Sat, 15 Jan 2000
"Shaianne K. PeriHawk" perihawk@yahoo.com
[Draco, DC Elseworlds] Third Watch
(PG13 for language)

 

Disclaimer: Otay, here we go. The city, universe and most of the characters belong to DC comics. Jason Todd as he is belongs to Kaylee. The Brown-Beldacci's belong to the beautiful Melly. And Annette and her family belong to me!

Feedback: Would be lovely thank you. Send it to perihawk@yahoo.com

Dedicated to Kaya, Kael, and Melly


Third Watch

Shai PeriHawk

 

Detective Annette Cole, Gotham PD, usually spent the half hour after her shift in the station gym. Since she'd been promoted to Detective, she hadn't had much opportunity to chase petty crooks around town. She'd been losing weight and the fine toning years as a beat cop had given her.

She towelled the sweat from her face and left the gym, intending to make a beeline for the lockers when a hand grabbed her by the arm. Annette turned sharply to blast her assailant with all her usual hard-ass attitude.. She froze when she saw Detective Montoya, her new partner.

"Welcome to the unit." Montoya scratched her nose. "We have a case. It's-" Montoya sighed. "It's pretty grim, Cole. Hookers on the Corner, heroin addicts, are being killed, we've found eight bodies in the last sixteen months, newest one yesterday, no clues. I hear you have a history in the Corner. You may be the one who cracks this."

Annette could only nod mutely.

Montoya reached out to squeeze her shoulder. "You'll do fine, kid."


Annette took the steaming water out of the microwave and dropped the teabag into the mug. Her big fluffy frog slippers croaked merrily with each step. Her foster sister thought they were cute, so Annette gladly suffered through the humiliation.

A hot bath had washed away the tension her shower hadn't been able to. She hated working the streets, even undercover, she had flashbacks of her mother and the days when the next shot of heroin was all either of them cared about. Annette swallowed convulsively.

*I am *not* my mother. *I* have changed my path. *I* am in control.* She repeated the words over and over, fighting off the panic that assailed her every time she remembered. Her greatest fear was losing herself in the drugs again. *I did not grow up selling my body for drugs. I was taken off the streets and I made myself whole.*

Annette took a drink of her tea and sat down on the couch to watch the evening news.


Detective Montoya tapped her teeth while she waited for Annette to get settled. "We've got a string of murders to solve. All of them are teen age hookers, junkies, in the Corner," she said again. She took a deep breath fortifying herself for what came next. "We may need you to go under cover. You look about the right age."

The look of utter fear on Annette's face pulled on Montoya's heart. Her past still hurt her a lot. Montoya couldn't let that stop her.

"This guy is strangling girls with piano wire." Montoya pressed harder. She checked the report. "So far a low D string, a low E string and a high F string. The last girl's throat was rather cut up, but our guy stitched her back together. All the girls are laid out, like for a funeral."

Annette caved. "All right, let's get to work."

Montoya relaxed. "Can you go to the Corner and ask some questions about these girls." She pushed a stack of files across the desk. Photos of healthy young girls, then as they slowly deteriorated into drug dependency, and finally, shots of their dead bodies, carefully arranged as a body in a casket would be. They looked almost peaceful, except for the angry red line where the piano wire had cut their throats.

Montoya saw Annette's hands shake ever so slightly before the young detective clamped down on her nerves and made herself look at the files. "Any clues so far?" she asked in a surprisingly calm voice.

"No finger prints, no hair, no skin, no blood, nothing. He's clean when he works. Perfect murder."

Annette's eyes darkened. "There is no such thing." Her first case would not be unsolved.


Draco watched the woman carefully. He wasn't sure what had caught his eye about her. She looked like any other junkie willing to trade sex for her next fix. Her blond hair so close to white that it couldn't be natural. Her heavy blue eye-shadow clashed painfully with her chocolate eyes. She looked no more than fifteen with her owlish brown eyes and slight frame. Draco seriously doubted that her skirt could get shorter and was debating the possibility that it was body paint. Her pink halter top played a serious game of peek-a-boo with passers-by, but there was something *wrong* with her movements.

If only he could pinpoint it.

Her eyes were half closed, her movements jerky. She was in desperate need of the next fix. She swayed as she walked down the street. Unsurprisingly, one of the street drug runner cars screeched to a halt a few feet ahead of her.

She seemed oblivious to their presence. Then it clicked.

