CH 26:

When Conner walked, half-skipped to her car late Friday night, her head was in the same swirl of cloud that it had been in for weeks. The soft lights and sounds that flowed through the hallway and greeted Conner as she stepped into the foyer, emanated from her bedroom. She kicked out of her shoes and draped her jacket over the banister as she took the stairs two at a time, humming along with the sultry stylings of Cesaria Evora. Bright green eyes grew wide as saucers and then glowed deep with lust as she visually devoured the woman on her bed. It takes a lot of skin to cover 6 feet, and Conner let her eyes roam over every centimeter. From the smooth instep of slender feet, up, up, fluidly sculpted legs, across the valley of an abdomen, lingering on the rounded flesh of breasts, up the hollow of a neck, sweeping up a chin, over full lips, and finally resting on fiery blue eyes- turned indigo with desire.

Connor had to lean on the dresser to keep from falling to the floor. Blue bit back a chuckle as she watched Conner's knees buckle.

"I'm getting cold Conner." As the passionate resonance of the woman's voice carried to Conner's ears, she made no attempt to steady herself. She released the dresser and stumbled backwards, landing against the closet door. She released a huff of air on contact and broke into a beaming smile. Blue couldn't hold the laugh this time. She lifted her head from the hand she had it propped up on, and threw back her head in laughter. Blue-black tresses skimmed the pillow. "Do I need to come over there and get you?"

Conner shook her head vigorously as she steady her legs. "Oh, no. You stay there and be naked. If you move I'm liable to pass out and drown."

"Drown in what my dear?" Blue licked full lips in a taunting gesture and watched as Conner rolled her eyes.

Conner started to attack the buttons of her shirt. "Oh, I don't know·your eyes, my clothes, perhaps the impossible amount of fluid gathering in my pants." Conner dropped her shirt to the floor and touched fingers to the buckle of her belt. She halted as she watched Blue shake her head no. "No?"

"Uh unh. Let me."

"That requires movement doesn't it."

"You think you can make it, cutie?" She crooked a tapered finger at Conner and gestured for her to come.

"I might die trying, but I think it's worth it."

"Then prove it Red."

The five feet of floor from the closet to the bed went agonizingly slow. The loss of Conner's clothing was painfully slow. When their skin finally made contact, as Blue pulled the smaller woman on top of her, the exquisite pain of needing release consumed both women. Conner lit into the woman beneath her with anything but patience. Where she wasn't using lips, teeth, and tongue to taste, lick, kiss, nip, or bite, her hands caressed, scratched, palmed, or tickled. Blue was frantically aroused with sensation. Conner seemed to be everywhere at once, leaving goosebumps in her path. It was almost too much, as Conner did her best to cover every inch of the tall woman's body, purposefully ignoring certain spots that were aching from neglect.

Blue looked down at a crown of blonde hair as Conner dipped her tongue into her navel and then made a slow, wet trail all the way up her torso, stopping to suck on her collarbone. Conner brushed over neglected nipples and Blue growled, as she put her hands on either side of Conner's head preparing to guide her. Conner bit down into the flesh of Blue's shoulder eliciting a sweet hissing sound from the woman. Conner was all smiles as she lifted her head and removed Blue's hands. Blue let out a soft whimper at the loss of contact, causing Conner to smile harder. Blue then found her arms being raised and pushed above her head towards the headboard. "You trust me?" Conner's voice was heavy with want. Blue could only nod yes as she found a sleek thigh pressed hard into her center. Her hips tried to follow after brief contact, but Conner was leaning over the side of the bed.

An eyebrow rose high as Blue took in the long leather belt in Conner's hand. "I haven't had a spanking in a long time, Conner, I don't know if I can handle it."

Conner smirked as she stretched the belt out. "Oh don't worry when it's time for that you'll be ready." Before Blue could get out a laugh Conner bruised full lips with a forceful kiss. Blue licked her lips in memory as the kiss broke, forgetting what she wanted to say. Conner's face held a wicked grin as she leaned over Blue and tied her wrists together with the belt. She purposefully hovered above Blue longer than necessary, swaying her breasts just out of reach of a warm mouth. Blue stretched her neck in frustration in an attempt to taste the nipples the hung above her. Finally, she let out a rough growl as Conner made the slow descent down. So warm. So sweet. So wet. Conner clung tight to the vice-like grip of the thighs encasing her head and drank of Blue like a weary desert traveler at a long awaited oasis. The dark woman knew she could have gotten out of her bonds, but the rhythmic pace of a cool tongue and the welcome invasion of a small hand, quelled her desires to lose her trappings.

As she lay there spent with a small body sprawled across her sticky body, Blue listened to their hearts pound. She filtered out the heavy breathing and pants as they both caught their breath, and wrapped her arms around Conner and held tight. Conner breathed heavily into the crook of her neck and Blue breathed with her. Finally, after all the shudders died away, Conner pulled back and looked into blue eyes that seemed to be as vast as an ocean. She held her gaze for a moment and then planted butterfly kisses on Blue's flush features only to once again pull back and stare. She opened her mouth to speak. "Hi," she said in whisper and then she smiled and began, "I.." Her voice was cut off as Blue placed her palm over Conner's mouth.

Conner raised an eyebrow at the action and only got a shaking of Blue's head in response. Conner creased her brow in an effort to convey her question. Blue eyes penetrated green. "Don't." Conner just looked down at Blue in question. "Don't·don't say it." Green eyes softened in understanding. Slowly, Blue began to remove her hand from Conner's mouth, letting her fingertips linger over pink lips as she thoughtlessly ran her fingers through reddish-blonde hair. Conner grabbed a hold of Blue's hand and stilled it between their bodies. "Why? Why can't I say it?" Blue could articulate no answer. Conner creased her brows as she looked deep into the woman beneath her. ÎWhy is she struggling? Why am I not struggling?' "I mean it, so why can't I say it." It took everything Blue had no to flinch. Luckily bursting into tears was out of the question, and she didn't quite have the breath to laugh, but somehow she managed to keep a straight face. Beyond that, she managed to form a sentence. "I know you mean it·.I mean it too."

Conner's body raised up. She sat straddling the bronze body beneath her, eyes wide, heart pounding. "Wha- what?"

Blue was surprised by her response. She propped herself up on her elbows and kept her gaze with Conner. "I said, I mean it too."

Conner reached down to touch Blue, but drew her fingertips back and just let them hover above her chest. It was as if she was testing the woman underneath her to see if she was real. "Say it." Her voice was quiet, but firm. Blue tried not to raise her eyebrows in surprise, but Conner caught the action. "Say it," she fought the crack in her voice "please."

