at this very spot when she was twenty one. We celebrated until she could barely stand up and then I had to fly Demitriís helicopter back to our estate because she couldnít. And she didnít want anyone to see her in the state she was in." Nicky smiled at the fond memory. "It was -"

"You *flew*? You canít even *fly* fish," Melana snapped.

He threw his head back and laughed. "It was a mishap, Melana. A simple mishap that got the lure stuck in Cambysesís face. Youíd think I intentionally did it."

"I wouldnít need to think. Iíd know." Melana looked back at Callie, who was shredding her napkin.

Still laughing, Nicky laid his hand on Callieís shoulder. "Would you like to have dinner with me tonight, darling? I havenít forgotten the -"

Melana interrupted. "I can assure you she has a full schedule. Sheís on holiday with her *husband* and heís very fond so he wonít be agreeable to sharing her overmuch. Perhaps you should find another pastime. One that wonít get you killed."

"Husband?" Nickyís smile faded instantly. "I see."

"Good day then, Aniketos." Giving him a pointed dismissal, Melana waved her hand. "Do give your parents our best."

Looking like he wanted to hit something, Nicky nodded and stalked away without a backward glance. Addison looked at Callie with a stunned expression on her face. "Heís slimy! Please tell me that wasnít One Night Nicky who had the panty fetish!"

Melanaís eyes had now become slits and when Callie didnít reply, she leaned toward her. "That was an invitation for you to say yes or no. Did you sleep with the enemy?"

"Oh, look at that bird!" Callie replied, her voice a full octave higher than usual. She pointed at a mess of unpreened feathers that hopped toward them on one leg. Ripping into her roll again, Callie tossed a bit onto the ground and watched the animal gobble it down. "What kind is it, Mom?"

"Iím thinking a loon. Or perhaps a cuckoo," Melana snapped. "You just wait until I tell your father. Heís never hit you before, but I think youíll find your way across his knee tonight!"

Callie dropped the roll into her lap, emphatically shaking her head. The bird charged, flapping wilding to rise high enough to get over her knees. She was so stunned she couldnít do anything except push it away, which she did by ramming the bread into its beak. It fell back to the ground with an audible thump, leaving a plume of dander and feathers floating around the table. Undaunted, Callie continued to shake her head, which was now covered in feathers. "You canít tell him! Heíll kill me!"

"No you, but most assuredly ĎOne Night Nickyí will find his way into a shallow grave." Mel yanked several feathers from her daughterís hair none too gently. "I can understand Eros, but when you sleep with dogs, you wake up with fleas. And when you sleep with bears, youíre lucky to wake up at all. This bird attacking you is karma for selling your soul to the devil!"

"Does anyone want to clue me in?" Addison asked. "Because ... hello? Sitting right here."

Melana patted the red head on the hand. "My father used to operate a ... business ... with questionable morals. That business was ... powerful. It was so powerful that he eventually feared it and turned his back on it. The Niarchos family ... since the dawn of time ... has happily hated the Karakas family. They stepped in and gladly filled the void that he left. They set out to ruin us, Addison, and very nearly succeeded. And my *daughter* -"

"What kind of business?" Addison asked.

"Sort of like the Greek mafia." Callie rubbed a hand over her face.

"YOU SLEPT WITH THE SOPRANOS!?" Addison cried, then lowered her voice. "People get killed for that!"

"I slept with him one time!"

"You can only die once, too!" Melana angrily said. "A Niarchos will stick a dagger in your heart just as easily as they slip their ... other tools ... between your legs!"

"Wait, wait!" Addison said. "Niarchos. Isnít Xenoís wife a Niarchos? Athena Niarchos?"

Melana made a face. "Athena, much as I am loathe to admit it, turned her back on her family and gave us her loyalty when she discovered how vile they were. Xeno married her for protection and not for love."

"But heís crazy about her now," Addison replied. "Iíve seen it."

"Heís simply crazy. In general." Melana shook her head. "Which appears to run in the family. Calliope, Iím disgusted."

"Mom, it was *once*."

"I donít want to hear it."

Callie tossed another roll onto the ground and got to her feet. "Iím going to the bathroom. And when I get back, youíre going to have a new topic because this one is off limits!"

Melana watched her go and glanced at Addison. "Iím sorry, honey. There are so many things I want to tell you, but I canít. As beautiful as this place is ... as Bountyís Keep is ... there are graveyards in the closets and blood on all our feet."

"You can tell me anything. Iíd keep secrets for *you*. Itís other peopleís that I have trouble with." She took the older womanís hand. "Callie was just lonely, Mel. Thatís all. Itís not like sheís promiscuous. I mean, twelve partners is really average. Iíve had eleven."

"TWELVE!? AY DIOS MIO!" Hastily digging into her purse, Melana crossed herself and dug out her rosary. "Iíll be right back!"

"Oh, shit," Addy mumbled as Melana headed off to find Callie. Lifting her hand, she asked the waiter for their bill.

Melana didnít find Callie in the bathroom so she stalked all the way through the kitchen and out the back door. When there was still no sign of her daughter, she checked the bathroom again and swore under her breath. She dreaded the phone call she would have to make to Raphael. Callie had apparently run again. Addison met her in the hallway, her cheeks flushed, and Melana opened her mouth to break the news, but she spotted Callie and put a hand to her heart. Her daughter was bellied up to the bar and was lifting a glass to her lips.

Moving at warp speed, Melana snatched it from Callie before she had time to tip it all the way. She tasted it herself. It was water. With a nod, she gave it back to her. "Go ahead."


Callie was clearly infuriated. "MOM! What the hell!? What do you think Iím gonna do!?"

"I think that youíre -"

"Why do I ever bother!?" Callie growled. "Iím working my ass off to stay sober and all of you just assume that Iím not taking it seriously. You think Iím just gonna do it again! Well, maybe I should! No one has any faith in me anyway!"

"And this is why!" Mel fumed. "Your assurance that you can slip back into that lifestyle is the reason we canít trust you! You used to say nothing unless you meant it so youíll have to forgive us if we take you at your word! Donít make idle threats and donít expect me to be moved by your annoyance. Itís a small price for you to pay when it comes to OUR peace of mind."

"Speaking of paying ... I paid the ticket," Addison intoned. "Yay! Letís go see the pottery, guys."

Callie bit her bottom lip, her eyes filling with tears. "Mom, please donít tell Dad about Nicky."

"I most certainly will," Mel snapped. "Unlike you ... I tell my husband everything and that is why weíve been married only once and that is to one another. Twelve partners, Calliope? Twelve? How can you walk? How can you close your legs at all? Youíve been thoroughly plowed."

"ADDISON!" Callie shouted.

Addison choked. "Look, thereís that bird again!"

*~*~*~*~

After hiking a short distance through the woods behind Bountyís Keep, the men stumbled onto the grassy ridge that Raphael had been telling them about. Just as the man had promised, the view was incredible and the grass was plush, soft, and deep beneath their boots. Alex and Mark carefully picked their way to the cliffís edge and peered down at the ocean floor. It took both of their stomachs and they turned in time to see Barnacle lumbering from a small shack with a small arsenal. "What the hell?" Mark asked.

"Looks like he remembered that you slept with his daughter." Alex punched Mark on the shoulder. "Nice knowing you."


"I remember everything. Alex, what have you been doing with my daughter?" Raph asked, loading a magazine into one of the rifles.

"MARRIED!" Alex crowed, holding his hands up in surrender. "Donít shoot!"

Raph chuckled. "Have either of you ever shot clay pigeons?"

"Not with assault rifles. Or, you know, at all." Mark scratched the side of his head. "Thatís what those are, right?"

"Only to the uneducated masses." Holding out the loaded gun toward Alex, he added, "How about you?"

"Iíve seen it done. In movies. Never really messed with a gun before, though." Alex gingerly took it, holding it like it was contaminated, his finger nowhere near the trigger. "What do you want me to do?"

"Point. Pull. Enjoy." Raphael motioned at Barnacle, who fired the first pigeon into the air.

Alex was so caught up in trying to aim properly that it sailed over the cliff edge while she was still looking for it. "Damn it," he said.

"If you imaging where itís going before hand, you wonít have to line it up. Precision is mostly an educated guess," Raphael coached, pointing at the sky. "Itíll go slightly left. When you hear it pop, aim up and away."

With a nod, Alex brought the gun to his shoulder and waited. Barnacle pulled and the sound was startling enough that Alex pressed the trigger, sending a bullet straight forward and nowhere near the intended target. Behind him, Mark laughed. "Nice shot, dead eye."

"Letís see you do it!" Alex held out the rifle.

Mark held his palms out and stared at the gun like it was made of Ebola. "Do I yell pull when Iím ready so I donít get the shit scared out of me like Zorro here."

"Zorro used a sword, asshat." Alex moved behind him, out of the line of fire.

"If it makes you feel good to yell ... then yell," Raph replied.

"Surprise me," Mark said to Barnacle, who pretended to hit the catapult several times.

When the clay pigeon finally soared, Mark missed it by a mile, shooting a tree limb in the distance instead. It popped, then crashed to the ground with a resounding thud. "Yes! Bad tree! Youíre dead!"

"I feel much better," Alex snorted.

"At least I hit *something*!" Mark handed the gun back to Raphael. "Wanna show us what weíre doing wrong?"

With the butt against his hip, Raph rested his finger longways, not on the trigger. "First, donít let it make you nervous. You control it, not the other way around. Second -"

Barnacle accidentally released another pigeon.

Without looking away from the two men, Raphael lifted the gun and fired, shattering it, sending clay dropping back to the earth. "Second, always know where your target is. Especially if itís behind you. If your back is turned, you should *listen*. And this should prove that you donít need to be in my crosshairs to pay for *anything* you do to our girls."

Mark and Alex looked at one another, eyebrows raised. "Scared now." Mark shuddered. "Raph, where did you-"

"Discretion is the better part of valor," Raph replied, holding the gun out to Alex again. "Try again."

They spent two hours shooting and missing almost everything they aimed at. To his credit, Raphael never showed off, but he didnít miss *anything*. When he brought out the handguns, Alex nailed six of his ten pigeons.

Mark, they decided, was hopeless.

When they had exhausted the supply of targets, they headed back the way they had come. Raphael casually led the way. "For protection, I have a gun on me at all times."

Alex glanced at his father in law, his eyes going to the pockets of his trousers, then his waist. Raph saw him looking and shook his head, lifting his pants leg. His sock guard was a gun holster and it held the shiniest, smallest gun Alex had ever seen. The handle was opal, Callieís birthstone.

"It was a gift from Calliope a few years ago. She had it specially made for me ... so that I could hide it easily." Raph smiled and plucked a piece of grass from the barrel. "I would encourage the two of you to invest in a weapon as well, but since Iíve seen your ability I feel that Iíd be better off making sure that Addison and Callie had their own pieces."

"Addison?" Mark scoffed. "She can only shoot her mouth off."

"Weíll see. Tomorrow." Raph lowered the material back over his gun and smoothed out the wrinkles. "Weíre having a picnic tomorrow with the staff. In the orchard. Weíll play football, shoot guns, and torment one another relentlessly. Willa wanted to celebrate the twinís birthday again since it was so recent. Do either of you fish?"

"Absolutely," Mark nodded. "I go to the wharf, fish my wallet out of my pocket, and buy whatever fish catches my fancy."

"Alex?" Raph laughed.

"A little. According to OíMalley not that well, though."

"Then you take the lead, son, and prove that OíMalley is as stupid as he is ugly." Raphael started walking again. "I fear that my hatred of the water sucked out my will to master the art of fishing, but Melana seems to think itís something we should do together and Iíd hate to tell her it didnít happen."

"She wants us to fish?" Alex chuckled. "Thatís kinda cute."

"She wants us to CATCH fish for the cookout tomorrow." Raph shuddered.

"You really hate the water?" Mark asked. "Why?"

"We all fear something."

"All water or just the water around here?" Mark pressed.

"Itís all the same if you ask me."

One hour later, they were cramped into a small boat like sardines, floating aimlessly between Bountyís Keep and Talking Rock. Mark had caught the only fish and it was so small that Raphael declared it bait and switched rods with him, saying heíd catch Melana the largest fish in the see with it. The air was cool and the sun was warm and they were all close to dozing as the boat rocked back and forth.

Alex shaded his eyes and gazed at the praying hands on Talking Rock. "What is that place anyway? Callie only calls it evil."

"Does she now?" Raph asked, following Alexís gaze. "Iíd say thatís pretty fair."

"It used to be church," Mark told Alex. "For hundreds of years different clergymen lived there to keep watch on the Karakas family home and pray for them of whatever. Nobility used to travel from all over ... noble places ... to see the island and drink from the spring."


Raphael slowly reeled his line, watching Mark closely. "Who told you that?"

"Xenos."

With a chuckle, Raph rolled his eyes. "Xeno is a historical revisionist. He should have gotten a job reinventing the past for the government."

"Which government?" Mark asked.

"Any of them, son, they all deal in altering facts and falsifying documents." Raphael cast his line again. "It did have a church there, but I highly doubt that *anyone* who resided on the island needed to be genuine in their beliefs. They were not clergymen. They were spies."

"Spies?" Mark echoed.

"They watched Bountyís Keep, not for biblical reasons, not for safety or salvation, but to report back any activity to certain ... organizations that were interested."

"Like the KGB?" Mark suggested, pretending he had no idea about Raphís CIA work.

"Worse. Russiaís KGB is minor compared to some."

"Like what?" Mark prodded.

Alex saw Raphís jaw tighten and said, "Why do you fear the ocean? What happened?"

"I guess you men are family now. You have a right to know," Raph replied, looking back and forth between them. "I fear the ocean because it took my child. Not too far from here, actually."

"Oh ... god ... Iím sorry," Alex said. "You donít have to talk about -"

"Stavros was four." Raph looked back at Talking Rock. "Melana had taken her sweet time in forgiving me for my business travels and it took a while for her want me near her. I finally earned her trust again, her forgiveness and we began to rebuild what we had lost because of my absence. Her mother was horrible to us, however, and more often than not, weíd sail to Talking Rock for the day so Stavros could play in the surf and not have to hear the drunken ramblings of a mad woman.

"On that day, Mel had packed a special lunch and when I opened the basket, I saw a pair of booties inside. She had knitted them to say ĎHií on one and ĎPapaí on the other. She told me she was pregnant again and I was so excited. Stavros couldnít stop touching her belly, talking to it. He couldnít wait to have a baby and he was so sweet, so gentle. He ... he still is, heís always been our glue." Raph grinned, the pride over his son evident in his voice. "He fell asleep on the blanket after we ate and it didnít take long for Mel and I to follow suit. When we woke up, he was gone and she spotted him first. He was floating in the water.

"He wasnít breathing. I scooped him up and ran straight into the spring with him. When we came back up, he was choking and *laughing* and I was so happy because our son was okay." Raph paused for several seconds, still glaring out at the island. "Mel rushed forward to scoop him out of my arms. She was smiling, crying, and she was so beautiful. And then her smile faded and she dropped to her knees and thatís when I saw the blood on her thighs.

"She lost our baby right there in the sand. She wouldnít go into the spring for herself because we KNEW at that time that there was always a price to pay. So we paid the ultimate price. One child for another. She couldnít do it to anyone else. Sheís only been back to Talking Rock *once* and that was for Ca- another reason." He took a deep breath. "I think sometimes she wanted to leave this place all along, but she couldnít. She wanted to be close to where the baby died for a long time, close to her family. No matter how far away we go, this place always calls her back. She doesnít know how to say no or get it out of her system. I think it haunts her as much as it does me."

"God, Raph, thatís ... Iím sorry doesnít sound like enough," Mark said.

"Itís okay. Iíve made enough peace with it that I can breathe."

"Thatís why Callie hates it here," Alex said.

"Calliope has her own very valid reasons and thatís not my story to tell."

Something big hit the boat, almost tipping it. Whatever it was latched onto the end of Raphís line, which he had been reeling again and it almost pulled him over the side. With a gasp, he gripped the rod tighter, bracing his feet under the rim. "What the hell!?!"

Alex and Mark both grabbed for him when the shark fin emerged three feet from the edge of the boat. "Let it go!" Mark cried, grabbing for the pole. "Drop it!"

The shark jerked and Alex toppled backwards, crashing into the water. He made a mad dash for the boat and Mark jerked him up so fast that it gave him the wedgie to end all wedgies. Raph cut the line and sat, shaking, watching the shark go under the boat. "Are you okay, Alex?" he asked.

"That is the *second* time Iíve gone into shark infested waters for a Torres!" Alex said, trembling.

Raph handed him a towel. "It came while we were talking about Callie."

"And?"

"Keep her out of the water."

"Not really gonna be a problem. Iím ready to strap both of us in a plane and get the hell out of here," Alex wiped his face. "This place? Creepy as hell."

Mark slumped back into this seat, breathing hard. "I officially need clean pants."

"Letís go fish the way Mark does," Raphael said, starting the engine. "Thereís an assortment at the market."


Alex kept his eyes on Talking Rock as they sailed back toward the grotto. He wanted to burn the place to the ground and when he caught Markís eyes, he knew that his friend felt the same way.

*~*~*~

"Are you okay?" Addison asked.

Callie shook her head. "Should I be?"

Melana had marched ahead of them, not looking back as they made their way across the lawn from the helipad. Addison put her arm around Callie as they followed behind her at a much slower pace. "She didnít mean anything by tasting your drink. I almost did it."

"Thatís such a comfort."

"What do you expect, Cal? Youíre still thinking about doing it and we all know that. Until youíre not thinking about ... you canít expect us to ignore that itís there, either."

"So Iím doomed to a life of you all checking up on me?"

"No, because there *will* come a day that you donít want to do it anymore and weíre all gonna know that, Callie, and itís gonna be like old times." Addy hugged her. "Until then ... weíre shoulder checking you."

"I can NOT believe you told her I slept with twelve men!"

"I donít have a mom! I donít know whatís off limits!"

"You donít have to turn her against me! If you want to shock her to death then tell her about *your* past. Sheíd love to hear about your abortion or -"

"Hey!" Addison stopped walking. "You can be pissed at me if you need to, but thatís below the belt and Iím only filled with so much patience."

Callie took her hand. "Iím sorry. Iím just ... god, my life has started to suck again."

"Well yeah," Addison said, grinning. "Youíre about to get a spanking from daddy and sent to bed without dinner."

"My dad would never hit me and theyíd probably make me eat *their* dinner before they sent me to bed hungry." Callie sighed. "Itís the way heíll look at me thatís gonna hurt."

"Oh, stop!" Addison looped their arms, walking again. "Youíre an adult. He knows youíre not a virgin."

"Ladies," Mel called from the front steps. "Can you stop moving in two speeds? Slow and stop?"

"Coming," Addy replied, dragging Callie along faster. "Youíre getting a whoopiní! Youíre getting a whoopiní!"

"Shut up, ding bat!"

They sailed through the door and followed Melana to the blue room, where Cam and Alex were playing Jenga for everyoneís amusement. Alex looked up and saw his wife, toppling the wooden tower when she smiled at him. He got to his feet and hugged her. "Did you have a good time?"

"Not really." Callie gazed at her father over Alexís shoulder. "Daddy, we ran into Nicky."

"Wonderful! What is that little pit viper doing?"

"Youíre daughter, apparently." Melana scowled at Callie. "He begged her to have dinner with him tonight. It would appear that sheís been right into the snakeís den. She knows him very, very well."

Alex stiffened in Callieís arms and took a step back. For the time being, she was more concerned with the look on *his* face than her fatherís. "It was *one* time. Years ago."

"CALLIOPE TORRES!" Cam screamed. "Nicky Niarchos!? Satanís biggest challenge to the throne!? He nearly killed me twice! He pushed Loukas off the cliffs! And he tried to shave your head! That Nicky Niarchos!? You slept with *him*!?"

"Cambyses, could you please shut up!?" Callie cried.

"Weíre gonna go, uhm -" Addison faltered.

"Watch a movie," Blake finished for her. "Mark, would you mind leading the way?"

"Iím going, too," Cam sneered. "This is even worse than George, Callie, and that was just pathetic."

Raphael cleared his throat when Cambyses slammed out of the room. Callie felt like she weighed eight thousand pounds when she turned to look at him. "Daddy, I can-"

"When did this happen? Was it for the ... code?" he cut her off.

Callieís eyes widened and she looked at her mother. "Yes, but-"

"I see," he replied. "And are you confident that you made the right decision?"

"I got the code, didnít I?"

"Then perhaps weíll simply say that the ends justified the means, honey." Raph gave her a sad smile. "Itís okay."

"IT IS NOT OKAY, RAPH! He touched our child! He put his hands on her while she was ... naked ... and if you donít kill him, I will and -" Melana trailed off and then recoiled as if struck. She looked at her husband, then their daughter. "Code? CODE!? WHAT CODE!? YOU USED HER!?"

"Melana, it was her decision ultimately and she -"

"How old was she!?"

"I was twenty at that time, Mom. For that mission, I was twenty."

"A BABY! *OUR* BABY, RAPH!" Mel shouted, drawing back her purse. She hit her husband twice in the head with it, then spun on Callie, who took a step back. "How did you get involved! ANSWER ME!"

"She was born into it!" Raph leapt to his feet and grabbed her bag before she could strike Callie with it. "I made sure she was safe, mi vida! She had fifty agents within striking range every time!"

"MORE THAN ONCE!?" Mel was so infuriated that she rammed her hands into her hair, grasping at handfuls of it. She paced the length of the room, then stalked back. "All those times she disappeared and you *had* to go find her ... she was not running at all, was she? WAS SHE!?"

"I volunteered, Mom," Callie said.

"YOU DIDNíT KNOW ANY BETTER!" she yelled. "That - Raphael, you put our daughter, our ONLY daughter, in harmís way! Intentionally!" Stalking forward, she slapped him across the face. "You good for nothing, lying son of a bitch! You told me that you were finished when she was *ten* years old! *TEN*!"

"Baby, listen to me," Raph reached for her, only to be slapped again.

"Donít talk to me!" Mel screeched. "And donít call me baby unless you want me to rip your tongue out! You sleep in the black room, Raphael! And tomorrow, you gather your things and you get the hell away from me and *my* children before you get one of them killed! Go home to Miami and when you get *there* you get your shit and leave for good!"

"Mom, donít!" Callie cried.

"No, Calliope!" Mel looked like a shadow of herself when she turned and glared at her daughter. Tears had forced her makeup to run, streaking her cheeks. "He put you in danger! He did it without my consent and after he swore to me that heíd die to protect our family. I only *thought* he was a better father than mine. Heís worse!"

Raph watched his wife leave the room in the same manner that Cambyses had. She slammed the door hard enough to rattle the walls. Wordlessly, he hugged Callie, who was crying. "Itís okay, Mija."

"No, itís not!"

The door burst open, crashing back against a table and sending the contents flying. Melana stood framed in it, nostrils flared, hair wild. "Did you force her to sleep with the other eleven men or was that her own doing?"

"MOM!"

Mel smirked and left the room.

Alex had sat down on the sofa after seeing Melanaís outburst. Watching her lash out at Raph had been a little too close to home for him. He saw his own parents in their place. Melís words penetrated his painful walk down memory lane however. "Eleven? Plus me?"

"You knew that," Callie said, sniffling.

"You said *nine*."

"It was nine! You knew about the other three! You, Mark, and George." She rubbed her eyes desperately. "Uh - I got attacked by a bird today."

"We got attacked by a shark." Alex got to his feet. "And because Iím slow on the uptake ... did this entire conversation just now mean that you worked for the CIA, Callie? Because thatís what it sounded like and surely you would have told me that before we got married."

"No!" She gestured wildly with her hands. "I was NOT doing anything with the CIA. I would have told you that up front, Alex. I was just working with my dad."

"Who reported to the CIA, so you were there by default," Alex pointed out.

"Wrong!" Callie emphatically shook her head. "Dad was an independent contractor at the time."

"No rules," Raph said, "Anything goes. Or went. That stopped a few years ago. I retired for real."

Alex massaged his temples. "Oh ... Jesus ... I think Iím on Melís side. She was *twenty* and ... I need to go sit in the dark and process this ... mess."

"Wait." Callie reached for him, but he skirted around her and left the room much more quietly than anyone else had. She looked at her father and shook her head. "Theyíre that freaked out thinking I was *twenty*! What happens when they find out I was *eleven* when you started teaching me?"

"Your mother will unleash hell."

Flopping back on the sofa, Callie let her tears fall without shame. "I think itís safe to call this a clusterfuck."

Raph sat down beside her. "Itís the clusterfuck of all clusterfucks. Donít tell your mother I used that word, kitten."

"Why are you not pissed about Nicky."

"Heís a dead man."

"Daddy."

"I could never be pissed at you for doing what I asked."

"You didnít ask me to have sex with him."

"I asked you to do whatever it took." He pulled her against his chest when she sniffled again. "You know I never would have let anything happen to you, right?"

"You know that Iíve had too many close calls to do myself in, donít you?" She looked up at him. "Because Mom doesnít trust me. She thought I was drinking in Crete today. She took a page out of Alexís book and tasted my water."

"Did she?" He kissed her head. "She worries, sweetness. So do I, but I know you. I believe that you have the heart of a lion and the courage of the tin man."

"Itís the other way around, but thank you for that."

"Your brothers will soon find out that I let you help me, but not them."

"We should run now."

"No. No more running." He patted her arm. "Youíve carried quite the load all these years. You let everyone think that you were simply running away and all the time ... it was for me."

"I ran a few times, Dad. I wasnít always helping you."

He held her closer still. "Those times? You knew I was restless so you did it to keep me on my toes."

She brushed the tears off her face and said, "What are you gonna do about mom?"

"Plead? Cry? Beg?"

"You better start with apologies."

"What are you gonna do about Alex?"

"I only have to cry. He hates that," she replied, smiling up at him. "Iíll tell her that you didnít want to let me help. I pretty much forced your hand by sneaking into FMCís headquarters."

"You still wonít tell me how you did it?"

"Discretion is the better part of valor," she said, then jumped when the door opened yet again and Alex walked into the room. She sat up, her heart pounding. "Hey-"

"I just need to know -" he began.

Raphael cut him off. "Sheís tired, son. And seeing her mother upset hurts her so unless youíre here to take my place and help her through that ... go away."

"I could never take your place," Alex told him, sitting on Callieís other side and taking her hand. "Iím fine with my own."

"Okay." Raph got to his feet and kissed the top of Callieís head. "Iím going to go talk to Melana."

"Good luck with that," Alex said. "Sheís throwing your things off the glass balcony."

Swearing, Raphael hurried from the room. Callie and Alex sat in silence for a few moments, then she gasped and dug through her pocket, pulling out the chain she had bought for him in Crete. "This wasnít supposed to be an apology, but nothing says Iím sorry like presents."

Alex let the pendant land in his palm, smiling. "An anchor."

"*My* anchor. Iím the mermaid, only better looking." She watched him hopefully. "This is the part where you kiss me and say that weíre fine."

"You know what I realized?"

"No." She swallowed, but it did nothing to remove the lump in her throat.

"I realized that anything you did in your past ... made you who you are today so I canít get pissed about it. Because I love who you are and Iím fine. Weíre fine." Cupping her face, he kissed her.

"Are you sure?"

"Iím positive." He kissed her again. "I realized something else, too. Youíre not a flier. All this time Iíve been scared to death that I couldnít compete with that. That I couldnít hold you tight enough to keep you happy and safe on the ground, but I was wrong. Youíre *not* a flier."

"Iím not a flier. Not *really*."

"So, Iíll take whatever youíve done because itís what youíre *not* gonna do that makes it worth it." He grinned at her, his eyes twinkling. "Youíre not going anywhere."

"Iím not going *anywhere*. Except home. With you."

*~*~*~*~

Dinner was a silent affair. Only the clatter of silverware against the fine china indicated that there were diners at all. Addison and Mark sat on one end of the table and Addison, who got clumsier the more nervous she became, dropped her fork twice, but she didnít speak, didnít apologize. Callie glanced at her, feeling incredible sorry for her friend. This was probably *not* the way Addison wanted to spend her honeymoon. In the seat to her left, Alex sat pushing his food around on the plate and she wanted to tell him that heíd love the baked chicken, but she didnít want to draw any unwanted attention to herself.

It was Blake, high on pain medication, who finally spoke. "Cam! Stop smacking!"

"Iím not, but I want to. Smack, that is. A person!" Cambyses glared at Callie. "Hey, Nicky Lover, why didnít you invite your boyfriend to dinner?"

"Leave her alone," Alex said, poking at his mashed potatoes.

"Your *wife* is loose," Cam fired back.

Callie bounced her yeast roll off her brotherís forehead. Stunned, Cam lifted up a handful of his mashed potatoes and it fly, hitting her in the face with it. Her chicken flew next, followed by his salad and her beans. The fight was on, then. Food, water, napkins ... even the beautifully arranged flowers in the centerpiece had their buds yanked off and tossed. When Cambyses made a move to crawl over the table, Mark grabbed him. Alex had to do the same with Callie.

Melana continued to eat as if a war wasnít being waged three feet from her and ignored the fact that she had green beans in her hair.

Jonesy, the head chef, returned in the wake of it and gave a comical gasp, rushing forward to refill plates and salvage what he could. Raphael stopped him, "If they get hungry later, they can prepare themselves a sandwich. Take it up, Jonesy."

Callie said nothing as the chef cleared the table with the help of two other cooks. She took Alexís napkin from his lap and wiped at her face. Cam threw the frigid contents of his water glass into her face in an effort to Ďhelpí her. "Ooops," he mocked.

Kicking him hard under the table, Callie hissed, "Jackass!"

"Scarlet woman!"

"Jealous bastard!"

Cam shrieked. "Jealous!? Did you just call me jealous!?"

"Dear Diary," Callie used a voice that was meant to draw blood. "I hope Nicky will come to visit today. Heís so handsome. I donít know why he doesnít notice that Iím always hanging around."

Putting a hand over his chest, Cam looked scandalized. "Did you actually read my diary?!"

"Did you actually think I wouldnít!?" she shot back.

"I AM GOING TO KILL YOU TO DEATH!"

"That is enough," Raphael calmly interjected. "We are supposed to be civilized."

"Civilized!?" Mel exclaimed, throwing her fork onto her plate. "So civilized that you prostituted your *only* daughter to the enemy so you could hack his computer! You had our *child* doing your dirty covert work."

"He didnít tell me to do that, Mom," Callie said. "If thatís all Dad needed then he could have gotten Cam to do it. He would have been glad to."

"YOU WORKED WITH DAD!?" Cam bellowed. "AND YOU DIDNíT TELL ME!? DID HE TRAIN YOU!? DID YOU GO TO LANGLEY!? YOU *KNOW* THAT IS ALL I WANTED OUT OF LIFE!"

"No, I didnít go to Langley! Dad quit the CIA when we were nine, stupid!"

"I am going to bed!" Cam shot to his feet. "I hate everyone!"

"You are not going to bed until you help your sister clean this mess," Raphael replied, tossing his napkin onto his plate. He glanced down the table at Addison and Mark. "I owe the two of you an explanation. All of you, actually. If youíll accompany me to the salon, Iíll tell you everything ... while these two *children* repair the damage theyíve caused. Alex, Blake, you may as well come along, too."

Everyone except Mel got to their feet. Raphael hung back, putting his hand on her shoulder. "Iíd like you to hear it too, mi vida."

"Choose your words wisely, Raphael, because a woman whose child is endangered can snap at the drop of a hat." Mel brushed his hand away and stood, stalking past him.

*~*~*~*~

"Stop talking to me."

"Youíre being an infant."

"You lied to me for years."

"Because youíre an infant!"

"Stop talking to me, Callie."

"Please, Cam, this is stupid."

He threw the dishrag into the sink and shook his head. "I always talked to you about my dreams of being an agent. Always. I talked to you and you pretended to sympathize and all along you were living my dream. MINE!"

"I was never an agent! I wasnít! I helped out sometimes when Dad needed me. I didnít tell you because of this! Because I knew youíre freak!"

"I have never kept secrets from you!"

"I know that. Iím sorry."

"Youíre not sorry!" He looked ready to cry. "Did you ever kill anyone?"

"No. Never," she replied. "Do you really think Dad would let me go there?"

"But -"

"You killed someone, Cam, and it nearly destroyed you. Do you really think you would have wanted that life?"

"Thatís not the point, Cal! The point is that our parents came and got me at Langley when I was eighteen years old! Dad *cried* and begged me not to pursue that path and all that time ... you were helping him. Right?"

"I did not get to join the CIA! I wouldnít have!"

"Iím telling Stav and Louk and then weíll all be pissed at you together."

"Like I need that!"

"Itís not always about you!"

She started to cry again and whirled on her heel to leave. He caught her and turned her to face him. "I hate being mad at you, Callie."

"Then stop. Weíre better than this!" She clutched at his arms, holding on tight. "I only helped him sometimes. Thatís all."

"You know," Cam shook his head. "We used to say that we didnít want our lives to be built on lies like everyone else's. You hated it as much as me and just ... just look at what youíve done. You and Dad have destroyed our mother! Sheís *broken*. This is worse than anything weíve ever done together."

Alex walked into the kitchen and looked at the siblings. "Cam, Raphael said that heís about to tell the part that you donít know, so maybe youíd like to be there."

"Itís nice that someone will tell me. Finally."

Callie sat down at the bar, resting her head on the counter. Alex put his arms around her and held on. It didnít calm her nearly as much as it should have.

*~*~*~*~*

Raphael stopped talking when Callie and Alex finally joined them. He took one look at Callie and got to his feet, giving her a reassuring hug. "Itís all out in the open."

"Everything," Melana agreed, gesturing at the room. "Things I didnít know myself until tonight. As you can see, theyíre all as shocked as me."

"Not shocked," Mark corrected. "Taken aback."

"Shocked works for me," Blake said. "Are you actually telling us that the CIA wanted Callie and -"

"They did." Callie stepped away from her father and sat down on the couch. She had always wondered how it would feel to expose the truth to her family, but she didnít feel relieved. She simply felt apprehensive. "I called Dad and told him that I had been contacted so he formally named his agency FMC and told them it was a conflict of interest because I was already invested in his organization."

"FMC?" Mel asked, eyebrow raised. "What does that mean?"

"For My Children," Raph replied. "No matter what you might think, theyíre the reason for everything Iíve done."

Melana got to her feet and paced to the window, pushing the curtain aside to peer out. "So what exactly were you using our daughter for? Youíve skimmed over that part."

"Youíre looking at it. Talking Rock. More than anything else ever has ... that place gets under my skin." Raphael shivered involuntarily. Only his children picked up on it. Everyone else was looking at Melana, who had spun so quickly that she ripped the curtain down.

"YOU TOOK HER TO THAT PLACE AFTER WHAT HAPPENED TO HER!?"

"I wanted to go!" Callie assured her. "I needed to go. I couldnít let it ... fear cripples a person and I didnít want to be crippled by it."

"How old were you when he dragged you there?" There was no longer fire in Melanaís voice. She sounded old, worn out. "And donít lie to me."

Raphael didnít let Callie answer. "Eleven. We started to investigate the island when she was eleven, Melana."

"Dad," Callie exhaled. "I was going to at least say sixteen!"

"Itís time for the truth!" Melana shouted. "Calliope, so help me God, if you tell me anything less than that I will make sure itís the last thing you ever do!"

"What happened on that island, Callie?" Alex demanded, more to take Melanaís mind off the age bombshell than any desire to hear it. His brain already felt close to exploding.

It was Cambyses who spoke. "We were eight. We came every summer to see our grandmother, not because she liked having us here because she didnít, she was cruel, but because Mom was loyal. Nana was pretty crazy, really. She was always sneaking around scaring Callie and me. Sheíd tell us stories about Talking Rock, horrible, freaky stories that kept me up for months after weíd go back home. That year, Callie took her to the mat, calling her on her inconsistencies and she said, ĎIf you donít believe me, go thereí."

Callie picked up the tale. "So, thatís what we did. When everyone went to bed that night, we took a boat and went across the water. I wasnít scared. I couldnít wait to prove that old bat wrong. I started to lose my nerve just a little as we got closer, though. There was a storm in the distance. It hadnít come ashore yet either, but we could hear the thunder and it was loud enough to feel it inside. And the lightning looked like the finger of God touching the water on the horizon."

Not remembering that he was pissed at his sister, Cambyses sat down beside her on the sofa and put an arm around her. "There was no fog when he were approaching, but the second we tied the boat off and walked down the dock and stepped onto the sand ... it was like it rolled out to welcome us. It was so thick, so cold, and wet. We couldnít see an inch in front of us and I couldnít hear anything anymore. I didnít hear the thunder or the water licking the shore. I thought I was deaf."

"I could hear just fine." Callie took a deep breath. "I heard Cam crying and I turned around to touch him, to tell him weíd leave, but he wasnít there. I saw something to my left and I could have sworn it was him so I started running that way, calling his name. I eventually made it to the flower garden and whatever that shadow was ... I saw it again, further up ahead. I had on pants and by the time I got through the rose bushes and the underbrush, they were ripped to shreds. I felt like I was bleeding all over. My legs were sticky from it."

"Meanwhile," Cam said, "I was sitting in the boat screaming for her. I didnít know where she was and then the fog was ... vacuumed back into the trees and I ran onto the beach. I saw her footprints and headed into the woods. Thatís when I heard her screaming and saw the fire."

"Right after I broke out of the flower garden, there was a dirt circle. It felt weird under my shoes, lumpier than sand and wet. I saw a stone slab in the middle and thought that I could climb up on it and see Cam better. So, I did." Callie trailed off for a second and Cam took her hand. "As soon as my bloody legs touched that thing ... a bolt of lightning hit the ground right in front of me. It was strong enough to blow my hair straight up in the air ... and the dirt ... it blazed so high all around me that I couldnít see over it even though I was on the altar."

Melana cleared her throat. "I was on the glass balcony and I saw the fog pull back. I saw the lightning and the glow from the fire and I just *knew*. I was arguing with my mother at the time and I ran past her to check the twinís bedroom. It was empty. By then we could hear Cambyses screaming for help and God, it was loud enough to wake the dead."

"It woke me up," Raphael said with a nod. "By the time we got there, you could smell her hair burning, but she was alive. The fire had burned the rubber on her shoes and her hands looked like wax, but she was breathing, and begging for me to come and get her."

"I couldnít move." Callie shook her head. "It wasnít fear that paralyzed me, either. I physically couldnít move."

"I couldnít go into the circle." Raphael turned and looked at the fire in the grate, then moved away from it as if the flames were too much of a reminder. "Melana could. She stormed into it and grabbed Callie, but -"

"I couldnít move either." Melana moved back to her seat, wrapping her arms around herself. "It felt like something was holding me there, gripping me, rooting me to one spot. All I could see were the burns on her face and all I could think was ... Iíd rather die with her than watch her go alone."

"Xeno rushed to the circleís edge and threw water from the spring inside. The fire was gone in an instant," Raph said. "And I could go in. They were both so burned that there was no way they would have lived. No way. I picked Melana up and Xeno grabbed Callie and we ran as hard as we could to the spring."

"I remember how good it felt." Callie looked down at her hands. "There was no pain. It felt like a cool bath and when I came up ... there wasnít a scratch on me. Or Mom."

"Wrong," Cam corrected. "She was emotionally *fucked*. Iíve never seen anyone that messed up. She was screaming and screaming that Callie was dead and it took forever to get her to see that Callie was fine."

"She carried me back to the boat," Callie smiled at her mother. "Even though I was very, very tall for my age. And she made me sit in her lap for the ride. Cam was not looking at Bountyís Keep so he didnít have to see it."

"See what?" Mark asked.

"My mother jumped to her death right in front of our boat." Melana rubbed a hand over her face. "She wrote ĎI caused thisí in blood on the balcony and she jumped."

"I heard it. It was enough." Camís eyes filled with tears. "She didnít make a sound until the very end and then she ... regretted it ... I think. Jumping, I mean."

"The spring had saved *two* lives that night and claimed one right then. The following day, Xenoís only son, went to the rocks where Nana had died to leave wreath and he slipped on water and hit his head. He died instantly." Melana brushed a tear off her cheek. "Thatís when we fully understood that all debts are paid and nothing is free. And things that seem too good to be true, usually are."

Mark looked at Callie. "Someone must have set that fire. Someone must have tried to -"

"Do you want to see for yourself?" Callie asked.

"YOU ARE NOT GOING THERE!"


"ABSOLUTELY NOT!"

"HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND!?"

Addison, Cambyses, and Alex all spoke at once.

Callie turned to her father. "Want to share our video tapes? Maybe itíll help some people, *MOM*, see what we were trying to do."

Raphael nodded. "Nothing like a horror movie before bed."

*~*~*~*~*
CH 11
*~*~*~*~*

"Welcome to the headquarters of FMC." Raphael turned a hook on the wall to the left and stepped back as the paneling slid to one side. Melana gasped behind him and he glanced at her, "You didnít know it was here? This is where your father tried to plan Armageddon. I think youíll find that my motivation was a little more commendable."

Everyone crowded into a small entryway. The walls were stone and Callie stepped forward, pressing her palm against a flat, nondescript rock. It blazed red and a deep robotic voice said, "Greetings, Calliope."

"Greetings, Zeus. Command entry."

Red beams shot out, passing over the people in the room. The robot spoke again, "Zeus detects multiple lifeforms. Friend or foe, Calliope?"

"Everyone is a friend until they prove otherwise," she replied.

"Welcome, friends," Zeus greeted. "Entry granted."

The rocks on the wall plumed with dust as a crack appeared. The crack deepened until a tunnel materialized and Callie flipped a switch, lighting the path. One by one, everyone followed, even Blake who refused to use his crutches at all and relied on Cam for support as he hopped along last. The view that greeted everyone caused resounding gasps and muffled cries.

They were directly underneath Bountyís Keep, inside the cliffs that the house had been built on. Someone had poured concrete to make the path easier, but the walls were jagged and untouched by restoration. What was breathtaking, however, was the computer system and wall of televisions. FMC had state of the art gadgets, gizmos, and even an airplane that looked like it belonged in a Jetsonís cartoon, but what caught everyoneís attention was the fact that Talking Rock was under surveillance from every angle and being broadcast live from every screen.

Callie took a seat at the largest computer terminal and began to type. "Daddy, did you ever condense the narrative footage?"

"Itís still almost two hours long and that was with four edits." Raphael looked at Melana, then at the others. "We documented everything. Every trip, every lead, every *thing*. If youíll have a seat ... I think youíll understand what we were trying to do."

There were two leather sectionals in the middle of the floor and the men made quick work of dismantling them and turning them toward the wall of televisions. Melana looked like sitting down for an *instant* was conceding defeat, but when Raphael gave her a pleading look, she complied and sat down on the end of the sofa next to Addison in a huff. Raphael could barely contain the relief he felt. He covered it up by saying, "I started FMC after Callie and Cambyses were almost killed on their Uncle Kakistosís yacht. Cam, you donít know this, but your horrible sailing skills actually saved your life. There was a bomb on board that was meant to send a message to me.

"In the wreckage, the CIA found a fire proof box with my name carved on the side. Inside it was a warning to stay away from Talking Rock. Someone out there knew that I had alerted a special division of the CIA to the springís healing abilities and they wanted me to stop. So, I did. I officially resigned and I made sure that word got out to anyone who may have wanted to issue that warning to me. I lived my life as a businessman and nothing more for a full year. Then we came back to Greece and Callie, who snoops more than a human possibly should, found this place. She was rock climbing from the grotto up into the cliffs and she discovered it. The rest, they say, is history." Raphael looked at Callie expectantly.

She happily picked up the story. "I was eleven years old and I didnít know what I had found, but I knew it was pretty cool. So, I kept coming back and then one day I booted up the computer. Someone had left the passwords out in the open so I put them all in and activated my voice and the doorway opened over there, the way we just came in."

"And I was on the other side trying to figure out how to gain access," Raphael laughed. "She scared the hell out of me."

"You scared the hell out of me," Callie replied. "I thought I was in trouble. But, instead, we were in it together."

"You never showed me this place," Cam snapped. "That sucks."

"Can you stop being a baby?" Callie hit a few buttons on the computer and a projection screen lowered, covering the televisions, which she shut off with another keystroke. "We started documenting everything from the beginning. Dad called friends from the CIA who had also retired or just had an interest in the paranormal and they launched a full scale investigation into the islandís history. Dad still had clearance because he didnít *completely* resign and he was able to call in favors and do it right."

"Wait ... there are government agencies who just investigate the paranormal?" Mark asked.

"Since before Roswell, but that was really the catalyst for their studies." Raph nodded. "Area 51 exists and there are specimens of non-human origins that were taken from the wreckage. Iíve seen them. Iíve looked at them under a microscope. The people behind Area 51 also investigate unexplained occurrences."

"Like?" Addison asked.

Raphael took a deep breath. "Like the Bermuda Triangle, Big Foot, the Yeti, crop circles, stigmatas, and -"

Mark scoffed, looking at Alex for support. "Dude, seriously. Are we actually sitting here doing this?"

"I can guarantee you that by the time we get to the end of this ... documentary ... youíll believe that everything you ever *thought* could be real ... is." Raphael nodded at Callie. "Go ahead, honey."

"Does anyone want popcorn?" Callie offered. "We have tons."

"Just start the damn freak show, Calliope," Melana growled. "Now."

Raphael sat down as far away from Mel as possible. Callie dimmed the lights and joined Alex, taking his hand, giving him a reassuring squeeze. "Itís not that bad, Jock Strap, so -"

"Shush!" Melana chided. "Weíll judge for ourselves what defines Ďbadí."

The screen was pitch black for a moment and then Raphael appeared, gazing into the camera from a few inches away.



"Is this thing on?"

"Dad! No one wants to see your nose hairs! Will you sit down?" Callie called.

Raphael backed up and flopped down beside her, still looking at the camera as if he were unsure it was working. Callie, whose jet black hair hung to her waist, crossed her arms over her chest. Her black lipstick and dark eyeliner made her look sullen and ... scary ... but she was clearly amused when Raphael glanced her way, then did a double take. "Calliope, *this* is how you choose to appear for our ... narration?"

"If anyone is seeing this weíre probably dead." Callie stretched her legs out, looking at the camera. "If I am dead ... then *shit*. That sucks. If Iím not, then, Mom, donít kill me."

"You are *eighteen* years old, Mija! Grow out of this ... demented phase. You look ... unruly."

"When I graduate high school, I will. Itís my defense mechanism."

"Defense against what?"

"Peers. The most evil monster known to man. Can we do this? I want to go watch paint dry."

Raph shook his head and looked back at the camera. "Weíll probably have to cut most of this because I can just tell youíre going to be hard to deal with today."

"Yep." Callie nudged him with her shoulder. "Wanna hear a joke?"

"WE ARE WORKING!"

"A guy walks into a bar -"

The film jerked and sputtered and then Raph was alone. "Year one. Roll it."

A panoramic shot of Talking Rock filled the screen. It could have been the opening scene of a million blockbuster hits, picturesque, soothing. Callie, at eleven years old, bounded across the sand doing cartwheels. In the sunlight, her hair was chestnut brown with lighter brown highlights from the sun and her curls flew wildly as she flipped again and again. In the distance, Raphael was examining the altar and the camera man zoomed on him, watching as he kicked at the rocky base to expose any tricks or gimmicks.

A man wearing a flame suit appeared and patted Callie on the head. She was no longer flipping and stood gazing at the man with interest. He walked into the circle and spoke with Raphael, who hurried to stand next to Callie just outside the dirt circumference. Pulling a hypodermic needle from his pocket, the man squirted the altar with the blood from the syringe and ... nothing happened.

The next shot was of Callie. A helicopter was obviously hovering nearby because her hair was whipping and Raphael frantically motioned for it to retreat. The view changed and she accepted the helmet that Raph held out to her. "You donít have to do this, baby."

Callie took the helmet, gazing down at it in her hands. "Yeah huh."

"Why?"

"Because it wants me to."

"What does?"

"Itíll fire for me and you want it to fire so you can see it on the camera, right?"

"Right. Are you scared?" he asked.

Callie nodded and a fat tear coursed down her freckled cheek. "A little."

Raphael kneeled down in front of her. "Nothing is ever to be feared, kitten. Itís supposed to be *understood*. Fear makes a person weak, it makes a person ... doubt themselves ... and there isnít anything in this world you canít do if you want to do it."

"Can I fly?" she asked hopefully, her eyes darting into the distance. "Because Jonesy said I could fly the helicopter if you said okay."

"All you have to do is believe it ... and you can do it."

Grinning, Callie pulled the helmet on, saluted her dad, and skipped to the altar. The needle filled with blood was used again, this time she emptied the contents ... and ... nothing happened. She was standing on the smooth surface and she shrugged. The needle caught her attention and she nodded. Wordlessly, she tugged off the glove and drove the needle into her palm several times ... then she pressed it to the stone and just like that ... the fire was everywhere.

The focus was just on Callie as she tugged her glove back in place. The helicopter could be heard approaching and she looked up, waving happily at whoever was on board. Raph let the fire burn for a full minute before he threw water into the blaze and rushed in, gathering her in his arms. The fire died as rapidly as it had begun and Callie pulled her helmet off before he set her on her feet. "Did you see me!?"

"I sure did," he told her. "You did such a great job!"

"Iím not weak at all." She grinned up at him. "Am I?"

"Not even a little."

"My hearts beating all funny. And my belly ... whatís this feeling, Daddy? Itís like ... running but Iím not moving."

"Itís adrenaline."

Callie held her arms out as the helicopterís wind lifted her hair. Turning her face upward, she said, "Iím flying without wings. Can I do it again?"

"Boss, you need to take a look at the feed from the helicopter." A man said, holding out a small handheld device.

The film jumped to the view from the helicopter.

The circle was burning and Callie was waving ... from the center of a pentagram. The five pointed star inside the circle was unmistakable and ... just as terrifying.

The splicing on the film was horrific and after the pentagram faded to black, an eighteen year old Callie, still wearing her black, fiddled with her leather dog collar and gazed at the camera. "I know what youíre thinking. Youíre thinking Devil Worship. *Wrong*. Satanic panic isnít cute, people. What you just saw was the temple of Thesmorphia which was *supposed* to be a nice, loving ritual that Greek people did. Well, maybe it was the island or the *people*, but they perverted that nice, loving ritual and made it dark. A pentagram actually represents five things: earth, water, air, fire, and spirit. I felt the need to make this public service announcement because I happen to appreciate the distinction. Carry on. Oh, year two, by the way."

Callieís hair was shorter when she appeared on camera again. She grinned devilishly and made a trilling sound with her tongue. "Captainís log, stardate, -"

"Stop doing that!" Raphael told her, shooting her a menacing glare. It faded fast, however, and he tugged her into his arms. "Youíre a lot of company for this."

"I hate stakeouts." Callie sat up a little higher, peering at something. "Bet I could drop fireworks and make something happen."

"Can you concentrate?"

"On nothing?"

"GET DOWN!" A man screamed.

Raphael covered Callie with his body, pushing her face into the dirt. A moment later, there was a loud explosion and the camera was knocked to one side. It took a while for it to be righted and when it finally was, it was Callie who lifted it, brushed it off, and put it back on the stand. "Fuck," she whispered. "My ears are still ringing. Dad, did they use too much C4?"

"Yes." Raphael grabbed her, patting her sides, her legs. "Are you hurt?"

"Nope, but I am hungry. The next time weíre blowing something up ... weíre packing a lunch."

"I got it!" someone called off camera. "Itís here! It was right by the doorway."

Raphael accepted a big, rectangular box and tucked it under his arm. "Thank you, Jasper."

"Anytime, boss."

"Arenít you gonna open it?" Callie asked. "I mean, it took us *four* weeks to find the damn thing."

"Youíre twelve. The next time you swear, Iím spanking you."

She grinned at him. "Fucking fuckers fucked up my fucking pants."

"You have been hanging around with Sims too much."

"Pretty much."

With a fade to blue, Raphael appeared on the screen in the same sterile looking room from the beginning of the film. He had his hands clasped in his lap. "Youíre probably wondering what was in the box. That footage is ... unavailable. I wonít share that because some things are sacred and believe me ... that was. What I can tell you is that so much was explained by the contents. After that mission, everything was clear. It took me two years to do the research and come to terms with everything. So, weíll jump ahead to year four."

"Dad!" Callie called. "Iím ready. How do I look? Am I a convincing Goth?"

"Dear God." Raphael walked around her, taking in her appearance. "Tell me that the black in your hair is temporary."

"Do I look like a Doom Cookie? No! Itís not fake. Iím authentically authentic."

"Youíre *fourteen*! Your mother will have a fit when she finds out you colored your hair."

"Itís *raining*. If I used a rinse then the color would run and no one would believe that I am really into this scene." Callie pulled out a mirror and checked her black lipstick. "I actually like this. Having one color to choose from really makes getting ready easier."

"Do *not* get any ideas. As soon as you pump these people for information, youíre getting that out of your hair and youíre wearing *pink*. I mean it."

"Pink? I donít even like pink cotton candy." She accepted the ear piece he gave her, slipped it into place and pinned a large, Victorian looking cross to the long black robe she wore. "So, I just press the center of the cross if anything goes wrong?"

"Thatís all. Honey, youíll have two other agents inside and if *anything* happens, theyíll react whether you press it or not. Donít do anything that could get you hurt and you document *everything*. This is a fact gathering assignment only. Stick to the plan, get names, photos of the place and stay where the camera is on you at all times." Raphael hugged her. "Are you scared?"

"Fear makes you weak. I donít fear a *thing*."

The room that appeared next was painted blood red and there was a table full of goblets. The camera picked Callie up at the table, sampling the wine. Raphaelís voice cut through and he said, "Put that down right now!"

"I have to look the part!" Callie whispered. "Donít worry, itís gross."

She carried the glass, not lifting it again back through the party goers. Several women stopped to talk to her and she came up with a convincing story about running a paranormal website and attending the Ďgatheringí in the hopes of photographic evidence that Thesmorphic Thinkers had channeled into untapped energy. When the ritual began a while later, she was calm, cool, collected and blended perfectly with the other women in attendance. She also took photo after photo, but no one seemed to notice that it was mostly the contents of the room and the layout that drew her attention.

To her credit, she didnít bat an eyelash when a baby pig was slaughtered and when the cup of pigís blood was passed around the room ... she drank it and kissed the woman next to her as she passed the cup on. What happened next was undeniable.

As the pig was hung upside down to drain onto corn seed ... a woman to Callieís left levitated into the air. Her head fell back and her body thrashed and convulsed and then a voice that was soft and melodic spilled from her. "Your offering has been received. Go forth and prosper. All that you touch will be golden."

When the woman fell back to the ground, Callie grabbed her before she could hurt herself. "Are you okay?"

"Iím fine," the woman replied, her voice almost masculine now. "What happened?"

The film jumped again and Callie was emerging from a hallway. She smiled and made small talk with a short blond before she hugged her and waved at the congregation. They all called their goodbyes to her and she smiled as she exited the building. Outside, she strolled to a small black car, started the engine, and then pulled away. The camera person followed, hopping into a van.

"This is the *last* time Iím dressing as a woman," Demi said, putting the camera on the instrument panel.

Raphael smiled at him, pressed several buttons on the computer he worked at, then said, "Jonesy, follow Calliope. And if she goes over fifty miles per hour let me know."

"Yes, sir."


~*~*~*~*~*

"Pause it," Alex said, touching Callie on the arm.

She did as he requested. "What is it?"

"Demi and Jonesy, the chef, are involved in this stuff?" Alex asked.

"They were."

"How did you not feel the wires causing that woman to float?" Mark interjected. "Because it was obvious they were there."

"Just keep watching, Einstein," Callie replied, pressing play again.

~*~*~*~*~*~*

Callie was standing outside the car she had left the party in, her arms folded over her chest. After her father yelled at her for speeding, she reached under her shirt and pulled out a roll of paper. "Hey, is this an important scroll."

Raphael took it. "How did you -"

"They still havenít invented a safe I canít crack." She reached under her shirt again and pulled out a long, slim tube. "The Essence. What kind of idiots capture someoneís soul and then lock that shit up in a safe with a freakiní scroll?!"

"Give me that! What part of Ďdo not deviateí confuses you?" Snatching it, Raph handed it off to Jonesy, who carried it back to the van like it was a stick of dynamite. "What have I told you, Callie? Never handle anything unless you know what it is?"

