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The Horsewomen of Las Vegas

Chapter Text

“This place is a damn mess” detective Alexa Bliss said as she looked around the interior of the strip club. While most such places tended to look a bit rough when exposed to natural light they were rarely full of bullet holes and evidence of a recent fire.

 

“Mmhm” detective Bayley Martinez said as she too studied the place. She and her partner had been called to the scene of the crime due to their long investigation of the place. The club was known as Cheetah’s and was run by one Charles ‘The Godfather’ Wright. Or at least it had been, Bayley thought as she looked over to where two large bodies were covered by dark tarps.

 

Bayley and Alexa were vice detectives. And in a town like Vegas that meant they were two very hard working cops. The Godfather had been infamous as the runner of one of the cities largest and most profitable prostitution rings, and in Vegas that sort of title meant alot. Of course no one had ever been able to actually CONVICT him of this, officially he was merely the owner of a high end strip club. Bayley and Alexa had been chasing him for months, and now it seemed all that work bad been for nothing.

 

“Jesus...and in broad daylight too” Alexa said as she joined Bayley where she stood by the end of the club’s main stage. Officer’s had been called to the club around ten in the morning in response to gun shots and a fire. Unfortunately, once officers had secured the scene the fire department had arrived and done their thing. It wasn’t that Bayley wished the place had burned down but fire hoses were about the most effective way to spoil a crime scene.

 

“I asked one of the uniforms to canvas the area but…” Bayley said before trailing off delicately.

 

“Yeah, no one will have seen anything” Alexa muttered as she continued to study the strip club turned warzone. She and Bayley had both joined the vice squad at the same time and had been working together for years both as detectives and as uniformed officers. Alexa had a very quick analytical mind that allowed her to make logical connections that could still stun Bayley. She knew better than to try and engage her partner in any kind of deeper dialogue when she had her current expression on. Alexa was thinking.

 

While she waited for whatever conclusion Alexa would reach Bayley walked carefully over to where the two bodies lay and knelt beside the first. Carefully lifting the tarp she saw that it was indeed Charles Wright. Bayley had spent so much time looking at photos of him that she knew his features as well as she knew anyones. His face was still contorted in the rictus of pain that it had formed when he’d been shot and Bayley found it oddly sobering

 

She had no doubt that the Godfather had been a criminal. He’d sold his ‘ho’s’ as though they were property and not human beings and had been ruthless with those who threatened his business. But in many ways he’d also been one of that quickly vanishing class of criminal: the gentleman gangster. Most of the working girls that Bayley and Alexa had questioned had had mostly positive things to say about him. He’d never stiffed them, put hands on them, and would refuse to sell their services to anyone he thought might be a danger to them. This could of course have simply been him protecting his assets but the girls hadn’t seemed to think so.

 

Moreover despite his public business as a strip club owner he’d been a very popular person. Always jovial and good natured he seemed to greet every day with the kind of enthusiasm that few people could match. Even when he’d been arrested and tried he’d never been anything but bubbly and polite with law enforcement, though it was easy to be so when you were constantly being acquitted. He’d even been philanthropically active. Bayley would happily of slapped cuffs on his wrists and tossed him in a dark hole for the rest of his life but she had never been able to truly hate him.

 

Replacing the tarp over the Godfather’s face she moved to the next body. Charles Wright had been a very big man at six and a half feet tall, yet he still gave up several inches to his bodyguard Tyrus Clay. Bayley didn’t have to lift the second tarp to know it was Tyrus’ body, there simply weren’t that many people who could claim to be just shy of seven feet tall. Bayley had a brief morbid thought that it had probably taken a lot of bullets to bring him down.

 

In many ways Tyrus had been like his boss. Big and happy with the confidence of a giant who knew he had nothing to prove to or fear from most of humanity. The main difference between the two had been that while the Godfather had been as shrewd as he was big, Tyrus was a slow plodder both physically and mentally. He’d been happy to accept orders as he’d lacked both the brains and ambition to want to run an organization of his own.

 

A glint of metal caught Bayley’s eye and she looked down to find a large pistol laying just out of reach of Tyrus’ hand. It was a .500 Smith and Wesson revolver. It already had a numbered evidence card next to it so she didn’t pick it up but she studied it interestedly. The thing was enormous and supremely powerful, despite her own skill with a firearm Bayley was certain she wouldn’t be able to control it if she fired it. But what interested her most was that it still seemed to be fully loaded. Bayley checked the Godfather’s weapon and found that it too had not been fired.

 

Whoever had killed the two men, they’d taken them by surprise. Frowning, Bayley lifted the tarp on Tyrus and looked into his big face. Under the pain she thought she could detect surprise. Moving back to the Godfather she looked again and thought she saw the same. Whatever had gone down it seemed that the Godfather and his bodyguard hadn’t even had the chance to shoot back. Bayley looked around and noticed the nearby table. She was studying it and the chairs around it when Alexa finally spoke.

 

“Look at the bullet holes back on the bar” she said as she pointed. Bayley turned to look and saw that the front of the bar had been struck several times as well as the mirror behind it.

 

“Go on” Bayley said, knowing that Alexa wouldn’t have spoken up if that was all she had. Before she answered Alexa moved to the far side of the table and raised her hand mimicking the shape of a gun.

 

“Look at how close together they are, even the ones that missed” Alexa said as she pointed at the bullet holes. Alexa paused for a moment before adding “I don’t think this was someone spraying bullets. It looks like they had some skill with a gun. Even the misses could be accounted for by someone shooting at a body falling backward”. Bayley looked at the bullet holes for awhile and decided that Alexa was probably right.

 

“Look at the chairs” Bayley said when she’d looked at the bar for several seconds.

 

Alexa raised an eyebrow but looked at the furniture for awhile before asking “what am I supposed to be seeing here?”.

 

“First, there are three chairs at the table and only one, the one The Godfather was in, has been tipped over. The others HAVE, however, been pushed back. I think that Charles was meeting with whoever killed him and they only shot him after standing up while he was still sitting. If you look at the guns by their bodies, neither Charles or Tyrus got off a shot, this happened quickly and without warning” Bayley said. She watched and waited as Alexa digested this internally for several moments. Alexa was an empiricist and less comfortable with speculation than Bayley so she would likely be skeptical.

 

“Let’s say…” Alexa said slowly “...that you’re correct. We have a blatant hit, done by someone who knew what they were doing, in broad daylight...there aren’t many people who would have the balls to even think about that”. As she finished Alexa looked troubled, as well she would. The notion of such a blatant attack was very disturbing.

 

“Excuse me, detectives?” a voice said behind them. Both Alexa and Bayley turned to see officer Naomi McCray standing near the door. Both detectives knew her well and had worked with her often.

 

“Yes officer?” Bayley said.

 

“We canvassed out to five blocks, no one saw anything or at least no one wants to talk about it if they did” Naomi said sounding almost defensive. Many people would have assumed this was because she thought the detectives might blame her for this lack of leads. Bayley and Alexa happened to know that Naomi was actually from the area and had deep sympathies with the locals in most things.

 

“I didn’t think we’d find anyone but it was worth a try, thank you officer” Bayley said as she stood and smoothed the front of her slacks.

 

“Of course, crime scene van has just arrived by the way” Naomi said, sounding a bit more relaxed now. She smiled at the detectives before exiting the club.

 

“What’s our next move?” Alexa asked Bayley as they followed Naomi out the door. Both women reached for their sunglasses at the same moment as they emerged into the bright sun of a Las Vegas afternoon.

 

“We can’t just wait around for the lab to get back to us, so I think we need to lean on our CI's” Bayley said as they approached their car. As per tradition they stopped a few feet away and played a brief round of rock, paper, scissors. Bayley swore once as Alexa’s paper covered her rock and then tossed the blonde woman the keys before walking around to the passenger side.

 

“It IS about lunch time…” Alexa said, concentrating on adjusting the driver's seat which made Bayley laugh and drew a middle finger from Alexa. Bayley wasn’t tall by any means but Alexa barely crested five feet and it had become something of a joke around her in the department. Once Bayley had stopped laughing she thought about what Alexa had said.

 

“Lunch at Foley’s?” she asked as she buckled in.

 

“I do love their salads” Alexa said as she started the car.

 

Bayley made a face saying “bitch, you weigh 95 pounds with your gun on what are you eating salads for?”.



Foley’s was something of a Vegas institution in many circles. There wasn’t anything too stunning about the food but people still flocked to it. This was mostly due to the diner’s owner, Mick Foley. Mick had been a fighter for many years and had the scars to show it. It was also possible that the constant pummeling had knocked a screw or two loose in his head because he was always a bit...crazy. But a friendly and ingenuous crazy that had made eating at his restaurant a fun experience for years.

 

Alexa and Bayley ate there often and only partially because they liked the food. One aspect of Mick’s character that wasn’t widely known was that he was one of the most well informed people about the activities of the shady side of Las Vegas. He never, at least as far as anyone knew, actually crossed that line himself. He just managed to keep tabs on all the important local players. And they were content with this because he was usually willing to share what he’d heard with people who he liked.

 

Ordinarily he didn’t share his information with law enforcement. Not because he had anything against cops but because, understandably, his dubious contacts would be much less willing to speak to him if he did. However it had been realized long ago that Mick made an ideal informal line of communication between the two sides and so he was able to speak to a select few cops. Fortunately for Bayley and Alexa he had liked them both as uniformed officers so he was generally willing to help them now.

 

Bayley and Alexa took their usual window booth and waited for their usual waitress Noelle, who also happened to be Mick’s daughter, to swing by. Noelle was like her dad in that she was usually in a cheerful mood and today was no exception. “Hey ladies!” she said happily as she sat their usual drinks down in front of them, tea for Alexa and a diet soda for Bayley, before lifting her order tablet and asking “the same as always?”.

 

“For me yes” Alexa said with a matching smile. This meant a chicken caesar salad with the dressing on the side.

 

“You’re hopeless…” Bayley said to her in a despairing voice before smiling at Noelle and saying “...today I’ll do a meatloaf sandwich with those fries EXTRA crispy”. Noelle nodded and headed off leaving Alexa looking at Bayley with a half amused half exasperated expression.

 

“Garbage in garbage out Bayley” Alexa said as she began brewing her tea.

 

“Zip it Kendall Jenner” Bayley said as she sipped her drink. In truth Bayley ate a lot of junk food, but her hyperactive nature and intense workouts kept her in fighting trim. Before Alexa could respond they were joined by the diner’s eponymous owner, Mick.

 

“I don’t think detective Bliss looks anything like Kendall Jenner” he said with a smile as he pulled a chair to the end of their table and sat backwards in it.

 

“THANK YOU Mick” Alexa said as she let Mick lean over and hug her. Bayley did the same and was about to ask a question when Mick turned back to Alexa.

 

“You don’t actually look like her do you? I don’t know who that is” he said with a grin.

 

“NOTHING like her” Alexa said as she glowered at Bayley.

 

“Then yes, I don’t think she looks anything like her” Mick said magnanimously to Bayley.

 

“Oh don’t enable Thumbalina, Mick” Bayley said with a grin.

 

“I got that reference!...” Mick said happily before looking at Alexa appraisingly and adding apologetically “...she may have you there gorgeous”.

 

“Mick!...” Alexa said in mock outrage “...I can’t believe you betrayed me”.

 

“Never!” he said sounding mortified at the very thought. They all laughed and then paused briefly as Noelle arrived with Mozzarella sticks which she deposited on the table before kissing her father’s cheek and hurrying away.

 

“Mick...what are those…” Bayley said with a spreading grin on her face.

 

“On the house detectives, lord knows you’ve spent enough money with me over the years” Mick said as he slid the plate toward the women. Alexa’s eyes almost bugged out of her face as she looked down at the sticks. When it came to junk food she had two vices: chocolate and mozzarella sticks.

 

“I shouldn’t…” Alexa said before quickly picking up her tea as though it could protect her from the influence of the fried and breaded cheese.

 

“I will!” Bayley said eagerly as she picked up one of the sticks, dunked it in the marinara sauce, and scarfed it down. After an internal struggle that played out on her face Alexa relented and took one herself, declined to dip it, and nibbled the tip as though that would be enough for her. They both knew it wouldn’t.

 

“Now, as much as I would like to think so I assume you two lovely ladies aren’t here just for the food or my company” Mick said as he demolished a mozzarella stick in a single bite.

 

“We DO come here a lot without any kind of ulterior motive” Bayley pointed out before cramming another mozzarella stick into her full mouth.

 

Alexa made an expression of distaste before saying “but yes we would like to hear what you might know about something”.

 

“I know a little about a lot of somethings, a lot about a few somethings, and nothing about many more” Mick said with a grin. This drew blinks from both Alexa and Bayley. This was a manifestation of Mick’s unique way of viewing the world.

 

“Right...well...what about what happened at Cheetah’s earlier today” Bayley said after swallowing a lot of fried cheese. She washed it down with a sip of her drink.

 

“Bad bad business” Mick said ruefully, his face falling.

 

“Which is why we’d really like to catch whoever did it” Alexa said quickly.

 

“Believe me I’d like to help you do it…” Mick said as he shook his head “...that’s just not how civilized people conduct business”. Bayley supposed this depended on how one defined ‘civilized people’ but didn’t say as much.

 

“Oh come on Mick…” Alexa said in a voice that would be familiar to any woman who’d had to convince a reluctant male friend into helping them move “...you mean you haven’t heard ANYTHING”. Mick smiled at this in a way that suggested he knew exactly what Alexa was trying to do but he shook his head nonetheless.

“Anyone who would plan something like that would be quiet about it and certainly wouldn’t tell me” he said.

 

“OK…” Bayley said in a reasonable tone “...I agree, but do you know anyone who might know someone else?” she suggested.

 

Mick thought about it for awhile before saying “no one, but from what I hear things got pretty...over the top violent”. Given that the incident had occurred just over two hours beforehand Bayley had to be impressed by the efficiency of Mick’s sources.

 

“You could say that” Bayley allowed guardedly.

 

“Well...whoever it was had to either be big enough that they could take on the Godfather without a thought or small enough that no one knows about them yet” Mick suggested.

 

“Hmm...maybe” Alexa said cautiously.

 

“If it’s a big group then your problem just got a lot more complicated, but if it’s a small or new group and they are carrying HEAVY heavy artillery...well there’s really only one place they could have gotten it in the city isn’t there?” Mick said.

 

Both detectives grasped what he was suggesting very quickly but it was Bayley who said “Dean Ambrose”.

 

“It’s as good a place to start as anywhere” Mick said reasonably.

 

Dean Ambrose was a lunatic. Anti-social, prone to sudden rage attacks, and paranoid about the world around him. He was also the gun dealer of choice for many of Vegas’ smaller crooks. The LVPD had been building a case against him for years but despite his quirks he was as clever as a desert fox. He was ostensibly an antique weapons dealer and as far as anyone had been able to prove in court, that was all he was.

 

“He moves around too much, where would we find him? Bayley asked.

 

“I really don’t know” Mick said sounding honestly regretful. He perked up a moment later as he said “but I do know that Carmella has been popping up in all sorts of interesting places around the city lately. Places you wouldn’t expect her. AND that she’s been looking a bit more prosperous than usual”.

 

“That could be nothing…” Alexa started to say.

 

“It’s Carmella, it’s something” Bayley said dryly.

 

“OR…” Alexa said “...it could be something unrelated”.

 

“Well it’s this or just wait on the lab” Bayley pointed out. Alexa bit her lip but after a moment nodded.

 

“Mick, could you box up that food for us we need to go” Bayley said as she slid out of the booth.

 

“Of course ladies” Mick said as he returned the chair to its original table and wandered off toward the kitchen. Bayley and Alexa left their payment and a generous tip before taking their food from Noelle and hurrying out the door.

Chapter Text

Sasha Banks was absolutely exhausted. This wasn’t that unusual in itself, ask any nurse anywhere and they’d tell you they were tired. But this wasn’t simply the physical fatigue that always came at the end of a 14 hour shift, this was deeper. Sasha’s spirit was just as weary as her body. A native of Las Vegas, Sasha felt like she was watching her home disintegrate before her eyes.

 

Over the last few weeks it seemed the city had gone crazy. Dealing with the after effects of shootings was another unfortunate fact of life for an ER nurse. But lately it seemed three of four people were being shot daily. Today she’d had to help treat a group of six, SIX, people brought in with bullet wounds.

 

She closed her eyes and let her head droop back for a few seconds. Her eyelids felt like they were made of sandpaper and her feet were howling at her to get horizontal soon. Opening her eyes she glanced up at the clock behind the nurses station and sighed, forty five minutes until she could leave. Since it seemed she had a minute to spare she dropped heavily into a nearby chair and started rubbing her neck.

 

“Here ya go baby, you look like you need this” a familiar voice said from behind her. Sasha turned and saw Molly Holly, her boss and friend, extending a coffee toward her.

 

“Ugh, I shouldn’t...I want to be able to fall asleep when I get home” Sasha said, still working at the knot in her neck.

 

“Somehow I don’t think that will be a problem” Molly said, still offering her the coffee.

 

Sasha grinned wryly as she reached for the coffee and said “well if that’s your medical opinion then who am I to argue”. Taking the cup in both hands she savored it’s warmth for a few moments before popping the top off and taking a sip. Molly had remembered not to add anything to it, just like Sasha loved her coffee. Of course she had, Molly never forgot something like that.

 

Molly sat down next to her and asked “tomorrows your day off right?”. When Sasha’s eyes narrowed dangerously she held up a hand and said “relax, I don’t need you to come in”.

 

“Good” Sasha muttered into her coffee.

 

“Just curious what you’ll be doing with your day of freedom?” Molly asked with a friendly smile. Nine out of ten people asking Sasha this would have gotten a short answer, she was a very private person. But Molly was a special case, the woman was the closest thing to a maternal figure that Sasha had in her life.

 

“Sleeping” Sasha said simply. She then noted that while with someone else she would have intentionally given a short answer, in this case it was just because the answer was actually short.

 

“That’s it?” Molly asked in a particular tone.

 

Sasha rolled her eyes and took another sip of coffee before saying “oh god Molly not this again, please?”.

 

Molly held up another placatory hand and said “look it’s no big thing, I just think you should give it a shot. You deserve to be happy with someone Sash”. She smiled then as Sasha tilted her head back and groaned theatrically.

 

Molly and Sasha’s relationship was more than your typical supervisor-employee dynamic. They were, for example, much more appraised of and involved in each other’s personal life than would be normal or even entirely appropriate. Or, in Sasha’s case, LACK of a personal life.

 

“Honestly don’t you have other things to worry about than pestering me about this?” Sasha asked sullenly as she drank more coffee.

 

“Sure, but I can worry about a lot of things simultaneously” Molly joked.

 

“Yeah...well you can back burner this, or better yet take it off the stove and throw it away” Sasha muttered.

 

“Look if it’s something wrong with the guy then I understand, I just think you might enjoy yourself if you at least exchanged some texts” Molly said. She was older than Sasha, married and had three kids. Recently, for reasons Sasha couldn’t fathom, she had decided that Sasha would enjoy those things too. And she very well might have but she would rather have pursued them at her own pace and not with whomever Molly was trying to set her up with that week.

 

“Molly…” Sasha said seriously as she looked at her boss “...I work ALL THE TIME and when I do have days off I spend half the day sleeping. Where would you suggest I find the time to date?”.

 

“Oh come on Sash, if you’re going to use an excuse at least use a good one. You don’t think every one of us could say the same?” Molly said dismissively. This was true, and many of Sasha’s colleagues were married. It was obviously possible to be both a nurse AND in a relationship. Just maybe not for Sasha.

 

“OK, let’s say I meet someone. When would we spend time together? And the first few dates? Ugh…” Sasha drew this last sound out for several seconds “...the last thing I want to do is spend a huge chunk of my free days shaving and getting ready”.

 

“Ah I remember those days…” Molly said in a mock wistful tone.