No one could be *that* out of it if they were needing a fix. What the *hell* was she doing here?

For one horror filled second, Draco remember himself at fifteen. Seeking revenge, willing to do anything to get it. Could she-

No!

Draco shot a grip line into the building across the street and descended to the sidewalk at alarming speed. He hit the cement on one knee with his cape swirled around him in an ever-shifting curtain. He could see the guns being grabbed from their hiding places as if in slow motion.

He stood and wrapped an arm around the girl's waist all in one motion. He pulled the trigger to retract the grip line and shot into the air just as the sounds of gunfire filled the street. The momentum shot them both over the ledge and onto the roof. They were safe.

"You fucking moron!"

Draco shielded his head from the angry blows raining down. "Hey hey hey!" He yelled, almost forgetting the Scary Voice in his shock. "I just saved your ass down there!"

"You just blew my fucking cover, you over-dressed wannabe!" The girl drew back her leg and Draco barely managed to avoid unmanning via one strong kick. Instead, her foot slammed into his knee, right below the kneecap.

Draco shouted in pain. "My *knee*!" That was it, no more Mr. Nice Guy. He growled low in the back of his throat and captured the girl's hands, twisting her around and pulling them up behind her. "What is the *deal* here? Who are you?" His Scary Voice was a little strained, but he gave no other sign of the excruciating pain in his knee.

"Detective Annette Cole, Gotham PD homicide," she snapped, with her teeth gritted. "You just stopped a bust, my *first* bust. I'm now going to bust *your* ass and lock you up in Arkham with all the *rest* of the city's psychos!"

A cop. It fit. He relaxed his hold, still not quite ready to trust her.

Annette dropped to her knees, throwing Draco off balance, and pitched just far enough forward to toss him over her head. Draco landed on his back, knocking the air out of his lungs. Before he could recover, Annette straddled his chest and held a small gun to his cheek.

"Montoya, Johnson, get your asses up here, got me a vigilante," she spoke into the hidden microphone in her halter top, not taking her eyes off of Draco.

A slow, smooth smile spread across the man's face. "You always wear black lacy panties?"

Annette's jaw dropped open and her owlish eyes widened. Just enough shock to-

Draco twisted and Annette was on the ground, both hands and her gun pinned above her head. "You seem to be at a disadvantage, Detective." He looked up at the sound of two sets of feet pounding up the steps to the roof. "Company's here. Damn, and I had hoped to get to know you better." He stood, and dragged her to her feet as well.

Annette flushed angrily. "Why you-"

The door slammed open, it was too dark for the newly arrived men to see exactly where they were. Annette drew in a breath to scream.

Draco panicked. Cheesy movie time. He pressed his lips to hers in a silent and hard kiss.

Then the masked vigilante was gone, leaving nothing but a breeze and bruised lips behind.

"Cole? Where are you, it's blacker than a cave out here!" Montoya shouted.

Annette pressed her fingers to her lips. What had just happened here? She blinked out of her daze. "Yeah, over here Montoya. He got away." She shoved the tiny gun back into its holster. "Don't think we're going to get anything more done. Let's call in a night, huh?"


Jason hit his head against the wall a few more times for good measure. "What was I thinking? Stupid, stupid, stupid."

"Jays?" Babs' worried voice asked from the computer on the other side of the room. "What's up?"

Jays shook his head. "Nothing Babs, just some idiocy while I was out on patrol. What does my favourite Oracle have for me?"

All hints of joking left her face. "Two more girls have shown up at the morgue. Same MO, heroin in their blood stream, strangled with piano wire." He could hear the unshed tears in her voice. "One was fifteen, the other was seventeen."

Jason's head hit the wall again. *When is it going to stop?* "Any clues?"

"They have a fraction of a finger print. The profilers are working hard, but there's been no break through. This one is slippery, Jays." Babs rubbed the wrinkle between her eyebrows. "I don't even know what to look for, Jays."

Jays didn't say anything, couldn't say anything. Instead, he left the room, to take a long shower.


Annette wanted nothing more than to get out of those clothes. The micro mini was very cold, and the Lycra halter top *itched* like crazy. But no, she had to sit through Captain O'Hara rant about "letting" Draco screw up the bust.

Annette tuned out the nasally whine of James O'Hara's voice, she'd been on the receiving end of more than one lecture when she was on the beat. Excessive aggression, they said. It was no different with the Captain of the Homicide unit. Except he was a little louder than most.

