(Thanks to Tahlia for her help with this one!)
Snow blanketed the entire area in a sheet of frosty white. Night was falling and the moon cast its glow over the widespread landscape. Aside from the barely plowed roads, there were no signs of civilization out here, the nearest town several miles back. If he’d been looking to disappear, he’d chosen a helluva place to do it. The path to Anna’s place was even less maintained than the main roads, the Spitfire struggling against the snowy path. If it weren’t for the tracks previously made by a truck, She might have lost it into a ditch.
The warm lights of the ranch came into view as she exited a clearing, smoke rising gently into the gathering dark from the chimney. Cozy little place with a barn and tons of land. Not the sort of joint she’d ever expect to find a guy like Simon. His scene was more dingy, raucous clubs or some rathole basement where he could pound some poor bastard’s face in. Little House On the Prairie was not exactly what one pictured.
She'd piloted the Triumph through a lot. If this trip broke her baby, Simon was going to be in for a lot less friendly greeting. But she made it, and sat in stunned silence, just staring at the house for a moment. The farm. The..."For ****s sake - " She was having flashbacks of the months she spent hidden away at the ranch, with Tex. Months only made bearable by the time she'd spent sinning like their lives depended on it with Simon.
Sighing, she stepped out of the sports car, grateful she'd grabbed a fur-lined leather jacket, and looked around at the rural edition of My Blue Heaven. "Killer, if you ever for a minute, doubt how much you mean to me again..." Not that he was there to hear her.
The sound of hooves upon the snow came from behind, one of the horses letting out a little snort, sending the steam of its breath jetting out in a mist through its nostrils. Astride one of them was a woman. Fair skin marred by a few scars, yet undeniably beautiful. Her red hair was tucked under a light grey knit cap. She looked down at Tahlia with caution in her green eyes, as she often did with strangers on her property. But it was the other rider Tahlia would recognize. A few weeks of beard was upon his face, more than she’d ever seen him with, but those eyes were undeniably Simon’s. His brows knit in confusion,beholding the woman before him.
"Heyyyyyyy Killer." She turned, and there was a long slow blink. "Oh. Wow. I should have brought you one of Tex's hats." She had one. Or two. Nevermind how she got them. There was a flick of silver-green eyes to the woman, but, really, she'd come to see him. Anyone else was incidental. If Tahlia was capable of feeling overdressed, or out of place, she might have been. But she was, for the moment, mission focused. "Surprise."
Simon slipped off his horse, boots crunching in the snow as he immediately strode toward her and threw his arms around her. He clung to her tightly, a smile on his rugged, scruffy face. For a moment he was content to just embrace her, earning an...interesting look from the woman upon the horse. He looked and felt healthier than she'd seen him, even compared to their last meeting. He'd always felt a little thin, lean. His time on this farm, eating good home cooking and working hard every day had clearly done him a bit of good.
She hugged him tightly, burying her face into his shoulder and tucking her nose against his skin. The smoke and booze and everything else was gone, replaced with hay, and clean air - but he was still him beneath all of it. She hadn't bothered with gloves, and light caught an obviously expensive purple and gold band around her left ring finger as she clung to him. "You look good, Killer. Real good. Not sure I like the beard though...scratchy in the wrong spots..."
He pulled back and looked her over, a smirk on his face. "You don't like the Grizzly Adams beard?" He chuckled, running a hand over it.
"I do not." She was smiling though, and reached up to run a hand along his jaw, her thumb just at the corner of his mouth. Finally, her gaze pulled to the other figure, "Guessing it's not for me though..."
Anna threw a leg over one side and climbed down from her steed, approaching them. "Simon's a man of manners, isn't he?" She said sarcastically and offered a gloved hand. If this was who he had shacked up with, she was as far from Tahlia as he could get. None of her glitz, glamour, or expensive fashion sense...yet it worked for her. "Anna Simmons. Welcome."
"Nice to meet you. Tahlia Faras. For a little longer, anyway." Actually, she and Eddie hadn't discussed names. Tahlia Blake wasn't too bad either. She hadn't, however, let go of Simon, not least of which because she was cold. "He's better than he was, before..." Of course, then...well best not to think about that.