 

“If you’re remembering them fondly then you are MISremembering them” Sasha said dryly. In truth Sasha’s real reasons for not having a partner had little to do with her complaints to Molly. For one thing she wasn’t even sure what sort of person she would want to date. Male or female.

 

For years Sasha had, privately, thought of herself as bisexual. But the female aspect of her sex life had never really amounted to more than occasional flings. When it had come to actually dating someone it had always been with a guy. Lately though, that felt more and more off. This frustrated Sasha because, in theory, it should have been a simple matter for her to switch her dating pool. She lived in Las Vegas for christ sake.

 

In practice she more or less constantly felt that she was standing on the edge of a great precipice. One step forward would draw a clear and permanent dividing line in her life, there would be what had come before and what came after. And she simply wasn’t ready to take that step yet. This depressed her because she privately dreaded the idea that she might wait and wait forever and never be comfortable with it while her life passed her by.

 

So it had just become easier to blame her job for her lack of a personal life. This had the merits of not only being plausible but also that it was often actually true. She took another automatic sip of coffee as her brain drew ever closer to the same spiraling thoughts she’d been having for months when she realized Molly had been speaking to her. “What? Sorry” she said as she looked up.

 

“I asked if you were still going to be able to make it this weeked” Molly said, sounding slightly miffed at having to repeat herself.

 

“This weekend?” Sasha asked. She felt like her thought processes were dragging as a result of her exhaustion.

 

Molly rolled her eyes and said “the barbeque dummy! I know you have another day off and you said you’d come. I know the kids would love to see you again”.

 

“Oh...right” Sasha said thickly, still feeling like she was experiencing life at 75% speed. Truthfully she didn’t recall making this commitment but that wasn’t surprising. Sasha had an enormous store of medical knowledge but quite frequently forgot why she had entered a given room.

 

“Maybe you could bring someone?” Molly suggested coyly.

 

“Oh my god you are relentless” Sasha grunted. Molly was prevented from responding as another nurse had appeared at the counter to inform Sasha that she was needed on the ER Ward again.

 

“Go get’em” Molly said as she took Sasha’s coffee from her.

 

“Thanks for the coffee” Sasha said quickly as she stood, her feet and legs protesting vehemently the whole time.

 

“Remember what I said!” Molly called after her as Sasha did her best to hurry away. She looked up at a clock as she walked and noted sourly that her shift was over in thirty minutes. This ER thing had better not detain her for too long, her bed was calling to her.

 

Sasha pushed open the double doors that led to the ER and walked quickly over to a whiteboard on the wall. She saw ‘Banks’ had been written next to bed 4 but that nothing else had been written. Frowning Sasha grabbed a pair of gloves from a cart and pulled them on as she headed toward the curtained off bed. She could have spent time trying to find out what was wrong with the patient but figured she could just ask them.

 

As it turned out the diagnosis wasn’t that difficult. Sasha pulled aside the curtain to find a red haired woman sitting on the edge the bed bleeding from a wound in her left forearm. Someone had given her a pad to hold against the wound but the cloth already looked thoroughly stained with blood. Sasha’s eyes narrowed slightly as she inspected the woman, she didn’t seem all that perturbed by the wound.

 

“Are you the doctor then” asked the red head after she’d turned at the sound of the curtain being pulled back. Sasha was mildly interested to hear an Irish accent in her voice.

 

“I’m a nurse, but I can take care of you” Sasha said as she pulled a stool toward her. She sat and then gestured at the lump of cloth the woman was holding against her left arm. She obliged Sasha by withdrawing it to reveal a nasty cut of about four inches running along the side of her forearm.

 

“Had a bit of a gardening accident” the red haired woman said in explanation.

 

“Uh-huh…” Sasha said in a completely neutral tone.

 

She had worked in the ER for a long time and knew a knife wound when she saw one. She also knew that the kind of people who normally received knife wounds usually didn’t want to talk about them. So rather than ask a bunch of questions that she’d only receive lies in answer to she turned in her stool and pulled a rolling tray toward her. The red head looked on silently as Sasha took a gauze pad and poured some clear liquid onto it.

 

“I’m going to need to clean the cut first, this will probably sting...by which I mean it will sting like hell” she said as she took the woman’s wrist and pulled her arm toward her.

 

“Not much for the coddling are you?” her patient asked sarcastically.

 

Sasha didn’t look up from her work as she began dabbing at the cut with gauze but said in reply “do you want me to be?”.

 

This drew a small noise of amusement from the woman before she said “no you do your thing there miss nurse magenta”. This was obviously a reference to Sasha’s hair which was dyed a purplish red. Sasha was inwardly impressed at how she seemed utterly indifferent to her situation. The wound cleanser she was using would have burned something fierce on the cut but she didn’t react beyond a slight tensing of her muscles.

 

“So…” Sasha said as she kept dabbing at the cut “...what’s your name red?”. The woman’s hair was such a gaudy shade of that color that Sasha suspected it wasn’t natural.

 

“Becky” her patient responded. Sasha noted she hadn’t volunteered a last name.

 

“Well, Becky, your ‘gardening incident’ caused a pretty deep cut. Any deeper and you’d probably have had some nerve damage” Sasha said, putting the slightest stress on ‘gardening incident’.

 

“I’ll have to be more careful when I use me rose sheers then” Becky answered with a slight grin that might have meant many things.

 

“Yes, probably a good idea” Sasha said dryly as she finished cleaning Becky’s arm. She threw away her gloves and the gauze before washing and sanitizing her hands once more and grabbing a suture kit from a cabinet.

 

“Any idea how long this is going to take?” Becky asked.

 

“Why? Got some more gardening to do” Sasha asked in a voice inflected with more than a little sarcasm.

 

“No, I think those tulips can do without me for the rest of the day” Becky said in a voice that betrayed some private amusement.

 

“I thought it was roses…” Sasha answered distractedly as she applied a numbing agent to Becky’s forearm.

 

“It’s a big garden” Becky answered in her amused tone.

 

“Right…” Sasha muttered as she looked at her watch. The numbing agent took a few minutes to take effect. She also noted that she only had fifteen minutes left on her shift.

 

“Will it leave a scar?” Becky asked her.

 

“Nearly splitting open your arm lengthwise usually will” Sasha said. She wasn’t ordinarily this gruff with patients but she sensed Becky wasn’t the sort to care. She also didn’t particularly care for being lied to and this woman wasn’t even bothering to try and lie well.

 

“Fair enough” Becky said. They waited the last few minutes in silence before Sasha took her wrist again and opened the suture kit.

 

“Hold still…” Sasha said as she began sewing Becky’s wound together. Becky nodded but didn’t say anything for the whole time it took Sasha to stitch her up. When she had finished she dumped her tools into a metal bowl and slid back from the bed.

 

“Good as new is it?” Becky asked as she opened and closed her hand experimentally.

 

“No, and it won’t be for a long time…” Sasha said as she placed a bandage over the stitches “...just keep it dry for the next two days and dab wash it for a week after that. Clean it and replace the bandage daily until the sutures dissolve on their own”.

 

“Well thank you much magenta…” Becky said in a gently mocking tone. She stood and grabbed and odd duster jacket from beside the bed and started to walk away before looking over her shoulder and saying “Oh, and for your trouble”. She then tossed a small stack of bills onto the tray next to her before striding out of the ER.

 

“Uh...this isn’t a bar...I don’t work for tips” Sasha called after her. Becky ignored her and before Sasha knew it she was gone. Sighing Sasha decided that she didn’t care enough to chase her down. She looked down at the wad of money and whistled softly. There had to be at least two thousand dollars in hundreds there. Picking it up Sasha stood and left the ER. She stopped at the intake desk and dropped the money onto the keyboard of one of the women working there.

 

“Uh...what is this?” the woman asked looking both confused and annoyed.

 

“Well, most people call it money…” Sasha said dryly. This drew a nasty look from the other woman so she added “...apparently it’s the payment from that red head in the long coat who just went by”.

 

“Who?” the other woman asked.

 

“Said her name was Becky, it’s a billing problem, and so, not a me problem” Sasha said, already walking away.

 

It took Sasha less than five minutes to stop by her locker, grab her stuff, and make it down to her car. Even as she started it she knew that she wasn’t going to make it all the way to her apartment, which was a nearly forty minute drive in traffic. And so as she pulled out of the hospital’s parking ramp she headed toward her best friend Bayley’s apartment.

 

Sasha had known Bayley for many years now. They’d met shortly after Bayley had first moved to Vegas to begin her time at the LVPD academy. They’d been inseparable almost the from that first night they’d bumped into each other outside a bar. And over the years they had only grown closer. Close enough that they’d reached an interesting arrangement involving their respective apartments.

 

Through some cruel trick of geography it had worked out that, after both their jobs had been transferred to new locations, each woman now lived closer to the other’s place of work then her opposite. And so it had only been natural that they would occasionally just sleep at the other’s place, given how exhausting their jobs could be. Unfortunately this had also resulted in both of them being late to shifts because they had to run back to their own apartments to get ready. And so now each of them kept enough clothes and other items at the other’s apartment that they could easily crash for a day or two.

 

Of course there was another reason that they often ended up sleeping at each other’s apartments that had nothing to do with their jobs. A reason that made Sasha smile now but had also caused her a great deal of circular anxiety. Despite the fact that Sasha generally thought of their friendship in purely platonic terms, there was another aspect to it. Every once in a while Sasha and Bayley would sleep with each other.

 

Sasha couldn’t actually point to the exact time this dynamic had entered their relationship. All she knew was that about a year and a half ago they’d been watching a movie together on Sasha’s couch. Bayley had been leaning against her and without thinking Sasha had kissed the top of her friend’s head. Bayley hadn’t spoken a word, she’d just looked up into Sasha’s eyes and a moment later they had shared their first real kiss.

 

Even as Sasha had tugged Bayley by her hand into her bedroom she’d known that the next morning things would be terribly awkward. That their friendship would quite possible be ruined. But at that moment she hadn’t been able to stop herself. She had NEEDED Bayley on such a powerfully primal level that it was almost as if someone else was controlling her actions. And so that night they’d fallen asleep in each other’s arms.

 

To her pleasant surprise Sasha had found that the next morning hadn’t been terrible at all. When she wasn’t working Sasha was a habitual late riser, whereas Bayley fired out of bed every morning with what Sasha considered over the top enthusiasm. But that day she’d appreciated it as she’d awoken the smell of breakfast cooking. She’d padded out into her kitchen to find Bayley there ready with coffee.

 

They’d made some stilted efforts at talking about the night before to little avail. Eventually they had agreed that it was best to wait before having ‘the’ conversation. To give themselves time to cool off. As things had worked out they had actually never had that conversation. Even as they had continued to sleep together from time to time Sasha had consciously avoided talking about it.

 

This had been the state of affairs for many months now. They had even stopped for awhile when Bayley had started a short lived relationship. But as soon as it had ended they had picked it up where they had left off. Bayley, to Sasha’s deep gratitude, never pushed her on the subject. She always allowed Sasha to dictate how they would be interacting on a given occasion. Usually it was just as best girlfriends. But when Sasha was in the mood it was something more, something so much more beautiful and special to them both.

 

Bayley’s loving understanding on this issue sometimes actually made Sasha feel worse. Her friend was being so considerate and so caring. She often felt that she simply didn’t deserve to have someone so kind as a partner. She sensed that Bayley, despite her status as ostensibly heterosexual, would have liked to ‘formalize’ their arrangement. But Sasha, caught up in her own private identity crisis, wasn’t ready for that. It hurt her to think that she might be causing Bayley pain, but she just couldn’t take that step yet.

 

These ruminations carried her all the way through the short ride to Bayley’s apartment. She let herself in using the key she had and wasn’t surprised to find that Bayley wasn’t there. The detective usually didn’t make it home until the evening and it wasn’t even noon yet. Sasha smiled as she looked at how neat and tidy the place was, a stark contrast to how disheveled her own apartment usually looked.

 

She locked the door behind her and looked at the refrigerator. She knew Bayley wouldn’t mind if she ate something but she wasn’t sure if she had the energy even for that. In the end she decided she didn’t so, after tossing her bag and jacket onto the couch, she headed for the bathroom where she got into the shower. She was luxuriating in the hot water when she suddenly gave a violent jerk, nearly slipping in the tub. She’d just nodded off where she stood. Deciding that further time under the water wasn’t worth a potential injury she turned it off, dried herself, and walked into Bayley’s bedroom where she changed into the sweats and tank top that served her as pajamas.

 

Just being in the room made her smile, not just from her fond memories there but also because the room was so quintessentially Bayley. Everything neat and in its place. Bayley’s trademark decorative style: colorfully whimsical and yet somehow very orderly was on full display. She smiled softly as she looked at the photos of the two of them that Bayley had in frames on her dresser and stuck on her mirror.

 

She could feel herself fading quickly so she crawled into Bayley's bed. She found that she was smiling again as she thought that they did make a very cute couple in those pictures. Maybe things could work with them together. The last thing she remembered before she drifted off was her smile spreading a bit further across her face. The bed smelled like Bayley and that, as much as her exhaustion, helped her drift off to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

“Did you take care of that problem at least?” Dave Finlay, head of Las Vegas’ Irish Mob, asked flatly as he stared across the desk at her. It was a stare that had reduced grown men to quivering tears. Becky Lynch didn’t even blink.

 

“Of course I did, did you really think I wouldn’t?” she asked as she ostentatiously brushed her hair out of her eyes. If the flippant gesture had annoyed him, Finlay didn’t show it. Instead he looked to the man standing in the shadows to one side of his desk.

 

“Did she do it?” he asked Finn Balor. Finn, as usual, had been glowering at Becky and the world in general but doing so silently.

 

“She did, the guinea won’t be talking to anyone now” Finn said grudgingly. He sounded as though he would desperately have liked to be able to report that Becky had failed in her mission.

 

“Aww, Finn darling if you wanted to spend time with me you only had to ask sweetheart” Becky mocked him. Again, she only got a glower in response but she could tell she’d irritated him.

 

“Enough” Finlay grunted as he shifted forward in his chair. He put both elbows on his desk surface and rested a fist in his other palm as he regarded Becky coldly. Most of his gang were of course Irish-Americans whereas Becky had actually been born in Ireland and had only arrived in America within the last year. Finlay too had been born in Eire but if Becky had thought that this shared origin might win some favor from him she’d have been badly mistaken.  

 

Becky had initially assumed that this was simple sexism, reluctance to accept a ‘girlie’ into the upper ranks of his organization. And indeed he’d seemingly saddled her with every menial and/or pointless task he could come up with since she’d joined his crew. But Becky had happily accepted each job and gone above and beyond with them. Through sheer force and determination she had, almost against the will of it’s leadership, slowly clawed her way up the ranks of the Vegas Irish.

 

Of course it wasn’t as though it was a large crew. Vegas’ Irish population had never been big, likely due to its origins with the Italian mob. As a result there weren’t that many ‘ranks’ for Becky to climb. She reckoned she sat firmly in the middle of the group’s power structure. And she had no intention of staying there for long.

 

The reason she doubted that Finlay’s antipathy to her had been solely sexist was that he seemed to actively dislike everyone. Even his closest lieutenants like Balor were treated with a gruff contempt. Becky had come to the conclusion that he was less a misogynist and much more of a misanthrope. Not that this made any real practical difference to her situation.

 

“And what about that?” Finlay said as he nodded at the bandage on her arm. Becky’s mind automatically flashing back to the smartass nurse with the purple hair she’d dealt with earlier that day.

 

“Your man nicked me up pretty good, thought I’d avoid bleeding to death and get myself stitched up” Becky said off handedly.

 

“You went to a hospital?” Balor asked from the shadows, sounding incredulous. Becky understood his feelings even if she thought he was overreacting. It wouldn’t do for someone injured in the act of murder to simply walk into the ER, questions might start being asked.

 

“Well I didn’t go to church” she said in an exasperated voice. When Finlay’s scowl deepened she added “I gave a fake name and paid in cash, no records”.

 

“You’re pretty memorable…” Finn started to growl.

 

“Well thank you darling, you do know how to make a girl feel special” Becky cut in.

 

“Enough!...” Finlay barked for the second time. He stood and stepped away from his desk to peer out the window behind him. They were meeting in his office at the construction company he owned. The second floor room’s window offering a view of nothing more picturesque than a parking lot. Finlay didn’t speak a long time but eventually he said “going to the hospital was stupid, if you hadn’t just silenced that bastard for me I’d take it out of your hide. As it is you’ve earned a reprieve”.

 

“Thank you” Becky said.

 

“BUT…” Finlay said, and now he looked back over his shoulder at her “...I am keeping your payment for the job as a lesson”. Becky had to work very hard to bite back and angry outburst at this announcement. In the end she simply inhaled sharply before nodding her head.

 

“You’re the boss” she said tersely.

 

Finlay didn’t respond to this but turned to look at Balor and asked “have you been in touch with Ambrose”.

 

Finn nodded and said “he says he’ll do it but he’s dragging his feet”.

 

Finlay grunted at this and seemed to reflect for a moment before saying “he’ll do that, but he usually comes through in the end”. Becky had no idea what they were talking about specifically but she knew that ‘Ambrose’ had to refer to Dean Ambrose. And if they were talking about that madman they were talking about guns.

 

“I was thinking of taking some of the lads out to find him and encourage him to hurry” Finn suggested with a leer. The man seemed to enjoy nothing more than a chance to inflict pain on his fellow human beings.

 

“No!” Finlay said angrily as he spun to face his lieutenant. He glared at Finn for several moments until the younger man averted his gaze. Finlay kept staring for a few moments longer before he said “if we piss off Ambrose we lose our best supplier, and probably catch heat from some of the other crews”. Finn nodded though Becky thought the movement looked sulky. She guessed that Finn resented being slapped down in front of her.

 

“You!” Finlay snarled as he thrust a finger at Becky. “Get over there and find out what the delay is WITHOUT pissing him off” he barked at her.

 

Becky nodded but dared to ask “do we know where he is?”. Ambrose was notorious for not staying in any one location for more than a few days.

 

“I’m not going to do your bloody job for you girl! FIND OUT AND TALK TO HIM” Finlay half roared. Through an enormous effort of will Becky prevented herself from flinching at the sudden jump in volume.

 

“Yes boss, right away” she said in a much more deferential voice than usual. She would needle Finn and even Finlay on occasion but she knew when it was time to shut up. She made a quick exit and headed down the stairs that led to the office, being careful not to trod on the hem of her duster as she went. In truth she wasn’t quite sure how she was going to go about locating Ambrose. Even crew bosses like Finlay never knew for certain where he was for any length of time.

 

She reached her car and went to open the door only to wince in pain. Her left arm was killing her. For a moment her temper flared and she thought about going back to the hospital and ringing that purple haired whore’s neck. But she’d been paying attention and knew that if she went back there whatever she did to the nurse would be as nothing to what Finlay did to her. Grunting in frustration she threw open her car door and ducked inside.

 

She sat silently in the car for several minutes, racking her brain for a solution. She’d heard of a particular restaurant whose owner supposedly knew everything that went on in Vegas. Unfortunately she’d also heard that he didn’t talk to people he didn’t know well and Becky had only been in Vegas for a few months. So that particular shortcut would be closed to her.

 

After another minute or two of silent reflection she decided there was nothing else for it. She’d have to go talk to the bikers. Of course she couldn’t very well just march into their clubhouse and ask for information. She’d need to bring a suitable gift before they’d even talk to her, and they still might flince her anyway. But it was either try this or go tell Finlay that she couldn’t do the job, that would turn a possible flincing into a certain one. First things first she thought as she started the car, she needed a gift. And she thought she knew just the place to get one.

 

Becky had been a criminal for her entire adult life, having begun in her teens. She’d seen some truly disgusting places in her time everywhere from Dublin to Chicago. And yet the hell hole of a motel whose parking lot she’d just stopped her car in might have to take the cake. Pulling her sunglasses out she put them on and surveyed the place.