"I know what it is. I heard you talking about it to Jonesy. You wanted it and now you have it." She grinned at him. "Can I drive us back to the hotel?"

Raphael hugged her. "Fine, but Iím not very happy with you at the moment."

"Liar."

*~

"Just do it, Dad."

The Essence was beneath a square glass barrier and Raphael was manipulating it with mechanical arms. "You should wait outside."

"I *got* the thing. I wanna see what it can do."

"Itís evil."

"Good. It would be boring if it was sweet and innocent."

"If *anything* happens -"

"I know. Mom will kill us both. Now open it."

Raphael manipulated a key into the lock on the tube and slowly turned it. His hands were shaking as he worked the robotic arms. Finally, it clicked open and he pulled the lid off, holding his breath. Callie leaned closer and peered inside. A moment later, something hit the glass so hard that a crack appeared a few inches from her face. The cube fogged immediately and her eyes widened as she looked at the camera. "Come around here, Demi."

Demi complied and gasped. "Raph?"

The words on the inside of the glass were undeniable. They read, ĎLeave me aloneí.

Callie reached up and touched the surface. On the other side ... a bloody handprint appeared, following her every move. "That is *so* weird," she said.

The glass was hit again and this time ... a face was imprinted in the blood, perfectly outlined. As they watched ... the mouth opened and the invisible tongue snaked out, licking and undulating ... smearing the blood. Callie moved her hand away and added, "Weird and *fucked* up."

Raphael was watching Callie with interest. "Youíre not scared?"

"Why would I be? Itís in there, Iím out here." She leaned closer to the protective shield. "Can it see us? Because itís blinking now."

"If we can see it, it can see us," Demi placed his palm on the opposite side of the cube. The face vanished and splattered over his hand. The grimace on the entityís face spoke volumes about whether or not it was pleased.

Callie shook her head. "I donít think it likes you."

At the sound of her voice, the face reappeared on her side of the box and her eyes widened. "It can hear us, too? Maybe we should play twenty questions. Iíll go first. What -"

"Donít, Callie! The shamans who blessed this barrier never told me if they binded it. To engage the soul is to give it a link to remain here. We must contain it again," Raphael said, returning to his seat. He moved the robotic arms to the far end of the tube, shaking his head. "Thereís so much blood ... I canít see it."

Callie slipped her hands into the gloves on her side of the table. They were made into the glass case so that the contents could be manipulated by hand or by robot. "Iíve got it."

"Calliope, no!" Demi said, reaching for her.

It was too late. She slid her hands inside and felt blindly for the tube. The face vanished as she was working and she gasped, then cried out. Raphael jumped to his feet and he reached for her, but she shook her head. "Give me a second."

It took three minutes. As suddenly as it had appeared, the fog cleared, but the blood remained. Callie turned one glove upward, wiping the glass clean as she screwed the lid back on the tube. The red light on top of the glass went from red, to yellow, to green and she nodded. "Threat contained. And ouch, that hurt."

She pulled her arms free and Demi zoomed in. The bite marks were unmistakable. Her skin had not been broken, but the indentations were deep and obviously painful. Raphael launched into another speech about respecting boundaries, but Callie tuned him out and gazed in at the tube. "Dad?"

"Donít interrupt me when Iím mid-tirade!"

"How do you *capture* a soul?"

"By giving up your own, Mija."

"Giving it to who?"

"Baby, there are some things in this world that I never want you to know."

"If you donít want me to fear the unknown ... you should make sure I know it all."

Raphael looked torn. "Fine. Sit over here. Away from this thing."

Callie complied and watched her father pace the length of the room. "In a chapel in Southern France, the great Emperor Charlemagne is buried. Heís placed prominently in the middle of the room, but the way his body is arranged is ... odd, even for that era. Heís sitting up, with a bible in his hand, and heís pointing at a verse on the wall. Matthew sixteen twenty six."

"For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" Callie said automatically, looking thoughtful. "What does Charlemagne have to do with what weíre doing?"

"Because heís the only person to ever sell his soul ... and get it back." Raphael nodded when she looked skeptical. "Legends say that he was mortally wounded in battle. As he lay bleeding out ... a man approached him and offered him a life filled with success. Charlemagne knew he was dying so he agreed and the deal was struck. As the stranger helped him to his feet, he said ĎYou will rule an empire and when that day comes, your soul will be mineí.

"Eventually, Charlemagne was named Emperor. He didnít want that to happen. He feared that happening and didnít see it coming. But he found a loophole, Callie. He refused ever to use the title ĎHoly Roman Emperor and because of that ... some sects didnít recognize him fully and for *that* ... he retained his soul, but he points to that verse on the wall in death to remind everyone how close he came to losing his own."

"Who was the man? Who found Charlemagne when he was dying?"

"There is more evil in the world than just Satan, but a person can sell their soul to the Devil. It comes in many forms and offers you what you need at that precise moment."

"So, youíre saying that Lucifer is real."

"Heís the bad guy in one of the oldest stories ever told. If heís not real ... then neither is the rest. And I refuse to believe that weíre in this alone. I believe in God so by default ... I have to believe in Satan, too."

"Is that whose essence that was?"

"No." Raphael shook his head. "If it was that easy to capture the Devil ... God would have put an end to him a long time ago."

"Then who was it?"

"I canít be certain, but there were rumors that it belonged to Liam French."

Callie gasped. "The serial killer? The one who targeted Pagans?"

"I think the Thesmorphic Thinkers were very offended by his choice of victims. They were there the night he was executed and rumor has it they were chanting, calling his soul as he passed away." Raphael lifted her hand in his and studied the bite marks on her wrist. "He was a biter. Thatís how they convicted him."

"Great. Iíve been snacked on by the ghost of a serial killer and all I got to show for it is bruises. Not even a coffee cup. Or a T-Shirt."

"Have you heard anything Iíve said?"

"I heard it. I just refuse to let it freak me out." She looked back at the tube. "Whose blood was that?"

"The blood of his last victim. It stains the soul ... when you do wrong."

The sterile room from the beginning of the film came back into view and Raphael slumped into his chair. "After I showed several friends in the CIA the footage of the essence ... FMC gained approximately one hundred and fifty new agents. Because of that, I was able to step back and breathe for a while. Callie, naturally, kept our secrets and didnít work with me again until she was sixteen. It would be an assignment that would change both of our lives. Year six. Roll it."

"Iíd rather be here than back home. Mom was trying so hard to have that stupid coming out party." Callie made a face. "She actually said Ďletís go get your hair highlightedí. Highlighted, Dad! Like the world needs another blond bimbo! Thereís an abundance already."

Raphael patted her on the back. "She means well, you mother. And she adores you. Try for a little compassion. Youíre our only daughter and -"

"I donít Ďcome outí! Ever." Callie smiled. "Thatís Camís job."

"Your mother needed this party after being informed that heís homosexual."

"How come you donít mind?"

"Because Iíve seen it all. Nothing bothers me at this point. I want your brother to be comfortable in his own skin."

"So, Cam can be gay, but I canít be Goth?"

Raphael shook his head. "Youíre a beautiful girl and looking like you do distracts from that. You hide behind a mask and drown yourself in horrific music that I donít think *anyone* could enjoy and for what?"

"I like it."

"Weíre ready to roll," Demi said, poking his head into the van.

Callie picked up the camera, sticking her tongue out at it. She handed it off to Demi and followed her father. Stonehenge sat in the distance, impressive and intimidating against the night sky. Callie took a deep breath and sat on the ground in the center, opening a bag. Using a knife, she sliced at the air as she chanted softly under her breath and then she lay flat on her back, her arms outstretched. The clock in the corner of the screen fast forwarded close to an hour.

"We should pack it up. Itís not happening," Demi said.

"Wait," Raph hissed. "Did you hear that?"

A womanís voice could be heard as plain as day. She was speaking rapidly and as the camera zoomed on Callie, it was obvious that she was not the cause. A moment later, Callie rose into the air, her hair cascading behind her, the ends skimming the earth. As they watched, her head began to rise and she hung suspended as if crucified for several seconds before she slumped back to the earth.


Raphael rushed toward her, shaking her. "Callie!? Wake up!"

"Dad?"

"Play it back!" Raph shouted at Demi. "What was it saying?"

The screen went black and words appeared at the bottom to translate the computer enhanced recorder. "You will be safe. Go and do what must be done. You will be safe. Go and find the Rose of Jericho."

An eighteen year old Callie appeared on the screen looking bored. "Just for the record, I donít remember any of that and it didnít look very pleasant so Iím not too bugged by it. The Rose of Jericho. Hereís where it gets interesting. Over the course of researching Talking Rock and her power center, we stumbled onto a branch of the Karakas family tree that we didnít know existed.

"The Bible talks about Nicodemus. His faith in Jesus was unwavering. He had witnessed some of Jesusís abilities firsthand and it was to Nicodemus that Jesus said, ĎFor God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.í When Jesus was crucified, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Jesusís body so that they could prepare it for burial. They rubbed spices on him.

"But thatís not all. A Rose of Jericho is also known as a resurrection flower. They placed one inside the tomb. And three days later, Jesus came back. What the bible doesnít tell you is that Nicodemus went back inside that tomb to retrieve the rose and it was gone. Jesus ascended into Heaven after that." Callie popped her gum and scratched the side of her head. "Hereís where it gets tricky so pay attention. The Rose of Jericho, when used to restore life, must be destroyed afterward. It canít be left whole because for life to be given ... the rose has to die. It has to be ripped apart and scattered. Nicodemus never found that rose so Jesus couldnít remain on the earth.

"So, who took it? Weíve searched for that answer for years and if we *are* still alive, I bet weíre *still* looking. Was it Joseph of Arimathea? Was it Mary Magdelene or Jesusís own mother? Those were the people who knew that the rose had been used. Those three ... and Nicodemus."

Holding up a journal, she cleared her throat and said, "Me and Cambyses were snooping a few days ago and we found this diary in the wall. In the *wall*." She flipped open to the marked page and said, "It was written by my great, great, great grandfather. ĎToday we had a merchant ship come through. I was not at all pleased with the motley assortment of beggars and vagrants on board so I told them I would provide a feast for them only if the set sail post haste. Naturally, they refused and insisted that their vessel was in need of repairs. When I spotted the women and children on board, I caved. I sent them to Talking Rock to make their camp.

"When my servant, Amon, took them their food and returned, he told me that the peasants had sent with them a gift of gratitude. Instead of delivering it to me, Amon told me that he could not touch it. It had a weed of some kind inside a glass container. No matter how I tried, I could not break the glass or open the lid. I cannot explain this baffling phenomena nor can I explain the sense of dread and panic that overwhelmed me each time I struck at the container. I will not attempt to shatter it again. Amon, who grew up in Egypt and now works at Bountyís Keep, called it a rose, but Iíve never seen a rose such as this. Amon says that the flower is cursed.

"I wonder ... how does it stay green and healthy when there is no air? It does not looked cursed to me. It looks blessed." Callie looked back at the camera. "So, youíre probably at the same conclusion weíre at. The rose clearly came ashore at Bountyís Keep. Thereís no more mention of it in this journal and over one hundred agents have overturned every single inch of the house, the property and even parts of Talking Rock. We have to be careful what we do on the island because she has a way of anticipating that weíre a step closer to learning her secrets and she ... sheís vindictive.

"She *thinks*. And she *knows* what weíre doing before we do it. Three months ago, a tunnel that we were digging collapsed on the workers and killed all thirteen. Three more died trying to retrieve the bodies. We canít dig up the entire place because not only would my Uncle Xeno have a stroke, heíd probably chain himself to a tree or something to stop us. Heís in love with that place. So, we proceed with caution for *him* more than ourselves.

"And thatís why weíre making this video. Because we are close and things are happening and itís ... well, a normal person would be scared ... but weíre not. Weíve seen and done too much to fear what happens next. So, again, if youíre watching this ... we could be dead, but I hope weíre not. If we are, though, we didnít want to carry these secrets with us. There are too many secrets already and there are too many lies, too."

Raphael appeared, sitting next to Callie in the next frame. "So, there you have it. Thatís what we know so far. There are hundreds of hours of footage that we couldnít show you because itís not really pertinent to this story, but believe me when I tell you that there is more than just life and death. Thereís an in between where things canít be explained or rationalized, but they can be understood and *respected* and thatís all we were trying to do."

Callie glanced at him. "Are we done yet?"

"We have miles to go before we sleep."

"Why quote Robert Frost when Einstein said it best?" Callie asked. "ĎThe most beautiful thing we can experience is the mystical. It is the source of all true art and scienceí. Fuck sleeping. I want to keep running into the fire, Dad."

And the screen went blank.


*~*~*~*~*~

Presently, Callie got to her feet and turned the lights back on, sitting at the computer. She hit a button to lift the screen and then turned the televisions back on. Out of habit, she scanned all of them for signs of movement or life, then looked at everyone. "So, thatís it."

"Thatís it?" Cambyses ran a hand over his face. "Why does it end there?"

"Because it ended there." Raphael got to his feet and walked in front of the televisions himself, pausing at several of the images. "When the CIA found out that we had lost sixteen of their best ... they threatened to destroy me and the family. Thatís when they decided that they wanted Callie and my option was to dismantle FMC and send her to college or keep going."

"Wrong," Melana snapped. "If you stopped when she was eighteen then *why* did she sleep with Nicky to gain a pass code at twenty?"

"Because Uncle Demi had a party and Nicky showed up," Callie replied. "He started talking about things that he shouldnít have been versed in. He talked about a *rose*. Uncle Demi overheard him and called us. I got him drunk, gave him a truth serum, and found out that there were things in the family databank that could benefit us. So, I did what I had to do to get that code and we found out that the Niarchos family had done a little genealogy of their own. They were descended from Pontius Pilate ... you know, the guy that presided over Jesusís trial and personally handed him over for crucifixion."

"We know that the Rose of Jericho plays a part in the mythos of Talking Rock." Raphael was still looking at the monitors. "But with Calliope so busy with college and then her internship ... we let it go."

"We let it go because we had to," Callie corrected. "Dealing with ghosts or spirits or ... whatever ... thatís fine. But I donít think either one of us wanted to risk it anymore. I mean ... this is creepy in *Biblical* proportions and I donít really want to tempt the hand of God. More than I already have, I mean."

"Plus, losing sixteen of our co-workers was *devastating*," Raphael declared. "I believe that the closer we get to finding the truth ... the harder it ... whatever it is ... will work to cover it up."

"Wait, wait," Mark said, holding up a hand. "Iím still on the bloody face thing in the box. What the hell was that?"

"The soul of a very, very evil man."

"The soul?" Mark still looked skeptical.

"You donít believe us. Even now." Callie stated it as fact. Getting to her feet, she quickly opened the padlock on a nearby cabinet and took out the same tube from the video. Holding it out to Mark, she said, "Take it."

Sloan looked at the tube as if she were offering him a rattle snake. "Wh - what?"

"We canít open it because someone would get hurt, but you can still *feel* it. So, take it."

Mark gingerly lifted the tube the same way he had taken the gun from Raphael when they shot clay pigeons. As he held it in his hands ... it thumped Then it thumped again. He gasped and almost dropped it. "Holy shit."

Alex shook his head when Mark held it out toward him. "No way. Iím not touching that thing."

"Addison?" Mark asked.

"Hell no."

Callie took it back from Mark when no one else would touch it. She placed it back in the case and spun the lock. When she turned back to the others, Melana had gotten to her feet and was stalking toward her. Callie took a step back, but Mel didnít hit her ... she hugged her and whispered, "I am very sorry that your father is an asshole."

"Mom-"

In a louder voice, Mel said, "Raphael, unless you want to meet Jesus and ask him about this rose yourself ... Iíd suggest you stay very, very far away from me. The rest of you ... go to bed. We have to be presentable tomorrow for this picnic and despite the fact that we are all now scarred for life ... we will put on a brave face and pretend that we donít know ... a damn thing. Are we clear?"

Everyone nodded and she sailed out of the room.


Raphael smiled at Callie. "Youíre mother can make a dramatic exit better than anyone alive."

"Youíre supposed to go after her," Callie advised. "So, why donít you do that?"

"Iíll wait until sheís asleep."

"Sheís locking your ass out of the bedroom."

Raphael picked up a small black case from the counter. "Youíre not the only locksmith in this family, Mija."

*~*~*~

Forty minutes later, the entire group, minus Raph and Melana, sat in the kitchen eating sandwiches. The foodfight had caused dinner to be cut short and Addison, who was a stress eater anyway, had taken it upon herself to Ďcookí. No one spoke for a while and finally, Mark swallowed a potato chip and looked at Callie. "Iím pretty sure my childhood house was haunted. There was this one room that was always twenty degrees colder than the rest of the house and I hated going near it. I hated it because I always felt like someone was watching me. Even the maid stayed away. I mentioned it once at a football game in the locker room and the guys ... they made fun of me for months. Our school mascot put a sheet over his costume and ran up and down the field like a ghost."

Callie sipped her cola. "So, you stopped believing that it could be possible."

"Pretty much." Mark bit into another chip. "To this day, though, when I go home ... I wonít get near that room and as far as I know ... no one else does either."

Tearing a piece off of her sandwich, Callie glanced at Alex, but didnít eat it. He had not said much since the video and the tightness of his jaw concerned her. "People are pretty much born with a sixth sense. We can usually tell when something isnít right."

Alex must have felt her looking at him because he gave her a reassuring smile and pushed her plate closer to her. "Now that itís all bite sized ... why donít you actually eat it?"

She rested her chin on her palm when Melana shouted at Raphael for the millionth time. Her eyes found Camís and she knew that the apprehension there reflected her own. Their parents *never* fought. They would snap at each other and Melana would overreact more often than not ... but it had never gotten so bad. When a door slammed, then slammed again, Callie sighed. "This sucks."

"Sheíll come around," Mark said, patting her arm affectionately. "She will."

Alex shook his head. "She just found out that sheís been living a lie. Iíd say sheís far from Ďcoming aroundí. I mean, he lied to her. And, Callie, regardless of how you try to spin it ... it was wrong of him to put you in danger."

"I was never in danger," Callie replied softly. "It was completely safe. Everything was controlled."

"So, those bruises on your arms from that thing biting you ... that was safe? That was controlled?"

"*I* caused that, Alex. I did something stupid and paid for it." Callie flinched when Raphael bellowed in Spanish. "He never put me in any danger."

"We saw the video," Addison said. "He most certainly did."

"He did, Cal." Cambyses agreed, nodding his head.

"Cambyses, youíre just pissed because you werenít included," Callie retorted. "You guys didnít see even one *quarter* of our footage. He protected me nonstop."

"Itís the fact that you were that at *all*," Alex snapped. "You shouldnít have been. You were a *kid* and he knew better. I canít be pissed at you for it ... but I can be pissed as hell at *him*. I have zero respect for what he did with you."

"I actually agree with that," Blake chimed in. "You didnít deserve to be pulled into that world."

"I asked for it!" Callie shot back.

"When I was eleven, I asked for Mary Poppins to come and be my babysitter," Blake replied. "Because I thought she was a real person."

"I donít regret it." With a shake of her head, Callie pushed her barstool back and got to her feet. "You can judge us. You can even be skeptical or *angry* that you just now heard the story, but donít blame him for something that we didnít cause. This thing has been unfolding for centuries and we got closer to the truth than anyone else ever has. My mother knew what she was getting into when she married my father."

"No, she didnít," Addison said. "She didnít find out the truth about who he was until they got married. The *day* they got married, as a matter of fact. So, she didnít know what she was getting into until she was standing waist deep in it. I mean, she had to watch her own father die because of -"

"Addison." Mark warned, telling her to shut up with his eyes.

Callie didnít miss a moment of the exchange. Crossing her arms over her chest, she looked at her brother. "Apparently Iím not the only one who reads diaries."

Addison clapped a hand over her mouth when Cambyses gasped. Mark closed his eyes, counted to five, and said, "Weíre sorry. It was just there and -"

"Just there?" Cam asked. "Hidden behind an oil painting isnít really just *there*."

"We didnít mean to," Mark swore, putting a hand on Addisonís leg. "Itís ... once we started reading we couldnít put it down."

"Itís pretty gripping, huh?" Callie smiled at him. "We found it when we were about twelve. Mom doesnít know, of course, that we know she got knocked up with Stavros before she got married."

Cam chuckled. "But it does give us a little tingle every time she starts preaching morals and abstinence. Itís just ... pleasing to know that the incomparable Melana Torres makes the same mistakes as the rest of us."

The incomparable Melana Torres walked into the kitchen looking like hell on wheels. Dressed in her robe and slippers, she saw the small crowd and made eye contact with each one, glaring into them with enough fire that everyone shifted uncomfortably. "What are you doing out of bed?" she snapped angrily.

"Uh, Mom, weíre not ten years old and having a sleepover," Cam replied innocently, blowing her a kiss. "Are you hungry?"


"Go to bed," she snapped. "I wonít tell you people again."

Mark and Addison didnít have to be told for the third time. They both got to their feet, lifting their plates from the table. Melana shook her head and took them instead. "I need to clean something. Or break something."

Cambyses and Blake said nothing as she took their plates and shoved them in the sink. They followed behind Mark and Addison, mumbling their goodnights as they left the kitchen. Only Callie and Alex hung back. Melana grabbed Alexís plate and looked at the mess Callie had made of her food. "Is that yours, mi vida?"

Ignoring the question, Callie asked one of her own. "Whereís dad?"

"I locked him in the bathroom," Mel replied, filling the sink with dishwater. "And so help me God, if you let him out Iíll break your arm."

"You need to break something. Iíd rather you break me than my father."

Melana turned the faucet off, narrowing her eyes at Callie. "You better leave this room while you still can, Calliope, because I am mad as hell and there is nothing -"

"He hated lying to you. He didnít think I knew it, but I heard him crying a lot of the time that we were gone. So -"

"If he was crying ... it was because he knew that Iíd catch his ass one day and he was terrified of what Iíd do to him."

"Your bark is worse than your bite," Callie told her. "Youíre overreacting. As usual."

The plate that had been Callieís hit the wall a few inches from her head and Melana reached for another. Alex jumped up and grabbed it before Mel could throw it. She held up her hands to indicate that she had surrendered and Alex looked at Callie. "Are you okay?"

"Iím *fine*," Callie snapped, her eyes on Melana.

"If you want to stay that way then GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!!" Melana yelled. "NOW!"

"Gladly!"

Alex watched his wife stalk from the kitchen and hurried across the room, picking up the pieces of the shattered plate. Melana joined him and he took her hand when he saw tears on her face. "Iím sorry, Melana. I can only imagine how youíre feeling right now."

"The same as you, Iíd wager. Iím incredibly ashamed that you have married into this ... lunacy."

"I knew Callie was a lunatic when I said ĎI doí." He grinned. "Granted, I never realized that she was ĎBuffy the Vampire Slayerí, but hey, itís just one more piece of her to love."

Melana cupped his cheek, smiling at him. "You do love her, son. Anyone can see that."

"And you do love Raph. Anyone can see that." Alex put his hand on top of hers. "What no one should see ... is their parents hitting each other, Mel. I donít mean any disrespect, but you slapped him right in front of Callie and ... Iíve been there so I know that she felt it more than he did. And she doesnít need to see *any* violence after what that man did to her. She doesnít need to hear the two of you screaming at each other or doors being slammed because it scares her. And sheís been fearless for so long that she doesnít know how to handle that."

"Oh, Alex, I didnít even think."

"Youíre thinking now." He got to his feet and helped her up. "What Raphael did was screwed up. A lot of things could have gone wrong, but I have no doubt that Raphael is the only other man who loves Callie as much as I do ... so I have to believe that he would have died to keep her safe. And I think heíd die before he hurt you ... because he looks at you the same way I look at her."

"Does my daughter realize that sheís married a man who possesses a crystal clear voice of reason?"

"Who do think made me find that voice?"

Together, they cleaned the kitchen. Alex walked her back to her room and smiled when he saw Raphael sitting on the foot of the bed. He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze and watched her walk inside, shutting the door softly behind her.

In his own room, he found Callie sitting the same way as her father. She got to her feet and started to say something, but he wrapped his arms around her, kissed her cheek, and told her he loved her. In the grand scheme of things ... that was all that mattered, he decided.

*~*~*~*~*~

Derek awoke with a start. Sweat beaded over his brow and the cover was a tangle around his limbs. Hot, he shoved it off and sat up on the side of the bed. A moment later, he felt Meredithís hand on his shoulder and said, "Iím sorry for waking you up."

"Itís okay," she replied, kissing his back. "Are you in pain?"

"No."

"Then whatís wrong?"

"Itís the same dream every night." He watched the streetlight cast shadows on the wall as he gathered his thoughts. "The same damn dream. Iím back at work and I crack into a patientís head and my hand wonít work."

Meredith reached around him and squeezed the hand in question. "Itís been working fine, Derek. Your therapist says that youíll be operating again in no time."

"But - what if I -"

"I get the fear thing. I do. We make a living with our hands and yours are the best on the west coast, but youíre doing so well and -"

He got up and paced to the window, his back to her. "In my dream ... itís Callie that Iím operating on and ... her brain is exposed and I say ĎI need someone to take overí and she opens her eyes and says ĎWhat? You canít save me again?í and then ... sheís dead ... and that man who attacked her is laughing in the corner and everyoneís dead at his feet. Everyone. Mark, Addison ... you."

Meredith joined him at the window, her arms around his waist. "I happen to have it on very good authority that the man who stabbed you is still very dead and very buried."

"Earlier today ... I thought I saw him. I was coming out of my therapy session and you know how you feel someone watching you? I was walking across the breezeway to go give Richard an update and I just happened to look down and ... he was standing in the lobby just ... staring up at me. And he *smiled*, Meredith. He *smiled* and tilted his head and -"

"Youíve been on some pretty strong medications."

"I know." He nodded. "Thatís what I thought, too."

"Come back to bed."

"Do you remember when you were almost blown up? You told me that you woke up that day feeling like something bad was going to happen. I feel that same way." Derek started to turn and look at her, but something caught his eye directly under the streetlamp. With a start, he eased the curtain back slightly and whispered, "Oh my god."

"What is it?"

"Tell me you see him."


Meredith gazed down from the second story and gasped. Standing under the streetlight was a man in a dark coat and ... he appeared to be looking right at them. "Iíll call 911."

Derek watched her rush for the phone and when he turned back to the window ... the man was gone.

But the window was fogged and was beading moisture on the inside despite how comfortable the temperature was. He reached up and touched it ... and a moment later there was a thump and a splattering of blood appeared on the outside of the glass.

"What was that?!" Meredith cried, the phone to her ear.

"It - it must have been a bird of some kind. I think it hit the window."

"The police are coming."

Derek, who had been burning up just moments before, shivered as a chill raced through him. Still gazing out the window, he said, "I never thought Iíd say this ... but I feel like Iíve just seen a ghost."

Handing him his robe, Meredith nodded, "Right there with you."

The police arrived quickly and scanned the area. They also checked the yard for the bird that hit the window, but found nothing. Derek got the water hose out and squirted as much of the blood as possible from the glass, but gave up when he realized heíd need a pressure washer. The officers tipped their hats a while later and promised to increase security in the area. Derek made sure the door was locked and joined Meredith in the living room, where she offered him a cup of coffee. Grateful, he sipped it, then smiled when he saw what the new addition on the coffee table.

"A bible?" he asked.

"It was Izzieís. She forgot it. I saw it while I was making our coffee and decided to leave it out."

"To ward off the bad mojo?"

"Itís really heavy. I could do some cranial damage with it if I needed to."

"Letís hope you donít."

They didnít get any sleep that night.

Sitting on the sofa, they watched the minutes tick into hours. And the hours seemed to drag toward dawn.

*~*~*~*~*~
CH12
The sounds from the carnival were loud. Callie could hear the laughter from the clowns, the chatter from the crowd, and the tearful cries from a little girl as she demanded to ride the Ferris wheel again. Smiling, she looked to the left, where a man with a loud speaker was making announcements while he twirled his blue top hat. The fun house, as it always had, called to her and she followed the crying girl into the line. No one needed tickets to enter and it didnít seem odd or out of place. The little girl turned to look at Callie, causing her to gasp.

It was like looking in a mirror.

She was Callie at eight, wearing the same outfit she had worn on Talking Rock the night she had burned. The Rainbow Brite pajama top had been a favorite of hers. She clutched Raphaelís hand with both of hers.

"Hey," Callie called. "Wait!"

"Go back," the smaller version of herself said. "Itís not safe here. Go home. Today. Take them all."

"What -"


"Callllllie?" Her name was growled, a husky, terrifying sound. "Callllllllie, come into my parlor said the spider to the fly. Come a little closer and I will make you die."

The adult Callie stopped walking. A few feet in front of her, the little Callie stopped as well. Melana and Raphael, who looked years younger, crumpled to the floor suddenly and their blood splattered everything in the vicinity. The little girl held up her hands and said, "GO BACK! RUN!"

But Callie didnít run backwards. She ran forward. Her parents vanished as suddenly as they had appeared and she raced head long into a hall of mirrors. She could still see her shadow self, the child she had been, following her like a miniature ghost. "Whatís happening?" Callie demanded of the child.

When there was no answer, Callie turned to address her and screamed. Randall McFry stood a few feet away, cleaning his knife. Addison and Mark lay crumpled at his feet and as Callie watched, his licked their blood from his fingers and leered at her. Turning, she ran face first into a mirror and cried out from the pain and shock. Putting her hands in front of her, she felt for an opening and took the first one she came to, rushing to the right. Blake was there, clutching a wound on his stomach. He saw her and held his bloody hands out before he fell to the ground.

"Oh my god. Someone help me!" Callie cried, unsure of what to do. "ALEX!"

"Callie!?" Alex replied, sounding close. "Where are you?"

"Iím here! Please! Keep talking."

"Yes, Alex, keep talking," Randall advised. "Fee fi fo fum ... I smell the blood of a man whoís done."

Callie heard Alexís murder before she stumbled onto it. He died with her name on his lips, yelling for her to run, to get help. She kneeled beside his body and felt for a pulse, cursing the heavens, cursing Randall McFray, screaming for something ... anything. And then Randall was behind her and the knife was at her throat and she could feel how sharp it was, how close she was to dying ... and she decided that it wouldnít happen. Not today. Not there. She drove her hand into Randallís crotch, twisting and pinching. His scream of agony only propelled her.

She fought him the way street fighters threw down. She put everything into it. For Alex, for her parents, for Addison and Mark ... and it wasnít enough. He tore at her clothing and ripped at her underwear ... and her eyes widened when she realized that he was moments away from finishing what he started ... and she was too tired to fight anymore.

"CALLIE, WAKE UP!" Alex shouted, shaking her.

Down the hall, he could hear Blake shouting the same thing at Cambyses, whose own hysteria rivaled his sisterís. Raphael and Mark burst through the door as Callieís fist shot out. She clipped Alex on the jaw and almost fell out of the bed, but Mark caught her. He earned four perfect scratch marks on his cheek for his efforts and tried shaking her himself to no avail. It was Raphael who slapped her. He walked forward, nudged Mark out of the way, and laid the palm of his hand across the apple of her cheek. Melana appeared in the doorway just in time to see it and kicked her husband in the seat of his pants. Her threat died her throat when she realized that Callie was sobbing hysterically.

Alex moved closer to his wife tentatively, his jaw still aching. "Callie, itís okay. Youíre safe."

"I want to go home," she cried, trembling.

"Okay. Weíll go."

She started to cry harder and reached for him. "Alex-"

"What did you dream?" he asked her, pulling her against him.

She shook her head, burying her face in the crook of his neck. Clinging to him, she breathed him in, felt his pulse beating steadily against her cheek. If anything ever happened to him, she thought, sheíd curl up and die beside him. "Donít let go," she whispered and he tightened his hold in response.

Melana put a hand on her daughterís face, swiping back the curls on her brow. "We canít leave today, sweetheart. There was a storm earlier. The driveway is washed out and the tide doesnít seem to be going down."

Callie squeezed her eyes closed. "I donít want to be here."

"Itís okay." Alex assured her again. "Everythingís gonna be just fine, baby."

"Is Cam okay?" Mark asked Melana, who was worrying the locket at her throat. "Because he didnít sound okay."

"Heís fine," Melana replied. "He said he was taking a shower. I believe Addisonís gone downstairs to prepare coffee. Would you mind helping her, Mark?"

"Not at all." Mark left the room quickly, knowing that he had been dismissed.

Melana shut the door to the bedroom and said, "None of us need to go outside today."

"Why?" Alex asked.

Mel took a deep breath. "I was on the glass balcony for a while this morning watching the storm mount. The fire burned on island. I saw it."

Raphael stepped forward, looking stunned. "Someone must have been there. Calliope, did you -"

"It wasnít me," Callie sniffled and dried her eyes, her voice shaking. "Check it on the film, Dad."

"Right," he nodded and hurried out the door without another word.

Melana leaned down and kissed Callieís cheek. "No one leaves this house. No one."

Alex took a deep breath. "Does anyone want to enlighten me?"

"Iíve seen it burn twice," Melana replied. "On the night that Callie almost died and my mother did. And ... again a few years ago. Right before the Twin Towers were attacked in New York. I think it burns as a warning that something horrific is going to happen."

"Mom-" Callie began.

Melana cut her off. "Iíll go check on breakfast."

Alex waited until they were alone before he spoke to Callie again. "I canít handle another damn revelation about this place or what that island can and canít do. I mean it. Iím done. Iím sick and tired of the secrets and lies and ... all of it."

When she said nothing, his face softened and he kissed her cheek. "Iím sorry. Callie, I just -"

"Itís a lot to take in. I know." She brushed the fresh tears off her face. "But itís all true. All of it."

"Iím not doubting you." He hugged her again. "What did you dream?"

"I donít want to talk about it."

"Youíll feel better if you tell me." With a sweet smile, he cupped her cheek. "So, lay it on me."

"Some other time." Shaking her head, Callie got to her feet and walked to the dwindling fire. "Itís so cold."

As she was lifting a fresh log for the fireplace, her father shouted. She dropped it and raced from the room, not caring that she only wore Alexís T-shirt and boxer shorts. She raced into the room her parents were sharing and skidded to a halt. A snake, the criss cross pattern on its back terrifying, headed right for her. Alex, who had followed her, lifted her off her feet and hurried backwards. The snake made it into the hallway before Melana severed its head with the shovel from the fireplace in the room.

"Daddy!" Callie cried, struggling in Alexís arms.

Raphael appeared in the doorway, looking stunned. "Iím fine. No one was bitten."

"Itís an adder," Melana said, watching as the snake continued to writhe on the ground. "How did it get in the house?"

"Thatís not the question to ask," Raph replied. "How did it get into my bag and zipped back up?"

"Donít look at me," Melana snapped. "I dislike you a great deal right now, but I canít make you pay for your sins by killing you prematurely. I intend to make you suffer for *years*."

Alex stared at the snake, pondering how long it would take to sail back to Seattle in one of the tiny motor boats in the grotto.

Anything felt like a better alternative to staying.

*~*~*~*~*~

Raphael and Callie sat in the headquarters of FMC, studying the footage from the previous night. She was grateful for the diversion. The dream had haunted her for the entire day. After breakfast, Melana had suggested that she take a nap, but the thought terrified her. She didnít want to return to that place or see Randall McFry again. So, despite her exhaustion, she forced herself to concentrate on the cameras that showed the best arrival points and the circle itself at Talking Rock. They fast forwarded the footage after a while and Callie drummed her fingertips on the table in boredom until something caught her eye. "Camera twenty seven."

Raph locked every screen on the wall into view twenty seven and got to his feet, standing in front of the biggest television. "Someoneís there."

Callie zoomed in and joined her father, squinting. "Any idea who it is?"

They watched as the person lay back on the altar and then the fire raged. She exchanged a matching troubled gaze with her father and went back to the computer, scrolling to another camera. No matter how they tried, they could not discern who the intruder was, even though the night cameras were state of the art. "So much for the theory that the altar only fires for me," Callie stated dryly. "I only thought I was special."

"You are, Mija," Raphael flopped down beside her, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Alex is not taking things well, is he?"

"Heís taking it about as well as we can expect. This is new territory for him. I mean, he had never gone to church until he met me so itís not like he has faith or beliefs. So, this has to be a shock to his system." Callie checked another camera angle and sighed. "Plus, he doesnít travel well. Heís not into strange places. Heís ready to go home."

"We all are."

"Who put the snake in your bag, Daddy? It was clearly someone here."

Scanning the screens, Raphael handed her a bottle of water and opened one of his own. "I refuse to believe that anyone in this house would have done it. Weíre *family*. Weíve always been family."

"Reality check," Callie said. "Who else knew your bag was there? It has to be one of us."

"Or our little island friend." He reached over her and zoomed in on another angle, stopping the feed to try to see the personís face again. "Your mother put all of my bags in the passage, honey. She told me to go sleep in the grotto, which I clearly didnít do. Whoever was on that island could have come into the house through the grotto. We need to check the waterside camera."


She did as he requested and gasped. Sure enough, the person who had been on the island sailed toward Bountyís Keep. Before they entered the boat however, they loaded a small container into the vessel. A container big enough to carry the snake. "Bingo," she mumbled. "Curiouser and curiouser."

The boat disappeared into the grotto and after they fast forwarded, they saw it emerge close to twenty minutes later. "Just enough time," Raph pointed out. "So, we know that we had a visitor during the night."

"A comfortable visitor. Did you see the way he navigated the cliffs with his lights off?"

"I did." Getting to his feet, he paced the length of the room, his hands on his hips. "Letís do the rundown. What do we know?"

Callie pulled out the dry erase board and drew a number one, circling it. "First, we know that theyíre familiar with Bountyís Keep. And the island. Theyíre also able to fire it up without anyone else there and ... wait ... they had water with them, Daddy, to stop the fire. I saw them throw it before they -"

"I saw that, too. Your Uncle Xenos did the same thing when you were burning. I told him to. It was the only thing I could think of." He took the marker and wrote, "They understand the islandís mythology."

"And they donít like you." Callie watched her father write Ďvendettaí on the board. "Three clues. Iíll take Nicky Niarchos for five hundred. He knows all the passages into Bountyís Keep."

"It does fit." Raph nodded. "You ran into him the other day and we know based on what we hacked from his computer that he had done extensive research on Jesus, Nicodemus, and the Rose of Jericho."

"Plus, Cambyses told Nicky all about the islandís fire and the waterís power to impress him. He had a major, major crush. So, Nickyís not clueless and he does hate you."

"Of course he does. When he asked to marry you I told him I was going to kill him for even suggesting it." Raph smiled at her. "So, should we pay him a visit?"

"No. Thatís just inviting trouble."

"Have you lost your nerve?" Raphael grinned at her. "Because that would be a shame."

"Yeah, Dad, I lost my nerve." She felt her eyes burn with tears and looked away. A moment later, she felt him kneel down beside her and take her hand. "I dreamed that Randall McFry had killed all of you and that he was - he was .... successful in what he wanted to do to me."

"I thought it must have been something like that. It cuts me to the core to see how much he terrorized you. All that time I wasted teaching you about the evils in the world should have been spent teaching you about the evil of men. Mankind, Callie, is nothing but wretched at times and I should have prepared you better for that. I should have taught you hand to hand combat when you asked me to, but I didnít think youíd need it because you canít fight the supernatural that way." He squeezed her hand reassuringly. "Honey, heís gone now. Heís dead and he canít hurt you anymore."

"We both know that sometimes dead doesnít really mean dead."

"We both know that sometimes it does."

"That dream was so real." Callie shook her head. "I saw me at like ... eight years old ... wearing the same clothing that I wore the night the island flamed. She kept telling me to go back, to go home, that it wasnít safe here."

"Now *that* is curiouser and curiouser." Raphael brushed a tear from her cheek. "Because I dreamed about you, at eight, in a hall of mirrors and I couldnít find you."

"At a carnival? With a man announcing the attractions in Greek?"

"He had a bright top hat that was ..."

"Blue," they both said together.

Raphael rubbed a hand over his face. "I also saw Randall McFry. He was stabbing Cambyses in the face again and again and again."

"We need to find out what Cam dreamed."

"Heís sick. Blake said he was asleep." A beeping sound silenced Raphael and he pulled his cellphone from the clip on his belt. "A text message from your mother."

"Mom can text message?" Callieís eyes widened. "That wins the curious award hands down."

"It annoys her so much that she only does it when there is hell to pay." Scrolling to the proper screen, he smiled. "ĎWhere the hell are you two? Alex is beside himself - open this door right now! I know youíre in FMC!í"

Callie groaned. "We could take the glider and make a run for it."

"What time is it?"

She checked the computer monitor and gasped. "Holy shit, Dad, weíve been down here for five hours!"

Raphael swore under his breath and said, "Time flies when youíre ass deep in drama. Let them in."

"I donít want to." She resolutely crossed her arms over her chest. "This is going to *suck*."

He reached over her and pressed the proper command to open the door, kissing the top of her head as he did so. "Just smile and nod, Mija. Thatís the only way to handle irate people."

"WHAT THE HELL TOOK YOU SO LONG TO OPEN UP!?" Melana demanded, strolling into the room. Her rich, brown eyes darted left to right as if she expected the evidence of their betrayal to be bound up in the corner. "Well!? Answer me!"

Callie got to her feet and glanced at Alex, who narrowed his eyes at her. "Iím starving. We, uh, worked through lunch."

"Worked?" Alex said through clenched teeth. "On what?"

"Did I say worked?" Callie asked innocently. "I meant *talked*. We *talked* through lunch."

Melana tapped the board they had written on. "Do we look like we were born yesterday? What does Ďvendettaí mean?"

Hiding his amusement at his wifeís eagle eye, Raphael looked grim. "The cameras on the island picked up an intruder who not only started the fire at Talking Rock ... they came here as well. With a small case."

"Big enough for a snake," Callie added, then filled them in on the theory that Nicky Niarchos was the suspect. When she had spilled all the details, she smiled at Alex. "You - you donít want to hear any of this, remember? Letís go see if we can persuade Jonesy to let me raid the refrigerator."

"Dinner will be ready in an hour. Perhaps tonight youíll actually eat, Calliope, and not start a food fight." Melana regarded Raphael, though she spoke to Callie. "And you, Raphael ... you will kindly show me the footage you mentioned that you didnít include on the film. The footage of our daughter being used as a pawn."

"No!" Callie shook her head. "Thatís ... classified ... and ... boring. So, Mom, why donít you come upstairs with me and help me ... uh ... set the table?"

"Set the table?" Melana clucked her tongue. "Thatís the best you can do? After *years* of working undercover ... *that* is what you come up with to avert my attention? Honestly, mi vida, how you succeeded in your tasks is beyond me."

"Sheís got a point, Mija," Raphael grinned. "Youíve lost the touch."

"I have *not* lost the touch! Iíve still got it."

Melana looked unconvinced. "Alex, would you like to see more of their ... endeavors?"

"No." Alex held out his hand to Callie and said, "Letís go upstairs."

Callie took it. "We should *all* go upstairs."

"Iím not budging until I see for myself what youíre trying so hard to hide." Melana sat down on the sofa, crossing her legs. "Stay or go, Calliope."

"Go, honey." Raphael said with a wink. "Iíll show your mother the ... Diemler case."

Callie turned away with a shrug and followed Alex out of the room. Instead of heading to the kitchen, he led her to their bedroom, closing the door behind them. "I called my mother," he said, pulling her down on the bed beside him. They lay facing each other as he continued, "She said that Fratelli is fine and the cameras and fence are installed at the house." He reached out and brushed a chunk of her hair off her cheek. "And she is now fully aware of what I will and wonít let her say to you."

"Damn it, Alex!"

"She is NOT going to make you feel bad."

"She probably thinks that I made you pick between us now!"

"I donít care what she thinks."

"Well, I do!" She started to sit up, but Alex caught her and pulled her into his arms. "I canít believe you said something to her!"

"I love you," he said softly, his hand moving to her hip. "More than youíll ever know. Because of that ... I refuse to let someone hurt your feelings and not say a damn thing to them. She had no right to talk to you about my dad. None. You have been nothing but generous to her and sheís going to respect you and *us* enough to keep her mouth shut."

"I already told you that she wasnít mean when she said it. She was just ... she wanted to help."

"Did she? Help? Or did she upset you so much that you almost left me? Thatís why you were flying to Alaska and we both know it."

"Sheís your mom. Sheís worried."

"Would you let Mel say something like that to me? Would you let her upset me so much that I was devastated by it?" When she looked away, he kissed her neck. "I didnít think so."

She had to smile when he tickled her ribcage and nuzzled a sensitive spot behind her ear. He pulled back in time to see it and shot her a knowing grin. Shaking her head, she said, "Iím still mad at you."

"Are you?"

"Fuming."

"You are pretty hot." His hand moved under her shirt, trailing upward, where he deftly unfastened her bra. Moving to her breast, he palmed it. "Insanely hot, actually. And gorgeous. And ... youíre going to let me take your shirt off, arenít you?"

"Maybe."

"Maybe?" He moved to the button of her pants. "And these?"

"Definitely."

"I can get in your pants way too easy."

"Thatís where the fun is," she told him, moving her leg over his.

"Youíre fun all over. Watch this."

Callie shrieked in pleasure when he attacked her neck again, this time nipping and sucking at her flesh.

He did something she didnít think was possible.

He made her forget where they were and everything that had transpired with the island.

*~*~*~*~*~

"Who are you calling?" Addison asked, sitting next to Mark on the sofa in their room. She tucked her feet under her and sipped her tea as she watched him put the phone to his ear.

"Derek." He took the cup from her and sipped it, grimacing. "How can you drink this --- Hey, Derek? Howís it going?"

"You must be drinking Addisonís tea," Derek laughed.

Mark grinned. "Is that what she calls it? Itís disgusting."

"I do not remember it fondly," Derek replied, still chuckling. "How are things in Greece?"

"Stormy. On all fronts. How are things in Seattle?"

"Stormy. On all fronts, as well." Derek was no longer laughing. "You wonít believe how cold it is here. We canít get the house warm enough. Even with the heat on full blast, itís so cold that we can see our breath at times. Weíve gone through a half cord of firewood in three days."

"Jesus, man. How are you otherwise?"

"Iím okay. Iíve been going to therapy and watching far too many infomercials. When are you guys coming home?"

"No clue. The driveway here was washed out and Addison said she heard the chef saying that it will rain for the rest of the week at least."

"Do you guys have the internet?" Derek asked. "Because you should log onto the Seattle Times and check the headline. Someone destroyed Randall McFryís grave. From the looks of it, they think that someone tried to dig him up, but couldnít open the vault."

"WHAT!?" Mark yelled, causing his wife to spill tea all over herself. "You have got to be kidding me!"

"Everybodyís pretty freaked out by it. Burke has a friend at the police department. He was told off the record that there was an animal sacrifice at the foot of the grave and strange symbols carved into the ground beside it. Theyíre doing DNA on some of the blood that was found on the vault to see if it could belong to the people who tried to get into the grave." Derek took a deep breath. "And thatís not all thatís weird. What Iím about to tell you stays between us, okay?"

"Okay, sure."

"If I was the only one who saw it ... Iíd think it was the medication, but Meredith saw it too. Last night ... we saw what appeared to be Randall McFry standing under the streetlight outside our house. He saw us looking at him, made eye contact, and then he was ... gone. And I know that sounds crazy -"

"Believe me, I know crazy at this point and that sounds pretty plausible to me. Donít ask." Mark glanced at Addison, who was trying to wipe the tea off her shirt. "Did anything else happen?"

"Blood. Blood hit the outside of the window and we thought it was a bird, but we couldnít find any feathers or a little bird carcass."

Mark closed his eyes, remembering the way blood exploded in the glass case on the film he had watched the night before. Raphael had said that the blood of the last victim stained the soul and ... Addison smacked him on the arm. "Put it on speaker, Mark! For Heavenís sake!"

"Addison wants to say hi," he said into the phone.

"Hi, Derek!" she happily chirped. "Are we missing anything good?"

"You missed a set of triplets being delivered in the elevator," said Derek. "Other than that, itís been pretty laid back."

"Triplets! Damn it! I love multiples!"

Mark shook his head. "Orgasms. Multiple *orgasms*. There will be no multiple births here."

Derek laughed. "Are you guys going the trashy route and getting pregnant on your honeymoon?"

"God, no!" Addison made a face. "Weíre not that crazy."

"Nowhere *close* to that crazy," Mark added.

Someone gave a loud, terrifying shout in the hallway and Addison shot to her feet. Mark took the phone off speaker and said, "Derek, I canít get into it right now, but Iíll call you back in a little while. I need to talk to someone about what happened to McFryís grave."

"People will think Iím crazy if you announce that Iím seeing dead people."

"Youíre not as cute as that little kid in ĎThe Sixth Senseí, but I donít think these people will bat an eyelash over it. Iíll talk to you later. Take care."

"Seeya, man."

He got to his feet in time to see Addison slap her leg, bending at the waist to laugh at something. Hurrying across the room, he peered out into the hallway. Callie and Alex stood there, apologizing profusely to Raphael and Melana for being caught on the glass balcony. Callie was blushing, but Alex was fire engine red, staring at the floor as he held a statue of some Greek God in front of his manhood to shield it from view; his boxer shorts were around one of his ankles. His dilemma was obvious. If he bent to retrieve them, heíd have to put the statue down. It was too heavy to hold with one hand. Callie had on his shirt and nothing else from the looks of it. They were both soaked to the skin from the rain.

"HONESTLY, CALLIOPE!" Melana raged. "IT IS FREEZING COLD OUTSIDE! ARE YOU TRYING TO CATCH YOUR DEATH!?"

Callie shook her head, shooting a look at Addison when she snorted. "Shut up, Addy!"

"You are *so* busted!" Mark joined his wife in laughter, pointing at their friends. "By your *parents*!"

Melana spun and looked at Addison, who stopped laughing instantly, then at Mark, who did the same. "The two of you lusty heathens were caught on *film* in the flower garden at Talking Rock. My goodness, I didnít know it was possible to copulate that long or in so many different ways. Mark, Iím surprised you could wear pants the next day. Surely you were chafed."

Raphael, who was looking at Alex like he wanted nothing more than to choke him, said, "Dinner is ready. My daughter mentioned being hungry earlier so I expect you to keep your hands off her while she gets dressed. Callie, you ... you need to ... Iíd rather you were gay."

"Oh, you didnít know about me and Addison?" Callie cocked her head to one side. "We were pretty hot and heavy for a while."

Addison didnít miss a beat. "We still would be if you hadnít married OíMalley and broke my damn heart."

"You were afraid of commitment."

With a gasp, Addison denied it. "Wrong. You were afraid that our co-workers would find out so you refused to move in with me."

"We werenít compatible. Everything was all sex, all the time with you." Looking sad, Callie sighed. "You were insatiable, Addy. And now thereís video proof of that fact. And my *parents* are clearly pervy enough to watch it!"

Melana and Raphael both spun on their heels, coordinated perfectly. They looked like figure skaters as they rushed around the corner together. Callie waited until they were out of earshot before she started to laugh. Addison followed her into the bedroom and Alex seized the opportunity to put the bust of Zeus back on the table and wrench his boxers up. He looked at Mark, who was staring into the bedroom. "What?"

"Do you think they were serious about that? About ... being together? Because Iíd watch ... if youíd watch."

The men rushed into the bedroom, getting stuck in the doorway as they both tried to enter at the same time. Addison and Callie looked at them, unblinking.

"Did you two-" Alex and Mark said as one. "You know?"

Addison nodded. "All the time. And no, you canít watch."

"Weíre monogamous now." Callie pursed her lips together, reaching down to tug Addison closer. "But those were the days."

"Seriously?" Alex looked scandalized, his eyes on the two womenís entwined fingers. "Youíre not kidding?"

Both women shook their heads. Callie turned to the closet, pulling out a fresh pair of jeans and a sweater. Addison nodded her approval at Callieís choice and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "You smell good."

"Addison, get out right now!" Alex said, his hands on his hips. "This is not cute."

"I beg to differ." Mark licked his lips, his eyes never leaving the two women. "Five bucks says you wonít kiss her, Addison."

"They know better!" Alex growled, glaring at Callie. "You *better* know better!"

Mark elbowed him in the ribs. "Shut. Up."

Alex massaged his side. "Fine. *Fifty* bucks says you wonít kiss her, Callie."

Callie tossed her clothes onto the bed and turned to Addison, who happily stepped into her arms. As their faces drew nearer, Callie winked at her friend and closed her eyes. They kissed, enjoying the gasps from their husbands. When Addisonís hands tangled in Callieís hair, Callie reciprocated by cupping her face, one hand on her hip.

When they broke apart, Mark closed his mouth and shook his head in disbelief. "Oh. My. God."

"I need to sit down." Alex looked close to fainting as he sat in the wingback chair in the corner.

"You werenít kidding," Mark said, rubbing his chest. "I kinda feel dirty."

"Still wanna watch?" Callie asked casually.

Alex got back to his feet. "There better *never* be something to watch!"

Mark backhanded him on the arm. "Dude, shut up! Your man card is about to get a lifelong ban. This is every manís fantasy."

Addison regarded their exchange with interest. "You donít mind, Mark. If I *thoroughly* enjoy myself with someone else."

"*I* mind enough for the both of us. Callie, Iím not even kidding you -" Alex began.

"But ... women are so soft." Callie brushed Addisonís hair over her shoulder. "I really miss you, Addy."

"I really miss you, too." Addison touched her own lips with her fingertips. "I had forgotten what you do to me. No one else has this effect on me. I canít - I canít get ... enough..."

They moved toward each other again.

"STOP THAT!" Mark said, grabbing Addisonís arm and pulling her closer to him. "Now itís not okay. At all. You two have a five foot rule! Stay that far away from each other."

"Ten," Alex corrected. "And when we get back to Seattle ... those little late night get togethers the two of you have ... thatís over."

The women smiled at one another. "Theyíre so gullible," Callie said. "And cute."

"And jealous," Addison added, patting Mark on the back. "Awwww. You get that weíre playing, right?"

Mark threw her over his shoulder, swatting her on the backside. "We may be late for dinner."

Addison smiled at Callie as Mark stalked from the room. "I think we turned him on."

Callie giggled and reached for her pants. Alex stopped her. "What?"

He smirked at her. "I think you turned me on, too."

"Iím *starving*."

"Iíll be fast."

"You better not be."

*~*~*~*~*~

Callie and Alex beat Mark and Addison to the dining room by three minutes. Dinner had not been served yet and only Melana and Raphael sat at the table. Alex pulled Callieís chair out for her and sat down, avoiding Raphaelís eyes. He could feel the heat from his father in lawís glare and concentrated on unwrapping his napkin as if he had never seen one before. No one spoke until Addison and Mark arrived, breathless and beaming. Mark flopped down across from Alex, looking pleased with himself. "Iím starving."

"Me too." Callie agreed, sipping her water. "Where are Cam and Blake?"

"Weíre here," Blake said, hobbling into the room on his crutches. "One of us anyway. I think Camís in a walking coma."

Callie turned in her seat to get a good look at her brother. Her eyes widened when she saw him. His face was gray, ashen, and his cheeks looked hollowed. She got to her feet when he walked into the light and felt his forehead. "Youíre cold. Clammy."

"I feel like death warmed over." Cam kissed her on the head and moved around the table, resting his hand on his motherís shoulder briefly before he sat down. "Itís cold in here."

"Have you come down with something, son?" Raphael asked, looking away from Alex for the first time. He frowned when he saw the state his child was in. "My God, Cambyses!"

"I took his temperature," Melana said. "It was actually low."

The staff arrived with enough food for a small army, setting steaming bowls and platters on the table. Cam dug in right away, having slept through lunch. There was a very uncomfortable silence as dishes were past around the table and then Mark broke it by saying, "Is there internet here?"

"No," Melana replied. "Weíre lucky to have a phone out here."

"FMC has internet," Callie said, shooting her mother a guilty look. "Itís got a satellite link up. Itís fast as hell."

"I talked to Derek." Mark took a bite of his salad. "He told me the strangest thing. He said that Randall McFryís grave had been ... dug up. There was also an animal scarified and blood all over the vault."

Callie dropped her roll into her lap. "Are you sure?"