Blue's face relaxed in the wake of unknown tension. ÎI can deny her nothing.' She sat up so that she and Conner were no more than a few scant inches apart. She placed her hands on either side of Conner's face and met her eyes. Her eyes spoke the words before the message even got to her lips, but it was still the same message and it was still true. "I love you." Conner closed her eyes as Blue's voice reverberated through her body. She could feel the tears even before they came and then they flowed as the woman before her repeated it over and over, until Conner could do nothing but give into the sobs that bubbled in her throat. She fell forward into Blue's arms causing them to collapse onto the bed.

Conner felt the sobs subside as she nuzzled Blue's neck taking in the sweat of sex and the salt of her own tears. ÎWhy does it feel so good to hear her say that?' She wanted to convince herself that they were just words, but she couldn't deny the warmth she felt in this woman's arms. She couldn't deny the ache when she was away. She couldn't deny the fact that she knew she belonged right here. And she couldn't deny the feeling, that those words chipped away at her guilt and insecurities. It was bliss and perfection and frenzy and promise all wrapped up in hooded blue eyes and sincere words.

Blue held to Conner tight as she felt her voice well up inside her, waiting to tell the truth, wanting to get rid of the burden. ÎNot here, not now' her mind screamed. Blue silenced the tickle in her throat as she captured Conner's lips and tried to pour the truth out that way. Whatever truth was there, Conner had no time to decipher, as she was unceremoniously flipped over onto her back and then feverishly devoured by the dark woman above her.

As climax ripped through Conner's body she touted that she loved Blue with each shudder and shake. They locked eyes and green eyes filled with tears for the both of them as they wrapped themselves around one another and rested. Conner's voice broke through the silence. "Why don't you cry?"

Blue almost didn't hear the words. She breathed in the Conner's hair as she lay spooned around the smaller woman's body. "I can't."

Conner turned her head so that she could see Blue out of the corner of her eye. "What do you mean you can't?" She felt the woman behind her shrug.

"I think it's psychological, but I just can't."

"Has it always been that way?"

Blue hesitated, then spoke softly, "No."

Conner ran her thumb across the hands that held her, not sure of what to say. Y-you don't have to say."

Blue smirked as she planted a kiss behind Conner's ear. " I grew up South Boston, across from the river, in the projects." Conner turned around fully in Blue's arms and regarded her with wide and questioning eyes. "Do you know where that is?" A red-gold head nodded. ÎI wonder if she knew Duncan?' Blue fixed on Conner's hard stare. "Yeah·I knew Duncan." Green eyes open wide and Conner pushed back a bit, taking in Blue fully. Blue couldn't help but smile at the look of utter sadness and confusion on Conner's face. "It's all right, I swear."

Green eyes full of tears looked up at Blue. "Is it really all right? I'm sure they were ass holes and you had more than one run in with Ewan."

ÎYou've no idea.' Blue smiled. "Boys will be boys."

Suddenly Conner pulled the tall woman into a fierce embrace. "God, you must think McGreely's are scum. I'm so sorry." She was sincere in her statement, but the low hum in her voice hinted at her want to change the subject. Blue obliged.

Blue couldn't help but laugh, causing Conner to pull away. Blue drew her fingertips across Conner's cheek bone. "Red, even if I did think McGreely's were scum, I think you've done a good job of convincing me otherwise." Blue was pleased to see a lascivious smirk cross pink lips.

Conner nuzzled Blue's neck. "I'm wondering if I did a good enough job." Conner pushed Blue until she was on her back. "I mean I've got stuff to atone for." Conner left a sticky trail of saliva between Blue's breasts. She mirrored Blue's raised eyebrow and smiled. "Will you let me make it up to you?" Conner batted dark eyelashes and then descended onto Blue's lips without waiting for an answer.

Blue listened to the words as they bounced off her insides, "let me make it up to you." As Conner claimed her lips, Blue acknowledged that she might just have to go to confession this weekend, because she couldn't possibly feel this way without some ramifications. As a warm mouth captured a dark nipple she said a few Hail Mary's which were accompanied by a couple of coherent Our Father's, while all the while Conner gave her own lip service and brought new meaning to the action of praying.

After a lust-filled hour or so both women wound themselves around each other and the sheets allowing exhaustion to pull them towards sleep. As spent as the tall woman was there was still an itching in the back of her head that pleaded with her to tell Conner the truth. And what was the truth. Was it as simple as I knew your brother and your family. Didn't she say as much in admitting where she grew up. It was clear as understanding washed over green eyes that Conner knew very well what the Boston projects represented. Wasn't that enough·at least for now. As Blue cradled Conner's lithe form to her body in reverence she knew she couldn't make her lips form the words.

Conner could feel the movement of Blue's body as her body tensed and she hitched her breath. Conner turned in the arms that surrounded her and buried her face in the valley of Blue's breast taking in essence of her sex. "What's wrong?", she mumbled into her flesh. Blue untangled their legs only to tangle them again as she placed a wisp of a kiss in Conner's hair.

"I watched my brothers die." The low voice rumbled through Conner's body with an eerie calmness attached to it. Conner shifted her head so she could look up at Blue. Blue willed herself not to look into jade eyes the she could feel burning into her skin in sadness. "I haven't cried again since that night." Conner emitted a barely audible "oh" and then she again buried her head in Blue's breast. Conner could only hold fast to Blue, not knowing what to say, but doing her best to silence her thoughts. Unbidden they came, like the onslaught of rushing rivers, and it was almost too much to bear as she clung to Blue. The dark woman responded in kind wrestling with her own thoughts. Where Blue had no clue how to tell Conner about her family's involvement, Conner pleaded with every higher power that she could think of in the hopes that her family had nothing to do with their death.

Finally, Conner pulled away and leaned up, capturing full lips to produce a mind-boggling kiss that stung of empathy and was searing in its proclamation of possession and love. When her lungs requirement for air caused her to pull away, deep green eyes locked on to electric blue. "I love you." Blue's heart wanted to burst and she could only pull Conner to her in an attempt to get inside her body. ÎGi-Gi, I don't deserve her do I?' Conner watched as Blue shuddered involuntarily. For any other person tears would have been surely streaming down their face, but her. She only stared out blankly at the walls waiting for the ceiling to collapse on her or something. Conner let go of a tear as she watched Blue fight. Her brow was creased and her jaw was set tight as her lower lip trembled. Both women knew that it was just too much. Conner pulled until she lay underneath Blue and they just stared at one another for a while, tracing each others features just because they could. "When you are ready, I'll be here." Conner drew a fingertip across Blue's lips as she spoke. Blue nodded. "I want to believe you." Green eyes locked onto blue with sternness. "Then believe it."