Her grip was strong. No doubt from running this place for so long. There was an intensity to her that was hard to miss. Polite, certainly, but she carried herself with confidence and strength. Yeah, in that at least, she was definitely his type. "Pleasure." She said.
Simon noticed then, for the first time, the ring. His eyes widened as he looked her in the eye. The corner of his mouth upturned. “Really? Tahlia Faras is getting hitched? Holy s***.”
There was a, well, bashful was about the only way to describe that look. "Yeah, shocked us too. Golden Gala he just...decided I needed one. Didn't...actually ask. But apparently there's some Selkie tradition." They'd at least been able to talk about the reality of how she and Eddie had become she and Eddie, so that helped. A little. "You're coming." It wasn't a question.
The cir***stances that had led to it all were left in the past. Whatever pain he had held onto from their initial parting was ancient history as far as he was concerned. The smile on his face was 100% genuine. "Wouldn't miss it."
A low voice came from behind. "Miss Anna?" Otis asked curiously. "Everything alright?"
Anna turned her eyes up to Otis and a polite nod offered. "It's fine, Otis. We have a visitor. Mind taking the horses back to the stable while I welcome our guest?"
The big man was happy to oblige, taking them by the reins and leading them off. "Thanks, O." She said fondly, approaching Tahlia and Simon. "What say we get out of the cold? Dinner should be about ready if you're hungry."
"Dinner? Oh I...it's a long drive back. I actually came out here to deliver some information. I have, unfortunately, a casino to rebuild and open." Tahlia took a step back, keeping her hands clear. There was a - readiness - that hadn't been there before. A subtle shift of weight and focus that Simon might recognize, or Anna - it was the way you moved when things had consistently, actively, tried to kill you, recently. Tahlia had always been a fighter. A killer. Now she was becoming a warrior. It took effort to stand down, and she gave a half smile. "Not to be rude.."
Simon shot her a curious look, but didn't get a chance to say anything before Anna interjected. "Well, at least come out of this cold. You've come a long way. I insist." She smiled to the relative stranger. Never one to let a tiny bit of jealousy get in the way of being a gracious host.
"That I will do. And thank you. I didn't realize I'd be surprising Ki-Simon with company. Although from the looks of it, he's yours, and not the other way around." Tahlia winked, and looped her arm into Simon's for the walk to the house. For balance. Those heels were not meant for rough terrain.
The house was warm in more than temperature. It felt alive, in a way. The smell of a beef stew and sounds of mirthful conversation emanated from the kitchen. Not just men and women, but children as well. Simon slipped off the olive green ranch jacket from his upper body, his thick, waffle-knit henley straining against the added muscle the place had graced him with. Before he could address Tahlia, a small girl ran up to him.
“Simon!” She said in that little, excited voice.
“Miss Daisy.” Simon smiled down to her. “What’s up?”
She was practically vibrating with excitement. “I gotta show you what I learned!”
Despite all the stories he’d told her, everything she knew about him, Tahlia had never seen him with a child. He held a finger up to Tahlia. “One second. I’ll be right back.”
Daisy grabbed him by the hand and dragged him off, Anna watching after them. She undid her scarf, glancing sidelong at the blonde visitor. “So. You’re Tahlia. Simon’s told me a lot about you.”
"Has he now...and I would be curious to know just what that was." Those oddly ringed jade green eyes fell on Anna as the jacket came off, revealing purple silk and leather. There was the hint of a brand peeking out as she fluffed her hair. This was...just Tahlia. No glamour.
Anna slipped that slightly oversized jacket off and hung it on a coat rack, a little grin on her scarred lip. "Don't worry. Not ALL bad." Beneath the coat was a loose, pink knit sweater that hung down to her denim-clad hips. "He cares a lot about you. Said you saved his life...in a lot of ways."
In the other room, she could see the girl placing a cashew on one end of a spoon and instructing Simon. When he brought his fist down on the curved end, it launched the cashew into the air and Daisy managed to catch it in her mouth. Simon made an impressed face and gave her a theatrical slow clap.