"Itís on the Seattle Times website." Mark watched the dark haired woman closely. "He also said he saw McFry outside his bedroom window last night. Meredith saw it, too. And then blood hit the window. It wasnít a bird, though. Itís so weird ... I thought about that tube you have downstairs. The way the blood popped all over the inside of that glass container."

Raphaelís fork clattered to his plate, then he knocked his glass of water over and hastily used his napkin to dab at it.

Swallowing hard, Callie looked at her brother. "How did you sleep last night?"

"Horribly," Cambyses replied, stabbing at his roast beef with his fork. "I dreamed that I was at a carnival." He touched the scar on his cheek. "And McFry kept stabbing my face repeatedly."

"House of mirrors?" Raphael and Callie asked together.

They exchanged matching looks when Camís eyes widened and he nodded. "How did you know that?"

"Lucky guess," Callie said without inflection.

"Well, lucky guess what the fuck he was saying to me. It was something about animal memories and homo innocents." Cam shuddered at the obvious mental image. "He said it a million times."

Callie felt like she had been splashed with cold water. An icy chill raced up her spine and the hairs at the base of her neck danced upward. "Memoria carnis, anima integra, animus fortis existet. Homo reverti venae innocentis."

Cambyses pointed at her. "Thatís it! What does it mean?"

Raphael watched Callie for a moment and when she didnít reply, he said, "Memory made flesh, soul made whole, spirit made strong, a man brought back by the blood of the innocent."

Raising a brow, Cam said, "Those of us who didnít get to go to Ghoul School need a little help figuring this mess out. So, what the hell is going on?"

Alex put his hand on Callieís leg and she practically leapt out of her skin. He rubbed her back instead. "Youíre shaking, baby."

"Heís back," whispered Callie. Sweat beaded on her forehead and she reached up, swiping it away with her napkin. "Cam looks like hell because of the blood loss."

"I havenít lost any blood." Cam held his hands up.

"There was no blood on the sheets or anything," Blake agreed. "Weíd know."

She shook her head slowly. "No. You wouldnít."

Addison looked from Raph to Callie. "You guys are officially scaring me. Whoís back?"

Getting to his feet, Raphael walked around the table and squatted down beside Callie. "He cannot cross a body of water. You know that."

Melana slapped the table. "Someone start talking or Iíll start cutting out tongues! And beating you with them."

"There are groups of people," Raphael said, still squatting beside Callie, "who seem to think itís a good idea to dabble in souls."

"Souls?" Alex couldnít keep the skepticism from his tone.

Raphael shot him a look. "If you donít want to hear the explanation then you can leave the room."

"Dad!" Callie rubbed a hand over her forehead, then looked at Alex. "These people watch the news and look for violent deaths. Especially when the death is someone ... cruel or evil. Sometimes they stand outside prisons when someone is being executed and sometimes they go to the grave and try to summon them there."

"Summon them? Like ... Ouija Boards and stuff?" Addison asked. "Because we used to try to summon celebrity spirits with those."

"No." Raphael smiled with amusement, even though the situation was anything but. "Weíre talking about using the most gruesome and horrific methods known to man to steal something back from the other side."

"The other side of what?" Blake queried. "Heaven?"

"Hell." Callie wrapped her arms around herself. "Itís easier to pull a soul out of Hell. Thatís why they go after evil people. That tube that we have ... this is the same thing."

"I *knew* it!" Mark said, nodding. "I connected the dots! Who needs Ghoul School!? I paid attention to the documentary last night!"

Callie looked at him. "And you said that Derek has seen the manifestation?"

"He saw something," Mark replied. "Something that looked a lot like McFry."

Raphael saw the tears in Callieís eyes and got to his feet, putting a hand under her chin. "Look at me, honey. This is just another case. We follow the same protocol and we take care of the problem. Fear -"

"Makes you weak. I know. Iím not scared."

"Bullshit!" Alex glared up at Raphael. "Whateverís going on, whatever you feel like you need to do ... she stays out of it."

"She canít," Raphael explained. "Sheís the only one who knows how to contain it again."

Addison looked confused. "Why is this thing hanging around Derek? Why isnít it with the people who brought it back?"

"It goes to the last person it saw. In this case, that would be Cambyses. But, thereís an ocean separating them. It went to Derek because he was next in line. Heís familiar. He was there when McFry died." Raphael gave Callie a kiss on the temple and returned to his seat. He nudged Alex under the table with his foot and nodded at Callie. His son in law took the hint and put an arm around her. "Before any of you can ask ... it canít cross a body of water. Ever. The reasons are many and varied, but the most important one is that an entity that has been summoned in such a manner cannot travel where there is death. And all of our oceans have witnessed death. There are unclaimed bodies in every major body of water.

"Entities canít tread in the presence of death. They canít trespass on cemeteries or Ďhauntí the place of their death." Raphael glanced around the table. "People actually started to cremate family members and keep their ashes in the house to ward off evil spirits. The ashes act as barrier that prevents a manifestation."

"Derek said that his house is so cold that they can see their breath." Mark clasped his hands in his lap. "Does that mean itís in the house?"

"No," Callie said. "It means that it wants Derek *out* of the house. Does Meredith still have her motherís ashes in the closet?"

Alex shook his head. "No. Meredith said that they washed her down the sink at the hospital."

"Why would it want him out of the house?" Mark asked.

"Itís just as evil in spirit form as it is in human form. Some people call them poltergeists, some people call them demons. It doesnít matter what you call them ... they latch onto someone and hang on tight until that person is crazy or until they kill themselves. Then they go straight to Hell with them." Raphael looked down the table at Callie again. "He needs protection until we can get back."

Callie nodded. "Mark, tell him that I gave Meredith a silver ring for her birthday. It has a tigerís eye stone. He needs to wear that on his left pinky or on a chain so that it rests near his heart."

"Good thinking," Raphael told her. "You and Cam also need to make sure you have silver on at all times. Especially when we get into Seattle."

"What does the silver do?" Addy asked.

"It wards off evil." Callie chewed her bottom lip. "Cam, drink a lot of water and -"

"How much blood did I lose?" he demanded. "And how the hell did I lose it?"

"When someone dies after a committing a violent act, the blood of their last victim stains their soul. When theyíre brought back ... itís actually the victimís blood, the blood of innocents, that gives them the power to rise again." Callie shrugged her shoulders. "A hundred bucks says that if we take a DNA sample from the blood that hit Derekís window ... it would match yours. Iíve seen it done a million times."

Melana regarded her with a tense expression on her face. "What I donít understand ... is why you know how to deal with this spirit, but your father doesnít."

"I donít want to talk about that."

"Do it anyway." Melana continued to stare at her. "Iím waiting."

"Donít, Mel," Raph urged. "Baby, sheís -"

"Do *not* call me baby or tell me what not to ask her. If youíre so concerned with her answer then *you* tell me! You should, after all, youíre the reason sheís in this mess."

Raphael nodded. "Fine. Only someone who has *summoned* a soul can send one back. Callieís done it. More than once."

A resounding chorus or Ďwhatí and Ďoh my godí filled the room.


"God damn it! Some things should never be told!" Callie got to her feet so fast that her chair fell over. She stormed out of the room without a backwards glance.

"To understand what we were dealing with," Raph hastily added. "She had to learn every avenue of it."

"Why her? Why not you?" Alex demanded. "You were her *father*. You should have made sure she never experienced any of this."

"Judge me if it makes you feel better, Alex," Raphael snapped. "But the fact that Iím her father is why I made sure she knew. Donít you get it? Donít any of you understand? That island tasted her blood. It fed off her. And because of that ... she was touched by the supernatural. Itís drawn to her. She *gets* it and it *gets* her. To save her life ... I had to show her how to navigate those waters."

"Then you should have taught her to stay on dry land." Alex threw his napkin onto the table and stood up, his eyes on his father in law. "I used to think that you were the most amazing man I had ever met. I thought that you were full of wisdom and kindness. What you did to her, though, thatís even worse than what my dad did to me. You beat her on the inside. You screwed with her mind. You told her that fear made her weak, Raphael. Fear is healthy. Fear is *needed*. And sheís feeling it now because of what that man did to her and she doesnít know what to do with that. Because of *you*. So you keep blaming the island or telling all of us how pure your intentions were ... but donít forget that we *see* the mess you made."

No one spoke as Alex stomped out of the room.

No one needed to.

*~*~*~*~*~

After a thirty minute search of the house, Alex found Callie sitting in the darkened theater. She had her feet propped on the seats in front of her and her head in her hand. He made sure to make a little noise to keep from startling her, but she didnít look up. He sat down beside her and cleared his throat. "Cal?"

"Itís not how it sounded," she said, not looking up. "I did summon souls, but it wasnít the exact same way so ... I didnít have to give mine up or anything. And - well, I did participate in an evil summoning, but I wasnít the Lead so itís not like I did anything truly evil and -"

"I donít care."

She looked at him, blinking as she focused on him in the dim light from the floor runners. "You donít care?"

"You could sit there and tell me that youíve sacrificed virgins or puppies or whatever and I donít care. It wasnít you. Your *dad* made you do it and I hate him for that, Callie. I hate him for who he made you become."

"It would be so easy to sit here and nod at you and tell you that youíre right, but youíre not, Alex, I wanted to do it. He never forced me to work with him and I always had the option of saying no. I did say no a few times and my dad was fine with that. So, if you need to hate somebody then hate me. Or hate the circumstances, but donít you ever say that you hate my dad again." Her face hardened and she shook her head. "Ever."

"Hey, you donít have to get defensive." He put his hand on her leg. "And I donít have to be okay with what your dad did, either. It was wrong as far as Iím concerned, but we donít have to fight about it. It wonít change anything if we do and honestly, Iím not interested in going there with you."

"Then what do you want?"

"What I always want." He cupped her cheek. "You. I want you to lean on me, to let me help you, to need me as much as I need you. And I want you to be scared, Callie. I want you to fear whateverís coming because *I* fear it and I think you should, too. It doesnít make you weak, it makes you *real*. It makes you cautious. And Iíd rather you stand on this side of caution with me than throw caution to the wind."

"Iíve spent the past two weeks being terrified of everything. The wind, the house settling, birds flying, the phone ringing ... and thatís not *real*. Thatís pathetic. I let that man beat me -"

"No, no you didnít. You fought back. You stopped it."

"Derek stopped it," she corrected. "And now heís back. Randall McFry is back and I can do what I should have done when he *beat* me. Iím gonna win."

"You did win. Youíre alive, baby, and youíre okay."

"Mark once told me that Iím not built to play the victim and heís right." Callie reached out and took his hand. "Iím not scared to face whateverís coming because I am so fucking glad that I have a chance *to* face it ... I canít feel anything but grateful. That man bruised me, Alex, but Iím going to break him into a million little pieces and when that happens ... Iím going to be just fine."

He sat back in the seat, putting his feet up like hers. "I donít know what else to say."

"Then Iíll say something." She turned to face him. "There is never a time that I donít need you. Every second of the day ... I need you. And I do lean on you. You donít always feel me because sometimes youíre not there, but when Iím the middle of a really bad day ... I close my eyes and I lean on you. You help me more than anyone ever has and I canít *fear* anything when I know youíve got my back."

"You know what?" he asked, smiling. "Iíd rather fight with you than make love with anyone else."

"Thatís a quote from ĎThe Wedding Dateí." Leaning forward, she kissed him. "My turn. Take love, multiply it by infinity and take it to the depths of forever.. and you still have only a glimpse of how I feel for you."

"Thatís from ĎMeet Joe Blackí." He gazed into her eyes for a moment. "Do you ever put your arms out and just spin and spin and spin? Well, that's what love is like. Everything inside of you tells you to stop before you fall, but you just keep going."

"Ooh, ĎPractical Magicí." Callie grinned. "Are you implying something, Alex? Iím not a witch, Iím your wife."

"You sure about that, Gothika?" He chuckled when she smacked him on the arm. "After all, you did levitate at Stonehenge."

She shrugged, getting to her feet. "If I am a witch ... Iím a good one."

"Very, very good." He kissed her stomach and let her pull him up. "I love you."

"No matter what?"

"No matter what."

She hugged him. "Iím gonna hold you to that."

Upstairs, they found a tray full of food on their bed. Callie picked up a sandwich and held it out to Alex, who happily accepted it. Side by side, they ate in silence. A moment later, Cam knocked on the door and poked his head in. "You okay, Cal?"

"Iím fine."

"Are you just saying that? Or are you really?"

"Iím *fine*," she reiterated. "How are you? Feeling any better?"

"Iím fine, too." He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the door. "Someone tried to kill our dad, Callie. Do you get that?"

"Heís locked down the house, Cam. All the passages are barricaded and the alarm system through FMC is turned on. This place is safer than Fort Knox. No oneís getting in. Or out for that matter." She watched him closely. "If I seem flippant itís because Iím used to it."

"Of course you are." Cam paced across the room, throwing a log into the fireplace. "I canít believe this is happening. I canít wrap my head around any of it. ĎSupernaturalí is a television show, Callie, not my life."

She made a face. "Is that a good show? I donít watch stuff like that because itís bound to be wrong and thatíll just piss me off."

"You watch Buffy," Alex pointed out. "How right can that be?"

"Buffy is like a religious experience," she told him.

Cam stabbed the wood with the poker. "This is funny, Callie. Itís not cute. Weíre dealing with some really freaky shit and I want to know what to expect when we get home."

"I canít explain it," Callie shook her head. "I can show you tomorrow. We filmed one when I was about sixteen. And that manifestation didnít have a psychotic side. So, take what I show you and imagine it fifty times worse."

"I donít want to see it." Cam put the poker back on the stand. "And I donít want to imagine it or live it at all."

"You donít have to be there for it," she assured him. "You can go back to Miami."

"And leave you to do it all? Right." Walking back around the bed, Cam stopped in front of her. "Despite the fact that you lied to me for *years* and you pretty much lived the life I wanted ... youíre still my other half. Youíre still my best friend and the person I depend on for everything. So you canít tell me to go back to Miami or that I donít have to be there ... because Iím there in spirit whether you like it or not."

"So, youíre not mad at me anymore?"

"No, Miss Manipulator, Iím not mad." Holding out his hand, he waited for her to stand up, then hugged her. "And Iím counting on you to take care of the monster because Iím a chicken shit and Iíll scream like a woman if you donít."

"You scream like a woman over a frog, Cambyses."

"Oh god." Cam stepped back. "Will there be frog legs or chicken feet or any other weird thing at this ... whatever weíll be doing?"

She grinned devilishly. "I could tell you, but then you wouldnít show."

"Fuck. Iím going to bed." He kissed her forehead, clapped Alex on the shoulder, and headed for the door. "By the way ... Mom and Dad are at each otherís throats again. I heard her call him a few names that would still get our mouths washed with soap."

"This is bad." Callie sat back down beside Alex, her head on his shoulder. "What should we do?"

"Leave it alone," Alex said, holding her close. "Itís not your fight. Theyíll work it out."

"I hope youíre right."

*~*~*~*~*~

"You know that ring that Callie gave you? The one for your birthday?" Derek asked, sitting next to Meredith on the bed. "Can I borrow it?"

"Why?" she asked, pulling her gloves on.

"I just want to wear it."

"Itís too big for my finger. I keep meaning to have it resized." Meredith stood and rummaged in her jewelry box. Holding it out, she watched him slip it on his pinky. "Itís pretty, huh?"

He studied the stone and nodded. "Itís very pretty."

She crawled back into the bed beside him and pulled the cover over their laps. "How is it possible that itís colder in this bedroom than outside?"

He opened his mouth to tell her all about the instant messenger conversation heíd had earlier with Mark, but he thought better of it. Derek still couldnít wrap his head around all of the revelations. His first instinct had been to laugh and mock his friend, but Mark seemed to believe it and had been very clear and concise in his orders. Wear Meredithís ring and stay inside.

"Were you gonna say something?" she asked.

"Just that I love you." He kissed her softly. "And Iím feeling pretty damn good right now so why donít I show you how much."

"Ooooh, show me. Nothing warms a bed more than friction."

It wasnít until they finished making love for the second time that they realized they could no longer see their breath when they exhaled.

They fell asleep warm and comfortable for the first time in days and slept the entire night through.

*~*~*~*~*~
Ch 13
*~*~*~*~*~

Callie awoke before anyone else in the house, the same horrifying dream still fresh in her mind. It had happened all over again; the carnival, the smaller version of herself, and Alexís death had been a macabre repeat of the previous night. Tears were still coursing down her cheeks when she dressed in warm pajamas and headed downstairs to the kitchen in search of something cold to drink. Instead of going into the main kitchen, she went to the small respite area near the theater and dug through the under the counter refrigerator there. It reminded her of Goon Docks and she smiled as she pushed cans of soda around, slowly beginning to calm down. She located an orange juice in the back of the fridge and grabbed it, knocking over a row of small alcohol bottles. There was vodka, rum, and gin lined up ... silently begging her to drink it. Her hands shook as she sat them back up. Grey Goose had never looked quite as inviting.

Hating herself for her thoughts, she twisted the lid on the juice and took several swallows. It tasted flat compared to what it *could* taste like. She eyed the vodka and licked her lips, hating that she hesitated over whether or not she should drink at all. She knew that she shouldnít, that she would regret it and lose everything, but God, she wanted it. Her hand went to the Grey Goose and she pulled it out, gazing down at the familiar label.

Raphael watched from the doorway, his jaw tight. Beside him, Alex was gripping the jamb tight enough to turn his knuckles white. Callie saw neither. Gathering all the bottles into her arms, she got to her feet and set them on the counter. She opened the gin first and tipped it into the sink, exhaling slowly when the smell of it made its way to her. Next, she disposed of the rum and finally, she lifted the vodka, taking another look at her orange juice. Nothing would chase away the ghost of McFry like a screwdriver ... or mess her life up as much. Twisting the lid off, she poured the contents down the drain and turned the water on, forcing the scent away. When it was gone, she shut the water off and held onto the rim of the basin as she closed her eyes. Another battle fought and won, she thought. Lifting her juice, she walked out of the kitchen, still oblivious to her audience and headed into the blue room.

Alex and Raphael stood side by side for a moment. Raph spoke first. In a low, rumbling voice, he said, "You all underestimate her. My methods may have left a lot to be desired, Alex, and maybe she is a mess ... but sheís a *strong* mess."

Alex nodded. "I apologize for what I said to you at dinner. I had no right to-"

"You have every right." Raph clapped him on the shoulder. "Youíre a part of this family now, son. Youíre a part of her. And Callie wouldnít tolerate a man who doesnít take a stand. ĎOur lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matterí. Thatís a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Callie liked it so much that she had it painted on her bedroom wall when she was a teenager. I think she still believes it."

"I can attest to that. Sheís got a very, very big penchant for saying exactly whatís on her mind." Alex smiled at his father in law. "How are things with you and Mel?"

With a shake of his head, Raphael sighed. "My wife perfected the art of holding a grudge in the womb, I believe, because sheís able to do it effortlessly. Sheís not talking to me. Iíd prefer that you not mention that to Callie, though. Melana made it very clear that we will be putting on quite the display for her benefit."

"Youíre not gonna fool Callie. Itíll just piss her off if you try to."

"Iíd rather deal with Callieís wraith than Melanaís."

Alex chuckled. "You *are* the wise man I thought you were."

"Then take my advice and go see why my little girl is awake so early." He nodded toward the door. "And, Alex?"

"Yes, sir."

"Endeavor to keep your pants on because I may walk through that room in a while to check on her myself and I canít guarantee that Iíll take seeing your ... bare ass ... very well for a second time."

Alexís ears felt hot and he knew he was blushing. "Iíll keep that in mind."

"One more thing." Watching the other man squirm gave Raphael warm fuzzies. "Youíre taking the news about the supernatural events around here very well. Why is that? Have you experienced things like this before?"

"No." Shaking his head, Alex shrugged. "You can show me the Devil himself ... and Iíd still tell you that love is stronger. If Callie can make me believe *that* then she can make me believe anything."

"I thought I heard voices," Callie said, flipping the light on in the kitchenette. "What are you two doing?"

"You know I canít sleep without you," Alex told her, joining her. He brushed her hair off her cheek and gave her a kiss. "Are you okay?"

Callie saw his eyes stray to the bottles on the counter. Her heart slammed against her chest. "I didnít drink that. I swear to God, I didnít."

He took her hand, kissing it. "You donít have to tell me that. I know."

She looked at her father, who nodded at her. "I know that, too, mi vida," Raphael said, winking at her. "What are you doing out of bed?"

"Couldnít sleep." Finishing off her juice, Callie tossed it into the trash, then threw the liquor bottles in as an afterthought. "What about you, Dad?"

"I was watching for our late night visitor. I didnít see anything, though." Raphael hugged her. "But Iím exhausted so Iím going to go take a nap."

She returned the hug with ferocity and watched him walk away. Leaning back against the counter, she bit her bottom lip. "Heís avoiding my mother."

"Letís go back to bed," Alex suggested, more to get her mind off her parents than anything else. "The sunís not even up yet and itís freezing down here."

Thunder rumbled in the distance, rattling the glasses on the counter. It caused an ominous, foreshadowing feeling in the pit of Callieís stomach. She wanted nothing more than to burrow under the covers in the safety of her husbandís arms. "Bedís good."

Hand in hand, they headed back toward their room. In the hallway where her parents were staying, Callie heard a muffled shout and drew up short. Alex tugged her hand to pull her along behind him, but she shook her head. "Wait," she whispered, pressing a finger to her lips.

There was a loud thud and Melana shrieked. Without knocking, Callie rushed into the room in time to see her father wrestling with a person dressed in head to toe black. The intruder was much smaller than Raphael, but the knife in his hand more than made up for the size difference. Callie watched as her mother tried to join the fray, but it was Alex who darted past her and delivered a punch to the strangerís jaw. The knife clattered to the ground and Callie scrambled for it, elbowing the masked man to the ground. She saw the blood on her fatherís stomach at the same time Melana did. Both women cried out in outrage and Callie picked up a jewelry box, smacking the man at her feet in the head with it twice before Alex wrenched it away from her. "You asshole!" she screamed, kicking the man in the gut.

"Raphael, how badly are you wounded?" Mel demanded. "Let me see!"

"Iím fine!" Raphael said, lifting his shirt. "Itís just a flesh wound."

"Bastard," wheezed the intruder. "I hope you bleed to death."

Bending, Callie snatched the mask off the man and staggered backwards, unable to believe her eyes. The entire world had been knocked off its axis and she was falling into Hell. "Uncle Xeno?!"

Melana, who had been pressing a pillowcase to Raphaelís stomach, stepped around Callie. She sucked in her breath and put a hand to her mouth, shaking her head in disbelief. "Xenos, what -"

"I wasnít going to hurt you," Xenos said, reaching a bloody hand toward his sister. "Melana, please! Never you."

"Heís bleeding." Callie squatted down beside her uncle, tugging his shirt open. The wound on his chest was massive and his blood was spilling at an alarming rate. "Oh my god," she cried, reaching past him. She yanked open a drawer on the bureau and pulled out one of her fatherís white undershirts, holding it firmly against the cut. "Alex, get Mark! And tell Addison to get the first aid kit in the kitchen. Hurry!"

"Why?" Melana had begun to cry now and her voice was frantic, frenzied. "Xenos, what are you doing? Why are you here? Why did you attack Raphael? And the snake? Was that you!?"

Xeno looked at Raph with narrowed eyes. "You stay away from my island."

"Youíre island!?" Melana yelled. "Yours! Do I need to remind you that mother left everything to *me*? Itís all mine!"

Coughing, Xeno splattered Callie with blood from his mouth. She told him to stop talking, to not move, but he plowed ahead. "In name! In spirit, itís mine. I understand it. I respect it. Raphael ... he wants to rape and pillage the entire land. He wants to destroy it and heís doing it again!"

"I havenít done anything," Raphael said, shaking his head at Melana. "I havenít been there in years."

"You told them all the secrets," Xeno spluttered. "All of them. Even the strangers. If youíre not reopening it then -"

"Who told you that?" Callie demanded, pulling her uncle forward and banging him back against the wall. "Who!?"

"Calliope, stop it!" Mel screamed, grabbing at her. "Heís wounded."

"He tried to kill my father!" Callie shouted, banging him back again. "You left FMC, Xeno. You left it because you couldnít stand the truth! So donít you dare pretend like you know *anything* now."

Melana wrenched Callie backwards with enough force to make her land on her backside. "Stop it! Now!"

Raphael sat back on the bed, lightheaded. "Weíre doing nothing, Xenos. Nothing. Melana found out about FMC and we had to expose the truth."

Xenos shook his head. "You liar. I made it my lifeís work to watch you. To keep an eye on you. I tried to warn you off the island entirely and -"

"You!" Raphael leaped up, cringing at the pain. "You put the bomb on Kakistosís yacht! That was you! Iíve always wondered how the person knew that we were there, that we were with family! You would have killed your own *brother* to stop me?! You almost killed my *children*!"

"I didnít know theyíd be on the boat!" Xeno bellowed, coughing again.

"No!" Melana gazed down at her brother through blurry eyes. "No. Nononono. Xeno, say you didnít! Say you didnít almost kill my babies!"

Callie pushed herself to her feet, unable to believe her ears. "That was you? Uncle Xeno ... you did that to us?"

"Not to you. To this good for nothing son of a bitch that destroyed us all! It wasnít until Melana let him into our lives that it all fell apart." Xeno laughed ... he actually laughed. It was a cruel, bruising sound. "He caused my fatherís death! He came breezing into town and got Melana pregnant. At sixteen! He planned it! He made it happen! He knew that my father would force them to get married at Talking Rock so he set a trap for him there. Raphael taught us how to wire the place with explosives and he *knew* that my father would die in the wreckage! He wanted him gone so he could take over where Papa left off! And he did!"

"Our *father* was a traitor!" Melana screeched. "He killed hundreds of people. Thousands! He destroyed lives, Xenos! Raphael came here to help us! How quickly you have forgotten that it was Raphael who helped you into the pond, who kneeled down and prayed for your health, and this ... THIS ... is how you repay him!? By almost taking his children ... OUR CHILDREN!? You are the son of a bitch! You are the coward! You are the -"

"LIES! Itís all lies!" Xenos pushed himself further up the wall. "Heís got you brainwashed! Heís a liar, Melana! He lied to you for years! He said he retired! Why do you think he did that!?"

Mark and Alex ran into the room. They both started toward Xenos, but the old man lifted his leg and pulled a gun from a holster on his ankle. He brandished it hysterically, pointing at everyone and no one. "Stay there! Iíll shoot! I will!"

"Have you lost your mind!?" Callie stepped toward her Uncle, but he leveled the gun at her face and cocked it.

"I have nothing left to lose, do I?" He glared at her. "Look at you. You were Daddyís little helper, trying so hard to stop the island from doing good. Youíre evil. Youíre all evil."

Melana forced Callie behind her and lifted her chin. "If you feel the need to shoot someone ... you will shoot me. And you will look me in the eye when you do so. You will look me in the eye and remember that I was the one who cared for you when you were ill. I was the one who took you to the orchard when Mama said your lungs were too weak to go. I was your best friend, your only friend and you were mine. So, you think of that ... when you kill me. Because you will *not* hurt my family, you traitorous bastard."

"Mom-" Cambyses stood framed in the doorway, stunned. "Whatís happening?"

Melana didnít look away from her brother. "Your uncle was about to kill me, son. Because he almost killed you and your sister. Because he tried to kill your father tonight."

Xeno looked at Cam, who put a hand to his own heart and shook his head. Next, Xeno looked at Callie, who was regarding him like something dirty, something to be swept away. Finally, he turned his attention to Melana and started to cry. "You donít know what itís like. It gets inside you, that place. Athena ... she said Iím a guard. I owe it my loyalty because it saved me, it gave me life. I -"


"*I* gave you life!" Melana corrected, her voice choked with emotion. "*I* am the one who nursed you back to health time and time again. *I* am the one who wrapped your chest in warm cloths and stayed with you when you wretched until it hurt you. I am your blood, Xenos. *We* are your blood. These children ... even my husband ... we are your blood and you spat at us. You would give your loyalty to a piece of land and not to your own family? Thatís beyond reproach! Thatís sickening!"

"Heís bleeding. Heís bleeding bad," Cam said, hurrying forward.


Xeno turned the gun toward Cambyses, who froze. Melana screamed and lunged forward, but it was too late. Before she could grab the firearm, Xeno had turned it on himself.

One loud shot rang out.

Xenoís aim was true.

What remained of his head slumped forward and he spoke no more.

*~*~*~*~*~

Melana had required sedation. It took both Mark and Alex to pull her from the room, away from her brotherís body. Addison had dug through the older womanís purse at Callieís insistence to locate her bottle of Valium, which she coaxed Melana into taking after fifteen minutes of trying. Inconsolable, Melana eventually allowed Cambyses to help her into the bed in the darkest room, where she clung to him, asking him to find Raphael. It wasnít until Raph walked into the room that she settled down. He pulled her into his arms and held onto her and eventually ... she slept.

Callie had put seventeen stitches into her fatherís abdomen, grateful for the diversion. He had been right ... it was only a flesh wound, but it was a long and jagged flesh wound that she knew was more painful than he let on. She gave him one of her own pain pills that were left over from her attack and stood in the doorway a while later, watching her parents rest. Because the driveway had been washed out the previous day, the wait for a helicopter to come and remove Xenoís body was a long one. As much as it pained her to do so ... she returned to the room where her uncle lay dead.

Alex was coming out of the room as Callie came around the corner. He reached for her, but she shook her head. "I need to see him."

"No." Alex hugged her. "You saw enough."

Pushing at his chest, she took a step back. "I have to, Alex. I have to check for something."

Confused, he said, "You canít disturb the body, Callie. This is a police thing now."

"I wonít disturb anything." She stepped around him and opened the door. Someone had put a blanket from the bed over Xeno and she peeled it back, carefully avoiding looking at what was left of his once handsome face. Lifting his pants leg, she pulled his sock down and studied his ankle, where three blue stars had been tattooed, their points all touching. "Son of a fucking bitch!" she cried, pulling his pants leg down. Next, she patted his pockets and pulled out a Blackberry, an old cell phone, and his wallet.

"What is that tattoo?"

"The Niarchos emblem! He gave them his loyalty!"


Rising, she sat down on the bed and flipped open the cell, powering it on. There were several text messages which she scrolled through and then she checked the recent calls. As she had expected, several calls were made to and came from the Niarchos family compound. All of them were in a code that would take hours to break, but she had nothing but time on her hands. Setting aside the phone, she lifted his wallet and dug through it. He had photos of her and her brothers, even Melana and Raphael, though Raphís face had been scratched off the photograph. With a grimace, she emptied the contents, then bent the expensive leather in her hands. Something hard and rectangular indicated that there was another compartment, one that wasnít visible to the eye. Studying the seams, she found a small area where the color of thread was lighter, and ripped it open. A disc fell into her lap, covered in a protective plastic case. She slipped it into the pocket of her pajamas and stuffed his belongings back into his wallet, before returning it to the zippered pocket on his pants leg.

Alex watched with interest as she tinkered with the Blackberry. It had obviously been password protected and she gave up after three guesses, shoving it into her pocket with the disc. "Youíre not returning it?"

"No," she replied, meeting his eyes for a moment. "You never return anything that holds memories."

"The wallet was full of photos, Cal. You put it back."

"Those are lies. He can take those straight to Hell with him." Not bothering to cover Xeno again, she walked out of the room without a backward glance.

Alex pulled the blanket back over him and jogged after her, following her down into FMC. She didnít seem to mind his company because she pulled a sheet of paper from a desk drawer and asked him to type the jumble of numbers, symbols, and letters into the MS-DOS window that she pulled up. Fifteen minutes later, it was done and he looked at her. She was standing in front of the screens, watching a backlog of video from Talking Rock. "What now?"

"Press enter." She glanced his way. "Did it prompt you for a password?"

"Yeah."

"Type in ĎMelanaí."

"Okay." He did as she requested, then gasped when the CIA logo filled the computer screen.

"Congratulations," she said, kissing him on the top of the head as she connected a wire to the Blackberry. "You just hacked the Central Intelligence Agency. Iím so proud."

"Holy fuck." He swallowed hard. "Are you serious?"

"Itís a backdoor. Untraceable, thank God, and incredibly useful. Type in Ďtracerouteí and youíre done."

He looked up at her. "What will it do?"

"Watch and learn, Jock Strap." She nodded at the screen. "Go ahead."

His fingers flew across the keyboard and he pressed enter, his eyes widening as a jumble of numbers filled the screen. "Whatís it-"

"It will check number combinations first. Those are the most common passwords that people use. Birthdays, anniversaries, deaths. If it doesnít ping with numbers, itíll do the alphabet and it wonít stop until it figures out how to get into the phone." Callie pulled the disc out of her pocket. "Letís see what we have here."

"Callie, wait," Alex told her, taking her hand. He got to his feet and studied her face, which was pale, but impassive. "You just watched your uncle kill himself. Talk to me."

"Heís not my uncle, Alex. You stop being my family when you stab me in the back. Or ... you know ... stab my father in the gut." Nostrils flaring slightly, she added, "I wonít waste one tear on him and I wonít let his death hurt me as much as he wanted his life to."

"Baby, itís okay to cry."

"Iím not gonna cry."

"Why?"

She ran a hand through her hair. "Do you think I should have cried because Randall McFry died?"

"What? No!"

"Well, what Xenos did to this family is the same thing that Randall did to me. He hurt us. I donít generally forgive that."

Alex had never seen the blind hatred that was reflected in her eyes. He had never heard the cold, hard way she spoke, either. It was unnerving and hard to handle. "Are you going to go to his funeral, Callie?"

"If my mother needs me there Iíll go. If she doesnít ... I wonít."

"This isnít you."

"If you got a phone call right now that your father was dead ... would you cry?"

"No, but-"

"Okay, then." She pointed at the screen behind him. "The password is halfway finished. Iím gonna check this disc."

Addison cleared her throat, standing in the doorway to FMC, which had been left open. "Theyíre here to take his body, Callie. I donít think that Cambyses can handle it."

"Iíll do it," Alex said, getting to his feet. "Iíll sign the papers or whatever they need."

Callie nodded at him. "Thank you."

Leaning down, he kissed her on the lips. "Iíll be right back."

Watching him go, Callie sighed and glanced at Addison. "Donít ask me if Iím okay. Donít talk to me about *anything* that happened."

"You should talk to someone."

"No."

"You saw it happen."

"Iíve seen a lot of stuff happen. And I donít want to talk about it. At all. So, donít try."

Addison sat down in the chair that Alex had vacated. "Can I check my email from here?"

"Check it from this one." Callie pulled up the web browser and motioned for her friend to swap seats with her.

Addison complied and typed the web address in the bar, shooting covert glances at Callie, who was tinkering with an old, clunky cell phone. "Cal?"

"What?"

"You donít think itís weird that I could worry about email at a time like this? Youíre supposed to -"

"Itís *fine*." Callie assured her, turning back to the phone and jotting down some of the code to manually work on it. They sat in silence for close to five minutes, the only sounds coming from the mouse as Addison clicked through her mail.

Callie walked across the room to locate a bigger pad of paper and as she bent to retrieve it, Addison sobbed. Leaving the paper where it was, Callie hurried back to her friend and squatted down beside her. "Iím sorry, Addison. This is *not* how I wanted you to spend your honeymoon. I mean, I didnít want to come here and I didnít want my mother to send you here either. I wanted you to go to the Bahamas or -"

"Shut up," Addison cried, her eyes still on the screen. "Iím glad youíre here."

"You wouldnít happen to be on your period would you?"

"I canít have kids," Addy wailed, pointing at the monitor. "My friend Naomi mailed me the test results from that trip I took to see her. I wasnít just visiting her, Cal, I was getting some tests run. And apparently my eggs are ... bastards. Theyíll never have a father."

Taking her hand, Callie scrolled through the email for herself. "No, it says that you only have a twenty percent chance of getting pregnant. It doesnít say you canít. There are fertility drugs that will quadruple your chances."

"Mark will leave me." Addison grabbed a box of Kleenex and dug out a few. "He wants kids. He wonít stay with me if I canít give that to him. I mean, I already took one and heís forgiven me for that with the disclaimer that we have to try again. And now ... now I canít give him *any*."

"Youíre babbling and I think you are grossly underestimating Mark Sloan. He loves you."

Addison sobbed even harder. "I really, really wanted kids. I wanted to be a mom like yours. I wanted to not make the mistakes my own mother made with me. Callie, all I think about is holding a baby thatís *mine* ... thatís a part of Mark. Every baby I deliver ... I hold it for just a second longer than I should ... and I think about the abortion and I think about the look on the motherís face when I hand it to her. That could have been me and I got rid of it. Now ... itíll never be me."

Callieís eyes filled with tears. Hugging her friend close, she said, "You are going to be a wonderful mother, Addison. And you *will* have a family."

"You canít know that!" Addison replied, then her eyes widened. "Wait, please donít tell me that youíre psychic or something because I have really had *all* the paranormal mumbo jumbo that I can stand. Ever."

"Iím no psychic." Callie smiled at her. "But I happen to know for a fact that every couple who has EVER had sex at Talking Rock ... conceives there. And it sounds like you opened a double can of coital bliss when you visited."

Addisonís eyes widened. "Are you serious?"

"Do you not remember me telling you to keep your pants up?"

"Maybe we should go and do it again."

Callieís smile faded. "No, you shouldnít. The island would view that as greed and take more from you than you stood to gain. Or maybe it would view it as lust and take away your sex drive."

"Huh?"

"Donít ever repeat this," Callie said. "When I was married to George ... Xeno sent me some of the water from the spring. He said that he had me on his mind and thought I could use it. George and I had a fight and he left and as usual, I was miserable. I mixed every drop of that water with alcohol before I realized that I had picked up the wrong bottle. That was gluttony, Addison, and the island knew that. Nothing has really quenched my thirst except alcohol since then."

Addy sniffled. "Are you - youíre telling me that the island made you an alcoholic?"

Callie squeezed her eyes shut. "I hate that word. Iím telling you that the island punishes sin. I donít really know if what I think is right, but I know that it makes sense based on what I know about the way it all works."

"Well, canít you undo it?"

"I could be like Xeno and drink the water every day." Callieís eyes burned again. She pictured her uncle playing hide and go seek with her in the grotto, teaching her to drive, showing her how to take the perfect photograph with his fancy camera. "It kept him healthy, but it turned his heart to stone. He got his body back, but lost his loyalty and his ... love for us."

"I donít believe that." Addison caught the tear that dropped onto her friendís cheek. "I think he loved you very much. But I think the same thing that drove you and your father to betray your mother ... drove him, too. And by the way ... I was so homesick for you guys that I felt like my honeymoon didnít really start until you got here."

"You wanted your honeymoon to be a freak show?"

"Well, I guess Iíd take out the scary shit and maybe have a lot more sex, but Iím genuinely glad that you guys came." Addison nodded. "I mean it. I missed you like crazy."

"I missed you like crazy, too."

"And youíre gonna miss your Uncle Xeno. Because he was funny. And charming. And -"

"I know." Callieís chin trembled. "I really did love him."

Addison hugged her.

They cried together, not pulling apart until Melana waltzed into the room.

"What are you two doing?" Mel asked, staring at the phone and the computer screen. "Answer me, Calliope."

Callie stood. "Howís Daddy?"

"Heís still resting. Why are you down here when you should be helping your brother? Heís devastated." Melana crossed her arms over her chest. "And what are you doing? I wonít ask again."

"Xeno had three stars on his leg," Callie replied. "I checked. So ... I thought Iíd go through his phone. Maybe something there will clue us in."

"My heavens," Melanaís tone was light and terrifying. "You jumped right into work mode, didnít you? Instead of kneeling down to pray for his soul ... you checked for the mark of the beast. Instead of mourning him, you came down here to rifle through his personal effects. Heís not even cold yet, honey, isnít there a moratorium on how quickly you can plunder a personís memory?"

"I just thought -"

"You *thought*?" Mel shook her head. "Youíre not thinking at all. If you were, youíd have your ass upstairs with your *family* instead of hiding away in this dungeon to pick his bones! Give me the phones, Calliope. Theyíre not yours and whatever your Uncle was hiding was valuable enough for him to die for ... so, itís going with him. Do you understand me? There will be no more of this madness."

"But -"

Reaching around her, Melana pulled the wire from the Blackberry and gathered the other cell phone, stowing them in the pocket of her robe. "You will not become your uncle or your father. You wonít be consumed by this or let it dictate your life. Do you understand me? This ends now. FMC is officially over and youíre not a part of this madness any more. I will not allow it."

"Mom-"

"Itís over! It ends now! Before anyone else gets hurt!"

Callie slumped back in the chair when Melana stormed out of the room. "Shit."

"Letís go upstairs," Addison urged. "Before she comes back down here and kicks both of our asses."

Nodding, Callie got to her feet, covertly pocketing the disc that she had taken from her uncleís wallet.

It was more important than the phones.

And she would cling to it for dear life.

*~*~*~*~*~

When Derek didnít arrive for his follow up visit, Burke was concerned. So, he rounded up Cristina at lunch time, bought them both burgers, and headed to Meredithís house. A heavy rain was falling and he hurried to the passenger side to assist Cristina, keeping his umbrella over her as they made their way up the sidewalk. When they stepped on the porch, they both drew up short. At least twenty cats sat on the floor and railings. As they watched, a large white felineís ears went back and it began to hiss and cry in the most frightening way imaginable. It sounded demonic, possessed. One large paw came out and scraped at the air near Cristina. Burke pulled her back, putting himself between her and the cat.

"What the hell is going on?" Cristina asked, wrapping her arms around herself. Her feet crunched as she stepped toward the door and she looked down, stunned to see ice. "Itís in the forties. Itís not cold enough to freeze."

Around them, all the cats began to hiss. Burke looked back at the white cat, then followed its gaze. He took a stumbling step backwards when Randall McFry came into view. The man didnít step up from the side of the house or come out of the house. He simply ... *became*. Cristina appeared to be frozen in one spot, her eyes unwavering as McFry walked ... no ... glided ... toward them. Reaching into his pocket, Burke pulled out his lucky scrub cap, clutching it in both hands. McFry stopped moving and hovered near the front door, swaying slightly as if in a breeze. The cats behind him were visible THROUGH him, but the view was foggy and fragmented. Like looking through a smokescreen. "Our father," Burke said softly. "who art in Heaven ... hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in earth as it is heaven..."

The front door opened and an arm shot out, grabbing Cristina, who screamed bloody murder. Burke continued to pray as he followed her inside. Meredith slammed the door and stepped away from it. Preston, who had leaned back against it, was startled by her avoidance of the door and quickly followed her, sitting down beside Cristina, who appeared to be holding her breath. "Are you okay?" he asked her, pulling her against him.

"What. The. Hell. Was. That!?" she asked, then pointed at the window beside the door, unable to speak. "Mmmph!"

A face, Randallís face, was peering in at them. He was grinning, but it wasnít an inviting smile. It was horrible and leering and Cristina jumped up, pulling the coat rack in front of the pane. "Holy shit."

Derek, who had been upstairs, hurried down when he heard voices. He looked at Meredith, who nodded. "They saw it?"

"We saw it." Worrying his cap between his fingers, Burkeís eyes widened. "What was *it*?"

"Thatís the million dollar question." Derek hurried down the stairs and peered outside. "Everyone doesnít see it. George didnít see it earlier, but Izzie did."

"And cats, apparently." Meredith jumped when one of the cats outside screeched and something hit the front door. "There were more out there earlier."

"Are there any vans in the neighborhood? You know, for hidden cameras? Because this has to be a practical joke." Cristina moved closer to Burke when Derek shook his head.

"Itís not a joke." With as much detail as possible, Derek told them what Mark had shared in email and on the phone. He wasnít sure exactly how Callie and her father knew about the paranormal, but they did and so far, everything they had suggested could happen ... was happening. "Iíve tried to call Mark for hours now, but no oneís answering. Weíve tried Callie and Alex ... even Addison ... to no avail."

Burke pulled out his cell phone and dialed Alex. On the fourth ring, he was close to hanging up when the other man answered. "Alex! Hello! Itís Preston! Fine, fine. Listen, Iím at Derekís and ... what? Oh my God, Iím sorry. When? How is Callie? And her mother?" He paused, looking stricken. "I see. No, no things are fairly bad here as well. Yes, weíve seen the ... what is it exactly? Did you just say Ďsoulí?"

Putting the phone on speaker, Preston shook his head. "Melanaís brother committed suicide earlier today. In front of them all. Alex asked me to hold on."

"Preston?" Alex asked, coming back on the line. "Hereís Raphael."

"Hello?" Raphael said, sounding sleepy.

"Raphael!" Derek moved closer to the phone. "Iím so sorry to hear about Melanaís brother! Can we do anything?"

"No - no, thank you," Raphael replied. "I need you to tell me whatís happening there?"

"The porch is full of cats," Meredith said.

"And itís frozen over," Cristina interjected. "And what the hell is it?"

With minimal details, Raph explained what they believed to be occurring. He said nothing about FMC or his involvement with the CIA, but he kept his tone matter of fact and was relieved when no one attempted to second guess or argue semantics. "Are any of you religious?" he asked, when he finished the tale.

"I am," Preston replied. "When the ... apparition came toward us on the porch, I prayed. It backed off."

"Iím going to put Callie on the phone. You do exactly what she says, okay?" Raphael said. "It can only work if you do this."

"Okay." Preston looked at Derek, who nodded.

When Callie got on the phone, she sounded congested, but no one asked if she was sick. She had obviously been crying. "Hey," she said softly. "I need you to get a big pitcher and fill it with warm water."

Meredith raced into the kitchen. The others followed behind her. "Callie," Preston began, "Iím so sorry to hear about your uncle. Please let us know if we can -"

"You have bigger problems," Callie cut him off and cleared her throat. "Let me know when the pitcher is full."

"Finished," Meredith called. "Now what?"

"Who will be blessing the water?" Callie asked.

"I will," Burke replied. "Iím not Catholic, though."

"You donít have to be." Taking a deep breath, Callie added, "Put your hand in the water, Preston, and say what I say."


Doing as she asked, he rolled up his sleeve and put his hand in. "Okay."

They recited the prayer in Latin first. Burke, who had taken three years of Latin, was able to get the full effect. A moment later, they spoke it in English.

"God, who for the salvation of the human race has built your greatest mysteries upon this substance, in your kindness hear our prayers and pour down the power of your blessing into this element, prepared by many purifications." Callie waited until he repeated it back word for word. "May this, your creation, be a vessel of divine grace to dispel demons and sicknesses, so that everything that it is sprinkled on in the homes and buildings of the faithful will be rid of all unclean and harmful things." Pausing again, she listened closely. "Let no pestilent spirit, no corrupting atmosphere, remain in those places: may all the schemes of the hidden enemy be dispelled." Another pause. "Let whatever might trouble the safety and peace of those who live here be put to flight by this water, so that health, gotten by calling Your holy name, may be made secure against all attacks. Through the Lord, amen."

"Amen," Burke repeated. "Do I take my hand out now?"

"Yeah," Callie said, her voice flat. "Take a little of the water in a cup and sit it aside. That water will bless every pitcher that you need from here on out. Preston, take another cup full and draw a cross on every window, every door, and every reflective glass. That includes mirrors, the television screen, anything shiny that can hold an image. Derek?"

"Iím here."

"You take the rest of the water and pour it on the ice on the front porch. Concentrate it around the door. Do the same at the back door and any basement entrances." Callie waited until he promised he would. "Meredith? Do you have any ashes in your house? Dead relatives?"

"My mother kept my grandmother in the attic."

"Get those ashes and sit them in the heart of the house. Sit them in the place that you spend the most time," said Callie. "And donít go outside. Weíll be home in three days. Weíre staying for my Uncleís funeral and then weíre heading straight to Seattle. Stay inside. This thing gets stronger with every day that passes. It can *not* come into your house as long as you have those ashes, but if you cross that threshold ... all bets are off."

"Why can some of us see it? George canít see it." Meredithís voice shook, but not from the cold. "Burke and Cristina saw it. Even Izzie."

"Because they saw him in the flesh." Callie explained. "The only people who can see a torn soul are the ones who saw his physical body. You were the ones who got him off me. You were the ones who were there when he died. If he canít get to Derek ... heíll start trying to get to anyone else who was there at the end. Is Izzie there with you?"

"No," Meredith replied. "Sheís at work."

"Get her there. Soon. And keep her inside with you. Do you know if sheís still wearing the silver necklace we gave her for Christmas?" Callie asked. "She needs to wear silver. All of you need to wear silver. And if you have white candles, *any* white candles, you can burn those."

"Okay," Derek said. "Weíll do this. Are you okay, Callie? You - youíve been through a lot and -"

"Iím fine." Callie cut him off. "Call us back tonight and let us know what happens. If you need anything else, please let us know. I - Iím so sorry that this has happened."

Everyone spoke at one to assure her that it was fine, but she had already hung up.

Cristina shook her head. "This is the part where I point out that this is not humanly possible and weíre all hallucinating."

"Weíre *all* hallucinating?" Derek looked at her. "Weíre all having the same vivid and horrifying vision?"

"I donít believe in ghosts or goblins or Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy." Yang made a face. "The candid camera angle makes more sense. Or maybe McFry had a twin who is pissed."

"A see through twin?" Burke scooped out water into a cup and drew a cross on the kitchen window. Blood hit the outside a moment later, splattering in a cob web pattern. "Whoa."

"Whoa," Derek agreed. "If we get out of this alive ... Iím gonna go to church."

"Me, too," Meredith nodded.

Cristina stared at the window. "I may move *into* the church."

Burke actually chuckled. "Thatís about as believable as this entire mess."

*~*~*~*~*~

"Let me get this straight?" George paced across the living room of Meredithís house, his hands on his hips. "Iím supposed to tell Chief Webber that *all* of you have the flu? And Iím supposed to do that because there is a ghost on the porch and you can all see it but I canít?"

No one moved a muscle, much less answered.

George nodded. "Which one of you is cooking the meth because all of you obviously took it?"

"Just ... do it, Bambi," Cristina snapped. "And after you pick up clean clothes ... stop and bring us lots and lots of alcohol because weíre gonna need it."

"And youíll be staying in this house for three days?" George looked at Burke. "You are supposed to be my Yoda ... and you believe this mess?"

Burke nodded. "I do."

"Izzie?" George pleaded. "Tell me you donít."

"Iím two seconds away from drinking the cooking sherry, George. Bring tequila," she replied. "And Bibles. Can you bring Bibles?"

"This is unreal." George grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. "Youíre *doctors*. Youíre *DOCTORS*."

"Bring chocolate, too," Meredith urged. "Lots of it. And ... donít tell *anyone* the truth."

"Donít tell anyone that youíve all lost your minds and this is a loony bin?" George headed for the door. "Donít worry. Theyíd commit me for trying to help."


Izzie watched him go and fingered the silver chain around her neck. "Iím not being the fifth wheel. I am *not* sleeping alone."

No one said anything for a moment.

"Iz?" Meredith said quietly. "If you cook something for dinner, you can sleep with us."

"Someoneís coming to the kitchen with me," she said, getting to her feet. "Iíll cook, but Iím not getting terrorized alone. If I see that thing through the window ... Iíll die."

"Iíll help you." Burke stood and led the way.

"God," Cristina flopped back against the cushions. "Three days stuck in the house with ĎFeel My Pain Stevensí. None of us can possibly be suffering as she is suffering."

"Just breathe." Meredith patted her on the arm. "When Callie gets back ... sheíll get rid of it."

"When did Callie become ĎThe Ghost Whisperí? I prefer ĎTop Gun Callieí." Cristina pushed herself upright and stretched. "I hate my life."

*~*~*~*~*~

The three days leading up to Xenoís funeral were wrought with emotion for everyone involved. Melana broke down every time one of her surviving brothers arrived. Demi was the only one who knew the truth about what had happened with Xeno, everyone else, even the authorities, believed that Xeno had been injured while he was trying to kill himself. The story had been Callieís idea and it covered up her fatherís involvement, painting him as the hero who was wounded by Xenoís knife as he wrestled it away from the man. The coffin was open per Athenaís orders and she seemed to take the story of her husbandís suicide with a grain of salt. Callie caught her shooting malicious glares at Raphael several times, however.

On the third day, at noon, Xeno was laid to rest at the family graveyard. It overlooked the water and afforded a beautiful view of Talking Rock. Callie was the only one who didnít cry. She stared, unblinking, at the coffin as it was lowered into the ground. She refrained from throwing a flower into the hole or tossing a handful of dirt onto the casket. She simply stood, stock still, watching the assembled crowd for any further signs of malicious intent. Nicky Niarchos stood with his hands stuffed deeply into his pockets and when he felt her eyes on him, he scowled and looked away. She knew that he had probably orchestrated the attempt on her fatherís life, but she could not prove that without the information on the phones.

"Callie?" Alex said softly. "Itís over."

"What?" she asked.

"The ceremony," he replied, pointing at the workmen who had picked up shovels, but were waiting for the crowd to disperse.

She let him lead her down the sloping yard and through the orchard. In the dining room, she poured herself a glass of lemonade and sat beside Cambyses, who was solemn. Alex brought her a plate of food, but she let it rest on her lap until the mourners finally left the family alone, then she stood and tossed it into the trash can. "Iíll be back," she said to Alex. "I need some air."

She half ran, half jogged back to the cemetery, where she leaned against her grandfatherís headstone as she watched the workers pile the flower arrangements on top of the fresh dirt. When they were finished, they walked past her and she expressed her gratitude for a job well done in Greek before she walked to her Uncleís final resting place and kneeled down. "Iím sorry," she whispered, touching a spray of roses. "I know you loved us and I hope you know that we loved you, too. Even now, Zee, I love you and Iíll miss you."

"You would lie to a dead man?"

Callie turned and glared at Nicky. "The funeralís over, Aniketos. Get off my familyís property."

"I donít think heíd want this to be his final resting place."

"You shouldnít think."

"He loved my family, Callie. He was loyal to *my* family."

"Thereís a fool born everyday." She pushed herself upright and glared at him. "Iím very loyal to *my* family and Xeno was *my* family no matter how much he misplaced his loyalty."

"You should not speak of loyalty, my love."

"Shut up, Nicky."

"You promised to marry me. You promised to help me rectify our family differences and join the two in ways that Xeno and Athena could not." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Perhaps our night together meant more to me than you."

"There is no perhaps. It clearly did." She tilted her head to one side. "Surely you knew that I used you."

"Would you like to use me again?"

"It wasnít that memorable for me. Iíll pass."

He chuckled. "Your fire is what I like the most about you."

She regarded him with a stoic expression on her face. "Do you expect me to tell you what I like about you? Because nothing comes to mind."

"Perhaps you will like my brutal honesty," Nicky told her. "Your Uncle Xeno wasnít wrong to offer his allegiance to the Niarchos family. He knew your fatherís secrets. Believe me when I tell you that Raphael Torres is not the man you think he is. I cannot fault you for loving him because we often love things that are destructive, but I assure you that I have proof of his misdeeds and I think you would benefit from knowing."

"If you wrote a book that had everything you *think* inside it ... it would be an epic tome with blank pages."

Nicky looked behind her and nodded. "You know how to reach me if you decide to learn the truth. Good bye, Callie."

She watched him hurry across the lawn and hop into a waiting helicopter. The blades began to turn, causing her hair to lift and her skirt to billow around her legs. Covering her eyes, she watched as it lifted and headed into the clouds then she turned back to her uncleís grave, righting the flowers that had been blown about by the wind.

"Who was that?" Alex asked, startling her. She had not heard his approach over the thumping of the helicopter.

"Nicky Niarchos." Callie gathered the last of the flowers and got to her feet, rubbing her hands together to wipe away the dirt. "Did my mother say what time we were leaving?"

"In about an hour."

"I canít wait to get home." She turned and looked at Talking Rock in the distance. "I wish we were there already."

"I donít. Whateverís going on with Derek and this restless spirit thing ... I think Iíd rather deal with the island."

"It wonít be that bad."

He wrapped his arms around her waist. "Can I do anything?"

Turning, she nodded up at him. "You can promise me that no matter what you see me do in Seattle ... you wonít leave me."

"Baby, Iím not going anywhere."

"You promise?"

"I promised when I said ĎI doí." He grinned at her. "Besides, you just said it wonít be that bad."

She let him hug her and she clung to him, not bothering to remind him that their respective definitions of Ďbadí were two very different things.

