By Bel-wah

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures while the rest of the story and other characters are my own.



A large caravan of GMC Suburbans sprinted over the unpaved road, their headlights bobbing choppily in the darkness.

"We’ve got company coming, jefe."

"Shit!" Special agent-in-charge David Starks turned from the brown-faced man attending to his bleeding arm towards the distant road. Some of the local federales? Possibly, but not likely. Pablo would’ve heard about such a thing, and informed him.

The State Judicial Police? Maybe.

Or perhaps it was Enrico León’s people. The cavalry riding to the rescue of their capitán.

Well, what a shame. They were too damn late.

"I don’t want to stand around waiting to find out who it is, Pablo," Starks said, wincing. "Let’s get the hell out of here. Now."

His lieutenant began shouting at the men in Spanish, fighting to be heard over the sounds of the helicopter. "Apúrese!" he cried, ‘Hurry up,’ waving them wildly towards the helicopter.

Away from the still-idling Mercedes; away from the bodies.

"What about—" Pablo turned and flashed Starks a questioning glance.

"Leave them," the DEA man said tightly, knowing Pablo was thinking of Sinclair and Romero. "We don’t have time." If Gates Romero were recognized at this point, well, so what? It fit in with the plan. And as for Lane?

"Check her for ID," he said brusquely, relenting.

Pablo hustled over to where Lane’s body was splayed awkwardly on the ground. Starks couldn’t see her too well from his own position, and that was fine with him. Thank God she was out of the picture. He shuddered at the thought of how close she’d come to fouling his operation. And how close she would’ve come to exposing him back in the states, if he hadn’t been able to put a stop to her here.

"Aquí!" Pablo was crouched down on one knee next to Lane, holding up a small black leather wallet.

"Take it," Starks said. "And let’s go." Settling his AK-47 over his good shoulder, he headed for the helicopter, wary of the line of headlights drawing closer.


Things had gone according to plan - almost. Still, by the end of the day, he’d accomplished all his objectives, leaving no witnesses of consequence behind.

And as far as these locals were concerned, locals whose good graces were bought and paid for by Felix Javier Benitez, he was simply one more in a long line of security ‘consultants’ from El Norte, hired to do a one-off operation.

"Andale!" Pablo cried, catching up to him as he began an unsteady jog towards the helicopter. He was surprised to note that his hands were shaking, and he felt a little lightheaded. From the loss of blood, no doubt.

Not because he’d spilled it, he told himself.

He’d known the risks, known what he might be called upon to do, from that very first day when one of Benitez’s people had approached him in the parking lot of the supermarket in El Paso. He’d told him no, then, but had sat there long afterwards, running through the encounter in his mind, unheeding of the ice cream melting in the trunk of his car.

Afterwards, he hadn’t reported the incident as he should have, rationalizing a thousand reasons why that fact was no big deal. Knowing that there was only one reason why it was. Later, when they’d come to him again, he’d feigned distaste at the thought of it all, but they were insistent, persuasive, and in the end, as he’d considered his mounting divorce legal bills with despair, wondering how he would ever be able to support two households instead of one, he’d told them yes.

Making a great show of the sacrifice he was offering up; of how he hated like hell to be a traitor to the ideals he’d held in such high esteem, warning them how he would only help them in the most mundane of matters: looking the other way in certain cases, making sure some evidence was never collected, or letting a suspect take a walk once in while, due to an unforeseen ‘technicality.’

Felix Benitez’s people had merely laughed at his ‘conditions,’ and had given him the money anyway. And he’d taken it, again and again, each bribe chipping away from the inside out at the rigid, traditional G-man exterior he’d tried so hard to cultivate.

The more cash he’d taken, the more Benitez had asked of him, until finally it had come to this. He’d been surprised at how calmly and methodically he’d put the operation together, and maybe that was due in part to the fact that with Enrico León gone, and the Mazatlán cartel in ruins, that would make the DEA look good, for a while. So, in that way, he still was able to do the job to which he’d originally sworn his allegiance.

But the killing… he’d known it would have to be done. And it had come so easily to him, in the end. Because he really did hate people like Enrico León and Gates Romero. And as for Lane Sinclair, well, she’d gotten herself in his way, hadn’t she?

He would do anything, say anything, to keep from being exposed. The shame of it all if such a thing were allowed to happen – no! He couldn’t bear to lose face, ever! He would see to it.