 

Despite it’s beyond shabby appearance it was far from deserted. Becky counted four women who were without doubt prostitutes lounging against a wall. Several strung out druggies were shuffling around or simply laying in the parking lot where they’d fallen. Finally a man was sitting next to a door marked ‘office’ reading a newspaper. Or at least he was pretending to, Becky noticed that his eyes were following her over the top of the paper. He had a baseball bat resting prominently across his knees.

 

Ignoring them all Becky swept off toward the external stairs that would lead to the second level of the hovel. As she walked her duster billowed out behind her, something that always made her feel tough and imposing. It was as though she were wearing a long dark cape. The door she was seeking was actually at the far end of the row from the stairs she’d used so she had to walk past two burnouts on her way. The second reached out and did his best to grab her ass. In a flash he was on his knees whimpering in pain and batting ineffectually at Becky’s own hand which was bending his wrist at an unnatural angle.

 

“Now didn’t your mother ever teach you how to treat a lady” she asked him. Before he could answer she gave him a swift kick with her boot that sent him sprawling backward. Without another word she turned and continued her brisk walk to the last door on this floor. She knocked, well she pounded, on its surface until she heard the sound of someone looking through the shades at her. She turned and wiggled her fingers sarcastically at them before resuming her pounding.

 

A moment later she heard the sound of the door being unchained, unbarred, and unlocked. Whatever else the motel was it apparently made sure it’s residents could keep the world out if they wanted. After a few more moments of clicking the door opened a few inches to reveal a man’s eye peering out. He winced against the glare of the sun, which was almost directly behind Becky at this moment, before he looked her up and down.

 

“Jimmy me boy!” Becky said in a falsely eager tone “would you be remembering me now? We met at that party a few weeks ago”.


“Umm...yeah I think so…” said a man’s timid voice from behind the door “...Rebecca right? You were with those Irish guys?”.

 

“Becky will do just fine but aye thats me! Would you be willing to let me in love? This isn’t the best of neighborhoods” she said with a sweet smile.

 

“Umm...yeah...OK...just hang on” he said and a moment later the door swung inward to allow Becky into what had to be the filthiest room she’d ever seen. The place even made the motel’s exterior seem neat.

 

“H-hey…” Jimmy aka James Ellsworth said as he closed the door behind her. Becky thought he might be one of the least impressive men she’d ever met. He was only a bit taller than her and had a scrawny almost underfed look about him. He was wearing a bulky jacket of some kind that was far too big for him along with jeans that were hanging around his mid thigh. He had the wispy scrub of a beard that merely accentuated his paltry appearance.

 

Becky had first met him at a party some time ago. It had been thrown by one of Finlay’s men and James had been the one who had supplied most of the drugs consumed there. It had been a fairly wretched sample however and Becky hadn’t been impressed. She’d been equally unimpressed upon being introduced to James who struck her as a spineless weakling. She’d also been amused to learn that his primary tie to the Irish was that he was the dealer of choice to Finlay’s grandchildren.

 

Becky had been four whiskey’s in when she’d first met James but she’d had the presence of mind to bite back her more savage mockery. She’d deduced quickly that he was a man that few enough people had ever been kind to and that a little consideration would earn as much or more cooperation than a threat. And so she’d done her best to cultivate him that night reasoning that you never knew when it might be handy to have a worm like him to call on. Now it seemed her investment might prove it’s worth.

 

“Umm...what...what do you want?” James asked. He seemed to start most of his sentences with ‘umm’ and it was a habit that was already getting on Becky’s nerves.

 

“Well Jimmy boy, everyone knows you sell the best weed in Vegas” Becky said in a voice of oily flattery. For the first time since she’d known him James seemed to stand a little straighter at this.

 

“Fuck yeah I do” he said in a voice that made it seem as though such overtly confident words rarely came out of his mouth. In truth he sold terrible weed that was mostly stems, but Becky needed him buttered up.

 

“Of course you do Jimmy. And that reputation could lead to something bigger if you play your cards right” Becky said in a delicate tone.

 

“You...you think?” James asked, back to his usual self.

 

“I do...but…” Becky trailed off in a voice that hinted at some private reluctance.

 

“What?” James asked sounding cautious now.

 

“It’s just...if I’m going to put you in touch with some big players...well…” Becky continued to speak hesitantly as though she were really concerned.

 

“Big players?” James asked, sounding like he’d never even heard the term before.

 

“Oh the biggest...but if it’s going to happen they’ll need a sample of your product” Becky said finally with the air of someone trying to get something unpleasant over with quickly.

 

James brightened and said “oh shit that’s no big thing, let me grab some of my weed” he was turning away when Becky put a hand on his forearm.

 

“Oh no Jimmy, these are SERIOUS players...they’re not looking for weed” she said. Ellsworth wasn’t the brightest bulb but he grasped her meaning pretty quickly.

 

“Oh…” he said as his face fell “...you mean”.

 

“Yes, that” Becky said simply.

 

“Oh, I don’t know man...I...I had to do a lot to to get my stuff and I don’t think I can just give it away” James muttered nervously to his feet. Becky sighed, she had just about pushed James as far as she thought she could through persuasion alone so she added a hint of threat.

 

Sighing heavily Becky said “well that is disappointing James, very disappointing”. She swept back her jacket and planted her hands on her hips. Not so incidentally this gesture also revealed the pair of pistols and both knives she was carrying. “I guess I’ll need to find someone else to introduce to my big players...of course they’d have to replace you in my...affections” she added pointedly.

 

It took James a moment to catch her drift but she knew when he had. His eyes widened and his right hand twitched, confirming what Becky had suspected all along. He was carrying a gun and had just, briefly, thought about grabbing for it. But Becky could read people and knew that he wouldn’t, he probably never would unless some stronger person ordered him to. Just to make sure though she casually rested a hand on the butt of one of her pistols.

 

James swallowed audibly and turned away quickly. He bent down and began rummaging through a nearby gym bag and when he didn’t find what he was looking for there he began combing through the rest of the detritus in the room. Aware that he could be looking for some other kind of weapon, Becky slowly eased her pistol out of it’s holster and waited. It turned out she need not have worried because a moment later James turned and dropped several items onto the rooms filthy bed.

 

Becky slid her gun back into her holster before James noticed and joined him at the bed. Looking down she felt her heart sink slightly. Piled on the bed were a few small bags of various party drugs but none of it looked particularly promising. She pawed idly through the pile when she noticed something off about James’ body language. She looked at him sideways for a moment before deciding that, yes, he was holding out on her.

 

Sighing genuinely this time Becky moved fast. She took a quick half step back and brought her booted foot hard down on the back of his knee. He jerked forward into an involuntary crouch with a pained gasp. Before he could do anything else however Becky had jerked his head back by a handful of his hair with one hand. Half a second later her bowie knife was up against his throat in the other

She made a disappointed ‘tut tut’ with her tongue before saying “oh now Jimmy, I thought we were friends. You wouldn’t be trying to hold out on me would you darling?”.

 

Ellsworth made a startled choking sound as his eyes bulged momentarily. Eventually he was able to stammer “n-n-no!”. It was the most unconvincing lie Becky had ever heard.

 

Becky ran the edge of her knife along the soft skin of his neck just enough to draw a thin trickle of blood. James whimpered but didn’t speak so Becky prompted him by asking “are you quite certain? I’d hate for me hand to slip”.

 

“OK...OK...j-j-just be cool...I’ll go get it! My best stuff! I promise!” his words came tumbling out so quickly that they almost made one continuous sound. Becky kept her grip for a few moments longer before she shoved him roughly forward onto the bed and wiped her knife clean on the back of his jacket. She then took a long step back, sheathed her knife, and drew one of her guns.

 

“Best get to it then James” she said. He was shaking so badly that Becky wasn’t convinced he’d even be able to hold whatever he was going to get. He did eventually manage to stand and take a few halting steps but he looked like he might collapse at any moment. Becky rolled her eyes and barked “be quick about it!”. Her voice acted like a whip crack as he scurried past her and into the bathroom.

 

Becky stepped into the doorway to keep her gun on him. She found that he’d taken the lid off the toilet tank and was rummaging inside. Becky’s brow furrowed as he worked but she didn’t interrupt him. A few seconds later he stood slowly with both hands raised, though his right fist was closed around a package of some kind. He turned around, still moving very deliberately, and set the package on the lid of the toilet. He straightened and gave Becky a very feeble smile.

 

Becky raised an eyebrow at him and asked “well Jimmy boy you sure know how to flatter a woman, what girl wouldn’t want something pulled out of a toilet”.

 

“It’s...it’s…” James sputtered.

 

“Unwrap it” Becky said as she gestured with her gun. James bent slowly down and undid the paper towel around the object. A moment later he straightened to reveal a small plastic bag full of a white powder.

 

“It’s...pure stuff...c-c-c-” James tried to say but his nervousness got the best of him.

 

“And I’m supposed to take that on faith am I?” Becky said severely. She looked around the bathroom but didn’t find anything she trusted so she drew the knife she hadn’t cut Ellsworth with and held it blade toward him. “Put some on the knife Jimmy” she said in a commanding voice. Ellsworth actually jumped in his eagerness to comply and managed to spill some of the powder as he was laying a line on the blade. “Hey easy there!” Becky protested but in a moment he was done.

 

Becky lifted the blade to her nose, took a step back from the doorway, and inhaled sharply. She felt the white powder shoot up her nostril and a moment later her whole body convulsed once. A wave of powerful sensations rocked her frame causing her eyes to flutter. Becky didn’t make a habit of indulging in anything stronger than Irish Whiskey regularly but she knew the good stuff. And this was REALLY good stuff.

 

“Oh ho ho Jimmy boy you’ve made me the happiest girl in the world” she chuckled.

 

“You...you...will you still, I mean, will you…” James tried to say.

 

“Oh for christ sake spit it out” Becky snapped.

 

“Will you still tell those..uh...big players about me?” he finally asked. Becky found herself inwardly surprised. Given that he’d just tried to fool her this was a gutsy request.

 

“I’ll think about it Jimmy, now for the love of god will you grab me a bag or something. I’m not going to carry around your damn toilet baggy. Nodding vigorously he hurried from the room and came back a moment later with a plastic bag from a gas station. “Classy” Becky said dryly but she dropped the package into it and snatched it out of Ellsworth’s hands.

 

He looked as though he wanted to say something but then stopped himself. After a visible effort he gathered himself and managed to say “umm..”.

 

“Did you say something? Speak up Jimmy!” Becky said, she was already almost to the door.

 

“I...uh...the drugs...I…” he couldn’t seem to decide what exactly he wanted to say.

 

“Oh, you’ll be wanting paying then” Becky suggested. He nodded but didn’t speak. Becky actually had to laugh in pity at the little man. She dug in the pocket of her duster and tossed a couple bills she had onto the floor and turned back to the door when someone started pounding on it.

 

“Ey! James open this damn door now!” a woman started shouting from outside as she continued to hammer on the door.

 

“That's my girlfriend” James muttered.

 

A grin spread across Becky’s face as she asked “oh you’ve got a girlfriend do ya? Well let’s meet the lucky girl”. Without waiting for a response she threw the door open and found herself face to face with a woman with long blonde hair and dressed similarly to Ellsworth accept she had a snapback hat on with a leopard print brim, which matched her pants. Becky looked back over her shoulder and said “well well Jimmy, congrats she’s gorgeous…” she then turned to the woman and winked before saying “...you’re too good for him sweetheart” then she pushed past her and headed back to her car.

 

As she left she dimly heard the woman yell something like “yo, who the eff was that” before the door closed behind her. She chuckled to herself as she got into her car and started it. She amused herself most of the ride thinking about the hell old James Ellsworth was probably getting at the moment. But as she pulled toward her destination she sobered quickly.

 

The people she was going to see were not the sort who usually appreciated unannounced visitors. It was true she’d met a few of the bikers through her association with the Irish, the two groups had a working relationship, but that was no guarantee of her safety. Becky performed a quick bit of emergency surgery on the package she’d gotten from James and a moment later emerged from her car carrying half of the total in a fresh bag she’d had in her glove box. Somehow she thought handing the bikers a toilet gift might not go over well.

 

She walked across the street toward a low brick structure. There was a long line of motorcycles parked in front of it though only one was occupied at the moment. An enormous man with heavily tattooed arms was sitting on his bike staring at her as she approached. He was unmistakably a lookout and just as clearly a guard dog. As she neared the door he stood, towering a good foot over her.

 

“Private club” he said simply. Becky looked him up and down, he had long dark hair that had been slicked back from his face and hung greasily behind his head. She looked at his leather vest and saw a patch that read ‘Corbin’ on it.

 

“I’m here to see Bubba or Devon, or both” she said in a tone of forced confidence.

 

The man snorted and said “yeah I bet, why don’t you fuck off before you get your wish and they actually come out here”.

 

“Just tell them that someone from Finlay’s crew is here and that she has a gift for them” Becky told him putting as much edge into her voice as she dared.

 

“Oh yeah? What gift?” Corbin asked.

 

“The gift is for them big fella, not you” Becky told him flatly.

 

He stared into her eyes for a long long time. Becky refused to be the first one to look away. Eventually he reached a paw like hand into a vest pocket and withdrew his phone. He made a quick call and explained the situation to whomever was on the other end. There was stilted conversation and then he hung up.

 

“Go on in, welcome to the Aces and Eights MC” he said as he stood and pushed open the door for her. Becky swallowed hard and strode purposfully inside.



 

Chapter Text

“This is our penthouse suite, I assure you that you won’t find a more luxurious space in all of Las Vegas” Ted DiBiase jr said. Despite his well practiced oily mannerisms Charlotte could tell the man was nervous.

 

She looked around the large room she’d just entered with only mild interest, not even bothering to remove her Martel sunglasses. The whole room had been done in shades of white and gold. Everything from the furniture to the railings to of the two grand staircases on either end of the room. Charlotte wondered idly if the entire place had somehow been redecorated in anticipation of her arrival.

 

She took a few slow steps to her right and ran the finger of a leather gloved hand along some of the molding before examining it’s tip as though she expected to find dust there. Of course there wasn’t any. She suspected that Ted jr had been driving his staff hard for the last few days ensuring that the place would be immaculate. Not that it mattered so much to Charlotte personally, but she did have appearances to keep up. It wouldn’t do for the heir to the Flair crime family to be seen to be associated with anything less than the best.

 

Turning to her right once again she spent a few moments inspecting the view afforded by the penthouses’ windows. These really were impressive though she kept this thought from her face. Stretching from floor to ceiling these windows ran around the entire circumference of the penthouse. Charlotte walked over to the nearest pane of perfectly clean glass and looked down on the city below her. So much promise and yet so much risk, her family’s entire future lay out there.

 

To cover this moment of weakness, as much to herself as to anyone else, she asked coldly “and what if I don’t relish the idea of living in a giant aquarium for anyone with a telescope to see at their leisure?”. Ted, to his credit, was ready with his answer.

 

“The windows are smart glass Ms. Flair, a simple tap on the pane will bring up a touch screen menu that allows you to set their level of opacity. They can also be controlled via a remote or the entire system can be set to fully opaque or transparent through a vocal command” he said quickly.

 

“Hmm” was all Charlotte said in response to this marvel of modern technology. Her heels clicked as she turned and stepped toward the nearest staircase. It led up to a balcony that stood suspended directly over the entrance to the penthouse. It would force anyone just entering to turn and look up toward anyone standing there when they arrived. A nice touch she reflected.

 

“Per your request we have also outfited the floor below this one as a second level of the suite…” Ted added helpfully though Charlotte got the sense he was simply talking to fill her silences “...it features six additional bedrooms for any staff or guests you might have during your stay”.

 

“What about security” a gruff voice said from behind Charlotte. She didn’t have to turn to recognize the voice of her head of security Nuufolau Joel Seanoa, known to his men and his enemies as Samoa Joe.

 

“We have a state of the art system…” Ted said smugly “...no access to either suite accept through the main doors and then only with a keycard. Controls inside can lower a security door behind each entrance and the walls adjoining the access corridors are all triple reinforced”.

 

“Cameras?” Joe asked. He usually communicated in short spurts if he could.

 

“Only in the main rooms, none in the bathrooms or bedrooms of course. All monitored at our security command center” Ted answered quickly. Charlotte could tell he was wearing a winning smile as he said this.

 

“No, you’ll reroute all feeds to a command center that we will set up on the lower level” Joe said.

 

Ted laughed weakly before saying “I’m afraid that-”.

 

“Joe, prepare my car, we’re leaving” Charlotte cut in as she spun on her heel and began leaving the penthouse.

 

“Wait wait!” Ted called after her. Charlotte was tall and her long legs had carried her almost all the way to the elevator before he caught up with her.

 

“Ms. Flair, please I can’t just let someone take complete control of part of our building” he said in an imploring tone. Charlotte didn’t answer instead adjusted her hat and waited with an air of impatience for the elevator doors to open.

 

“The car is ready ma’am” Joe said from behind her. Charlotte could almost sense the turmoil rolling off Ted as he stewed nervously beside her.

 

“Ms. Flair...I…” he started to say but at that moment the elevator chimed. Charlotte was about to step forward when he sighed. “Alright…” he said in a defeated voice. Charlotte still stepped forward in the elevator so he repeated himself with an addition “...alright! We’ll redirect the security feeds to your exclusive control”.

 

Charlotte didn’t speak for a long moment. She turned her gaze on Joe who shrugged. Looking back at Ted she lowered her sunglasses and stared hard into his eyes until he was visibly uncomfortable before saying “very well Mr. Dibiase, your...accommodations will be adequate for the time being. My men will require free access to your freight elevator to begin bringing my belongings up, see to it”.

 

Dibiase looked uncomfortable at this but relented again saying “yes Ms. Flair”.

 

“Good, now leave us” Charlotte said as she exited the elevator, hitting the ground floor button as she went. She spun to stand beside Joe just as the elevator doors closed on Dibiase sending the odious man far away. When he was gone she let out a disgusted sigh and said “finally”.

 

“Want me to start sweeping the place, I’d be surprised if that little shit hadn’t bugged it in a few places” Joe said.

 

“Please do, but radio for the boys, Dana, and Nia to come up right away please” Charlotte said before she walked back into the penthouse and collapsed into one of the overstuffed white leather chairs. She’d been on her feet for most of the day and she longed to kick off her heels and relax. If it had just been her and her inner staff she might have, but there would be others in and out of the penthouse for some time. And as she had thought earlier: she had appearances to keep up.

 

She allowed herself a single minute to rest before she stood again. She smoothed the front of her clothes and then returned to the windows, staring down at Vegas. So much was riding on her time in this city. But at least she’d taken her first step. She now had a base of operations in the city worthy of the Flair name.

 

The Dibiase casino wasn’t the largest or most well known casino in Vegas, but it was the most exclusive. It catered to only the most wealthy of the city’s visitors. There were no penny slots or poorly dressed tourists to be found on it’s casino floor. And that had been the case for decades.

 

In its heyday, under the current Ted Dibiase’s father, the place had been a playground for the rich and famous from around the world. Millions of dollars had flowed into it’s golden doors, though significantly less had flowed out. It had been a place where titans of industry, politicians, and celebrities had rubbed shoulders. And at the center of it all had been the larger than life booming presence of Ted Dibiase Sr.

 

The casino was still a famous place but more and more it was due to its past and not it’s future. It was still doing fine but it was hard to escape the notion that it was on a gradual slide toward irrelevancy. A large part of this was attributed to the fact that Ted Dibiase had retreated from the public eye and was now leaving the running of the place to his son Ted jr. And try though he might the son just couldn’t quite equal the father.

 

Charlotte found it striking how much the situation of the casino and its owner paralleled her own. Charlotte was the second child of the infamous Ric Flair the founder of the Flair crime family. Starting as an obscure clan of the Dixie Mafia the family, under her father’s leadership, had grown and prospered over the decades until they had dominated organized crime in the south. In the end Ric Flair had been mentioned in the same breath as other titans of the underworld like Vince McMahon of the East Coast Irish, Kanji Inoki of the Yakuza, Bruno Sammartino of La Cosa Nostra, and Mil Mascaras of La Eme.

