Cherry 9/Ghosts of Christmas Past

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Ghosts of Christmas Past

--=December 20, 1994 - Baltimore, MD - 2240 EST=--

"Leave her alone!"

Laughter exploded from the group of thugs surrounding the girl standing protectively over the huddled form of a woman on the ground. Determination was set on her face, her hands balled into fists.

"I mean it leave her alone!" Her voice carried, even for her size it seemed to overwhelm the area in the crowded alleyway.

"And what exactly are you going to do girl?" A man stepped out of the crowd, his head a crown of unruly dreadlocks, a blunt cigar perked from his lips, "Its a business transaction and your moms owes me. If she can't pay, well then we gotta work out some way to handle the debt."

Taking another step forward the man leered down at her, for her credit she didn't back down, merely straightened herself to meet more of his height. Leering at her a grin twisted his lips, "Now, I'll leave her alone if you take on the debt, I know just how you could pay it off, an much faster then you're broken moms."

Finally pushing off the ground the woman lurched up pushing the younger girl behind her, "You leave her alone, hear me? Not her, I'll get the money, I get paid tomorrow. I'll give you all of it so it includes some interest."

"Mom! Don't...." the girl pushed forward only to have the older woman stop her with a stern look, she wasn't much of a mother, but even she had moments.

Laughing the man eyed them both a moment, "Fine, the girl stays in one piece for now, you better have it to me tomorrow or I'm going to do much worse to her then I originally intended." Flicking the last of the cigar at them he turned away, the horde of hanger ons following.

Lunging forward again she brought her fist back to swing before her mother yanked her back by her shirt, "You just wait, you bastard just wait I'm going to make you regret it!"

Laughing again loudly he disappeared around the corner and she turned to the woman in anger, "How could you!"

"Its really not worth fighting back Rikki."

--=June 2 2000 - Augustine's Galley - Baltimore, MD=--

Reverberating with the steady din of harsh rapid fire music and the loud voices of the sweaty overexcited youths within, the galley was in full swing. Smoke permeated the air mixing with the smell of sweat and people as the band, perched on the haphazard stage reached a crescendo. The singer, a youth covered in colorful tattoos, piercings, and ragged clothing sported a mohawk, its liberty spikes having seen far better days, beckoned to the crowd with screams of angry testosterone filled rage.

Near the rear of the small bar turned punk venue a just as likely trio sat yelling to each other over the din and laughing over their beers. It was the early days of summer, and they were free of the chains of education. It was the last hurrah, a good bye for many to the freewheeling days as children. Some would shed their multi-colored hair for natural shades as they entered the work force, others would continue on to college perhaps retaining the outward of visage of their youth.


Pressing through the crowd thick with people the moderately tall girl approaches the table her face plastered with a self satisfied grin. She was the epitome of the girl your mother warned you about. With the exception of two long pieces of hair in the front, one dyed black, the other flame red her head was shaved. The white Dead Kennedys shirt had seen better days, the holes giving plenty of view to the red tank top underneath and tan flesh where the tank top sported holes. Red plaid pants adorned in various zippers, patches, safety pins and holes hung baggy on her hips where a thick military issue belt held them up and zippers pulled them tight at the knees over well worn and battered combat boots.

Dropping nonchalantly into the lap of one of the table residents she drops and arm around his neck and grins, "Miss me?"

"Well now that depends Ri, " he matches her grin, raising his voice up over the din, "You going to finally relent and give up that bullshit about the military?"

Laughing, "In your dreams."

"Well then no, I didn't miss you. " The sulky pout was misplaced on the youth, though he couldn't be older then 20, the scars on his face and the look in his eyes were years beyond his physical age. "You're the brightest in the whole damn class, probably the county, you really should go to college."

Laughter gives way to a scowl as she pokes him in the chest, "Right so I can go rot my damn brain with hippies."

"Better then get your ass blown up for the man Rikki."

Silence falls over the table and the corner of the bar as the two stare long and hard at each other. A few people look in their direction, but most are careful to not get involved. Slowly conversation returns and she breaks the tense silence, "I just need you to watch after my mom for a few months."

"Told you I would." His voice falls, it was an uncomfortable conversation, they'd argued her joining the military on and off since she'd informed him. There were so many things she could do that didn't involve that but she was dead set on it. "I'm just worried, you're like my kid sister..."