He was at the door to the helicopter now; the winds from the whirling rotor blades whipped at his clothes and hair. He pulled himself in, nodding at the pilot. The chopper began to gracefully lift up, spinning towards the north. Starks gazed down at the earth falling away, fighting against the sudden wave of dizziness he felt, aware of the trickle of sweat inching down his back beneath his Polo shirt. The train of lights was just pulling in towards the clearing, towards the crumpled doll-bodies slumped on the ground.

So let those vehicles be the local authorities. Or León’s people. Either way, it didn’t matter.

El Halcón was dead.

And so was Lane Sinclair.


Teresa had known something was wrong the instant the battered old Ford sedan had screeched into the courtyard. Instantly, it had drawn the attention of the guards who’d immediately surrounded it, shouting, automatic weapons drawn.

Out had tumbled Enrico’s driver, shirtless, along with another man she hadn’t recognized.

She’d known that Rico would’ve been with his mistress this night, it was the only time he traveled anywhere without a full complement of his armed guaruras along with him. For the driver to have returned alone….

By the time she’d thrown on some clothes and made it down to the courtyard, Manuel Diaz was already there, calling out orders and directing their guards into the SUVs. The ‘company’ vehicles, as Enrico always jokingly referred to them.

It had been all she could do to get out of Manuel what was happening. How the driver had been accosted by armed thugs while waiting for Enrico to conclude a ‘business’ meeting. How a new driver had been substituted, with the plan being to seize an unsuspecting Enrico León, and spirit him away to a pre-determined location. For… for what?

Manuel hadn’t been exactly clear on that, and so she wasn’t, either. The one fortunate thing was that once Rico’s driver had regained consciousness, he’d been able to convince his lone abductor that he’d be far better off telling him what he knew, thereby helping el Halcón, rather than to remain silent and suffer the wrath of the Mazatlán cartel once he’d been found out. As he surely would, because the trail would lead back to him, sooner or later.

People did talk, for a price.

And so the driver had discovered that the corrupt local preventivo or ‘beat cop’ who’d taken him had a price, too. As the saying went, you could accept the silver or you could accept the lead. In the preventivo’s case, he who made barely the equivalent of $250.00 per month, he’d readily accepted a promise of muchos pesos from Rico’s driver, in lieu of the bullets that would certainly find him after that gringo consultant was gone, leaving a poor local cop holding the bag.

The babbling preventivo, now unable to shut up, had vowed to take them to the rendezvous point, a secluded area in the sloping hills east of Mazatlán

"Please, Señora," Manuel had implored her, "this is not for you."

Teresa had seen the glint of hardness in his eyes; she’d known he would have wanted her to stay behind, to let him handle this, just the way Enrico always treated her.

But she’d refused.

Enrico was her husband, her partner, in business if not in her bed, and she’d felt she owed it to him, and to herself, to find out exactly what had happened to him.

"You are taking me to my husband," she’d demanded, her voice a near-shout, not knowing where the power to confront Manuel had come from; so at odds with the indifferent lassitude which normally suffused her days. And then she’d marched to the lead SUV, opened the door and climbed in, waiting.

She’d heard a muttered curse as Manuel had followed her, dragging the preventivo along with him.

And then they’d moved out, with at least five more black SUVs behind them, filled with armed men spoiling for a fight.

"El helicóptero," Manuel muttered, and indeed, she could see its dark hulk just lifting off as they left the road and began to travel the last rocky distance towards the rendezvous point.

"They’re taking him away. Where?" Manuel barked at the preventivo who was pressing between them from the back seat. "Where are they taking him?"

"I swear, Señor, I do not know," he said hoarsely, his eyes bulging wide. "The gringo, he no tell me such things!"

Teresa leaned forward, watching the helicopter receded in the distance, as the Suburban jounced towards the clearing. Then her eyes tracked down to the glow of a light that grew as they drew closer; headlights from a white Mercedes.

Rico’s Mercedes.

Its lights lit up the clearing like a macabre stage, and at first she didn’t recognize what she was looking at: the shapes, as the familiar became unfamiliar in the uncommon stillness of death.

"Stay here, Señora, please!"