 

But all that had begun to change when her father had tried to retire from running the family in the early nineties. He’d put Charlotte’s older half brother, and his eldest son, David in charge of the family as he’d gone to live the quiet life in North Carolina. David, who simply did not possess his father’s charisma, drive, intelligence, or ruthlessness had decided that the family’s future lay in expansion. And so he’d embarked on an ambitious and expensive project to extend the Flair reach outside of the south.

 

Of course this had brought the family squarely into conflict with other traditional organized crime powers. In particular a years long brutal turf war with the McMahons in Baltimore and Cincinnati had not only nearly bled them dry, but had attracted far to much attention from law enforcement. Despite this David had continued to push his plans forward. Dozens of lives were lost and millions spent all for control of a few low value neighborhoods.

 

In the end her father had been forced to come out of retirement. He’d arranged a sit down with the McMahon’s and had promptly handed back everything that had been taken along with a cash indemnity to secure the peace. Of course David’s reputation and authority had been completely destroyed by these actions. He’d been forced out of his post and sent into the retirement his father had wanted so badly, despite the objections of the McMahons.

 

This had left her father temporarily without an heir as he continued to age. And so he’d plucked Charlotte from her schooling, she’d been planning to be a doctor, and completely changed the course of her life. At the time she’d resented this but she’d known better than to argue. And thus the ensuing years had become an intense crash course in the ins and outs of running an organized crime family.

 

Despite her father’s return to leadership the family had not yet recovered from the damage done by David. Organized crime was a small world where all the players eyed each other closely. Her father had been forced to spend most of his time concealing the family’s weakness from the other powerful organizations. But that couldn’t last forever and that was why Charlotte had been sent to Vegas. Before she could continue this train of thought she heard several people walking down the access hallway. A few moments later the doors to the penthouse were pushed open and four people entered.

 

The first to enter was a short stocky blonde woman wearing dark rimmed glasses and a freshly pressed skirt suit. Her long blonde hair hung behind her in a severely tight ponytail. Her name was Dana Brooke and she served as Charlotte’s personal assistant. Behind her came another woman, much taller than Dana but just as muscled. Her dark hair matching her power suit. Nia Jax was her name, and she was Charlotte’s personal bodyguard.

The two women were Charlotte’s near constant companions. Dana was probably the fourth or fifth most well informed person about the Flair family activities in the world as she was largely responsible for organizing Charlotte’s life. Having an employee that knew this much would be seen by many as an intolerable liability but Charlotte had a very good reason to trust Dana. Charlotte had rescued Dana from the clutches of a particularly nasty pimp and had then paid for her to attend a series of high end schools. Without Charlotte Dana’s life would likely have ended in an early death, now she had power and a purpose.

 

Nia was another one of Charlotte’s reclamation projects. Nia had been very nearly an indentured servant to a small time crew in Los Angeles. The group had blackmailed the formidable woman into working as muscle for them using her mother’s gambling debts as leverage. In the course of her business Charlotte had ordered the destruction of the crew but had been impressed by what Nia had been able to do to the men she’d sent. Rather than simply kill her Charlotte had asked her to work for her and promised to take care of her entire family.

 

The final two members of the group were the last two members of her inner security team, the twins Akam and Rezer. The twins, Nia, and Joe were a formidable security force that had saved Charlotte’s life on more than one occasion. People like the Flairs didn’t reach the top of organized crime without accumulating a horde of enemies and it was this group’s job to keep them at bay. As they arrived the twins automatically took flanking positions on either side of the entrance.

 

“I have two things for you ma’am” Dana said, getting right to business as usual. The woman was, understandably, very grateful to Charlotte and was a hard charger in everything she did. Charlotte often thought Dana privately believed that her privileged life could all go away in a moment if she didn’t constantly please Charlotte. Of course Charlotte did nothing to dissuade her in this view, she liked having Dana motivated to excel.

 

“Tell me” Charlotte said wearily as Nia moved to stand between her and the windows. They were sixty stories up but Nia was worried about possible shooters.

 

“Your father wants you to check in with him as soon as possible…” Dana said before pausing in case Charlotte wanted to comment. When she didn’t she continued “...and I have some information about one of the local organizations you had me reach out to. The one run by Charles Wright”.

 

Charlotte stood up a bit straighter, she knew how Dana spoke, and whatever she was about to share would be bad news. “Information?” was all she asked with the barest hint of danger in her tone.

 

“Yes ma’am, it seems he and his bodyguard got hit earlier today. They were both killed. His organization is in complete disarray” Dana said, keeping her eyes down on her tablet.

 

Charlotte inhaled sharply and turned to glare out the window for a few moments. She’d been in Vegas for less than a day and already there had been a set back. Fury brewed up inside her making Charlotte wish she could close her hands around someone’s neck. The only outward sign of this she gave was an arch of her eyebrow.

 

“What do we know about the hit” she asked Dana without turning around.

 

“It’s still too early to be sure-” Dana started to say.

 

“Then...speculate…” Charlotte said in a quiet but deadly serious voice.

 

“Yes ma’am, if I were to guess I would say it was a new group that entered the prostitution market recently. It’s run by two identical twin women called the Bellas, they operate out of a yoga studio they own”.

 

“Hmm, clever” Charlotte allowed, as ever her anger had cooled quickly.

 

“If I were to guess I’d suggest that this may simply be unfortunate timing ma’am, this may have been something the Bellas had been planning for sometime. Without the Godfather to contend with they could gather up the pieces of his organization into their own. That would make them a real power in Las Vegas almost overnight” Dana said.

 

“An ambitious plan” Charlotte allowed guardedly. She thought quietly for a few moments before saying “arrange for a meeting with these Bellas, bring them here. We might be able to simply shift our efforts to them”.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair” Dana said, tapping away on her tablet.

 

Turning to Nia, Charlotte said “go assist Joe in his sweep and then both of you join me in the conference room”.

 

“Yes ma’am” Nia said with a nod of her head before walking off.

 

“Dana, how large of an operation do these Bellas have?” Charlotte asked.

 

“Formerly it was mid-level, mostly focused in the suburbs. Now, if we assume they have absorbed all or most of the Godfather’s organization they would be among the largest in the city” Dana said as she adjusted her glasses.

 

Charlotte thought for a few moments and said “when you arrange our sitdown instruct them to bring their best girl with them, I’d like to see what they have to offer”. Dana nodded but otherwise didn’t react to this order. Charlotte’s tastes weren’t widely known outside of her immediate group but those that did were people she trusted. Dana was herself sometimes called on to satisfy her employers ‘needs’ but not today it seemed.

 

“Yes ma’am” was all she said before asking “should I set up the call with your father in the conference room?”.

 

Charlotte sighed but said “yes, please do and then join us there”. Though Dana’s face didn’t change as she continued to stare down at her tablet Charlotte knew this inclusion had pleased her. Truthfully Charlotte had come to rely on her advice just as much as her organizational skills. But Dana still seemed to think it a great sign of personal favor when she was allowed to attend these meetings.

 

Charlotte made her way slowly around to the suites conference center which sat on the western side of the rooms. The interior was as opulent as the rest of the suite, done in expensive woods and plush carpets. The wall opposite the door was dominated by an enormous high-def monitor that was controlled by equipment that had been set halfway down the table. Several switchboard phones were also built into the table’s surface.

 

Taking the seat at the head of the table opposite the monitor Charlotte crossed her legs and took out her phone. She saw she had the usual plethora of texts and emails to deal with though one in particular interested her. Opening it she saw that her contact in the mayor's office had already responded to her early overtures. She allowed herself the faintest of smiles, perhaps things would work out. She was joined a fifteen minutes later by her staff. Through the open door she could hear the sounds of other people moving around the penthouse, obviously her possessions were being brought in.

 

“Close the door and place the call Dana” Charlotte said as she sat up in her chair and stared at the screen. Her assistant did as she was asked and after a surprisingly short wait, Charlotte suspected he’d been waiting for her to call, the screen was filled with an image of her father. Ric Flair was clad in a white leisure suit and sitting at a large desk that Charlotte recognized from her family home. As usual her father was in a effusive mood.

 

“Well hello there darling, how are things out in sin city?” Ric Flair asked with the incandescent grin that was so much a part of his reputation.

 

“Things are going well daddy” Charlotte said with a tighter, but no less genuine smile. They made for an odd contrast. Ric Flair was and always had been the life of the party and center of any gathering he was a part of. A marked difference from his daughter’s chilly grandeur.

 

“I’m glad! Settling in? Everything get worked out with old Ted like we hoped?” her father asked before taking a sip from a tumbler of whiskey that sat next to him.

 

“Yes daddy, I’m set up in the Dibiase penthouse suite” Charlotte answered dutifully. Truthfully ‘they’ hadn’t hoped for this at all. Charlotte would have preferred something less conspicuous, and more economical, but her father had insisted.

 

“That's great! Now make sure and make some time to enjoy yourself down at the casino baby girl alright?” Charlotte’s father said with his winning smile.

 

“I will”.

 

“But before you do that baby girl, how are things looking for our big meeting?” her father asked, his voice now much more serious.

 

“We’re the first ones here and I’ve already begun cultivating some locals to bring into the fold” Charlotte reported.

 

“And you scooped up the best place in town! That’s gonna piss off old Vinnie or at least whoever he sends” her father laughed. ‘Vinnie’ being Vince McMahon.

 

“Yes daddy”

 

Her father leaned forward and stared into her eyes for a few long moments before saying “I know I don’t need to tell you how important this is for our family baby girl. We NEED for Andre to succeed if we’re going to survive. And I know I don’t need to remind you of this either but we can’t let the other groups know that, alright?”.

 

“I understand daddy” Charlotte said solemnly.

 

“That’s my angel” Ric Flair said as he leaned back in his chair. He meant for the gesture to look relaxed but Charlotte could detect more signs of his age than ever. This was surprisingly unsettling to her. She was so used to thinking of her father as larger than life. He had always been steady, permanent, and invincible. Now to see him like this brought home the true weight of what was expected of her more than anything had before.

 

“I won’t let you down daddy, I promise” Charlotte said quietly. Suddenly very conscious of the fact that the others were watching.

 

“I know you won’t sugar plum, I never doubted it…” her father said, trying to assume some of his usual bonamee. A moment later he added “...and if you need any help you just let me know and I can have JJ or Arn out there in a day or two”. These were two of her father’s oldest associates and top lieutenants in the family.

 

“Thank you daddy, but I’ll be fine” she assured him. Privately she wondered if she was also trying to assure herself.

 

“Yes you will!...” her father said as he beamed at her “...now get on down to that casino alright? I want to hear some stories!”. Before Charlotte could answer he cut the connection.

 

Charlotte took a moment to collect herself before she looked up at her gathered staff and said “we have a foothold to consolidate and a future to secure people, let's get to work”.



Chapter Text

Detective Bayley Martinez was beaming as she pushed through the doors to the precinct that morning. This wasn’t unusual by itself as she usually was, she was a morning person, but today the world did seem just a little bit brighter. And her mood was infectious, everyone she ran into on her way to her desk emerged from the encounter with a smile of their own. Again, not wholly unusual but it felt like she was bringing a bit more joy with her today.

 

The previous evening Bayley had gotten home later than usual. She and Alexa had spent a few fruitless hours hitting up their informants around the city but it seemed that Carmella had fallen off the grid. Or at least no one had been willing to reveal where she was. And so after a fast food dinner at the station over paperwork they'd agreed to try again the next day.

 

And so a weary and exceptionally foot sore Bayley had come home to find that Sasha was already there. This wasn't surprising, she remembered her friend mentioning something about a 14 hour shift this week the last time they’d spoken. Smiling ruefully Bayley carefully put her shoes away and then had hung up Sasha’s coat and bag from where her friend had unceremoniously dumped them. One could usually follow Sasha from the trail of general debris she left behind her.

 

As tired as she had been she hadn’t been ready to go to bed yet so she’d gone to her bedroom and quietly opened the door. She heard the sound of Sasha’s soft breathing coming from the bed, so she changed quietly before sneaking back out of the room. She’d had a bunch of stuff to do but had ended up on her couch curled up with ice cream watching TV. Not in the mood for any kind of intellectual entertainment she’d let Netflix pick and thus she was watching “The Marine 9” when Sasha joined her.

 

Bayley had often observed that Sasha was like a cat in her moods and movements. Bayley wasn’t even aware the other woman was in the room until she felt arms snaking around her from behind. A moment later they were joined by the tickling sensation of Sasha’s hair against the skin of her neck. Bayley had tensed for half a moment on the touch but a smile spread across her face as Sasha kissed her behind her ear.

 

“Hey you” Sasha murmured sleepily as she hugged Bayley from behind.

 

“Hey!” Bayley said as she put a hand on Sasha’s arm and turned to kiss her friend. As she had the oh so familiar fluttering in her stomach had set her tingling. Sasha’s choice of greeting meant that tonight she wanted more from Bayley than simple friendship. That was the shorthand they’d developed with each other through mutual unspoken consent.

 

So it was something of a surprise to Bayley when Sasha didn’t try to move things forward like she usually did. Instead she climbed over the back of the couch to sit cross legged next to Bayley. Though Bayley was slightly confused by this change in behavior she couldn’t help but smile as she looked at her friend. Sasha had a major case of bed hair and was wearing her glasses which was something she refused to ever do in public. And yet to Bayley she was the most beautiful girl in the world.

 

“So...I’ve been thinking…” Sasha said after a short pause. Bayley could tell whatever was on her friends mine it was important because Sasha was lacing and unlacing her fingers, a nervous habit of hers.  

 

“It seemed more like you were sleeping but OK” Bayley teased her, hoping to put her friend more at ease. Sasha managed a weak smile but didn’t speak, she was obviously preparing to say something big.

 

Bayley realized that it could really only be about one thing. Their odd, undefined relationship had been going on for months and now Sasha was ready to discuss it. Her demeanor certainly suggested she was about to deliver bad news. Then again she had kissed Bayley and that wasn’t something she would have done if she was about to call things off. At least Bayley hoped. When Sasha did eventually speak what she said caught Bayley entirely off guard.

 

“Do you want to go to a barbeque this weekend? Sasha said. She was both mumbling and speaking unusually quickly.

 

Bayley blinked at her friend before saying “umm...sure?”.

 

Sasha’s fingers were knotting and unknotting so fast now that Bayley was actually impressed. But it was obvious that she was annoyed with herself over her last comment. Bayley knew that pressing Sasha now would be worse than useless so she just smiled encouragingly. After a brief pause Sasha was ready to try again.

 

“I mean….would you...would you like to go to a barbeque together?” she asked. It was instantly apparent that this hadn’t answered for her either but she didn’t try to correct it right away.

 

“Well...yeah I thought that's what you meant” Bayley said cautiously feeling bewildered.

 

Sasha closed her eyes briefly and mouthed something like ‘just do it’ to herself before saying in a voice of forced calm “my boss...Molly, is having a barbeque at her house this weekend with some other people from work and I wondered if you wanted to go with me...TOGETHER”.

 

“Oh...OH?” Bayley said inarticulately as comprehension blossomed in her. What Sasha was suggesting represented a fairly major step for her. And as much as Bayley wanted, oh so desperately wanted, to scream ‘yes’ she knew what she had to do as a friend first. Taking Sasha’s hand in both of hers she asked “are you sure?”.

 

Sasha beamed and nodded at Bayley who responded with her biggest grin. That was enough for Sasha who launched herself forward. Bayley’s bowl and spoon hit the floor with a clang as Sasha’s mouth had covered hers. Ordinarily she would have been concerned about the ice cream on the hardwood but in this case didn’t even notice. The bowl was probably still there as Bayley hadn’t left her bedroom until the next morning and even then she hadn’t even had time for breakfast.

 

And so, in the present, Bayley was feeling extra bubbly as she sat down at her desk opposite Alexa who was already working. Bayley was a good conscientious cop who worked harder than most in the department. And yet she had NEVER, not once since she had known Alexa Bliss, beaten the other woman to work. Alexa had been staring mechanically at her computer screen when she looked up at Bayley’s arrival.

 

Leaning forward excitedly Alexa said “you are absolutely glowing this morning!”. Alexa was one of the most astute people Bayley knew and a keen observer of human behavior. She was also, behind Sasha, probably Bayley’s closest friend. But she wouldn’t have needed either status to reach this conclusion on this morning.

 

“Thanks, I’m using a new moisturizer” Bayley said in a too casual tone. She pretended to concentrate on logging into her computer but wasn’t totally able to keep a grin from her face.

 

“Yeah, so what’s this moisturizers name and how long have you known them?” Alexa hissed at her, leaning still further over her desk.

 

“Lex! It’s nothing like that” Bayley said. She was completely failing to hide her smile now.

 

“Tell me!” Alexa whispered urgently.

 

“Captain Morley!...” Bayley called as she saw her boss walking toward his office “...Alexa and I need to run soon but I’d be happy to brief you now if you have a moment”.

 

Her boss, Captain Sean Morley, stopped and seemed to think for a moment before nodding and saying “alright, both of you in my office”.

 

“We are so talking about this later” Alexa hissed as she stood and followed Bayley into the Captain’s office.

 

Morley was just settling himself behind his desk as they entered. He was a tall well built man with a red buzzcut. He’d been a member of the vice squad for a long time and at one time had been considered a rising star in the department. But somewhere along the way his career had stalled and he had never been promoted out of Vice. It wasn’t that he was openly bitter about this, but with each passing year it became more obvious he was just marking time until retirement.

 

“You two still looking into the Godfather murder?” Morley asked without preamble. He had a deep gravelly voice that, if department scuttlebutt was to be believed, served him well with women. Bayley personally thought it made him sound like a pornstar.

 

“If it’s still ours to look into” Alexa said cautiously. She and Bayley had been the lead investigators on the Godfather for months and, technically, they still were. However now that he’d been killed it was possible they might lose the case to homicide.

 

“For now yeah, you know how busy the homicide boys are these days” Morley said as he scratched his chin. It was true, every cop in Vegas knew about the sudden dramatic uptick in violence throughout the city. “But you better show some progress quick or they might still take it from you” he added ominously.

 

“We got a lead off a CI, we’re pursuing it now” Bayley volunteered. The truth was that their lead wasn’t that strong and she hoped that by speaking vaguely she could avert too many pointed questions. Privately she was kicking herself for volunteering to fill her boss in at all. Hearing herself say it out loud drove home just how speculative their lead really was. But Morley had been at this job a long time and wasn’t going to be put off so easily.

 

“What's the lead?” he asked as he stared directly at Bayley.

 

“It’s possible that the weapons used in the crime came from Dean Ambrose, so we’re going to lean on a source that we think knows where he is at the moment. Then we’re going to go have a word” Alexa said, trying to come to Bayley’s rescue.

 

“Possible? You think?” Morley asked pointedly. Bayley had to admit that for a man who was mostly apathetic about his job he was doing it quite well.

 

“You know how backed up the lab is sir, until we hear from them this is what we’ve got” Bayley explained. The crime lab was, if anything, even more overworked than homicide at the moment.

 

“Hmm” was all Morley said in response to this.

 

“We haven’t been able to locate our source yet, but I was going to go ask organized crime if they had any ideas” Alexa said nervously. Whenever she was in front of Morley she tended to sound like either the straight A student who had all the answers or a child hauled in front of the principles desk.

 

“Alright, keep me informed. Dismissed” Morley said as he put on a pair of reading glasses and began typing on his computer. Bayley and Alexa both nodded, gestures he didn’t see, and then left. It was obvious to both of them that the Captain simply wasn’t that interested.

 

“Hard not to be inspired by leadership like that” Bayley muttered as they walked, drawing a reproachful look from Alexa.