"Draco, Cole? DRACO? Why don't we just say it was leprechauns and leave it at that? Or faeries, maybe, they're just as good. Get the fuck outta my office, Nettie!"


Annette made a sound of disgust as she left the tiny bar. The Corner had changed a *lot* since she'd lived here. The slime content seemed *way* down. Reports said the crime rate was down too.

Rumour had it that some masked vigilante named Draco was responsible. Sure, he was doing the good deed now but super-heroes led to super villains, and all the regular people this Draco helped now would be forgotten.

Annette whistled for a cab. Two cabs raced for the curb. Tires screeched and a loud torrent of curses flew from the losing cab. Annette chuckled as she ducked into the worn out but apparently functional winner. "Gotham PD," she told the driver.

The woman glanced back with a friendly smile. "Right away."

Annette did a double take. The driver looked familiar, from *way* back in the day. "Gina Beldacci?" she exclaimed, and had to grab for a seat as the cab shrieked to a violent halt.

"I *knew* I recognised you. Nettie Doe, Mrs. Harper's third grade class, right?" Gina turned in her seat to fully look at her passenger.

Annette saw the wary look in Gina's eyes. "Actually, Detective Annette Cole, now. When I was about ten, the Wayne Foundation took me up off the streets and cleaned me up. A nice family adopted me and now I work for vice at the Gotham PD." Briefly, Annette wondered why she'd rushed to reassure a woman she hadn't seen in near fifteen years that she was no longer a junkie kid.

"That was right after you mom- died, wasn't it?" Gina didn't say what actually happened. She didn't say "right after your mom over dosed on Hightop Brown."

Annette realised that she really liked this woman. She nodded. "Yeah, but the Cole were really good to me. They weren't rich or anything, but they loved me like their own. Even after they had a baby daughter." Annette wondered if she was tactless enough to ask about the scars on Gina's face.

"So you have a little sister?" Gina asked.

Annette chuckled. "Yeah, Kat. She's thirteen and every bit the teenager. She's determined to give me a make-over and teach me style." Annette struck a dramatic super-model pose.

Gina laughed. "I have two kids, a boy and a girl. They're the light of my life."

"Married?"

Annette saw Gina's hand almost reach up to touch her scarred face. "Was," she answered darkly.

"Ya drop the bum?" Annette winced inwardly. *Stupid.*

Gina turned around and shifted the car into gear. "Yeah," she replied as she pressed the gas.

The cab spluttered, then died.

"Shit." Gina leaned forward and dropped her forehead onto the steering wheel.

Annette choked back a laugh. "Problems?" she asked innocently.

Gina scowled back at her. "Laugh it up, Detective. Just for that, you can help me push the cab to the garage."

Annette looked down at her slacks and flats. "Hope it ain't too far, or I may never walk again."

Gina's eyes widened. "It's only two blocks, but I was *kidding*."

Annette grinned. "I wasn't, let's go." She left her purse in the back of the cab and went around to the passenger side. Gina shook her head and shifted the car into neutral. Gina kept a firm hold on the wheel as the women pushed the car straight down the street to Todd's Auto Repair.

"Back again, Gina? I thought the last job would keep for at least two weeks." A tall red headed man stood in front of the run down garage. Annette knew she was staring at the patch that covered his eye, but she couldn't help herself. His good eye looked straight at her, and she blushed before looking down. "Who's your friend?"

A corner of Gina's mouth quirked up. "Jason Todd, this is Annette Cole. Annette, Jason, we happy?" Gina's grin said she had a secret.

Annette held out her hand. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Todd."

"Please, call me Jason, or Jays if you're feeling adventurous." He interrupted as he took her hand. He flashed a grin that made Annette melt in her shoes.

Annette felt an electric shock all the way up her spine. "Jason, then," she said slowly. "Mind if I use your phone? I seem to be out a cab." She flashed a grin at Gina.

"Sure. Let me show you where it is before I get to work on Gina's clunker." He turned and led the way to a small office. Paperwork piled high in a large desk that took up a good half of the office space. The smell of oil and grease hung heavily on the air. Jason moved one stack of papers and put it on top of another, revealing a rotary-dial telephone. "I know it's old, but it works."

Annette picked up the receiver and smiled. "Thanks," she said quietly. When Jason left, she looked at her watch. She was late already. *Better call Lt. Montoya first.*


"Jays? Why do you look like you've swallowed a truck full of lemons?" The Oracle's voice asked from the computer.