She could hear the frustration, the desperation in Manuel’s voice as he ground the Suburban to a halt, kicking up a small cloud of dust. But she was already opening the door before the SUV had completely stopped, just eluding Manuel’s restraining arm. She hit the ground running, tottering over the uneven surface towards the one figure she knew, the figure that had become the lightning rod of her existence here, in the years since she’d come to this foreign place.

"Rico," she whispered, her voice strangely flat, devoid of emotion. She stood over him, recognizing the blood-spattered blue silk shirt as one of a dozen he’d special ordered from the tailor just last month. And the black linen slacks; he barely wore anything else, they’d become a trademark of a sort, for him, el Halcón. He was on his side; his handcuffed arms pulled behind him, propping him up. His dark hair spilled onto his forehead, and his unfocused, half-lidded eyes stared straight ahead, and she idly found herself wondering where he was now. Could he see her, standing here at his side? Would he expect her to mourn?

"Enrico!" Manuel cried, falling to his knees beside the body. His fingers probed at a bloody neck, searching futilely for a pulse.

Teresa had never much thought about death, not in a personal sense, anyway, not for herself or for those close to her. It had always been an abstract, distant thing, much like a god she wasn’t even sure she believed in. Maybe Rico was in a better place or maybe not, or maybe there was nothing out there at all, and death was the ultimate end. Maybe heaven, hell, and purgatory were merely things of man’s making, flimsy constructs of a fearful people.

"He’s dead." Manuel stood and looked at her, the grief and the anger plain in his dark eyes. He and Enrico had been closer than brothers, she knew that. "I am so sorry, Señora. We will find out who did this, and they will pay for it!"

‘He’s dead.’

Teresa stood there, rooted to the spot as Manuel turned away, deaf to the bustle of activity around her; to the shouts and the curses.

Rico was dead.

Was she happy? Sad? She didn’t know what to feel. Didn’t know what to think. He was gone and she was just… empty. Long ago he’d killed whatever affection there had been between them. He’d killed it, as surely as if he’d drawn a gun and pointed it at her, and she had willingly helped; her own hand had reached out to embrace the weapon, had helped him to pull the trigger.

As she continued to stare at his body, gradually, she began to feel it, to understand it all. Rico had died this night, but she had died long ago; a ghost walking in daylight. Doomed to repeat the same tortuous acts, over and over, never to be released from her suffering.

She blinked her eyes and swallowed, taking in a deep, steadying breath. Now it was all so clear, so simple. And she took some comfort in knowing that. She who was nothing, had nothing to lose.

"Okay," she said as Manuel came up behind her, her voice belying a confidence she was only just beginning to feel. "We take Enrico with us. Then make a call to the police. Let them clean up this mess. It’s what we pay them for."

"Señora León," Manuel began, frowning, "I do not understand--"

"Do it." Her eyes narrowed and swept about the clearing, taking in the remainder of the bodies that were being poked and prodded by the guards. "Do we know the rest of these people?"

"One," Manuel told her, gesturing towards Gates Romero. "The snake! He worked for us a couple of years ago. I think he’s with Benitez, now. Or was."

"And the others?" she demanded, forcing herself to walk among them, to look death in the eye, to feel it like the ghost she was.

"A couple of useless federales, by the looks of them," Manuel trailed after her, pointing them out. "We’ll find out for sure. But this one," he directed her towards a figure at the edge of the clearing, "it’s a woman." He paused, ordering his thoughts. "Who knows what she was doing here."

Teresa had to admit it, she felt a jolt of… of something, at that piece of information. She moved closer to the body, silencing the guaruras who’d been standing there, making lewd comments.

"We’ve never seen her before," Manuel said, drawing up next to her. "Not a local. But she must’ve worked for Felix, too."

Teresa cocked her head and gazed at the still form before her. The woman was tall, that was for certain, with long dark hair that was now matted with blood from a wound to her head. There was blood everywhere, in fact; an ugly bloom on her back and side, mingling with the embroidery against the whiteness of her shirt, finally soaking into the ground beneath her. Her face was half-pressed into the dirt, obscuring her features, but for some reason Teresa couldn’t take her eyes off of her, wondering who she was and how she’d gotten here; a woman who was, like herself, a stranger in a strange land.

She found herself dropping lightly to her knees, gently pushing dark silken hair aside, and tilting the woman’s face into view.

"Señora." She felt Manuel’s hand on her shoulder, but she ignored him, her eyes fastening on the face before her. Even in death, this woman was beautiful, Teresa could see that, with fine, noble features, thick eyelashes, and a cold paleness only now taking hold on what had been smooth, tanned skin.