“My turn.” He insisted. Daisy rushed over and set it up again, firing it off. Simon had to get under it, but he managed to catch it, throwing his arms up like a referee. “That’s it. We’re the greatest. Greatest in the world.” he said in a matter of fact tone.
Daisy giggled and exchanged high fives with her older friend. Anna smiled at the little scene before turning her attention back to Tahlia. "He's come a long way, Simon. We both have. He's seen enough pain. I hope you're not here to cause him any more."
Her eyes were on the scene in front of her, but if it tugged any chords, there was no sign. Her voice sharpened, just a little. "Pain and joy can come together. And sometimes - you can't get to that joy, without it hurting a little. Or more than a little. I have an empire to run, and a wedding to plan. Do you think I would be here if what I had to say could be said by anyone else?"
Anna nodded slowly, just observing her a moment. She wasn't threatening or accusing, just trying to suss the strange woman out. But there was also no fear. Anna had the look of a woman who had stared the Devil in the eye and never once blinked.
"There's only one other man in the world I would do more for, and I'm marrying him." She said it matter of factly, one hand falling briefly to the pearl that nestled in her navel.
"We have that in common then. When I had nothing, not even the will to keep living...he was there. He's a good man. Even if he doesn't want to believe it. Ain't a thing I wouldn't do to protect him."
Simon came wandering on back before they could continue their conversation. "Sorry about that. So, what's up?"
Anna offered that tight, uneasy smile to him. "Why don't you two take the nook. Give you some privacy.”
Simon lead the way through the darkened family room. Worn leather couches and bookshelves adorned the space, a small overhead light dimmed to almost nothing. Through a set of glass double doors, was round, sturdy oak table before a big bay window looking out onto the rear of the sprawling property. The cozy, rustic quality of the place might never seem like "him", if you knew Simon. But then, the Simon before her didn't much LOOK like the man she'd known. His bulkier, muscular physique aside, his smile was easier and there didn't seem to be as much weight upon his shoulders. Those eyes, once always so alert and haunted were at ease. Comfortable. What horrors he'd been carrying most of his life seemed to be left in the rear view.
Tahlia followed him into the room, those strange pale eyes of her playing over a form at once intimately familiar and all together different. There was a time they'd known every inch, every scar on each other's bodies with more intimacy and familiarity than they'd known their own. A lot had changed though, since then. She hadn't had the same silver cast to her eyes, and the blonde she'd used as camouflage then was permanent now. Her glamour was gone. But if she hadn't gained the same serenity he had found, there was a sense of permanence to her now. His Tahlia had been a forest fire - sudden and fickle, burning out and popping up elsewhere at a whim. Uncontrollable. He'd been the one to show her the value of finding a hearth to call home, but it had taken something else - someone else to turn her into the creature who stood before him now.
She didn't know just where to start - not with him. Anyone else and she just would have blurted it out, feelings and consequences be damned. But this was Simon. "Killer..." It was his nickname, only his - sighed out of her like it would somehow make this easier.
As he turned to face her, his face lit up. Those arms, bigger and somehow stronger than they had been wrapped around her again. There was a time when they would have just been tearing each other's clothes off, but now it was different. He just enveloped her. "Christ, I missed you."
Her arms found their place around his ribs and she held on tight, head on it's natural spot on his chest, the one she'd always think of as hers. "I missed you too. You know you've always got a place if you want it." She knew, seeing him here, like this, that he wouldn't come back. More importantly, he shouldn't come back.
"I can't believe you came all this way." He said with a little chuckle. "Ride's a rock polisher, ain't it?"
"Out here? Yeah - worse than the ride out to Tex's..." Of course, the last time she'd done that drive had been the night she still didn't like remembering. "I can't believe you're playing country mouse, Killer..."
His scruffy cheek rested against her blonde hair, a little snicker leaving him. "You and me both, sweetheart." She still smelled and felt the same. No matter what she did or how her life had changed, he could still remember the smell of her hair and the feel of her embrace.
"Turns out? I'm pretty good with horses. Who'da thunk it?"
"It's that animal magnetism of yours."
Simon smirked down to her "I like it though. Hard work, good people, great food. Obviously good food." He said joked regarding the additional bulk he'd put on.