*~*~*~

Callie was stunned when Eros boarded the plane behind Blake. She had assumed that he was tagging along for the ride to the airstrip to help with their luggage, but the bag he carried was tattered and worn out. He caught her looking and smiled at her, causing Alex to stir restlessly in his seat. Flopping down in front of them, Eros said, "Iíve never been to the United States. It took a while to get my paperwork in order. Your father pulled some strings."

"He thinks Iíll need you, doesnít he?" Callie asked. "He doesnít think I can do it on my own."

"Youíll need an anchor," Eros replied, glancing at the necklace that Alex wore, at the anchor pendant and the mermaid. "One whose heart isnít involved quite so much."

Alex narrowed his eyes. "Eros was involved with FMC, too?"

"Very deeply and quite by accident," Eros explained. "I followed her into the fire, so to speak, and never once looked back."

Cambyses leaned across the aisle. "Am I hearing this correctly? Eros, the same Eros who was terrified of the dark, got to be a part of FMC, but I didnít?"

"Your green eyed monster isnít very cute, sweety," Blake said, patting Cam on the arm. He leaned forward and winked at Callie. "Eros, Iím pretty sore from all the tension. Do you think you could give me a massage later?"

"Certainly," Eros replied, hiding his smile when Cambysesís eyes widened.

"My green eyed monster is about to be a homicidal monster, Blake!" Cam snapped. "Donít tempt me!"

"Perhaps Iíll go and sit with Melana," Eros commented, lifting his bag again. "She could certainly use a massage."

Alex waited until the other man had taken a seat in the back of the plane. "What did he mean? About being your anchor?"

"Weíll need thirteen people for the ritual." Callie took a deep breath, aware that her brother was hanging on her every word. "Whoever acts as my anchor has to stay in one spot and not step out of the circle. Youíre too emotionally invested to do that. And if you break the circle ... Iíll die."

"Die?" Alex waited patiently for her to laugh, for her to deliver the punch line. "Literally die?"

"Literally. As in, stick me in a coffin and let me push up daisies. That kind of dead."

"How can it kill you?" Blake asked, leaning across Cam to hang on her every word. "Raphael said it was relatively safe and now youíre talking about dying."

"I donít want you to do it," Alex told her. "I mean it. Let someone else take care of it."

Callie took his hand in hers, squeezing it reassuringly as the plane took off. "Iím all there is and once you see what this thing is capable of ... youíll be begging me to take care of it."

"Iím going to be the one who helps you, Callie. Iíll do whatever you tell me to do, but Iím not trusting *anyone* to keep you safe. Iíll do it or you wonít be doing it." Alex gave her a look that forced her to nod.

"Okay."

"Okay."

*~*~

"Youíre just gonna ignore that?"

Cristina nodded at Izzie, sipping her coffee as she worked on a cross word puzzle. "I am actively ignoring the ghostly voyeur."

"Why is he hanging upside down?" Izzie asked, gazing at Randall, who appeared to be floating outside the window, his hair standing on end as he peered, upside down, through the window.

"Because itís creepier?" Cristina glanced at the window and made a face. "Theyíre coming home today, right?"

"Theyíre supposed to land in about two hours." Izzie went to the sink, running water into a pan. Randall licked the window and she flipped him a bird, causing him to smash his head against the glass repeatedly. Sticking her hand into what remained of the Holy Water, she drew another cross on the window and watched him vanish. "You could have used the water."

"If I had put my hand in there ... I would have caught fire," Cristina assured her. "Iím not the most religious person alive."

"How did this happen?" Izzie put the water on the stove, turning it on. "I keep thinking that we should wake up from this nightmare, but ... itís really real, isnít it?"

"Donít ask me," Cristina shook her head. "I still maintain that my hamburger the other day was made out of opiates and this entire thing is one big hallucination."

The phone rang, causing both women to jump. Izzie grabbed it and said, "Hello?"

"Itís me," George said. "Webber wanted me to call you guys and see if youíre feeling better. Heís talking about making a house call."

"Tell him weíre fine, but contagious." Izzie looked back at the window in time to see McFry move past it, gazing in at her like a demon. "George?"

"What?"

"Light a candle for us at the chapel, okay?"

"Okay."

"And call us later."

She hung up and sat down beside Cristina at the island. Looking at the crossword puzzle, she offered a few suggestions and listened as Meredith, Burke, and Derek began to laugh in the other room. The fact that anyone could laugh at all was horrible and proof that they were all going crazy as far as Izzie was concerned. Checking her watch again, she made herself a cup of tea and walked into the living room. Picking up Derekís laptop, she went back to researching the paranormal and hoped that the banishing spell she had just read about was not something she would be partaking in later that night.

A cat screeched on the front porch and she looked at Meredith. "On the plus side," she said softly, "itís not a rain of toads, plague of locusts, or Armageddon."

"Are you reading about the Bible?" Meredith asked.

"I was reading Buffy fanfiction."

"Spike or Angel?" Derek smiled at the blond.

"Spike, definitely," Izzie and Meredith replied together.

Izzie chuckled and closed the story she had been reading, leaving the Google results for hauntings on the screen. "You know what? When I was sitting in medical school listening to Science ... I never dreamed that Iíd be held hostage by an evil spirit one day."

"Letís make a deal," Meredith suggested. "When all this over and everythingís said and done ... we will *never* speak of it again. Ever."

They all nodded their agreement.

Nearly two and a half hours later, someone knocked at the front door and everyone froze. Izzie had warned them that Webber wanted to make a house call, but no one actually believed he would. Derek finally walked into the foyer and breathed an audible sigh of relief when he saw Raphael on the other side of the door. Wrenching it open, he shook the manís hand, pulling him inside.

"Derek," Raphael said, one hand on his aching stomach. The flight had not been good to the knife wound heíd received. "This is Eros, he will be helping me ready you all for the transport."

"Transport?" Meredith asked, joining them. She drew up short when she saw the tall, handsome man standing there. "Oh, hi. Iím Meredith."

In the living room, introductions were made all around. Eros shook hands with everyone, but he kissed Izzieís hand, his eyes never leaving hers. She blushed prettily and smiled up at him. Raphael explained that Eros had prepared a special protection pouch for each of them and quickly handed them out, watching as they all tied them around their necks. "What happens now?" Derek asked.

"Calliope and the others are on your property, Derek. Where your trailer is."

"Why there?" Derek asked. "I thought you would all come here?"

"Youíll understand once you see it," Eros assured him. "If we had done it here ... with all these neighbors ... well, it wouldnít be pretty."

"Are you sure we should do it tonight?" Burke asked. "All of you must be exhausted from the trip and -"

"Itís the final night of the full moon," Raphael replied. "We do it tonight or youíre stuck for a month. And by then, McFry will be too strong for us to handle."

"Tonight is good," Burke replied. "Very, very good."

"Listen to me closely." Taking a step back, Raphael looked at each of his charges. "What you witness tonight will defy logic, startle you, terrify you, and make no sense. For your sake ... never speak of it again. Never tell another living soul what you experience because the paranormal is not well respected and people who believe it are usually dubbed insane. Weíre in this together, folks, and together weíll beat it. Callie will brief you when we arrive."

"Wait." Cristina held up her hand. "Whatís stopping McFry from getting in the car with us or -"

"Me," Eros replied, opening his shirt. There were weird symbols drawn all over his body in what appeared to be blood. "Iím the ward."

"Weíll explain it all in the car," Raphael said, when everyone opened their mouth to speak at once. "We have a time frame to hit. Letís go. All of you, hang onto someone and run, do not walk, to the limo."

No one had to be told twice.

*~*~*~*~*~
CH 14
*~*~*~*~*~

"Are you going to explain all of this?" Melana demanded, watching as Callie began to fill a large copper tub with water.

"When everyone gets here," Callie replied, taking a vial from her purse and pouring it into the water.

"What is that?" Snatching the bottle, Mel held it up to the light. "Tell me this isnít from the spring, Calliope!"

"Itís Holy Oil. Pour it in, Mom."

Mel poured a little of the oil on her fingertips and rubbed them together, nodding. "Why do you need this?"

"I think weíll need all the help we can get." Callie pushed herself to her feet and gazed down at the water. "Itís gonna be okay."

"Youíve done this before?" Complying with her daughterís request, Melana tipped the oil into the water and handed it back to her. "Because youíve got a look on your face that Iíve never seen before so I need you to tell me that youíre okay, that you want to do this, because if you canít do that ... then this stops now."

"I want to do this," Callie assured her, hoping that she sounded more convincing than she felt. "And that look you see on my face is the comprehension that all my secrets are out in the open and Iím stunned that youíre all still here despite that."

Taking her hand, Melana hugged her. "You could never do anything ... anything ... to make me love you any less. To make any of us love you any less."

Callie squeezed her eyes shut, breathing in the familiar Jasmine scent that her mother preferred. It took her back to being a little girl, clinging to her mother because a skinned knee had destroyed an otherwise perfect day. Melís arms always had a way of giving Callie whatever she needed in that moment and as she clung to her, soaking up the courage that the warm embrace gave her. Mel pulled away first, kissing her cheek as she went. "Mom ... Iím glad youíre here."

"I wish I knew what I was here for." Smiling a little, Mel shrugged her shoulders. "It was never easy for me to watch you be a daddyís girl. I wanted you to be mine. I hate that you shared this other life with him ... I hate that the two of you had something that I wasnít a part of and that you lied to me for years so ... if I can be here now ... thereís nowhere Iíd rather be."

"The only place we ever wanted to be ... was with you." Callie bit her bottom lip. "He didnít lie to you out of spite or to hurt you ... he lied to you because we didnít know what the truth was. We still donít know what the truth is and some things are just easier not explaining."

"Iím certain your father is quite pleased with himself for taking the easy way out. I, on the hand, am devastated that he chose to isolate me from what was apparently a large part of his life, of *your* life." Melana crossed her arms over her chest. "This is the ultimate betrayal, honey, and I donít know what feels worse. Knowing that he lied to me or that he kept his mistress."

"Mistress?" Callieís mouth dropped open in shock. "Mom, there were *never* other women."

"That island was his mistress. It cheated me out of so much time with him. With you. If we added the months that I thought you were running away ... it would be *years*. He cheated on me as surely as George cheated on you. The only difference was that there was no carnal pleasure ... there were only the secrets and lies. And maybe the pleasure of knowing that I trusted him enough to bring you home safely each and every time you vanished."

Seeing the tears in her motherís eyes drove home the point that her parentís marriage was in turmoil. Callie felt a lump in her own throat that she had to struggle to swallow. "Why did you lie to us about getting pregnant with Stavros before you got married?"

Mel gasped, her hand going to her throat. "Your Uncle Xeno was wrong about that."

"No, he wasnít. You were sixteen and you fell in love with a great guy who caught you when you fell out of a trees and stole fruit from the orchard and showed you how to live. He taught you how to breathe easy and how to feel safe and heís still that man, Mom. Heís still that funny, loving guy who carried Xeno into the spring and hid in the secret passage until everybody was asleep at night so that you could fall asleep in his arms." Callieís nostrils flared slightly. "Most people spend their entire lives waiting for a love like that to find them. I wish that I could have found Alex that young and not had eleven other people in my past. Iím just starting out with him and Iím in my *thirties*. I wonít have as much time with him as you had with my dad so go ahead and be pissed that you missed out on a couple of years, but donít forget that youíve already had more time with a man who adores you than the rest of us can hope for."

"You should have become a lawyer. Or a politician." Melana waved her hand dismissively and headed across the yard toward Cambyses.

Callie shook her head, leaving the water hose in the tub as she turned her attention to the multitude of candles, salt, and herbs that had been heaped in an unceremonious pile in front of Derekís trailer. It amazed her what money could do. Her father had made one phone call from Greece, not long after they had learned of the manifestation, and everything they needed was already firmly in place when they landed. Using the light from Derekís trailer, Callie separated the herbs into the piles she would need, then set about aligning the candles into the proper shape, using the stars and moon as her guide.

Alex stood off to the side, next to Addison and Mark. He had watched the exchange between Callie and her mother with a bundle of nerves in his stomach. He ached to go and talk to his wife, but she seemed to be a million miles from him, totally lost in her own world. "I feel like an extra in a horror movie."

Addison pulled her coat a little tighter around her shoulders, shivering. "On the plus side ... itís not raining."

"Sheís making a pentagram." Mark pointed at the unlit candles that Callie was arranging, shaking his head. "Isnít that evil?"

"No," Alex replied. "Remember? In the video she said it wasnít Devilish or ... whatever."

"I donít like it." Mark glanced around at the yard. "Weíre in the middle of nowhere, with a pentagram, a cauldron, a copper bathtub, and our host used to dress like Elvira and levitate at Stonehenge. And thatís not Devilish? Blake had the right idea. We should all go to the Archfield and stay."

"Blake didnít have a choice. Callie said that we only needed thirteen people," Addison reminded him. "Besides, heís hurt."

"Iíll gladly break my foot. And yours," Mark assured her. "To get us out of this mess."

"I trust her," Addison said, glaring at her husband. "And you should, too."

Mark watched her stalk to where Callie was working and pick up several candles, setting them out as Callie instructed. "Alex, has Callie told you what to expect?"

"No." With a shake of his head, Alex put his hands in his pockets. "She just made me promise that I wouldnít leave her ... no matter what she does."

Mark groaned. "That is so reassuring!"

"I know, right?" Alex watched as Melana and Cambyses began stacking logs under the cauldron. Even from across the expanse of the yard, they could hear Melanaís displeasure over the entire situation. "Melís pissed."

"Can you blame her?" Mark shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his legs aching from the long flight. "What I donít understand ... is why are they using *us* for this thing? Why donít they call in people who have done it before?"

"I mentioned that to Callie. She said that they didnít have time to plan it and get the right people for it. She said that sheís the only one who has to do anything and we all just have to stand there." Alex kept his eye on his wife as she poured a perfect salt circle ten feet from the top point on the pentagram. "I hate this."

"Well, yeah," Mark agreed. "Itís completely fucked up. I thought my therapy days were over when I left New York."

Headlights flashed on the long, dirt driveway and Mark straightened, feeling apprehensive. The limo that Raphael and Eros had taken from the airport pulled to a stop and the back doors opened without the driverís help. Meredith, Cristina, and Izzie bounded out first, rushing to the middle of the yard to greet Callie and Addison. A moment later, Burke and Derek joined Alex and Mark, who asked a million questions about the entity that they had seen.

Raphael walked across the yard, not stopping to speak with anyone, and put his hand in the copper tub, blessing the water inside. Next, he kneeled beside the cauldron and spoke Latin in a soft, whispering voice. Last, he gathered one of the many boxes of salt and made two large circles around the entire circumference of the yard, closing the pentagram inside. All the conversation died as everyone watched the preparations. When the last of the salt had been used, Raphael cleared his throat and beckoned everyone forward.

"Derek, if you will please step into the pentagram and have a seat in the middle." Raphael indicated the star behind him, waiting as Derek did as instructed. "Iíd like to explain what youíre looking at. This, as you just heard, is a pentagram. There are negative connotations associated with it, but I assure you, the purpose for which we will be utilizing it tonight is anything but negative. Each of the starís five tips," he indicated the point at his feet, "signifies a different element that Callie will call upon tonight." He walked to the salt circle that Callie had poured. "Roughly ten feet from each point of the star you will see these small circles. This is where the anchor will stand. That means that five of you will be on the point, five of you will be in these salt circles and this," he indicated the double salt lines behind him. "This is where the remaining two will walk counter clockwise ... and pray."

"Who stands where?" Addison asked. "How do you decide that?"

"Only women can stand on the points of the circle," Raphael explained, then smiled at Derek. "Youíre inside it because youíre the one who has been targeted and therefore youíll need the additional protection."

"What can we expect?" Burke queried, asking what was on everyoneís mind.

"Right now, there is a hedge of protection over this property which means that McFry cannot enter until he is called." Raphaelís gaze fell on each person, taking a moment to look them in the eye. "When he *is* summoned, he will be angry, hostile, and belligerent. He will say and do things that will shock and terrify you, but he cannot touch you as long as you remain rooted to your spot. And this is where I need for you to hear me, people." He stopped talking, making sure he still had their attention. "The five women in this circle are the most vulnerable because they are the channel through which the elements are invoked. The only thing that will bind them to this earth during the ritual ... are their anchors. If you are an anchor and you step off your circle, even for a moment ... I canít guarantee that we can undo the damage that will cause."

"Damage?" Cam asked, his eyes wide.

"He means death," Callie said, coming to stand beside her father. "If you step off your circle, the person youíre responsible for is as good as dead. Theyíll be consumed by their element. So, donít do it. Youíre going to feel the urge to run, to jump into the fight, to curl up on the ground and cry ... but donít do it. Stand still, be strong, and donít you fucking move because I donít want *anyone* to die tonight."

"Is there any other way to do this?" Izzie swallowed hard, rubbing her sweaty palms on her jeans.

"No. And if any of you want to back out then you should do it now because once this gets started ... thereís no turning back." Callie gave everyone ample time to balk, but no one did. Bending down, she retrieved a jar full of water. "Meredith, come here."

Meredith stepped forward and accepted the jar that Callie held out. "What do I do?"

"Youíre water because you conquered it." Callie led her to the furthest point of the star. "Stand here and when I invoke water, you lift that jar over your head and hang onto it for dear life. Okay?"

Meredith nodded and Callie retrieved another jar, this one full of mud and grass. "Izzie?"

The blond stepped forward, clutching her jar with both hands. "Iím dirt?"

Callie chuckled. "Thatís too easy. Iím not touching that one. Youíre earth, because part of you is buried with Denny and ... that makes you strong. Stand right here. Cristina?"

Walking forward, Cristina took her empty jar and raised an eyebrow. "Iím nothing?"

"Youíre air." Callie smiled at her. "Because youíre full of hot air."

"Gee, thanks." Cristina made a face. "Seriously?"

"Youíre air because you once called me a tornado so I think you can make a damn fine one." Callie patted her on the back. "Stand beside Meredith. Addison?"

"Oh god," Addy groaned, stepping forward.

Callie retrieved the final jar. Inside it was a small, blue flame. "Youíre fire."

Addison took it, holding it up toward the light, her brow wrinkling. "Whatís it burning?"

"Itís not." Callie tapped the glass with her fingernail. "Itís an eternal flame. It burns because you ask it to. And thatís why youíre fire, Addy, because youíre where I need you to be, when I need you to be. Stand right here."

"What are you? Your element, I mean?" Addison asked, her eyes brimming with tears at Callieís words.

Callie retrieved a tube just like the one she had shown them in the headquarters of FMC at Bountyís Keep. "Donít you know a spirit stick when you see one? Spirit fingers!"

"Ha ha," Cambyses said dryly, his hands on his hip. "What about the rest of us."

Raphael stepped forward and collected the five protection pouches that Eros had put together. Kneeling down, he added several herbs to each, then gave them to each of the five women. "Put something of yourself inside," he instructed.

"Ourself?" Izzie asked.

"A ring or a necklace or ... hair." Callie slipped her weddings ring off and laid them in her pouch, tying it tightly.

"Eros," Raphael said, "take Callieís pouch and act as her anchor."


Not missing a beat, Eros stepped forward to collect it, but Alex shook his head. "Iíll do it."

"Absolutely not," snapped Raphael. "Eros has done it before and -"

"Iím doing it," Alex growled, taking the pouch from Callieís hand. "Iíll do whatever you say, but Iím the one who is going to keep her safe. Iím not trusting *anyone* else to do it."


Raphael put his hands on his hips. "Alex, do you understand that you will kill her if your temper gets the better of you and you forget what youíre supposed to be doing?"

"I will not forget!" Alex shouted. "How can you even suggest that -"

"Dad, itís okay." Callie gave her fatherís hand a reassuring squeeze and he looked at her. He was the only one who saw the nod and the wink that she gave him. Turning to Alex, she led him to his circle and smiled at him. "Okay, Jock Strap, you heard the rules. Donít you dare mess up."

"You can trust me," he promised. "Iíd die for you."

"It wonít come to that." Leaning forward, she kissed him. "I love you. So much."

"I love you, too." He touched her cheek, then traced the contour of her jaw. "Youíre gonna be fine. Right?"

"Absolutely."

Pressing her palm to his forehead, she spoke an incantation in Latin that sounded mesmerizing and sweet as far as Alex was concerned. It was so intoxicating to hear her say the words, feel her skin against his face, that he didnít notice that she only said it to him. He didnít realize that he was the only person who had received such Ďspecialí treatment. When Callie returned to the others, she found that Cambyses had volunteered to act as Meredithís anchor. Eros stood in for Izzie while Burke and Mark covered Cristina and Addison respectively. That left Raphael and Melana to patrol the outer circle in prayer.

"By the way, donít engage this thing. Donít talk to it, donít make eye contact, and donít try to touch it. It feeds off your energy so donít give it any. Donít scream, donít yell, donít make a sound," Callie said, bending down to retrieve the athame that she had left beside her point on the star. "Is everybody okay? Are there any questions?"

Burke lifted his hand. "How long will this take?"

"The longest one I ever witnessed was forty five minutes," Callie told him. "But you never know. Iím not wasting any time on this thing. I want it over and done. Anything else?"

"When you call out our ... elements ... we lift them up over our head, right?" Addison asked, her eyes reflecting the fire in her jar. "Every time you do it?"

"Well, Iíll technically only invoke you once, but Iíll call to the elements as well, so any time you hear it ... go ahead and raise them up so that you donít forget and miss it when I need you to." Callie looked at her friends. "I canít prepare you for this. I just - I canít. There are no words to do it and ... you wouldnít believe me if I tried. Iím really sorry that you have to be here at all and ..."

"Itís not your fault," Meredith said. "You didnít bring him back."

"Sheís right," Izzie agreed. "You donít have to apologize."

"Letís send this bastard back to Hell." Addison nodded.

"Shit," Mark said, rolling his eyes, "the Angry Woman Club rides again. Can we get on with it!?"

"Callie, can I have a word?" Raphael motioned for her to join him, then he led her out of everyoneís earshot. "Did you utilize the entrapment -"

"Yes," she cut him off.

"Alex will not be pleased if he learns of this."

"Yeah, well, he wonít move now ... will he?" Callie glanced back at the others. "We should get this over with."

Raphael reached down and took her hand. "Youíre shaking."

Callie bit back her tears. "Iím about to come face to face with the man who tried to rape me. I will have to look him in the eye and not let him get to me. Iím terrified, Dad. Iím so scared that my heart is going to beat out of my chest the moment he gets here that I donít know what to do."

Hugging her, Raph spoke softly. "Baby, I was wrong to tell you that fear makes you weak. It doesnít. You should be scared, but this is where I remind you that Iíve got your back. I will always have your back and nothing in this world is going to hurt you as long as Iím here. You can do this, Callie. You can do it because you *have* to do it and because beating him ... will erase every trace of what he did to you."

Callie hugged him, then stepped away and brushed the tears off her face. "Thanks, Daddy."

"You once painted a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote on your wall. My favorite quote of his is Ďwe must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fearí. Look around you, Mija, these are your dikes of courage."

Callie wrinkled her nose. "I donít think my homegirls want to be called dykes."

"Did I not hear that you had kissed Addison?" Raphaelís eyes twinkled when Callieís smile faded. Throwing his head back, he laughed. "You are a constant source of amusement for me."

"And youíre a constant source of ass pain, Dad." She grinned and stood a little straighter. "Letís do the damn thing. I canít wait to sleep in my own freakiní bed tonight."

Raphael took his place and began to pray, holding up a hand to Melana to indicate that she should do the same on the opposite end. Callie returned to her point and lifted the knife into the air, whispering a jumble of words that constituted the summoning spell. She called Randall McFry to their location, closing her eyes to imagine the howling wind that would blow him into their midst. She could see it clearly, lifting the tattered soul that remained, and sending it, end over end, to the location she kept muttering through the Latin. When she opened her eyes again, the jar that Cristina held was glowing bright green and every eye was pinned to it. There was a tearing sound in the distance, behind Melana, who had stopped walking and stood transfixed as a blazing white light appeared, seemingly ripped into the protective circle.

And then ... McFry tumbled out of it, his smoky body blown to and fro on the gust of wind Callie had imagined. It lifted Callieís hair, whipping around her ... only her ... and she swallowed hard when she heard the same familiar chuckle that she had heard in the church when McFry attacked her. Bending down, she buried the knife to the hilt right in front of Derek and rubbed her hands together, warming them.

"Hooo boy!" McFry cried, making a whistling sound. "The gangís all here!"

Cambyses stiffened when McFry appeared in front of him, his eyes level with his own. Wordlessly, Cam squeezed the pouch in his hand and looked away, ignoring the entity entirely as Callie had instructed. "Awww," Randall continued, moving so close that Cambyses was chilled to the bone. "You donít want to talk to the man you killed? You donít want to see the wound? How about if I let you feel it?"

Behind them, Callie began to call on the elements. Randall only had eyes for Cambyses. "What was it like, homo, to stick that blade in my chest?"

"Really damn nice," Cam growled, meeting his eyes for the first time. "Iíd do it again in a heartbeat ... no pun intended."

"Stop talking!" Raphael shouted. "Cambyses, look away!"

Randall honed in on Raphael, moving toward him. When he heard the powerful prayers that were coming from the man, however, he backed away and turned his focus on Burke, who was worrying the pouch in his hands. "Ooooh," Randall sneered. "The token black man. You didnít even try to save me that day, did you? You saved the pretty boys. Howís your hand, Presssston. Whole lotta shakiní going on!"

Preston didnít acknowledge that he had been addressed. Randall moved past him, spotting Izzie, who was looking at him with abject horror. "The little blond killer. You and me, we have something in common, sweetness. I can smell his blood on your hands. Denny, Denny, Denny."

"Ignore it," Cristina said to Izzie, who had begun to cry.

"Ignore it," Randall mimicked. "Why are you here, Yang, you donít believe in God. I bet I could make you believe in me. I got me a thing for dark haired women. Women with slanty eyes, Mexican women, even black bitches because theyíre always in heat. Like Pressstonís mother. You donít like her, do you?"

Callieís voice rang out suddenly, no longer in Latin. "Hey, McFry, remember me?"

The spirit whirled and floated toward her. "How could I forget? Soft, supple, a real firecracker in the sack."

"Death hasnít improved your concept of reality," she replied, baiting him, trying to lure him closer. "What made you think that a piece of shit convict like yourself ... could ever have a chance with me?"

"Ahh!" Randall screamed loud enough to hurt everyoneís eardrums. It seemed to reverberate through the protective circle, bouncing off invisible walls. "You fucking bitch! You whore!"

"Is that the best you got?" Callie goaded. "You gonna cry? Youíre the only bitch I see."

He moved a little closer, sneering. "Iím gonna gut you. Iím gonna see what your heart looks like in my hand."

"It would probably be the biggest handful *you* have ever held, pencil dick." Callie smirked when he screamed again. "Come into my parlor said the spider to the fly. Come a little closer ..."

"And I will make you die," he finished, lunging at her.

She was ready for him. Callie plunged her hand right into his chest, where his own heart should have been. It entered with a grotesque sucking sound and she made a face as she looked him in the eye. "I call on the power of water to wash you of your malice. Water will bind you from the harm you wish to cause."

A soothing blue light emanated behind her and Callie knew that Meredithís jar was glowing. A moment later, warm water washed over Callie, soaking her skin, and rolled from her like a wave over Randall, who coughed and sputtered even though he did not require breath. He appeared to float in a bubble for a moment and then it burst, showering everyone with warm spray.

Randall began to flail again, to try to pull free, but the link Callie had with him was too strong. Blood began to drip from her nose as she spoke again. "I call on the power of earth to bind you to one spot. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust."

"No!" Randall gnashed at her, trying to bite, trying to rip at her flesh, but it was no use. The yellow light from Izzieís jar washed over him and large, reddish colored vines sprang from the ground, winding around his body to prevent him from striking at her again. "You fucking cunt!"

Callieís wrists had begun to bleed now. She was dizzy and slightly disoriented, but she plowed ahead. "I call to the power of fire." Every candle that made up the pentagram blazed to life and the assorted candles that had been placed around the yard flamed as well. "To burn you from this plane and remind you of the pits of Hell."

A roaring blaze began at Callieís feet. She felt blood from her head slowly trickling toward her eyes, but she could not lift her hand away from him or risk dropping the tube that was in her free hand, which was slick with blood as well. The wounds she received were a classic Stigmata, coinciding with the location of the marks Jesus bore on crucifixion day. She gritted her teeth when she felt her ankles split open, imagining that the pain was just as severe as well. She fumbled over the next words as the fire moved to her waist and licked at her face. She could hear everyone crying out, could hear her father shouting for no one to move, and she closed her eyes, willing the fire to move through her and into Randall.

She felt it when it happened, when it passed into his soul and out of hers. Opening her eyes again, she had trouble seeing him through the smoke and flames. "I call to the power of the wind to return you to the place from which you came. Terra , aer , unda , incendia , quod phasmatis. EGO to order vos ut reverto ut Abyssus. Terra , aer , unda , incendia , quod phasmatis. EGO to order vos dimitto is plagiarius quod reverto haud magis."

They heard the funnel cloud before they saw it. It burst down from the protective canopy that Callie had forged while Raphael had gone to pick up the others. It started out thin, but grew in leaps and bounds, eventually encompassing both Callie and Randall in its spinning fury. It drowned out the astonished screams that went up, but not the booming voice of Raphael, whose prayers to the Heavens seems to be broadcast from a loudspeaker.

Callie felt her feet lift off the ground a moment later and shook her head, fighting it. She felt her the stab wound Christ had received gnash into her side. "No! Stop! Stop reacting!" she shouted. "Daddy, make them stop!"

"Silence!" bellowed Raphael. "No one make a sound!"

Through the fire and wind, Callie could see Randallís eyes boring into her. They were full of rage, full of hatred and she feared that his black emotions were much stronger than what she had called forward. She heard her father yell for Alex to stay still and she squeezed her eyes shut, conjuring an image of Alex in her mind. She pictured him as plain as day on Goon Docks, reclining in the sun with his hands behind his head. Then she saw him at Disneyland, leaning in to kiss her under the fireworks. She saw his face reflected in the street lights the night he proposed in his car and she felt his hands sliding over her body, pushing away all doubt.

"Come with me," Randall growled, sounding half man, half animal. "You wanna burn, too. I can feel it. You tried to kill yourself, girlie, didnít you? Do it again. Do it again and come with me."

"I didnít like you in life, mother fucker, what makes you think Iíd like you in death?" She poured everything she had into moving the funnel to him and just like that ... it went. She dropped back to the ground and scrambled to her feet, twisting the lid on the tube. "Earth, air, fire, water, and spirit ... I command thee ... take this soul, drain his essence, and let him be free NO MORE."

The power of the funnel rushing into the tube knocked all five women to the ground. Addison wound up on top of Derek and Callie flipped backward, coming to a stop beside Alex, who reached down and dragged her upright. "Youíre bleeding," he said, trying to touch her everywhere at once. "Youíre hurt!"

"Itís fine," she assured him, twisting the tube again to ensure that the lock was in place. She had just enough time to hand it off to her father before Eros scooped her up and half jogged to the copper tub, submerging her in the cold water. It was a shock to her system and she came up fast, pushing her hair out of her eyes. "Jesus, thatís cold."

"I canít move!" Alex cried suddenly. "I ... my legs wonít move!"

"Callie!" Raphael called. "Lift it."

"Oh, shit," Callie grumbled, muttering the incantation that would release all the bindings she had utilized. Exhausted, she flopped back in the water and put her hands to her forehead, feeling the gashes there. It was as if a perfect crown of thorns had been placed on her head. Examining her wrists, she saw that the wounds there were pronounced and deep. When Eros pulled her upright and tugged her shirt over her head, she groaned. The lashes on her back felt like they had grown into the cloth and she cried out as it cleared her head.

"Oh my god," Alex said, kneeling down beside the tub. He pushed her hair over her shoulder and gazed at the cuts on her back. "How did this ..."

"The marks of Christ," Eros said. "If sheís going to act in Christís stead ... she must wear the same pain that he wore."

Alex watched as the other man reached down and tugged her shoes off, then reached for the button her pants. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Her clothes have to go into the cauldron," Eros explained. "Theyíre tainted."

"Iíll do it," Alex snapped, pushing the other man aside. Meredith and Addison appeared with a sheet from Derekís trailer and they held it up over the tub for modesty. Easing her pants down, Alex glanced up at Callieís face. It was white and her features looked sunken as her teeth chattered. "Baby, youíre cold. Letís get you out of the water."

"No!" Raphael cried from the other side of the sheet. "Not yet."

Melana rushed around Meredith, dropping to her knees on the other side of the tub. The water had turned red from Callieís blood and Melana put a hand over her mouth, shaking her head when she saw her daughter fully. "You ... these are ... let me see you wrists."

Callie held her hand out and Melana cradled it with her own, then leaned down and kissed the small, round injury there. With tears in her eyes, Mel leaned forward and kissed her daughterís forehead, then ran her hand over her back and by the time she finished, she was sobbing. "Oh, Calliope, this is horrific."

"Theyíll close up as soon as we finish. I promise." Callie squeezed her hand.

"Finish?" Alex asked. "Thereís more?"

"Cover yourself, Callie." Raphael cleared his throat, then stepped behind the sheet when Addison nodded at him. Squatting down beside Alex, he took a cloth from his pocket and pressed it to her head, then her back, drenching it in her blood. "You did a wonderful job, Mija. Wonderful. Your bravery amazes me and your spirit is just as strong as Iíve ever seen it."

"Donít talk to her," Melana snapped, pointing her finger at Raphael. "You caused this! Look at her! Look! This is our child, Raphael! Our baby! You held her when she could fit in the palm of your hands and you ... you pulled her into this madness! Her blood is on you!"

Getting to his feet, Raph ignored his wifeís outburst. Carrying the cloth, he walked back around the sheet, ignoring the dirty look that Alex gave him. Callie put her head against her knees when Melana darted after him, yelling that he was a bastard, a worthless human being. Alex glanced at Addison, who was still shell shocked enough to smile at him, then leaned closer to Callie. "Whatís he doing with your blood?"

"It goes in the cauldron with my clothes. In about ten minutes, itíll be over and heíll pour the water into the pentagram and we can go home." Her teeth chattered together, causing her jaw to hurt. "Are you okay?"

"Iíll be better when we get you warmed up."

"It wonít be long."

"Thatís a really big tub," Alex replied. "Will it mess anything up if you have company?"

"What?" She shook her head. "Alex, this water is frigid and -"

"But itíll be okay?"

"Yeah, but -"

Kicking his shoes off, he stepped into the water behind her and pulled her back against him as he settled in, wrapping his arms around her. "See? I promised you I wouldnít leave. And just look what I have right here."

Callie watched him open the pouch and take her rings out. Saying nothing, she held up her left hand and let him slip them back in place. Alex kissed her neck, tightening his grip. "Now itís your turn, Gothika. Promise me something."

"Okay."

"Promise me that you *never* do this again."

"Thatís an easy one. I promise."

*~*~*~*~*~

The following morning, Alex woke to the smell of bacon frying and homemade biscuits baking in the oven. Callie was snuggled against his chest so he knew that Melana was the one in charge. His mother in law was obviously still agitated. Callie had told him that Melana cooked, cleaned, or broke things when she was upset. When he heard glass breaking in the kitchen, he grimaced and eased from the bed, pulling the cover back over his wife. Callie had fallen asleep in the car on the drive back home and he had carried her to the bed. Raphael had not returned with them. Melana had made it very clear that she wanted nothing to do with her husband, so the man had gone to the Archfield with Cambyses and Eros.

He found Melana bathed in flour and wrinkled his nose. "Need some help?"

She simply shot him a look. Alex glanced at the counter, where every baking sheet they owned was covered in perfectly round biscuits. "Uh, Mel ... expecting an army?"

"Shut your mouth and give me the milk."

Alex did as she requested and plucked a piece of bacon from the plate, only to burn the roof of his mouth. "Ahh! Ow!"

Turning, she took a plate from the microwave and pulled the paper towel off. "Eat from this before you wake Calliope up."

Making himself a bacon biscuit, he poured a glass of juice and sipped it, soothing his burned skin. "Itís weird right? Last night we were ... Iím not sure what to call that ... but this morning weíre eating breakfast and ... it feels like we should be ... I donít know. Be doing something else."

"What would you suggest? Bathing in chicken blood? Burning an ox?" Melana turned to the sink and washed her hands and arms to get the flour off. "I still canít believe this is our life. Thatís the second time Iíve watched my daughter nearly burn to death. And who knows how many other times that son of a bitch almost let her die."

Alex put his breakfast down when she started to cry. She looked and sounded so much like Callie that it cut him to the quick. He brushed his hands off before he put his hand on the expensive material of her robe, touching her shoulder gently. "I can finish up here if you want to go back to bed."

She turned and hugged him, shocking him when she buried her face against his shoulder. He patted her on the back, trying to find the right words to soothe her. "For what itís worth ... Callie promised me last night that she would never do anything like that again and I believe her. So, you wonít have to worry about her. And I think Raphael is starting to really understand what he did to you by lying. I mean, one night away from Callie kills me and ... Iím sure heís miserable this morning."

"My heart is broken, Alex." Melana sniffled. "My baby brother is dead and so help me God ... all I can think is that Raphael murdered him the same way that he murdered our marriage. The same way he could have murdered Callie last night."

"Xenos killed himself," Alex told her, stepping back to look her in the eye. "Raphael didnít do that, Mel. And Callie chose to participate last night and ... all the times before. One other thing ... your marriage is only dead if you stop breathing into it."

"He stopped being my husband when he betrayed me!"

"When I saw Callie flying in that air show ... it knocked the wind out of me. I felt like she had taken our wedding vows and pissed them away. I couldnít stand to look at her because I felt like she was a complete stranger. *My* Callie would have told me, would have invited me to watch, would have talked to me about it." Alex shook his head. "I was cruel to her. I made her cry and for a little while that made me feel better, but then I realized that hurting her was actually hurting me more. I donít think that you can live without Raphael any better than I can live without Callie. And there comes a point where you have to decide if punishing someone feels better than loving them."

*~

Just beyond the archway of the kitchen, Callie brushed a tear off her cheek. She had heard most of the conversation and despite Alexís words or wisdom, she didnít feel like her mother was anywhere close to the point of forgiveness. Slipping her shoes on, she walked out into the front yard to look at the fence that had been installed around her property. Walking the perimeter of the yard, she had to admit that it was a gorgeous design. The house that her father had built for her looked like an old castle and the fence had the same intricate designs on it that the front steps of the house had. It looked incredible, like a beautiful fortress that felt safe, secure, and impenetrable by outside forces. Breathing deep, she turned back to the house, gazing up at the cameras that rested against the stone.

"Hey, youíre back."

Callie jumped, putting a hand over her heart as she watched Alexís mother walk toward her. "Irene, hi! How are you?"

"Fine." Irene pointed at the fence. "What do you think? Do you like it?"

"I do." Callie smiled at her. "Thank you for making sure everything was done."

"Leon took care of it," Irene said, shrugging her slim shoulders. She was still reed thin, but her face had filled out with healthy color and she had begun growing out her hair, which had been left thin and wiry from the chemotherapy. "Did you have a nice vacation? Iím sure it was *great* to run from things."

"It was *so* not a vacation." Callie studied the womanís face, not missing the stony undercurrent in her voice. "Iím sorry we didnít call you sooner. I kept telling Alex that he should."

"Thatís not all you told him." Ireneís eyes narrowed slightly. "What I said to you about his father ... that was between you and me."

"Iím sorry. I didnít mean for it to blow up like it did. I begged him not to say anything."

"If you didnít want him to say anything ... then why did you tell him?"

"What you said really hit home for me. I wanted him to know that I was nothing like his father and -"

"His father lived to cause strife between Alex and myself. And thatís what youíve done now. I donít appreciate it." Irene crossed her arms over her chest. "The first time I met you ... you were rude to me and I overlooked it because you really seemed to care for my son, but now Iím not so convinced. I think youíre a spoiled, hateful girl who takes people for granted and expects them to cater to you. Well, I wonít."

Callie felt like she had been slapped. "Irene, you know better than that. Alex is my life."

"Iíve spoken at length with your drinking buddy. Dr. Heron has told me quite a few things that Alex glossed over when he told me about how the two of you fell in love. If thatís what it is. You were married when you took my son as your lover and you seduced him with your money, but let me tell you something ... money canít buy my son and it wonít erase the fact that youíre an alcoholic. He wonít stand for that and when he finally wakes up ... heíll see that youíre nothing special."

Her head spinning, Callie took a step back. "I donít understand where this is coming from."

"I saw firsthand how miserable you make him! He lived with me for two weeks and for those two weeks ... he was so unhappy that -"

"Because we were apart!" Callie cried. "I was miserable, too! But weíre fine now!"

Irene made a face to show she didnít believe it. "You keep telling yourself that."

Callie felt the blood rush to her head as she walked toward the smaller women. "Let me tell *you* something, Irene, you are living on *my* yacht so you need to think long and hard before you make an enemy out of me!"

"Oh, letís see your true colors at last!" Irene snapped. "You made an enemy of *me*, Callie, when you tried to turn my son against me. And donít worry ... Iíll move. You can take your yacht and shove it up your -"

Turning on her heel, Callie stalked back toward the house.

"By the way," Irene called. "Your ferret died. I put the body in the freezer in case you wanted to bury it."

Drawing up short, Callie thought of a million things she could say ... but nothing came out.

*~*~*~*~

Melana was taking the last of the biscuits from the oven when the phone rang. Alex was eating his third biscuit and grabbed it, coughing out a garbled greeting because his mouth was full. His eyes found Melanaís and he held it out to her. "Itís for you."

"If that is my lying insignificant other, tell him I said to drop dead."

"Itís Cam."

Melana rubbed her hands on her apron and took the phone. "Hello, son."

"Can Dad come to breakfast?"

"Your father has American Express. Tell him to go buy himself a donut or a bagel and choke on it."

"I AM NOT DOING THIS!" Cam yelled. "I AM NOT BEING THE MESSENGER! DAD, TAKE THE PHONE!"

Melana rolled her eyes when the unmistakable sounds of a scuffle filled the line. A second later, Raphael said, "Good morning, mi vida."

"Do I need to remind you that I have, in the past, taken great offense to that endearment and almost beat you to death with a frying pan for it?"

Raphael cleared his throat. "Iíd like to come to Callieís today. I want to check on her and ... I miss you."

"How much did you miss me during your very frequent and lie filled excursions?"

"As much as a person can. And then some."

Melana frowned when the front door slammed. She stepped around the archway in time to see Callie rush down the hallway. She heard her daughterís frantic sobs and said, "Get here fast. Something wrong with her!"


Hanging up, she followed Alex, who had rushed down the hallway after Callie. He was standing outside the bathroom door, twisting the knob, when she joined him. "Callie!" she called. "What happened?"

"Just a second." Callie turned the water on and splashed her face, trying to buy a little time.

"Open up, baby." Alex wiggled the knob again, then glanced up and fumbled for the key they kept over the door. He found it and quickly unlocked it, slowly easing it open. She gasped when she saw him and he handed her a towel to dry her face. "What happened?"

"Fratelliís dead."

"Oh ... god." He pulled her into his arms and held her close. "Iím sorry. What happened?"

"I donít know." Callie wanted to tell him that his mother probably killed their ferret because she hated her, but she didnít. "Your mom didnít say."

"Iíll find out." Alex kissed her and hurried from the room. "Where did you put that necklace you got for her in Crete?"

"Itís in my purse."

He poked his head back in the room and said, "Iím gonna go see how sheís doing. Iíll be back in a minute."

She waited until she heard the front door shut before she looked at her mother. "I need to talk to you."

Melana held out her hand, leading Callie to the bed. "What really happened? You didnít cry this much over your last ferret and you had him *nine* years."

"When Irene brought me the snow globe, she told me that I was just like Alexís father. She said that Alex deserved better and I told him about it because ... I donít want to be like his dad. Alex got really angry and said something to her." Callieís eyes filled with tears again. "And just now ... she said that Iím a spoiled, horrible person who bought Alex and that heíll leave me when he realizes it. It was awful. She hates me."

"That ungrateful trout!" Melana said, aghast. "Sheís living here, rent free ... working at the job *you* secured for her ... and she would dare speak to you that way?!"

"Did you just call her a trout?"

"Iím reserving my better insults for your father."

"Not this again! Mom!"

"No, donít fret over that. We have bigger fish to fry right now. No pun intended. Iíll be speaking to Irene." Melana stood and rubbed her hands together. "Perhaps I should invite her to tea."

"You donít drink tea."

"No, but a teacup should be relatively easy to shove down her throat, honey. No one messes with my kids. No one."

"What do I do? Do I tell Alex?"

"Not yet. Iíll take care of it."

"You canít -"

"Oh, I think youíll find that I can."

*~*~*~*~*~

"Happy ghost free birthday," Burke said, sliding a box in front of Cristina. "What do you give the girl who hates everything?"

"More sleep?" Smiling, Cristina sat up and ripped into the package. "Woo! A bigger iPod! That is definitely the gift that keeps on giving!"

"I took the liberty of transferring everything from your old one and ... whatís this? My goodness, itís a key. I wonder what it unlocks."

"Am I supposed to say something cheesy like Ďmy heartí or Ďyour heartí or ... what?"

Preston smiled and held out his hand. "Why donít you pry yourself from the bed, get dressed, and take a ride with me."

"Road trip!?" She beamed at him. "Iíll bring the music."

He made a face. "I can hardly wait."

Thirty minutes later, they turned onto a street not far from where Callie and Alex lived. The canopy of trees overhead hung low enough to rub against the top of the car and the gravel crunched under the tires, prompting Cristina to compare it to The Land Before Time ... only with less cartoon dinosaurs. When Burke parked in front of a sprawling Cape Cod home, her eyes widened and she looked at him. "This is ..."

"It is." Burke grinned at her. "You described your grandfatherís place in vivid detail, right down to the balusters on the front porch. And ... your mother emailed me all the photos of the place that she had. Iím very glad that you stopped wearing your hair like a lost Beatle."

"You built a house!?"

"Our house."

"Iím an apartment girl! You know ... where they cut the lawn, clean the gutters, and make the neighbors shut up."

"Look around, Cristina. There are no neighbors and we canít live in eight hundred square feet forever. Iím thinking of the future. With you." He smiled at her. "Donít freak out. Donít get crazy about it. Just ... tour the house with me and see if makes you think of the future, too."

"Itís too busy knocking me into the past." She leaned across the console and kissed him. "I love it already."

"You said that the only place you felt safe as a child was in the little area under the stairs. Come and see if I did it justice."

She caught his arm when he reached for the door handle. "I donít need a little area under the stairs anymore. I knew what real safety was when you crawled into the bed with me after I lost the baby and held onto me. Your arms ... thatís safe."

His smile lit up his face. "I should buy you a house every day. That may be the nicest thing youíve ever said to me."

"Please! Itís the bigger iPod that won you a brownie point."

"Only one?"

"Maybe two."

They toured the house together. Cristina didnít cry, even though she wanted to. There was a photo of Grandfather, a man who had propelled her to appreciate Science and Math above anything else, hanging over the mantle and the old, rickety rocking chair that sat near the fireplace had been his. She had spent many an hour sitting on his lap there, watching the sunset, listening to him tell her why being a doctor was the greatest job on earth. He had been the reason she worked her ass off to go to medical school .... and he had died her second year in, leaving her broken down the middle. He had been the closest link to her biological father she had.

Burke had chosen all the furniture and she loved that he knew she wouldnít mind, that she would prefer not to have to deal with it. In the bedroom, she pulled him to the bed, shooting him a knowing grin and proceeded to thank him ... repeatedly ... for everything. Later on, she walked onto the back deck and pointed, "Oh my god! We can see Goon Docks from here!"

"Itís part of the same cove. We own the land right down to the water."

"Now all we need is Derek to buy the other side and -"

"Mark and Addison have that covered." He pulled her back against him. "I just want to put this out there ... so youíll know. Any time that you want to go to the justice of the peace ... Iím ready. And if you never feel like you want to ... thatís okay, too, because Iím happy with our life and I wonít push you for anything."

"Why donít we go right now?"

He stiffened. "What?"

Turning, she looked up at him. "Last night was the weirdest night of my life. Iíve seen ghosts, eternal fire, and a tornado suck someone into a tube. And ... if stuff like that exists ... then so does hope. So does true love. So does -"

"Letís go."

In the car, she settled back against the leather. "Donít think for one second that you can only give me one gift on our anniversary. Itís an anniversary *and* a birthday so you better come correct."

"I did that already."

"Wanna do it again?"

"As man and wife? Yes."

Two hours later, Cristina had a simple gold band on her left finger and a bounce in her step as Burke called the Chief to say they needed a week off. Their honeymoon was going to be spent at their new house ... and she couldnít wait to start it.

*~*~*~*~
CH 15
Alex visited his mother for close to an hour and a half. Irene had given him an earful and he didnít quite know what to make of it. Part of him was infuriated, but another part of him wanted to doubt every syllable his mom had spoken to him. If what she had told him was right, Callie had been drinking for a lot longer with Sydney Heron than she admitted. Only slightly less troubling than that, however, was the fact that his mother was leaving, heading back to California, and she only gave him one reason: his wife. He couldnít imagine Callie saying a fraction of what Irene claimed, but the hurt on the womanís weathered face as she sobbed in his arms had been pretty convincing. He had clung to her, rubbing her bony back, as she begged him to come and visit her, to call, to not forget her.

He retrieved Fratelliís body, which had been placed in a lidded rectangular bowl, from the freezer on Goon Docks before he stalked back to the house. Going through the garage, he put the ferret in the chest freezer they kept there. When he opened the front door, he heard Melana shouting at Raphael and saw Callie sitting quietly on the sofa beside Cambyses. They both looked like children as their parents raged in the kitchen. It threw Alex back to a time when he did the same thing --- sat completely still to listen to the beating his mother was taking ... or the verbal abuse, which was just as bad. Callie met his eyes and he clenched his jaw tight enough to hurt. He needed to have a very long talk with her, but their houseguests would make that difficult.

Not saying a word to either twin, Alex walked past them and cleared his throat when he saw Melana throw her orange juice in Raphaelís face. "Hey! Youíre not going to do this here. If you want to fight then get the hell out. I mean it."

"Stay out of this, Alex." Melana began. "You donít-"

"Go in the living room and look at your fucking kids, Mel! I donít give a damn how old they get ... youíre killing *them*!" Alex pointed back toward the living room. "So either shut the hell up or leave. You are not making them hear this! Youíre not!"

"Do not swear at my wife!" Raphael boomed.

"Oh, be quiet!" Melana snapped at her husband. "Donít try to defend my honor after what you did to me, you faithless old goat."

"Faithless!?" Raph looked positively scandalized. "Faithless!? I have never been unfaithful to you! Melana, you have got to stop this!"

"You can kiss my -"

"LEAVE!" Alex yelled. "RIGHT NOW! GO TO THE ARCHFIELD AND SEE HOW LONG THEY LET YOU KEEP THIS UP!"

"YOU WILL NOT SPEAK TO US IN SUCH A WAY, YOUNG MAN!" Raphael bellowed, stalking toward Alex. "I PAID FOR THIS HOUSE!"

"So thatís where Callie gets it! Sheís a real chip off the old block!" Alex shook his head in disgust. "Throw your weight around, Raphael! God knows youíre not pompous enough!"

"Where I get what?" asked Callie, coming to stand behind her husband. Her eyes were red from crying and she stared at him in shock. "What are you talking about, Alex?"

He spun to face her. Seeing her standing there, seeing the dark circles under her eyes, he felt a stark reminder of the previous night and it only served to agitate him more. "Didnít you tell my mother to leave the yacht because itís *yours*? Didnít you tell her that we donít want her here anymore and youíre tired of having her around? Because ... you donít speak for me!"

"I didnít say that to her!" Callie looked frantically at Melana.

"Itís not true," Melana interjected, fuming. "She confronted Callie this morning and-"

"This is none of your business!" Alex glared at his mother in law before turning back to Callie. "What did you say to her? Sheís down there packing her shit and she says that sheís going back to California. Sheís crying her eyes out! You *know* that I handled what she said to you. You *know* that I want her here! What are you doing!?"

"I didnít-" Callie began.

"Maybe you should have bound his mouth instead of his feet! Perhaps then you could get a word in," Raphael said, glaring at the younger man.

"DAD!" Callieís hand flew to her mouth and she squeezed her eyes shut when she heard Alexís sharp intake of breath.

The world seemed to stop spinning, but Alex didnít. His head was suddenly whirling like a top as he tried to comprehend what he had just heard. No one else had been rooted in place the previous night. When the ritual had ended, everyone moved at once, rushing into each otherís arms. Callie had been wrenched from his by Eros and ... Alex had been unable to move at all. His heart fell to his stomach and he shook his head. "You did something to me, didnít you? When you touched my head. I was the only one who couldnít move. You put some kind of mojo on me or something!" When Callie didnít answer, Alex yelled, "DIDNíT YOU!"

"I -" Callie trailed off when Alex shot her a look that she had never seen before.

"You *donít* trust me!"

"Itís not about trust. She had to do it!" Raphael realized the error of his ways when Alex spun, knocking everything off the island. The canister that contained the flour shattered on the ground at his feet. "Stop! We had to make sure that you wouldnít leave the circle!"

"I SAID I WOULDNíT! WHAT DID YOU DO, CALLIE!? DO NOT LIE TO ME!" Alex stalked toward Callie, but Raphael moved between them. "I TOLD YOU TO LEAVE, RAPHAEL!"

"You leave!" Raphael put his hands on his son in lawís chest, holding him at bay. "Go and cool off and donít you come back here until you can speak to her without yelling."

"No!" Callie reached out to touch Alex, to take his hand, but he pulled away from her, grabbed his keys and stalked out the front door. "Alex! Wait!"

"Let him go!" Raph grabbed her around the waist, holding her back against his chest. "Mija, heís angry and a man who has a temper like his -"

"He wonít hit me!"

"LET HIM GO!"

*~*~*~*~

Mark hissed as Addison, who was kneeling before him, slid her mouth over the tip of his erection. Her tongue pulsated and he reached down, slipping his hand into her hair as he moved closer to the edge of the bed. She smiled up at him and he couldnít take it ... he needed to be inside her ... for the third time that morning. Pulling her to her feet, he leaned forward and kissed her ribcage, the underside of her breasts, the valley between them. When he took her nipple between his teeth, he felt her head fall back, causing the ends of her hair to brush against his hands, which were on her waist. Standing, he attacked her neck, then her mouth as he picked her up.

Addisonís legs went around his waist and she reached between them, positioning him at her entrance. "God ... I want you."

"You have me," he replied, grinning against her lips. "Forever, Mrs. Sloan."

She opened her mouth to protest, but her back hit the wall and it drove him into her with one long, hard thrust. Even though she was slick with need, he filled her almost painfully and she cried out, tightening her legs on his backside to hold him still. "Wait."

Reaching between them, he eased his thumb between the swollen lips of her mound and massaged her clit. He moved lazily, barely grazing the sensitive bundle of nerves, but it was enough. Her nails dug into his shoulders as she pushed herself up the wall and moved down on him again. This time ... he whispered for her to wait and increased the pressure on her center, watching her eyes roll back in her head. Her orgasm face was the best heíd ever seen, he decided, and when her mouth dropped open, signaling her release, he caught her cry of relief with his mouth, and slammed against her.

"Oh, godddd," Addison cried, thrashing against him. "Mark ... harder."

He pushed away from the wall and carried her to the bed, letting her fall back against it. He was grateful that she had insisted on the thickest mattresses in Seattle because their bed was just the right height. Leaving her back on the tangled sheets, he pulled her legs up against his chest, his hands massaging her thighs as he pumped into her at a frenzied pace. His eyes fell to her chest, watching her breasts bounce up and down from the force of it. When her hands snagged the comforter in a white knuckled grip, he pulled out and kneeled down, sucking at her clit until her heels beat a steady rhythm on his back and she pulled at his hair hard enough to make his eyes water. Pleased with himself, he pulled her upright and gave her a knowing look when his hard on brushed against her cheek.