Blue could only marvel at the woman beneath her. So much strength and belief and love, and she had no clue. But Blue wanted to believe and she wanted to hope and at least for a little while she did. She ducked her head and slowly covered Conner's face in chaste kisses that seeped into lingering kisses of adoration that blazed into passion and possession. Only when the early morning sun filtered through blinds and drapes, did the two women succumb to sleep and envelope one another in sweat painted bodies creating a chiaroscuro against pale sheets.

* * *

CH. 27:

It had been so simple. He had brought Rick along with him so things would be easy and gentle. They were perched on the curb at the end of the street, as they watched the tall raven-haired woman walk out onto the steps with Conner hanging on her shirttails. They watched as the two women exchange a passionate kiss that ended with smiles and nips on earlobes. It made Ewan's heart lift as he thought of what was to become of the tall woman. They watched as long strides took her to the corner where she disappeared around it. Ewan and Rick waited almost an hour for Conner to emerge from the house, dressed in baggy khakis, sandals, and a t-shirt. Ewan figured she was probably on her way to the story.

Conner was so lost in her thoughts of the early morning that she reacted to the rough hand clasping her mouth, a moment too late. The sharp elbow to Rick's skull would leave a bruise, but her face was all ready being covered by a black sack. Conner writhed and fought the whole time she was being scooped up and placed in the trunk of the car. The only thing that quelled her fear was the fact that Blue knew she loved her and that somebody was going to get their ass kicked- if she survived.

All inklings of fear evaporated into rage as the familiar scent of Ewan's cologne wafted to her nostrils through the sack. She was standing in the middle of his living room, when she ripped the sack from her head. Flaming green eyes met with calm green eyes. Ewan was standing all the way on the other side of the room near the credenza. He leaned onto the furniture with an arm as he watched Conner consider her options. He found it amazing that her 5'3" frame seemed to grow to ten feet tall, as she stalked towards him. Fists clenched, teeth gritted, and veins pulsing. When she was an arms length away, he held out the manila envelope. She swatted it to the floor and with the same hand backhanded Ewan across the cheek in one swift motion. Ewan stood upright at the sting and matching green eyes locked on one another. He swore he could see hate in her eyes. He reached out slowly as if to place a hand on her cheek, but again his hand was batted away. Conner raised her hand again as if to hit him, but lowered it as she noticed Ewan made no attempt to block the blow. With that, she stepped back. Ewan leaned back into the wall and watched as Conner open and closed her eyes as she did her best to steady her breathing. "Why?" she finally rasped. Her voice was flat and devoid of all familial love.

"This" he replied, as he bent down and picked up the thick envelope. He held it out to her and she could read the name printed in black across the front. Azure Jasmine Melancolvios. He half-expected her to rage or slump her shoulders in some sign of defeat and understanding. Instead, she threw back her head in laughter. Ewan couldn't help but widen his eyes in surprise.

She smiled as she spoke, but there was no humor in her eyes. "What are you going to tell me Ewan. That she grew up in Boston and that she knew Duncan and the rest of you dime-a-dozen hoodlums." She paced around him as she spoke with melodic sarcasm. "Let me guess, she got you guys arrested one night or maybe she gave you a hard time. Or better yet, she turned Duncan down for a date." She laughed and Ewan grew red with anger. Conner continued her attack. "What Ewan, she wouldn't give Chuckles or you rat bastards a kiss." She made smooching noises. "Left you with blue-balls, huh?" It was at that moment that he struck her. It was a reflex. He was being taunted and teased by his own flesh and blood. The back of his hand made contact with Conner's cheek, across the bone. It caught her in mid stride and she stumbled back from the impact, holding a hand to her face, green eyes wide in shock. Ewan was fuming as he ripped open the envelope and spilled its contents onto the floor.

"You're so fucking smart, huh !" His voice boomed in her ears as he grabbed her by the arm and yanked her towards the floor. "What did she tell you?! Did she tell you what happened Conner, did she?" Conner clawed at Ewan's hand as he gripped her neck and pushed her towards a pile of photos. "Look at them Conner! Look at what she did!"

Conner was still clawing at Ewan's hand and trying to get up off the floor, when her eyes focused on several 4x6 b/w photos and color Polaroid's. The only thing she could distinguish was blood. Ewan felt her flinch and began to ease his grip. "That's what your fucking beloved beast did!" He picked up a Polaroid on top and shoved it in her face as he released her neck with a push. Conner threw the photo down as she pushed away from the pile and away from Ewan. She was ready to bolt and he knew it. "That's Duncan, Conner." His voice was gruff and hoarse from yelling, but it was steady. Conner looked down at the photo on the top. The body in the photo was covered in blood. Its arms and legs were splayed at impossible angles and the face was just blood. She managed to peruse two other photos before Ewan's words echoed in her head. "That's what your fucking beloved beast did" , "That's Duncan Conner."

Conner felt the bile burn a trail up her esophagus and she made no attempt to move-she couldn't. She merely turned her head to the side and puked. Her body racked itself with shivers, but she held back her tears- she refused to cry in front of Ewan. She sat back on her heels and wiped her mouth with her shirt. She sat like that for an eternity of 5 minutes. Hands on her thighs, eyes staring at nothing. Finally, she spoke. "Take me home." Conner left Ewans' house in silence and found the manila envelope on the seat of the car as Rick drove her home. When he deposited her on the doorstep, she couldn't go inside. She knew that the kitchen still smelled like the mornings' breakfast. She knew that the bedroom still smelled of Blue. The bed was still unmade and empty glasses were strewn about the parlor. She could not face that, so she walked. Her mind was riddled in confusion. ÎDoes she really love me?" "How can I love her?" "She killed him. She murdered all of them·except Ewan." "Is she finishing this?" She sat down on a curb two blocks away when she opened the envelope. She skimmed through the Coroner's report, recognizing names. "Robert Melancolvios; gun shot wound to the face. Algeron Melancolvios; snapped spine·Charles Mc Duff; Simon Leary. She paused as she read over her brother's name. Duncan McGreely, age 23, multiple contusions of the face and torso. Broken arm, broken kneecap. Severe head trauma. Bludgeoned with baseball bat. Subject most likely died on the third strike·"

She could read no more. She felt the bile rise in her throat again, but it was only dry heaves. Her heart seemed to burst. How could this happen. Hands that she had kissed, fingers that she had sucked and begged to have inside her, fingers that breathed life and soul into an instrument. Arms that cradled her at night. A woman she loved with everything she had or ever would have. The other half of her being- she had murdered her brother in rage and hate. "She can't love me, she was just using me, she·" Conner clipped her words as she pulled herself together and sprinted back to the house.