"Nothing much. Can you get me a file on a woman named Annette Cole?" Jays did something that resembled the peepee dance as he struggled into his costume. He'd gained weight. Too much of Mama Beldacci's cooking.

"I'll have it for you by morning. Jays . . . ." Babs' image on the screen appeared to be trying to peer *out*. "What are you doing?"

Jason reappeared in the camera's line of site, pulling the green cowl over his head. "Getting dressed, why?"

Babs shook her head. "What's your interest in this Annette Cole?"

"She left her purse in Gina's cab. I thought I'd return it." He replied as he checked his equipment one last time. "Later Babs."


*What am I _doing_?* Jays asked himself again as he buzzed Annette Cole's studio apartment.

"Yes?" A burst of static accompanied her low voice.

"Jason Todd. You forgot your purse in Gina's cab, I've come to return it." He spoke directly into the old, barely working speaker.

"Jays?" She sounded surprised. He heard a click, then a buzz, signalling him to go on up.

He opened the door and climbed the six flights of stairs to her door. A note scotch taped over the door-bell told him it was broken, so he knocked.

He held his breath as he waited.

When she opened the door, he forgot about breathing altogether. Bare foot, she barely came to his collarbone. She wore a dingy grey sweats and a paint-splattered tank-top. Her hair, not stiffened by gallons of hair-spray, or scraped back into a bun, fell in corn-silk curls to her shoulders. Jays shoved both hands deep into his pockets to keep himself from reaching out to see if those curls were as soft as they looked.

"Hi," he said. *Smooth, Jays.*

"Hello." She smiled slowly, shyly. Then she seemed to remember that she was standing dumbly in her doorway. She shook her head and stepped aside. "Come in."

Jays stepped inside and looked around the spacious single room apartment. Half of the apartment was a dingy white, half of it was freshly painted egg-shell blue. A bright kitchen occupied one small corner. Clear plastic covered mismatched sofas and recliners. In an already painted corner sat a bed with rumpled green flannel sheets with a matching comforter. Hardwood flooring creaked under his boots. "Nice place."

Annette bustled around, straightening up. "Thanks." She yanked the plastic off the sofas. "Have a seat. Do you want some . . . coffee?"

Jays walked around the sofa, not sitting down. "No, I'm fine, thanks."

"So, what brings you around- I can't believe I just asked that." Annette slapped a hand over her face, stuck between embarrassment and laughter.

Jays chuckled and held up her purse. Annette took it, and tossed it onto the coffee table. His stomach felt heavy, but he couldn't help but stare. Annette started to clean up again. She reached for an empty coke can on the coffee table. Jays reached out and grabbed her hand. "Annette, calm down."

She turned to face him. "I'm sorry, I'm just kinda . . . ."

Jays looked down at their linked hands. At the fold of her elbow, ancient needle scars told a story of past heroin addiction. He looked up at her.

Annette lowered her eyes and slipped her hand out of Jason's. She crossed her arms, covering the old track marks with her palms.

Deliberately, Jays unfolded her arms and traced the old scars with his fingers. Goosebumps rose on Annette's skin. She swallowed her tears. "These look like old news. So tell me about you now."

Annette laughed shortly, before she started crying. These weeks of going back to the Corner, of remembering so clearly who her mother was, of who *she* used to be, she wasn't sure how much more she could take. Jays pulled her into his arms and fell back onto the sofa. He held Annette in his lap, even as she sobbed out years of pain. He touched her hair, rubbed her back. Sweet torture was a phrase that came to mind.

When her sobs had calmed into hiccups, Annette looked up at Jays, embarrassed. "You came to return my purse, and I cried all over you. I'm sorry."

Jays chuckled and smoothed the curls away from her face. "Don't be embarrassed. You sounded like you needed it. Want to talk?"

Annette smiled weakly and rested her head on Jason's shoulder. "I was born Annette Doe. No middle name, and an anonymous last name. My mom didn't know who my father was, and hated me from the time she knew she was pregnant. She didn't give up drugs while she was pregnant either. I was born in her roach infested apartment, so social services didn't know I existed. She fed me when she remembered.

"I started school a year ahead of most kids, because I interfered with her lifestyle. I was happy in school for a while. Then she started bringing men home so she could get high more.