She wrapped her hand around his shaft and took him into her mouth again, her cheeks hollowing from the force that she used to blow him. Pumping him up and down, she cupped his balls with her free hand, massaging them, and he groaned her name. When she swallowed and her throat constricted around his aching cock, he got off ... and closed his eyes as she continued to lick at his quivering flesh until he softened. Spent, he fell onto the bed beside her and pulled her against his chest. "Holy fuck, Addison. If I had known that married sex was so damn good ..."

"You would have asked me to marry you before Derek, right?"

"Pretty much." He kissed the side of her sweaty face. "We didnít make it to Melanaís breakfast."

"I told her we werenít coming."

"Isnít that what we just did?"

"Ass." She kissed his neck and splayed her hand over his rock hard abdomen. "You should probably make me breakfast in bed."

"Woman, if anyone gets breakfast in bed ... itís me. Iíve done my job. I carried you over the threshold last night, screwed your brains out, let you spoon me when you were ice cold, *and* I woke up and did my husbandly duties *three* more times ... so ... you cook."

"If I cook weíre having Cocoa Pebbles and sour milk."

"Pizza, for the win." Mark sat up and pulled his boxers from the floor.

Addison watched him dress, eyeing his muscular body with appreciation. The muscles on his back rippled like the ocean as he pawed through his closet, settling on a T-shirt and track pants. A moment later, he headed to the shower, telling *her* to make the call for lunch. She grumbled until he kissed her and cupped her breast, then she decided sheíd happily pull herself from the bed and place the order ... because eating meant she could fortify herself for the next round. Slipping into her robe, she grabbed the phone and dialed the number by heart, laughing at how pathetic it was. She had thought the days of pizza, beer, and hot wings would be behind her when she graduated medical school.

Pulling her hair into a messy pony tail, she headed to the kitchen and grimaced when she opened the refrigerator. Callie was supposed to clean it out for her, but because of the attack, nothing had been touched. Some of the leftovers had grown penicillin and the fruit in the crisper had congealed to a watery mess. Trying not to gag, she set about cleaning the mess and when the doorbell rang a short time later, she glanced at the clock in shock. "Thatís the fastest pizza in the West," she mumbled, wiping her hands on a dish towel.

She frowned when she saw Alex through the window. One look at his face caused her to run across the living room and yank the door open. "Whatís wrong?"

"I need a beer, a straightjacket, and for you to listen to me. In that order." Sailing past her, Alex walked into the kitchen and yanked a Heineken from the fridge, twisting the top off. "Your best friend? Sheís a bitch. Do you know what she did to me?"

Addison shook her head. "No, but this is where I remind you that itís Ďchicks before dicksí and if you call her that again, Iíll shove that bottle up your ass."

"Whereís Mark?" Alex demanded, draining the bottle and retrieving another one.

"Right behind you." Addison pointed at her husband, whose hair was still wet from the shower. "Alex was just explaining that Callieís a bitch."

"When did you get a death wish?" Mark asked, clapping Alex on the back as he took the bottle from his hand before he could open it. He gave it to Addison. "Letís take a walk, man."

Twenty minutes later, Mark scratched his chin and gazed out over Whisper Cove as he let Alexís tale sink in. They were sitting on the dock, far enough away from the house for Alex to call Callie whatever he wanted ... and he had not disappointed. With a sigh, Mark shifted uncomfortably on the stiff patio furniture Addison had insisted on buying, even though he had assured her that the pastel pinks and blues were emasculating. When he glanced at Alex, he knew that the other manís discomfort had little to do with the furniture and everything to do with what he perceived to be the ultimate deception. Deciding to ignore that aspect of the story, Mark cleared his throat and said, "You think she really said that stuff to your mother?"

"I didnít." Alex sat back, his arms over his chest like a petulant child. "But ... now? Jesus Christ, Mark, she did a spell or voodoo or something on me to *paralyze* me. Saying that shit to my mom probably came easy. Iíve married Lord Voldemort!"

"Lady Voldemort."

"Whatever. Sheís evil."

Hiding his smile, Mark looked away. "Thatís not Callie. You know that."

"Does anyone, other than her father, really know shit about her? That wasnít Callie last night either. That wasnít Callie in Greece acting like her uncleís suicide was nothing but a boring diversion." Alexís cell phone rang for the millionth time and he pulled it out of his pocket, tossing it into the water. "I donít know her at all."

Mark wished that he had kept the beer for himself. "What did she say? I mean ... how did she explain it?"

"She canít explain it!"

"When you asked her ... what did she say?"

"I didnít let her say anything."


"Putz." Reaching across the table, Mark popped him on the forehead.

"What the hell!?"

"How can you be this pissed off when you donít even know *why* she did it."

"What can she possibly say to me that changes anything. She didnít trust me. She wanted Eros to keep her safe instead of me. You should have seen her on the plane ... I woke up and she wasnít there and I found her sprawled on the bed playing videogames with him in one of the bedrooms. She didnít even act like it was a big deal."

"Wasnít Blake in there with them?"

"Thatís not the point."

"What *is* the point?"

"I donít like him."

"And what does that have to do with *anything* that brought you here today?" Mark regarded his friend through narrowed eyes. "You know what I think? I think youíre pissed for the sake of being pissed. I think youíre freaking out over the same things that Melana is freaking out over and youíre grasping at reasons to be mad because being mad means that you donít have to be afraid of what you saw last night."

"Iím not -"

"Let me finish. I donít think Cal said those things to Irene." Mark held up his hand. "In this corner we have Callie who loves family so much ... that sheís still as close as a person can be to Georgeís mother. She invited Irene into your home, into your life, and made sure that she felt welcomed. She includes her in *everything* and she does that for *you*, so that you can rebuild your relationship." He held up his other hand. "In this corner, we have Irene, who has proven that her concept of family is sketchy at best. Sheís also working at the hospital, which is gossip central, so maybe sheís hearing the rumor mill at itís worst and who knows what theyíre saying, Alex. They could be saying that Callie was cheating on you with McFry or that sheís -"

"Sydney Heron told her that Callieís been drinking with her for months. Not just the one time."

"And do you believe that?" Cocking his head to one side, Mark looked unconvinced. "Iíve seen you with Callie for *months* and you can barely keep your hands off her. I think you would have smelled it or tasted it or known ... because you do know her and I know her enough to guarantee that the guilt would have been all over her face."

Alex gazed back out over the water, lost in thought.

Mark let him stay there for a few minutes before he spoke again. "If I had been in your shoes last night and Addison had been in Callieís ... it would have taken the hand of God to hold me in that circle. Some things arenít about trust ... itís about understanding and I think Cal understands that sometimes a manís heart is stronger than his word. You gave her your word that you wouldnít move ... but she probably knew that your heart would move mountains if you thought she needed you."

Alex smiled, then laughed. "You have been married *two* weeks and youíre already so whipped and so *pathetic* that you are talking about the hand of God and mountains moving. And *hearts*."

"I had sex three times this morning." Mark held his hands up as if that explained everything. "Iím still delirious and would tattoo Ďchicks before dicksí on my back if my *wife* asked me to. Because sheís my *wife* and Iíve never been in a position to say that before. I told her this morning that if I had known married sex was so good, I would have done it a long time ago, but what I meant to say was Ďmarried lifeí. Married life is good."

"Not all of it."

"More of it than not."

"I want her to be the person that took me flying in her plane to California and sailed me home in her yacht. I want her to be the person who made me fall so hard for her with just a *look* that I couldnít breathe. I feel like that person never existed and everything was a lie."

"How long have you felt that way?"

"It started in Greece, to be honest."

"Then why did you promise her that no matter what she did last night ... you would stay," Mark asked. "Because if youíve felt that way for a while then that could have been your out. Instead, you promised her something that you donít want to do."

"I never said I was leaving her."

"Letís review. Youíve called her a bitch, a liar, a fucking cunt, a piece of shit, and said that you married Lord Voldemort." He checked his watch. "And you fit all that in under an hour. As your friend ... Iím telling you that if she makes you this miserable you should end it. As her friend ... Iím telling you that if you call her *any* of that to her face ... Iíll kick your ass so hard that your conniving mother will feel it and I wonít apologize for it. Ever."

Getting to his feet, Mark put a hand on Alexís shoulder. "Iím going back inside. Youíre welcome to come in and have lunch with us ... but Iím not giving you any alcohol. All you have to do is look at Callie to know why."

Alex sat on the dock for close to an hour, twisting his wedding band around his finger before he made up his mind.

He knew what he had to do.

*~*~*~*~*~

"Thank you for having lunch with me today." Eros pulled out the seat for Izzie and waited for her to sit down. "Itís not very often that I find myself treated to such a beautiful view."

Smiling, she watched him sit across from her and put his napkin in his lap. He was a charmer. She had picked up on that the previous night. And she needed to be charmed. Her two month relationship with Viper had ended as abruptly as it began. He had broken up with her via text message, simply stating that he needed more. Hearing that had filled her with self confidence issues. ĎMore of whatí had been a constant refrain in the back of her head. What had she been lacking, how had she been less than enough? After weeks of crying, binging, baking, and barfing ... she needed someone to look at her the way Eros was currently looking at her and she needed to look at him the same way.

"Tell me about yourself," she finally said, squirming under his scrutiny.

"I donít make it habit of summoning spirits, sending them back, or dabbling in the black arts. This was an isolated occurrence that will hopefully not repeat itself any time soon. Or ever." He grinned. "I went to college in Germany, where I earned a degree in massage therapy that I have not been fortunate enough to utilize in the capacity I had hoped. Thereís just not much demand for it in my country."

"Greece?"

"Yes. Have you ever been?"

"No. I have been to Germany, though. I ... I modeled some to pay for college and I got to travel a little."

"I modeled as well," he told her. "Atrocious lifestyle. I didnít enjoy it at all. I felt like a piece of meat or a ... zoo animal and the camera was my cage."

"Oh my god. Thatís exactly what it felt like." Izzieís eyes widened. "Most people think itís glamorous and they never believe me when I tell them itís like being chained down. Youíre poked and prodded and made up to perfection while people lie and tell you that you look beautiful ... and then they airbrush all of you away. I didnít even recognize myself sometimes."

"I believe I recognize you," Eros replied, pointing behind her.

Izzie turned and groaned. A poster of herself against an Italian backdrop decorated the side of the jukebox at Vinnieís Italian Bistro and she put a hand over her face. She had forgotten it was there. "Thatís embarrassing."

"Thatís beautiful."

She felt her face fill with color and looked down at the menu when the waiter arrived. After placing their orders, she told him about her life ... right down to growing up in a trailer and being the object of every girlís scorn. Shocking even herself, she also mentioned Hannah, her daughter, and was stunned when he didnít bat an eyelash. They enjoyed their lunch, talking about everything and nothing. They laughed easily and when Eros told her about Bountyís Keep, the way he described it painted a beautiful image in her mind. He asked if she had internet access at her house and when she said she did, he offered to show her pictures.

Izzie wasnít really sure how it all happened.

But it happened fast.

After lunch, they returned to the apartment she shared with George. It was Burkeís old place and only had one bedroom, but that bedroom was hers. George was content to sleep on the sofa and that was something she hated when she opened the door and heard him snoring loudly. Smiling apologetically at Eros, she took his arm and pulled him into the bedroom, firing up her laptop. He inquired about her roommate and she assured him thatís all George was ... then she feasted her eyes on Bountyís Keep and fell in love.

An hour later ... her fourth orgasm rolled through her and she gave up trying to stay quiet for Georgeís benefit. She cried out, wondering how no other man had ever found *that* spot and touched it the way that Eros did. When he finally entered her, her eyes bulged and she bit her bottom lip, thinking he was too big, too hard, too ... good ... to, oh my god, be real. Clinging to him, she lifted her hips to meet his and as soon as she adjusted to his size, she realized that she could fall for him in the blink of an eye.

And he would have to go home sooner or later.

She made the decision to keep her heart out of it as she surrendered every inch of her body to him.

He certainly made the most of it.

*~*~*~*~*~

Finn Dandridge looked up from his paperwork when the door opened. He got to his feet, unable to believe his eyes. Strolling into his clinic was Callie Torres and she had a woman with her that could have been her twin, but further inspection showed her to be older. Grinning from ear to ear, he opened his arms and said, "If it isnít the girl who ate her hair!"

Callie stepped into his embrace, shifting the container that housed Fratelliís body to the side. "You werenít supposed to remember that."

"I remember everything that a pretty woman says to me." Finn extended his hand to Melana. "Finn Dandridge. I run this mutt house."

"Melana Torres. I birthed *this* mutt." Putting her arm around Callie, Melana pointed at the box. "Iím afraid this isnít a social call. Her ferret died under suspicious circumstances and -"

"Mom." Callie rolled her eyes, shooting Finn a look. "How are you?"

He held out his hands and took the bowl from her, peering inside. "Better than this little guy. Iím sorry to see this. How old was he?"

"Just over a year." She followed him into an empty exam room and watched him peel the lid back. "Heís frozen."

"That makes my job a little more difficult. Iíll have to do a little testing and some bloodwork on him, but I should be able to tell you tomorrow for sure. Is it ... do you mind leaving him here?"

The lump in Callieís throat popped and she scooped Fratelli from Finnís arms, cradling him against her chest. Nothing about the ferret felt the same. He was hard and cold and his fur was matted with ice crystals ... but the ferret was the first real thing Alex had ever given her and saying goodbye was like saying goodbye to a big part of their life. Tears dropped onto her cheek and Finn held out a box of tissue. She took a couple, dried her eyes, kissed Fratelli on the head and held him back out. "Thanks, Finn."

"Iíd say Ďanytimeí, but I really donít want to see you under these circumstances again." He put the ferret back in the bowl and pulled his gloves off before he hugged her again. "Call me tomorrow around noon and weíll see what we have."

With a nod, she watched him shake her motherís hand and walked into the front lobby. A big fat puppy with enormous paws spotted her and raced forward, gnawing on the tip of her boot, which it all but swallowed. Laughing, she bent down and rubbed his ears, marveling at how big his head was. He planted his paws on her chest and proceeded to lick every inch of her face and neck she let him reach. "Who is this big guy?"

"Heís homeless and heís not big at all yet," Finn told her, kneeling down to pat the dogís side. "Heís an English Mastiff. That breed holds the record as being the heaviest dog on the books and considering how this one eats ... I think he may break any record there is."

"Heís not yours?" Callie asked, laughing when the puppy bit her hair and pulled.

"Heís not mine." Finn chuckled. "You want him?"

"Seriously?"

"Calliope, what are you going to do with a dog? You work all the time." Melana had to smile when the puppy put its large face down the front of her daughterís shirt, causing her to fall backwards on her backside. "He is fairly cute." Reaching out, she stroked the dog, causing him to lavish her with affection. "Good heavens, heís solid as a rock! Are they decent guard dogs?"

"The size alone intimidates the heck out of people." Finn nodded. "Theyíre loyal, great with kids, but theyíre generally pretty lazy the bigger they get so give him a chew toy and a fenced yard and heíll be perfectly content to be left alone for long periods of time. I mean, donít neglect him, but theyíre not like Chihuahuas or other needy dogs who have to have constant attention."

"I did just get my yard fenced." Callie got to her knees, putting her feet under her to salvage her boots. "What do you say? You wanna go home with me, big guy?"

The puppy yipped playfully and Callie was sold.

Finn went behind the counter and pulled out a stack of puppy pads. "Heís good at using these and weíve already gone through several rounds of obedience training. This is the name and number of the trainer. Sheís an older lady who specifically works with large breeds so Iím urging you to call her."

Sticking the number into her purse, Callie said, "Does he have a name?"

"Not yet. And he is crate trained. He may try to manipulate you into letting him out at night, but stick to your guns unless you want to wind up with two hundred and eighty pounds of dog in your bed at night."

Melana made a noise. "She was married to George OíMalley, though heís probably only one hundred and fifty pounds ... of shit."

"MOM!"

Finn threw his head back and laughed. "I like her."

Callie made a face. "Is there an adoption fee or anything?"

"This oneís on me," Finn replied, pulling out an envelope full of papers. "These are his AKC papers and his shot records. Heís a whopping sixty pounds right now so enjoy the lapdog while you can because when he grows into those feet ... youíll be sitting on HIS lap. Hereís his leash. Heís been eating Science Diet."

Thanking him profusely, Callie handed the dogís leash to Melana and put the papers in her purse. She left her phone number and address for Finnís log and followed her mother outside. In the car, she started the engine and gazed back at the puppy, who poked his head between the seats. "What the hell am I supposed to name you?"

"How about Crazy? Or Sucker? Or Fool ... because he has made you all three of those things. Do you know what this creature is? Itís similar to that ĎTurner and Hoochí dog who slobbers all over the place and can bite your head off with a yawn." As if to illustrate that Melana was telling the truth, the dog playfully bit her on the chin. "Letís go to the pet store, honey, I can see it growing as we speak."

Callie plunked down close to two thousand dollar at PetCo. She bought a huge dog house, two crates, several food dishes, and one of every toy they had. The doghouse and one crate would be delivered the following day. The other crate was in her trunk. As she drove back toward her house, she glanced at Melana. "How could Alex think I said anything like that to his mother."

"I guess he thinks if he can swear at your father and me then you can say horrible things to her with no remorse." Melana sighed. "I canít believe your father prevented me from paying that damn termagant a visit."

"First sheís a trout and now sheís a termagant. Whatís with the ĎTí names?"

"I could have called her a tiny tramp, but I refrained." Callieís hand was resting on the gear shift and Mel covered it with her own. "Iím going to stay with you for a while after your father goes back to Miami. I told him earlier. Itís not just because Iím afraid Iíll murder Raphael ... itís because you need me ... whether you realize it or not. And sitting in your house will be much better than sitting in mine."

Callie rubbed her thumb over the back of her momís hand. "I want you to stay."

"Someone has to take care of this monster youíve acquired." Melana reached into the backseat, patting the sleeping dog on the stomach, causing it to grunt. "Perhaps Pig is a good name."

"I wonder what Gucci will think of him."

"Heíll probably piss himself and claw my eyes out in fear. Poor monkey."

"Mom?"

"Hmm?"

"Youíre not leaving Daddy, right?"

Mel looked straight ahead at the cars in front of them. "I was the one who was left, sweetheart. I just need a little time to decide if I want to go back or go forward."

The returned to the house in silence. When Callie pulled into the garage, she saw that Alexís car was there, but she didnít feel relieved. She didnít feel anything. The way he had spoken to her parents did not sit well with her and the more she thought about it, the angrier she felt. And the fact that Addison had called to ask why he was at her house calling Callie a bitch only added fuel to the fire. He always called her something vile when he was angry. He had exhausted his extensive vocabulary of insults during their breakup and no matter how much he apologized for it ... it still hurt.

Cambyses walked into the garage and opened his motherís door, his eyes widening when he saw the dog. "What the hell is that?"

"Your sister has lost her mind." Melana nodded at the back seat of the car. "Help her get the bags in. There are some boxes in the trunk as well."

Camís eyes widened as the dog stepped out behind Melana and stretched and yawned. "Holy shit! Itís a baby and it has a mouth like that!?"

"Stop calling him a thing." Callie came around the car and handed her brother a handful of plastic bags.

"What should I call it?"

"I donít know yet."

Melana headed into the house with the puppy as Callie unloaded the car. Cam took the first load in and returned, pulling his sister into a hug. "Alex is here. He apologized to Dad and took his mother to a hotel. We offered to let her stay at the Archfield, but he refused. I think he said something about the Best Western. He just got back a little while ago."

"He told Addison I was a bitch."

"You *are* a bitch," Cambyses told her, "but if you want me to kick his ass for that just say the word."

"I donít, but thanks." She pointed at the crate. "God gave you muscles, Don Juan, so use them."

Moving back to the car, she pulled out the remaining bags and turned, running into Alex. The impact caused the plastic to tear and she gritted her teeth when a can of dogfood landed on her foot. They leaned down to retrieve the contents and bumped heads, both swearing. "You stay still," Alex said, rubbing his head as he gathered up the toys and food. "Either you bought a dog or weíre trying something new in our diet."

"Iím a bitch, right? I should eat like one."

Alex slowly stood, putting the cans into the bag that wasnít torn. "Addison called you, huh?"

"Did you think she wouldnít?"

"Why donít you leave this here and take a walk with me?"

"If weíre ending this weíre doing it without the walk or the the suspense. Weíre not fighting about it, weíre not doing anything except saying it.í

"Callie, please." He took the bags from her hand and set them on the ground. "Come on."

Crossing her arms over her chest to keep him from touching her, she followed behind him. They walked past their bedroom, past the glass room where their jacuzzi was, and onto one of the many hiking trails that surrounded their property. Callie was shocked to see that the fence had literally gone to the very end of their property, which was massive. The dog would be in heaven, exploring such a huge area. They had put a stone bench in the far corner, beneath a thicket of trees and Alex sat down, patting the area beside him. She didnít sit.

He watched her walk to the corner of the fence, where the two sides came together, and gaze up at the security camera there. When she put her hands on the wire, hanging onto it, he cleared his throat. "I need you to tell me why you did that to me."

"Which part? Since you apparently think that I also sabotaged your relationship with your mother ... youíll need to be more specific."

"Why did you do ... whatever the hell that was ... last night? Why didnít you trust me?"

"Because I knew what was coming," she replied. "And I knew that I couldnít be *your* anchor if the roles were reversed. I would have come off that circle the second I thought you were in danger."

"You should have told me."

"You should be thanking me." She turned and looked at him. "The only way it binds someone is if they try to move out of the protective circle. So, the fact that it locked proves that I was right to do it. Otherwise youíd be planning a funeral right now."

"Thatís too convenient. I donít buy that."

"You can take my word for it or I can show you the binding spell."

"By doing it again?"

"No, by physically showing you the spell in a book. It tells you exactly what it does."

"Why didnít you do it to anyone else?"

"Because no one else had to go through what I went through. There wasnít a reason for Mark to try to help Addison or for Cambyses to do anything for Meredith. I was the one in the hot spot and -"

Alex swore under his breath. "What about Cam? You donít think he was tempted to rush to your aid?"

"No, I donít." Callie leaned back against the fence. "You were holding a piece of me in your hand, Alex. In that pouch. You couldnít have rushed off that circle to help anyone but me and the same goes for the others. Theyíre bound by the anchor to the person theyíre holding. You were the only one who could come to my defense and I knew that you wouldnít be you if you didnít try."

"I just -"

"I donít have anything else to say about it! I didnít want to die! Which proves that I have made really great strides in trying to outrun my past! A past that your mother is just finding out about." She ran her hands though her hair. "I didnít say any of the things she accused me of."

"Why would she lie? Why would she -"

"Why would *I* lie, Alex?!" Her voice raised before she could control it and she heard the puppy bark in the distance. A moment later, the Mastiff ran through the underbrush and jumped at her legs, almost knocking her down. "Good god, little man. Whatís the matter?"

"What the hell is that?"

The puppy turned and barked at Alex, loud and deep, digging its huge paws into the dirt like a bull about to charge. Callie bent and grabbed it when it did just that, holding it against her chest. "Finn gave it to me."

"Meredithís Finn? The vet guy?"

"I took Fratelli to him." Callie didnít look at her husband, instead she concentrated on the puppy. "Heís doing a necropsy or whatever they do."

Alex shot to his feet. "You think my mother killed our ferret!? God dammit, Callie! What the fuck!?"

The dog showed every tooth in its mouth, which was impressive. The fur around its neck stood up and the rumbling growl that erupted from it made Callieís eyes widen. "Shit. I adopted the Devil."

"You did that last night!" he yelled. "And apparently itís still inside you! Youíre actually accusing my *mother* of -"

"You werenít there. You didnít hear how she told me he was dead. She was ... glad."

"I guess itís a good thing I took her to a shitty hotel in a shitty part of town, Callie, because weíll want to keep the pet killer away from that ... thing." Stalking toward their house, he stopped and looked at her. "Your *father* almost got you killed and you expect me to respect him and I do that for you because I love you, but I will *not* let you villainize my mother when sheís not here to defend herself!"

"Were you respecting my father when you were in his face yelling at him? Were you respecting my mother when you were telling her -"

"Iím not doing this!" Alex yelled. "Do you hear me!?"

"FINE!"

"YOU KNOW WHAT, CALLIE?! FUCK YOU! YOU ARE A BITCH!"

The puppy snarled at the raised voices and bounded forward, breaking Callieís grasp. Alex had turned his back to them and was heading down the trail ... when it latched onto the seat of his pants, biting him square in the ass.

And the scream that erupted from his throat implied that it was HARD.

*~*~*~*~*~

Cambyses struggled not to laugh as he held out a fresh cotton ball to Callie. Alex was lying face down on the bed, his pants lowered to this thighs with his bare white backside shining under the light. The bite mark took up most of Karevís left cheek and the fact that he had his face buried in his arms didnít hide the crimson color staining his ears and neck. He was humiliated, but no one in the house had much sympathy for him. They had all heard his final words before the bite and if the dog had not bitten him ... Cam was going to.

Callie dabbed at the worst of it with alcohol, enjoying the fact that her husband squirmed in pain. Wordlessly, she rifled through the first aid kit and pulled out the topical skin adhesive. "I never thought Iíd go from ghosts on Derekís ass to gluing Alexís ass. Cam, can you open up the sterile wipes?"

"You want baby powder, too?"

She bit down on her lips when Alex tried to wrench his pants up. "Wait. Iím not finished. Youíre gonna get blood on the bed."

He stopped moving and put his head down again. "Hurry up."

"Yes, bitch, hurry up. He needs to be on his feet when he verbally attacks you again." Cam held out a wipe. "Good dog, by the way. I like him."

The puppy, who sat in the corner watching, seemed to realize that it had done something bad. It crawled toward Alex on its stomach, whimpering, then batted at his hand with its wet nose. Alex pulled his hand away. "Get that bastard out of here! Now!"

"Cam, Iíll finish up here. Would you mind feeding the puppy?" Callie shot her brother a pointed look. "Please?"

"Alex does have a scrawny ass. Poor dog. Come on, baby, letís get you some grub." Cam patted his hip and waited patiently for the dog to follow. "Not medium rare jerk."

"Are you finished?" Alex demanded as soon as the door shut.

"I just want to make sure itís clean." Callie used another wipe, smoothing away the last of the blood. "Does it hurt?"


"Gee, I donít know. Cujo butterflied my ass. What do you fucking think?"


Snapping the first aid kit shut, she crawled off the bed. "You know what? Iím done."

Alex got to his feet and yanked his pants up. "I still cannot believe you think my mother killed Fratelli."

"I guess weíll find out tomorrow." She put the kit on the dresser and leaned back against it. "She did it, Alex, because she was mad at me."

"Fratelli was *mine*. He didnít even like you!"

"Well, my dog doesnít like you!"

"That thing is going right back to Finn! I mean it!"

"Iím keeping him!"

"No, youíre not! By god, that thing tried to kill me!"

"Youíre right, Alex, it tried to crack your skull! Asshat!"

Raphael pushed the door open without knocking. "Alex-"

"Donít worry about it. I was just leaving." Alex wrenched his closet open and grabbed his bag.

"I think perhaps youíd like to see this before you do." Raphael opened the armoire, where the bedroom television was kept. Turning it on, he pressed a button on a small gray box and picked up the remote, programming in a few numbers. A moment later, Callie and Irene filled the screen and Callie recognized it immediately as their showdown on the front lawn.

Raphael turned the volume up and glared at Alex as he heard for himself exactly what had transpired. Raph let it play until Callie stormed off toward the house and Irene informed her that Fratelli was dead. The last audible sounds were Callie sobbing as she pushed the front door open and Irene actually *laughing* as she headed toward the yacht. Saying nothing, Raphael turned off the television and put the remote back in place, then he walked out of the room.

Alex was still gazing at the television in shock when Callie started to follow her father. He caught her arm. "Callie - I am so sorry. I donít -"

"You were just leaving."

"No. No, Iím not. I didnít -"

She pulled her arm from his grasp and looked at him, tears blurring her vision. "You have promised me a million times that youíll never leave and thatís always the first thing that you do. You get pissed off and you grab your bag. Well, this is the last time youíre grabbing it, Alex. So, make it count. Pick it up and go because you are NOT coming back."

He had been wrong earlier in the day, when he told Mark he wanted her to look at him the way she did when he fell for her. She had been crying because of George and Izzie and the hurt that danced in her chocolate brown eyes had stirred something inside him that he had never felt before. It was like feeling his heart beat for the first time. And now ... now *he* had put that look there and it was enough to buckle his knees. Dropping down before her, he wrapped his arms around her waist. "Please, Callie. Please donít do this. Iím sorry."

She twisted and turned until he let her go, then she slipped her wedding rings off and held them out. "All that talk about me not trusting you ... and youíre the one who doesnít trust *me*. You thought I was lying to you about what she said to me. You actually thought that I could *ever* -"

Alex started to cry, reaching for her again. "I am not leaving this house. I mean it."

"Then I will."

"No!" He grabbed her hips, not letting her walk past him. His fingers dug into her flesh as he gazed up at her. "You know what? Iíll sleep in the guest room. Okay? Iíll leave you alone and when we both calm down ... weíll fix this. I swear to God, weíll fix it, baby."

"Baby?" She gritted her teeth, dropping her rings on the floor in front of him. "Fuck *you*, Alex. You really are a bastard."

"Cal-"

"*I* am not the one who is like your father. YOU are."

*~*~*~*~*~
CH 16
"Calliope, wake up." Melana shook her daughter lightly. "Baby, Finn is here."

Callie rolled over and looked at the clock. Beside her, the puppy stirred, planting a large paw on her chest as if to remind her that they were finally getting sleep for the first time in hours. He had been restless in the crate, whining and pacing. She had finally relented and let him climb in the bed with her, but he had felt it would be better to lick her, to root around in her hair, and to hop off the bed and scratch the door than sleep. She had spent more time outside than in and had watched the sun rise through bleary eyes. The fact that it was almost one oíclock in the afternoon didnít shock her. She would have preferred it to be much later. If she was asleep, she could ignore the fact that Alex had kept his word and slept down the hallway ... and she didnít really care. Her apathy about the entire matter shocked her. She genuinely did ... not ... care.

"Why is he here?" she mumbled, stretching and yawning.

The dog, who was watching her closely, yawned as well. Melana chuckled and patted him on the head. "I think perhaps you have a loyal subject with this one. Have you chosen a name yet?"

"Heíll tell me when heís ready." Callie nuzzled the dogís massive neck and got to her feet, pulling her robe on. She washed her face and brushed her teeth under his watchful eye before she padded down the hall.

Finn had indeed arrived at her house and was sitting with Melana at the kitchen table, finishing off a sandwich that she had obviously prepared for him. He got to his feet, wiping his mouth with a napkin when he saw her. "Hi, Callie. Iím sorry, I didnít think youíd still be asleep. Are you okay"

"Iím fine, just exhausted. I had sixty pounds of dog in my bed and he seemed to think that I was inviting him there to *play*."

He opened his mouth, laughing. "What did I tell you? If you get that started now ... when heís the size of bear youíll be suffocated with fur and muscle in your sleep!"

"I had to." Bending down, she rubbed her new petís neck, causing him to burrow his massive head against her leg. "He was so sad looking at me through the bars of that crate. Finn, heís just a baby."

Finn and Mel exchanged knowing looks. "Sheís a goner," Finn pronounced, walking to where the puppy sat beside Callie, leaning against her protectively. "And you, you mangy mutt, are a traitor. You didnít even greet me hello." Reaching in his pocket, Finn pulled out a treat and held it in his palm. The dog turned its head away, then gazed up at Callie with wide, expressive eyes.

Still kneeling beside the beast, Callie nudged it. "Take it, big guy."

The dog looked away.

"He loves these." Finn tried again, then gave the biscuit to Callie. "You do it."

The second the treat touched her fingers, the dog greedily gobbled it down and yipped in appreciation. Callie chuckled. "I guess he likes me more."

"Who wouldnít?" Finn held out his hand to help her to her feet. "Youíre way prettier and you only stab *people* with needles. He knows what I am."

Opening the back door, she let the puppy out into the yard, knowing that he would scratch to come back in when he was ready. Her eyes went to the brown paper bag on the counter and the twinkling smile left her face. "Is that -"

"Yeah," Finn replied, nodding. "I didnít know if youíd want to bury him or not. If you want me to take him back and dispose of him, I will."

"No. No, I want to bury him." Pursing her lips with determination, she nodded. "What did you find out?"

Pulling out a chair for her, Finn nodded at it. "Why donít you sit down?"

Callie looked at her mother, who averted her eyes to the back window, where the puppy had stood up on its back legs, paws on the glass, and was watching them with curiosity. Braced for the worse, Callie nodded. "Tell me."

"I didnít have to look very far for the cause of death." Finn took a sip of cola, obviously trying to collect his thoughts. "I did an oral exam first and his teeth were covered with green residue. I did a few scrapings and examined it under the microscope. I donít have official confirmation yet, but based on my visual assessment and because itís an unfortunate end to a lot of pets, I think that the ferret was given rat poison. Whether it was intentional or an accidental consumption I donít know, but Iím ninety-nine percent sure that when the tests come back ... it will be positive."

"It was intentional," Melana said. "That old bitch is going to realize why Greek women generally revert to violence first. Iíll let her explain herself only after Iíve bled her like a leech."

"That was oddly endearing." Callie chuckled.

A shriek startled Finn and he stared with wide eyes at Gucci, who scurried into the kitchen carrying one of his diapers. The monkey hopped up on Melanaís lap and held it out. Smiling, Mel took the diaper. "It offends him when he soils his diaper. That yell you just heard was his indignation at being woken up from his nap by the call of nature."

Finn could only stare at the newest addition in shock. The capuchin was dressed in denim overalls and wore a straw hat on its head. Gucci seemed to forget all about the wetness in his pants when he saw Finn. Bounding across the table, he pulled his hat off and bowed, holding the hat to his chest. Peering up at Finn with a look of expectation, he opened his mouth, revealing his razor sharp teeth as he Ďsmiledí in greeting. Melana held out bag of Cheerios to Finn, who accepted it and fished one out. "Here you go, buddy."

Gucci accepted the cereal and popped it into his mouth, signing thank you with his hand. Finn gasped. "Did he just -"

"He did," Melana replied. "Finn, this is Gucci. Heís a trained service animal. I have epilepsy and heís always able to let me know that Iím about to seize in enough time for me to lie down. Iíve been working on the sign language with him. Heís incredibly smart."

Extending his hand, Gucci waited for Finn to take it. When he did, Gucci shook it up and down, signed hello, then scampered across the table and jumped on Callieís shoulder, wrapping her hair around his body like a mink stole. Clearly amused, Finn laughed at the monkeyís antics and was relieved to see that Callie had joined him. Her laugh was rich and boisterous and he let his gaze linger over her makeup free face for a moment. He had never fully appreciated how beautiful she was. He had noticed, of course, but with the light from the window playing over her features, it was vivid and undeniable. His eyes moved to her left hand, which was free of jewelry.

Clearing his throat, he said, "So, you wound up marrying OíMalley?"

Groaning, Callie nodded slowly. "I did. For like ... a minute ... and then we ended that calamity and moved on."

"So, youíre not married?" He looked pointedly at her hand again. "I could have sworn that you had on rings yesterday."

Rubbing her ring finger with her thumb, Callie took a deep breath. "I, uh, married Alex Karev. You remember him, right?"

Finn knew that his face revealed his disappointment. "I think so. Didnít he date Derekís ex-wife for a while? Allison?"

"Addison," Callie corrected. "And no, they didnít date. They just had a very public kiss that everyone in Seattle apparently witnessed."

Melana had to struggle to hide her amusement. Finn suddenly looked like a little boy who had been told the ice cream truck had broken down and wouldnít be coming after all. Clearing her throat, Melana got to her feet and said, "Finn, I baked homemade apple pie this morning and I insist that you try it."

"I have eaten you out of house and home already." Finn shook his head politely, smiling at Callie, who was holding Gucci like an infant. "She made me eat *two* sandwiches and potato salad, which I confess, was the best Iíve ever had."

"My family views eating as a thing to be enjoyed in abundance. Weíre Cuban and Greek. Foodís pretty much a universal language." Callie smiled when Mel set a large portion of pie in front of him. "See?"

Finn picked up the fork and dug in, moaning when the perfect blend of cinnamon and apples did crazy things to his taste buds. "Why ... itís positively sinful."

"Dude!" Callie pointed at him. "You just quoted -"

"Ever After." Finn closed his eyes. "Go ahead ... poke fun at me."

Amused, Callie shook her head. "Nah, itís too easy."

Finn took another large bite of the dessert. "Youíre not eating?"

"Not hungry," replied Callie.

"Youíve lost a lot of weight. Too much, really." Finn studied her face, which looked suddenly unhappy and haunted. "I mean, youíre gorgeous, obviously, but you just ... you were more *you* before."

"Amen!" Melana agreed, putting a glass of orange juice on the table in front of her daughter.

Finishing up the pie, Finn took his plate to the sink and lifted the bag that he had brought. Pulling out a round object wrapped in newspaper, he set it down in front of Callie. "I thought youíd like this."

Melana took Gucci and retrieved his diaper, leaving without another word. Callie pulled the newspaper off the parcel to reveal a garden stone. There were ferrets engraved all around the edges and she gasped. "Finn, this is beautiful."

"I hope you like the verse. I donít know if youíre religious, but ... Iíve always liked it."

"Like the graceful butterfly, my soul has just changed form. My time had come, I had to leave, I'm in God's arms so do not grieve. Brought on the wings of butterflies, I'm safe back home in paradise," she read, her eyes filling with tears. Getting to her feet, she hugged him. "Thank you. I know exactly where to bury him and this is the perfect headstone."

Finn rubbed her back, thinking that she smelled far too good ... which was a shock considering that she had slept with a dog whose flatulence had been a constant source of agony for him at work. "Youíre welcome. Iím really sorry that you lost your friend."

She stepped back a little, her hands still on his shoulders. "You gave me a new one."

All Alex saw was Finn Dandridgeís hands on Callieís hips in a way that was far too friendly in his opinion. He purposely made noise when he set the large vase of yellow and red roses on the counter, causing it to thud. "Finn, right? Iím Alex."

"I think we met briefly." Finn extended his hand. "Itís nice to see you again."

Alex clasped the other manís hand as if it pained him to do so. "Yeah. So ..." He looked at Callie, clearly demanding an explanation. "Whatís going on?"

A line appeared in Finnís forehead when Callieís shoulders slumped. He watched her put her hands in her pockets and glanced back at Alex, who was glaring at her. "I brought the ferret back with some pretty bad news. I think he was poisoned. Iím still waiting on the lab to confirm it, but Iím fairly certain thatís what happened. Speaking of which, Callie, is the person responsible for this going to pose a threat to the dog or to ... the monkey?"

"No," Callie assured him. "Theyíre fine."

Alex clenched his jaw. The truth hit him like a sledgehammer. He had gone to the hotel to confront his mother about the video and demanded that she tell him the truth about Fratelli, but she had clammed up and said nothing further, prompting him to leave even angrier than he had arrived. "Heís taking the dog back today, right?"

Callie finally met her husbandís eyes. "I told you that I am keeping it."

"Alex," Melana said, walking into the kitchen as if she had not been eavesdropping. "Can you come and help me? I canít open my suitcase and I need my medication."

"That thing attacked me, Callie. I donít want it here." Storming from the room, Alex headed to the spare bedroom Mel was using.

"He was bitten?" Finn asked, touching Callie on the arm.

"He had it coming," Callie replied, pushing her hair off her face.

Unless Finn was mistaken, there was an almost faded bruise on her cheek and one under her eye. He had not noticed earlier because that side of her face had been turned away from him, out of the sunlight, but now it was apparent. Reaching out, he lifted her chin. "He hits you."

Callieís eyes widened. Her hand went to her cheek and she shook her head. "Someone else hit me."

He stepped closer to her and whispered, "Youíll have to forgive me if I donít believe that."

"He would never -"

"I have to go," Finn cut her off. "If you need anything -"

"Iím not lying to you, Finn. Alex has never and would never-"

"Callie, donít." He picked up his jacket from the back of the chair, then pulled two more treats from his pocket. "Give this to the dog with my appreciation for a job well done. Iíll call you as soon as I know for sure about the residue on the ferretís teeth."

Walking him to the door, Callie leaned her head against it as he pulled his coat on. "Thanks again for the headstone."

"Iíve been told Iím a good listener." Finn pulled his keys out of pocket, worrying them in his hands. "So, keep that in mind. Iíll see you later."

*~

Ten minutes later, Callie was dressed in tight running pants, a sweatshirt, and her sneakers. She secured her hair in a ponytail, grabbed her iPod and left the bedroom. She found Alex standing at the back door, gazing out at the puppy, who was returning the look from the other side of the glass. Wordlessly, she picked up the sturdy leather leash and started past her husband, but he held his ground, blocking the door. "Alex, I really donít want to go another round with you."

"I went to see Irene." He put his hand on the doorknob just to have *something* to hang on to. "I - I feel like my mother just died so if you could cut me just a little slack ... and talk to me ... Iíd really like that."

"Talk."

Taking a deep breath, he avoided looking into her eyes. He hated seeing the pain there and knowing that he had played a part in it. "She tried to deny everything, but I told her about the video and she - she couldnít tell me why she had done it. I made it very clear to her that I love you and I love our life together. She knows, in no uncertain terms, that I donít care if she leaves town. I want her to go because if that would make it easier for us ... Iím fine with it."

"I never asked you to pick between us. I would never-"

"I know." He glanced at her and couldnít look away. "But if you had asked me to pick ... you would have won hands down and she understands that now."

Callie rubbed her forehead. "Iím gonna take the dog for a jog. When I get back ... we should bury Fratelli somewhere nice."

"You want some company? If youíre keeping that thing I should -"

"I donít want company. And Iíd appreciate it if you didnít call him a thing." She motioned for Alex to move out of the way.

"Callie, what do I have to do?" His felt a tear drop onto his cheek and swiped it away. "Irene did this ... I didnít. And I tried to make it right. I made her leave last night so you wouldnít have to deal with her and today ... today I told her that she could drop off the face of the earth again for all I care. And I need you to help me. I need you to tell me that weíre gonna be okay because ... baby, youíre all I have left."

"Iím not going to lie to you."

His chin trembled and he nodded, moving away from the door. She walked past him, put the leash on the wriggling dog, and moved out of sight. Feeling shell shocked, he sat down on the couch and let the tears fall freely. A moment later, he felt a hand on his head and looked up hopefully, but it was only Melana.

"Donít worry. Thereís no arsenic in it. Thought, Iíd be lying if I said I wasnít tempted." She held out a cup of coffee and sat next to him, patting his back. "I think that the way you spoke to my daughter was worse than anything your mother said to her. Youíre pissed at Irene for it, but Irene doesnít owe Callie any loyalty ... and you do. It was uncalled for."

"I donít know what to say anymore. Iíve said Iím sorry until Iím blue in the face."

"Oh, Iím not asking for apologies, Alex, and sheís not ready to hear it." Mel leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. "As furious as I am at Raphael, I can honestly tell you that that he has never sunken to the level of calling me names in anger. Oh, Iíve called him every name in the book because *my* temper is like yours, but he never responds in kind. Callieís not used to a man speaking that way to a woman. Her father has always taught her sheís supposed to be cherished and adored and ... youíre not doing a very good job of that." He sniffled and she glanced at him. "Iím not trying to kick you while youíre down, I just think you need to realize that Callie measures every man by her father and -"

"I would never let her almost die like he did. Iíd say heís not measuring up to *me*."

Melana said, "You donít think she dies a little every single time you pack your bags and leave? You know, that fear you have that sheís gonna Ďflyí is a fear that she realizes when you get angry at her. You leave, Alex. You *leave*. Whoís the real flier?"

He looked at her. She swam in and out of his vision as he openly cried. "Do you know why I leave? I leave because I *do* have a temper. I leave because I will NOT be like my father. I leave because I know that Iím going to say things to her that I canít really take back and itís better for me to get away from her so I donít cross that line. Youíre wrong, Mel. Me leaving her only hurts her for a little while, but if I stay and scream at her enough ... *that* will kill her. You donít see her face when I do that. Itís horrible."

"You and I are a lot alike." Reaching down, she took his hand in both of hers. "Iíd appreciate it if you never repeat what Iím about to tell you. My father beat me. Brutally. He even beat me while I was pregnant with Stavros. My mother liked to slap me and pull my hair, but my fatherís beatings hurt me a lot worse. I swore to myself that I would *never* hit my kids. You have made that same oath to yourself about hitting Callie and I believe with all that I am that you would never raise a hand to her, but I also believe that leaving is taking the easy way out. You donít conquer your demons by ignoring them or running from them ... you conquer them by standing up to them in the heat of the moment and proving that youíre as strong as your convictions. So leaving her in order to not be like your father is creating a new cycle and one day ... your son will make a promise never to leave his wife because he watched you leave his mother. Time and time again."

Alex leaned his head against her shoulder and breathed a sigh of relief when she wrapped him in a warm embrace. "I wish I had a mother like you."

"Who do you think I am, son?"

*~*~*~*~

"Iím just saying," George said, slathering his fries with ketchup, "that if youíre going to bring some random guy home can you please hang a damn towel on your door or something to let me know?"

Izzie slowly chewed her salad. "You could have knocked."

"Who is this guy?" George demanded. "What the hell was that thing he was doing? And how are you able to walk today?"

"You *know* that you canít wait for your shift to be over so you can try your hand at it with Lexie." Izzie grinned at him. "And his name is Eros. Heís Callieís friend from Greece and -"

"Eros? The first guy she slept with?"

"What!?"

"I was married to Callie, Iz. We talked about our sexual past."

"Gross. Do you think he was comparing us? And donít you dare say that there is no comparison and make me feel bad. I get that sheís all hot crotched or whatever." Izzie made a face. "You never forget your first love. Do you think she -"

"He wasnít her first love. I was."

"I have to stop sleeping in Callieís circles because for some reason ... she always wins."

George changed the subject. "How was she? When you saw her? Were her bruises -"

"She looked good. Terrifying, but -"

"Terrifying?"

Izzie caught herself and shrugged. "You know, terrifyingly good. And rich. And well rested. Sheís good."

"So, what exactly did you guys do the other night?" George glanced around them. "Is there a ghost nearby, Haley Joel Osment? Do you see dead people?"

"We are never speaking of it so donít ask." Izzie stole a French fry. "Iíve been sworn to secrecy."

Meredith dropped into the seat next to George and stared from one to the other. "Somethingís going on with Cristina."

"Something ghost-like?" asked George. "Because even a possession canít make her more evil. I think Iíve seen her head spin all the way around a few times."

"No, Scrappy Doo," Meredith replied with a grin. "Sheís not returning my calls and her car is at Burkeís apartment, but not his. Theyíre both gone. Like, on vacation or something."

"Thereís a lot of that going around," Izzie said. "Addison and Mark. Callie and Alex. I heard Baileyís planning to take two weeks."

"She didnít get approved," George said. "Sheís acting as Chief Resident since Sydney quit and until someone can back her up, sheís stuck. And by stuck ... I literally mean stuck. Sheís stuck in the lounge for hours working on schedules and rotations and ... sheís not happy. She *hates* not getting in on as many surgeries. "

"She told you all that?" Meredith asked.

"No. She didnít have to." George shrugged. "I heard her saying it to her husband on the phone."

"You dirty, dirty eavesdropper," replied Meredith.

"It was loud." George glanced at Izzie. "Just like our apartment last night. Izzieís got a new boyfriend."

"GEORGE!"

Meredith propped her chin in her palm, her lunch forgotten. "You screwed the Greek God?"

Smiling secretively, Izzie nodded. "It just happened."

"Repeatedly," George intoned. "For *hours*."

"He really is a God." Opening her soda, Meredith waved a hand. "So, gimme details."

"NO!" George cried. "No details and no more talk about it."

"You brought it up. Eat and be quiet." Izzie pushed his tray closer to him, looking at Meredith. "I have *never* had that many orgasms. It was like ... one right after another and heís so ... endowed ... that I didnít think it would like ... fit ... or whatever."

"Ahhhhh." With a groan, George got to his feet and grabbed his tray, stalking to a nearby table where he sat with his back to them.

"Were you trying to make him leave?"

Izzie shook her head. "I was being honest. Eros is *good* in bed. And heís good out of bed and heís gonna go back to Greece eventually so I have to stop thinking about that. I probably wonít see him again. I mean -"

"Hmm." Meredithís eyes twinkled. "I think you will."

"No, no ... he didnít say anything. A guy that good looking probably has a one night stand of the week club and -"

"Hello, Izzie."

Frozen, Izzie looked at Meredith, who greeted Eros and got to her feet, carrying her lunch to Georgeís table. Izzie saw her best friend turn, look Eros up and down, and quickly turn away.

"May I join you?" Eros asked, his accent thicker than she remembered.

"Oh, Jesus ... Iím so rude. Please ... please sit down." Izzie got to her feet and pulled his chair out, then put a hand over her face. "Iím acting like a man ... Iím sorry."

He took her chair and guided her into it, scooting it in for her. "You seem ... odd. You did invite me to stop here and see you. Did you think I wouldnít? That perhaps my ... one night stand of the week club ... had rules that prevented it? Iím a little shocked, if I can be honest. A woman who looks like you should be the last person alive who would engage in such stereotypes. Youíre just as nice looking as me."

"Iím sorry."

"Youíre also very quick to apologize when youíve done nothing truly wrong." He reached across the table, pointing at her can of Coke. "May I?"

"Yeah, sure." She watched his Adamís apple bob up and down and his strong muscular neck ripple as he sipped her drink.

"Would you like to have dinner with me tonight, love? Well, not me exactly. Melana reserved part of a restaurant for a gathering tonight. Raphael, Cam, and Blake are flying to Miami tomorrow morning so itís a farewell party of sorts. I would be honored if you would accompany me."

"Did you make sure that was okay? Callieís parents donít really like me."

"Because you slept with Callieís ex-husband? Yes, I know. Raphael told me." Eros took her hand in his. "Did you perchance apologize for *that*?"

"Repeatedly?" she assured him. "But -"

"Raphael also told me that after Callieís attack, you helped bathe her and have been a friend to her. One thing that the Torresí family prides itself on is the ability to forgive and forget. I should very much like for Melana to get to know you."

"Why?"

He smiled at her. "Because my mother is her best friend. And when I call home to say that Iíve obtained work at Seattle Grace and met the perfect woman ... my mother will quiz Mel and I want her to be able to say that the woman I met is as beautiful as a picture and just as pleasant."

"Wait ... youíre ... youíre staying here? You found work?"

"Callie arranged for me to meet with Chief Webber. Apparently I can utilize my skills as a massage therapist here." He beamed with pride. "I confess myself excited and a bit apprehensive. I begin at once."

Impulsively, she leaned closer and kissed him. "I confess myself excited and very convinced of your capabilities. You did demonstrate massage, after all."

"All over, if memory serves." Cupping her cheek, he nuzzled her neck. "Will you dine with me?"

"Absolutely."

"And would you be so kind as to give me a tour of this facility? Chief Webber assured me that you would."

With a twinkle in her eye, Izzie got to her feet. "Weíll start with the on call room. Just wait until you see what it has to offer."

*~*~*~*~

"Whereís Callie?"

Alex had been staring at the television, not really seeing anything on the screen. Cambyses stood in the doorway of the guest room, glaring at him. "She took the dog for a walk earlier."

"What time?"

Checking his watch, Alex slipped off the bed. "About two hours ago. I didnít realize so much time had gone by."

Pulling out his cell phone, Cam dialed her number, then swore when he heard it ring in the master bedroom. He checked, just to make sure she wasnít there, then stalked down the hallway with Alex on his heels. "Mom! Dad! Iím going to look for Cal."

"Sheís in the backyard." Raphael pointed out the kitchen window, smiling at whatever he was seeing.

Cam and Alex joined him. Callie was wrestling with the puppy, tugging on a rope while he pulled the other end. As they watched, the dog let go and Callie toppled backwards, coming up laughing when the dog leaped on her and pushed her back down. The dogís head was already larger than her own and when it lifted a paw and she caught it, they saw that its foot spilled out on either side of her palm. She leaned her head close, animatedly talking to the dog, who sat down, rolled over, then pounced on her again. Callie picked up a ball and threw it and with a bark of pure delight, the shot out after it and brought it back, standing on his back legs while he waited for her to take it. She threw it again and bent down to tie her shoe. When the dog barreled into her again, she went flying.

Alex and Cam both darted out the back door, but she was laughing again and the dog was so happy to see Cam that it left her alone long enough for Alex to help her to her feet. She muttered a dismissive Ďthanksí and wiped off her pants, as Cam tossed the ball for the puppy, who bounded off after it.

Plucking a piece of grass off her sweatshirt, Alex said, "Your mom has a big dinner planned tonight at that new restaurant near the Archfield. Would you mind taking a drive with me before it starts?"

"I have to get a shower."

"Okay." He hated the fact that she didnít look his way. "Well, thereís plenty of time so ... if you want to take one now we could still-"

Shaking her head, Callie said, "I donít want to."

Alex opened his mouth to say something, anything, but she walked toward the house and disappeared inside. Dejected, he slumped down on the glider, his head in his hands. A few minutes later, she came back out carrying a large bowl full of food. She whistled and set it down, "Címon, Chunk."

"Chunk?" Alex tried to give her a genuine smile. "Is everything going to be named after ĎThe Gooniesí?"

"Oh, shit." Callie stopped petting the dog and looked at him. "We have to bury Fratelli."

"Yeah." Nodding, he pointed toward the back of the yard. "I dug the hole already. Behind the bench that we put in. If thatís not okay then we can -"

"No, thatís fine. Thatís where I was going to put him." The dog had scarfed down his food in record time and stood watching her expectantly. She grinned and opened the back door, glancing at Cam. "Can you watch him for a few minutes?"

"Iím on Uncle duty." Kissing his sister, Cam glanced at Alex. "And you better be on your best behavior, Alex, because I *will* let the dog out if you start yelling again."

Alex simply turned and walked across the backyard, retrieving the ferret from the freezer in the garage. When he came back, Callie was holding the headstone that Finn had given her. As much as he hated the reason behind it, he was grateful for the chance to get her alone. They walked down the same path they had taken the previous night, but this time he reached out and took her hand. "Iím sorry this happened."

"You didnít do it." The feel of his hand on hers felt so familiar, so right, that she didnít pull away.

Bolstered by the fact that she was letting him touch her, he said, "Then Iím sorry for all the times I took Fratelli and left. I never should have done that."

"I donít want to talk about it." They arrived at the small clearing and she felt a lump in her throat when she saw the mound of dirt and the shovel leaning against the tree. "Do you think he suffered?"

"I doubt it. He probably just went to sleep."

"Iím sure it hurt. He was *poisoned*, Alex."

He set the bowl that contained Fratelliís body on the bench and, still holding her hand, pulled her against him. They stood that way until Callie pulled away, dried her eyes, and took the ferretís favorite hammock from the front pocket of her hoodie. Opening the lid, she laid it over the sable colored body and rubbed him on the ear. "Sleep well, little one."

Alex, who had cried enough to last a lifetime that day, felt his eyes fill once more. He watched her snap the lid back in place and put it in the hole. When she reached for the shovel, he stopped her. "I got it."

With a small nod, she gathered a few rocks. By the time she had enough, the hole had been filled in and Alex was putting the headstone in place. She laid several large rocks beside it to prevent the puppy from digging it up, and nodded. "I should go take a shower."

"Wait. Just give me five minutes." He nervously took a step toward her, praying that he wouldnít fumble what he needed desperately to say. "I am a lot like my father ... but Iím not *exactly* like him, Gothika, because my dad never loved anyone except himself. Iíve never loved anyone except you. I know that my temper gets the better of me. I know that Iím a bastard, but Iím a bastard who wants to spend the rest of his life with you and if it takes me that long to make you believe me again ... then Iíll do it."

"Youíre gonna have youíre work cut out for you."

"Iíve been working most of my life."

"Is that all you wanted to say?"

"One more thing ... it would be a damn crying shame to lose us. Our story may be screwed up and unpredictable, but I want to tell it to our kids. When they ask how we fell in love ... I want to say that I looked at you one day and saw them in your eyes. Because I did, Callie. That day at the hospital, when I told you about George and Izzie, you looked at me and I *knew*. It thought it was hurt that I was looking at there ... but it was an invitation to love you and I am not letting that go."