* * *

CH 28:

Blue had cut her visit with her mother short, promising to bring Conner the next day. Half way to her mother's house, Blue felt like something kicked her in the gut. The entire time she talked with her mom something was gnawing at her insides. She was only a little worried when she returned to Conner's to find the house empty, but a little note spoke of groceries. The little worry grew larger as two hours passed and the afternoon sun hung low in the sky. The tall woman was propped up on the pillows of the bed reading a book, when Conner appeared in the doorway. She hadn't even heard the front door open. The smile that Blue was automatically ready to give, dissolved into a straight line across her lips as she looked at Conner's face. This was not the woman who had been brought to tears by an ÎI love you'. This wasn't the imp who would wake up at odd hours just to get another taste. This was a woman filled with anger, with rage, and perhaps with hate. Conner knew and she knew it. Blue wanted to say something, but instead Conner spoke.

The tone was light enough that for a brief moment Blue thought she was paranoid, but that dissipated all to quickly. "You know, I walk out of my house this afternoon and suddenly I'm in a trunk speeding towards Ewan's." She chuckled and pantomimed driving a speeding car. "I'm thinking, I'm dead, but oh no. I'm standing there face to face with Ewan and I think he's about to rip into me about Manny and people embezzling money and setting us up- but no." She paced the room nervously, not noticing that Blue had swung her legs onto the floor and was pulling on her boots. "So, I get there and what do I find out·" She stopped and stood in front of Blue. She ran clammy hands down Blue's cheek and gripped a strong chin gently. There was no spark in the touch. "I find out·Ha!·that the woman I'm madly in love with- beat my brother to death with a baseball bat." Conner let go of Blue's chin as lifeless green eyes looked into cold blue ones, and she laughed. It was a shaky laugh, that bordered on becoming sobs.

There was nothing Blue could say or do, except watch Conner suffer. "You made love to me. You listened to me talk about my family·you listened to me!" The crescendo of Conner's voice was reverberated in the shattering of a perfume bottle on the wall ext to Blue's head. It was at that, that the dark woman stood. She seemed to shrink from the weight of Conner's anger. Broad shoulders slumped and vibrant blue eyes lost their luster. Conner watched as the woman began to take a step forward and on impulse she made a half-ass attempt to lunge at Blue. It only ended up being a haphazardly thrown fist, that found itself encased in the warmth of Blue's palm as she stopped the punch. Blue let go of the small fist as Conner backed away and fell to her knees, facing the bed. Blue walked around her and picked up her saddlebag that lay next to the doorway. She draped it across her shoulders without ceremony, as she looked down into red-gold hair and thought of burying her face there. She wanted to hold Conner and beg forgiveness- do penance. Rake herself over coals, self-flagellation, anything to dull the ache in her heart. If Blue could have cried she would have right then, as she heard a small sob escape Conner's lips. "Why?", Conner whispered more to herself than anyone, but Blue heard her.

Blue opened her mouth to speak Conner's name, but it got caught in her throat. "I-I need you to know something." Conner turned around on her knees and leaned back into the bed as she looked up at the woman in her doorway. ÎStill so beautiful' she thought. "Don't I know enough all ready." Conner closed her eyes tight as she tried to remove the images of the morning from her mind. Blue shrugged her shoulders and looked at the floor, she couldn't bear to look into those eyes that burned with disgust. This was what she had been waiting for, better now than 20 years, a house, and a dog and two cats. She gripped the strap on her side, tensing the muscles in her hand as she spoke. ÎGi-Gi, give me strength.'

"In all these years I have been seeking everyone's forgiveness. I spent the first five not wanting to be forgiven and the last ten looking for it. Then I realized, that no matter how many times I berated myself for not being fast enough, not holding on tighter, not asking the right questions, I was never going to heal unless I forgave myself." Blue raised her head and looked at the ceiling, anything to avoid the green eyes that glowed with contempt as they crossed her frame. She managed a smile as she began speaking again. "Then about a month and half ago, I meet this little imp, and the most unworthy woman in the world fell in love." Blue let out a huff of air and then ran her eyes over Conner, who sat with her head bowed, focused on the floor. "I pushed past the thoughts of who you were and who I was, because I wanted it and I needed it. Maybe it was selfish, I don't know. I knew it would be impossible, but for a while I forgave myself .. I forgave them all." She paused. "It just never dawned on me in all this time that perhaps it wasn't just me who needed your forgiveness, but you needed your own." Watery green eyes met with bloodshot blue. Blue bowed her head as she turned to step through the door and then she stopped, her back to Conner. "Tell your brother, that- I'm not some spy nor am I seeking vengeance. And the only thing I stole was a soccer jersey, but I'll be sure to send it to you." Blue turned around and looked down at the crown of blonde hair and her heart broke all over again. She turned and as she stepped out of the door way Conner spoke. "I never accused you of stealing anything."

Blue eyes met with green for the last time as Blue looked over her shoulder and spoke, "I noticed." Blue walked down the hall fast enough to miss the sobs that racked Conner's petite form. Fast enough to not see the floodgates open as Conner collapsed on the floor, where she would sit and cry until her body ached. However, she was not fast enough to avoid hearing Conner whisper that she had stolen her heart. As Blue closed the front door softly behind her and began walking down the street, knowing that the night was going to be long.

* * *

CH 29:

Conner spent the rest of Saturday afternoon on the floor. By Saturday night she had actually made it into her bed. On Sunday she managed to get up and take off her clothes, that reeked of stale puke and salt, she also found the bar. When Terry kicked in the door at 8:45a.m. on Monday morning she found Conner sprawled on the parlor floor-passed out. Apparently, from all the empty bottles that Conner drank, in an attempt to drain her bar. Bottles that weren't empty, were broken or spilling into the sink. Glasses were strewn everywhere, along with ice trays, jiggers, and shakers. Terry sighed at the mess around her, but was glad that Conner was still breathing, even though a few hours earlier she wasn't sure she was alive.

When Terry awoke well before dawn on Monday morning it was not only to an empty bed, but to the ringing of her phone. It was Sara on the other end babbling about Conner being kidnapped and Blue being some psycho killer. She took the information in stride considering her bewildered state, and then she spied the note from Sam on her nightstand:

"Hey Sugar, be back as soon as I can, gotta bail the Big One out of county, something about detox. See ya." Terry abruptly ended her phone call and proceeded to call Conner every hour on the hour. She stopped calling 2 hours later when Sam knocked on her door.

"What the hell is going on?" Terry was fully dressed, armed with her keys and ready to head out of the door.

"Slow down Terry, we need to talk for a second. Then you need to go find Conner." Terry allowed herself to be led into the living room as she sat down on the couch with Sam.

"What's going on?"

"I just heard the strangest story. Maybe not strange, but just some fucked up karma or whatever.

"Sam! What's up?" Terry stood now.