"When I was seven, I found her stash, and used it." Her body convulsed, and she bit back another sob. This was the most painful part. "Mama found out about it a year later. She gave me a beating that kept me out of school for a week. I was more careful after that. Took less heroin, stole some money.

"She died when I was ten. Social services came in. Then the Wayne Foundation made me one of the special projects. They cleaned me up and found a foster family. Everything got better after that." She fell silent. His hand still stroked her hair, and it felt so good. She felt, she couldn't find a word, but she liked it.

"You should have let this out a lot sooner, Annette. Pain like that festers, and it can hurt you." She liked the way his voice rumbled against her cheek.

"You sound like you know what you're talking about," she said quietly, not willing to push yet.

Jays rested his cheek on her hair. "I might." Nope, he wasn't going to say anything. Annette sighed, content with the comfort he gave.

For now.


Annette whistled cheerily as she picked up the new file for the Corner Murders case. She didn't notice the confused looks her co-workers gave her as she sashayed between the desks. She made her way quickly to her borrowed desk and sat down to look at the profiler's report on the killer.

Abruptly, she stopped whistling, she leaned forward as she read. Her forehead wrinkled.

"Damn."

Annette went through the list of all the murders in the last six years, again, culling out all the girls under 20. Then she took out all the girls that had died in robberies. Then she looked at their parents. Specifically, the ones with parents in the medical field, or who had been in the medical field. All the victims had a mild sedative injected into their blood stream, which required regular access to controlled substances, and a steady supply of syringes.

Four. Jaime Highnes, Kelly Hill, Faith Unquest, and Brittany Isler. And none of them died of a drug overdose.

"Shit," Annette whispered. "Maybe . . . ."

Annette started over, this time keeping ALL murders, before going on to the parents. Six now. Time for the phone calls.

She had to find out who played the piano.


Jays looked at the phone for a full thirty minutes before he picked it up. Then he mis-dialed the number three times before he heard the ringing.

"Yo." Dick almost shouted into the phone.

Jays held the phone away from his ear a moment. "Yeah, Dick, it's me, Jays. Got any company right now?"

Instantly serious, he said no. "What's up?"

Jays sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Is anything keeping you busy in Bludhaven?"

He heard Dick's sound of regret before he said anything. "Sorry Jays, we're having problems with a big time arsonist. It's just too big to leave alone."

Jays nodded, even though Dick couldn't see him. "Don't worry about it. It's not that important."

After a few more pleasantries, they hung up. Jays returned to staring at the phone.

Not even for Annette would he call Bruce. Maybe he could try Huntress, or that new Batgirl, what *was* her name? Annette was getting really close, he could feel it. She needed some protection, in case the killer drugged her when she went under cover.

Then the perfect person hit him.

*Dear god, you are a cruel deity.* Jays picked up the phone and dialled again. "Hey, Tim, this is Jays. Are you busy?"


Annette ground her teeth in frustration as the grey light of false dawn filled the air. Now was the time when most hookers were hanging up their miniskirts for the night. Business wasn't done when you could see things. Annette remembered back fifteen years, when the light of day *didn't* send hookers and dealers back into their slime holes. Things were different now.

And they *still* hadn't heard anything from the killer.

Montoya's voice crackled over the micro-speaker in her ear. "Let's call it a night, Cole. We're not going to get anything today."

Annette's head and shoulders drooped in disappointment, and she slowly walked down the street. She would walk two blocks, where the police van would pick her up before taking her back to the station.

High on the rooftops, Tim Drake yawned, then noticed the woman he was supposed to be watching walk off. He followed her excitedly for two blocks. Then non-descript grey van pulled up and she got in. Police vehicle, of course.

"Jays, this has been the most incredibly boring night of my life," he muttered to himself, before shooting out a grip-line to head back home.


Annette was back walking the streets the next night. She wobbled on her feet, swaying from side to side as if she were in desperate need of a fix.

Still.

*Bet Mom never got this bored. Hooking on the Corner is *not* what it used to be.* Annette wanted to roll her eyes up in her head and sleep.

The street was strangely empty. At only 10 p.m. hookers had either found a john or closed up shop. It was as if they had a secret that they weren't going to share.

Annette's mind raced. How long had each of the victims been on the street. The first one had been there for quite a while, but the others . . . . . Fresh meat as she used to say.

She felt her pulse begin to race. She turned her head to talk into the mike. "Montoya, be ready, something's going down tonight, I can feel it."

"Be careful, partner. Don't want to lose you on the first case." Montoya's voice carried clearly over the airwaves for once.