Her jaw tightened. "Am I supposed to be moved?"

He simply gazed at her.

"Is there anything else?" she asked, sounding bored.

He looked at the ground instead of her stony face. "I guess not."

She walked off.

He watched her until she was out of sight, then he sat down to say his own goodbyes to Fratelli.

*~*~*~*~*~

Callie showered and changed for dinner, donning a dark brown dress her father had given her for her birthday. It wasnít something she would have chosen for herself, but the feel of the soft, expensive material against her skin and the view of her body being accentuated just so made her feel much, much better. It was a feminine sexy dress, not a hooker sexy dress and she felt gorgeous in it. She let her hair curl naturally and made sure her makeup was subtle, hoping that the softer appearance would overshadow the apparent anger on her features. She wanted to be swayed by Alexís words, by his tears, but all she felt was a block of ice in her chest that sweet words and an ocean of regret could not thaw.

She was putting her high heels on when Alex knocked on the door. It was open, but he alerted her to his presence without stepping into what used to be their safe haven. "I need to get my clothes."


The block of ice in her chest slammed against her ribs. "You can pack after I leave."

He blinked a couple of times. "Iím not packing. I just ... I need to change for dinner."

"Oh." Standing, she smoothed her dress down and reached for her earrings. When she looked at him, he was watching her intently. "Iím gonna -"

"You look beautiful."

"Iím gonna," she repeated firmly, "go walk the dog."

"Cam just did it."

"You donít have to go tonight," she said. "My family is not thrilled with you and youíre not thrilled with them so -"

"I have apologized to your parents and to Cambyses. Your mom and I had a long talk today and weíre okay. We actually understand each other a little better."

"Iím glad someone understands you. It looks like she may be single soon. Why donít you -"

"Donít, Callie."

Turning from him, she plucked a necklace from her jewelry box and stalked away. In the living room, she held it out to her brother and he fastened it for her. She saw her parents standing on the back patio and she didnít need to hear their conversation to know that it was tense. Melana had one hand on her hip and one finger nearly touching her husbandís nose. She saw the tight line in her brotherís jaw and said, "Letís take a walk."

"You look too pretty to channel evil." Cam told her, his voice purposely light. With an impish grin, he lifted his fist. "Wonder twin power. Activate." When she didnít respond, he poked her in the ribs. "It only works if you do it with me."

She led him into the front yard, looping her arm through his. "I donít want you to go."

"I need the sun." He glanced up at the overcast sky. "I may look like ĎThe Crowí, but the dreariness and rain of Seattle is making me crazy. I want to bask, get sunburned, and possibly surf."

"You donít surf."

"After what we just went through, I need good, clean, wholesome fun."

"A shark will eat you."

His smile faded. "Then Iíll stay on my beach towel and watch the lifeguards."

"Thatís not wholesome."

"The *girl* lifeguards. Theyíre gross. Iíll make fun of their big, fake boobies and point out that they donít need flotation devices with them."

"Will you snap your fingers, roll your neck, and say Ďgirlfriend, pleaseí?"

He did just that.

Callie laughed and sat down on the wooden swing that overlooked the water. Cam stood behind her, softly pushing her and she closed her eyes, revisiting the past. He had always been the one to push while she swung to and fro. "Our parents are not okay, Cam."

"Are you?"

"Is my bright, shiny disposition not convincing?"

"No." He stopped that swing and pulled her around to face him. "Talk to me."

Sometimes it was like looking in a mirror when she looked at him. If she couldnít be honest with herself ... who could she be honest with? Taking a deep breath, she leaned her head against the rope and said, "I canít have *two* failed marriages. I just ... canít. But I also canít live with this ... uncertainty ... anymore."

"Uncertainty?"

"I know Alex loves me," she stated firmly. "I know heís sorry and that he would take back a majority of what he said to me. I know that he would do anything I asked him to do right now because heís trying to make it up to me ... but as soon as he gets comfortable ... as soon as weíre okay ... when I piss him off again and I will ... heís going to become someone I donít like."

"Who does he become?"

"When we separated over the air show," she said, "He walked up to me in the hallway in front of his interns and mine and said that I had prescribed the wrong medication to a patient. I knew that it wasnít me and I tried to tell him that and he called me stupid. Loud."

"He actually said Ďyouíre stupidí?"

"What he actually said was Ďyouíre stupid as hell, Callie, maybe you should apply for the janitorís jobí." Her eyes met Camís. "And I forgave him for that because I had lied to him about the air show and he was justifiably angry, but I didnít do anything this time and once again ... he was leaving me. That hurts ... but what hurts the most is that he needed to see a fucking video of his mother saying exactly what I said she did for him to believe me."

"He called you STUPID!?" Cam cried, enraged.

"Can you please catch up? That was actually the nicest thing he said to me during that time." She gave him a smile, but it was only a sad, sardonic turn of her lips. "He also said that he regretted meeting me, that I was a crazy slut, and that marrying me was a bigger mistake than John Lennon made by marrying Yoko Ono."

"OH NO HE DIDNíT!"

"Youíre so ghetto fabulous."

"Say the word and Iíll make him leave."

"I never should have made him watch ĎDreamgirlsí. He keeps saying ĎIím not goingí. Heís got his heels dug in this time."

"Then Iíll break him from the feet up." He took both of her hands in his. "This whole unholy alliance between a jock and a Goth may have been a horrible idea. Donít get me wrong, I genuinely love the guy, but youíre not someone for him to wrestle with and I donít think he got the memo."

"He doesnít get physical with me, Cam!"

"They donít hit in wrestling, either," he replied. "But he pins you every time he snaps and youíre gonna stop struggling eventually and break."

"George broke me and I said that no one would do it again. I meant it. Iím living my life on *my* terms now." She slipped off the swing when she saw her parents walk down the front steps. Alex was behind them, looking like a little lost boy. "Itís up to him if he can live with those terms."

*~*~*~*~*~

Callie purposely hung back as everyone took their seats. The only people who had not RSVPíd for dinner from their little group were Burke and Cristina, leaving two empty chairs. When Alex sat down beside Melana and looked at her expectantly, she walked to the end of the table and flopped down beside Izzie, proving once and for all that she was pissed enough to go *there*. Addison, who was sitting across from Alex raised her hands as if to say Ďwhat are you doing?í, but Callie looked away, taking in the chic ambiance of the overpriced restaurant. It was definitely modern and youthful. She didnít realize that her gaze had wandered to the bar until the bartender waved to her and held up a shot.

Giving him a smile, she shook her head and laughed when he manipulated the bottles in a way that would have put Tom Cruise to shame in ĎCocktailí. When he dropped one and playfully pointed at her like she had caused it ... she chuckled, thoroughly amused. A moment later, he walked toward her and her eyes widened. He extended his hand and said, "Dr. Torres, do you remember me?"

Putting her hand in his, she tried to place him. "Iím sorry, my memory is horrible."

He held up his hand, which was missing a finger. "Hockey player. You couldnít save it after I got stuck in the net. You worked on me with a really short guy who had bad hair."

"OH!" She got to her feet and gave him a hug. "Kyle, right? How are you!?"

"Bartending. No hockey here." Smiling, he leaned a little closer. "And I only drop the bottles when a gorgeous woman is watching me so closely." He glanced around the crowded table and blushed. "I better get back. It was nice to see you again."

"Likewise." She sat back down and put her napkin in her lap, aware that all eyes were on her.

Izzie, who was also aware that the situation had become awkward as hell, reached out and touched Callieís sleeve. "This dress is so pretty. I like the color. Itís deeper than Latte, but not like ... Hershey. Itís better."

"I heard that," Addison snarled. "Donít talk crap about Latte! All of you looked great on my wedding day in your LATTE dresses."

Melana cleared her throat, no longer looking at Callie. Her brown eyes found Izzie and her face hardened. "Itís wonderful that you could join us, Dr. Stevens. Iím truly happy that youíre not wearing a stethoscope tonight or my daughter could find herself mangled again. The scar you left her is impressive."

All idle chatter halted.

Izzie swallowed hard. "You canít see the scar on my jaw, but Callie really gave me the ability to control it."

"I put it in place," Callie replied, leaning into Izzie with a smile. "And we earned ourselves quite the reputation as bad asses so I think itís an even trade."

"They call you Callie Tyson," said Izzie.

"Eww." Callie wrinkled her nose. "I didnít bite your ear! I donít like gristle."

Everyone laughed and the tense moment passed.

"Thanks," Izzie whispered to Callie.

"Donít worry about it. You have Eros looking at you like heís a virgin at a peep show and that doesnít sit well with my mom. It makes you the enemy."

"I thought hitting her daughter did that," Izzie pointed out.


"No, stealing my husband did that ... she just hasnít brought it up yet."

"Stop monopolizing my date," Eros said, grinning at Callie. "Otherwise Iíll swear that your fight was a loverís quarrel."

"Youíre onto us," Callie replied. "You got the job at the hospital, right?"

"I did. I start tomorrow." Eros puffed up proudly. "Iím so excited."

"Iíll give you a tour," assured Callie. "Iím going back tomorrow, too."

"I need it," Eros replied. "Iíve only seen the on call room."

Derek choked on his water.

Izzie turned tomato red.

Alex spoke up for the first time. "Tomorrow? Cal, youíre supposed to be off for another week."

"I was." With a shrug, Callie met his eye. "But, Chief Webber called and asked me to come back. Bailey wants a vacation and we need to train together so I can cover for her."

"Are you ready to go back?" Cambyses asked, looking concerned.

Melana didnít let her daughter reply. "You do not need the added stress of a new job. You -"

Callie cut across her, talking to Derek. "Howís your arm?"

Shepherd looked at Mel, then at Callie. "Uh, fine. Totally better."

"Thatís because you were in the middle of the pentagram." Callie wiggled her eyebrow. "You were surrounded by so much positive energy that it helped cure your recent wounds."

"But it gave you really bad wounds," Meredith pointed out.

Callie dismissed the notion. "Do you see them now? It only uses my blood as an offering. If Iím willing to bleed then my intentions are pure."

"That is *not* proper dinner discussion, Calliope." Mel pointed her finger down the table. "You stop that. Now!"

The waiter arrived and everyone rambled off their orders. Callie simply asked for a salad, causing everyone to protest, but she refused to change it and turned her attention back to the bar, where the bottles were now singing a loud, rousing symphony in her head. It had her full attention and it kept it until her motherís voice shattered the last refrain. Leaning forward, she glanced down the table where her father was once again feeling Melanaís wraith. The desire to get up, grab a bottle, and down the contents just to stop the insanity was almost too strong to resist. If she did it ... maybe her Mother would just ... shut ... up.

Kyle caught her attention again by juggling three large bottles and she knew that if he dropped one ... she would gladly brave the glass shards to lick it off the floor. Getting to her feet, she put her purse over her shoulder and headed to the restroom. A thin sheen of sweat was coating her back and she wet a stack of tissue, pressing it against her neck. When the door banged open, she almost jumped out of her skin. "Jesus, Addison!"

"What are you doing?"

"Iím hot."

"Yeah, having eye sex with strange bartenders can have that effect." She pointed at the tissue. "Why donít you put it between your legs!?"

"WHAT!?"

"How can you openly flirt in front of Alex?"

"Flirt!?" Callie felt her blood pressure sky rocket. "I am flirting with the *bottles* behind the bar. Iím having eye sex with the bourbon!"

"Callie, Jesus Christ!" Addison threw her hands in the air. "When are you gonna stop this shit!? I donít get it! Help me get it!"

"I told you about the water that Xeno sent me and -"

"I call bullshit!" Nostrils flaring, Addy shook her head. "Donít blame the island. This is *you*. You didnít have a single drop of alcohol for *months*. Do you want to know what I think? I think itís convenient. Your alcohol problem is convenient. You use it to punish people when they piss you off! You use it every time you fuck up because it gets the attention off the shit you do and onto your Ďproblemí."

"Addison!"

"Every time you get butt hurt ... you want to drink!"

"I am not butt hurt!" Callie snapped. "I do have a problem."


Gripping her arm, Addison tugged her in front of the mirror and pointed at her reflection. "Yeah. There it it!"

"Go to h-"

"Stop!" Addison yelled. "Donít you get it!? You have a great life, Callie. Yeah, Alex called you a bitch, but you know what? You *are* the bitch who has put him through hell time and time again. You were a basket case when the two of you got together and he stuck by you. He hung in there for the liver problems, for the crazy, and he held you together when you couldnít. And you break up with him for telling you the truth!?"

"I didnít break up with him for calling me a bitch! You donít know what -"

"I donít want to know! Because I donít care! You are, once again, trying to cut your nose off to spite your face! What the hell is wrong with you!?"

"You donít know shit!"

"No! You donít!" Addison shook her head. "You have a family who adores you, friends who love you, and a husband who worships the ground you walk on. Do you understand what you do to us all every single time you show your ass?! Well!? Do you!?"

"Are you going to let me get a word in edgewise now or what!?"

Standing up straight and proud, Addison said, "No, Iím not."

"God damn it! Get the fuck out!"

"Gladly!"

Callie watched her best friend storm from the bathroom. She took a few minutes to gather herself before she ventured into the crowded restaurant, but she couldnít bring herself to return to the table. Instead, she headed for the front door. Alex had driven her car and valet had her keys so she hailed a cab and told him to drive. Thirty minutes later, she left the liquor store with three small bottles in her oversized purse. Hell bent on living up to the failure that everyone believed her to be, she unlocked the front door and headed for the kitchen to get ice.

Chunk howled when he saw her and she opened his crate. He followed her, nudging her and demanding attention. Another thirty minutes of fighting him off and laughing at his antics had her forgetting all about the alcohol in her purse. She changed clothes, washed her face and climbed into the bed. The puppy rolled onto his back, looking at her with pitiful eyes and she relented, rubbing his belly. She was dozing in no time flat.

*~

Alex opened the bedroom door and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that she was there. Chunk lifted his head and whined in greeting so Alex walked forward, patting his overgrown head to quiet him. The light from the hallway was enough for him to see Callieís face and she looked so soft, so peaceful, that he leaned down and kissed her full, parted lips. Relief washed over him when he smelled her toothpaste and nothing more sinister. He had expected to find the room littered with bottles. When he pulled back, her eyes fluttered open and she blinked.

"Is she okay?" Raphael asked from the doorway.

"Daddy?" Callie sat up and looked at him.

"Alex, would you mind walking the dog?" Raphael shot his son in law a look and waited until he left the room with Chunk before he switched on the bedside lamp and lifted Callieís hand. "You didnít have to leave, baby. It wasnít going to get ugly between your mother and I."

"Itís been ugly for days." Callie rubbed her eyes and pulled him down on the bed, where he sat facing her. "Are you really leaving her here?"

"I donít really want to kidnap her. Your mother in all her fury could make the jet seem awfully small." Reaching up, he unfastened the clasp on her necklace and laid it on the end table. "Iím sorry that you have to deal with the problem I created. I donít think sheíll take it out on you, but she could."

"Itís been a while since she told me off. Iím expecting it any day now."

Leaning forward, he kissed her cheek. "I donít want to leave you either, honey. I donít feel right about it."

"Then tell her that and stay."

"Your mother has to learn that I always give her what she wants. Always. And she told me to leave."

"She didnít mean it!"

"Thatís not the point. Maybe if she has some time alone sheíll realize that weíre too good together to be apart."

"I hate to think of you staying in that big house by yourself." She adjusted his collar and made a face. "I mean, whoís going to pick out your clothes? You need to burn this tie, Daddy."

"Stavros gave it to me."

"Was he pissed when he did it?"

"Youíre not funny." He smiled at her. "Are you going to be okay? That husband of yours is taking this hard. Your breakup, I mean. He didnít say more than four words during dinner."

"I donít care."

He lifted her chin. "I donít believe that. You arenít letting him win by forgiving him. Punish him for a while if you must, but anger makes a very cold bed fellow and youíve always preferred warmer climates."

"And you think if I forgive Alex then Mom will take note and forgive you. Right?" She grinned knowingly.

"I am a very wise man."

Nodding, Callie took a deep breath. A comfortable silence passed over them for a couple of minutes before she spoke again. "You know what? I donít regret anything that we did with FMC. It wasnít wrong and I donít believe that you should pay for it like this."

"I should have included her. Your mother would have been breathtaking if I had given her the chance to help us." His chin trembled and he looked away. "I guess hindsight really is twenty twenty."

Her heart aching for him, she leaned her head against his shoulder. "Donít worry. Iíll talk you up every day."

"You better."

Twenty minutes later, Callie watched her father kiss her mother on the forehead and cup her cheek. Neither spoke as they looked at one another and Callie turned away, unable to see the pain on either face. She was staring at a photo of herself and Alex over the mantle when she heard the front door click shut. Closing her eyes, she prayed that her mother had gone with him, but when she looked back ... Mel was standing with her arms against her side and her head down. The lights from the limo shined into the room as it backed away and still ... Mel didnít move, though she had fisted her hands tightly as if clinging to a land line that would keep her rooted in one spot. The security alarm beeped once, to alert them to the fact that the gate had opened, then it beeped twice, ensuring that it had closed and locked. Melís jaw tightened and she lifted her hands to her chest. Callie knew this part well ... her mother was checking to make sure her heart was still there. A moment later, Mel announced that she was going to bed and stalked down the hallway.

Callie walked to the kitchen, where she retrieved a bottle of water, then she dug through her motherís purse until she found her valium. Glancing at the clock, she hurried to the guest bathroom where she wet a washcloth ... then she stood outside her motherís bedroom ... waiting for what was inevitable. Alex opened the door to the bedroom he was using and looked out at her. Chunk stood beside him, watching her curiously.

"What are you doing?" He walked toward her, then stopped when he heard Melana begin to sob. It was the most pitiful, broken sound that he had ever experienced. Nothing in the hospital, no amount of pain or grief he had heard could come close. "Callie -"

"Thatís what leaving sounds like." Callie glared at him. "I do it just a little bit louder and rarely make it to the bed, but itís the same. Every single time."

She opened the door and joined her mother.

He stood in the hall and listened. Not because he wanted to ... but because the mental image of Callie in her motherís shoes rendered him incapable of moving at all.

*~*~*~*~*~
CH 17

Dedicated: To my Smore, my Yoda, and my Caddie. You know who you are. :)
*~*~*~*~*
Cristina sat on the front porch of the new house. In her right hand, she held a coffee cup, but it was her left hand that held her attention. The moon was only half full, but it was enough to reflect over the water and she could see the simple wedding band clearly. It felt like it weighed a ton. She had little doubt that if she rushed into the water ... it would carry her to the very bottom and hold her there. She was a *newlywed* and she should have been inside the house with her head on her husbandís shoulder instead of sitting outside at four in the morning thinking things that should not be thought of.

Burke had decided to announce during dinner that his parents would be arriving that weekend and Cristina had been overcome with the desire to run, to paste plastic guards over her eyebrows, and to put her foot down and insist that they not come at all in no particular order. The house was Cristinaís domain and she had a horrible mental image of Mama rearranging things or judging her for marrying the incomparable Preston Burke. An annulment wouldnít really be so bad, she reasoned. It wasnít like a divorce exactly so her mother would not have to commit herself into the hospital for observation. And Mama Burke ... well, she would have no real reason to come for a visit if they ended it quickly.

Something rustled in the woods and she turned her head that way, listening intently. While she did *not* think that Burke had shipped in the bears that made her grandfatherís house so picturesque, whatever it was sounded big ... and it was breathing hard. Getting to her feet, she picked up the flashlight she had brought outside and held it over her head. A smart person would have gone inside, but Cristina decided that if it *was* a bear ... at least death would be swift and the flashlight would give the illusion that she had put up a valiant effort to remain alive.

And married.

MARRIED!

Stepping off the porch, she braced herself for impact when she heard a familiar voice.

"Holy Hell, Chunk! Slow down!"

"Callie!?"

"AHHHH! Stay! Sit! NO! NO! LOOK OUT, CRISTINA!"

A dog, large and brown, burst out of the woods and leaped on Cristina, knocking her on the ground where it proceeded to lick every inch of her face. Stunned, she surrendered to the tongue bath until her friend jogged from the woods and pulled the puppy off her. Wiping her face with the sleeve of her robe, Cristina looked up at the other woman. "What the *fuck* are you doing in the woods with a Shetland pony?"

"This is Chunk." Callie rubbed the puppy on the head and ordered him to sit down, which he did, still panting from his jog. "I couldnít sleep so I decided to come and see the house. Burke told us about it, but we didnít want to interrupt the builders by coming to take a peek."

Cristina accepted the hand that Callie extended and got to her feet. "Everyone knew except me."

"Not everyone. Youíre officially a missing person. Meredith is worried sick about you." Grinning, Callie pointed at the water hose on the side of the house. "Do you mind if I give him something to drink?"

"Not at all." Wrinkling her nose, Cristina watched as the dog slobbered at the trickle from the hose pipe. "That is a hideous excuse for a dog. Itís like ... steroid Scooby."

"Donít talk shit about my dog. Or Scooby. I will jack you up." Callie waited patiently for the puppy to drink his fill, then shut the water off. "So, whatís new. Youíre hiding out from everyone and -"

"I got married and I want to undo it because Mama is coming to town on Friday and thatís like ... Frieda Krueger with a shaving fetish." Cristina blurted. "Help me undo this."

Callie blinked a few times, stunned. "Youíre married?"

Yang held up her left hand to illustrate her point. "Mama is *coming*. Hold on to your eyebrows, people, itís going to be a bumpy ride."

"Youíre *married*! Congratulations!"

"No! Donít congratulate me! Tell me how to get out of it!"

"You want out of it?"

"I want to not deal with in laws. I have *in* laws, Callie. Why canít I have a stroke to paralyze the part of my brain that they affect?"

"If you find out how to do that ... clue me in. Iím two seconds away from a drug overdose to get away from Alexís *mama*."

Startled, Cristina held her coffee out to the other woman. "Wanna talk about it?"

"Yes," Callie replied, taking the cup. "More than you know."

"Come on. I told my grandfather all kinds of secrets on a porch just like this one." Leading the way, Yang flopped down on the swing and patted the spot beside her. "Iíd let you sit in my lap, but I think the dog would get jealous."

"Chunk, lie down."

The dog did as he was told, putting his massive jowls on his paws as he stretched out on his belly. Cristina couldnít hide her amusement. "Youíre whipped by a slobbery bucket of fluffy mange."

"Heís no fluffier than you, freak." Looking out at the water, Callie said, "Youíre *married*. Iíd say youíre fairly whipped yourself."

"We are truly not talking about me right now. Whatís going on with you and Irene?"

It took almost thirty minutes to fill Cristina in on all the gory details, mostly because the younger womanís temper got the better of her and she kept interjecting new and exciting ways to kill Irene. And Alex. By the time the story was finished, Callie was in tears and Cristina looked torn by whether or not to run away from the blubbering or console her. She settled on patting her shoulder and saying, "Iíll kick him in the balls for you. I promise."

Callie wiped her face. "You donít think Iím wrong?"

"Even if I did, Iím not saying it. You just told me that you did some kind of black magic to lock Alex in one spot. Iím scared of you."

"Stop that and tell me the truth!"

"Can you do a truth spell?"

Callie glared at her. "No, but I can make your cookie box close up like itís allergic to Burkeís -"

"Donít even speak it. You win." Cristina shook her head. "Newlywed sex is incredible."

"I wouldnít know." Callie sighed. "Is there something wrong with me? Do I make it easy for men to walk in and out of my life? I feel like Iím not worth fighting for or -"

"Okay, whoa. You canít measure what youíre worth by a man. You have to measure *you* and the last time I checked ... there are no men on this planet worth more than a good woman. And you are. Good, I mean." Cristina patted her shoulder again, then put an arm around her. "Weíre a lot alike. Weíre natural cynics, but this time ... you have a right to be cynical when Alex says he wonít leave again. How many times has he left now? Itís the easiest thing in the world for him to say itís the last time, but he seems hell bent on proving that itís all talk."

Callie raised a brow. "That was incredibly deep."

"Iím buzzed on caffeine."

"What should I do?"

"To sound really cliché and like a bad country song ... love him or leave him. Because making yourself crazy by staying in the middle is no way to live."

"My mother is thinking the same thing. She broke up with my dad."

Cristina clapped a hand over her mouth. "SHUT UP! That sounded like English you were speaking, but there is NO way it was."

"Itís not pretty, which is why Iím going back to work early. My mother stayed here with me and my dadís back in Florida. Or ... he will be soon. His plane is leaving today." She looked at Cristina. "Did you say Mama Burke is coming on Friday?"

"Yep."

"Youíre in luck." Callie sniffled, drying the last of the tears she would let herself cry. "Iím training with Bailey this week because sheís taking a vacation for Thanksgiving and I happen to know that weíre going to be working on the schedule. Iím pretty sure Iíll need you to work this weekend, Dr. Yang. All weekend."

Cristinaís smile was so large it looked painful. "I love you. Iím like ... IN... love with you. Donít curse me for saying that."

"Quit it."

"Youíre a devil worshipper."

"I AM NOT!"

"Can you, like, give people blinding boils? Do you have cat bones buried in your yard or -"

"Ass."

"Ever done a love spell?"

"Shut up."

"You could make Irene fall in love with Sydney Heron or something."

"Eww." Callie laughed. It was the first time in forever that she genuinely felt it. "Bite me."

"What flavor is witch?"

They laughed together until the sun started to rise.

By the time Callie stretched and headed back down the path ... Cristina no longer wanted to end her new marriage. And she had a strong suspicion that Callie was going to fight hard, and perhaps with voodoo, to hang onto hers as well.

*~*~*~*~

"How is your day going, Mrs. Sloan?" Mark asked, sliding his lunch tray next to his wifeís.

"Montgomery-Sloan." Addison corrected her husband absently. "I ordered my new physicianís coats today. Four in all. Four that say Addison Montgomery-Sloan."

"Theyíre going to look really funny with a patch over Montgomery. Or, you know, I could just scribble it out with a black Sharpie." Mark frowned when he followed her line of vision. Callie looked like she was having a heated argument with Irene, who had her hands on her hips and was red faced. "I wonder what thatís about?"

"Maybe she found a flask in Callieís pocket. Who knows?"

"At some point ... you will have to talk to her."

Addison, who was poking at her lunch with a fork, kept her eyes on Callie and ignored Mark. The black haired resident was clearly upset and only carried a bottle of water to the cash register. After she paid, she joined Bailey, her back to the cafeteria at large. "Sheís not eating again. What do you think is going on with her and Irene?"

"Why donít you act like a big girl and go over there and sit with them?" Mark smiled at her. "Because sheís obviously not going to make the first move."

"Neither am I."

"Addy, you donít even know what happened with Alex. If he called her anything close to what he called her to me ... she has every right to be pissed." He put his hand on hers. "You should cut her some slack. Her parents are waging a third world war, Cuba against Greece with a few of the states representing, and sheís caught up in a battle of her own with Alex. Sheís catching it from all sides so -"

"Donít defend her."

Their conversation was cut short when Derek strolled into the cafeteria and flopped into the chair beside Addison. "I came to have lunch with Meredith. You know ... to surprise her because she wasnít expecting me. And ... sheís out there in the corridor talking to Finn. *Finn*!"

Mark looked confused. "You can talk to your ex, but she canít talk to hers?"

"I didnít date my ex at the same time I was -" Trailing off, Derek had to chuckle. "Well, okay, maybe I did."

"You had skanky prom sex," Addison corrected. "While she was dating her ex and you were still with yours so tone down the jealousy, Green Eyes, before she reminds you of that, too."

"She just spotted you anyway." Mark waved at Meredith, smiling because her face lit up at the sight of Derek. The petite blond hurried to their table, kissing Derek as she sat down.

"So, whatís the vet here for?" Addy inquired innocently.

"Heís looking for Callie." Meredith replied, leaning her head against Derekís shoulder. "Youíre here just in time to buy me lunch. Which works for me because I really donít want to go all the way to my cubby for money."

Addisonís eyes were on her best friend again. Callie had gotten out of her seat, hugged Finn, and was walking out of the cafeteria with him. Meredith and Derek stood and Addison cleared her throat. "Meredith, did Finn say what he wanted?"

"No," the younger woman replied. "He just said that he was here to see her."

Mark waited until their friends left the table before he spoke. "I would be willing to guarantee that Finn has *nothing* to do with whateverís going on with Callie and Alex. So, stop thinking it."

Addison nodded, but she kept her eyes on the door that Callie had just walked out of anyway.

*~*~*~*~*~


Her stomach rumbled loudly as Callie closed the door to the conference room. She put a hand over it and looked apologetically at Finn. "Iím sorry. I skipped breakfast and my mother in law refuses to let me buy lunch in the cafeteria."

"Is hospital food really that bad? Sheís trying to save you?"

Running into Irene had been shocking enough for Callie, but the fact that the woman had taken the tray from her hands and sent it flying into the return bin had stunned her. With enough venom to kill a football team, Irene had told her in no uncertain terms that she was not serving her. Instead of fighting about it, Callie simply picked up a bottle of water and walked away. "Something like that. What are you doing here?"

"I was in the area."

Callie looked skeptical. "Finn, do you visit everyone who loses a pet?"

"No. Just the ones who have bruises on their faces." He put his hands in his pockets. "I canít stop thinking about that. Are you okay? He looks ... strong."

"My husband did not hit me," she assured him. "Unless youíve been living under a rock and didnít hear about it ... all those stories about an attempted rape at Wellington Chapel ... that was me. I was almost raped and I think the guy was trying to beat me to death."

"Oh my god." Finn impulsively hugged her. "I am so sorry. I just assumed that it was -"

"It wasnít." With a sigh, Callie stepped back. "You picked up on tension between Alex and me because we are in the middle of a disagreement, but thatís all it is."

"Because of the dog?"

"Not really."

Finn made a face. "Iím sorry. Iím being nosy and intrusive."

"Then weíll change the subject." She gave him a small smile. "Did you find out anything yet? About the poison?"

"Itíll take a few more days."

Callieís pager went off and she groaned as she took it from the clip. "Emergency room. I better go."

"Callie?"

"Yeah?"

"I heard that the Emerald City Bar makes a mean chicken salad sandwich. You should... you know ... get something."

"My lunch break came and went." Her pager sounded again and she quickly silenced it. "I better go."

Finn grinned at her, big and sincere. "I hope you have a good day."

"I hope you do, too."

"Iíd say itís been great so far."

~

Thirty minutes later, Callieís pager went off again. She groaned and shook her head, cursing herself for volunteering to come back in to work early. Her entire body ached from being on her feet all day and she still had five hours left on her shift. Her muscles protested as she climbed the stairs and she made a mental note to ask Alex to take Chunk for a jog the following morning. Four miles of rocky trail did not appeal to her at the moment, even if she did use the time to work out her frustration. Twenty miles probably wouldnít have made a dent in her sadness. She was depressed and unsure of everything. What she wanted was to knock on the guest bedroom and tell Alex that it was okay, that he could come back to their room and love her all night long, but her pride refused to take one for the team.

And punishing him was starting to feel worse for her than it probably did for him.

There was a flurry of activity when she arrived at the trauma room she had been summoned to. Copius amounts of blood dotted the hallway and she hurried into the fray, pulling on her gloves and protective gear as she went. She was adjusting her goggles when a familiar scrap of cloth was tossed past her. She had *just* seen that shirt. "What do we have?" she asked Izzie, who was taking off the patientís shoes.

"Itís Finn. The vet that dated Meredith," Izzie replied. "He was crossing the street and was hit by a car. Open fractures on both legs and one arm. Weíve paged Derek in for the head wound."

Callie gasped when she finally got a good view of Finn. His legs were mangled and a breathing tube had already been inserted. The doctor in her mentally assessed the damage and she doubted that she would be able to salvage his right leg at all. The left had fared better, but it was still hanging by a thin cord of nerve and tissue. "Oh my god," she whispered, diving in to help with both hands. "What was he doing?"

"He had just bought lunch at Joeís and was heading back in this direction."

Her heart slammed against her chest.

There wasnít a doubt in her mind that he had been bringing lunch to her since she had said she was hungry.

She doubled her efforts to do everything in her power to salvage his limbs.

*~*~*~*~

"Whereís Callie?" Melana asked softly, glancing at the grandfather clock in the corner of the living room. "Shouldnít she be home?"

Alex was shocked to see his mother in law. She had remained in bed all day, not eating and not touching the many bottles of water he had taken her. "Sheís still in surgery. I called about an hour ago. There was a bad accident apparently."

"Itís her first day back. She shouldnít be working over." Melana sat down next to him. Chunk, who had his head in Alexís lap, moved to her and gazed up at her with reverence. Scratching the dogís ear, she added, "She sedated me last night."

"You needed it."

"No one is here to sedate her when you leave."

Alex felt her words like a punch in the gut. He had tossed and turned the night before, even after Melanaís sobs had subsided. All he could picture was Callie lying in their bed, curled into herself, crying the same way. Or, on the kitchen floor, the way he had found her on Goon Docks after he left for the first time. Taking a deep breath, he glanced at Melana. "I really get it now. I do. I understand what I do to her when I leave."

"Good." She nodded at him. "Because now that Iíve tried her shoes on ... Iíve decided that I understand why she decided to drink again. If I had been alone last night, if she hadnít been there to hang onto me, I probably would have ... died. My soul was bleeding that hard. It still is."

"You should call Raphael."

"I should cook dinner." Mel got to her feet and trudged into the kitchen.

Following behind her, Alex pointed at the crock pot. "I put a roast on, but I havenít started anything else. I donít know what time sheíll be here."

"Have you spoken with her today?"

"No." Alex lifted the lid and poked at the meat before he spoke again. "I hate this. What do I do, Mel? How do I get her to listen to me?"

"Iím not the person to ask. Raphael has called twenty five times today and I wonít answer my cell phone." Mel pulled potatoes from the cabinet and began peeling them. "Sometimes you canít listen because just hearing that personís voice reminds you of everything you stand to lose. And itís hard to stay angry when you realize whatís at stake. Iím not ready to not be angry. Neither is she."

The front door opened and Chunk barked. Considering how deep and loud it was, Alex dreaded the moment that the puppy was fully grown. Hurrying into the living room, he saw Callie hanging her coat and nervously greeted her. "Hey, how was your day?"

"Donít ask."

"That bad?"

Callie nodded and reached down to pet the dog, who was wagging his thick tail back and forth fast enough to cause a light breeze. Chunk didnít want her to stroke his fur, however, he wanted to play and he leaped up, causing her to stumble backwards down the two steps that led to the living room. She landed hard on her backside, causing the puppy to try to put his considerable girth in her lap. It should have been comical, but Callie didnít laugh. She lost the grip she had on her emotions and broke, putting her face in her hands to catch the sobs that exploded from her. It wasnít like Melanaís cry from the night before, but it wasnít soft and subtle either.

Melana, who had been summoned by her daughterís outburst, picked up Chunkís toy and opened the back door. Unable to resist chasing his favorite stuffed duck, the mastiff bounded after it. Hurrying back to the couple, Mel watched as Alex tried to comfort her. When Callie pushed him away from her and started to stand, Mel grabbed her arm. "Stop! What happened?"

"Finn," sobbed Callie. "He was hit by a car today and I couldnít - I tried and tried, but he lost his leg. I couldnít do anything. The nerve was shot, the bone was shattered, and there was just no way to save it."

"Oh, baby." Melana sat down and took her hand. "Was he awake? Does he know?"

"He has no clue. Derek said that the swelling in his brain - we donít know if heís gonna make it, Mom." Callieís sadness turned to anger when she looked at Alex. "And your mother refused to let me buy lunch today. She literally said ĎIím not serving you, bitchí and threw my food away."

"WHAT!?" Alex could have been knocked over with a feather. He shook his head angrily. "She canít do that! Callie, she just *works* there! Did you tell her to kiss your ass?"

"No." Callie rubbed her eyes and pushed herself to her feet. "I refuse to deal with her. Especially at work."

"Iíll deal with her!" Alex turned and plucked his jacket off the wall, but Melana took it and hung it right back on the hook. "Mel, sheís not -"

"I think that Callie would benefit more from you staying here than going. Sheís had a bad day so why donít you go fill the bathtub for her while I finish dinner?" Mel gave him a pointed look. "Now would be a great time, son."

Alex looked at his wife. "What do you want me to do? Do you want me to go say something to her?"

"No. Iíll handle it." Picking up her briefcase, Callie sailed past him and grabbed a water from the fridge. "Iím really tired so I think Iím gonna go to bed and -"

"Youíre eating dinner." Melana put her hands on her hips and squared her shoulders as if to prove that she would not back down from the battle. "Itís not negotiable."

"Fine." Callie waved her hand in exasperation and walked down the hall.

What Callie wanted was to submerge herself in the six person hot tub and unwind with a bottle of red wine. What she did, however, was crawl into the bed fully dressed. She told herself that she was just going to take a moment to unwind, to stretch out her aching muscles, but she fell asleep still holding her briefcase with her purse still over her shoulder. She dreamed that Randall McFry was running through the corridors of the hospital with Finnís leg, laughing maniacally and using Finnís foot to kick people in the backside. It was horrible, gory, and absurd, but it still jarred her from sleep.

Sitting up, she pushed her hair out of her eyes and glanced at the clock, shocked to see that it was nearly three in the morning. Randallís face was still swimming in her mind and she instinctively reached for Alex, but his side of the bed was empty. Her eyes filled with tears and she whispered, "Chunk?"

The dog was not in her room, however.

Getting to her feet, which were bare thanks to someone slipping her shoes off, she quietly opened the door and peered out into the hallway. The shining green light of the security system indicated that everything was safe and secure, but she still felt cold chills racing up and down her spine. Opening the door to the guest room, she saw that Alex was sleeping on his side, facing the far wall. There was plenty of room for her in the queen sized bed, but she didnít join him. Instead, she walked around it and kneeled down. His face was bathed in the glow from the front lights and she watched him sleep for a while, her hands fisted to prevent her from touching his cheek. She wanted to kiss him, to cling to him, to tell him that she was sorry, too, but she didnít move a muscle.

As if he sensed her presence, his eyes fluttered open and he blinked a few times as he focused on her face. Wordlessly, he moved over and lifted the cover. He did not have to extend the silent invitation twice. She crawled in beside him, settling against his chest. Feeling a sense of relief the likes of which had never known before, Alex kissed her forehead, wrapping both arms around her.

She breathed him in, her face against his bare skin. "This doesnít change anything. Weíre not okay," she finally whispered.

"Callie-"

"Let me finish." She met his eyes and gave in to the urge to touch his face. Smoothing her palm over his cheek, she said, "You hurt me a little too much this time. You really, really hurt me and I donít know where we go from here. The only thing I do know is that I only ever feel safe in your arms." Her voice broke as she began to cry. "I just need to feel safe for a little while. Okay?"

He wiped the tears off her cheek, then ran his hand through her hair, holding her head against his heart. He was fairly certain that she was the only thing that was allowing it to beat at all. "Okay."

"Alex?"

"Yeah?"

"I do know one other thing."

"Whatís that?"

She met his eyes again. "I love you. And I really hope thatís enough."

"It is. I swear to God, Callie, it is."

*~*~*~*~

It had been pure luck that Derek was still on duty when Finn was brought in via ambulance. He was technically not supposed to be working at all, but seeing the other manís head injuries had been enough to force him to scrub in. Richard had threatened to put him on probation for operating while he was still on medical leave, but at Derekís insistence, consented to examine his arm and decided to release him to work again with no restrictions himself. His first official day back found him standing at the end of the hallway where Finnís room was located.

Meredith and Callie stood side by side outside the window, peering in. Finnís status had been upgraded from critical to stable, but neither woman seemed to take comfort in that fact. Meredith had woken up several times the previous night to call for updates and by the looks of Callie ... she had probably done the same. It shouldnít have bothered Derek in the least. Meredith had agreed to marry him. She proudly wore the ring he gave her and greeted him as her future husband occasionally, but seeing her with her nose practically pressed against the glass of her ex-boyfriendís room sent more than just a tiny spark of anger through his system. It felt like an inferno.

"Hey."

Turning, Derek saw that Alex had joined him. "Hi. How are you?"

"Iím okay." Alex pointed down the hallway toward Finnís room. "What about McVet?"

"He vitals stabilized overnight and he appears to be out of the woods. Weíre going to keep him in a coma for a couple of days just to prevent any sudden movements because that shunt in his head needs to do its jobs."

Alex continued to watch Callie. "She said he lost his leg."

"He did. She was devastated when she had to do a complete amputation. Itís above the knee." Derek glanced at him. "Callie is friends with Finn?"

"He gave her a dog the other day."

Something in the other manís tone forced Derek to raise a brow. "And?"

"I think he likes her."

"I see," Derek replied. "Whatís going on with you two? You didnít speak to each other at all really at Melanaís dinner. And then she left and -"

"Weíre having problems."

"Because of Finn?"

"Not really." Alex shook his head. "Itís a long story. Would you mind if I spared you the details and just said that I screwed up?"

Derek glanced back down the hallway and cleared his throat. "That may be a good idea. Here comes Callie. Iím gonna go talk to Meredith."

Callie smiled politely at Derek as he walked past her. She put her hands in the pocket of her lab coat when she joined Alex. It was an obvious move to prevent him from touching her. "What are you doing here?"

"I came in to check the schedule. I told you I was ready to come back to work this week, but Iím not on it. Thereís no reason for me to sit at the house all day."

"Bailey worked on the schedule for this week. I only worked on the one for the two weeks that she is -"

"Thatís not entirely true, Cal. Izzie said that you asked her to swap with Cristina this weekend."

"I had to do that. Burkeís mother is coming to town and since I completely understand the need to avoid in laws, I promised Cristina Iíd put her down to work."

"Well, I want to come back tomorrow."

"Then talk to Bailey."

Alex tilted his head to one side. "Am I missing something? I thought that this morning -"

"Nothingís changed, Alex. Iím not ready to pretend that it has."

"Fair enough. Have lunch with me."

"No." She glanced back down the hall at Finnís room. In a bag that had his personal belongings, she found her cell phone number inside and a receipt for two chicken salad sandwiches from the Emerald City Bar, proving once and for all that Finnís accident had quite a bit to do with her. "Iím gonna get something from the vending machine and eat in the lounge."

"We canít fix us if you donít meet me halfway, Gothika. Come on." He held out his hand, smiling at her. "Donít make me beg. Iíll do it, but you wonít enjoy it."

She saw that her wedding rings were on his pinky and bit her bottom lip. It would be so easy to take them from his finger and slip them back on hers. She ached to do just that ... to lead him to the on call room and chase away all the doubt. "I donít -"

"Iím two seconds away from getting down on my knees." He gave her a warning look that was animated and comical. "Iíll embarrass you. Iíll do the Nancy Kerrigan scream."

"You wouldnít dare."

"Whhhyyyy?" He imitated, earning a few looks from several nurses.

"Fine! Stop that!" She took his hand. "But I am *not* eating here. We can go to -"

"I was thinking Vinnieís Italian Bistro. It was our first date and they do have a karaoke machine."

"You planning on singing to me, Jock Strap?"

"Would it help me?"

"I doubt it. Iíve heard you."

*~*~*~*~

Melana Torres strolled into Seattle Grace with her pet monkey in her arms. Gucci was dressed in a simple romper, but it color coordinated with the curve hugging red dress that she wore. Her oversized black purse was as shiny as her black stiletto heels and every head in the vicinity turned as she clicked down the corridor. It was unmistakable that she was Callieís mother, but with her long black hair piled up in a stunning array of curls and enough of her shapely leg peering through the slit in her skirt, she could have passed for her sister. She did not look her age and the smile she flashed at Nurse Tyler caused him to drop the lab work he clutched in his fist as she walked past him.

The heavenly aroma of something that smelled far too enticing to be genuine hospital food guided her steps and she strolled into the crowded cafeteria and scanned the room. Alex had mentioned that he was going to try to coax Callie to lunch and Melana was relieved when she didnít see her daughter in the room. Perhaps he had succeeded. She saw Addison and Mark with their heads together in deep discussion and headed their way. Mark spotted her first and his eyes widened as he gazed up and down her body. It was enough to amuse Mel to the core. She was not dead and the appreciative glint in his eye put a new bounce in her step.

Leaning down, she kissed Addison on top of the head and said, "How are the two of you?"

Addison blinked, gazing up at her. "Obviously not as good as you. You look fantastic."

"Have you seen my child?"

"I saw her leave with Alex about fifteen minutes ago," Mark said, his eyes on the sparkling diamonds at her neck. "Was there a party today that we didnít get invited to?"

"Only if you consider bloodshed, carnage, and possibly bone fragments a party. My daughter prides herself on being a bonecrusher, but I fear that Iím about to break off someoneís leg and beat them with it."

Addyís eyes widened. "Iíll apologize to Callie for our fight. Iíll -"

"Not you, honey." Mel rubbed her hand over Addisonís hair as she scanned the cafeteria. "Would you mind allowing Gucci to sit with you for a moment?"

"Uh ... why?" Mark asked as he held out his hand for the monkey to leap on. He gave the capuchin a piece of his fruit, his eyes still on Mel. "What are you -"

"Has Calliope told you about what Irene did?"

"Comparing her to Alexís father?" Addy asked. "She told me that in Greece. It divested her."

Melana crossed her arms over her chest. "It divested Alex as well and he called Irene from Greece to speak his mind on the subject. When we returned, Irene cornered Callie in the front yard and they had words. Irene was very hurtful with her comments and then she announced that Fratelli had died while we were on vacation. Callie took the ferret to Finn who confirmed that he had been poisoned. It was intentional. And yesterday, my daughter attempted to *finally* eat and Irene took her food from her and would not let her dine in the cafeteria so ... Iím here to give that vile piece of shit a message, hopefully through violence, that she doesnít want to mess with my child."

"Oh my God." Addison put a hand over her mouth. "Callie tried to tell me this and I blew her off."


Mark asked, "Is this why Callie and Alex are fighting?"

"He didnít believe her. She told him what transpired and he didnít believe her until he saw it for himself on the security camera. He was leaving her. Again." Melanaís eyes narrowed when she spotted Irene carrying a tray full of food for the buffet. "If youíll excuse me, the person I will probably serve prison time for is waiting."

"Take the monkey," Mark said to Addison as he got to his feet. "Now!"

Melana was halfway to Irene when Mark grabbed her hand. She pulled away and winked at him, "I like you, but you will pull back a bloody stump if you try to stop me again. Hello, Irene!"

Irene dropped the large spoon she was using. "Melana," she said by way of greeting, giving her a curt nod.

When the smaller woman turned back to her job, Mel joined her at the buffet. "It smells heavenly. Youíve certainly outdone yourself with the menu today."

"You should try the salmon. Itís a new recipe."

"Oh, salmon is one of my favorites, but I canít eat here." Melanaís voice was sugary sweetness, but the underlying sarcasm was clearly there. "Iíll be paying with the same kind of money that Callie has and apparently you donít accept that."

Irene met her eyes, then looked away. "That was a misunderstanding."

"I see." Mel unbuttoned her sleeve and slowly rolled it. "Perhaps youíd like to help me understand then. Should we sue you for racial discrimination or perhaps sexism ... because unfortunately being a bitch isnít illegal. If it was, youíd get the death penalty."

Ireneís eyes went to Melís hands, where she was busily rolling her other sleeve. "What are you going to do, Melana, hit me?"

"Donít you think I should?"

Mark moved between the two women. "Mel, you really should-"

"Move out of the way, honey." Putting a hand on his chest, Mel smiled at him. "I just want one good shot."

Irene threw a large, metal spoon at Melana, striking her in the cheek with it. Because it had just come out of a steaming container of soup, it was hot and wet, and effectively burned Melís skin. Before Melana could do more than shriek in outrage, Gucci flew out of Addisonís grip and landed on Ireneís head, where he proceeded to yank at the thin tufts of hair on the small womanís head. He pounded her with his hairy fists and kicked at her with his legs ... and then he hopped onto the lunch line, retrieved another spoon, and walloped Irene in the nose, forehead, and chin with it before Mark could wrestle it away from him.

As a last resort ... Gucci flipped his masterís attacker the finger and leaped onto Melís shoulder, protectively wrapping an arm around her neck while he nuzzled her afflicted cheek. Stunned, Irene could only cup her bloody nose and gaze wide eyed at the monkey that had delivered an ass whipping the likes of which she had not felt in years. She opened her mouth to speak, but Melana drew her hand back. Turning on her heel, Irene tried to scramble away ... only to slide down in the food that Gucci had knocked into the floor when he scrambled for the spoon.

Mel planted her heel on Ireneís chest and gazed down at her. "Thatís just where you need to be. On the floor like the trash you are. My family has welcomed you with open arms. We have clothed you, given you a home, fed you, and it was my daughter who convinced Alex to give you a chance that you didnít really deserve. You are a loathsome, pathetic, and heartless bitch and I hope you realize that your son is more *mine* than he ever was yours. And if youíre trying to compete with Callie, stop. Because youíre too worthless to compete with a real woman ... and thatís exactly what she is."

Chief Webber, who had been chatting on his cell phone as he carried his tray around the buffet, drew up short when he saw Irene on the ground. His tray clattered to the floor and he rushed forward, taking Melana by the arm and moving her off the other woman. He extended a hand to Irene and pulled her upright, then looked back and forth between the two. "Ladies ... er ... is there a problem?"

Mark snorted. "Duh?"

"Hi, Richard," Melana said, gazing up at him with a smile that forced his frown upside down. "I was just illustrating to Irene what happens to people who abuse their authority."

"Abuse their authority?" Richardís eyes traveled over Melanaís face and he licked his lips. "What happened?"

"She refused to let Callie eat here yesterday. Iím sure you well recall that Callie tends to deal with stress by not eating and she has certainly been stressed ... so ... for her to try to eat and be denied -"

"Itís not like missing a meal would hurt her," Irene snapped. "It doesnít look like sheís missed many."

"Hold it right there!" Addison cried angrily. "Where the hell do you get off!? You donít have a right to say *anything* about her!"

"Like hell I donít!" Irene growled. "Sheís married to *my* son! Mine! I have every right to say *anything* about her and I have yet to tell a lie! Sheís an alcoholic, good for nothing, poor little rich girl and Alex should have realized that when Mexicans and Cubans get money ... theyíre still just as worthless!"

Melanaís jaw dropped.

It dropped even further when Addison delivered a right hook to Ireneís face that would have made Muhammad Ali weep at the sheer precision and grace.

*~*~*~*~*~

For someone who had planned an entire speech on the car ride to Vinnieís, Alex failed miserably at conversation. As he wound his pasta around his fork and watched her do the same, he thought of a million and one things he could say and twice as many apologies he could make, but what came out of his mouth when he finally opened it was, "Is your Alfredo good?"

Callie nodded and held out her fork. "Want some?"

He accepted it, not because he liked Alfredo (he hated it), but because *she* had offered it. He tried to hide his grimace. "Itís, uh, buttery."

She gave him a crooked smile. "And you hate it."

"Pretty much. Pasta is supposed to be *red*." To prove his point, he held up his own fork. "Try it."

"Iím full."

His eyes went to her plate and he shook his head. "You didnít -"

"Eat much. I know." She shrugged and took a sip of water. "So, did you bring me here for the nostalgia factor or was there something you wanted to say to me?"

"Both, actually." Putting his fork down, he reached for her hand and covered it with his own. "Iíve been thinking about that discussion we had on top of the Archfield the night of your party."

"That was more of an argument, Alex."

"No, it wasnít." He got to his feet and slipped onto the bench beside her. "Iíve been replaying it in my head and there was a point where I asked you if you if you knew how scary it was for me to know that you could be here today and gone tomorrow. Do you remember?"

"I do."

"I finally realized that I am doing to you what I feared you would do to me. I keep flying and it dawned on me that what I was *scared* of feeling if you left me ... is what youíre feeling right now." He reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I know that I say it a lot, but I really mean it this time. Iíll never leave you again. Never."

She sighed, chewing her bottom lip. "Iíve been thinking about the past, too. Do you remember when I was planning the fund raiser for the memorial clinic and I met Louise at the Emerald City Bar. When George showed up unannounced? You saw us while Louise was in the bathroom and you left me because I didnít want to upset you by telling you that I had seen them that day. You *left* and you didnít believe that she had been there at all until Addison called Joe and confirmed it. And you didnít believe me about Irene until you saw it on a video. So ... you can mean it when you say that youíre never going to leave again ... but I donít trust you any more than you trust me."

Alex gripped his thigh and silently counted to ten before he spoke. "If you wanted to hurt me more than I hurt you by calling you a bitch ... it worked."

"I donít want to hurt you at all. I just think-"

"You and I, we have both been far from perfect, but unless you're really ready to give up we're going to have to start over at some point. And Iím ready to start over, Callie, because I miss you. I think that knowing youíre across the hall and you donít want me near you has to be the worst feeling in the world and Iíll keep doing it if thatís what it takes," His eyes filled with tears, but he didnít brush them away. "Because being near you keeps me sane ... but every night that Iím in that guest room is a night that we earned ... we paid our dues for it ... and itís a crying shame that weíre not making the most of it."

Callie felt herself losing the battle with her own tears. he was saying all the right things and his hand on hers was strong and gentle at the same time, but her heart was hell bent on staying broken. "Do you feel that same way when you leave me? Do you think about how we paid our dues?"

"Mostly I think about staying gone until Iím not mad anymore. I think about protecting you."

"Protecting me? From what?"

"Me."

Her eyebrows vanished behind her bangs. "What do you -"

"There was a time that I reached for you during a fight and you thought I was about to hit you. Do you remember that? You put your hands up to protect your face." He brushed a tear from his cheek, then cupped hers. "I dream about that sometimes... the way you looked. You got this look in your eyes when you thought I was about to cross that line. Itís *that* look that makes me leave when it gets back because I donít ever want to put it there for good."

"You leave so you wonít hit me?" She turned on the bench, facing him. "You would never do that."

"I donít know that," he replied. "Itís a fact that a majority of kids who witnessed abuse or were abused themselves will grow up and do it. I have double the chances because I went through both."

She turned the hand he was holding so that she could lace their fingers. "Why didnít you tell me this before?"

"Iím ashamed. I donít want you to think you married a man ... like my father."

"Iím ashamed, too. I donít want you to think that you married an ... alcoholic nut job whoís obsessed with the occult."

"I"m pretty sure I married the girl of my dreams. Occult notwithstanding."

Giving him a sad smile, she said, "Iím pretty sure I married the most patient man alive. Youíd die before you hit me even though I know every one of your buttons to push. And I know that."

"Then you *do* trust me." He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. "The same way I trust that you didnít mean anything when you stuck me to one spot. You just didnít want to leave me yet ... and I love you for that."

Callie felt her heart leap into her throat when their song began to play. It was the Patsy Cline version of ĎYou Belong To Meí. She had sung it on their first date and they were sitting in the same booth they had shared that night. As the sultry words filled the room, she couldnít help but think that it was a crystal clear reminder from the powers that be. She closed her eyes and said, "Alex, I-"

"You donít have to swallow your pride or pretend that I didnít mess up ... but you do have to remember that weíre married now and a husband should sleep with his wife. If you donít want me to touch you ... I wonít, but I need to be in our bed with you. Please? Please, Callie."

"I want you to come back, too."

He studied her face. "But weíre still not okay, right?"

"Not yet," she replied softly. "But for the first time since it happened ... I think we could be ... soon."

"Iíll take that." His eyes roamed over her face, lingering on her lips.

She leaned forward and gave him a soft, quick kiss. "I should get back to work."

"Do you think maybe you could kiss me just a little bit better?"

//

Iím gonna be so alone without you

Maybe youíll be lonesome too ... and blue

//

Callie nodded and kissed him again, the song filling her ears. She put the promise of forgiveness into it and when her tongue touched his ... it was full of longing and desire as well. His hands tangled in her hair and it amazed her that it could feel like a first kiss, a known kiss, and a kiss of love all at the same time. Clinging to him, she deepened it even more and felt him groan against her mouth. Someone cleared their throat behind them and Alex reluctantly pulled back, expecting to see the waiter.

Eros and Izzie stood hand in hand and while Izzie looked amused, Eros looked anything but.

"Hey guys," Callie said, absently rubbing her thumb over her bottom lip. "Lunch date?"

"Is there anything on the menu beside tongue?" Eros asked. "Honestly ... this is a public place."