Teresa sighed, and shook her head. What a waste, she thought, letting her hand travel down the woman’s dirtied, bloodied chin to the pulse point in her neck, as though to confirm what her eyes already told her.

"We must go now, Señora," Manuel said, his voice growing hard, insistent. "Leave this trash for the garbage men, eh?"

It was then she felt it. She gasped aloud, startled at the faint fluttering she’d felt beneath her fingertips. Impossible. She felt it again. "She’s alive!"

Instantly, she heard a pistol cocking next to her ear.

"Not for long," Manuel spat. "The bitch."

"No!" She shoved the gun aside, pushing herself to her feet. "We take her with us."

"What?" Manuel turned to her, astounded. "You don’t know what you’re saying! The shock—"

"We’re taking her with us," Teresa repeated, thrusting her chin defiantly towards Manuel and pinning him with a fiery green gaze. "She could be of some use to us. A bargaining tool with Benitez."

"You don’t deal with bastards like Benitez!" Manuel swore, clearly opposed to her decision.

"Enrico didn’t, and look where it got him," she said simply, turning on her heel and heading back towards the SUV. Hoping Manuel would not notice the trembling in her hands, the shakiness to her voice. There had been enough death here this night. She refused to be a part of any more of it.

"She’s half dead already," Manuel called after her, nudging the body in front of him with his foot. "She’ll never make it."

Teresa spun around, facing him. God, would he see through her bluff? No… she’d spent too many years watching Enrico, studying him. The master. "Then see that she does," she bit out through tightly clenched teeth. "Or you will join her."


It was an old building of 19th century design, built of wood and stone and faith and prayer by a simple people. Campesinos who tilled the fields, who never could have anticipated the influx of wealth and development that the modern tourist trade, and the narco trade, would bring to their lands.

The church of San Raphael was surrounded by upper class homes, where once there had been farms and cattle ranches. Inside, the new threatened to overrun the old as well; a carved oak altar had been replaced several years ago with a marble one. And the wooden statues of the Saints and the Holy Family, who gazed benevolently down upon the faithful from their lofty perches, had been recently repainted; their dazzling, fresh colors a sharp contrast to the otherwise subdued, murky interior of the church.

The glazed windows were open, allowing a fresh breeze from the distant ocean to drift in. It mingled with the sickeningly sweet scent of the flowers surrounding Enrico’s coffin, with the old wood and burning wax candles, with the incense, and with the perspiration of generations of worshipers who’d offered up fervent prayers to their God: prayers of joy and thanksgiving; of loss and despair.

The choir was singing.

They were school children, those who would ultimately benefit from the new school she and Enrico had pledged to build. Their freshly scrubbed, shining faces were lifted up as though in prayer, and indeed they were as their angelic voices made their appeal in song: ‘Hear us, oh Lord!’

Teresa found herself in the front pew, flanked by Carlos and his family on one side, and by Isabel León, the matriarch of the León family, on the other. Isabel lived with Carlos and that was just as well; Teresa knew that the hawkish old woman hated her. She could see it every time she looked at her; Isabel’s dark eyes were like a knife, cutting through her.

Isabel León was fluent in English, but she had yet to speak a word of it – ever – to her daughter-in-law, the gringa who’d bewitched her Enrico. Now, Teresa was the one responsible for his death, or at least she was in her mother-in-law’s eyes.

They were all sitting down now, the age-smoothed wood of the pews wearily creaking beneath them. Carlos with his head bowed, daubing at his forehead from time to time with a handkerchief. Mamma León ignored her, as usual. She sat fingering a well-worn pair of rosary beads, muttering silent prayers to herself.

Teresa stared straight ahead. She was dressed in black from head to foot, with a lace mantilla shielding her features, making her invisible, she secretly imagined.

The grieving widow.

Father Ramos was speaking now from the ancient pulpit, but she was barely aware of him. Barely aware of the rustling around her, the stir of the air, the up and down and kneeling. She ignored it all.

"Life is changed, not ended. We shall all meet again one day…."

She knew that their attorney, Ernesto Garciá was there, and Manuel, of course, along with every other local of note who could squeeze into the tiny church. Because the funeral of so great a man, under so tragic a circumstance, was not to be missed.