Less than an hour later Bayley and Alexa, after receiving a tip from a friend of theirs in the organized crime unit, were waiting in the alley behind a strip mall. Specifically they were watching the rear door of a nail salon. Bayley was leaning against the wall to one side of the door while Alexa was sitting on the hood of their car. Both women had shed their jackets as the garments just weren’t practical for waiting under the pounding Las Vegas sun.

 

“So who did you sleep with?” Alexa asked Bayley for the fifth or sixth time that morning.

 

“No one!...” Bayley said. When Alexa gave her a particular kind of skeptical look she relented and said “...that I can talk about”.

 

“Oh...so it’s like that” Alexa said knowingly.

 

“It’s not like anything” Bayley said lamely.

 

“Of course not” Alexa said with a smirk. For her own part Bayley would have been happy to tell Alexa about her night with Sasha. They had always shared at least some details about such things with each other. But she wasn’t sure if Sasha was ready for their relationship to be public knowledge yet, and Alexa and Sasha did know each other.

 

“How long do you think we’ll have to wait?” Bayley asked, blatantly changing the subject.

 

Alexa smirked again but didn’t say anything other than “well that’s her car, she’ll have to come out eventually”. She said this as she jerked her head toward a luridly pink mini-cooper illegally parked behind the nail salon. Bayley’s lip curled in disgust as she looked at the car.

 

“If another twenty minutes goes by I’m going in and dragging her out by her hair” Bayley said testily. She could already feel herself sweating under her shirt. She was a California native and had thought she knew how to handle heat. Then she’d spent her first summer in Vegas and realized she’d never get used to it. Fortunately she didn’t have to wait long.

 

The back door of the nail salon swung open and a woman with long blonde hair spilling from under her snapback stepped out into the alley. She didn’t notice either detective as her face was buried firmly in her bedazzled phone. This was Carmella, and if her features hadn’t been enough to confirm it the eye hurting amount of leopard print she was wearing would have done so.

 

“Carmella! Good morning!” Alexa said cheerily from where she sat. Carmella looked up startled and automatically spun on her heel only to find Bayley blocking her way back into the salon.

 

“Yo, what the fuck you two want?” she asked in an indignant whine.

 

“Carmella that hurts, I thought you’d be happier to see us” Bayley said as she stepped forward and without preamble lifted Carmella’s jacket and pulled a pistol from where it had been stuffed in the waistband of her pants.

 

“Hey what the eff bitch? I got a permit for that!” Carmella protested as Bayley took a long step back. She wasn’t worried about Carmella carrying another weapon as her outfit simply wouldn’t have allowed her to conceal one anywhere else. Bayley inspected the pistol even as she dropped it’s magazine.

 

“A SIG Sauer? Really Carmella? Where is your sense of patriotism?” she said as she proceeded to expertly field strip the weapon. She held onto the magazine but simply tossed each other component in a different direction.

 

“We’ll be checking on that permit by the way” Alexa said.

 

“Like I give a fuck” Carmella said defiantly. But both Bayley and Alexa had picked up on the change in her body language. The weapon was certainly illegal. The two detectives had checkered history with Carmella. Their first joint bust as uniformed officers had been arresting Carmella for petty theft. And they’d periodically frustrated the blonde woman’s attempts to raise her criminal status over the years that had ensued.

 

Carmella was, illegal firearm notwithstanding, mostly harmless as far as criminals went. Raised by her mother Nidia Guenard, the owner of the nail salon, she’d spent most of her youth in and out of juvie. This wasn’t surprising since her mother had done the same. As an adult she’d done her best to try and rise quickly in the world but had failed repeatedly whenever she’d tried to go straight, always ending up back on the wrong side of the law. In many ways her story was a sad one.

 

Bayley thought of her as harmless because aside from sticking up the occasional tourist who strayed too far from the strip, she was never violent. She was much more gifted when it came to theft. Carmella possessed a real talent for getting into places and things that people didn’t want her to. But what little reputation she had in Las Vegas’ underworld was only partially based on this.

 

Her real talents lay not just in stealing items but in getting them to the people who wanted them most. She was known in the lower end of the criminal world in Vegas as a woman who could usually get what you wanted for a price. She also did fairly well for herself brokering so called ‘deals’ between others. If her life had gone differently she might have made an excellent corporate negotiator.

 

“Don’t you two bitches ever have anything better to do then harassing me? I mean damn ain’t people out there getting shot?” Carmella asked indignantly.

 

“They are and we’d like to prevent more people from being shot” Alexa said.

 

“Yo I didn’t shoot anyone! I ain’t never shot anyone” Carmella insisted.

 

“Oh we believe you” Bayley said. She and Alexa were using a classic technique where they were alternating speaking thus forcing Carmella to constantly turn back and forth.

 

“But we also know that you’ve been helping Dean Ambrose, and we’d really like to speak to him” Alexa said. It was hard to tell through her sunglasses but Bayley would have sworn that Carmella actually paled slightly at this.

 

“Yo, who dat?” Carmella said unconvincingly.

 

“Come on Mella, we’re old friends so if you’re going to lie to us you need to try a bit harder” Bayley chided her.

 

“I don’t even know who that is”

 

“You didn’t have this car last time we talked Carmella, someone’s paying you well” Alexa pointed out.

 

“Yo I don’t have to talk to either of you tricks if I don’t wanna” Carmella said sulkily. She then actually stamped her foot and folded her arms, the picture of a child having a tantrum.

 

“No…” Alexa said patiently “...you don’t. But we could also take note of your illegally parked car and have it towed…”.

 

“And we could look more closely into that ‘permit’ of yours” Bayley added. Carmella’s eyes flew back and forth between them as she visibly struggled with some internal debate.

 

“Yo I ain’t no snitch” she said finally, though she sounded resentful as though she disagreed with the principle but was simply bound to follow it.

 

“Would never dream of calling you one,” Alexa said. She then struck a theatrical pose of thought before saying “of course, if you were to help us then we could be convinced to forget about your car and anything else we know you’ve done recently”. She was referring to an incident where a box of Blu-Ray’s had vanished from a loading dock. It was common knowledge on the street that Carmella had been involved.

 

“AND…” Bayley put in from behind her “...I can sweeten the deal with a get out of jail free card for any non-violent non-felony you might commit in the future”. Alexa glanced at her sharply at this but Bayley gave her the tiniest of nods indicating that she should go with it.

 

This caught Carmella’s attention as she asked “for real?”.

 

“Really real” Bayley said seriously. But Carmella was hesitating again now.

 

“You guys know I can’t say anything, what happens to people who snitch on him” Carmella said. Bayley noted that her faux street diction tended to drop away when she wasn’t being actively belligerent.

 

“We’re not asking you to snitch” Alexa said reasonably. She took off her sunglasses and looked Carmella in her eyes as she added “we just want you to meet him next time he calls, and bring him what he asks for”.

 

“And you’ll be following me?” Carmella asked.

 

“Yep” Bayley said.

 

“Yo what the eff bitch, then he’s going to know I snitched” Carmella said, her street talk back in full effect.

 

“That’s why we WON’T be speaking to him afterward, we’ll keep eyes on him until he moves again and THEN speak to him at the next location before he can call you” Bayley explained patiently. This seemed to mollify Carmella, or at least gave her something to think about. While she was thinking Alexa stepped forward and handed her a card.

 

“Just text me when you’re going to meet him and tell me where, that's it” she said. Carmella stared at the card for awhile before she nodded reluctantly.

 

“Excellent!” Bayley said as she walked past Carmella and slapped her on the shoulder. Carmella gave her a nasty look but didn’t speak. “I’m keeping this though” she said as she waved the magazine from Carmella’s pistol.

 

“Whatever” Carmella muttered. She didn’t speak again until Alexa and Bayley were getting into their car when she shouted “yo what about my get out of jail card?!”.

 

“You come through and I will” Bayley called back as Alexa started the car and drove them both away.



As they drove Alexa shot a glance over at Bayley and said “you know that Morley won’t go for that get out of jail thing”.

 

“That’s why I won’t tell him” Bayley said distractedly. She had just received a text message from Sasha.

 

The message read “ OMG I have not stopped :D all day”. Bayley herself smiled at this but turned over to see that Alexa’s lips were pursed in disapproval. Her partner was a devoted rule follower and disapproved of anything too blatantly outside the letter of those rules.

 

“Look, I’m not going to let her off for anything serious. But the next time she gets a disorderly conduct or something, and we both know that will happen, I can let her off with a warning” Bayley said trying to assuage Alexa.

 

“A warning she’ll ignore” Alexa pointed out.

 

“She’ll also ignore any lesson paying the fine was supposed to teach” Bayley countered. Alexa didn’t have any response to this but simply looked unhappy. Bayley was going to say more when her phone buzzed again with another message from Sasha.

 

So what do we do now?! Should we go on a date?!” it said. Bayley felt the familiar fluttering in her stomach as she read this.

 

I would love that! <3 <3” Bayley messaged back.

 

“Who are you texting?” Alexa asked. She sounded like she wasn’t convinced on Bayley’s move with Carmella but that she was willing to let it drop for now.

 

“No one” Bayley said too quickly as she twisted slightly to shield the phone from Alexa.

 

“Oh my god it’s whoever you slept with!” Alexa said with a giggle.

 

Bayley thought about denying it but just settled for saying “maybe…”. Alexa grinned over at her partner for a few moments before realization dawned on her face.

 

“Oh...my...god…” Alexa said as she turned to give Bayley a look of pure shock before turning back to the road.

 

“What?” Bayley asked incredulously.

 

“You slept with Sasha!” Alexa said, sounding thunderstruck.

 

“What?! No- I mean, why would you say that?” Bayley said. She’d tried to sound both indignant and dismissive at the same time and it had come out sounding like a guilty child.

 

“You have never been coy about this kind of thing before, that means that you’re not protecting your own privacy but someone elses…” Alexa began to explain in the tone she used when unpacking evidence “...AND you’re wearing your Sasha Smile”.

 

“And just what is my ‘Sasha Smile’ pray tell” Bayley asked, trying to sound dismissive again and not doing much better than before.

 

“The look you have when you are talking to Sasha, about Sasha, or just thinking about her” Alexa said primly.

 

“I do not do that” Bayley protested weakly.

 

“Also you’re pathetic attempt at a denial a few moments ago” Alexa teased her. Bayley slumped in the passenger chair. She should have known better than to try to conceal something like this from Alexa.

 

“How long have you known?” Bayley asked with her hand over her eyes.

 

“Actually I didn’t ‘know’ anything until a second ago” Alexa said fairly. When Bayley lowered her hand to glare at her she added “but it’s been easy to tell you two have had crushes on each other for months”. Bayley did her best to digest this, she and Sasha had thought they’d been so clever.

 

“Actually we’ve been sleeping together for a few months” she muttered.

 

“WHAT?!” Alexa shouted, the car swerving on the road with her surprise.

 

“HEY! Are you trying to kill us?” Bayley said as she checked her seatbelt.

 

“MONTHS?!” Alexa asked, ignoring Bayley.

 

“Oh god...you didn’t know that either…” Bayley moaned.

 

“Well I do now!” Alexa said sounding stunned. She didn’t speak for a few moments before she asked “but...then why was yesterday so special?”.

 

“Who said it was?” Bayley mumbled with her hand over her eyes again.

 

“Bay, are we really doing that again?” Alexa asked exasperatedly. Part of Bayley was actually happy Alexa had worked this out. She’d been wanting to share her news with SOMEONE, it was great news after all.

 

“We...decided that we’re going to try dating” Bayley said finishing on a delicate note.

 

“That’s GREAT I-” Alexa started to say but was cut off by the radio.

 

“All units in the area please respond to the Guerrero Community Center on a report of shots fired, repeat shots fired at the Guerrero Community Center” came the staticy voice the dispatcher.

 

Bayley shot upright and was all business in a moment as Alexa snatched up the handset and said “detectives 389 and 390 responding, we’re five minutes out”. With that she flipped on their dashboard lights, turned on their siren, and put her foot down.







Chapter Text

Charlotte Flair sat in a throne like chair behind the huge desk in her suite’s office. She had been waiting patiently in this position for almost half an hour. Her meeting wasn’t scheduled to begin for another ten minutes but she liked to make sure she was waiting when people she’d summoned arrived.

 

Though the Flair criminal empire might not have been as strong as she or her father would have liked it, it was still powerful. More than powerful enough to crush any purely regional or city based organization. Even among those groups that might be called it’s peers the Flair name commanded respect. NO ONE could ignore a summons from Charlotte Flair with impunity.

 

And so it was without much surprise that she received the word that her guests had arrived several minutes early. She instructed her guards to keep them waiting for some time, it was important that she establish her position early on. They would wait on her convenience. And in the meantime she attended to a final few details. The office was on the eastern side of her penthouse and Charlotte had made sure to schedule this meeting at a time where the sun would be almost directly behind her in the large windows.

 

Opening one of the desks drawers Charlotte drew out her preferred Glock 26 and checked it’s magazine. Though she rarely had to engage in physical violence herself her father had ensured that she was perfectly capable of defending herself with and without a gun. Sliding her pistol into its shoulder holster she then retrieved a snub nosed revolver from the same drawer and slid it into her ankle holster. Both weapons were easily concealed by the slacks and jacket of her brilliantly white suit.

 

“Nia, Joe, Dana please join me now. We’ll be beginning shortly” she said into the desk’s built in speaker.

 

Joe’s voice came back almost immediately asking “do you want the twins to have your package ready ma’am?”.

 

“Yes, after they’ve seen our guests in have them get it and keep it ready outside the door” Charlotte said.

 

“Yes ma’am”.

 

Almost as soon as he disconnected one of her other guards radioed to inform her that her guests were being sent up to her floor. Technically the Dibiase penthouse extended only two floors. Charlotte had expanded this by simply renting every single room on the floor immediately below. She’d then bullied Ted Jr into allowing her staff to modify the elevator’s programming. It now stopped at the floor she’d rented and would not proceed beyond it until authorized to do so by her guards.

 

Her inner staff arrived in a group a moment later. Nia and Joe taking up flanking positions to either side of her chair and Dana standing off to one side holding her tablet. All of them were armed and the Twins would be standing directly outside the door. Charlotte took a sip from her water glass before leaning back in her chair and steepling her fingers.

 

When the door did open again it was Rezar leading in a group of three people, Akam standing behind them. The two women were, Charlotte assumed, the Bellas that she’d been hearing about. Identical in almost every way both women had long brunette hair and dark eyes. They were clad in identical red business suits and shoes, something Charlotte suspected they did on purpose to confuse others. The final member of their group was a man was light brown hair and a matching beard. He was dressed in a dark suit with a blue shirt underneath.

 

“Please seat yourselves” Dana said from beside Charlotte. Charlotte for her part didn’t speak or move at all, making no effort to acknowledge the new arrivals save for her piercing stare. She studied the two women intently as they sat in the chairs set out for them and winced slightly as the sun shone toward them. Their companion did not ask for a seat himself but instead simply moved to stand behind the left hand chair.

 

Charlotte had learned the tricks of negotiation and intimidation from her father. He had drilled into her the maxim that every meeting was a contest of wills. A contest where one had to accrue every possible advantage to oneself. Another trick he’d taught her was the great value of silence. Most people simply weren’t comfortable sitting silently while facing another person. Charlotte had learned to use this to her advantage and thus almost never spoke first in a meeting.

 

It seemed these Bella twins were no exception to the general rule. While they were better than most at concealing their discomfort it became obvious after a time that they were nervous. They had every reason to be, a sudden summons to see a member of the Flair family could mean a death sentence. Or it could mean a business opportunity. These Bellas would have no way of knowing which was the case today.

 

Eventually the woman on the right cleared her throat and said “Ms. Flair, it’s nice to meet you my name is Nicole Bella and this is my sister Brie” she finished with a gesture to the other woman. She looked for half a moment like she might stand and offer her hand but then seemed to think better of it.

 

Charlotte held her silence for several seconds after this before asking “do you know why I’ve asked you to come here Ms. Bella, Ms. Bella?”.

 

“It’s Mrs. Bella” the woman on the left dared to correct Charlotte. Charlotte turned her most arctic stare on her for several long seconds. Though she didn’t quail it was obvious she regretted speaking up.

 

“My apologies…” Charlotte said silkily before asking “...do you know why I have asked you hear today Ms and Mrs. Bella”.

 

The two women exchanged a quick glance before Nicole said “no ma’am”. Charlotte wondered privately if she was the sister who usually spoke for the pair. Without speaking Charlotte turned her chair to one side so only her profile would be visible to the Bellas. After another pause she waved her hand at Dana.

 

“Two days ago Charles Wright was killed in his club. Our sources tell us that you were responsible for ordering this hit” Dana said in a crisp tone. Out of the corner of her eye Charlotte saw the twins exchange another glance.

 

“And...if we were?” Brie asked apprehensively.

 

“Charles Wright was in the process of negotiations with the Flair family, he was preparing to begin running his organization on our behalf in Las Vegas” Dana said flatly. Though Charlotte wasn’t looking directly at the Bellas she imagined she could actually feel their collective spike in fear.

 

“Whomever…” Charlotte cut in “...conducted this hit against Charles Wright would, in having done so, hit a Flair organization”. She let her voice trail off for a few moments before she finished in a voice barely above a whisper “...there would have to be...dire consequences for such an affront”.

 

“Ms. Flair...please...we didn’t-” either Brie or Nicole said, Charlotte wasn’t looking nor did it particularly matter.

 

“You did not know….yes I had gathered as much” she said harshly. Spinning her chair back to face the Bellas she said “but this ignorance does NOT exculpate you”. She waved her hand at Nia this time and in one smooth motion both Nia and Joe drew and leveled their weapons at the twins. Unseen by the Bellas, Charlotte tapped a hidden control under her desk and a moment later Akam and Rezar stepped into the room with their guns drawn.

 

“Wait! Wait!” the Bella’s male companion said “you can’t just shoot us, I’m a cop! Think about this”.

 

“And you brought police to our meeting, and interesting choice” Charlotte said to the twins in a deadly cool voice. She then looked at the bearded man with withering contempt and said “your department is perhaps the most corrupt police force in the country, do you really think I can’t make you disappear?”.

 

“Wait! Please! Stop!” Brie half yelped as she looked frantically from side to side at the levelled guns.

 

“Goodbye Ms and MRS Bella” Charlotte said, slowly turning her chair away from them once more.

 

“Wait! We’ll make this up to you” Nicole blurted as Akam and Rezar shoved the cop down to his knees between the Bellas. Charlotte waited two whole seconds, which must have felt like an eternity to the Bellas before she held up a hand. At the gesture her guards released the man though he didn’t try to stand.

 

“HOW will you make this right?” Charlotte asked quietly.

 

“You said the Godfather was going to work for you! Well we now control most of his girls AND our own! We’ll work for you and you’ll make even MORE money!” Nicole said in a strained but steady voice.

 

Charlotte appeared to consider this for a long time before she said “the Flair family can’t afford to be seen to tolerate actions like yours. No matter how much it might make for us”.

 

“Please Ms. Flair there must be some way we can work this out!” Brie said as she looked frantically from the kneeling man to her sister.

 

“A message must be delivered, you must be punished for what you did” Charlotte said. She turned her head slightly to see the effect her words had had. The Bellas were looking increasingly frantic while the cop was actually shaking with fear where he knelt with his hands on his head. Charlotte left them in this position for a long time before she said “fortunately for you...you already have”.

 

The Bellas exchanged a confused look at this. It was clear they desperately wanted to believe they had been reprieved but equally clear that they didn’t. Charlotte was impressed with their good sense. Catching Akam’s eye she nodded and waved him out of the room. Another gesture from her caused all the levelled guns to be lowered. The kneeling man actually gasped in relief at this as both Bellas postures relaxed noticeably. Rezar then left the room as well and a moment later the sounds of something heavy being dragged along the floor outside the office could be heard.