"This is not Greece, Puritanís Pride, so shut up," Callie replied. She opened her mouth to say more, but her pager went off and she scrambled for it, pulling it off the strap of her purse. "Oh my god. Itís a 911 for Addison."

"Weíll cover your lunch," Izzie said, as Alex slipped past her and helped Callie out. Reaching down, she picked up Callieís bag. "Jesus, your purse is heavy as hell!"

*~*~*~*~*~*

"Stop trying to move it!" Mark advised, holding the ice pack in place on Addisonís hand. "Howís the pain?"

She simply groaned in response.

Melana patted her on the arm, then gingerly reached up and touched the bandage on her own cheek. "Not to sound vain, but do you think this burn will leave a scar?"

"I donít think so." He gave her a reassuring smile. "It looks like the Chief really took care of it."

"What a kind man he is," Mel replied. "He agreed to come to dinner tonight. I think he needs a home cooked meal. Why ... he told me that heís only had room service and hospital food for almost a year. A handsome man like that should have a wife."

"Heís divorced." Addison watched the older woman closely. "Are you flirting with Richard, Mel?"

"Yes, quite." With an innocent nod, Mel added, "I am separated."

Callie walked in carrying the chart and tugging on her jacket. She had not taken the time to put her scrubs back on and instead wore jeans and a form fitting shirt. She glanced up and dropped the chart to the floor. Her eyes went from the bandage on her motherís cheek to Addisonís hand. "You hit my mother!" she accused. "What the hell, Addison!?!?"

Alex stepped in behind Callie, clearly shocked, then hurried toward Mel. Addison glared at her friend. "I did not hit your mother, Callie!"

"She hit Alexís," Mark corrected.

You could have heard a pin drop. Alex stopped trying to peel the tape back on Melanaís face and looked at the redhead. "You did what?"

"She burned Mel and insulted Callie." Addison pointed at Callie with her injured hand and cried out. "I fought for your stupid honor so order pain meds!"

Callie studied her husband, whose face had drained of color. "Alex?"

"Donít," he replied, tilting Melís chin. "Are you okay?"

Mel nodded and patted the capuchin on the head. "Gucci fought for my honor."

Picking up the X-rays, Callie pinned one, then another to the light display. She made a face when she saw the damage. "Way to go! Youíve dislocated your wrist, Addison."

"Crap."

"Itís not bad, but -"

"Crap!"

"Focus," Callie told her, shutting off the lights on the display and slipping the films back into the pouch. "What do you want for the pain?"

"Something strong." Addison put her wrist in Callieís palm when she held it out. "Donít you dare poke at it until you shoot me up!"

"Demerol?" Callie asked softly, gently rubbing her thumb over the joints. "Morphine?"

"Yeah, both of those and maybe some -"

With lightning speed, Callie wrenched her wrist back in place. It made a sickening popping sound and Addison was too stunned to scream. Rubbing her fingers back over the afflicted area, Callie said, "Better?"

"You ASSHOLE!" Addison yelled. "You didnít even ... oooooh ... that is actually a lot better."

"Did they do blood work?" Callie asked.

"They had to because it happened at work," Mark shrugged. "Meredith said it was a new policy."

"It is." Callie lied with ease. She had another very important reason for requesting the blood work and it had nothing to do with policies of any kind. Glancing at Alex, she said, "Would you mind checking with the lab?"

As soon as her husband left the room, she narrowed her eyes at her mother. "What did you do!?"

"Richard suspended Irene, honey! Clearly I wasnít at fault."

"Your cleavage got her suspended, Mom!"

Mark said, "No, I think it was the slit in her skirt. Thatís a nice slit."

"That sounded very dirty, sweetheart," Melana admonished, but her smile got even bigger. "And I approve."

"Why did you come here and say anything to her?" Callie demanded. "You canít-"

"I can and I did!"

"It was amazing," Addison interjected. "She *stepped* on Irene."

Callie rubbed a hand over her face in exasperation. "Do you guys get that she was abused? That her husband -"

"It doesnít give her a free pass to be a bitch," Mark stated. "A lot of people are abused and they grow up just fine. Look at Alex."

"The fact that she is Alexís mother means that we should try not to rock the boat," Callie snapped. "Heís already going through hell because of her and now -"

"He lived without her for years," Melana cut her off. "And heís better off without her at all if this is how she wants to behave."

"I agree," Addison said.

"You donít get to have an opinion!" Callie growled. "And donít think for one second that you hitting her makes up for what you said to me!"

"I donít want to make up for that! It was true ... parts of it ... some of it." Addison glanced down at her hands. "Well, not a lot of it."

"Whatever."

"YOU SET MY WRIST WITH NO PAIN MEDS ... SO YOU SUCK MORE THAN ME!" Addison cried, infuriated.

"I set the wrists of *toddlers* with no pain medication and they whine less than you, cry baby!"

"Stop it, girls!" Melana shot them both a warning look. "Youíre acting like children."

Flipping through the chart, Callie angrily scribbled a few notes and slammed it shut. "Youíll need to wear a stabilizer for a couple of weeks and go to physical therapy. Any questions?"

"No."

Callie stormed out of the room, then sent Olivia in to put the brace on. She was standing in the hallway glaring at Addyís door when Alex walked up to her with the test results. She didnít have to see them to know, so she concentrated on her husband instead. "Are you -"

"Iím fine."

"I am so sorry." She took his hand. "You should go and see her ... make sure sheís okay."

"I donít think so."

"Alex -"

"Ireneís chart was in the clinic so I flipped through it. Gucci didnít bite her. She had a nose bleed and a couple of bruises. They gave her a shot of dilaudid and released her to Leon. Sheís sound asleep right now after the dosage they gave her." He smiled, but it didnít quite reach his eyes. "Besides, I should be with my family."

"I can call Leon. I have his cell number. Do you want me to do that?"

"I want to take Melana home."

"Then youíll go see your mother?"

"What do you think Mel is?"

Callieís felt a lump form in her throat and she gave him a small smile. "She feels the same way about you, Alex, but Irene is -"

"Weíre not talking about this anymore. She chose her side and I chose mine."

Mark and Melana walked into the hallway, deep in conversation. Chief Webber joined them and smiled at her mother in a way that made Callieís blood boil. Seizing the opportunity to speak with Addy alone, Callie gave Alex a kiss goodbye, then hurried back into her room.

Addison glared at her from the bed. "Back to hurt me some more?"

Callie opened the envelope and smiled. "Ask me why I didnít give you pain meds."

"Because youíre evil and need an exorcism?"

Holding out the results, Callie shook her head. "Because I was right."

It took three full minutes for the news to sink in. Addison simply stared at the paper and when her hands finally started to shake and the sobs came, Callie sat down in front of her. "Congratulations. I think. You wanted this, right?"

"This should be impossible," Addy cried. "I only had a twenty percent chance."

"You want me to go get Mark?"

"NO! Oh my god! How do I tell him!?!"

"Iím thinking that nothing says ĎIím pregnantí better than saying ĎIím pregnantí," Callie replied, putting her hand in the pocket of her lab coat, where she withdrew a tissue. "Youíre supposed to be happy."

"I canít be happy when my babyís Godmother wonít even hug me!"

Callie swallowed the lump in her throat. "You want me to -"

"Of course I do!" Addison told her. "And Iím sorry, by the way. I guess I could blame it on hormones or something ... but I really do need to learn to think before I speak."

"Pretty much."

A fresh round of tears trickled down Addisonís face. "How can I be a mother if I had no people skills?"

"Ask my mom. She does it."

"Your mom is amazing. And how do I do it if -"

"Youíre going to be fine."

"Youíll help me, right?"

"You donít want my help. Iím a screw up, remember?"

Addison pursed her lips. "Holding a grudge will give you gas."

"So will having a baby."

"Forgiveness is good for the soul."

"So is chicken soup."

"You want to hug me, Callie."

"Iím immune to Jedi mind tricks."

"Donít make a pregnant lady cry." Addison took her friendís hand in both of hers. "Or beg."

Brown eyes met blue. "I do have a problem with alcohol. Some days are better than others. Sometimes it doesnít consume me, but every day ... itís there. The reason I could sit at Joeís and not be tempted is because I had you all with me. I - I was already drunk on you. I do have a problem, Addison. Itís real and it scares the hell out of me so donít you *ever* call it convenient again because if it was a matter of convenience ... it would be so much fuckiní easier to let it go."

"Iíll help you let it go. I will."

Callie scooted closer to her. "Somebody needs to."

Addison pulled her into her arms, hanging on for dear life. "I am so sorry. I really didnít have a right to say anything and I was too stubborn to apologize. Please donít stay mad at me. I really do love you and I need you right now because -"

"Iím not having sex with you." Callie returned the hug. "Pregnant chicks do nothing for me. But I love you, too."

"Am I forgiven?"

"Not yet." Callie leaned back and looked at her. "When I broke up with George ... you let him sleep on your couch and you told me that I should take him back. You took his side. When Alex and I have problems... you automatically choose him, too. It would be really nice if sometimes you could remember that I -"

"Hello?! Did I not just assault Irene?" Addison held up her hand. "I beat up George and Izzie, too, while you were off playing house with Alexander the Great!"

Callieís smile was big and genuine. "Okay, Iíll give you that."

"So, weíre over it?"

Forcing herself to sound sincere despite the anger she still felt, Callie nodded. "Weíre over it."

"How do I tell Mark?"

"Use your imagination."

"My imagination died when I found out that ghosts are real, Cal."

"Hmm. You could hang a rattle from your crotch."


Addison made a horrific face. "Eww! Why donít I just wear an adult diaper and footed pajamas?"

"Thatís original. You could have a big banner made and I could fly it over the cove."

"Because flying turns out so well for you when you do it."

"Bite me."

Addison placed a hand over her stomach. "Maybe I should just keep it mum until I start to show."

"You keep something a secret!? Yeah, and tomorrow Iíll look out the window and pigsíll be flying."

*~*~*~*~*

Callie heard her mother laughing hysterically when she opened the front door. Chunk howled his delight and bounded toward her, but instead of jumping up on her, he stopped on the step and lifted his paw in greeting. "Oh my gosh! Good boy, Chunky!"

"Heís actually pretty smart," Alex said, joining her. He took her coat, hung it on the hook, and gave her a hug. "Just for future reference, bacon motivates his brain power."

She slapped him on the chest. "And also clogs his arteries, Alex!"

"And what big arteries they are." Giving her a tentative kiss, he took her hand. "Did you see Webberís new car out there?"

"Thatís his!? Itís *red*!"

"Iím thinking mid-life crisis mobile, but he may be passed mid-life." Alex winked at her.

Callie tugged him forward for a better kiss and they broke apart when Melana laughed uproariously. "Is she doing what I think sheís doing?"

"I think so, but it seems harmless. He did bring her flowers, though."

"What!?" Her jaw dropped open and she started for the kitchen, but he grabbed her. "Sheís good. She knows that Iíll tell Daddy that someone is moving in on his ... turf."

"Then donít tell him."

"I wonít. Iíll just sabotage it myself."

"Behave." Someone knocked on the door and Alex added, "By the way, Mark and Addison were invited and she said to tell you that Mark doesnít know. What doesnít Mark know?"

"Iíll tell you later." Callie crossed her arms over her chest as Mark appeared. He had a chocolate cake in his hand and said, "Save me from my wife before I wring her neck."

"What did she do?" asked Callie.

"Sheís out there crying because she thinks Alex is mad at her. And she cried at the bakery because they didnít have red velvet, which is your favorite, and she feels that she canít apologize with chocolate. And she cried when we left the hospital because she hates drinking water ... yet she bought one instead of Coke." Mark scowled. "Sheís gone off the deep end."

"Iíll be back." Callie pulled her jacket on again. "You guys please go watch my mother."

*~

Addy glanced up when Callie slipped into the driverís seat of Markís BMW. "This car? Not kid friendly. Our house? Horribly not kid friendly. I - I donít even have a crib!"

"You know what you do have?" Callie asked. "Several freakiní months."

"We are NOT kid people! At the bakery a little boy was crying over ice cream and Mark leaned against me and said Ďthank god thatís not usí. Callie! He said it! In several freakiní months ... it will be!"

"Itíll be different when itís your own."

"We are NOT kid people!" Addison repeated.

"Alex is not mad at you, by the way."

"I didnít think he was."

"You told Mark -"

"I lied. I had to say something to make him stop asking me what was wrong."

"This is normal, Ads. Youíre overwhelmed."

"Iím pregnant!"

"Yeah!"

"I AM PREGNANT! OH MY GOD!"

"Breathe!"

"I canít do this, Callie. I just ... I cannot do this!"

"Yes you can."

"You were supposed to do this before me! You always do everything before me!"

"Youíre having a panic attack." Callie patted her hand.

"No shit, Sherlock!"

"Listen ... my mother is in the kitchen trying to seduce Webber. Youíre in the car having a nervous breakdown. I need to be in two places at once so in the spirit of friendship ... dry your eyes ... get the hell out of this car ... and help me keep my motherís tits in her shirt and her legs *closed*."

Addison stopped crying instantly. "You donít think ... she wouldnít ..."

"She better hope not."

"Letís go." Opening the door, Addison paused and looked back at her friend. "Callie?"

"What?"

"I donít even have a name for it! Itís gonna get here without a crib and without a name and then itíll sleep on the floor and not have anything to write in kindergarten!"

Callie started to laugh. She laid her head on the steering wheel and chuckled long and hard before she slipped from the seat and put her arm around the other woman as they headed for the front door. Chunk was sitting at Markís feet, staring at him curiously. Mark was returning the look, but his was filled with distaste. Addy took one look at the dog and started to walk out again, but Callie caught her hand. "This is Chunk."

"A chunk of what?" Addison wrinkled her nose. "Itís ugly."

"Donít call him ugly," Callie chided. Moving closer to her friend, she whispered, "Your baby may come out with no ass like you and gray hair like Mark so donít throw stones."

Addyís hand flew to her backside. In a loud voice, she said, "My ass is not flat!"

"Yes it is," Mark said.

Melana laughed suddenly and this time, Webberís booming laughter joined hers. Callie put her hands on her hips. "Itís time to stop this madness. MOM! Hey, MOM!"

"What?" Melana hurried into the living room, looking alarmed. "Are you okay?"

Callie practically yelled, "Dad called. He wanted me to remind you that your anniversary is coming up and he thought you might like to go on that cruise. You know ... the one with the *old* married people? Because youíre MARRIED."

"So are you," Mel replied sweetly. "Maybe you should accompany your father. After all .... the two of you enjoy spending time alone in exotic places."

Callie stomped her foot when her mother stalked back into the kitchen.

Mark snorted. "Melana, one. Callie, zero."

Ten minutes later, Callie slumped into a chair in the dining room, having been physically pulled from the bedroom by Alex. The table was already laden with food when Melana strolled in carrying a basket of bread. She placed it near Callie and leaned down, speaking softly, "You do not want to cross me tonight, kiddo."

"You donít want to cross me either," Callie snapped. "My dad -"

"Left me. Considering how you took Alex *trying* to leave you ... I donít want to hear it." Mel put a hand on Callieís shoulder. "So you remember your manners. I mean it."

"Remember your vows!" Callie snapped her napkin open and laid it in her lap. "You know ... the ones you said at Talking Rock while you were already pregnant with Stavros?"

"How in the hell -"

Chief Webber strolled into the room carrying a plate of sliced ham. He greeted Callie warmly, then held Addisonís chair out for her. He looked at Callie and said, "How is the training going with Bailey?"

"Fine."

"Do you think youíll enjoy it?"

"No one else does. Why should I?"

Richard frowned and glanced at Alex, who shot him a warning look and shook his head slightly. Clearing his throat, Richard turned to look at Addison, "Howís your hand?"

"Sore." Catching herself, Addy lowered her eyes. "Alex, Iím very sorry that I hit your mom."

"Itís okay."

"About that," Richard said. "I need you to take a few days off, Addison. Without pay. Three to be exact."

"Iím suspended?" Addison was stunned. "Seriously?"

"Hospital policy," Callie said offhand. "Page seventeen, line twenty two. ĎWorkplace altercations that result in violence carry a minimum of three days suspension and a maximum of fourteení."

Everyone stared at her.

"What?" she demanded. "So ... I remember things."

"You memorized the hospital policy?" Mark asked. "Thatís so pathetic. Iíve never even read it."

"Good to know," Richard said, passing a bowl to Addison. To Alex, he said, "Your mother received six days and sheís on probation after that. She abused her authority."

"In more ways than you know," Alex replied.

Richard put a heaping serving of corn on his plate and beamed at everyone. "This is great! Itís been ages since I had someone to dine with."

"The hospital is full of *available* people." Callie passed the mashed potatoes to Alex without adding any to her plate. He did it himself. "You really should start dating, Chief."

"I was thinking that." Richard nodded. "Melana, do you like the theater?"

"She hates it."

"I love it."

Callie and Melana exchanged matching looks.

"What show is playing?" Addison asked, trying to break the tension.

"The Color Purple," Richard replied. "A week from Saturday."

Melana beamed at him. "Iíd love to go with you."

"Youíll be home by then." Callie shook her head. "Dad said that youíre interviewing new gardeners."

"I donít really care if gardens dry up like a raison in the sun." Melana put a heaping serving of peas on Callieís plate.

"Thatís a great book," Richard said.

"I agree."

Callie glanced at Mark who covertly pointed at Melana and held up five fingers. He pointed at Callie and made a zero. She kicked him under the table and he groaned in pain. "Dadís coming for Thanksgiving," she said.

Melana put her fork down. "If I wanted to talk about your father I would go to the church ... because only a priest needs to hear the many ways I want to mutilate him. So stop bringing him up!"

Callie smiled sweetly. "Maybe you should go to confession. Because thinking it is just as bad as doing it!"

Closing her eyes, Mel took a deep breath. "I should have punished you the first time you spoke. It would have discouraged you from doing it again."

"My first word was Ďdaddyí and he liked it."

"Your first word, Einstein, was Ďmineí," Melana corrected. "But it was in reference to your father which proves that you have always been partial to him."

"Someone has to be." Shoving her chair back, Callie got to her feet and left the table.

She stalked into her bedroom and let Chunk out of the cage. He hopped up and snatched his leash off the dresser, wiggling frantically. Callie changed into her sweat pants, hoodie, and sneakers. As she was putting his leash on, her door opened. Melana slammed it behind her and leaned against it. "That is your boss down there! What the hell is wrong with you!?!"

"What the hell is wrong with *you*!?"

"Iím going to tell your father that you need another feeding tube!"

"If thatís what it takes to get you to talk to him then go ahead!"

"Let me tell you something, Callie. Raphael messed up. Big time. And I really need a friend and so does Richard and -"

"A sex buddy? Mom, you have got to be kidding me!"

"Just because you had sex so easily outside of your marriage doesnít mean I will. I happen to still be committed to your father. I wonít add adulteress to my shortcomings as easily as he added liar to his."

"Do you want to punish me, Mom? Is that it? You have always been unnecessarily hard on me. Always. But I donít need to see you making moon eyes at my *boss* to know that I am the reason you and Daddy have gotten to this point. I get it! Itís my fault!"

"I have never been hard on you unless it was warranted."

"Yes, you have."

Mel threw her hands in the air. "Oh, Iím a regular Mommy Dearest, huh!? You know what... you are the reason my marriage is in trouble. Because I chose *you* instead of your father. I chose you and your safety over making things right with him. Iím not pissed at him for continuing to work for the CIA or FMC. Iím pissed at him because he deprived me of so much time with you. Iím pissed that you could have easily been killed and that you had to see things that no little girl should see. Iím here right now instead of back in Miami to prove to you that I choose YOU." Melana glared at her. "When in the HELL are you going to choose ME!?"

"Mom-"

"I went to the hospital today and confronted Irene for *you*. This burn on my cheek if for *you*. I invited Richard here tonight because I thought that *maybe* you would like to talk to your sponsor because you havenít gone to a meeting in weeks." Shaking her head in disgust, Melana ran a hand through her hair. "You have always been unnecessarily hard on *me*, Calliope, because the closer I try to get to you ... the more you push me away."

"Thatís not -"

"The night that you almost burned to death on Talking Rock ... I came into the fire even though you were screaming for your father. I came into the blaze and I didnít yell from the pain because I didnít want you to die scared. I wanted to comfort you. I was willing to burn to death to protect you and your father ... he threw you back into that same fire again and again. So, Iím asking you to think about that. Who is loyal to whom, honey? You are loyal to *him*. Heís loyal to *himself*. And I have always been loyal to YOU." Melana took a step forward. "And you never think to return the favor. You canít deny it, can you?"

Callie looked at the floor when she shook her head. Hot tears were rolling down her cheeks, but she didnít speak.

"Iíve had enough of this. I love your father, but he broke my spirit. I love you, but you break my soul."

Chunk, seemingly tired of waiting for his walk, hiked up his leg and peed on the dresser.

Mel pointed at the dog. "Thatís what I think about this entire mess, too."

*~*~*~*~

Sitting alone on the back patio, Callie glanced up when Richard opened the door. He joined her, holding out a cup of hot chocolate. She took it from him and said, "Iím sorry. I made it very uncomfortable and -"

"I understand why. Your mother is gorgeous and very fascinating, but sheís married and if I have learned nothing else in my life ... itís that I need to stay away from married women." Richard said down beside her, moving his chair closer. "She needs a friend and so do I. She made it very clear that she loves your father."

"Okay."

"How are you? Besides angry."

"Iím getting better."

"Take tomorrow off."

"Why?"

"Because your mother mentioned a shopping trip with Addison and I want you to go."

"I donít like to shop."

"Alcoholics have to find other outlets besides liquor. Go and buy something nice. Laugh with your family and mend some fences because I think you need her more than you know."

"Alright."

"Thereís a meeting tomorrow at Wellington Chapel. I think you should -"

"I canít go back there! Thatís where I was attacked!"

"Confront your demons. They donít go away until you do." Richard got to his feet. "And Callie? Iíll be watching your weight very closely. Weekly as a matter of fact. I wonít hesitate to put you on a medical leave if I have to."

"Yes, sir."

"Iíll see you tomorrow."

She nodded.

*~*~*~*~

Alex and Callie lay side by side in the bed later on. She had made it very clear by wearing her bulky pajamas that there would be no making up in the biblical sense. She stared at the ceiling for a while then took a deep breath. "Are you okay, Jock Strap? I mean ... with everything happening with your mom?"

"Iím getting there."

"Maybe you should call her."

"I donít think so."

"I hate to think of her getting hit again. Even if Addy does hit like a girl."

"It will be fine, baby."

"I know I said that we could sleep together tonight, but-"

"You want me to go?" He sat up. "Why?"

"I want to go, actually." She pushed herself upright beside him. "Iím gonna go sleep with my mom."

"Sheíd like that."

"But if youíre not okay -"

"Iím perfect. Iíve got the dog to keep me warm."

"You hate the dog."

"I hate that he pisses by the gallon ... but heís not so bad."

She smiled. "You loooooove him."

"No, I looooooove you."

"I love you, too." She kissed him and whispered, "Goodnight."

"Goodnight, baby." He watched her pad from the room and patted the bed, clicking his tongue to call the dog. Chunk jumped up, turned in a circle, then flopped down and whined at the door. "I know, buddy, I miss her, too. Life sucks, huh?"

*~*~*~*~

Melana was crying softly into her pillow when Callie crawled into the bed behind her. She had not heard her daughter enter and she quickly wiped her face. "Are you okay, honey?"

"Iím good," Callie replied, sliding under the cover and spooning against her.

"What are you doing?"

"Choosing you." Callie tightened her grip, when Mel sobbed louder. It cut her to the quick to hear the sadness in her motherís cries. "I took you for granted and so did Daddy. Iím sorry. And if Iím half the woman you are ... then Iíll do just fine ... because youíre really amazing, Mom. And I love you."

Rolling to face her, Melana buried her face in the front of Callieís shirt. "Oh, Callie."

"Donít call me OíCallie. Thatís what the nurses called me when I married George."

"Itís better than what I called you when you married George."

"True."

They hugged in silence for a while. Melana sobbed again, gripping Callieís hand. "I miss Raphael. The last time we were in this bed -"

"Oh God ... please donít."

"We made love for hours and he ..."

"Mom ... please?" Callie shifted uncomfortably.

"He said that our life was a fairy tale and ... this is not the ending he promised me."

"Every fairy tale has drama. At least you donít have rodents of unusual size."

"What would you call your dog?"

"Touché."

"Go back to Alex, mi vida. Iím sure he needs you."

Callie shook her head. "He has the rodent. And Iíve got you."

Mel relaxed into her embrace. "You read my diaries, didnít you?"

"Well, duh."

"That wasnít very nice."

"You should write a book. I couldnít put it down. Neither could Cam."

"You brats!" Melana sat up and glared at her. "How old were you?"

"Ten? Eleven?"

"You have known this all along and you never said anything? Did you tell Stavros?"

"Nope. Cam and I had your back. We were *loyal* to you."

Melana gazed toward the window. "I wish I had those diaries."

"Iíve got Dadís letters. Well, actually you do. Theyíre in your suitcase."

"And the journals?"

"I didnít steal those," Callie lied, wondering if her father had located them in his suitcase yet. Smiling at her mother, she pulled her back down. "Read Ďem tomorrow. Iím tired."

"Youíre going shopping with us tomorrow, arenít you?"

"Yep."

"And youíll pretend to enjoy it?"

"Iíll try." Callie kissed her motherís head. "You know what?"

"What?"

"I really love you, Mom. I do."

"I really love you too, brat. I do."

"Tell me about that time that you fell out of the tree and landed on Daddy."

Melana shared story after story with more detail than she had written in her diary. They didnít fall asleep until after three and when they did ... they were huddled together ... arm in arm.

*~*~*~*~*
CH 18
*~*~*~*~*~

"Will you please hold still?"

Addison sighed and glanced heavenward. "I canít be gaining weight already! These are a size four! *I* am a size four."

"Well, I donít mean to be the bearer of bad news, but we may have to cut these size fours off you." Callie wrenched the zipper again, shaking her head as she groaned. "Iím ripping the skin off my fingers because of you and I havenít *completely* forgiven you yet so I think this proves that I am a very good person. Wait, is that a piece of thread holding it? Addison, ... oh ... my ... god."

Addison looked down at her friend. "What did you do? Callie! Get your face out of my crotch!"

"MY HAIR IS STUCK IN THE ZIPPER!"

Addison tried to pull back to see for herself and Callie dropped onto her knees, slipping off the bench in the dressing room as she howled in pain from the hair tugging. The red head finally realized that her friend was truly and completely attached. "Oh! Sorry!"

"Be still! Youíre making my eyes water!"

"You need to cut your fucking hair! You got it stuck to my wall and -"

"YOU stuck it to your wall by forcing me to help you put that suckass wallpaper up! That wallpaper is probably the real culprit behind your mood swings. Itís enough to drive the sanest person alive into channeling Sybil. Iím in there for ten minutes and I want to unleash my inner Eileen Wuornos." Callie grabbed the other womanís hips. "Stop moving!"

"You stop moving!" Addy hissed. "And get your face out of my crotch!"

"Iím *stuck*! Itís not like I can help it!"

"Do not say ONE word about me needing a wax! I told you weeks ago that I needed one so if itís prickly-"

"You better pray to GOD that I do not experience any prickles because I will GUT you if I come in contact with that."

"I should have worn panties."

"Iím three seconds away from yanking myself bald."

"You look good on your knees, Callie. I bet Alex loves it when you go there." Addison playfully wriggled.

Callie moaned when her hair tugged and pinched the fleshy part of Addyís thigh, causing reciprocating noises to erupt from the other woman.

There was a knock at the door and they both stopped talking. The attendant peeked inside and her green eyes went from smiling to looking like saucers. Angry saucers. "Lesbians," she grimaced. "This is not funny, ladies. If you are this intent on finding satisfaction then please get a room or go to your car, but donít think that we enjoy the aftermath of these little couplings."

"We are not lesbians! Weíre married!" Addison cried.

"Is that legal now? Same sex marriages?" the clerk asked. "No, donít tell me. Just get your things and go. Youíre not welcome here."

"Whatís going on?" Melana asked, pulling the door open all the way so that everyone in the vicinity could see inside. "Calliope! Stop channeling your twin and get up from there! Honestly! One homosexual in the family -"

"IíM STUCK!" Callie repeated in a loud voice. "MY HAIR IS STUCK IN HER ZIPPER!"

"WELL, KEEP YOUR FACE OUT OF HER ALTOGETHER!" Melana cried, strolling forward. "Iím not going to ask and you are not going to tell me. Either of you."

"She was trying to help me. The zipper got stuck and," Addison glared at the clerk. "we are not trying to get any satisfaction! We are straight as arrows!"

Melana glared at the attendant when she made a disgusted noise. "If youíre interested in a commission today that would pay for a car ... I suggest you go find the dress that I asked you to find fifteen minutes ago. Otherwise, weíll take our very lucrative business elsewhere."


Seeing dollar signs, the woman nodded. "Iíll find it now, maíam."

Two hours later, Callie decided that being tossed out of the store would have been the best thing. She groaned when Melana hung four more dresses on the hook. The dressing room was littered with clothing and there was no end in sight. Callie had avoided trying anything on at all until the perfect jeans caught her eye. Her mother, as if sensing a disturbance in the atmosphere, had pounced on her before she even had a chance to zip the new jeans and poked so many clothes inside that the small room was beginning to feel claustrophobic. The jeans had been a definite and Callie gazed longingly at them as she zipped herself into another Vera Wang dress and stared at her reflection. It wasnít *that* bad. The rich blue fabric was soft and flowing. Of the three million dresses she had tried on, it was the only one that looked made for her. She slipped it off and hung it over the jeans. Melana and Addison already had several bags and if Callie didnít catch up soon, sheíd never make it out of the dressing room.

The door opened again when Callie was pulling her own trusty jeans back on. Melana frowned at her. "Youíre finished? But, you havenít tried on any shirts!"

"Iím hungry," Callie replied, thinking fast.

Melana reached past her and gathered the closest rejects. "Weíll go to the food court then."

Relieved, Callie sat down to tie her sneakers. She had opted for comfort while her mother and Addison were both dressed to kill. It made her feel frumpy and when she saw the appreciative looks her mother received as she surveyed the many menus of the food court a while later, Callie wanted to blend into the wall. Addison would have been the perfect daughter for Mel, she thought. Shopping made both women giggle like schoolgirls. At the other end of the spectrum was Callie ... who wanted to throw herself over the balcony to the bottom floor to avoid yet another crowded and overpriced store. It was something she loved about Alex. He was content to never spend money at all unless you counted the movies and computer upgrades he made. Neither of them liked to shop and would rather walk through the park than the mall.

The smell of her favorite pineapple chicken called to her and she placed her order, finding a place to sit amongst the already crowded tables. Thanksgiving was rapidly approaching and it looked like the shoppers were getting a jump start on their holiday season. She dug into her lunch as she people watched, but her mind paid no attention to the flurry around her. She thought about Finn. Derek had decided to keep him in a medicinal coma through the weekend. The swelling in his brain was simply too severe to risk having Finn move the wrong way. It broke Callieís heart to think that on Monday she would have to tell the man that he had lost his leg ... and the other had been damaged enough that it would never support his weight fully ... so a prosthetic limb would likely not be a possibility. Finn Dandridge would probably spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

With a sigh, Callie set her fork down and picked up her purse, rifling through for Ibuprofen. Her eyes widened when she saw one of the small bottles she had purchased at the liquor store. Addisonís voice caused her to jump and almost empty her purseís contents into her lap. She zipped it fast and put it on the chair beside her. "Did you find something good?" Callie asked casually, leaving her hands under the table to hide the shaking.

Addison grinned and sat her tray down. "I have decided that I am going to get fat while Iím pregnant. I want a chubby baby with fat, fat cheeks and those cute little rolls they get on their arms."

Callieís eyes widened when she saw the hamburger, milkshake, fries *and* onion rings that Addison had purchased. "You do get that those fat cheeks and cute little rolls still come out the same way, right?"

The red head had taken a bite of her burger and glanced down at it. With her mouth full, she said, "Oh my god. What am I doing?"

"You married a plastic surgeon. He can tighten your hoo hoo when it looks like a Shar-pei."

Addison poured half of the onion rings onto Callieís plate. "Youíre not cute. Are you having fun? You hate shopping."

"Webber made me tag along."

"Iím surprised heís speaking to you after last night. Iím saying this with love ... you were such an ass."

"I prefer Ďbitchí."

"I prefer to stay on your good side so Iím not going there." Addison popped a fry into her mouth. "How are things with you and Alex?"

Callie shrugged. "Strained, uncomfortable, and weird."

Melana joined them, carrying a bowl of vegetable soup. "Are you complaining about the dress you just bought?"

"No. That dress is actually pretty nice." Callie gave her a smile. "And I am relatively complaint free today. You will notice that I am *trying* to behave."

Pointing at her daughterís tray, Melana returned the smile. "Behave with your mouth full."

"My stomach hurts," Callie lied.

"Are you pregnant, too?" Addy asked.

"Too?" Melana gasped. "Addison! Youíre -"

"I am."

Callie rolled her eyes when Melana exclaimed in Greek and tugged Addison into her arms. For the next five minutes, Melana and Addison talked about nursery colors, nursery themes, whether or not red hair ran in Markís family, and about a stroller that Melana had seen in a magazine that she would have loved having with her own children. It was one more thing that Callie did not have in common with them and she sighed, propping her chin on her fist. When they ran out of topics, Melana looked at Callie and asked the inevitable question.

"When are you going to have a baby, honey?"

"Alex and I have a five year plan," Callie replied, crossing her arms over her chest. "Besides, weíd have to be speaking to each other in order to go there and for most of our very short marriage ... we havenít been."

"If you spoke more with your bodies and less with your mouths ... I donít think youíd have any marital problems." Melana patted her arm. "You really need to learn to listen to what Alex doesnít say. He speaks volumes when you really, really care to hear it."

Callie sighed. "Addison, have you told Mark yet?"

"No."

Melana looked aghast. "Why not!?"

"Weíre not kid people."

Taking a bite of soup, Mel shook her head. "But youíre obviously insatiable people. Sex is Godís gift to us for procreation, not recreation. So, if youíre sex people... then youíre kid people by default."

Callie had to fight hard not to smile. "Then why did you have sex with Daddy all night before we went to Greece and then again in Greece? Thatís recreational sport for you, Mom. You canít have any more kids."

"Just because I cannot have children now -" Melana narrowed her eyes. "Be quiet, Calliope, and eat your lunch."

"Oh the sweet smell of victory," Callie replied, laughing. "I finally one upped you."

"You smell your own hot air and I assure you itís not sweet at all," Melana replied. "I think that you and Alex need to get away this weekend."

"What? Why?"

"Cambyses and Blake take a trip once a month and it helps them. You need to do the same. Why ... right now Cambyses is in the Bahamas making sure he keeps the romance alive." Mel shrugged. "Take notes from your twin, honey."

"Alex and I are homebodies, Mom."

"Iíve already suggested it to him. The yacht is empty now so the two of you should sail away from your troubles and try to remember what brought the two of you together to begin with." Melana took a bite of her croissant. "Donít you agree, Addison?"

"That does sound romantic. I mean, you guys realized that you were in love on Goon Docks. I think you should go."

Callie had a sinking suspicion that she was the victim of a coordinated attack. "Just like that? Drop everything and go?"

"Iíll watch the dog," Melana said.

"And Iíll watch Mel," Addison added. "Iíll keep her company."

"I have plans for the weekend, actually." Melana cleared her throat. "Preston Burke invited Richard to dinner this weekend and Richard invited me. Prestonís family is visiting and apparently his parents are very close with Richard. They knew him in college."

Addison saw the blood filling Callieís face and quickly said, "He invited Mark, too. So ... Iíll be there. So will Meredith and Derek."

"So, you really will be watching me." Melana finished off her soup and glanced back at Callie. "Donít worry, mi vida, there will be nothing to report. Iíve already told you that Richard and I are friends and nothing more."

"Are you going to call Daddy today?"

"I donít think so." Melana stole an onion ring from Addisonís plate. "Heíll call me when he checks the bank account and sees the damage I intend to do."

True to her word, Melana insisted on treating the other two women to manicures, pedicures, and a trip to the salon. Addison decided at the spur of the moment, to have bangs cut into her hair and immediately regretted her choice. Callie consoled her by having six inches chopped off her own hair and pretended to be uncertain of the dramatic change, but she secretly loved it. The ends were blunt instead of curved and the layers around her face looked great. Pleased with the results, she didnít grumble at all when they stopped at the make up counter at Macyís. She let her mother buy her a pair of heels that were almost vulgar and put her new dress on in the fitting room. When she emerged ... she didnít feel like the frumpy sidekick anymore.

She felt beautiful.

*~*~*~*~*~

Alex, who had gotten his wish and returned to work, was exhausted. He had spent most of the day in surgery with Mark. Plastics still held some appeal for him, but when he found out that there was a multiple birth inbound he had wanted to be a part of it so much that he came close to offering Meredith anything she wanted for the rest of the year to switch places with her. Neonatology was looking better and better and he found himself in the childrenís ward more often than not, trying to find a surgeon that needed an extra hand. Being in plastics would be the most lucrative choice, but working with children would be the most gratifying. He was very glad that he didnít have to choose his path yet because he simply did not know which field he wanted the most.

As he pulled into the driveway he had to smile. Callie was bent over the trunk of her car and the way her dress hugged her backside was enough to make his mouth water. This was his life, he thought. He had a beautiful home, a wonderful *wife* and he still needed to pinch himself most of the time to believe it. He parked in his spot in the garage and hopped out of the SUV, his exhaustion forgotten. Callie had that effect on him. She made him want to seize every waking moment and sleep as little as possible out of fear that he might miss a single second with her. He drew up short when he saw her much shorter hair. He was used to it being long enough to brush his thighs when she rode him and tossed her head back ... but it looked great, he decided.

Callie gave him a small grin when she turned and saw him. "If your first day back was anything like my first day back ... I bet youíre tired."

He let his gaze move over her body. The dress was clinging to her like a second skin and the heels she wore made her calves look like sin. "Damn. You look ..."

She had to chuckle when he put his hands on her waist and kissed her. "Alex?"

"Hmm?" He moved to her neck, where he nuzzled her soft skin and lightly grazed her ear with his teeth. "You smell so good. I like the hair, by the way."

She felt her body respond to his voice, the way he rasped the words against her throat, and bit her bottom lip. Her heart rate doubled when he slid his hands to her backside and tugged her a little closer. Letting her bags drop to the ground, she hugged him, her mouth finding his again. He turned her a little and she felt the the trunk of the car against her ass. He lifted her easily and she opened her legs as he moved between them, his hands moving up her bare thighs. When he pulled the leg of her panties aside and slipped a finger along her center, she shivered. "Oh god..."

He smiled and attacked her neck again, then the plunging neckline of her dress. Two fingers slipped into her and he felt her grasping at his shirt as his thumb massaged her clit. In slow, sensual circles, he manipulated her until she was wet, trembling, and begging him under her breath. He added a third finger and freed her breast, latching his lips over her erect nipple. She gripped his head, her fingers digging against his scalp and when he moved back and blew against her chest ... he felt her clamp around him and she came. Hard.

His mouth found hers again and he devoured the hoarse cries she couldnít hold in. His let his fingers flutter slightly and she bucked against him. Knowing exactly how to touch her, how to make her crazy, he thumped against her g-spot and circled her clit with his thumb again. She cried his name and strained against him and when she came that time .... he had to hold her upright. "You got waxed," he said softly, rubbing the smooth flesh of her labia. "Is it tender?"

"Apparently."

Slipping his fingers from her, he brought them to his mouth. His eyes were on hers when he licked them clean. "Did you have a good day?"

"I canít think when youíre doing that." She watched his tongue, licking her bottom lip with her own.

He kissed her, sucking at her lip until it was even plumper than usual. "I missed you today. I called you several times."

"I didnít have my phone with me."

"To avoid me?" He reached between her legs and pulled her panties back in place.

"No. To avoid carrying a phone with a dead battery all day." She came close to protesting when he lifted her off the trunk and set her back on her feet. Her legs felt like jelly and she wanted nothing more than to climb into the back of his SUV, hike her skirt up, and beg him to take her. Instead, she pulled her bra back across her exposed breast and straightened her sleeves. "Did you have a good day?"

"Not until just now." He shifted a little in the hopes of inconspicuously moving the front of his pants off his straining cock, but it was no use. Pained, he bent down and grabbed the bags from the ground, holding one of the largest in front of himself. "For someone who hates shopping, you always manage to find shoes and handbags."

"Look up woman in the dictionary. Itíll tell you that we need those things more than oxygen." She glanced down at the strategically placed bag. "Why donít you let me return the favor?"

His hard on throbbed and he shifted again. "What did you have in mind?"

"Iíve been told that I could suck a bowling ball through a water hose."

Alex dropped the bags and grabbed her again, his tongue tangling with hers. He fumbled with the controls on the wall until he was able to lower the garage doors and then he pulled her to the corner just in case Melana started looking for them. His hands moved to his belt, but she pushed them away and unbuckled it herself. He felt like a high school virgin getting his first blow job under the bleachers when he leaned back against the side of his vehicle. She kneeled in front of him and took him into her mouth and he struggled hard not to come right then. Closing his eyes, he let her work her magic and when he warned her that he was close, that she should move, she simply pumped him even harder, humming softly, and he exploded in the back of her throat.

He watched her lick him clean the same way he had licked his fingers.

It was enough to buckle his legs.

She smiled and pushed herself to her feet. "I heard a rumor that we may be going for a weekend trip."

He nodded at her, unable to form words at all.

"I heard another rumor that youíd be apologizing for trying to leave me again with a full body massage."

Alex grinned, nodding once more.

"And I think itís safe to say that youíll be doing *all* the cooking *and* the cleaning."

"Youíre pushing it."

"Weíll see."

He pulled her into his arms and held on tight. They werenít okay, but they were getting there and for the first time in a very long time ... Alex wasnít terrified that she would vanish from his sight without a backward glance on her part. Giving her a soft kiss, he opened the garage and led her inside their house. Chunk was standing at the back door, looking in at them and when he spotted Callie, he leaped up, planting his big paws on the glass. Melana walked out of the kitchen and shook her head. "Heís made a mess in the kennel. He shredded his toys."

"Iíll get it," Alex said, winking at Callie.

Melana cleared her throat and regarded her daughter.

"What?" Callie asked.

Pointing at the television, Mel walked back into the kitchen. A moment later, Callie joined her, crimson faced.

"Perhaps you should remember that your father spared no expense with the security system." Mel dropped fresh chicken into flour for frying as she glanced up again. "Iíve seen you on your knees with your face in unspeakable places twice today. Perhaps you should pray while youíre down there."

"You told me to speak more with my body."

Melana lifted a brow. "Well, I suppose that with your mouth full you canít really run it."

"This is so embarrassing."

"Humiliation is good for the soul."

"Soooo embarrassing."

"Your fatherís mother caught me doing the same thing to him when I was pregnant with you and Cam. She scared me so much that I almost bit -"

"Blech! STOP!" Callie shoved her fingers into her ears and fled the room.

Melana laughed the entire time she prepared dinner.

*~*~*~*~*~

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

Addison was sitting on the floor of their very vacant third bedroom with her face buried in her hands. Her sobs had alerted Mark to her whereabouts and she glanced up in time to see him put his hands on his hips and glare at her. "You never repaired the heating problem in this room! Itís cold! Eskimos would *die* in here."

"Well, I donít see any Eskimos so weíre okay."

"You said you would fix it! You never keep your word!"

Mark scratched his chin as he watched her face fall. He had heard people say that women changed when you married them, but the one eighty that her personality had taken was so out of the ordinary it shocked him. "Addison -"

"I didnít marry very well, did I? You are not a very good handyman!"

"And you are not a very sane woman so I didnít marry very well either, psycho." He stalked into the room and held his hand out. "Come on. Get up."

"You have to put heat in here! You have to! And you have to work on the bottom cabinet in the kitchen that you keep claiming youíre going to repair. Because it hangs open and how in the hell are we supposed to baby proof it if it wonít even close, Mark!? And there are loose rocks in the fireplace which would give a baby a concussion if it tried to pull up! And donít even get me started on the -"

"Stop talking unless you can make sense!" Mark squatted down in front of her. "Is this why youíre upset? Because our house isnít baby proofed? Itís not like youíre -"

"Here!" Addison cried, flinging a white piece of cloth at him. "I didnít really put Montgomery on the lab coats I ordered. I put Sloan. Just Sloan."

"If youíre this fucking upset about being a Sloan then just keep your last name! Damn it, woman, youíve gone crazy!"

"WOULD YOU JUST LOOK AT IT!?!?!"

He shook the coat open and held it up. "This is too big for you. Wait ... is this one of mine?"

She nodded yes, then covered her face. "Just read it!"

Mark turned it around. "You wrote on it!? With a Sharpie!? Addy, what the -"

He trailed off and she knew that he had seen what was written there. She kept her eyes firmly closed because if he looked disappointed or upset ... it would kill her. It felt like an eternity passed and the tears that had dried up out of fear began to fall freely again. "Mark, say something."

When he sniffled, she looked at him, expecting the worst. He was grinning ear to ear, however, and there were tears of obvious joy on his cheeks. His fingers traced the words ĎDaddyí on his white coat and he laughed, shaking his head. "Itís about damn time, sweetheart."

"Youíre happy? But you said Ďthank god thatís not usí when we were at the bakery and -"

"Is that what set you off last night? Is that why you cried yourself to sleep thinking I didnít know?"

She wiped her nose on a tissue. "You made it seem like you werenít ready and ... well, I am. I really want this."

He didnít say anything. He simply got to his feet, scooped her up, and carried her into their bedroom. He deposited her on the bed and pulled her heels off, taking a moment to massage the angry looking marks on her feet. "I donít know why you wear these things." he said, moving his hands up her calves, which he rubbed until she was moaning from joy. "Feel good?"

"If you moved a lot higher ... it would feel better."

Wasting no time, he pulled her panties down and lifted the bottom of her dress, pressing his lips to her stomach. "Hey, Mark Junior."

She pushed herself up on her elbows and scowled at him. "One of you is enough."

"Itís a boy. My boy. And my boy will be named after me."

"Maybe itís a girl."

"Nah, itís a boy. I can tell."

"How can you tell?"

"Because heís making you cry all the time ... just like his dad."

"Oh Christ ... it *is* a boy."

Mark gave her a knowing smile and lowered his head between her legs. She dug her toes into the comforter and pushed herself up against his face. He didnít make her beg, but he loved her slowly and thoroughly. His mouth had touched every inch of her body by they time they collapsed, sated, against the bed. Smiling, she kissed his shoulder. "Mark?"

"Yeah?"

"Weíre having a baby."

He rolled onto his side and beamed at her, his hand instinctively resting on her stomach. "Yes, we are."

"Iím so excited."

"So am I. Youíre going to be a wonderful mother. This kid is already so lucky."

Her eyes filled with tears and she rested her hand on his cheek. "Yeah, he is. Youíre gonna be one hell of a dad."

With a resigned sigh, he rolled on top of her again. "I was all set to go to sleep until you said that. Now I have to thank you."

She wrapped her legs around him and moaned when he slipped into her. Feeling happier than she could ever remember, she kissed him. They were ready for a baby, she decided, as he pulled back and slammed into her again. She could barely wait for the next chapter. When he fell asleep a while later, she watched him for close to an hour ... imagining the look on his face when he held their child for the first time. She could only pray it was the complete opposite of the look he had when she told him she had aborted their first baby. She put her hand against her belly and closed her eyes. ĎDonít feel too happy,í she thought, Ďyou didnít want the first one and the powers that be could take this one in the blink of an eye.í

She didnít get much sleep that night.

*~*~*~*~*~

"What do you mean you have to work?" Burkeís hands rested on Cristinaís hips, which had moved in ways he never imagined hips could move. He was still reeling from the mind blowing orgasm when she announced that she would be missing dinner that weekend. "You have the entire week off."

"I was supposed to. Callie said she needed me."

"Well, call her and tell her you canít work, Cristina. I told you about it a couple of days ago. This is a very important dinner. A wedding party, actually."

"I donít want a wedding party. I told *you* that days ago." She tried to distract him by rotating seductively. "We are supposed to keep our marriage a secret for a while. Itís *ours* and I thought weíd keep it that way."

"Well, I donít plan on taking my ring off so Iím sure people are going to figure it out."

"Come on, donít make it weird."

"Either you tell Callie that you canít work or I will."

"But -"

"Marriage is about compromise."

"Right. Youíre right. So, compromise and cancel this party thing."

Preston sat up, brushing her hair over her shoulder. He kissed her chin, then her lips. "Donít you mean ... cancel my parents?"

Cristina laughed. It was a horrible, maniacal laugh that was supposed to sound shocked out of her senses, but she knew it sounded guilty ... like she had been found out. "No! I just -"

"You just?"

"Youíre mother tried to murder me with your family necklace. It choked me half to death. She will use her bare hands when she finds out that we eloped without her. She will probably hold me down and shave my *head* instead of just my eyebrows."

"She explained the eyebrow thing," Burke replied. "She had never worked on anyone Asian and couldnít decide how to shape them."

"Pulling the race card after you scalp someoneís face is just as bad as calling me ĎMulaní, which she kept doing."

"She *likes* that movie."

"But she doesnít *like* me." Cristina slipped off his lap and retrieved her panties from the floor. "I donít want to have to deal with poorly hidden scorn or backhanded compliments. Weíre happy, Preston. Weíre really, truly happy and I thought that that happiness would extend past this week and not end with a stupid dinner where I have a target on my forehead and your mother has the darts."

"It wonít be like that."

"You donít know that!"

"Neither do you!" Burke got to his feet. "My mother is all about saving face, Cristina. Iíve invited *everyone* to dinner. She wonít be rude to you in front of them because she thinks that embarrassing me is a mortal sin. It will be *fine*."

"You donít-"

"Come back to bed."

"I donít want -"

Preston kissed her, lifting her off her feet. He dropped her back onto the bed and followed her, kissing her legs, her hips. "You underestimate me," he told her, laving her nipple. "Youíre my *wife* now and if you think Iíll let my mother say or do *anything* to you ... then you donít know me at all. I love you, Cristina, and if she canít love you just because I do ... then itís her loss."

*~*~*~*~*~

Callie changed the schedule for Cristina, putting Izzie back on duty. The blond didnít mind. Eros was apparently working the weekend after all and she actually leapt for joy at the prospect of spending time with him. The remainder of the week passed in warp speed for all parties concerned. Irene was still on suspension so Callie ate in the cafeteria with Alex. Because Dr. Bailey was trying to cram everything that a Chief Resident should know into three remaining days, Callie was exhausted every night and usually fell asleep the second her head hit the pillow. She had great intentions when it came to making up with her husband, but she was simply too exhausted to do more than kiss him and he seemed to be so grateful to be back in their bed that he was content to spoon against her every night.

By the time their shift ended on Friday afternoon, Callie was already yawning. They stopped at the grocery store for enough food to stock Goon Docks for the weekend with and then headed for the cove. Melana had enlisted Leon to load their bags onto the yacht and she ushered them forward, forcing them to bypass the house entirely lest they change their minds about the trip. The older woman kissed them both, told them to be careful, then clicked her tongue at Chunk, who followed her back down the trail without a backwards glance.

"She stole my dog," Callie said, watching her mother disappear through the trees.

"Come on. We need to get going so we can fuel up before -"

"We need to talk first."

"Okay."

She leaned against the railing on the deck and crossed her arms over her chest. She decided that her posture was too confrontational and opted to put her hands in her pockets instead. "Iím doing this with you because Iím not ready to say goodbye. Iím doing this because I want to fix whatís broken with us and try to make it work, but I need you to understand that Iíve had enough."

"What do you -"

"You always apologize. You always say that youíll never leave again and that you really, really mean it. And I always believe you because I love you and I *want* to have faith in you." She gazed into his eyes for a few seconds. "But I donít. Not anymore. So Iím telling you before we even attempt this that Iím *done*. The next time you leave is the last time, Alex, because thatís it. Iím telling you up front that the next time you go ... I wonít take you back. Iíll file for divorce and leave."

His jaw tightened and he looked away. "I never thought Iíd hear you say that."

"I never thought Iíd have to say it." She could see his heart slamming against his chest through his shirt and it broke her own. She stepped forward and hugged him. He didnít hesitate when it came to hugging her back. "I want us to be okay, Jock Strap. I do. But we canít be okay if weíre not together and every time you leave me ... you tear me apart."

"You wonít believe me when I say this ... but I really get that now and I wonít leave again."

She eased back and nodded. "I hope you can keep your word ... so I donít have to keep mine."

Alex took a deep breath. "We should go."

"Are you sure?"

"I am."

Callie let him help her onto the yacht. She did the routine check of gauges while he stowed their groceries in the galley. It took thirty minutes to pull away from the cove and they headed straight into a fiery and blazing sunset. It was beautiful and when Alex reached over and took her hand, she smiled at him. "Where do you want to go?"

"Iím already in the best place I can be. So, you decide."

"Well, we have to be careful because there are a lot of whales migrating and -"

"Whales?"

"Whales," she repeated. "We can head toward Alaska to see them, but weíll have to be on the lookout for ice. I donít really want to go out like Rose and Jack in ĎTitanicí, though."

"Donít talk like that." Alex glanced over the side of the yacht as if expecting to see whales and ice already. "Maybe we should hang around Puget Sound and hope for the best."

In the end, they decided to head for open ocean. They dropped their anchor at Neah Bay, leaving the relative safety of Puget Sound and Seattle behind them. As Callie powered down the engine, a faint drumming could be heard. She stood on her toes to get a better view of the shoreline, which was dotted with small fires.

Alex joined her, his arms around her waist. "What is it?"

"Maybe we should go somewhere else. The Makah Indian Tribe may not like us being so close."

Resting his chin on her shoulder, he felt her shiver. "Letís go below deck, Gothika. Youíre freezing."

The drumming intensified as they headed downstairs.

Alex announced that he would make dinner and urged Callie to take a bath. Considering the fact that she yawned the entire time she was agreeing with him, he should have known better. When he went into the bedroom to tell her that their food was ready, she was stretched out on the bed, breathing deeply. He forgot about his hunger completely when he crawled in next to her and closed his eyes. It felt like coming home. He hadnít realized how much he had missed living on the yacht and sleeping with her in the much smaller full sized bed. Their king sized bed at the house was just too big and he made a mental note to suggest a smaller one. Hell, even a twin sized one. Anything to be closer to her.


He fell asleep thinking that he hair smelled like honey.

*~*~*~*~*~

"Hello?"

"So, you finally answer the phone."

Melana sighed. "What do you want, Raphael?"

"To talk to my wife."

"What was I when you were lying to me? When you were endangering our daughter? When you were absent from our marriage for *weeks* at a time? Was I your wife then?"

"Mi vida, you have been my wife forever ... long before we said I do."

"Sweet nothings are more nothing than sweet."

"Honey, please ... just ... talk to me. I miss you so much. Your pillow still smells like your perfume and I donít want to get out of the bed in the morning because it feels like youíre there. For just a moment ... itís like youíre there. God, Melana, I need you to be there."

The stack of letters that Callie had brought back from Greece rested in Melís lap, unopened. She had been cradling them against her chest when Raphael called and she answered because she needed to hear his voice. "Iíve always been there. Youíre the one who was so capricious about leaving me."

"Come home."

"Even if I wanted to ... which I donít ... I canít. Iím house sitting for Calliope. Sheís taken a weekend trip with Alex to work on their marriage."

"How are they doing?"

"Better than us."

Raphael didnít say anything right away. When he finally did speak, his voice was soft. "I could be there in the morning. We could -"

"I donít think so. I have plans."

"Plans?"

Melana smiled when she replied. "Richard invited me to dinner and I -"

"Richard?"

"Chief Webber."

"WHAT!?"

"You mean our daughter didnít tell you? I confess myself stunned. You would have been proud of her. She fought valiantly in your defense when I had Richard here."

"When you *had* him?"

"For dinner." She crossed her ankles, imagining her husband pacing angrily across the floor in Miami. "You should sit down. Youíre breathing very hard."

"Are you sleeping with him!?"

"You know me much better than that."

"THEN WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!?"

"If you are going to swear at me ... Iím hanging up."