"Whoa, slow down. Look, I didn't get the whole story, but I think, I don't know·I think Blue killed her brother."

"What! Whose brother? Hers? Wha-?"

"No, Conner's."

"Holy shit! Ewan's dead. Oh my God."

"No, no, no. Some dude named Chuckles or something."

Terry raised an eyebrow. "Chuck·Oh, Duncan." She was silent for a moment as she realized what she said. "Oh sweet Jesus. Sam, I gotta go. Um·stay, leave, whatever, I gotta go." Terry left Sam sitting on the couch as she bolted out of her house and broke into a run that she recognized as a bad decision a block away. She ignored the searing pain in her chest, promised herself for the thousandth time she would quit smoking and ascended the steps into Conner's house.


Terry checked Conner's pulse once again and scooped up Conner and put her in the bed. After Terry had cleaned up the mess in the parlor room and loaded the dishwasher for the second time, she sat down at the kitchen table with the folder she had picked up off the floor. It was not an easy read. It was only 35 pages thick, with pages of photos and diagrams, but it still took her almost 2 hours to read. She immediately recognize the forms standard to juvenile court as she began reading through the description of the Boston projects. She scrunched her brow in thought as she mulled quickly over the fact that Ewan lived. She decided to worry about it later as she continued her reading. There were arrests for drug pushing, assaults, weapons charges, soliciting for sex. There were rehab centers, counseling centers, and suicide attempts. It was a year by year journal of the singers life. There were two years of nothing on the woman, and then two years after her 22nd birthday the listing began again. She had attempted to join the F.B.I., but was denied on the psyche exam, which she couldn't find. Two months later she enlisted in the Army Reserves. No psyche evaluation there either. Terry closed the book in thought, and then picked up the phone.

"Somerset, Lane, and Willis, how can I help you?"

"Hey Bobby. This is Terry, can you connect me with Lane."

"Sure thing, Terry." Terry took the file and walked into the basement. She grinned at the huge mess of papers that littered the floor and stepped over them as she turned on the fax machine.

"Lane here."

"Hey, Laney, it's Terry, I need a favor."

"Aw, Terry." He whined

"Chill, it's legal. I just need a file from Boston. Army recruitment."

"Shouldn't be too hard."

"Cool. The number is 007654302, A as in apple and M as in Mary."

"O..K..What do you need?"

"The psyche evaluation."

"Is this for Gregory?"

"Nah, personal client."


"Zip it buddy. Fax it to this number, 410 521 7615."

"All right, give me 10 minutes."

"Thanky you Laney, I owe you."

"Sure do- my wife likes the Mystics you know?"

"Yeah, uh huh, bye Laney." She smiled as she hung up the phone and waited.

Ten minutes later, the machine spit out 15 sheets of paper. This reading went slightly faster and Terry was relieved that Blue was not a nut case; in fact she was unbelievably sane. Aside, from post-traumatic distress syndrome, nightmares, and an extreme case of guilt hanging on her shoulders, the woman was fine. She had only left the reserves 2 years ago, honorable discharge. It wasn't until half way through the stack of papers that Terry had her musings answered. What a 12 year old Azure didn't say in court, she said to a shrink 10 years later- why Ewan lived. Terry shook her head in disgust. This was getting messier and messier by the moment and Conner was chucking her life out of the window because of too much pride in her family and her own self loathing. Terry cracked her neck as she left the basement and went to the kitchen. She knew Conner well enough to know that young woman had only read up to Boston and then stopped at the photos. It was going on 1:00pm when Terry finally checked on Conner again. She could tell without looking that Conner had awakened and used the bucket next to her bed. Terry let her sleep for another hour before she ran Conner a bath and woke her up. Conner's green eyes were rimmed with tears and filled with heartache.

"Let's go midget. Up and at Îem" Terry dragged Conner unceremoniously from the bed and sat her on the toilet. Conner groaned in protest as her shirt was roughly tugged over her head, followed by her shorts. "All right. In." Conner let her head loll to the side as she rested her forearms on her thighs. "Oh no you don't. Are you gonna puke?" Terry pushed Conner up as she talked. Conner shook her head no. "Good, then let's go." Conner moaned again as she stood on wobbly legs and was practically thrown into the tub. The water was probably a little hotter than she would have made it, but at this point she didn't care. She could have been smack dab in the middle of a volcano and been too numb to know her flesh was being burned off.

As Terry shampooed Conner's hair for the second time, she spoke. Sullen eyes locked on warm brown eyes. "She killed him." Terry's heart sank at Conner's face and words. She looked so lost, just like the nine year old girl that found out her brother died, in a so-called shooting.

"I know baby." Terry dropped her hands from Conner's hair. "Rinse." She watched as Conner sunk under cloudy water and the re-emerged with a small splash. "You ready to get out? You're gonna turn into a little white raisin." Terry tweaked Conner's nose and then stood up. She left the bathroom as Conner dried off and got dressed, while she changed the sheets on the bed and aired out the room with incense. When Conner exited the bathroom, the scent of cleanliness mingled with jasmine incense. As Conner plopped down on the bed she was overcome with a sob as Fahrenheit cologne seemed to engulf her. Terry just sighed as she watched Conner roll over and bury her head in the pillow. Terry rubbed circles on Conner's back with the palm of her hand, until her sobs subsided. "What' up Conner?"

Conner sniffled as she lifted her head off the pillow. "Wh-what kind of soap did you p-put in the tub?"

Terry scrunched her brow. "Uh, the brown bottle I think." She heard Conner laugh as she shoved her head back into the pillow. "What's up?"

"It's hers." she mumbled through the pillow.

"Damn! I'm so sorry honey." Terry leaned down and hugged Conner. "Look, why don't you nap, I'll fix some soup, and then we'll do a little reading." Conner shook her head. "What, no soup, no nap?"

"No. No reading." Conner rolled on her side, her back to Terry and drew her knees into her chest.

"Conner, have you even read it?""


"Oh, so you've read the part about the Nobel™ peace prize, medal of valor, and a Grammy™ for her reading of Cat in the Hat."

Conner released a breath. "Shut up Terry."

"I see a smile little rabbit." Terry poked Conner's sides gently, causing her to squirm.

"Stop Terry. I'm sulking not giggling."

"Oh, yes, yes. I'm sorry, we're sulking." Terry sat back on the bed. "You wanna sulk and talk?"

"What's to talk about?"


"What? It's just my fucking luck. I fall in love and she turns out to be a killing machine, who murdered my brother."