Annette grinned. "Don't worry about me I can take care- Hey! MPH!!" Annette's yell of protest was cut off by a finely manicured hand over her mouth. Iron muscled arms dragged her into a waiting mini-van, with curtains over the windows and the seats yanked out of the back.

Annette hit the opposite wall of the van and crashed to the floor. Instead of rushing for the open door, she ran for the driver's door. "Montoya, get your ass down here!" She yelled into the microphone.

She leapt out the door and went for her gun. She skidded to a precarious halt on her four inch stiletto heels. She whipped her gun level. "Freeze!"

Instead of stopping, the Sasquatch of a man just barrelled straight at her. Annette squeezed off her two shots.

He just kept running straight at her.

"Shit!" *Fucking derringer. Who carries a derringer anymore?* Annette turned and sprinted as fast as her four inch heels would carry her.

Then she saw a familiar swirl of almost black, and the reassuring touch of an arm around her. "Draco! Don't protect me, take *him* out!"

She couldn't see the look in his eyes, but she could almost guarantee the frustration there. Annette hit the ground with force that jarred her all the way up her spine and immediately started yelling into her mike while Draco attacked the crazed man who'd attacked her. "Montoya, Harvey, Smith, get your butts *moving*!"

She found herself punching with Draco, into the air, in a strange kind of shadow boxing. Then the bad guy was on the ground, with Draco breathing heavily over him.

"That was one tough hombre."

Annette chewed her lip. "Guess bone surgeons have to be strong, but he takes the cake."

Draco looked up, the strange eyes glinting in the bare light. "Bone surgeon?"

She nodded. "Yeah, Dr. Alan Hershey. His daughter died two years ago, beaten to death by a john." Annette rubbed the goose bumps on her arms. "I'm feelin' kinda-"

Her legs turned to Jell-O and she slid toward the ground. Draco was there to catch her before she hit. "You okay?" he asked.

Annette raised her arm, where a tiny needle prick bled. "The sedative . . . " she whispered before she lost consciousness.

Almost desperately, Draco checked her pulse. Slow, but strong. Just a sedative like she said. He allowed himself to breathe in her scent for a second.

He waited until he saw Montoya and two men running his way before he gently lowered her to the ground and disappeared.


Annette took a tighter grip on her purse strap as she stared at the front off Todd's Auto Repair. Her heart was in her throat, like some old cliché. She was scared, but it had to be done.

Resolutely, she walked into the shop. "Jays! Hey Jays!"

Jason stopped what he was doing, and grabbed a rag to wipe the oil from his hands. "Annette!" He yelled back cheerfully. "What are you doing here?"

Annette licked her lips and looked around. Is there some place we can talk where no one can hear?" she asked.

The look of joy left his face. *So this is where she says she never wants to see me again. Strange, I didn't think it would hurt this much.* "In the office, c'mon."

Annette preceded Jays into the office. She went over to the small window and shut the blinds. She licked her lips nervously and waited for Jays to shut the door.

"I want to thank you," she began. "I want to thank you for saving my life the other night."

"Saving your- When were you in danger?" Jays asked in alarm.

"Cut the crap, Draco. Only you smell that good." Annette turned red and clapped a hand over her mouth. "I'm . . . I'm sorry. I came to-" She choked on a sob.

"Came to what, Annette?" His voice turned into that low, rough growl he used as Draco.

"I came to tell you I'd stay out of your life and keep your secret, but I won't. I refuse." She looked up with desperate fury in her honeyed brown eyes. "I refuse to give you up." Annette yanked Jays down by the back of the neck and pressed her lips to his in a furious, frantic kiss.

Jays slowly lifted his head. "Did I just hear you right?"

Annette didn't notice the grease smudge on her cheek, she just smiled shakily. "We *will* make this work, you insane man. I won't let anything else happen."

Jays reached up to smooth a curl away from her face. "If you say so, it has to be true, huh?"

"Damn straight." The first tear spilled over followed by many more. Happy tears.

"That's good to know."

*HONK! HONK!*

"Hey! JAYS! George is at it again! Where are you?" Gina's voice echoed through the garage.

"I'd better go see what George is up to," he said quietly.

"We still have that date tonight?" Annette asked breathlessly.

"Count on it."

They didn't walk out hand in hand. From the look on Gina's face, they might as well have. She just grinned, as if to say "About damn time."


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