Raphael ended the phone call. Melana cackled with glee, rubbing Chunkís head when left his cushion, trotted to the edge of the bed and put his head on her lap. She patted the mattress and he hopped up beside her, gazing at her with adoration. "Your grandfather is not a very happy camper right now. If you think your mommy can pitch a tantrum, Chunky, you just wait and see what Papi can do."

Gucci, who had been content to sit on top of the bureau, apparently felt the same burst of jealousy that Raphael had experienced because he gave an earsplitting shriek and leaped to the bed. Chunk barely acknowledged the primate as he rested his jowls on Melís legs and closed his eyes. The monkey scrambled to the letters and picked one up, trying to be more helpful than the dog. Hugging Gucci to her chest, Melana took the letter and opened it. "This is the first letter that he ever wrote me. I was quite angry at him for leaving me. I needed him. My father had been murdered, my mother was catatonic, and I carried a baby that needed me to be strong. I was only ever strong with Raphael so his abandonment was hard to swallow. I held onto this missive for days ... thatís why it looks so worn. I could recite it to you from memory, Gucci, but I wonít."

Taking extra care not to tear the old paper, she cleared her throat. "My Dearest Melana, Iíve only been gone from you for two hours, but it feels like every mile that separates us is a year. Or ten. The helicopter is loud and this journey will take two days, but instead of concentrating on the task at hand ... like Iíve been trained to do ... my thoughts are with you. Itís so hard to believe that you became my wife just two days ago. I knew that when I saw you the first time at the market that I would love you. Luckily for me, your heart matches your outer beauty and I have not hied myself to a beautiful demon. And you are beautiful, my love. I keep imagining the way you looked as you walked down the aisle toward me. You seemed to float like an angel. My angel.

"I pray that I wonít be kept from you overlong. It would take me a lifetime to tell you how much leaving you has wounded me. You were so brave not to cry, baby, but I fear that I have cried enough for the both of us. I never understood love until you. I never knew what it would feel like to have someone touch your soul with their own, but thatís what you do to me. Youíre the greatest love of my life and our child, the one that you are nourishing with your body right now, will be our greatest accomplishment. I think he must know that he was conceived from something more magical than either of us can voice. Please ... say an extra good night to him from me until I can return, press my lips against your stomach, and do it myself.

"I wonít be gone long. I refuse to be gone long. What Iíve heard thus far is that I will be briefed on what I know about The Triad and the explosion and then my duty will be to return to your side. I was sent to Greece to protect you and your family in your fatherís stead and I see no reason for that to change. You all still need guardianship ... perhaps now more than ever. Your mother is certainly in no position to afford you the kind of security that I can. I guard you with more than guns, Melana. I guard you with my love and that is stronger than a million explosives.

"Please do not hold this against me. I return to the States because I am honor bound to do so, but only my body is making this journey. My soul is, as ever, with you. I know that I have let you down by keeping secrets from you, but I pray you know that my intentions, my reasonings for doing so, were pure. Iím sure that even now it is all an enigma to you and I long for the day that I can be more forthright. You deserve to know everything and I pray that you view me as deserving of your understanding. The command was just issued for us to ready ourselves to land. I want to mail this immediately so that you may get it quickly. I will say goodbye for now, my love, but know that I would be much happier saying hello. Forever yours, Raphael."

Gucci scampered to the end table, where he pulled a Kleenex from the box. He dabbed at Melís cheeks, his head cocked to one side in confusion. She scooped him up and buried her face against his neck. "Oh, how I longed for him to come back. With each passing day I grew angrier and less understanding to his plight. I felt exactly the way I feel right now, Guc. I believe Iíve read enough for one night. Letís go to sleep, shall we?"

The monkey refused to leave her side. He tolerated sleeping next to Chunk in order to remain close to her.

*~*~

In Miami, Raphael had a tantrum the likes of which would have shocked Callie ... who had mastered the art at a very young age. He broke glasses, smashed photos, and picked up his unpacked luggage, sending the contents all over the living room. Two leather bound books he had never seen before went flying across the hardwood floor. He sank to his knees to retrieve them ... because walking under the weight of the world had gotten too heavy to bear. It took him just a few seconds to realize what he held in his hands. Sitting in the floor, amidst the carnage he had caused ... he opened the oldest of the two journals and began to read. His fingers trailed the familiar sloping flourish of Melanaís handwriting and as he turned page after page ... he fell in love with his wife all over again.

*~*~*~*~*~

In one of the most remote regions of the Greek Isles, the Commissioner sat with his fingers steepled just below his chin. His partners, the other two branches of The Triad, had gone over their roles in The Plan and he nodded as it sank in. They waited with bated breath as he gazed at the maps on the wall, then nodded. "And how many casualties can you predict?" he finally asked, his tone calm and steady.

"Thousands," replied Aban, the delegate from Iraq. "Americans are known for gathering in one place ... like maggots on a carcass. It makes it so easy."

"I agree," said Pierre de la Fontaine, the leader of the French branch. "They wonít know what hit them."

The Commissioner looked thoughtful, but it was not remorse that put the expression on his face. "We should synchronize our watches, Gentlemen. America will fall to her knees Sunday morning and I daresay weíll want to be wide awake for it."

"I can barely wait," declared Aban, rubbing his hands together. "The memory of September Eleventh has provided me with many sweet dreams and we were only marginally responsible for that. This ... this is our own design."

Chuckling, the Commissioner opened a box and pulled out three Cuban cigars. "Itís even sweeter to know that Raphael Torres and his meddling daughter will see our mark and have no way of alerting the authorities without implicating themselves."

Pierre lit his cigar and puffed proudly, looking like an overstuffed peacock thanks to the Fedora he wore. His rheumy eyes and moist lips gave him the distinction of looking slimy and when he coughed over the smoke, he blew a string of saliva from his mouth that hung over his double chin. He wiped it away once he got his lungs under control and smiled balefully. "I only indulge in smoking when the occasion calls for it. I intend to savor this cigar."

Aban, whose eyes had been drawn to the manís wobbling, spittle covered chins, nodded in agreement. "I only wish we could be there to see it all in person."

"You know that their media outlets are like vultures. It will be like having a front row seat." Pierre smiled at both of his friends. "And our mole on the inside of the Torres family will be able to keep us updated on their distress. Perhaps it will drive them both to the brink of insanity."

"You would have to be sane to become insane. I donít think anyone in the family suffers from from sanity." With a regal wave of his hand, the Commissioner indicated to his butler that another round of drinks would be needed. "Let us complete our planning, kind sirs. We donít want to leave any loose ends."

"Or survivors." Aban laughed raucously. "This moment has been several years in the making. I only wish Xeno was here to see it."

The butler filled their snifters with more brandy and stepped back, his eyes large in their sockets. The Commissioner lifted his glass into the air. "To Xenos Karakas, who should have been in my seat today."

"Donít sell yourself short, Cambyses," replied Pierre, "you have filled your grandfatherís shoes quite well over the years. And your Uncle Xeno would be proud."

*~*~*~*~*~*~
CH 19
know you deserve much better
Remember the time I told you the way that I felt
And that I'd be lost without you and never find myself
Let's hold onto each other above everything else
Start over, start over

I'll do whatever it takes
To turn this around
I know what's at stake
I know that I've let you down
And if you give me a chance
Believe that I can change
I'll keep us together
Whatever it takes

*~*~*~*~*~*~


Alex awoke with a gasp and instinctively reached for Callie. Her side of the bed was empty, however, and he pushed himself upright, scanning the room. The remnants of the nightmare were impossible to shake, even when he padded into the bathroom and splashed his face with water. Callie had been drunk enough in his dream for it to kill her and he had begged, pleaded, and threatened her until he was at his witís end, but she would not surrender the bottle. The last thing he remembered was seeing her eyes roll back into her head and Chief Webber pronouncing her dead. Rivulets of sweat ran between his shoulder blades despite how cool the bathroom was and when he pulled his jeans on, his hands were shaking. It had been that real. Dressing fast, he left the bedroom.

Callie was not in the galley, but he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the fresh bagels they had picked up the previous night were on the counter. At least she had eaten something. Her weight was a constant source of concern for him. She would lose and gain the way most women changed their shoes. You could tell if she was happy by whether or not her face was full and round ... which he preferred. He was about to reach for a bagel of his own when someone shouted outside the yacht. He abandoned the galley and raced topside in time to see a man in a small boat screaming obscenities at the shore.

"Hey," Callie said softly.

Alex turned and saw that she was sitting comfortably in the captainís chair. Her face was filled with color because of the cold and he opened his mouth to tell her that she needed a bigger coat on when he saw the line of boats just behind Goon Docks. There were colorful signs hanging from the side of each boat and people holding signs dotted every available surface. "What the hell, Gothika?"

"This sucks." She sighed and indicated the shoreline. "Apparently the Makah Indians are whalers and today theyíre going hunting. Those guys," she pointing a thumb over her shoulder, "are protesters. It got pretty ugly about an hour ago. I thought someone would get harpooned. I called the Coast Guard, but they havenít gotten here yet."

He sat down beside her, eyeing the melee with apprehension. "Letís leave."

"Well, Iíd love to leave, Alex, but those asshats have decided to drop all kinds of nets and lines in the water that will get tangled up in the propeller. Itís their way of keeping the Makah people from getting out into open water." Scratching the side of her face, she shrugged. "But there is a silver lining."

"There is?"

She got to her feet, then sat down in his lap, nuzzling his cheek. "Weíre alone, sorta, and I donít know about you, but Iím feeling pretty nostalgic. Iíve been up here thinking about that day in the hospital when you kissed me for the first time. I donít know if I ever told you, but I put on that stupid brown dress and -"

"I happen to be very fond of that dress."

Grinning, she gave him a kiss. "I put on that *stupid* brown dress and everyone was reacting to the new and improved me ... but youíre the only one that I wanted to see me. I think I knew I was falling in love with you even then. I *wanted* to fall in love with you."

"Iíve been remembering things, too. And if memory serves, you absolutely freaked out over me saying the word Ďloveí and decided that being eaten alive by a shark was better than going there with me."

"Wrong." She shook her head. "I freaked about *me* saying it because I had a complex about it. In my experience ... when you say those words ... your life goes to hell in a handbag." Giving him a smile she added, "Thanks for proving me wrong."

"Thanks for letting me." Alex pushed her hair back and cupped her cheek, his thumb trailing over her lips. "Iíve really missed you, baby."

"I missed you, too."

He opened his mouth to tell her that he hoped they never fought again, but the protesters behind them upped their taunts and he rolled his eyes. "How long ago did you call the Coast Guard?"

She checked her watch. "About an hour and a half. Itís weird. Iíve never heard of them taking so long."

As if on cue, a loud siren blared and Callie got to her feet. Alex followed suit and they watched as three boats approached. A man sat in front of each, checking the water for the nets she had warned them about, which they pulled onto their vessels with large metal hooks. It took close to an hour for the water to be cleared completely and by then, the guards had issued strong warnings to the hecklers and several had cleared out. A female guard boarded Goon Docks to thank them for the tip and gave the couple advice that both Alex and Callie found peculiar.

She told them to stay close to land and not sail north.

And the Coast Guard actually went so far as to escort Goon Docks toward Oregon instead of the prime whale viewing area that Callie had been heading for near the Gulf of Alaska. She glanced at Alex and let the engine idle when the escort boats went back the way they had come, leaving Goon Docks bobbing near the shore. "Why do they not want us going north?"

"I have no clue, but now Iím worried so letís take their word for it. You remember that little Oregon town we stopped at on the way home from Disneyland?"

"Yeah."

"Letís go back there. We said that we would and Iím in the mood to stretch my legs."

She studied his expression. "Are you okay?"

He thought of the nightmare that had awoken him and the apprehension he had been feeling as they were escorted away from the protesters felt a million times worse than it had. "Not really. I dreamed that you died last night."

Her eyes widened. "What?"

"Yeah. You drank yourself to death. Right in front of me."

"Thereís no chance of that," she replied, reaching out to take his hand.

Alex didnít speak for a few moments. When he did, his voice was low. "Are you sure?"

"I am." She gave him a small grin. "So, that town you were talking about had a seafood restaurant that looked pretty good. You in the mood for crab?"

"Always," he said as he watched her throttle forward. Her assurance that she would not drink again, which in her case could easily be a death sentence, would have made him feel a lot better if she had not changed the subject so quickly.

Alex was not a stupid man. He knew that Callie had a very real problem with alcohol, but he wanted to believe her, he needed to believe her, when she said that she would not do it again. His father had been a slave to the bottle, lashing out at anyone and everything that he viewed as standing in the way and the man had never acknowledged it, never said that he would stop. Instead, his father, appropriately called ĎBusterí by anyone who knew him, insisted that he was fine and only suffered from having a rough life. Callie, on the other hand, admitted that she had an addiction ... so she was *nothing* like his father.

Only in a way ... she was.

And it was that part of her, the unpredictable and untamed thirst for drunkenness, that terrified him to the core.

"Did I tell you that Addisonís pregnant?" Callie asked suddenly, cutting through his thoughts.

What could only be described as jealousy cut Alex to the bone. He listened to her ramble about Addisonís neurotic behavior and smiled and nodded at all the right moments, but inside, he felt pang after pang of longing. They should have had a baby first, he thought. If Callie had gotten pregnant on their honeymoon ... she never would have drank again or performed in the air show. It would have made all the difference in the world. He hated himself for thinking it, but their life would have been much better with a baby on the way. Callie seemed oblivious to his troubled thoughts and cheerfully rambled on and on for a while.

By noon, they had docked at the same quaint seaside town that had captivated the both of them before. He tied the yacht off and stepped onto the dock, holding his hand out to her. She let him help her step down and said, "Alex?"

"Hmm?"

"Maybe our five year plan should be a three year plan."

He held his breath, unable to believe he had heard her correctly. They had mapped it all out before they got married, deciding to try for a baby only after he completed his residency. Telling themselves that waiting was the smart thing to do had sounded great at the time, but five years felt like five million when faced with the reality of it.

She watched him, not saying another word. When he simply returned her gaze, she sighed, "Or not ... if youíre gonna freak about it."

Alex exhaled. "I think our three year plan should be a one year plan. Iím ready for a family, Callie. More than ready."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

Callie put her arms around his neck. "So, we have a *one* year plan. And thatíll work out perfectly because I can make Addison give me everything that her baby outgrows."

Alex felt the weight lift off his shoulders. He hugged her tight, lifting her off her feet. It felt like winning the lottery and Christmas morning rolled into one. With his mouth against her ear, he said, "Youíll have to stop taking the Depo shots now, Gothika."

"Then I guess it works out that I didnít keep my appointment Friday to get it done."

He set her down and narrowed his eyes at her. "You *planned* this!"

"Addison was being all braggy about being pregnant and I can share my family with her and be her best friend ... but Iím *so* not letting her have a kid that much longer than me."

He tugged her into his arms again, holding on with all that he had. "Just so you know ... we are *never* fighting again."

"Thank God," she replied, breaking his grip. "Because Iím tired of always winning."

She pinched his side and took off running.

He chased after her and knew that heíd never doubt her again.

*~*~*~*~*~

Cristina slumped in her chair as Jane Burke glared at her from across the table. Prestonís announcement that they had gotten married had been met with resounding cheers ... except from his mother and she had resolutely crossed her arms and glared at Cristina as if Burke had announced that he had been castrated. When their salads arrived, Mama decided to remind Cristina that Preston was allergic to tomato so she should abstain from eating it to be safe. Dutifully scooping the tomato from her plate, Cristina passed it to Meredith who simply raised her eyebrows. When the pork chops arrived, Mama questioned Cristinaís devotion to Judaism and took the news that Yang was not practicing it with the same scandalized face that she had utilized when she found out that Cristina was Jewish to begin with.

When Mama began to question Cristinaís upbringing, going so far as to call her a Ďcultural muttí, Melana cleared her throat and put her own fork down with a thud. All eyes fell on her, but she kept her gaze firmly locked with Janeís. "Thatís a lovely necklace that youíre wearing."

Mama nodded at her and looked at the cascade of emeraldís at her throat. "And yours as well. Is it Cartier?"

"It was a gift from my husband. It was his own design." Reaching up, Melana rested her fingers on the largest of the emeralds. A smile tugged the corner of her lips when she remembered Raphael presenting it to her over twenty years prior. Her heart ached at the memory and her fingers itched to grab her phone from her purse and call him.

"I see." Jane glanced at Richard. "Youíre a widow?"

"My husbandís in Florida," Mel replied absently, still thinking of making the call.

One of Janeís perfectly tweezed eyebrows danced upward. "And youíre here with Richard. Why?"

"Mother -" Preston began.

Melana gave him a dazzling smile before she looked back at Jane. "Richard and I are friends. Heís been taking excellent care of my daughter and -"

"Your daughter?"

"Callie," Melana replied. "Have you met her?"

"Wasnít she one of your bridesmaids?" Jane asked Cristina. "The one who kept talking about her husband? What was his name? George?"

"Thatís her," Cristina said with a nod. "But she got George out of her system and married Alex."

Jane gasped. "But - that wasnít - itís only been -"

"When it comes to love," Melana interjected. "Your heart doesnít really know what time it is. Which is obviously the case with Preston and Cristina. It wasnít their time before, but it is now and I think that we should all remember that weíre here to celebrate a wedding ... not cultural differences."

Janeís mouth tightened so much that she looked like she had been sucking a lemon. "There was no wedding to celebrate! Theyíve eloped and deprived me of watching my only son get married!"

"I know your pain." Melana lifted her fork again and casually speared a piece of broccoli. "When Callie eloped I was devastated and I lost several weeks by holding a grudge and not returning her calls. I was incredibly disappointed. I would have loved an elopement dinner. I would have loved to be included in *something* so count your blessings, Jane, because youíre here to celebrate the *rest* of their life and not just one of many milestones."

"Thatís very true." Preston put a reassuring hand on top of Cristinaís. "Please refrain from saying anything else negative, Mama, because weíre happy. And if you canít be happy ... then you canít be here."

Jane excused herself and went to the restroom in a ladylike huff. When no one made a move to follow, Melana rose and trailed behind her, standing in front of the long mirror over the sink to powder her nose. When Jane emerged from the stall and washed her hands, Mel spoke again. "You donít have to like Cristina, but you have to like Preston because heís *yours*."

"I donít feel the need to discuss this with you."

"Is Burke your only child?"

"Yes."

"I understand your desire to look out for his best interests. I do." Melana snapped her compact shut and slipped it into her purse. "But I also understand that once our children are grown we can only guide them so far. Preston chose his path and the person he wants to spend the rest of his life with so instead of making it hard on them both, sit back and watch them together. Youíll see that he chose wisely."

"You donít know *anything* about that girl. Sheís -"

"Yes, I do," Melana corrected. "Callie was almost raped a few weeks ago and Cristina showed up to bathe her every night so she wouldnít have to be embarrassed in front of us. At Callieís wedding, it was Cristina who held my hand after the bride and groom left and it was Cristina who called me in August to talk her through preparing a dish that Preston fancied. She said heíd had a stressful day and she wanted to cook him a real meal. We talked for two hours and I have no doubt that she loves him in a way that any mother would hope for their child."

"Why didnít she call me!? I know what foods he likes!"

"She didnít call you because you probably would have degraded her even more over the phone than you did tonight in front of her friends." Melana straightened her purse and her shoulders. "Donít make the mistakes that I did. I cut my son out of my life for *years* because I didnít approve of his boyfriend. Now that Iíve come to my senses ... I know that I gained another son, just like I gained a son with Callieís husband."

Janeís eyes filled with tears. "But she -"

"You donít have to say that you have an only child anymore. This is an exciting chance for you to embrace a bigger family and experience what having a daughter is all about. Sheís a good girl, Jane. Sheís a wonderful friend to my daughter, sheís one hell of a doctor, and sheís got your son wrapped around her little finger. If you gave her a chance ... I bet sheíd wrap you around the other one."

Jane sighed when Melana squeezed her hand. "We wanted a big family. I was pregnant ... with a girl ... and we had a car accident. They took the baby and my womb with her."

"Iím very sorry to hear that." Melana instinctively hugged her. "I know that itís hard to be shut out of a part of your sonís life, but like I said earlier, heís inviting you into the best of it so meet him halfway. A wedding is, after all, *one* day. Itís what you do with the rest that matters."

"Thank you," Jane replied, grabbing a tissue to blot at her eyes. "Iím sorry to hear about the attack on your daughter. I hope sheís recovering well. She was delightful the day the girls all tried on wedding attire."

"My daughter was delightful while trying on *dresses*? Apparently you have mistaken her with someone else." Melana chuckled. "Now, I donít know about you, but I could always use another friend so before we leave tonight letís exchange phone numbers and perhaps we can get together to lament our children again soon."

The two women made their way back to the table, chattering animatedly with one another about the French Provincial chandeliers that hung over every table. When they sat back down, the dessert arrived and Jane, in a complete about face, lifted her fluted champagne glass and made a toast to her son and his new bride. Cristinaís eyes found Melanaís and she grinned when the older woman winked at her.

Melana thought, as she dug into her chocolate mousse, that she had missed her calling as a motivational speaker. She could usually get anyone to see things her way and if speaking with kindness and reason didnít do it, her shouting usually could. She had certainly shouted enough at Raphael to make her point of view loud and clear. Painfully clear.

As she finished off her dessert, she knew that the person being punished the most right now ... was her. She missed her husband. She missed the sanctity of their home and the familiarity of her things. She missed waking up in his arms and playfully debating whose turn it was to brew coffee. For over ten years, it had not been her turn and she doubted that would ever change, but it was a game they played and Raphael pretended to be annoyed, but his eyes shone brightly every time he brought her a steaming cup.

Melana missed her husband.

And the time that she had lost out on with Cambyses hung over her shoulders like a cloak. She had not exaggerated that to Jane. She wasnít proud, but the truth was she had kept her distance from Cam for close to seven years. She saw him only when it was necessary, she never invited Blake into the equation, and she seized every opportunity to throw in a jab about his homosexuality. And Cambyses had forgiven her. He had looked past her shortcomings and embraced her with open arms.

So, she reasoned, as she glanced down at her purse again, she should do the same for Raphael. Because her children deserved a family holiday that was not overwrought with tension and *she* deserved the comfort of having her husband nearby because for most of her life, Raphael Benito Torres had been her rock, her heart, and her *everything*.

Melana was pulled from memory lane when Addison tapped her on the arm. "What is it, honey?"

Addy leaned a little closer to her. "I know this is a bad time to ask because itís Cristinaís night and all, but Iím gonna eventually have this baby and, well, I always wanted my mom to be there, but ... would you? Do it, I mean? Be there. If youíre squeamish or -"

Melanaís eyes filled with tears. "Iíve had four children. Squeamish isnít in my vocabulary. And I would *love* to be there."

"Yeah?"

Hugging her, Mel whispered, "Absolutely, sweetheart. And by the way, if youíd like me to paint a mural in the nursery just say the word."

"Consider it said. This baby was conceived in Greece so if you could bring that to him, that would be great," Addy replied, grinning at her. She glanced across the table at Jane, who was telling Cristina a story about Burkeís childhood and whatever it was clearly amused the younger woman and everyone around them. "Whatever you said -"

"Youíll join the mother club very soon and when you do, youíll see that everything makes sense, words come easy, and you can do things you never dreamed possible. Just wait and see."

*~*~*~*~

Callieís feet were killing her when she finally boarded Goon Docks. The sun was setting and her stomach was entirely too full of crab, but she sighed with contentment when Alex stepped up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. They had enjoyed their day far too much. After having lunch at a small chain restaurant, they rented bicycles and toured the city, stopping to shop or indulge in too much chocolate at the local candy store. They poked around at an amusement park, took old fashioned saloon photos, and finally crashed at the seafood restaurant where they talked about everything. And nothing. It had been calm, relaxing, and they had laughed easily, stealing kisses, and holding hands.

That was what their marriage should have been all along.

With a happy sigh, Callie leaned her head back against his shoulder. "Look at that sky."

Alex obliged her, gazing up at the blazing colors that signaled the end of the day. "Itís beautiful."

She nodded. "I heard someone talking about the Northern Lights. Supposedly theyíre going to be crystal clear tonight. We should go out further into the ocean and drop anchor away from the city. Weíll get a better view."

The apprehension that had plagued him most of the day came back in full force. "I donít know. The Coast Guard -"

"They probably thought we were involved with the whaling thing." She turned and grinned at him. "Besides, if we go further out there," she pointed her thumb at the darkening ocean, "we can have a blast in the hot tub. Naked."

"Iím in," he replied instantly, untying the yacht from the dock. "Letís go! What are you waiting for?"

She laughed and started the engine, carefully backing away from the mainland. She pointed Goon Docks back toward Seattle, flipping on all the running lights, and turned on the radio, listening to the chatter from other vessels. When Alex joined her a moment later with two bottles of water, she was frowning.

"Whatís wrong?" he asked, leaning closer to her to check the gauges.

"Listen," she said, turning up the volume.

A conversation between two weary sounding crab fisherman was underway.

"They escorted me right out of the Gulf of Alaska without so much as an explanation. Just said that they were keeping the area clear because of a whale in distress. Iíve been on this water for over forty years and Iíve never heard of anything like it."

"Iím right there with you," replied the other man. "We were told to dock in Oregon. They didnít even let us stay near Washington. Iím hearing reports all over the place that -"

A sudden burst of static had Callie adjusting the dial.

Every channel was fried and she turned the volume down, glancing skyward. She saw a small aircraft in the distance and shook her head. "If I didnít know better Iíd say that someone was jamming the airwaves."

"What does that mean?"

Callie turned the volume back up, meeting his eyes. "Thereís no reason for the radio to be this scrambled. Itís a clear night, our antenna is just fine, and -" Something beeped suddenly and she looked down. The compass on Goon Dockís dash was rolling in a perfect circle, pointing in no particular direction. A second later, she felt her earrings start to move and reached up, pushing her hair behind her ear. Slipping off the left one, she let it dangle from her fingers and watched it whip in a circle. Her eyes went back to the plane, which was now almost overhead. The compass and the earring continued to swirl erratically and when the plane finally cleared and moved to the south, everything calmed. The radio came back up as well.

Swallowing hard, Callie followed the aircraft with her eyes. "As soon as the sun comes up ... weíre going home."

"Why wait?"

She glanced back down at the gauges. "Because itís gonna be dark in about fifteen minutes and there are reefs and a ton of other things to hit that I wonít know about if our instrument panel is being fucked with."

There was a burst of static on the radio again and another plane, this one much lower, flew across the horizon. Once again, the controls went crazy and Callie retrieved a pair of binoculars, studying the numbers under the wings. "Thatís a military plane. Take a look."

Alex accepted the binoculars. He wasnít sure what he was looking *for*, but the fact that there were unmistakable missiles on the underbelly was a sure indication that she was correct. Against the sunset, it was an ominous and strange sight. "What do you think is happening?"

"I donít know." Flipping open her cell phone, Callie dialed her fatherís number. It went straight to voice mail and she left a short message, telling him to call her and assuring him that everything was fine.

After nearly two hours of sailing, Callie dropped the anchor several miles from the Washington Coast and turned in her seat to study her husband. He looked pensive and troubled so she reached over and put a hand on his leg. "The radioís fine now and I havenít seen a plane for a while."

He scanned the darkness around them, then gasped when she turned off the overhead lights. The sky was awash in greens and golds and reds. Callie got to her feet and gazed in wonder at the fantastic display of Northern Lights. They were surrounded and the lights were bright enough to reflect off the water. "Thatís probably what the Coast Guard was doing. I bet the water near Australia is already full of sight seers who want to witness this first hand."

"You think?" Alex reached down and took her hand, reassured at her words despite the unbelievable tension in his body.

"Thatís gotta be it," she replied, smiling at him. His face was a kaleidoscope of color and she cupped his cheek. "Iím really sorry, Alex, for everything."

"Iím really sorry, too." He took a step closer and kissed her. It left them both breathless and when he pulled away, he inclined his head toward the nose of the yacht. "Hot tub?"

"Race you."

She took off running, then skidded to a halt when a jet of water shot up beside the railing. Something big bumped the underside of the yacht and her mouth opened to form a perfect Ďoí when she saw what was just below the surface of the water. There, reflected in the running lights, was a baby whale, one of its eyes turned upward to look at her. It was one of the most amazing things she had ever witnessed in her life and she didnít know whether to jump in with the animal or run for her camera.

Alex swore when he saw that the calf was accompanied by its mother. The larger whale blew frigid water all over the place, drenching everything in the vicinity. Callie pushed her wet hair off her forehead and kneeled down, reaching over the side. "This is unbelievable!"

"Callie, would you please-"

The mother whale hit the yacht again and just like that ... Callie went over, head first, partially landing on the baby.

"Shit!" Alex cried, prepared to launch himself overboard as well. He forced himself to remain on the yacht, however, because the water was cold enough to kill and he needed to know where Callie was before he dove in unaware. Hypothermia would set in fast, so he grabbed the life ring and prayed for her to resurface. "Címon, Gothika."

After what felt like a million years, Callie came up looking shell shocked from the cold, then she cried out in fear. Something nudged her backside and lifted her completely out of the water. She fell back, resting her elbows on the top of the whaleís head, which she would have been straddling if her legs opened that far. She slipped off the animal and back into the water when it veered to one side and when she came up again, her entire body was stiff from the cold. Alex splashed into the water beside her and tugged her to the ladder, half carrying her when he realized that she was too cold to move.

He forced her up the ladder, shoving with his shoulder when her limbs refused to cooperate. When they were safely on the yacht, he gripped her shoulders and shook her lightly. "Are you okay? Say something!"

Callieís teeth were chattering too badly to reply and when she looked down at her fingers, she saw that they were blue. "C-cold."

Alex wasted no time pulling the cover off the hot tub. When she didnít join him, he lifted her and gently eased her into the warm, soothing water. She groaned in relief, then in pain, as her fingers and toes began to thaw. He didnít let her clamber back out of the tub, however, and held her firmly in place. He knew that getting her warmed quickly was the most important thing after the drop in body temperature. When he saw the tears in her eyes, he pulled her into his arms and rubbed her back. "I know it hurts, baby."

"I a-am *never* g-going s-s-sailing a-again!" she sniffled, still shivering uncontrollably. Her teeth clanked and her entire body ached from the chills which seemed to emanate from the inside out. The tingling pain in her limbs was as uncomfortable as it was uncontrollable and she buried her face in his neck. "A-are you o-okay?"

"I was only in the water a second. What is it with you and marine life, Callie?" He rubbed her hair and frowned, feeling the ice crystals forming there. "Wet your hair."

"I canít move."

Alex did it for her, frowning when he saw how pale her face was. Reaching under the water, he felt the pulse in her wrist, then the one in her neck. It was a little slower than he would have liked, but that was to be expected. The body had a tendency to slow itself down after a water shock. He wet her hair again and waited for her to stop shivering, but she didnít. Their breath was fogging up the night air and he shook his head. "Iím going to go turn the shower on and let it get hot. Iíll be right back."

She nodded and watched as he hurried below deck.

When he returned, she was so sleepy that she could barely keep her eyes open. He helped her from the tub and supported her weight as they made their way slowly across the deck. In the shower, he peeled her wet clothes off and bathed her, rubbing the circulation back into her hands and feet. His mother had acquired an electric blanket for the bed and he had turned it on so that when they were finally dry and slipped into bed, it was warm and toasty.

"Iím sorry," she said, her eyelids heavy. "I really, really wanted to make love with you."

He grinned and kissed the tip of her nose. "Thatís what weíve been doing all day, Gothika. All day."

She was sound asleep a second later and he was content to watch her in the splashes of color from the Northern Lights that shone through the window.

*~*~*~*~*~

"Thank you for a very nice time," Melana said as Richard walked her to the front door. "It was a lovely evening."

"Thank you for whatever you said to Jane. She can be very hard on people." Richard took her hand and helped her step up onto the porch.

The front door was yanked open so suddenly that Melana leaped forward, forcing Richard to catch her. She turned and looked, wide eyed, at her husband. "Raphael! What on earth are you doing here?!"

"What are *you* doing?" Raphael reached out and pulled her from Richardís grasp, glaring at the other man. "Who do you think you are? I can not -"

"Stop!" Melana cried, putting her hands on her husbandís chest when he made a move to lash out at Webber. The feel of his strong, familiar body and the masculine, heady scent of her favorite cologne was enough to push her over the edge. Instead of letting her anger win out, she wrapped both arms around him and held on tight. "Oh, Raph, I missed you so!"

Stunned, Raphael returned the hug, smoothing his hand over her curls and cupping the back of her head. "I missed you, too, mi vida."

She began to cry against his shoulder. "I never wanted you to leave. Not really."

"Iím here now, honey, and Iím not going anywhere else without you. I promise."

"I love you."

Raphaelís voice trembled when he replied. "I love you too, Melana. I swear to you ... I will never lie to you again. Iíll tell you everything about FMC and about the CIA and about -"

"No." She leaned back and gazed into his eyes. "I only want to hear you say that you still need me as much as I need you because if thatís the case ... I donít have to know anything else."

"I could tell you that," he said, giving her the same, sweet smile he had given her the first time he saw her at the market, "but Iíd much rather show you."

"Raph!" She smacked him on the arm and turned to address Richard, but he was gone. They heard the front gate clank shut and she chuckled. "I didnít even hear him start the car."

"You *do* need to tell me what was going on with him, Melana, because -"

"Hush." She put a hand to his lips. "I just want to look at you for a while. I never knew I could miss someone so much. I- I forgive you for what you did with Callie. It was wrong and dangerous and you could have gotten her killed, but you didnít. You brought her back home to me every time and ... I love you for that."

"I shouldnít have done it. If I could go back in time and change it ... I would."

"Letís not worry with going back. Letís go forward."

"Letís go to bed." He grinned knowingly and pulled her into his arms. "Itís forward, isnít it. After all, itís that way."

"Letís go to bed," she agreed, but neither moved as they clung to one another for what felt like an eternity.

*~*~*~*~*~

Callie awoke early the following morning and smiled. She was lying on Alex's shoulder and he was rubbing her side. "What time is it?"

"Five thirty."

"In the morning!?"

"Yep."

"Thatís it. Iím going back to sleep."

"We wanted to get an early start back. Remember?"

When she lifted her head to look at him, she received a stark reminder of her impromptu swim and groaned in pain. "Shoot me, stuff me, mount me."

Alex chuckled. "Is it that bad?"

"Yep." She rolled onto her back and hissed to prove her point. "Honey?"

He narrowed his eyes at her. "What do you want, Gothika?"

"Food. If memory serves you were agreeable to all the cooking."

"You get food when you give me a kiss."

She pursed her lips together. "If I give you a kiss then you have to cook, not just warm a bagel."

"If I have to cook then I also get to cop a feel."

Callie lifted her shirt, trying hard to look put upon. "Get on with it."

Instead of lifting his hand to touch her ample breast, he lowered his head and captured her nipple with his mouth, letting his tongue dance against her taut bud. Her hand found the back of his head and her back arched as she moaned his name. He wasted no time finding her center. He slid the elastic of her panties aside and rubbed across her clit, earning an earth shattering kiss for his efforts. As his tongue dueled with hers, she lifted her hips and let him push her panties down, helping him shove them to her feet. He was already naked and his shaft rubbed against her hip, turgid and begging for attention.

Callie wrapped her hand around him, pumping slowly and he rolled onto his back, pulling her with him. She felt the muscles in her back protest and made a face, "Ow. I hurt all over."

He touched her cheek, resigned to the fact that he was never having sex again. "You want some Ibuprofen?"

"You gonna get it?"

"You really are rotten." He gave her a kiss and eased from beneath her. "Pancakes?"

"That sounds good."

Alex laughed when she burrowed under the cover and covered her head. He pulled on his boxers and headed for the galley, whistling good naturedly. A search for the pain medication yielded nothing in the cabinet so he checked the spare bathroom and as a last resort he picked up her purse and set it on the counter, sliding the zipper down.

The tune that he was whistling died abruptly.

From the depths of her black oversized bag ... he pulled a small bottle of bourbon. He couldnít breathe, couldnít move, couldnít believe it.

Glancing down, he saw another bottle and closed his eyes, unable to process it at all. The bedroom door creaked open and he heard Callie in the hallway behind him and slowly turned, holding up the bottle so she could see it. She drew up short, letting the belt of her robe drop from her hands. "Alex," she whispered, shaking her head. "I didnít-"

"Why?" Alex clutched the bourbon in a tight fist as he yanked the vodka from the purse. He gasped in shocked disbelief when he saw the tequila. "Jesus Fucking Christ, Callie! What the hell are you trying to do? Kill yourself?"

"I didnít drink anything."

He scoffed, rolling his eyes. "You just carry it around for the hell of it?!"

"I - I bought it the night that my dad was leaving and -"

"So this is why you carry such big purses, huh? So you can keep your little stash and -"

"Did you hear me say that I didnít drink anything!? I havenít had anything since the *one* mistake that all of you refuse to forget!"

"I FORGOT IT UNTIL RIGHT NOW! YOU ARE A FUCKING JOKE, CALLIE! A FUCKING JOKE! YOU KEEP TRYING TO -"

"Alex, stop."

"STOP!? STOP!!?! YOU STOP!! WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR YOU TO *LIVE*?"

"Itís not. I didnít drink it. I donít want it."

He clenched his jaw and glared at her. "Then why did you buy it?"

"Because I was pissed. I was pissed at you, at my family, at Addison ... and I just thought-"

"You thought? That was your first mistake. You canít think at all. Youíre obviously too stupid."

Her eyes filled with tears. "Donít do this. Donít start insulting me or calling me names. I donít deserve it and -"

"You can revert to form ... but I canít?"

"This isnít your form. This isnít who you are, Alex. And me being an alcoholic isnít who I am, either. I was wrong to buy it, but I didnít drink it and that matters."

"Not to me."

She angrily swiped a tear off her cheek. "Then what do we do? You have all the answers ... so what do we do?"

"You tell me! Is this what I have to look forward to? Do I have to go through your things to make sure youíre not hiding this shit? Do I have to watch the bank account to make sure youíre not -"

"No."

"Well, I damn sure canít trust you so what does that leave?"

"OBVIOUSLY NOTHING!"

"Pour it out." Alex held out the bourbon.

"You pour it out!"

He stalked forward and gripped her upper arm, pulling her to the sink. When she didnít take the bottle from him, he turned away and grabbed the tequila from her purse. He slammed it on the counter and glared at her. "I SAID POUR IT OUT!"

"Stop yelling at me!"

"By god, Callie, I will -" He whipped her around to face him and raised his hand.

"Alex!" She reacted instinctively, covering her head with her arms as she cried, "Donít!"

Alex, who had lifted his hand to simply point at her, was stunned. He didnít move at all until he heard her sobbing and then he gently rubbed her arms, whispering that it was okay. Slowly, he pushed them down and hugged her. She was trembling, but his own shaking was worse. He smoothed his hand over her back and felt a surge of relief when he felt her arms go around his waist. They stood that way for a while and when he spoke again, the bite was gone from his voice. "I would never hit you, Callie. Never."

"And I would never drink again!" she sobbed. "Never!"

"Well, thatís good to know," he replied. "You gave me a pretty severe warning before we came on this trip. You told me youíd divorce me if I ever left you again and now Iím saying the same thing to you. If you *ever* drink again ... I *will* leave ... and itís over."

She could see the sincerity on his features. The rug had been yanked from under her and she was as close to falling on her ass from shock as she had ever been. He had actually gone *there* and he meant every syllable of it. "I wonít."

"I know," he replied and realized that he meant it. "Youíre not stupid, Gothika. Iím sorry that I -"

"Just ... donít."

"But -"

Callie pulled away from him and opened the bottle of bourbon, tipping the contents into the sink. The vodka and tequila followed and when she threw them away and turned, her face streaked with tears. "How did we get here? Whatís wrong with us?"

"Itís my fault." He pushed her hair back and tilted her chin. "Iím *mean* to you when Iím mad. So ... of course youíd think Iíd hit you in the heat of it. Iím sorry. It - itís my fault."

"No, itís my fault. All you want is for me to be honest and I lied to you about the air show and I didnít tell you that I had something to drink again so ... itís understandable that you donít trust me. Iíve ruined our marriage and -"

"Itís not ruined."

"It *is*," she cried. "All we do is fight and yell and make each other miserable."

"Thatís not all we do." He took her hand in his. "Until very recently, we spent all of our time laughing and enjoying our life, Callie. You know that."

She nodded her head. "I miss that."

"Then letís get it back."

"How?"

Alex kissed her. It was a hungry, primal kiss that forced her legs to weaken and her heart to flip in her chest. She felt his longing, his need, and returned it full force. As one, they sank to the floor in front of the sink and he pushed her robe open. His hand found the bottom of her shirt and he pushed it upward, mimicking his actions from earlier in the bed. Latching onto her nipple, he let his tongue flick against it until it was hard, then moved to the other, repeating his ministrations until he heard her breathing change.

"Alex-"

"Shhh."

"Please donít stop."

"Wasnít planning to."

Although her body still ached in ways she had never experienced, the aching in her soul overpowered it and when he slid her panties down, she lifted her hips to help him. His nimble fingers found her center at the same time his mouth found hers. He manipulated her center until she was slick with need. His boxers were pushed only far enough to allow his cock to spring free and then he was buried inside her and she was crying out with relief. With her legs around his waist, she surged upward, rising to meet his thrusts. Her nails dug into his arms, his back, and she groaned when he changed his angle and gripped her hip, his fingers biting into her tender skin.

She was almost over the edge when he pulled from her and kissed a path down her belly. He left a hickey on her hip before he lowered his mouth to her center and let his tongue dance against her swollen flesh. Her pain was forgotten as he laved at her clit in that skilled, knowing way that only he could. He knew every inch of her and what it took to drive her insane. When two fingers slid into her and his free hand slipped back up to cup her breast, she felt the first wonderful contractions of her orgasm and tugged his hair.

He gave her less than two seconds to enjoy it. Pulling his hand away, he yanked her legs over his shoulders and slammed into her hard enough to move her several inches up the floor. Her arms went over her head, bracing herself against the wall as he pulled back and did it again. And again. And again. The sounds of flesh against flesh mingled with their mutual cries of pleasure and when Alex pulled back enough to rub his thumb over her clit, her legs stiffened, her back bowed, and she came again, pulling him with her as her inner walls grasped at his cock.

Spent, he collapsed on top of her, kissing her neck, then her mouth as he eased her legs down one at a time. For a while, they simply gazed at one another, their hot breath mingling as their heartbeats finally began to slow. Leaning down, he grazed her mouth with his own and whispered, "I love you."

"I love you," she replied against his mouth before she pushed herself up to capture his lips with hers.

For a while ... that was all that mattered.

"We're okay," Callie said after a while. "Finally."

He rolled onto his side and propped his head up, watching her. "It's about time."

She smiled. "Promise me something?"

"Anything."

"Let's never get to this point again, Jock Strap. Never."

"We won't." Alex brushed her bangs off her forehead. "I promise."

"And I promise I won't keep *anything* from you again. I'll go ahead and tell you now that I signed up to fly in the summer. It's a charity show and you've got *months* to mentally prepare for that."

"How many months?"

"It's in June."

He sighed. "I promise I'll *try* to not have a heart attack on one condition."

"Just one?"

"It's a big one, Elvira, so get ready for it."

"Oh god."

He held up his hand, where her rings still rested on his pinky. "If you wear these again, I'll deal with this flying thing. I'll show up, I'll clap, I'll remember to breathe when you do some reckless flip and I'll tell everyone within earshot that you're my very talented, very skilled *wife*. But only if you say you won't take them off again."

"That's a pretty good deal. I'd be a fool to not take you up on it." She reached up, letting her thumb trace the diamond butterfly of her engagement ring. "If I wear these again ... that's it for us, Alex. We're in this all the way and we're not gonna hurt each other again. Do you know what I mean?"

He slipped her rings from his finger and reached for her left hand. "I do. Just as much as I did in July, baby, I do. And I'd do it all over again."

They remained on the floor, alternating between making love and apologizing for close to two hours. When they finally showered and got dressed, it was nearly eight thirty in the morning. Alex agreed to cook while Callie readied Goon Docks for the journey home. When he joined her topside with a stack of pancakes, the water was choppy and she was staring into the distance. He turned to see what held her attention and his eyes widened.

"Now *that* is a big boat," he said.

The boat in question was a cruise ship that was breathtaking in sheer size. Goon Docks shifted precariously in the water, rocking from side to side as the mammoth ship sailed past. Alex and Callie both had to look straight up to see the name on the side, The Oceanic Dreamer, and the large waves that she left in her wake when she finally sailed past forced them to sit down fast to keep from losing their balance. The pancakes were less fortunate and they slipped off the plate, landing with a sloppy smack on the white deck.

Alex laughed, but Callie didnít.

She retrieved her binoculars and studied each of the four levels of the cruise ship. There was no one to be found. She turned the volume up on the radio and switched a few channels, listening intently for signs of life or ... distress.

"Whatís wrong?" Alex asked as he speared the last of the pancakes and put them back on the plate.

"Have you ever been on a cruise?"

"Only if you count us sailing back from California."

She studied the ship again through the binoculars. "Itís always so crowded that you feel like youíre suffocating from all the people. Where are the people, Alex?"

"I donít know." He accepted the binoculars and scanned the ships massive decks. The white flag that was furling in the wind caught his eye and he blinked a couple of times to make sure he was seeing it clearly. He had seen the three stars somewhere else, but he couldnít place where that had been. He opened his mouth to ask Callie, but she was on the radio again, trying to find the frequency the ship was using.

Callie finally started the engine and turned Goon Docks so that they were following the same path taken by the ocean liner. They were close enough to hear the whirring of the engines and were only a few miles from Neah Bay, where the whaling protest occurred, when the unthinkable happened. The ship was less than a mile away when it listed to one side. Callie, who had been watching it with interest all along, slowly stood.

A split second later, The Oceanic Dreamer was split down the middle by an explosion that was big enough to send Goon Docks onto her side and Alex and Callie backward into the water. She came up sputtering first. "Alex! ALEX!"

"CALLIE!"

She spun in the water, watching him swim toward her. He grabbed her and they both watched as Goon Docks fought to right herself in the enormous waves. "Come on, girl," Callie mumbled, her teeth chattering once again as the yacht was pitched left and right, still on her side.

Billowing black smoke covered the sky and the smell of fuel burning caused them both to cough. "We have to get out of this water," Alex said, feeling his flesh tingling from the cold.

As if Goon Docks heard the urgency in his voice, she finally won her own battle with the water and righted herself, bobbing like a cork. Swimming toward the ladder, Alex let Callie climb up first, then he followed, unable to tear his eyes away from the demolished ship that was close enough to warm the air. Pieces of burning debris rained down on them and he made quick work of ridding the deck of the larger pieces as Callie fumbled with the radio, calling out a Ďmay dayí to anyone in the vicinity.

They both had minor burns and scrapes from the debris and when Callie gave up her quest to raise someone on the radio, she turned and examined Alex. He did the same for her, touching the burn on her cheek and pulling off his wet shirt to dab at her bloody nose. "We have to try to help," she said as she used the sleeve of his shirt to staunch a nasty cut on his forehead. "Alex -"

"We canít get close enough." He looked at the wreckage and shook his head. "How many people sail on those things?"

"Thousands," she replied, not turning to survey the damage for herself. The fact that she had not seen anyone did not erase the fact that it was a *passenger* ship and there were probably children on board somewhere.

The steady thumping of helicopter blades forced them to turn quickly and look at the sky. The coast guard had arrived in full force, flanked by military choppers. Over the sound of the aircraft, Callie heard Goon Dockís warning siren begin to blare. She raced back to the captainís chair to check the gauges and said, "Sheís taking on water!"

Alex hurried to her side and watched as she frantically flipped switch after switch. "What do we do?"

"Open the bench and take out of the inflatable. The pumps arenít working."

He did as she requested, pulling the cord to inflate the life raft. He grabbed two life vests and held one out. The sounds were deafening when Callie shook her head. "I need to go to the engine room," she shouted, trying to be heard. "Maybe I can -"

"No!" Alex forced her arms into the lifejacket and fastened the bands on his own. "Sheís going down, Callie! We have to jump!"

She stared at the captainís chair, at the hot tub, at the tattered leather on the benches that had been demolished by the fiery rain and she knew that he was right, but she also knew that abandoning ship was the final act. Goon Docks would be lost to them forever. "I have to *try*."

Alex did something he never thought heíd do.

He picked her up and tossed her over the railing, shoving the raft in behind her. When he jumped a second later, their yacht was much lower in the water than it should have been. He scrambled into the raft and pulled her in behind him. She didnít protest, but she did bury her face against his neck to keep from watching as Goon Docks was eventually swallowed from their sight.

The fact that news crews had joined in with the other helicopters never dawned on either of them.

*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Is that -"

"Oh my god!" Raphael shot out of the bed and moved closer to the television, unable to believe his eyes. His heart fell to his knees as he watched the aerial footage of the cruise disaster fade to a rescue mission. With a hand over his mouth, he watched Goon Docks sink beneath the water, and Callieís unmistakable black hair whipping in the wind as she sat huddled with Alex on an orange dingy. "Melana-"

Melana, who was trembling so hard he could barely stand, hurried to Raphaelís side nevertheless. "Sheís okay."

They watched, horror struck, as a man was lowered over the small raft with a basket. Callie climbed into it and was slowly lifted from the turbulent waves and then Alex was taken to safety right behind her. The phone rang, causing them both to jump three feet into the air. "Hello?" Melana cried.

"Mel!" Addison replied. "Are you watching the news?"

"I am, honey." Melana looked back at the screen just in time to hear the announcer say that another cruise ship had just exploded off the coast of Florida. "Perhaps you and Mark would like to come here."

"Weíre on our way."

Melana hung up without a goodbye and took Raphaelís hand. "Is it like September Eleventh? Is it a terrorist attack?"

Raphael gazed at the screen when the images from the Florida explosion flicked across the screen. There, crudely painted on the back of the burning ship, were three stars, their tips touching.

The Triad had sent a very strong message.

And almost taken his daughter from him.

This, he decided, was war.

*~*~*~*~*~

CH 20
Dedicated: To Alicia and Amber for sending me the best care package from NYC that ever was. You guys mean the world to me and I adore you. Even if one of you talks way too fast. ;)
*~*~*~*~*~

It is human nature to be curious. The media picked up on that fact years ago and ran with it, manipulating footage for the greatest shock value to keep viewers glued to the news. They did not have to alter the live footage pouring in from the east and west coasts however. Estimates of casualties were well over five thousand and the images of people sobbing, falling to their knees, and crying out in shock as they watched the smoldering cruise ships sink to their watery graves was hard for anyone to watch.

Addison was in tears, reminded vividly of that fateful September day in New York City. She had been crossing the street to go to work when the first plane hit and the glass from the windows of the Trade Center had fallen into her hair. Dumbfounded, she had gazed upward, not realizing that a plane had hit the building or that she was in harmís way. Mark had seen it from a taxi and he had rushed out, grabbed her, and shoved her into the relative safety of the backseat. They had been watching from the windows when the second plane hit and that had been enough to send them scrambling from the car to join the rest of the city as they gazed upward at what would be the beginning to the worst day of their lives. As she clutched Melanaís trembling hand in her own, she watched for the millionth time as the Ďdaring rescueí of Callie and Alex played out on the screen.

Behind her, Raphael was pacing the floor as he waited for someone at the CIA to return his phone call. He had been demanding on the phone, refusing to accept less than the best information they currently had on the situation. His choice of wording had been stern and shocking at times, but apparently it was enough to get results. Someone would be calling back just as soon as Callie was located. It was impressive how much authority Raphael had, but it was disconcerting to see how frazzled he was. His tender underbelly had been exposed by seeing that *this* attack had hit awfully close to home. As she watched Raphael walk to the window and gaze out as if he expected to see his daughter coming home, Addisonís tears intensified and she put a hand on her stomach. She had not heard her own childís heartbeat yet, but at least she knew where he was.

Mark kneeled down beside Addison and put a hand on her leg. "You really need to calm down."

She crossed her arms over her chest as she met his eyes. "Iím trying."

"Try harder. This isnít good for the baby."

Addison swiped her hand over her cheeks. It infuriated her every single time he called her out on what was best for the baby. He had decided that she needed oatmeal every morning and bought enough to fill one entire cabinet. Coffee, even decaf, was out of the question and he had taken to coaxing her into the bed to *sleep* by ten every night. For the baby, he said, but he really meant that *he* would take care of *this* baby since she had so capriciously aborted the last one. He didnít trust her to care for it at all.

Mark handed her a tissue, then held one out to Melana, who was holding up surprisingly well. "Raphael will find them."

"I know." Melana patted him on the cheek, obviously grateful for a reason to look away from the television. Goon Dockís final moments above water were already indelibly inked in their brains and they didnít need to see it again. Callie could have easily been sleeping below deck and could have drowned and if they had been any closer to the The Oceanic Dreamer ... they could have burned to death. Melís chin trembled at the endless possibilities and she offered to make lunch for the third time when Raphís cell phone rang.

The one sided conversation provided only enough information to intrigue and when he hung up and looked at Melana, she read the relief on his face and breathed easy. "Sheís okay?"

Raphael nodded. "They were taken to Clallam County Hospital. Iíve arranged for medical transport to pick them up there and bring them to Seattle Grace. Iíve been assured theyíll arrive within the hour."

"Iíll go get them fresh clothes." Addison got to her feet and hurried down the hallway to the master bedroom, clearly grateful for something to do. Mark followed in her wake.

Melana turned off the television, stepping over Chunk who seemed to understand the tension and had been on his best behavior. "How bad are they hurt?"

"Theyíre not. Theyíre shaken up, but theyíre physically fine."

"The water is so cold."

"I know, mi vida. They were treated for exposure, warmed up, and theyíre okay." He put his hands on her shoulders, massaging lightly. "Sheíll be home soon."

"Weíll go to the hospital to meet them."

"Of course we will."

"And I - Iíll cook her something - and -"

Raphael hugged her when the tears started. She had swayed only slightly thus far, but anyone could see that she had been close to breaking all morning. Soothing her with his hands, with his voice, he leaned his face into her hair and breathed deep. He had cried when he talked to his sons. Loukas and Stavros were perfectly fine in Miami and had been sleeping soundly when the cruise ship exploded off the coast. Cambyses had not returned his calls, however.

"We should call Cam again," Melana sniffled, stepping back to dry her eyes. "Iím sure heís frantic if heís seen the news."

Knowing that the phone lines were still jammed and his efforts would be futile, Raphael still opened his phone and dialed his sonís number. Melana heard the error message and her face fell again as she sat down on the sofa. As he started to close the phone, he saw that he had a text message. Praying it was from Cambyses, he quickly opened it and scrolled.

ĎWas our warning loud and clear? You got too close this time, Raphael, and if there is a next time then someone you love will die.í

His fist was clenched tight enough to draw blood from his palm. He told Melana he needed fresh air and stalked into the yard with Chunk on his heels. Weighing his options felt hopeless. He simply did not know who was running The Triad. He had a hunch that it was Nicky Niarchos, but he couldnít risk his credibility with the CIA to point fingers in the wrong direction. The Triad certainly utilized the Niarchos crest ... the three stars were unmistakable, but proving their involvement was another matter entirely.

He couldnít afford to draw any scrutiny to himself or FMC. His recruitment of fellow CIA agents had been a sore spot with the United States Government for years and the last thing he needed to do was raise a red flag by providing information that he should not have had to begin with. FMC was only ever supposed to focus on the supernatural aspects of Talking Rock ... it had never been given clearance to dabble in other areas.

And dabble Raphael had.

Callie had almost paid for his dabbling with her life.

His cell phone rang, startling him and he quickly brought it to his ear. "Hello?"

"Dad?"

"Cambyses! Oh, thank God! How are you, son?"

There was a moment of silence on the line and then Cam sobbed, a horrible gut wrenching sound.

"Cam, sheís okay. I havenít spoken to her yet, but sheís on her way home and I have it on very good authority that sheís not hurt." Raphael listened quietly as his son struggled to regain his composure. It felt like hours had passed before the line was blessedly silent. "Where are you?"

Cam sniffled and said, "Our flight was grounded in the Bahamas. The cruise ship blew up near Miami so theyíre not letting any flights out."

"It will likely be a couple of days before the flight ban is lifted,