Terry wanted so badly to yank Conner up by the hair and shove the truth in her face. Of course, what Blue did wasn't something to be forgotten, but couldn't it be forgiven? It was the past. It was defense, hell, it was inevitable. If she hadn't killed Duncan, then there were about 50 other people waiting for the chance. Terry bit back her thoughts and chose her words carefully. "He would have killed her." The room was still except for the rustling of covers as Conner turned over, draping her arm across Terry's stomach and resting her head in her lap. "I know" was all she said as she closed her eyes and drifted into sleep.


It was going on 6:00pm when Conner awoke to Terry putting away dishes in the kitchen and the soft R & B emanating from the stereo. She wandered into the living room and sat down on one end of the loveseat. Terry walked into the living room and placed the folder on the coffee table. Green eyes drifted from the folder to Terry and back.

"Terry, I don't think I can."

"Then fine, you'll listen."

Conner reclined back into the couch and sighed. "Listening isn't going to help. It won't change facts."

Terry fought the urge to roll her eyes. "Do you even know the facts?"

Conner sighed and laid down on the couch. "I don't know if I can handle anymore, besides what difference will it make."

"It may change the perspective."

Conner sat up and faced Terry. With a voice full of incredulity, she asked, "will it really?"

Terry was wanting to hear some hope in Conner's voice, but it never reached Conner's eyes. "Do you love her?'

"What?" The question caught her off guard.

"Do you love her?"

Conner searched her hands for an answer. "How can I?"

"How can you not?"

A blonde eyebrow arched. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means understand what happened in Boston and understand what you both lost. And then think about how hard all this was with her knowing who you were, and to still open her heart knowing that this would be the outcome eventually."

Conner could only slump her shoulders as she cradled her head in her hands. "But, Terry she·"

"She what Conner? She saw her whole family murdered by a bunch of punks," she held up her hand at Conner's arched brow, "by punks and she saved herself. Conner, no offense, but you knew Duncan for what, a hot minute. It was right that you should have worshipped him, but let us not mistake for one second that Duncan ÎChuckles' McGreely wouldn't have done the same to Blue, and for less."

Conner wanted to seethe and yell, but the Îfuck you, Terry' came out as a whisper rather than a bellow. Conner spoke through hands that covered her face. "What am I supposed to do?"

Terry smiled on the inside. "You're supposed to get up and get dressed and go with me to Tony's."

Conner's head sprang up. "Hell No!"

"C'mon Conner, you two need to talk or at least make the attempt. This won't get better without that."

"Nononono. I can't see her. I-I can't even say her name without seeing Duncan's face. How am I supposed to look at her?"

"What are you afraid of, huh? You'll look at her and still want her. You'll look at her and still be in love. Or maybe you'll find some forgiveness."

"What the hell? Why does everyone keep fucking assuming that I need forgiveness?"

"Conner, how many cats have you run over?'

Conner wrinkled her brow. "What?"

"How many random road kills have you made?" Terry's face was straight as she stared at a wide-eyed Connor.


"C'mon, how many old ladies have you pushed out into traffic?"

"Old ladies, Terry what?"

"How many families have you evicted? How many acts of arson have you committed, not including albums? How priests have you robbed?"

Conner finally stood up as the barrage of questions seem to physically pelt her. "Terry, what the hell are talking about?"

"How many people have you killed in cold blood?"

Conner bit into her lip as she stopped herself from making some comment about being indirectly responsible. The stern look on Terry's face deterred her action. "None."

Terry stood as well. "But, you're a McGreely aren't you? Aren't you a thieving and marauding bastard with no fathers and harlots for mothers?" Conner was clinching her fists at her comments, she was getting pissed, but it was working.

Conner's chest heaved with breath. "I make my own way, Terry. My life is not determined by my surname. I was raised to believe in honor and warriors, not in thieves and mottoes."

Terry fought the smile that was tickling the corners of her mouth. "Then, get your highlander ass dressed and lets go and tell the woman you love that you all can at least try to fix this. You can't change it, but if you want it bad enough, you can make it better.

Terry made so much sense to Conner. Of course, she wanted this. Of course they could fix it·with lots of therapy, but maybe. Terry believed Conner wanted it and Conner was brimming with determination to believe it herself. Almost. She chickened out when they were halfway out of the front door. Connor hung onto the door frame as if it was her anchor in a twister.

"Uh, Terry, I changed my mind. I can't do this, I'm not ready. What if she's not ready. I can't. This, way..I just can't."

At first Terry smiled, ready to pry slender fingers away from the door jamb, but she looked into Conner's eyes and saw extreme fear. Terry let out a small sigh as her shoulders sagged in defeat. "Ok."

"Ok?" Green eyes opened wide. "No pushing, no pulling?"

"Nope. And no reverse psychology either."


"All though, I do suggest you come and pick up your paperwork. You don't have to see her. Just take care of your business." Terry poked Conner in the arm.


"All right, lil bit, I gotta go." Terry pulled Conner into an embrace and then kissed her lightly on the cheek before she descended the steps and walked down the sidewalk.

* * *

CH. 30:

To say the song list was depressing was an understatement of massive proportions. To say that Blue gave only a good show would be an injustice. The band, with Elias along for the ride, were three quarters of the way through the first set and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. The smoke was so thick, the waitresses look like they needed flashlights to maneuver the floor. The sorrow hung over the crowd like Baltimore humidity. It seemed to even permeate into the street, where the cars weren't moving as fast, and the people seemed to moving at funeral procession pace in the dead air. Blue's voice was a little hoarse from all the drinking the night before, but it only added a sandpaper quality to her smooth contra-alto. It would grind over some notes, reducing them to guttural moan or it would sweep over others producing a rasp of a whisper. It was like Sarah Vaughn, Jimmy Scott, and Billy Holiday were having a jam session in Blue's subconscious. The music itself was like good bourbon to a first time drinker. They hesitate to try it, but as the warmth crosses the lips the slow burn tingles in their glands and the slow crawl of the amber fluid down into their belly is sure to bring a shock to their system as they take their first breath of air. It all made for a one of a kind experience, that resulted in the drinker coming back for more, just to see if the burn would wear off. It never did.

Connor could see Terry from her hiding spot as well as the stage. The thick cover of smoke, let her lean out even farther than normal, as she laid eyes on Blue's tall frame. She reminded Conner of a panther, wearing a long black backless dress that tumbled to the floor. She could see the play of muscles in her arms as she would grip the mic and lean into the pole. Conner shivered involuntarily as Blue caressed the open air as if caressing a body. Of course, she loved this woman, how could she not, but Conner was more concerned with how Blue could love her. As Blue began to sing again, Conner wished for God to reach down and smite her. It was indeed painful to see, but listening to the dark woman was just as traumatic. The words rang in Conner ears: "Drink up all you happy people..order anything you please·.the drinks and the jokes on me·.excuse me- while I disappear." As the spotlight snapped out, blue eyes found green like they had been waiting to move in that direction all night. It wasn't even the fact that Blue knew where to look, but the lone tear that streamed down the high plane of her cheek ending nowhere. Conner bolted.