"To be taken in the prime of his life, leaving behind a young wife…."

A car accident.

That was the official word, anyway, that they had decided to release. For it would never do to have the true facts of his death to come to light.

A battered Mercedes found at the bottom of a ravine near their home.

A closed casket.

And that was that.

Along with, coincidentally, a minor news story of a shoot-out between some local gañans – thugs – which was quickly forgotten.

There was more kneeling, and then Padre Ramos came to her, looking so formal in his priestly robes, his handsome features a mask of profound sadness and sympathy. He held out a small, white wafer to her.

"El Cuerpo de Cristo."


She lifted her mantilla and accepted the wafer in her mouth, fearing for a moment that she might choke on it, in the dryness of her throat.

The guilt.

"La Sangre de Cristo."

The blood.

It always came back to that, didn’t it? She took the golden cup he offered her and swallowed the water mixed with wine, fancying that the sanctified blood might cleanse her, might purify her. Now, when she needed it most. But instead, it only cleared her throat.

Rico had been barely dead a day, and it had been unusual to have the funeral so quickly, particularly when friends and acquaintances might have needed to travel a distance to pay their respects. But it had been her decision to move rapidly, before the legitimate authorities could properly mobilize, photographing or making a video record of the day and capturing the attendees on film for future reference.

"We commend the spirit of our brother, Enrico, to…."

Rico’s ‘death’ – what a joke. It was all about image. Here they were, gathered under the watchful eye of their patron Saint Raphael, studiously ignoring the pink elephant in the room. Clucking about the shocking car accident, rather than what they all knew to be the truth.

Instead, everyone winked and carried on. Expected her to carry on.

To do what was right with the business, to let it continue to fuel the local economy, supporting the campesinos who had long ago traded in their machetes for rifles. She was to let Carlos, or else Rico’s partners take over.

That was what was expected of her. Then, it would be over.

Except for the guest she had in her home. A guest who had not yet awakened.

She had decisions to make, that was for certain. She needed to take her time, to clear her head, to think things through. If only people would just leave her alone!

"…We ask this through Christ our Lord."


She heard the far-away voices of the congregation. Her own lips moved, as they were supposed to, but she made no sound. And then she was standing, feeling the hands on her elbows, guiding her towards Enrico’s coffin.

Time to say goodbye.

It was expected.


Teresa León’s heels clicked coldly on the tiled floor as she passed from the entrance hall, through the great room, towards the stairs.

It was over, or, at least it was for her. She’d left them after the service at the cemetery, declining to return to Carlos’ home for the gathering afterward. By rights, the luncheon should have been held at the Casa Mariposa, but she had imposed upon Carlos to do it, and her husband’s brother had been only too happy to play the ‘big man’ on this day. She was so overcome with emotion, or so they all were content to think, that she’d had to retire to her home.

She noticed a distinct chill in the air; perhaps it was due to the cross-ventilation, or the ceiling fans. They rarely used the air-conditioning. It wasn’t needed, thanks to the thick adobe walls. Her mantilla was off now, draped around her shoulders, revealing her short blonde hair. She ran a tired hand through it as she mounted the stairs, reflecting back on Enrico’s burial.

"Please accept my condolences on your loss, Señora León."

She’d never met him before, had known of him only by reputation. But when the long dark limousine had pulled up to the church yard, and the short, heavyset older gentleman had gotten out, surrounded by a cadre of men wearing sunglasses and bulky jackets, she’d known immediately who he was.

Manuel had taken a threatening step towards him, outraged by his brazen appearance, but with a wave of her hand she’d held him back. Let the man say what he had to say, and be done with it.

"I was so surprised to hear of his… accident," he’d explained to her, taking her hand comfortingly in his own.


He’d looked so kind. So caring. Why, he might’ve been her favorite uncle, come to offer her his support in her time of need.

"Thank you, Señor Benitez," she’d told him, keeping her eyes locked on his. "It was so… sudden."

"Indeed, it is a shame. Such accidents should not happen to one so young." He’d paused then, surveying the scene, his gaze traveling past the cemetery towards the surrounding town, and then up into the hills. He was taking it all in, possessively, territorially, perhaps already calculating in his mind’s eye its worth to him. "If there is anything I can do… any way to help," he’d returned his attention to her, "any… business advice you need, please, let me know."

She’d swallowed hard, at that. The vultures were already circling.