Punching him in the shoulder she hugs him, "Yeah, yeah, cept I beat you up all the time. I'll be fine, promise."

Hopping up after hugging him she disappears back into the crowd.

--=February 5, 2002 - Holy Ghost Cemetery - Baltimore, MD=--

"So it is that we gather to commemorate the passing of one who was with us and is no more. We keep in our minds and hearts those memories and that love we knew because Jason McLangely shared his life with us; and we commit his body to the ground and his spirit into the keeping of Almighty God."

The priests words echoed numbly in her mind, her eyes, swollen, and red staring blankly at the coffin as it was lowered. Jason, known to his friend as Jay, had been a central part of their lives. He was the father they'd never had, or the big brother they'd needed. And he'd been murdered.

Next to her, silently sat a woman, the relation could been seen in their faces, but the older woman looked strung out. She'd been the last to see him alive and couldn't bring herself to speak let alone look her daughter in the eyes. Jay'd promised to watch out for her while Rikki joined the military, he'd tried to keep her off the drugs, but he'd failed.

He'd failed because the dealers removed him as a vocal obstacle to their client. Standing Rikki walked away from the casket and the crowd, she'd kept her grief to herself.

The hand that laid on Rikki's arm was cold, colder then a person's should be, "Rikki, I..."

"You what?!" She whirled around on the woman startling her, "You what mom? You're sorry? Again? You're always sorry but it doesn't matter and now someone is dead. You may be my mother but I'm done, I'm not giving you another reason to have to say sorry to me ever again."

"Rikki..." her hand slipped off as the younger woman stormed off.

--=December 25, 2008 - Baltimore, MD - 0130 EST=--

The meaty crunch of a broken nose echoed through the alleyway followed by a muffled grunt of agony. Curled now on the dirty concrete of the alleyway in agony, his face covered in blood, marring his vision. He could still make out the form of the woman standing over him however. Defiance and rage sparked in her eyes, he didn't need the red hair to know who she was.

"I told you, I warned you, to leave her alone. I told you I'd make you regret it. But you didn't listen." Her food sank home into his gut and the man heaved a moment before spitting out a mouth full of blood. "That's fer Jay, you sick bastard."

Sneering at her mockingly, his face a mess he's still laughing at her, too screwed up now on his own drugs to care. "Should've put you in you're place when I had the chance. Just like your moms, and that little bastard friend of yours. He cried like a little bitch too, trying to tell me who I can and can't sell too. Shot him in his mother fuckin..."

His comment cut off as her boot roughly impacted his face sending him skidding across the pavement and into the far wall. A fresh round of agonized and muffled groans escaped him. Her footfalls crunch across the pavement as she walks back over to him.

"You're forgetting who is actually in charge right now Cee. I know you're not use to losing the upper hand but trust me, right now none of your friends are coming to save you." She kicked a can and he cringed beneath her, "So I'm going to put this, real simple. You get out of this area, you disappear and stop running the racket, or I'm going to make sure you don't with a bullet in your miserable god damn head."

Turning to walk away after contemplating another kick for good measure she stops in mid step, behind her comes strained laughter. "You ain't got the guts bitch." He's standing now, the rustling of clothing tells her that.

"You think so?" her voice drops to a dangerous level and even the thug pauses a moment, "Last warning, you take that step and you'll regret it."

"Pfft, whateva." Taking that last step forward the thug barely knew what hit him. She moved faster then his drugged up mind could follow. Grabbing his wrist and twisting roughly the bone snapped in her grip eliciting a howl of pain as she pushed him to his knees.

At the base of his skull the cold metal of a gun pressed, a soft click came louder then it should as she released the safety. The retort of the small, silenced pistol was deafeningly loud next to his ear, and Cee fell from her grip as she let go twitching and crying like a child struck. His pants began to steam in the chill air as he relieved himself, and in disgust she turns and walks away.

She reaches the end of the alley before a small voice yells after you, "You didn't shot me?!"

"Not yet.."

---Shortly After---

Dragging himself off the ground the thug cursed angrily to himself and shook his pants in frustration. Contemplations of murder ran through his mind as he began to stalk out of the alley, muttering all the while to himself.

"Damn bitch, I'll show you, just wait, gonna go deal with her broke ass moms now."

He was too involved with his rambling to hear the almost indescernible sound of a shadowed form dropping into the alleyway.

"Gonna make her regret makin' me look like a foo.."