 

At a gesture from Charlotte, Dana took over the conversation and said “I believe you employ one 'Big Cass’ in your organization?”.

 

“We do...he looks after our street girls” Brie said hesitantly. It was clear that while she was grateful to be out of immediate danger, she sensed that she and her sister weren’t wholly safe.

 

“Akam, Rezar, please bring in the package” Dana called through the open door. A few seconds later the pair re-entered the room dragging a large black bag between them. A moment later they let the bag drop with a thud next to the kneeling man.

 

“Open it please Mr…?” Dana said to the cop.

 

“D-d-detective Daniel Bryan” he said nervously as he bent down to comply. Charlotte watched with mild interest as his still shaking hands slowly drew the bag’s zipper down. A moment later he swore violently and jerked back from the bag. The bag contained the body of Big Cass, the bullet riddled body. Charlotte heard one or both of the Bellas gasp softly as they caught sight of what was in the bag.

 

“I trust that there will be no further need for lessons?” Charlotte asked in a voice that blended ice and silk seamlessly. She sensed that both twins were nodding but she said “I need to hear you say it”.

 

“No Ms. Flair” both women said in quiet voices. A quick glance told Charlotte that they both looked thoroughly cowed. Charlotte then flicked a finger at Dana before turning her chair completely around to face out the windows.

 

“Ms. Flair offers the following terms for our arrangement…” Dana said, her businesslike tone contrasting oddly with the scene of horror a few feet from her “...the Flair family will undertake to protect your interests and help expand them when we deem appropriate. In return you will forward 45% of your monthly profits onto us and you will accept an adviser from us who will observe and report on your activities. They will also, of course, offer counsel should you seek it”.

 

There was the briefest of hesitations where Charlotte thought the twins might argue. What she was proposing was in effect a take over of their organization. Everyone present knew that whatever ‘advisor’ Charlotte sent would have ultimate control. And now that Charlotte had demonstrated she could casually kill any muscle they might hire, there would be no chance of them fighting out from under her. They were well and truly trapped.

 

And in the end they recognized it and one of them said from behind Charlotte “yes, Ms. Flair, that would be perfectly acceptable”.

 

“Excellent, we look forward to working with you in the future. Akam and Rezar will show you out. We will also ask you to take your former associate as well. Use the freight elevator, the staff at the loading docks have been taught to ignore Ms. Flair’s guests” Dana said briskly.

 

“OK…” was all one of the twins managed to say in response.

 

“And before you leave, may I assume you brought with a sample of your...ah…’product’ with you?” Dana asked delicately.

 

It seemed that it took the Bellas a moment to remember what Dana was referring to but after a short pause one of them said “oh, yes...she’s uh...she’s waiting near where we came in”.

 

“Splendid, we wish you a pleasant day” Dana said in an unmistakable tone of dismissal. There was another pause as Charlotte heard the body being dragged from the room but eventually the door closed again.

 

Charlotte gave it a few moments more before she turned her chair and around and addressed her staff saying “well, that went as well as I was hoping it would’.

 

“They aren’t happy about things, need to keep a close eye on them or they might be trouble” Joe said.

 

“Whoever is holding their leash will need to keep that in mind yes, but I also want that person to eventually oversee our entire prostitution racket in Vegas” Charlotte said.

 

“Did you have someone specific in mind?” Dana asked in a neutral tone that didn’t fool anyone. Charlotte knew that her assistant had been hoping for more direct responsibilities for some time now. And she didn’t doubt that Dana could handle running a racket of her own. She was driven, intelligent, and had spent a long time learning first hand from Charlotte.

 

On the other hand Charlotte simply couldn’t afford to spare Dana from her current duties. She was an invaluable assistant and someone Charlotte had come to rely on. If Dana were given responsibility for a racket she simply wouldn’t have the time to be Charlotte’s assistant, no matter what she thought. And Charlotte loathed the idea of having to train in a replacement.

 

Of course she could hand the racket to either Joe or Nia as well. Both were capable and both were natural authoritative presences. But as with Dana, giving it to either of them would mean they wouldn’t be available for their current jobs. Charlotte wasn’t as paranoid as many organized crime leaders but she wasn’t foolish either. She knew full well how many people would like her dead, the Bellas for example, and how important a good head of security and bodyguard were.

 

Her final options would be to bring a local talent into her organization or call for someone from her father. A local would certainly bring superior knowledge of Las Vegas’ underworld and perhaps smooth Charlotte’s path when dealing with others here. Conversely they would be an unknown quantity and there would be no guarantee that they would be able to do any of those things.

 

If she asked her father for an advisor she’d be certain to receive someone highly skilled. Her father had cultivated many talented people over the years and they could be in Vegas in a day or two. But they would be a total newcomer to the Las Vegas scene. And there was no way to predict how being passed over might affect her staff.

 

These were the sort of decisions that always fell to Charlotte. A wrong decision could set back the Flair family efforts in Vegas and possibly even doom them. And IF she chose wrong, no one would care why she made the decision she had. It would be HER failure forever. As much as she would have liked to delay she also knew that she needed a decision soon.

 

“Dana, contact JJ back in Raleigh. Ask him to send me Dean Malenko, Raven, and D’Angelo Dinero” Charlotte finally said. She studied her assistant closely as she finished, looking for signs of disaffection. She found none.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair” Dana said in her usual crisply efficient tone.

 

“In the meantime…” Charlotte said before turning to Joe “...you’ll hold their Leash until Malenko arrives, I want him running the racket. While you’re there Nia will take over as head of security”.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair” Joe said before leaving the room, apparently meaning to not lose a moment. Charlotte hadn’t actually meant that he had to leave this very second but should have assumed he would. That was Joe.

 

“Dana, begin researching local groups that might make good muscle for us. We just secured out first racket, now we need foot soldiers to guard it” Charlotte said as she stood and stretched.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair”

 

“I want a briefing by tomorrow morning…” she said to Dana and then addressed Nia saying “...send the Bella’s girl up to my room after you’ve searched her”. Both women nodded and Charlotte left the office. She turned left as she did and made her way to the southern side of her penthouse. This area was set up as a large bar and sitting area.

 

Pouring herself a generous drink despite the early hour Charlotte did her best to feel confident in her decision. There was no reason to assume she shouldn’t but that had never stopped her self doubt before. If left unchecked this anxiety could build and build in her until she was barely functional. It had in the past. So she’d learned to make time to unwind every day.

 

That was why she’d just finished her drink in a single gulp. She stared at the bottle and decided another would be nice. She took her time with this one though, enjoying the taste of the liquid as she looked out the windows of her suite. After a few minutes had passed she set the glass aside for someone else to clean and began making her way back to the entryway of the penthouse. She took the right hand staircase and walked slowly to the second level. The balcony on this side of the penthouse was a simple rectangle with a pair of white doors with gold and pearl trim on their surface.

 

Charlotte crossed to the doors and opened them to emerge into the rooms that served as her personal quarters. The doors opened directly into a sitting room whose most prominent feature was a splendid chandelier that hung from the center of the ceiling. The room was already occupied. Nia was standing to one side looking imposing. And sitting on one of the gold and white couches under the chandelier was another woman who stood as soon as Charlotte entered the room.

 

Charlotte saw that the Bellas had done their homework on her when they’d brought this girl. She was tall, as tall as Charlotte herself, with long elegant legs which showed under her white dress. Her hair was a brilliant blonde in color and what jewelry she was wearing was gold. She had clearly been chosen and dressed specifically for Charlotte.  

 

“Hello, my name is Summer” the blonde said. She gave Charlotte a dazzling smile as she approached. Charlotte appraised her critically for a few moments before giving a small approving nod.

 

“The bedroom is through that door, go prepare yourself” Charlotte said as she pointed at another magnificent set of double doors. Summer smiled again and nodded before complying.

 

When she’d closed the door Charlotte shrugged off her jacket and holster and handed them to Nia. She did the same with her earrings, necklace, bracelets, and rings. Next she removed the pins from her hair and allowed it to shake loose. As a final step she laced her fingers and then pressed her hands outward, cracking her knuckles. At a nod, Nia took the clothing through another door that led to Charlotte’s wardrobe.

 

She returned a moment later with a black silk bag which she opened and then offered to Charlotte. Charlotte furrowed her brow contemplatively for a few moments before reaching in and drawing out a riding crop. She swished it through the air experimentally several times before nodding approvingly. She then set off toward her bedroom.

 

Chapter Text

Becky Lynch had never been more conscious of being a woman in her life. And this wasn’t the carefree and fun Shania Twain way of thinking about this. This was the much more menacing: I’m surrounded by enormous bikers in a dingy shithole of a bar and the only woman to be seen in the place kind of way. Becky would very much have preferred the first.

 

The second she’d stepped into the Aces and Eights MC clubhouse she’d instantly felt the hostility. It wasn’t like the movies where the music had stopped the moment she’d walked in, but it felt that bad. The music was, in fact, almost deafening. Some kind of pounding rock that Becky felt sure would cause a headache of listened to for more than a few minutes.

 

She’d only taken a few steps when the door had been closed behind her cutting off the sunlight streaming into the place. Becky, who was still wearing her sunglasses and whose eyes were accustomed to the light was suddenly plunged into disorienting darkness. She was blinking rapidly to try and clear her vision when a large form and loomed up in front of her.

 

“You the one here to see Bubba and Devon?” a deep voice rumbled from somewhere above her.

 

“I’m the only one standing here aren’t I?” Becky asked. Her voice came out more aggressive than she’d meant it to due to her nervousness. Still she knew that to show fear would be a mistake so perhaps it had been for the best.

 

If the giant in front of her was annoyed by her tone he didn’t react to it. Instead he just stared down at her for a few long moments before saying “come with me”. With that he turned and began walking further into the dark interior of the bar. Becky followed and realized that she would have to quicken her pace just to keep up with his long stride.

 

As she walked she was the object of a lot of attention. She passed bikers playing pool, drinking, or smoking everything from cigarettes to what was obviously meth. As she went by they, to a man, stopped to stare at her. Some with mild curiosity, more with varying levels of hostility, and a few with a disconcerting kind of hunger in their eyes. Even when she passed a crowd of bikers hooting at a pair of women dancing on a fenced in stage most of them stopped to stare.

 

Becky did her best to appear confident. Meeting everyone’s gaze and even flipping her hair or blowing a kiss to one or two. She didn’t know if she was convincing but the display helped her at least. Once she and her guide had rounded the long bar she saw that he was leading her toward a door set in the back wall. The sign on it’s face read: ‘private’.

 

“In there” her guide said simply as he moved to stand beside the door. He was obviously another guard. Finding that her vision had cleared enough to read again she looked at his patch and saw that it read ‘Jindrak’.

 

“And who says all the gentleman are gone, I enjoyed our little walk together” Becky said dryly as she squared her shoulders and pushed through the door.

 

She found herself in another dark room whose few lights all had a reddish tint. Benches and seats lined the walls save for where a bar stood in one corner and a large booth in the other. The center of the room was dominated by a stripper pole set in a raised circular stage. A woman with red hair of a darker shade than Becky’s was swinging around the pole at the moment.

 

No one gave Becky any kind of indication where she was supposed to go but it was obvious. Though most of the benches and seats were occupied the room seemed to be designed to funnel people toward the booth. And though it was hard to tell in the low light Becky thought that it looked to be nearly full. And so she strode confidently over toward it as all eyes followed her. All eyes except those of the booth’s occupants that was. They were roaring in laughter at some remark. It died away however as Becky reached the table.  

 

“Bubba, I gotta say I like your taste in girls. Who does this one work for? Maybe I’ll try her out myself?” a dark haired man in a leather jacket said from where he sat as he leered at her. All eyes at the table turned to Becky to see how she would respond. Without speaking Becky slowly slid a hand into her duster pocket, withdrew a few bills, and turned to casually toss them at the woman on the pole.

 

“And I’m sure I’d be quite disappointed after all forty seconds of it” she said challengingly to the man. She’d recognized his accent as coming from New York, this plus his lack of an Aces and Eights vest made her certain he wasn’t one of the bikers. This remark drew a few dry chuckles from around the table and a visible smirk from the one woman sitting in the booth.

 

The man she’d insulted stared harder at her, narrowing his eyes dangerously. He was obviously trying to intimidate her but Becky didn’t flinch even when he said “she’s got a fucking mouth on her too, you outta let me smack that out of her”.

 

“Eager to get beaten up by a girl are ya?” Becky asked him sweetly.

 

“You listen hear you fucking Mick bitch-” he started to say but he was cut off by the woman sitting in the booth.

 

“Easy Nunzio, Bubba invited her in and she’s a guest until he says otherwise” she said in a voice that wasn’t hostile but brooked no argument. Nunzio muttered something but didn’t argue.

 

“So who are you? And what do you want?” the man sitting in the far corner of the booth asked Becky harshly. He was wearing his vest over a black t-shirt and had a black stocking cap on his head. Given his size Becky assumed she was talking to Bubba Ray, the chapter president.

 

“Me name’s Becky Lynch. And I want to ask for some information” Becky told him directly. She been considering if it would be wise to flatter him but had decided in the moment that it might do more harm than good.

 

“That so?” Bubba asked her in the same hostile tone. He glared at her for a while before he asked “and why should I give a fuck?”.

 

“Dave Finlay would consider it a personal favor for one thing” Becky answered him as she held his eye. This wasn’t strictly true as Finlay didn’t know she was here but she thought that since he’d been the one to send her on her current mission that she might as well benefit from his name.

 

“Fuckin’ Mick bastard” Nunzio muttered just loud enough to be heard.

 

“Finlay and I are square, he knows I don’t do favors just because someone asks” Bubba said dismissively.

 

The woman who had spoken before did so again saying “I assume that Finlay wouldn’t have sent you over here empty handed if he wanted something”. This was an astute observation and Becky turned to look at her with more interest now. She had her long dark hair in a braid that fell over her shoulder. Becky was surprised to see that she was wearing an Aces and Eights vest, she hadn’t realized they had any female full members.

 

“Right you are darling, I have a little gift for you fine people. Thought it might help you get into a generous frame of mind” Becky said.

 

A black man sitting to Bubba’s left snorted at this and said “it better be some damn gift”. Becky thought this must be Devon, the club’s Vice President and Bubba Ray’s half brother. Rather than answer out loud Becky simply tossed the bag of cocaine onto the table top in front of her. The room was too dark to allow Becky to read their facial expressions easily but she could tell she had their attention now.

 

“And why shouldn’t I just take that, kill you, and then tell Finlay that I’d never heard of you?” Bubba asked her in a voice that made clear he was willing to do it personally.

 

“You won’t get the rest of it then. And what a shame to not have the full set of this lovely item” Becky said in a voice that was more confident than she felt.

 

“What? Is it in your car? We’ll just grab that too” Devon snapped.

 

“Bubba…” the dark haired woman said quietly as she stared at Becky “...this might be a good opportunity to take care of that problem without risking any of the brothers or sisters”. Becky had no idea what she was talking about but she was grateful for the intervention. Bubba seemed to consider this before leaning toward Devon and having a whispered consultation.

 

“If you think it’ll work then take her out back and fill her in, I’ll have pretty boy waiting for you” he said to the dark haired woman. Before anyone could move he turned to look at Becky and added “but I’ll be keeping that” he said as he nodded at the cocaine. Becky was about to open her mouth to protest but the dark haired woman cut her off.

 

“Bubba means that a single bag of coke isn’t enough. But we have a job that we can use you for and IF you pull that off we might consider helping you” she said looking Becky directly in her eyes. Becky wanted to argue but the truth was that she had zero leverage in this situation. She supposed she should just be grateful that killing her was seemingly off the table.

 

“It would be a pleasure” she said finally, even managing to sound like she meant it.

 

“I’m so glad you approve…” Bubba said sarcastically before he barked “...now get the fuck out of my sight”. The dark haired woman slid out of the booth at this and beckoned for Becky to follow her.

 

Seemingly unable to help himself Nunzio called after her “watch yourself out there red, I got a long memory!”.

 

“Only long thing about you is it” Becky said over her shoulder as she left.



Shortly after this she and the dark haired woman were standing in the alley behind the clubhouse. Even in this shaded area the contrast to the almost cave like darkness of the clubhouse was painful enough that she instantly reached for her sunglasses. When they were on she was finally able to view the other woman properly. She was wearing an Aces and Eights vest over a black tank top. Under the vest she had a pair of shoulder holsters with a pistol grip protruding from each. The patch on her vest identified her as ‘Tessmacher’.

 

“Well you’re either very brave or just really fucking stupid, probably both” she said to Becky once they were facing each other. She seemed to be sizing up Becky as much as Becky was her.

 

“All part of my charming personality” Becky told her with an insolent grin.

 

“I’m going to assume that, even if you are with the Irish, Finlay didn’t actually send you over here” Tessmacher said. It was not a question.

 

“I am with the Irish” Becky said in response, preferring not to address the rest of Tessmacher’s comments. Tessmacher gave her a look that suggested that she knew exactly what Becky had just left out.

 

“Whatever the case you were never going to buy Bubba and Devon’s help with a bag of drugs. In fact that was a really terrible idea to even bring it in here” Tessmacher said dryly.

 

“Did you want something Tessmacher or are you just going to criticize me?” Becky asked waspishly. She’d come to the same conclusion about three steps into the clubhouse and didn’t appreciate having her stupidity thrown in her face.

 

“We do…” Tessmacher said in a businesslike tone “...the eight’s have a few sites out in the desert that we maintain to help us create our product”. She was obviously referring to the meth which, Becky knew, was the lifeblood of the bikers power.

 

“What? Do you want me to cook you a batch or something?” Becky asked sarcastically.

 

“No, I think we’re good in that department…” Tessmacher said calmly. Her apparent immunity to Becky’s sarcasm was starting to grate. “There’s a new MC that’s suddenly appeared on the scene out in the desert, very small but they’ve made themselves a nuisance by harassing our couriers and have even stolen from one of our cook sites”.

 

“So why don’t you just have some of those strapping lad inside go out there on your scooters and break this group’s faces?” Becky asked.

 

“Because we believe this group may just be working for a larger one, specifically the Disciples of the Apocalypse out of Reno” Tessmacher explained.

 

“So?” Becky asked, she’d never heard of the second group.

 

“So…” Tessmacher said with the air of a teacher patiently explaining something to a slow student “...a biker war isn’t good for business. And if we respond with a big punch then that might be the result if, as I suspect, the Disciples are just waiting for a big enough reason”.

 

Understanding struck Becky and she said “so you want me, someone who's not a biker, to go take care of them for you. That way you keep your hands clean if someone gets away and taddles”.

 

“Exactly” Tessmacher said with a nod.

 

“And you want me to take on this group all on my own? You don’t think that might be unfair to them?” Becky asked with a heavy dose of sarcastic mockery.

 

“First, the group that's been hitting us is small. We’ve never seen anymore than four of them. They also don’t seem to be particularly smart, just brash-” Tessmacher started to explain.

 

“Oh, well as long as they are brash then four to one odds are just perfect” Becky quipped.

 

“...SECOND…” Tessmacher said sounding testy for the first time “...we’ll be sending someone with you to help”.

 

“Didn’t you just say that you couldn’t respond without risking war?” Becky asked.

 

“It’s only one guy, and he’s not even patched. He’s just a prospect. If you two fail we can easily say he went rogue and acted on his own and that you were just muscle he hired” Tessmacher said matter of factly.

 

“Lovely, so I’m to be babysitting one of your newbies am I?” Becky asked dryly.

 

“If you want our help, then yes” Tessmacher said simply. Becky sighed loudly an wondered, not for the first time, why she’d ever left Ireland.

 

“Alright...alright...can you at least tell me about this group we’re to go after?” she asked Tessmacher in a defeated voice.

 

“They call themselves the Ascension MC, really just a bunch of hot headed kids but we need them gone” Tessmacher told her.

 

“Any idea where I can find them?” Becky asked.