"Thank you, Señor," she’d told him. "But you’ve done enough already."

He’d smiled at her and bowed, quite the cavalier, and she’d felt the nearly unnatural warmth of his hand leave her own. And then he was gone.

Reaching the top of the stairs, she turned towards the hall leading to the rear of the house, past seldom used guest rooms, a fully equipped gym, and a steam room and sauna, to the ‘doctor’s office,’ as Enrico had called it.

An understatement.

The suite of rooms housed a facility worthy of one of the best clinics to be found outside of Mexico City. A must-have, for any wealthy ‘businessman’ who was concerned with his own well-being and those of his employees. Such facilities were preferred in fact, by drug lords who desired security and safety. Why go to a public hospital for plastic surgery, an angioplasty, or to have a bullet removed, when you could have it done better in the privacy of your own home?

She nodded at the guards posted at the entrance, and they swung the door open before her.

A nurse looked up from behind a desk. "Señora!" She stood, her hands fluttering at a magazine.

Teresa merely smiled faintly and moved on to a treatment room, one adjacent to the small operating theater that had been used more than once in the past.

She pushed open the door, breathing in the scent of antiseptic. The room was windowless, with spotless tile floors, and lit by bright, fluorescent lighting. A tall, dark haired woman lay on the hospital bed in the center of the room, surrounded by medical equipment, trays, and supplies. A silver-haired man with spectacles, wearing a white smock, stood next to the bed. His face was pinched and serious, and he held his patient’s limp wrist in his hand.

"How is she?" She wanted to know, her eyes taking in the monitors, the IVs, the oxygen line.

The doctor carefully replaced his patient’s hand on the bed. "Better, today." He sighed, straightening, rubbing at his eyes beneath his glasses. "She should be dead. I don’t know why she isn’t. She’s a strong one, I’ll give her that."

"Will she make a full recovery?" Teresa moved closer to the bed, noting how silent the woman seemed, how still, her head and body swathed in white.

"It’s hard to say," the doctor replied, following Teresa’s gaze to his patient. "I still don’t understand how the bullets to her back and abdomen managed to miss anything vital. And that one I took out of her leg will give her trouble, I’m sure." He paused, glancing at the flickering red numbers on the display above the bed. "And if the bullet that creased her skull had been off a fraction of a centimeter, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all."

"Too bad it wasn’t."

Teresa whirled around to find Manuel Diaz standing in the doorway. Her husband’s right-hand man was still dressed in his mourning black; his dark eyes flashing.

"Leave us," she told him coldly.

"We have to talk about Felix Benitez."

"Not now," she said, blinking back sudden tears of anger, of frustration that sprang to her eyes. God, was she finally losing it, or what?

"Señora," Manuel persisted, "you are not thinking clearly. This… this woman," he spat out, "you don’t even know who—"

"Leave us!" she shouted, startled at the volume of her voice in the small room, drowning out the hiss of the oxygen, the bleeping of the equipment. She could tell by the way Manuel unconsciously stepped back, that he had been surprised, too.

"Doctor…." She turned her back on Manuel. "Would you mind?"

The physician quickly stepped away from the bed. "This is not the place for this," he said, taking Manuel by the arm.

"No!" Manuel tried to shake him off. "You don’t understand---"

"Sssh!" the doctor hushed him, neatly escorting him out the door. "Let’s talk out here…." And the door slipped shut behind them.

Teresa rested her arms on the metal bars of the bed, breathing heavily, trying to steady herself. Her stomach was starting to ache, and there were goose bumps dotting her arms. What if Manuel was right? Just what the hell was she getting into, here?


There was distant shouting.

It was so… so far away; muffled, indistinct. A jumble of syllables she couldn’t make out. Didn’t need to, really, because she was so comfortable in this place where she was.

So sleepy.

So… ouch! That wasn’t right, she considered, as a stab of pain lanced through her.

The shouting sounded closer now, right above her in fact, but still she couldn’t sort the words into any sort of order. But she wanted to. She needed to now, as a sudden, unnerving sense of disorientation swept through her.

Where was she?

What had happened?

Something big, that was for sure, because Christ, something was very wrong. Oh, she could feel it now, all right, as the pain continued to prod at her, rolling over her in waves, and all she wanted to do was to crawl back into the darkness where she’d been before, except she couldn’t, because those people wouldn’t fucking shut up.