The thug choked and exhaled abruptly as the new arrival slammed him face first against the brick wall of a garage. A muffle howl of pain escaped him as the brick dug into his already broken nose.

"Really? Personally I don't think she needed ta try to make you look like a fool. You do a good enough job on yer own." The voice was low, a reasonable distance from his head and not one he recognized.

"What? Man what'd I do to you, damn."

"Me? Nothing, but see, where she was kind enough ta leave yer pathetic ass alive, well lets just say I don't have any reason to."

"What?! Who the fuck... man I got money, lots of it, I'll give you anything you want, just name it."

Cee's body went limp as the figure lowered the silenced MK23 and let the thug fall to the ground. Leaning down he rummaged through Cee's pockets and took his roll and his stash before walking away. Always better to make it look like a mugging.

"Outrider...?" the voice was faint over the comm.

"Reading you, Zero."

"Time to stop playing guardian angel for your lady-friend. I'm sending you coordinates. Tact needs to see you."

"Its Christmas..."

"Dead men don't get holidays, mate." the comm hissed a moment before the line was cut.

"Well Merry fuckin' Christmas to you too." Outrider grumbled below his breath and headed for the coordinates on his heads up. He'd have to make a pit stop and drop the money into the mail drops of a few charities before he went to see what the hell Saints wanted.

--=December 25, 2008 - Baltimore, MD - 1030 EST=--

It had once been a nice neighborhood, brick row homes with carefully tended lawns and lovingly painted porches. That time however was long past, and very few remanants of the old neighborhood remained. The gangs, dealers, and other thugs had moved in and taken over, driving out good families, and replacing them with shattered shells of humanity.

Police activity in recent years had helped, the gang violence was down, the drug dealers weren't quite as overt, and people could walk around after dusk without fear. Even still the woman stepped out onto the small concrete porch cautiously and picked up the box.

Once she might have been attractive, her blond hair was faded, thinned and graying. Her skin was taunt over her bones and her eyes were vacant, dulled, tired. Passersby would easily put her age at nearly 70, perhaps 80, time and drug abuse had taken its toll on her body at only 52.

Her eyes looked up and down the street again, this time searching, for something she didn't find. A sadness creeped into her momentarily hopeful eyes. With a soft sigh she steps back into the house shutting the door and locking the bolt.

It had been nearly 6 years since she'd last done any drugs, but the shakes never quite went away. It was with great care that she opened the box with a pair of scissors, it bore no post mark, it never did. But each Christmas a new box was placed on her porch, the only exception had been during the first Rikti War.

Inside the box was a note, and each item packed in carefully. Though the items varied, the contents of the box were always the same. Carefully she opened the letter and the tears came before she managed to reach the end.

Its going to be a cold winter this year so I've sent you a shawl and some fleece slippers. You'll also find some of the tea I know you like. I am glad the doctor has given you another clean bill of health, and I am glad the visits to the psychologist are helping.
- Rikki

It was rare she got anything other then the monthly notice of money deposited in her account from her daughter. She couldn't blame her, and as she touched the shawl she felt a renewed sense of regret. It had not only been her own life she'd messed up all those years, but that of her daughter as well. Yet through it all she still took care of her.

She understood, but it didn't make her want to see her less, it didn't make her want to know what her daughter was doing any less. Every year the packages arrived, carefully put together, but they never once told her anything about her only child. Gripping the shawl she cried.

--=December 25, 2008 - Baltimore, MD - 0600 EST=--

Dawn had barely broken the frigid early morning sky as Outrider slipped into an office on Andrews Air Force base. Saints, who had aquired the office for his time at the base stood at the desk and wordlessly poured two fingers of Old Crow into the second glass.

"Yer late." he didn't bother to remove the half smoked Lucky Strike from his lower lip before taking a sip of the whiskey.

Crossing the room, Outrider slipped off the mask and goggles before sitting down in the creaky wooden chair in front of the desk. Propping his boots onto the desk he took a sip of the whiskey, "If I'd known it was a social visit I'd have worn civilian clothes and come in the front door. Had to make a drop off."

"Interestin' word fer it. She's a big girl son, she don't need you protectin' her."

"Not like there was really a good reason to leave him breathin'." Outrider returned Saint's stern look almost perfectly.

Sitting down in his own chair Saints set his glass on his desk again and leaned back in his chair slowly contemplating his words a moment. "Yer a damn fool you know."