Terry chuckled to herself as she left her seat and headed to the front door. Somebody needed to tell Conner, that if she was going to hide in corners, she might want to find a hairstyle that is more reminiscent of an armadillo and not a porcupine. Terry intercepted Conner's small frame as she made her way around to the back alley. Conner's face was red and the tears were threatening.

"Hey, hey!" Terry grabbed Conner about the shoulders. Conner tried to wrench away, but Terry held fast. "Slow your roll, daddy-O."

"Let it go Terry. Let me go."

"Oh, you say that like you're about to jump off a cliff." A small smile played on Terry's lips as she attempted to ease Conner's tension.

"Maybe I should."

With that Terry let Conner go and folded her arms across her own chest. "Conner, what the fuck are you talking about?"

"Maybe, I should go in there and ask her to finish off my family, how bout that."

Terry watched with concern as the little blonde paced back and forth. "Conner you're full of shit. You love that woman and she loves you. You're so busy being wrapped up in your own unworthiness you're missing the big picture." Terry reached out and grabbed Conner, pushing her back against the wall. "Conner, this isn't some everyday occurrence, you said it yourself. This is not you talking. You're not thinking, you're not planning. You're just letting shit overtake you and for what? Fuck prophecies and wives tales. I can look at you and tell you're destined for better things. Your father didn't take you to camp crazy Scotsman to warp your brain and make you a killer. He wanted at least one of you to remember who you were. That's your fate Conner Rose, not who's who in the Mafia." Conner pushed away from the wall, avoiding brown eyes and tried to speak, only to be held back by Terry. "Shut it Conner, I'm on a roll here. I've known you for 20 years and I've never seen you happier. I've never seen you appreciate the day, the dirt, nothing. But, now- you breathe like your breathing for the first time." She watched as Conner slumped back into the wall and hung her head in admission. "Conner, people spend entire lives hoping for just a smidge of what you've got. Don't, just don't do this. Not like this. I mean, hey, what happened to putting your behind in your past." Terry searched Conner's face for a hint of smile and could not find it. "Honey, it's not easy, but it's worth it and you know it. Please don't let yourself and what you guys have slip away because of misconstrued loyalties."

Conner's eyes met Terry's as she looked up. "Misconstrued? This is my family." Conner's voice trembled.

Terry squared her shoulders, knowing that this conversation was on the verge of getting out of control. "And what do you really know about your brothers. Duncan was never there, what you knew of Duncan was the sugar coated fantasies we all attach to our older siblings. And yeah, even Ewan. I used to adore Ewan..and then Ewan changed."

"She changed him."

"That so. Did you read that or did he tell you that?" It came out along with a snort of laughter that immediately put Conner on the defensive.

Conner stood up straight , desperately trying to match Terry's 5'7" frame. "Terry." She moved in close to Terry so that only a breath separated them. "She- beat- Duncan -to - death - with -a -baseball- bat." It came out as a low staccato growl that was on the verge of being a loud roar.

Terry met Conner's hard stare and leaned as close as she could without letting her nose touch the smaller woman's forehead, and in her own intense growl, stated; " And, Ewan, killed an eight-year old boy."

Only the whiz of cars on Charles street interrupted the silence that shrouded the two women. Conner was beet red and Terry was close to grinding away her molars. The creaking close of the backdoor caused the women to break their stare, each one backing to imaginary corners. Terry shook her head as she turned and walked to the door. She looked over her shoulder at Conner, who had turned to walk out of the alley and called out, "you need to remember what you're defending." The door closed as Conner turned around, face drenched in tears. Again, she ran.

It was the horrible reality of everything that hurt Conner the most, as she ran. Her body ached as she pounded the pavement. Her mind raced from erotic fumblings of her and Blue, to the bloody pictures, and the images of blue-eyed boy and golden haired boy who seemed 12 feet tall to a nine year old girl. ÎHe would have been my age' and ÎWould he have made it this far?' passed through her thoughts as she made a decision. It was really the only choice, she thought as she bounded through her front door into the living room. She picked up the folder from where it still sat and she spilled the contents onto the floor and read. She read completely, all the way through. Boston, trial, juvey, rap sheets, overdoses, army records, and psychological exams. There in justified margins, double spaced, 12 pt font was the truth. The way Conner figured it, every person in that apartment died that night, some just a bit swifter. Conner managed to hit the wood panels of the foyer floor when she puked this time.

In the time it took Conner to change clothes and clean up, she was angry. She was enraged and spiteful. She wanted to roast Ewan alive and then fall on her sword at Blue's feet, at the same instant she just wanted to run off to Disneyland with her. Conner made a choice as she raked her nails over the tattoo on her neck. It was time to clean house, and if she was left standing she was going to beg Blue for forgiveness and find her own. As Conner begin to undo the organization of the files in her office she chanted the only prayer she knew:

"God, grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And wisdom to know the difference."


* * *

CH 31:

It was nearing midnight when Ewan called an impromptu board meeting. He watched from the door of his office as the Îboard members' assembled in the dining room. As the last member disappeared into the room, Ewan waited until he heard the two men stand up from the couch, before closing the door. An errant shaft of moonlight streaked across the carpet illuminating only the shoes of the three men in the room.


"Mr. McGreely." Rough Scottish accents broke the darkness of the office. Ewan stood by the door, making no motion to move closer to see the men he had hired.

"You two have your instructions?" Grunts served as yesess. "Good. Do the deed and wait for her, and finish it. No need for a big mess, just a small statement." He smiled at his own words, bearing glistening white canines that shone bright even in the dark. He watched as the two forms made to move for the door. "Eh, sorry gents, you have to use the window, apologize for the inconvenience." He turned and exited before either man could accept or protest.


Ewan entered the dining room wearing a thin-lipped smirk that barely hinted at the satisfaction he was feeling. The room was a spacious expanse decorated with an oriental flare. Ewan took a seat at the head of a wide mahogany table, large enough to seat 25 people. Tonight, it seated 10. Three chandeliers hung low from the 10 foot ceiling, bathing the room in a quiet light. Of course Manny was present, along with Mr. Valenti, and the six other people that usually answered to Connor, but of late they answered to Manny. Rick and Rich stood off to the sides of the room. The past week had clearly taken its toll on Ewan. His face was drawn, and the dark circles under his eyes shadowed the luster of his green eyes. A full beard threatened his normally smooth face, as stubble covered his features. He was dressed well as always, but even Armani could do nothing for the sullen young man. Too many calls from the I.R.S. and too many visits from the F.B.I. and treasury agents were beginning to wear on the young man, not to mention the obvious tension brought on by his sister. His demise hung ripe in the air like the forbidden apple in a long forgotten garden. Ewan could smell his doom, but he was too stubborn to give up. He knew he would rather go down in some hail of bullets than sitting on the defendants side of the court. He was vulnerable and lost. A hole within his family and a rat in his home, Ewan McGreely was ready to clean house.