 

“They have a ‘clubhouse’ of sorts in this tiny town called Dudleyville an hour or so north of the city. Obviously though if you hit them there you’ll be dealing with the whole group on their home turf” Tessmacher explained.

 

“Right…” Becky muttered. She put her hands on her hips and pursed her lips for a few moments before she went on “...can I meet this boy of yours”.

 

“He’ll be out front by the time we’re done here” Tessmacher said.

 

Becky waited for her to continue but when she didn’t speak she asked “was there something else or are we going to makeout?”.

 

“I was just waiting to see if you’d tell me what this information you want is?” Tessmacher said simply.

 

Becky debated for a moment but decided it couldn’t hurt and so said “I need to know where Dean Ambrose is?”. To her surprise Tessmacher laughed at this.

 

“Wow…and given how Ambrose treats groups who give away his location casually you thought you’d buy that info with a single bag of cocaine? You must be new in town” she said in an incredulous tone.

 

“Alright, enough of that” Becky grumbled as she stalked past Tessmacher and made her away around the building. When she finally emerged out onto the street she looked at where her car had been and blanched. Her car was up on blocks, it’s tires gone.

 

“What in the fuck?!” she exclaimed.

 

“This is a bad neighborhood” Tessmacher commented dryly as she came up to stand beside her. Becky, incredulous, turned to the lookout Corbin who was still lounging on his bike.

 

“Thanks for nothing you damned gorilla. You couldn’t be bothered to get off your ass as you watched me car being stripped right in front of you?!” Becky half screamed.

 

“What car” Corbin asked insolently as he folded his arms and looked the other way.

 

“Why you fucking cunt!...” Becky growled as she started toward him. He might have been a giant but she was fully intending to open his throat with one of her knives. Before she could though Tessmacher grabbed her arm in a firm grip.

 

“IF…” she said firmly “...you pull this off I’ll guarantee that by the time you get back your car will be in one piece”. Becky’s eyes flashed fire as she looked down at the restraining hand but before she could speak the front door to the clubhouse opened and another man stepped out.

 

Even in her present temper Becky’s first impression was that this was one gorgeous man. He had long brown hair that fell around his shoulders and the face of a heart throb. Even his stubble was perfect making him seem rugged without being at all coarse. When he turned his dark eyes on Becky she found that her anger simply wilted away.

 

When he saw Tessmacher he approached and said “I’m ready to go secretary”. He was wearing a leather vest like the rest of the bikers with the difference that his lacked any patches. Tessmacher, who for her part seemed immune to his good looks, gave him a critical glance before turning to Becky.

 

“This is John Morrison, he’s one of our prospects. This job will be his last test from us, if he pulls it off he earns his patch” she explained. She then turned to the man and asked “are you packing Morrison”.

 

“No ma’am” he said sounding self conscious. Becky’s level of attraction to him decreased fractionally for a moment, what kind of a moron hung out in that clubhouse without a gun.

 

“I thought not” Tessmacher said with an eye roll. Apparently she’d been thinking the same thing as Becky. Shrugging her own vest back she tugged one of her guns from it’s holster, a nasty looking revolver, and offered it to Morrison. “I want that back, if you lose it or damage it then don’t bother returning” she warned dangerously.

 

“No ma’am I’ll take good care of it” Morrison said, and indeed he was cradling the gun in both hands as though it were made of gold.

 

“Good…” Tessmacher said sternly as she unzipped a pocket on her vest and withdrew two moon clips which he handed to Morrison “...you shouldn’t need these but just in case”.

 

“Thank you Secretary” Morrison said as he put the moon clips into his own vest and stuffed the gun into the rear of his waistband.

 

“This is Becky Lynch…” Tessmacher told him as she jerked her head at Becky “...she’s a freelancer whose going to go along with you on the job as an extra gun”. Morrison turned to look look at Becky for the first time and when their eyes actually met Becky felt her heart flutter. This annoyed her tremendously.

 

“Nice to meet you, I’m John” Morrison said as he offered his hand. To cover her flustered moment Becky didn’t take it and got straight to business.

 

“Can use that gun in your pants boy” she said before she realized what she’d just said and actually blushed. It had been years since she’d done so. To cover this fresh embarrassment she cleared her throat and looked away.

 

“As you can see, Becky is currently without a ride. She’ll be riding bitch with you” Tessmacher said. If she’d noticed Becky’s discomfiture she didn’t give any sign.

 

“Sounds good” Morrison said solemnly. Becky, who had just gotten her face under control felt it flush again.

 

“Let's just get this over with” she said belligerently. She stalked past Morrison to stand near the row of bikes and asked “which one is yours?”. Morrison pointed to the far end of the line and a moment later joined Becky by a bike with a stylized cross design painted on it.

 

“You ever done this?” Morrison asked as he passed Becky a helmet. She was thinking of scorning it but reasoned it would conceal most of her face and so put it on.

 

“Oh bloody hell it’s not rocket science” she snapped, her voice muffled by the helmet. If Morrison was put off by her rudeness he didn’t show it. He just got on the bike and started it as Becky got cautiously on behind him.

 

“Gotta sit closer ma’am” Morrison called to her over the sound of the growling engine.

 

“Oh for the love of…” Becky muttered to herself as she scooted forward until she was pressed up against Morrison. A moment later she felt her arms being pulled forward as he grabbed her wrists and joined her hands in front of his taut stomach. At first Becky’s grip was limp but he tugged on her arms again and with a sigh he didn’t hear Becky clung on.

 

“Hold on tight” he called to her as he set the bike moving. The revolver Tessmacher had given him was digging into Becky’s stomach and she was about to make a comment about feeling his weapon when she bit it back. Sighing again she settled in for what would be an awkward ride.





 

Chapter Text

“We’ve got another one incoming!” Sasha called as she spotted the paramedics hurrying another stretcher into the ER. Sasha rushed over to the bed and instantly saw that this was bad, even for a gunshot wound.

 

“Seventeen year old male, gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen, we already gave him three units of A positive but he’s still losing a lot” the paramedic said to her.

 

“Need as much A positive as you can bring me please” Sasha shouted to the ER in general as she pressed her stethoscope against the boy’s chest. “Pulse is thready! I need some help please” she shouted again as she helped the paramedic guide the stretcher over to one of the ER beds. A moment later they lifted the boy onto the bed.

 

“One, two, three!” Sasha said as she and several other nurses who had joined her worked together to tilt the boy onto his side to allow the paramedic to slide the board out from under him. His thin chest was a mess of blood and shredded shirt. Sasha turned quickly and seized a pair of scissors off a cart and quickly cut what was left of the garment away from his torso. As she did her colleagues hooked the boy to the various monitors standing around the bed.

 

“Oh jesus, we’ve got a buckshot wound” Molly Holly said from where she was standing across from Sasha.

 

“Alright, Sasha please get that blood started” Dr. Christopher Nowinski said as he joined them at the boy’s bed.

 

“Yes doctor” Sasha said as she accepted a bag from another nurse. Taking advantage of the IV already placed by the EMT’s she attached the tubing and held the bag high in the air to get the blood flowing quickly.

 

“Alright he needs an OR and he needs it now” Nowinski said. He was turning to start pulling the cart when the EKG suddenly began emitting the steady tone that indicated a lack of heart activity. “Paddles! Now!” Nowinski snapped as he put both his hands down onto the boys ruined chest and began compressions. A moment later a defibrillator cart arrived.

 

“Stand back” Molly told them all as Nowinski adjusted a dial on the machines surface before pressing the two paddles firmly against the boy’s chest.

 

“Clear” he shouted and a moment later the machine gave the loud ‘clunking’ noise that meant it had just discharged. The boy’s body gave a slight jerk and all eyes turned to the EKG, no change. Nowinski waited for the machine to charge before he pressed the paddles against the boy’s chest again and shouted “clear!” once more. Another clunk, another jerk, still no change. “Increase the voltage and lets try again!” Nowinski barked, one of the other nurses adjusted the dial on the defibrillator and the doctor pressed the paddles against the boy’s chest once more.

 

Another charge, and another, and another. After one final attempt Nowinski sagged before hurling the paddles at the defibrillator in impudent frustration. Everyone around the bed had their eyes down. Sasha reached down to detach the blood bag from the IV but didn’t speak. The ER suddenly seemed to ring with silence

 

Nowinski put a forearm against his eyes for a moment before seeming to deflate and looking at his watch. “Time of death, 11:43...let’s get him unhooked please” he said quietly before walking away to another of the ER’s beds. The ER was full to capacity at the moment and all the patients that were awake were staring in horrified fascination at the dead boy.

 

“Let’s get him out of here Sasha” Molly said as she grabbed a sheet from a nearby bed and laid it over the boy’s body. Sasha helped her mechanically and a moment later they covered his youthful face. They then guided the bed to a side room where the body would wait for the medical examiner.

 

Sasha had yet to have a boring shift in the ER but today had been unusually hectic. There had been some kind of shooting at the Guerrero Community Center that day and and the victims had almost immediately begun flowing in. Thirteen in total, none older than 20. Of those thirteen only eight were still alive. And several of those might not survive the day.

 

Sasha was about to leave the side room when she heard murmuring nearby. Turning she saw Molly had her hands clasped in prayer over the boys body. She often did this when she lost a patient and though Sasha was not religious herself she respected the habit. Molly might have been a good baptist girl but what she was doing really had less to do with any kind of devotion and more with coping.

 

Every medical professional who worked in an ER had to find some way to do this. Molly had her faith, some others leaned on their co-workers, and others found less healthy ways to cope. More than one person had ruined themselves with drink while trying to wrestle this particular demon. Sasha had her own unique perspective.

 

She supposed it could be described as armoring herself in cynicism. She told herself that this sort of thing just happened and that tearing herself apart wouldn’t help. This wasn’t untrue but she recognized that her motivation was at least partially based on a desire not to discuss her feelings with anyone she didn’t know intimately. When she did cry, she did so alone in her apartment. When Molly finally did open her eyes she turned to look at Sasha and gave her a weak smile.

 

“Still not comfortable with that are you?” she asked Sasha as she walked around the bed and joined her at the door.

 

“It’s fine” Sasha said flatly. Molly didn’t answer but just smiled again and led Sasha out of the room and back to the ER. The next few hours were not any less stressful than the previous ones had been. They lost two more of the shooting victims though thankfully no more arrived. Sasha was busy almost the entire time and when Molly finally did tell her to take her lunch break around one in the afternoon, she was spent.

 

She was planning to go to one of the on call rooms for a short nap when one of her colleagues approached and said “Sasha, there’s a cop in the waiting area to see you”. Sasha frowned at this. Occasionally police accompanied someone into the ER, either because they were the ones who had brought them in or because they needed to question them. But the cops who had come in with the shooting victims had long since left and there wasn’t any new case that would require their presence.

 

For a moment she thought it might be Bayley and she felt her heart leap at the thought. But no, she decided, Bayley was an extremely busy woman and it would be unlike her friend to drop by unannounced in any case. She also reminded herself that she should probably start thinking of Bayley as her girlfriend and not just a friend. Sighing over her lost nap Sasha checked her appearance in a mirror, realized it was hopeless, and pushed through the double doors that led to the waiting room. She was surprised to find that her friend, Naomi McCray was waiting there holding two coffees.

 

“Hey girl!” she said in a slightly too happy voice. Sasha guessed she knew or guessed how the morning had gone and she was trying to cheer her up.

 

“Hey…” Sasha said tentatively. Her tired mind had instantly jumped to the worst possible scenario. One where Naomi was here to tell her something had happened to Bayley. Then she’d remembered that Naomi would have no reason to be coming to tell her about that, the two women themselves had only known they were dating for a short time. Also Naomi would hardly have been smiling with coffee’s if she was here to deliver bad news.

 

Naomi gave her an exasperated look and rolled her eyes as she said “you forgot we were having lunch today didn’t you?”.

 

Sasha blinked and then said “oh...I ...no no of course I remembered”.

 

“Uh-huh” Naomi said skeptically. Sasha’s poor memory for anything not dealing with medicine was well known among her friends.

 

“I promise I remembered” Sasha lied guiltily.

 

“Should we reschedule?” Naomi asked her.   

 

“No no just...would you mind if we ate here from the cafeteria? I don’t feel up to going anywhere right now” she asked.

 

“Sure” Naomi nodded as her smile returned.

 

Ten minutes later, after they’d paid for their food, they were sitting together on a bench under one of the many trees on the hospital campus. Sasha had taken her hair out of its ponytail to let it hang freely around her face. For her part, Naomi had put on sunglasses and seemed to be basking in the simple pleasure of sitting in the shade.

 

“You look like you’ve had a long day so far” she said to Sasha.

 

“So do you” Sasha said as she made a face at her.

 

“Probably for the same reason that yours has been” Naomi said before taking a bite of her sandwich.

 

“Were you at the GCC?” Sasha asked her using the nickname for the Guerrero Community Center that locals did. She and Naomi were both from Vegas and had both grown up not far from the place.

 

“Yeah…” Naomi said in a tired voice.

 

“You OK?” Sasha asked her.

 

“Yeah, I’m fine...just tough you know?” Naomi said as she stared at her food.

 

“Perfectly” Sasha said as she picked at her fruit salad in it’s plastic container.

 

“I saw your friend Detective Martinez there” Naomi said with the air of someone trying to change the topic.

 

“Bayley was there?!” Sasha asked. She’d spoken much louder than she’d meant to and several passers by turned to look at her.

 

Naomi had leaned away from her in surprise and was giving her a quizzical look as she said “uh...yeah...she was one of the first people on the scene with her partner”. Sasha cleared her throat awkwardly as she looked back down at her salad.

 

She was feeling something new. Of course she’d intellectually understood that Bayley’s job was often dangerous. And she’d worried about her friend before this. But that was worrying about her friend. She was surprised to find how much more intense it was now that she was worrying about her girlfriend.

 

“So...um...is Bayley OK?” Sasha asked in a miserable approximation of a casual tone.

 

Naomi was still looking at her strangely but she answered saying “yeah as far as I know, no officers were wounded at the scene anyway”.

 

“I’m glad” Sasha said, finally sounding like herself again. She just couldn’t deal with the feelings that had just arisen inside of her so she pushed them aside. Before Naomi could respond to her a shadow fell over them as someone approached.

 

“Officer McCray, Nurse Banks, would you mind if I spoke to you?” said a familiar voice.

 

“Father Rey!” both women said happily as they recognized the man. Father Rey, or more properly Father Oscar Gutierrez, was a longtime friend of both women. And indeed he was a friend to a great many people who had grown up in Las Vegas.

 

Rey was a living breathing redemption story. In his youth he’d been one of the most feared gangsters in Vegas. He had helped found the gang known as the No Limit Soldiers. It was during this time that he’d acquired the many facial tattoos that he still had, they made it appear as though he were always wearing a mask.  

 

But when his younger brother had been killed in a confrontation between the No Limit Soldiers and another group called the Latin American Exchange his life had changed. ‘Rey’ meant king in Spanish and the king had vanished from his kingdom, allowing his group to fall apart. Years had passed before he reappeared in Vegas. When he did he’d exchanged his guns for the robes of a Catholic priest.

 

It was widely known that during his time hidden from view he’d become close friends with Eduardo ‘Eddie’ Guerrero, the person for whom the GCC had been renamed. Eddie, like Rey was now, had been a beloved public figure in Vegas. He’d begun as a simple volunteer at the community center before it had been renamed and had wound up as the local patron saint. He was generous and kind and everyone knew that if you needed help you could talk to Eddie. Sometimes this was brokering a truce between two gangs, other times it was putting up an abused kid in the center for a few days, whatever the case he always tried to help.

 

When Rey had returned to the city he’d stepped into this role which had fallen vacant with Eddie's premature death. And he’d been doing it ever since. The GCC was located on the border of what could be called ‘black Vegas’, where both Sasha and Naomi had grown up. This enclave was surrounded on all sides by Hispanic neighborhoods.This led to tension between the two sides and Father Rey was often called upon to mediate disputes.

 

Both Sasha and Naomi had grown up in a Vegas where Father Rey was simply a part of the landscape. His church and the community center were two of the few places where everyone knew they were safe. They were also among the few places where black and Hispanic Vegas could mix freely. Both women had spent many hours as kids playing at the center while Naomi, a Catholic, had gone to mass at Father Rey’s church which was only a few blocks away.

 

Father Rey smiled at both of them as they stood and hugged him. He was a short man, about the same height as them, but somehow managed to convey the sense of being much larger. Today he was clad in clerical black with a cross hanging from around his neck. This and of course his ever present mask of tattoos.

 

“Please sit with us!” Sasha said as she scooted down the bench to make room between herself and Naomi.

 

“Thank you ladies, I know you’re both busy so I won’t keep you long” Rey said as he sat down between them. He didn’t speak right away but just looked from side to side and beamed at them.

 

“What?” Sasha asked with a self conscious smile.

 

“I just remember when I once had to talk to you, Sasha, about sharing the good jump ropes and you, Naomi, about not coloring on the tables” he said in a voice full of pride. His smile spread at the embarrassed looks both woman wore at this comment before he said “and now look at you two? A police officer and a nurse? You’ve done so well and I am VERY proud of you both”.

 

“Aww thanks Father Rey” Sasha said as she felt herself blush. Sasha was a confirmed atheist but she always called Rey ‘father’. A courtesy she wouldn’t have automatically extended. But she figured that if anyone had ever earned the appellation it was the man sitting next to her.

 

“You should both come to GCC sometime to talk to the kids there, it would be good for them to see two girls from the block who made it” Rey suggested.

 

“I’d be happy to” Naomi said. Sasha wasn’t so sure, she was uncomfortable with the idea of being held up as a role model. But she was spared having to answer when Rey’s expression sombered.

 

“But sadly I haven’t come here to talk about such happy things” he said in a heavy voice. Both Sasha and Naomi sat up a bit straighter at this change in tone.

 

“Why did you come here Father?” Naomi asked.

 

“To pray with the boys who got shot today, and for the souls of those who passed” Rey explained. Sasha’s face must have fallen at this because he put a hand on her shoulder and said “don’t look so dejected my child, I know you did everything you could for them”. Sasha smiled weakly but didn’t say anything in response. Rey held her gaze for a few more moments before he turned to Naomi and said “I also came because I heard that you were heading here”.

 

“How did you know that?” Naomi asked.

 

Rey gave her a pitying look before he said “you girls should both know as well as anyone that the streets talk”.

 

Naomi snorted at this but asked “what did you want to talk to me about Rey?”.

 

The priest leaned heavily against the back of the bench at this and sighed. He didn’t speak for awhile before he said “Rey…”. His tone was sad and reflective as he continued “it means ‘king’ you know? It was sinful pride that made me take it up in the first place. And now I bear it, like I bear these tattoos, as a penance. But perhaps...perhaps God was punishing me for my pride today”.

 

“Why do you say that?” Naomi asked as she shot Sasha a concerned glance. Neither woman had ever heard Rey talk like this, he was usually so warm and positive. To hear him so shaken was frightening.

 

“Before I answer I must know, am I speaking to Naomi my friend or Officer Naomi McCray of the LVPD?” he asked her as he turned to look her in the eye. Naomi bit her lip at this. Rey obviously had information he wanted to share that would be very valuable to her as a police officer. But both Sasha and Naomi knew that if it became known that Rey shared his information with the police many of the people who came to him now would start avoiding him.

 

“You know I can’t be just one of those things” Naomi said quietly.

 

“I do...so perhaps it would be better if I were to speak with Sasha, what she did with the information after that would be entirely up to her” Rey said solemnly.

 

“I understand…” Naomi said with a soft smile. She looked at her watch and added “I should probably get going anyway”. She turned to Sasha and said “thanks for lunch Sash”.

 

Sasha smiled at her and said “my pleasure doll”.

 

Naomi stood and then bent down to kiss Rey on his cheek before saying “I will see YOU at Mass, and then we can talk about me coming to talk to your kids OK?’.