Maybe if she just told them to knock it off.

So she tried to say something, and was appalled when it came out as nothing more than a weak groan, just as unintelligible as everything else that had been going on around her.

"Sssh. Be still."

It was quiet now, and those words at least she’d been able to understand. She tried opening her eyes, figuring that might help, but the lights blinded her, making her eyes water. She quickly closed them again, but not before she had the vision of a heavenly angel floating above her.

Heaven, that was it.

She’d died and inexplicably gone to heaven, and was stuck with a guardian angel who liked to mouth off. Great! Just great, Sinclair! It figures.

"Aaah." That damn pain again, like a hot poker. Shit. Maybe this wasn’t heaven after all. Heaven wasn’t supposed to hurt this much, was it?

"Take it easy." The angel again. At least she didn’t shout all the time.

"Wha- what happened?" She managed to get out through dry, chapped lips. Damn, if only things would stop hurting so much, she could maybe figure out the blur of images and sounds that danced before her closed eyes, the disjointed record that she knew held the answers she sought.

"You were hurt," the angel spoke again. "We’re taking care of you."

Hurt. No shit. "Where am I?" Her voice was barely a whisper now. How embarrassing. If only Clarence could see her like this, he’d probably be laughing his ass off.


The angel hadn’t answered her yet.

"Where…." she faintly repeated, feeling herself drifting away and glad of it, this time.

"You’re safe," the angel told her. And then she felt a cool hand against her cheek. "Rest."

Okay then. So she would let herself nod off for a while. And maybe when she woke up later, she’d feel better. God, she couldn’t exactly feel any worse! In the meantime, her guardian angel would keep watch over her.



Teresa had watched the stranger sleep for a while, watching the steady rise and fall of her chest, the occasional twitch of an eyelid that was restless even in sleep.

But a gnawing hunger that could no longer be ignored had at last forced her into action, and so she’d finally left, after first letting the doctor know his patient had briefly regained consciousness.

That was a good sign, he’d told her. He was encouraged.

She’d made her way back to her bedroom, to her refuge, where she’d quickly kicked off her shoes and dress and changed into a pair of rose-colored silk sleep shorts and a top.

It was barely mid-afternoon but she was tired now, so damn tired. Her entire body ached, as though she were coming down with the flu. It had been a long, stressful couple of days, and she needed to get away for a while. To escape.

The confrontation with Manuel had shaken her. She knew she was going to have to deal with him and the others, and soon. About the business, and about her guest.

The guest part, she felt oddly at ease about. What does that make me, she wondered, drawing the blinds shut on her windows; closing the doors to her terrace. This woman might have been the one who killed Enrico.

Or, maybe not.

She had to have felt that, hell, she knew she did, or else she wouldn’t have considered bringing her back here, helping her in this way.

She sat down on the side of her bed, sinking into its soft coolness, thinking of the helpless stranger in her home. Who was under her protection, against all reasonable logic, for now.

With shaking hands, she picked up a book of matches and lit a candle on her bedside table. The scent of lilac immediately wafted to her nose, so fragrant, so sweet.

It nearly turned her stomach.

She was Rico’s heir. By law and by right, he’d left everything to her. And that included the business. It was hers, if she were willing to fight for it. To hang onto it, if she could. God knew, she needed something to hang onto. And right now, it appeared as though the ‘business’ was all she had.

Well, she would think about that later. Right now, it was simply too much. It was all catching up to her, tackling her by the ankles, dragging her down.

She reached into a drawer, and pulled out a small leather kit.

It was neatly filled with syringe packages, droppers, cottons, rubber tubing, and small white packets. Not the Mexican ‘black tar’ heroin that was so cheap, so readily gobbled up by their customers up north who smoked it, foolishly thinking that it wasn’t as addictive. No, Rico had always procured for her the fine white powder of the more highly processed Columbian product.

Nothing but the best for his little wife.

Fighting the tremors in her hands, she loosely tied the tubing around her lower leg. Needle marks on one’s feet were so much harder to detect, of course.

She unconsciously licked her lips as she opened a packet and poured its precious contents onto a spoon. Just a little push was all she needed. She’d just… slip away for a while, and then she’d be able to deal with whatever needed attending do.

Soon, she thought, gazing into the bottomless flame of the candle, craving its warmth.

Soon… she wouldn’t feel a thing.


To be continued.

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