"I wasn't going to mention it..but since you did - you look good though. And I was also not going to bring up how much s*** you used to give me about being out in the sticks. Playing at being a good girl." There was a definite bubble to her voice, laughter hiding just below the surface. She didn't want to let go yet, so she didn't - he'd always have a piece of her, and since she didn't know how the conversation was likely to end, she wanted to soak in every minute she could. Lifting her head, she snuck her hands up to comb through the new-to-her beard. "Yeah...think I'll remember you without this though..."
Part of him had forgotten about all the drama with Tex. It felt like a lifetime ago. It was amazing how quickly time could change a man. There were things he'd done and said back then that would make him cringe now. Still, though, he could smile and laugh, shaking his head. "I think Anna agrees. She said I look like I should be out brewing beer or chopping down trees."
"She's not wrong." She wouldn't, maybe couldn't, say the other woman was right though. Maybe someday, if the four of them ever sat down with drinks and a fire, five, if they could convince Corinne to come out, six, seven, if she and Eddie dragged Pop Tart and Lola out with them, a little nature would do them good. Thinking about her strange little family led her back to the one armed cop, and why she was here. "I saw Paige. She said to tell you she was sorry."
He blinked at that, eyes lowering a little. A million things had to be going through his head in that moment, but he just returned to her with that warm little smile. "How is she?"
Tahlia considered her answer for a moment, and just - shrugged. "She's herself. Ok, I guess. Sticking her nose in things, although she said she hasn't had to pull anyone off a train lately..."
He managed a slight laugh at that. Not his finest hour or best decision considering it almost got him killed.
"We didn't uh..." his brow furrowed a bit as he searched for the words. "Didn't really part on the best of terms."
The admission brought a nod. "I know. I saw the tape." Of course she had, even if it hadn't made the news. Her web, never insignificant, was substantially larger now.
It was the first time she'd seen him frown since being there. A bit of the old Simon crept to the surface. "Yeah. Little bastard jumped me. Gotta hand it to the ****er. He was quick. Damn good right hook."
It was an opening, too perfect not to take. "Pretty sure that's hereditary. His daddy used to be a bit of a badass. Hell of a fighter." Some perverse little voice wondered if he'd gotten his father's other skills, but she was an all-but-married woman now. And she sure as hell wasn't curious enough to ask Tessa.
"How the hell do you know his-" Lightbulb. Suddenly things came together. Everything Anna had told him about the baby she'd lost all those years ago, even what little he could remember of the boy's face. It hadn't been chance that Falk brought him there. He was set up. It was all a show, to pit his son against him. Even if he'd won, he'd have been crippling, possibly killing his own flesh and blood. Yeah...that had Jakob Falk written all over it.
"You're certain?" He asked, full well knowing the answer.
"He's got your eyes." Research and corroboration aside, she'd known as soon as she'd seen those eyes staring out from a different face. A hundred years from now, she'd still recognize them anywhere. "Yeah, Killer. I'm certain. I've forgotten a lot of things, but not that blue. And you know I wouldn't have come all this way if I wasn't." Nevermind that if she'd sent anyone else, he wouldn't have believed them.
There was war behind those blue eyes now. Whatever emotions that were coursing through him, though, were kept in check. "Corrine sent you. Didn't she." It was true, he wouldn't have believed anyone else. Paige knew that damn well. It wasn't even a question, it was a statement. Simon was quiet a long, long moment before looking up to her. "What do I do?"
It was an odd question coming from him. Once upon a time, he'd have rushed back, armed to the teeth and burned Falk's world to the ground...or died trying. But...this was different. HE was different. For the first time in a long time...he was afraid. Jakob Falk wasn't some lowlife mafioso. Falk had scarred him in a way nobody ever could. He'd spent most of Simon's childhood hurting him, and his entire adult life haunting him. And now, he just didn't know what to do.
The tiny blonde reached up, thumbs resting along the hinge of his jaw, her fingers laced lightly across the back of his neck. Gently, she brought his head to hers, forehead to forehead until those silver-tinged green eyes locked onto the blue she knew better than anyone. There was a slow, soft breath before she answered, her gaze never leaving his. "You let me handle it. Okay, Killer? You stay here, with her, and these people, and the horses, and you let the monsters fight it out. He doesn't know what he's up against, now." It was maybe the first time he'd heard her own her heritage, but not the first time he'd heard that anger-tight quaver in her voice. "Paige and I, we'll get him out, and then..." The smile, the smile was new. Vicious. Predatory.