"An tell me Tact, why am I fool this time?" contempt laced Outriders words, they'd had this argument already.

"Girl loves you, hell she still mourns like you jus' died yesterday. An yer too much of a damn fool ta see it, you need to tell her."

Outrider's glass hit the desk with a force that sent the liquor sloshing over the edges as he sat forward and stood. "I ain't havin' this conversation again Tact."

"Don't make me shoot you son, you ain't dismissed so sit yer ass back down." Saints hand rested idly on the gun that had lain near the glass of whiskey.

Outrider dropped back into the seat, he had no disillusion that Saints wouldn't just shoot him, it didn't mean he needed to like it however. Even he however couldn't hide the shame and anger in his voice. "What do you want from me Tact? You want me to add myself to the ever growin' list of fuck ups in her life? Jus' another asshole who bailed on 'er or screwed her over royally?"

"That ain't what I..."

"No it ain't, " Outrider cut him off, "But its the truth an you know it. Right now she may be mournin' me but she's mournin' me as something good she lost. All you an Slayton are askin' is for me to ruin perhaps the one good memory she has."

"Its not a good memory son, an yer even more of a moron if you think that." Saints lit of another Lucky eyeing Outrider for a moment, "She'd much rather have you livin' and breathin'. Tried tellin' you this was a stupid idea from the get go, you ain't savin' her son yer makin' her miserable."

Hanging his head somewhat Outrider let his anger bleed out staring at the floor of the office for a long moment, "Saints... I can't cope wit the possibility she's goin' to hate me forever. I'd rather never get a chance to touch her or talk to her then that."

"You claim to love her and know her better'n most, but you really don't. " Saints took a drag of the cigarette looking at Outrider as he looked up him that anger coming back, he could see it in the younger man's eyes, "She's not stupid son, she knows how this game goes, not sayin' she won't be pissed at yer stupidity and poor choices, but she ain't the type to blindly hate in such an irrational manner."

Leaning forward resting his elbows on the desk Saints lowered his voice a bit, "But lets me frank son, yer blaming her for this, but the reality is you just don't have the balls ta do it."

Outrider stood suddenly slamming his fist on the desk and leaning forward towards Saints, "Bullshit!"

"Well if that ain't the case then you wouldn't mind tellin' her before I see her in about 7 hours an tell her myself." A grin crossed Saint's lips and he exhaled a bit of cigarette smoke between them.

Outrider should have known better then to play this sort of game with Saints, he always had an ace up his sleeve. The problem however was that Saints knew all of his buttons and in which order to press them. As a result Saints was enjoying the slow, dawning realization on the younger man's face as he contemplated fully his words.

"You wouldn't dare."

"Try me son. I ain't goin' to lie to her anymore an go that cemetery to mourn at an empty grave with her. You have any idea how hard it was to just not tell her all those times watchin' her cry on yer grave?"

"I..." Outrider shut his mouth after a moment, he had nothing to come back with. All this time he'd been dead it hadn't really been him dealing with the consequences of his decision. "God damn you old man... fine I'll tell her.

"You don't wanna know what'll happen if yer bluffing me to get more time." Saints eyed him.

Glowering at the older man Outrider killed the last of the whiskey in the glass and stood up pulling on the goggles and mask, "Can't be any worse then what she's gonna do when I tell her."

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned..." Saints chuckled into his glass, his eyes following the other man as he crossed the distance of the room towards the window and disappeared into the dawn.

Glancing down Saints eyed the small communicator as it blinked for his attention. Killing the last of his whiskey he dropped the device on the desk and accepted the call as he light up another Lucky.

"What the hell are you doing...?" the voice was terse.

"Was wonderin' when you'd give up tryin' ta call Jack. I gotta admit makes an old man feel wanted havin' the phone rung off the hook." Saints chuckled taking a drag of the Lucky, "Right now I'm smoking a cigarette so you'll have to be a bit more descriptive then that."

"You know damned well what about. I think you're making a mistake, Saints."

"Just lookin out fer my own, Jack."

"...Ok... I understand that sort of reasoning, but this is personal..."

Saints chuckled to himself his voice full of mocking amusement, "Oh... right, must be my alzheimers kickin' in. I forgot Jack Slayton likes to remain detached an businesslike."

There was silence on the other end on the line. "...A good, hard lesson I learned years ago." Jack finally retorted

"Hmmm, right. Should I relay that message ta Kathy Varnell?" Saints took another drag of his Lucky still chuckling lightly to himself.