She walked into the room at a quarter to one. Black shoes, black slacks, a crisp black shirt, and black leather gloves. She held her left hand behind her back as she pushed the other into her pants pocket. It was eerily quiet. Ewan didn't know if he should be excited or frightened. He was praying for excitement, but as she turned hooded green eyes in his direction, the last of his heart broke. He drew his eyes to her hand behind her back. He expected it to be a gun, but it was only a large manila envelope. This was not the one he had given to her earlier. His confusion grew as he watched her peruse the people seated at the table.

"2.5 million dollars. Her voice echoed through the room.

She focused her eyes on Ewan as the realization of what she said registered. Connor kept quiet as the wave of reality passed through the seated men and women. Ewan knew he was missing money and he knew it was inside, but he had not suspected that amount to be that large in such a short span of time. His mind was frantic. Conner knew who it was , but she was enjoying the speculative glances and murmurs that flowed through the room. Finally the room began to still as a gloved hand was held out with the index finger pointing. It was quite possibly the most sadistic game Îtag' any of them had ever been involved in. The leather finger roved slowly over the heads and finally settled.

The faded black shirt that brandish Darth Maul's face, the army fatigue pants, wire rims, and cheap haircut spoke volumes about what people do with 2.5 million dollars. Manny probably bought a massive computer, a big screen t.v., and a boat preparing to sail the high seas. As of now, he would be lucky if he got to spend eternity there. Manny let out a shaky little laugh as tension spilled out into the corners of the room. Ewan looked over at Manny and gave him a golf clap. "Well done, Manny. Well done." He stopped clapping and turned to Conner with a weak smile. "And Conner, Than-" His eyes went wild as he watched the silver cross pull away from her neck in a snap. She did not wait for Ewan to hold out his hand as she dropped it onto the floor. She spoke four words. They were quiet and steady. Soft as a whisper they tumbled out with all the bass of a thunderstorm in Ewan's ears.

Ewan saw a thousand failures befall him in four words.

In four words he lost more than 2.5 million dollars.

He felt the earth move beneath him as if all his ancestors were rolling in their graves.

Four-hundred years of honor, glory, and heritage evaporated in four words.

He stood still as a statue, as she walked out of the room just as quiet as she had entered. He stood deathly still as the room emptied, of all except Manny. Finally broken, he fell to his knees and wept as he picked up the cross. It was a Celtic cross that had been given to him by Duncan that he passed to his sister. They had all worn it at one time, announcing to the world their allegiance to one another and pride in their family. Now it was merely a piece of costume jewelry. He could do nothing but weep. He wept for Duncan, he wept for William and the others. He wept for an 8 year old boy who never saw it coming and he wept for the grown woman who would see it coming. He sobbed for 15 years of not crying as her words echoed through his hollow chest: "We are no more."

Green demon eyes glazed over in red locked onto the chalky pallor of Manny and they both knew it was going to be a very, very, long night.

* * *

CH 32:

Conner walked aimlessly and with purpose. She had parked her car at the far end of the block and started walking towards Blue's building. It was going on two in the morning and Conner knew that Blue would be finished soon. She had no real want to return to the club. Too many people she thought. Conner found herself standing in front of the apartment building, hands lazily cocooned in pants pockets and waiting. Conner looked up at the partly cloudy sky, as if she was supposed to receive a sign of sorts. It never came. Conner stood still, craning her neck up at the 4th floor apartment and decided that the passing car was omen enough.

Conner walked to the back of the building and stood under the fire escape. She reached up gauging the height to the ladder. After giving her best effort to copy the skills of Michael Jordan, Conner figured she should be practical. She pushed the dumpster underneath ladder with ease, grumbling to herself. "Why's it gotta be so hard, huh?" "Because, you're begging for forgiveness you idiot." She answered herself with a smirk as she pushed the dumpster into place. It gave her the leg up she needed, as she grabbed hold of a rust-tinged bar on the ladder and pulled down. Creaks and rattles announced the fire escape's movement and granted Conner entrance.

She let out a deep breath and scaled the steps. She made a perch of Blue's window sill as she opted not to go into the house- that is, if she didn't take too long. Conner looked down at gloved hands resting on her knees and sighed. She cradled her head in her hands as her shoulders trembled. "Oh God, what the hell did I do?" She wanted to cry, but she couldn't and it was pointless anyway. She had walked into that office and knowingly ended Manny's life. Just the amount of money alone, was enough to hurt Ewan, but the fact that it was Manny was icing on the cake. Conner's mind was crowded with feelings of shock, anger, glee, and sorrow. She had ripped the necklace off and devastated her brother. She could probably go back and pinpoint the exact moment his heart snapped. Conner remembered entering the dining room and seeing the small glint of hope that passed over Ewan's face before she glared at him. She raised her head out of her hands at the thought. ÎHe had been hopeful', she thought. She let out a chuckle. ÎWhat did he think? I was going to run over and say what an ass I've been, she means nothing, let's go off and finish her·"

Conner's eyes went wide as saucers. "Oh sweet Jesus." She stood up slowly, running a gloved hand through tousled hair. She leaned over the fire escape railing and darted her eyes back and forth as she looked down into the alley and the sides of the building- looking. She didn't know what she was looking for, but she wouldn't doubt it when she saw it. She peered across the adjacent buildings, turning her eyes up towards the roofs, where she saw a billow of smoke. She cursed and tore up the remaining flights of steps to get to the roof. From there she could see a thick black and gray smoke spewing from a building, while red and orange flames lashed the air. "No!", she screamed as she jumped, ran, and slid down the fire escape. She jumped from the last three steps, clearing the dumpsters and running the second her feet hit the ground. She made the quick decision to take the car. She didn't even hit the lights as she pulled out and sped down the street.

The front that the building had yet to be engulfed by the flames as Conner bolted through the front door without thought. She saw Blue's bag on the bar and started screaming her name, as she watched the flames eat away at the stage, just beginning to nibble on the legs of the piano. She was becoming hoarse from the yelling and the smoke that stung her eyes and infiltrated her lungs. She walked as close to the hallway as she could get, forearms protecting her face. Still yelling, she could see that the back door was wide open- smoke pouring out. Conner turned around and ran out of the front door turning the corner of building in full sprint, praying she had time.

Part 5

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