For a moment, he almost agreed. It would be easy to stay here. Live in this bliss and pretend that a war wasn't going on and his friends weren't likely dying or hurt. To let someone else fight his war. If he stayed he'd be safe. Anna would be safe. But he'd always carry the spectre of Jakob Falk. The monster might be dead, but he'd always be there for him.
No. Simon had to see it through.
He simply shook his head. "I'm coming with you."
"You're not. Someone taught me this great little trick for keeping people where you want them. You remember Rocco, don't you - what I did to him? That little piece of s*** motel you got me from? Killer..." Tahlia took a breath, fighting every instinct she had - the truth was that with Simon on one side, and Eddie on the other, nothing could, or would, stand against them. But she knew in her heart that she and Eddie couldn't live any other way than the one they had. They didn't want to. Simon had a chance, here. "I didn't save you in Vicelli's office so you could keep fighting the same war."
"This...isn't...the same." he said sternly. There wasn't just the rage and vengeance-fueled maniac that Simon used to be in his voice. It was something she'd never seen or heard from him. This was a father. Regardless of how long or how well he'd known him, Miles was his son. "It's not enough that my son survives. I want him to live. I want him to know who I am. I want him to know that when his father found out about him, he did everything in his power to be there. To protect him. I won't sit quietly and wait for someone else to save my son. Not when I can make a difference. I need to look Falk in the eye and tell him 'no.'" That fire was back in his eyes. "'No, you did not break me. You do not own me.'"
His voice tinged with pain, becoming more frantic and agonized. "I need to go to sleep at night and not see his face. I need to know that I can close my eyes and feel safe again. I need to be free of him. Once and for all.”
He searched her eyes, pleading. “Can you understand that?"
If it had been anyone else, Tahlia would have reminded them just who and what they were talking to. As it was, the smoky-sweet purr hardened and cooled. "An entire village lost to history, entire bloodlines erased. All for the loss of one woman. Because she was my mother and she was all we had in the world except each other. And you ask me if I understand?" Her fingers flexed, and for a moment, images flashed and flickered against jade-tinged silver instead of the other way around. Just a heartbeat, and then it was gone.
They'd held each other as they fought their own demons, and sometimes each others - as they clawed their way to each other sleeping or waking. She knew. For him to even question that she would stung, and she took a step back, letting go of him and raising her chin, drawn up to her full, still petite height, even in heels. "Fine."
He was hurting. That much was obvious. He hadn't meant to question her. Not really. He looked her in the eye, the one person he trusted as much as Anna. "This has to end."
Simon turned, and stopped in his tracks. The scarred redhead stood in the doorway, her expression a mixture of anger and unfathomable sadness. She'd heard everything. He could likely hear the walls slam back up and into place the moment she was aware of Anna's presence. Letting him see beneath her armor was one thing. Anna was a stranger. She'd seen too much already, and the only reason there was, would be, no consequence to that was out of love for the man between them, and the people she watched over. Everyone needs a sanctuary.
No doubt, Anna would try and stop him. Tell him to take Tahlia up on her offer and stay safe. To finally just let go of it all.
She held up a hand then, stopping him. Silence settled over the room as she took in a deep breath. When those green eyes opened, she looked into his in that way only she and Tahlia could. Deep down into the depths of his soul.
"Bring our son home." her voice was quiet, quavering, but resolved.
She had her own people to protect, and she had learned to let Falk go a long, long time ago.
Anna looked to Tahlia, then. Not a word spoken, but a plea in her gaze. "And please...bring Simon home, too"
There was a sharp nod, those eyes once more silver glazed with green beneath the sweep of gilded bangs. There had been too many losses. Enough to stain the sands of her favorite beach red. That battle wasn't over yet either, although she felt the pull of it. Wedding. Casino. War. One wasn't acceptable, not when they were her people. Hell was going come to Jakob Falk, and God help anyone who got in their way.