"Actually... it was she who taught me that lesson... smartass." Jack replied.

"Well, you ask me you didn't learn it very well... or did I not notice two of yer illegitimate children work for you now?"

Jack's voiced lowered to just about a whisper, "...three."

Caught off guard Saints inhales abruptly and starts to cough and laugh, his eyes watering.

"Ok.... yeah... laugh it up, you old bastard." Jack's reply was dry and even he couldn't help a small smirk at himself, the old man had a point, even if he didn't want to agree. "Fine, Saints. Don't say I didn't warn you. Slayton out."

--=December 25, 2008 - Baltimore, MD - 1320 EST=--

Fancy hotels weren't typically the sort of place you would find Cherry. On the rare chance she was stuck in Washington, D.C. over night she'd pick a cheap motel and crash a few hours before catching the earliest flight. However, she'd decided that with the holidays she would take a few days and stay in the city, get away from work and try for some peace and quiet.

Jack, ever so thoughtful, had been quick to shoot down the idea of staying at a cheap motel. His reasoning was straight forward, it was a security risk.

Whether Cherry wanted to admit it, she wasn't a grunt anymore and held a relatively high profile position in a somewhat controversial organization with plenty of enemies. She was a walking target, and she had to consider her own safety along with that of the public around her. That meant no dirt cheap hotels.

Working with Scorpio always implied some level of danger. It wasn't fair however to extend that danger to innocent people around her recklessly. She'd cringed as Jack had described the potential situation involving a Malta cell dropping a couple titans onto a motel leveling the building around her and killing the occupants. He hadn't spared the gruesome details, even long after she'd gotten the point.

It hadn't stopped that nagging feeling that Jack was doing this as some underhanded way to try and get her to relax and enjoy the holidays like a normal person. Revenge involving some sort of annoying Christmas gift was already on her to do list.

Stepping into the impressive lobby of the Ritz Carlton in downtown Washington, D.C. Cherry looked out of place. Wearing a plain black trench coat, combat boots, black BDUs and a plain grey shirt, she was like a rain cloud on an otherwise sunny spring day. Where the hotel lobby was bright, warm and welcoming, she wore a darkened countenance and the air of a foul mood. Pulling up the collar of her trench coat she trudged into the lobby heading for the elevators.

"Afternoon Ms. Jericho!" A chipper voice echoed across the lobby. A perky blonde in her perfectly pressed uniform beamed from behind the front desk. Her voice had that annoying sing song quality and almost overflowed with saccharin pleasantry. It was the sort of fake happiness generally reserved for the people who paid ridiculous sums to stay regularly in expensive hotels.

It was the absolute last thing Cherry want to hear after an emotionally hellish day. The perky blonde took a step backwards as she caught Cherry's offered scowl of disapproval. It was almost enough to make Cherry laugh, she instead stalked the rest of the way across lobby to the elevators.

Saints had been in one of his legendary foul moods. It was icing on the cake however to the sub zero wind blowing in off the Potomac River. Arlington Cemetery was mostly open, the lack of trees to soften the icy blow had made the day almost unbearable. Now standing in the elevator, staring at her reflection in high gloss elevator doors and trying to ignore the top 40's musak, Cherry began to question why she'd thought staying in DC for a couple days would be a good idea.

Sliding open with a soft ding the elevator deposited her on one of the top most floors into a thankfully empty hallway. Another perk of this hotel, it was quiet, compared to the holiday bustle and noise of the street it was a welcome retreat. Her room was on what they called the club level; it had required her key card to even access the floor. Since the floor was mostly suites, it meant less of a chance of running into other people during the short walk from the elevator to the room door.

Slipping a key card into the slot near the suite door she pressed her finger to the biometric scanner next to it when the reader chimed. Jack had at least been correct about security; the hotel it seemed had been designed primarily for the safety of visiting dignitaries. Reinforced concrete construction, designed to withstand even a bombing, the windows as well were bullet proof and spy proof. The suite was also about the same size as her apartment and animals were allowed. That meant Jarhead had taken the trip with her.

The hairball had already done his job charming housekeeping, he proudly batting around some sort of toy he hadn't owned the day before, and some brave soul had tied a blue ribbon around his neck. He was an ugly bastard that most people just couldn't help but love. Right now however, his owner was only worth a furtive glance before he went back to playing. Letting the door shut behind her, Cherry shrugged off the black trench coat and draped it over the back of a chair in the foyer.

Stepping into the main room her eyes fell first to the reinforced glass picture windows that opened onto a spacious balcony. It was empty, of course, paranoid habits. Shaking her head and grabbing her bag she sinks into the overstuffed couch and yanks her boots off unceremoniously dropping them on the floor.

Finally curious Jarhead leaves his toy and wanders over to sniff her boots. He promptly sneezes on them and turns an expectant gaze up to her with his one good eye. She rolls her eyes at him and pulls two cans of cat food from the bag. Cracking one open she sets it down carefully on the floor, "God forbid I feed myself first. Hairy lil' monster."

Sniffing at her the Cat happily goes to eating while she pulls out a small box with a red bow and a green ornament. Kenzie had left it for her, Cherry had assumed baked goods. Opening the box she eyed the note in Kenzie's handwriting, it fit her with its gentle curves and defined swishes. Very lady like.

"Hey, Ladyboss! Take a coat, enjoy the brownies, Happy Holidays. All that jazz.

Chuckling to herself she grabs a brownie and sets the box on the coffee table sparing a glance at the cat as he finishes the first can carefully licking his paws.

"Yer such a dainty little flower sometimes hairball."

The Cat scowls at her and voices his disagreement unhappily in her direction. Snuffing his nose at her he leaps up into her lap suddenly. It doesn't matter how many times it happens, a body never gets use to the impact of 26 lbs of cat as it lands on you. Jarhead however doesn't care, and ignores her protests as he pads out a spot on her lap and collapses. Sighing she drops a hand on his head and inhales the brownie.


It's dark when Cherry wakes up to the Cat bristling silently in her lap. The darkness in the room and outside was jarring; it barely felt like more than a few moments had passed since she sat down. The lack of sunlight outside told otherwise. Hours had gone by.

Sliding down off her lap, Jarhead hits the floor silently and flattens himself near the coffee table. Years in Boomtown had taught him how to survive, as a result he was an excellent hunter, and probably the cheapest alarm system one could have.

Dropping her hand behind her back she felt the reassuring weight of her gun. Some of her tension bled out, at least she was armed. Sparing a slight glance towards the balcony she caught a shadow as it disappeared around the corner. The balcony wrapped around the building to the suite's bedroom, it had a spectacular view of the city. There were sliding doors in both of main room and the bedroom. Seems the visitor was heading towards the bedroom. Standing slowly, and quietly, careful to avoid Jarhead Cherry moves towards the bedroom, thankful for having removed her boots earlier.

Slightly ajar the folding doors didn't provide much view into the dark room, a slight cool breeze carried through the crack, a window or the door was open or had been. Pressing against the wall beside the door Cherry held the gun ready, quietly sliding the safety off. It felt like hours, nothing but silence in the room. Common sense told her it had barely been a few minutes as her mind began to wonder if they'd left.

Movement from the door stilled her mind. Sliding open, almost impossibly quiet, a figure stepped cautiously into the room. Cherry counted her blessings as his eyes swept to the opposite direction as she was standing. Leveling the gun against the intruder's temple, he freezes in his scan of the room.

Cherry could see the intruder a bit better now, darker hair, hard to tell the color with the lack of light. He wore a fairly nondescript pair of tactical goggles sapphire lens, a mask covering the lower part of his face. For a moment he seemed familiar, profile she'd seen before. Realization hit her like a flash of lightning, Armenia, he'd been with Jack. She mentally went over the dossier she'd gotten on Grey Razor, his call sign was Outrider.

"You got 20 seconds ta give me a damn good reason why yer in my hotel suite." Anger filled her voice now, the nerve of Jack sending someone to babysit her. "Cause if you don't I'm gonna send you back ta Slayton with a few extra holes."

His reaction threw her momentarily off guard, he cringed, visibly and tensed. It was a long silence, long enough to become uncomfortable, the gun however never wavered. He beat her to breaking the silence.

"Didn't come on Jack's orders." the voice was low, maybe purposefully.

"Then by all means, educate me, and it better be good."

He hesitated again, "Rikki..." it came out before he could catch himself.

Anger came sudden and white hot, her reaction was almost instinctual. She tolerated it from Jack, he was after all her commanding officer, but hearing that name right now was more then she could bear. Slamming her fist into the side of his head he tumbled, a shock white blazing in front of his eyes in starbursts of pain. Slowly refocusing Outrider found himself staring at the business end of a gun; at the other end he could see anger and pain in Cherry's eyes.

"You don't call me that. No one gets to call me that short of Jack or Saints."

"Because the others are dead or you wrote 'em off?" Outrider kept his voice low, his tone neutral.

The gun wavered and for a moment in Cherry's hand and Outrider thought for the briefest second she was going to shoot him. The situation so similar to the encounter he'd had with McConnell several months ago it was almost unnerving. The difference being he was the one staring down the barrel of a gun this time.

As strongly as she was fighting it the pain was winning, momentarily at least, over the anger. Outrider knew, only a small handful of people had ever used her real name, he'd been one, her best friend growing up had been another, and the last was her mother. She'd swung at him once before right after she had joined the 823rd; he'd called her Rikki during an argument.

"Shut up" it was in her voice now, the beginning of tears in her eyes but the defiant anger kept them at bay, "You don't know anything, an yer lucky you work for Slayton otherwise I'd shoot you now an sort it out later. Either tell me what you want, or get the hell out."

Outrider watched her, guilt now burning through him as he realized this was his own doing. All that pain and anger was for him, he'd deserved that hit, probably more. He'd been stupid, Saints was right, she was so good at hiding it and he'd found that nerve. No point in trying to be smart now. He'd taken that baseball bad to the hornets’ nest, and for the first time in seven years it was his turn to deal with the consequences.

"You," it sounded more resigned then he'd wanted, but it was the only thing he could say given the situation and it was the absolute truth, "That’s what I want, I just want you."

Confusion replaced some of her anger; the gun wavered again in her grip. Outrider took the moment to push the gun aside before pulling off the goggles and lower face mask, "Please, Rikki, stop."

For a brief moment she felt rooted in place her heart stopping as her breath caught in her throat. The man before her should have been dead, yet he stared back up at her very much alive. The logical part of her brain didn't want to believe it, she'd seen him die, with her own eyes. Yet for once she didn't want to listen to logical or reason, it didn't matter how, it only mattered that it was.

The gun fell from her hand as her knees hit the carpeting next to him, the tears finally etching lines down her face. Yet she was too afraid now to touch him, afraid that it was just another dream, or nightmare, "Erik?"

Ignoring the hesitation in her voice and that sick sense of déjà vu in his stomach he pulls her towards him. Twice now he'd been responsible for her tears, and like before he felt completely helpless and spoke the only thing he felt he could, "I'm sorry."

"Why?" her fingers laced into his jacket some of her anger returning to her voice.

"Cause I'm an idiot..."

Looking down he saw her eyes looking at him with a mixture of anger, relief, and the drive that he'd first fallen for. Her voice however was shaken and angry, "Idiot means leaving milk out of the fridge. What you did transcends idiocy to a whole new level of stupid..."

Flinching slightly at the anger in her voice, "I didn't want you dragged into it. I was trying to protect you."

Her mouth fell open as she stared at him with disbelief for a moment, "I love you, and I’d follow you through hell if I had to. I don't need you to..."

Kissing her he cut her off. It was a long moment that ended leaving her scowling at him as he pulled away, "I know you don't need me to protect you. I realize that, I realize that it was stupid and cruel." The memory of her uncontrollable sobbing and breakdowns stuck in his mind for a moment sending a shiver down his spine. "I made a stupid decision, it seemed right at the time. I'm sorry..."

Closing her eyes Cherry takes a deep breath while he speaks trying to calm her growing anger her fists tightening around his jacket. Harping on the past wasn't going to solve anything, always continue to move forward in life as the situation presents itself she told herself. It wasn't working though.

Exhaling her breath sharply she leans back cutting him off with her fist as he apologizes again. Reeling back from the sudden pain he grabs his nose instinctively looking at her fear in his eyes as he wonders for a moment if she's going to make him leave, permanently. It was the exact thing he'd feared would happen.

"I don't want to hear I'm sorry. I'm sorry doesn't fix anything, I'm sorry doesn't make up for seven years and it sure as hell doesn't make me feel better about it." Leaning forward, he flinches slightly expecting she might hit him again. She instead wipes a trickle of blood from his nose. Pulling him back towards her she leans forward, her lips brushing across ear her voice low, "I don't want sorry Varnell, I want you to start trying to make up for lost time."

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