 

Rey smiled at her and nodded saying “of course, it’s always nice to see you Naomi”. Naomi gave him a final smile and a moment later she was gone.

 

“It was rude of me to ask her to leave like that” Rey said quietly.

 

“She understands the rules as well as anyone” Sasha said placatingly. Naomi did indeed occupy an awkward position having one foot back in the neighborhood and another in the police department.

 

“Hmm” Rey said sounding troubled.

 

“What’s going on Rey, you said you were being punished earlier. Why?” Sasha asked.

 

“I note you chose to omit the name of our father…” Rey said as he turned and gave Sasha a rueful smile. While he and Sasha had never discussed her beliefs she thought he’d guessed their nature long ago.

 

“Is this really what you want to talk about?” she asked him quietly.

 

“No...no…” Rey said quietly as he looked down. He stayed quiet for awhile before he said “...there is something terrible happening on the streets Sasha”.

 

“I know” she said, remembering that she’d thought something similar a few days ago.

 

“Young men are going out to kill in the name of causes and people they don’t even know. And it’s other young men and women who are paying the price when the bullets fly” Rey said sadly.

 

“What do you mean?” Sasha asked.

 

“The shooting today...it was my fault...god forgive me” he said sounding wretched as he crossed himself.

 

“I’m sure it wasn’t” Sasha tried to reassure him but he held up a hand.

 

“I arranged for a sit down between the Prime Time Players and LAX. They’ve been beefing for a long time and I thought I’d be able to help them work it out like I always have before…” he said before adding quietly “...like Eddie always did”.

 

“You’ve saved a lot of heartache and lives that way” Sasha said.

 

“But it was my arrogance that made me think that I could solve a new problem in an old way Sasha…” Rey said still sounding despondent. He went quiet again for a time before he said “...there is new money flowing into the streets. It’s not drugs and it’s not guns. Some outside groups are offering these boys more money than they’d ever imagined to work for them. And right now they are telling them to eliminate each other”.

 

“Who? Who are these other groups” Sasha asked in a hollow voice.

 

“I don’t know my child...and that is what frightens me” Rey said quietly. Sasha digested this slowly. Though she’d moved away she would always have strong feelings for where she’d come from. The idea that some sinister outside force might be tearing it apart angered her.

 

“Can I tell Naomi this?” she asked Rey quietly.

 

“Perhaps it would be best if you were to get the information to someone else. I don’t want to be the reason why people stop trusting Naomi in the neighborhood. Perhaps your friend Detective Martinez?” Rey suggested. Sasha’s heart jumped as he said this but a quick look told her that Rey had no inkling about Sasha and Bayley’s new arrangement.

 

“Good idea” she said with a thin smile.

 

Rey stood and turned back to look at her for a long moment before he smiled again and said “I meant what I said earlier Sasha, I am very proud of the woman you’ve become. Though I think your grandfather might not have approved of your hair”. Sasha laughed at this, she’d been raised by her grandfather and Ray was right he probably would have hated her magenta hair.

 

“It was nice to see you Father Rey” she said simply.

 

“And you child, sadly now I need to go try to bring some comfort to yet more mothers whose sons won’t be coming home tonight” Rey said heavily as he walked away.

 

Despite the fact that she knew her break was rapidly running out Sasha remained sitting on the bench long after Rey left. She was thinking hard. Her thoughts running down dark paths that she didn’t want to tread. But she knew she had to.

 

She was thinking of the last gunshot victim she’d treated this morning, how he’d died, and of his family. And of Father Rey and the conversations he’d be having soon with parents who would find out their sons had been killed on the blacktop. Like so many before them. She was thinking about how devastating it would be to receive that news suddenly and out of the blue.

 

Despite the fact that she normally didn’t show it Sasha was a person who felt deeply. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to survive receiving news like that. To be happy and secure in life certainties in one moment then to have it all crushed by a visit or a phone call, it would destroy her. She was sure of it.

 

And then she thought about how scared she’d been when she’d first seen Naomi and then upon learning about the situation at the GCC. Both times she’d been nearly overwhelmed by a sudden surge of gut wrenching fear for Bayley. Bayley who was a good, no a great, cop. A cop who would never be happy if she wasn’t out on the streets righting wrongs. Never be happy unless she was doing a job that put her in constant danger. And no one who really loved her would ever ask her to leave it.

 

Sasha reflected on this for the remainder of her shift and then all the way home to her apartment. By then these reflections had resolved themselves into a firm plan of action. And now here she was in her bedroom sitting on her bed staring down at her phone. Even as she did she felt a slight stinging in her eyes.

 

Picking up the glass of wine she’d set on her nightstand she finished it in one gulp. She’d talked to Molly as she’d left work and now there was only one thing left to do. Looking up from her phone she noticed the dress she’d picked out, already picked out, for the barbeque she was no longer going to. It was a bright sunflower yellow, a color she knew Bayley loved.

 

Closing her eyes against sudden moisture in them she snatched up her phone and as quickly as she could she composed a text message to her friend. The woman who had, for an unfairly short time, been her partner. It read:

 

Hey I think maybe going to the barbeque this weekend is a mistake. I’m sorry I pressured you into any of this Bayley. I’m sorry for everything but I think I need some space right now”

 

Her fingers were actually trembling as she finished but she knew that if she didn’t act now she never would. So she stabbed the send button and quickly set her phone on her nightstand without bothering to plug it in. It was as though the phone itself had suddenly become contaminated.

 

She let herself fall back onto her bed staring up at her bedroom ceiling through misty eyes for a few long moments. It wasn’t long before her phone buzzed on her night stand. She had a new text message, a message she knew would be from Bayley. The very idea of reading it opened the floodgates of her tears. And as the phone buzzed once more Sasha rolled quickly onto her side to face away from the phone and gave herself entirely to those tears.






Chapter Text

The brief existence of the Ascension MC ended spectacularly due to two chemicals: natural gas and alcohol. This combination had probably killed others before but it was a first time that Becky Lynch had used them for such a purpose.

 

The long ride to Dudleyville on the back of John Morrison’s bike hadn’t been quite as awkward as she’d feared. Sure she’d been thinking more impure thoughts than usual. But in fairness she had been pressed up against a beautiful man with her arms clasped around his abs, which she could feel through his clothes. But they hadn’t been able to really speak beyond shouting to each other so she’d mostly been left with these thoughts.

 

She’d tried to distract herself from Morrison’s abs and the rest of his anatomy by planning. But this was difficult since she had only the barest details about the group she was here to kill. And she knew absolutely nothing about their ‘clubhouse’. Despite this she’d decided that it was the best place to hit them, less of a chance of missing someone and having to hunt them down.

 

It was about 4 PM when they pulled into Dudleyville and Becky insisted that they check into one of the local motels that catered to roadtrippers. They’d played the happy young couple on their honeymoon and had thus ensured that they got the room they wanted, the one that had a view of a roadside bar behind the motel. The very same place that Tessmacher had indicated served as the Ascension’s clubhouse via a text message.

 

She’d then done her best observe the place from their room but no one came or went during the hour or so that she watched. She was also continually distracted by Morrison, who was clearly uncomfortable simply sitting quietly with Becky around. What a gorgeous annoyance he was. So in the end Becky had decided she needed to get rid of him.

 

She’d racked her brain for something plausible sounding. Eventually she’d hit on the idea of telling him to go check in on the Eight’s labs in the area to see what they knew. She would stay there and continue to monitor the bar and call him if she saw anything important. He’d been reluctant at first but Becky had persuaded him eventually. As soon as he’d roared off on his bike Becky had begun her real work.

 

Loathe though she was to part with her weapons she knew that trying to wear them into the bar would be a bad idea. So she’d shed her holsters and hidden them behind the toilet’s tank, thinking of James Ellsworth as she did. She kept one of her knives however, concealing it in a boot sheath she always wore. She’d then had done her best to clean herself up in the mirror before leaving the room and walking directly across the street and into the bar.

 

The place was relatively full which made her think it wasn’t actually the Ascension’s clubhouse but just a bar they’d set up shop in. She’d noticed four motorcycles parked out front with red and black paint jobs and spikes on their frames so she assumed that meant the group was here. Still she had to be sure. So she sidled up to the bar where a muscular woman was pretending to clean a glass but was really studying Becky.

 

“I’ll take whatever you have on tap and some information please” Becky said as she placed some money on the bar.

 

“I’ve got the beer, if you want some info go read a damn book” the bartender said as she took the money, didn’t bother giving Becky her change, and then pointedly handed her a bottle of beer.

 

Becky didn’t react beyond giving the woman a smile and saying “very cute, but there's more in it for you if you help me”.

 

“Oh yeah?” the bartender asked as she began pretending the clean the glass once more. The message was very clear, fuck off.

 

“Yes indeed, you make a nice bit of money and all you have to do is tell me if the owners of the bikes that look like child’s drawings are in here” Becky said as she jerked her head toward the crowd behind her. This caught the bartender’s attention.

 

Without looking up from her glass, though she did stop faux-cleaning it, she asked “you got business or beef with them?”.

 

Becky thought about her answer for awhile before asking in turn “does it matter?”.

 

“It matters because I don’t want anyone encouraging the the little pissants or bringing more of their stupidity into this shit hole” the bartendeder said bitterly. Becky wasn’t sure if she’d heard more scorn for the bikers or the bar itself. Of course this could have been a trap but she had a hunch it wasn’t.

 

“You could say I’ve got a problem but I don’t intend to let it linger” was all she allowed. The bartender looked over at her now, really seeing her for the first time.

 

Finally she said “lets see the money”.

 

“A woman after my own heart” Becky said with a smirk as she took what was the last of her cash, about a grand, and set it on the bar. She was careful to keep her hand over it though. A sudden idea struck her and she added “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to help me rid you of two problems”.

 

“What's the other one?” the bartender asked suspiciously. Becky didn’t answer but just sent her eyes roving around the bar and matched the gesture with a finger.

 

The bartender thought about this for a time but eventually asked “what do you want?”.

 

“Three things…” Becky said as she began counting on her fingers ”...one, my information. Two, leave the keys with me when you close up, and three show me where your gas line comes into the building”. The other woman’s eyes widened slightly at this last request but she nodded eventually and Becky lifted her hand from the stack of money.

 

“Here…” the bartender said as she slid a ring of keys across the bar “...closing time is usually at two. The group you’re looking for are all over in the far corner booth you can’t miss them. And the gas line is in the kitchen behind the big wire rack”.

 

“Right you are boss” Becky said sarcastically. Without asking for permission she reached over the bar and snagged a bottle of whiskey. The bartender scowled but didn’t protest as Becky winked at her and walked away leaving her beer.

 

She spent the next few hours getting steadily drunker with the members of the Ascension MC. Morrison could never have pulled this off himself. But a woman bearing free booze and seemingly eager to meet some ‘big strapping bikers’ could go places he couldn’t. It was almost sad how easily Becky had been able to ingratiate herself. Some eye batting, speaking in a slightly higher voice than normal, and her accent seemingly did the trick.

 

She’d been at it for less than ten minutes before she was sitting, again seemingly happily, in the lap of the groups leader who she’d learned was named Konnor. The other members of the group were named Viktor, Tito, and Heiden. After they’d finished her bottle the group had ordered another and then another after that.

 

Becky was a hardened drinker and could go round for round with most anyone. And she wasn’t quite as drunk as she was acting. Her goal was to just get the bikers to drink themselves into blackout and it wasn’t hard. Only twice did one of them suggest leaving but a girlish pout each time took care of it. This pattern took them well into the night and indeed past closing time.

 

Becky could feel her head spinning despite the fact that she had been careful not to drink nearly as much as the others. She could also feel her own eyes getting heavy but she forced herself to keep going. And eventually, around three in the morning, the last member of the Ascension that was conscious put his head down on the table. A moment later the only sound in the bar was their collective snoring.

 

Becky gave it another whole minute before she stood unsteadily. She gave a sudden wild wobble and had to plant her feet shoulder width apart to keep from falling. Cursing herself for wearing boots with heels she made very slow progress as she walked across the bar and found her way into the kitchen. Looking around she found the gas line quickly but couldn’t quite reach it behind the shelf.

 

She gave a sigh that turned into a hiccup half way through. Taking hold of two of the shelf’s supports she began rocking it back and forth awkwardly. Eventually she was able to send it falling forward with a surprisingly loud crash as the containers and jars on it’s shelves tumbled to the floor. Becky spared a moment to stumble back out into the bar to check the bikers hadn’t awoken and found them snoring away.

 

Returning to the kitchen she was able to push the now empty shelf out of the way and access the gas line. A few hard stomps from her boot knocked it loose from the wall and sent Becky plummeting down into a pile of spilled food. Swearing to herself she clambered to her feet and then stood silently until she heard the hiss of escaping gas. Grabbing a nearby jug of cooking oil she then lurched her way to the women’s bathroom.

 

Becky knew that causing an explosion from a gas leak was harder than movies made it seem. It took a long time for the gas to build to levels where it would explode so she needed to take certain steps. The first thing she actually did was throw up in one of the sinks. After she’d wiped her mouth with a paper towel and spat a few times she took her jug of oil and proceeded to dump it all over the inside of a stall.

 

On her way out she withdrew her lighter and ignited it. No instant explosion, Hollywood always got that wrong. She tossed it over her shoulder into the stall and was rewarded with the sound of a fire bursting to life. Despite the fact that she knew she had time she still did her best to hurry out of the bar via the back entrance, being equally careful to make sure she locked it from the outside using the keys she now had before doing the same in front. She didn’t remember much about her slow progress back to her motel room. But when she did manage to stumble into it she was met by an anxious looking John Morrison.

 

“Where have you been?” he asked sounding half annoyed and half concerned. He walked over to her and caught her as she nearly fell sideways again and added “I’ve been texting you all night! I thought maybe those other guys got you”.

 

“Oh they did” Becky said. She made no effort to leave his strong arms and instead just gave a bleary smile as she grabbed his wrist and began pulling him toward the bed.

 

“Hey, what are-” he started to say.

 

“HUSH...you beautiful idiot…” Becky said in a tired voice as she began fumbling with her pants button and zipper. Morrison finally seemed to understand what she was after and a moment later she let out a laugh as he picked her bodily up and set her on the room’s dresser. A moment later their lips met.

 

They never got past that part however as the whole motel suddenly rocked when an enormous explosion split the night sky. Their window was filled with a momentary flare of light followed by a view of the roaring flames from across the street. Morrison turned and hurried over to the window to stare at the destruction. This left a disappointed Becky still sitting on the dresser looking annoyed. She’d been startled sure but she didn’t see why that had to halt things entirely.

 

“What the hell was that?” Morrison asked still staring in horrified fascination out the window. Becky’s head swam as she got down off the dresser causing her to think that maybe it was for the best nothing had happened. She was now certain that she simply wouldn’t have acquitted herself well.

 

“I’d say it was an explosion” she mumbled as she took two steps and fell face down onto the bed. She dimly heard Morrison ask her something else but then she was out cold.




Becky awoke the next morning with a terrible hangover. She thought that she’d maybe had worse ones but couldn’t recall them at that moment. She opened her eyes to find that she was still fully dressed and face down on the bed. She closed her eyes again almost instantly as the morning sun coming in through the windows aggravated her headache.

 

“Oh sweet suffering christ” she moaned as a fresh wave of pain coursed through her. She squeezed her eyes shut again and might have fallen back asleep for all she knew. She didn’t remember anything else at least until the sound of the door opening woke her.

 

“I got you something” Morrison said as he strode past the bed and set a shopping bag down on the dresser. There was a rustling noise as he dug around in the bag, and that seemed to spiral directly to the center of Becky’s headache.

 

“Will ya cut that racket out!” she snapped, though her voice was muffled as she was speaking almost directly into the mattress. She regretted speaking so harshly because this too caused an explosion of pain in her head.

 

“Here” was the only response she got from Morrison. Cracking her eye open again she saw that he was offering her two aspirin and what looked like some kind of sports drink.

 

“Oh for the love of…” Becky grumbled as she forced herself to roll over and then to sit upright on the side of the bed. This very nearly caused her to vomit but a few seconds of heavy breathing fought the nausea down. Morrison stepped back but was still holding the items to her as she climbed shakily to her feet.

 

“Are you sure-” he began to say.

 

“Quiet…” Becky croaked as she lurched over to the dresser and looked down into his shopping bag. Finding the aspirin bottle she pulled the lid off and unceremoniously poured at least half of its contents into her mouth before turning back around.

 

“Whoa there” Morrison said but Becky ignored him as she snatched the sports drink from his hand and drank it all down in a few seconds. She thought for a moment she’d overdone it as her stomach gave another violent lurch but she managed to control it again. When it had passed she let herself sit heavily down on the bed again.

 

After a short silence she said “thanks” begrudgingly.

 

“You’re welcome” Morrison said, still sounding a bit concerned about the incident with the aspirin. He walked back over to the bag and deposited the two pills he’d been holding into the bottle before he turned to face her and leaned against the dresser. “That was some trick” he told her.

 

“What?” Becky grunted as she ran her hands over her face. She felt like absolute shit but she knew that she’d have to get back to Vegas before she could really do anything about it.

 

“With the Ascension I mean” Morrison said.

 

“Had nothing to do with it, must have been a gas leak or something” Becky said before laying back on the bed and closing her eyes.

 

“Oh come on” Morrison chided her.

 

“Look...it’s probably best for you if YOU take credit for it anyway. Aren’t you out here trying to earn your little patch?” Becky groaned.

 

“Take credit for YOUR work?” Morrison asked, putting a slight emphasis on ‘your’.

 

“Like I said Johnny, a tragic accident” Becky whispered as she rolled onto her side and drew her legs up to her chest. Right now all she wanted was to rest her head and this conversation wasn’t helping.

 

Morrison didn’t talk again for awhile before he said “you think you’ll be ready to go back soon?”. Becky privately doubted it but she also did want to get back to Vegas as soon as possible.

 

“Just let me rest me head for a few minutes and then we can go” Becky mumbled.

 

“Should we talk about what almost happened last night?” Morrison asked her. He was obviously referring to their kiss.

 

“No” Becky murmured. She didn’t really recall much after she’d left the bar but she did remember that. Some small part of her actually was disappointed they’d been interrupted. But it was hard to access that through her hangover.

 

“I’m going to go eat some breakfast, I’ll be back later. You want anything?” Morrison asked her. From the sound of it he was at the door now.

 

“A bullet” Becky grunted. Morrison made an amused noise at this and then left. For her part, Becky fell asleep again. This time she awoke feeling marginally better, or at least her headache had receded enough for her dry mouth to be her most pressing concern. Getting to her feet was easier this time and, using the empty sports drink bottle, she drank enough water that she had to pee almost instantly. She was just leaving the bathroom when Morrison returned. This time he was carrying a plastic box.

 

“Thought you might like something OTHER than a bullet” Morrison said as he held the box out to her. Furrowing her brow Becky looked suspiciously at the box for a few moments before she took and opened it slowly. Inside was a muffin.

 

“Uh...thanks” Becky told him as she stared down at the muffin. She was feeling a bit hungry and on reflection realized she hadn’t eaten since early the previous day. She lifted the baked good to her nose experimentally and sniffed it detecting the scent of oranges.

 

“It’s not poisoned” Morrison joked. Becky gave him a look before she took a bite. Her stomach still wasn’t fully settled but the food still felt good.

 

“You’re spoiling me Johnny” she said around the mouthful of food.

 

“Well you did me a favor didn’t you?” he asked. Becky didn’t answer as she was too busy eating. The muffin was gone a few short bites later and then Becky stood, brushing crumbs from her shirt.

 

“Where are me guns...and me coat for that matter?” she asked Morrison who responded by pointing to the rooms closet. Becky crossed to it and saw that her duster and her holsters had been hung neatly in the closet. She realized then that he must have taken the coat off her while she slept and found her weapons behind the toilet. This struck Becky as a little weird but kind of sweet. “You’re an odd one for a biker” Becky said as she stepped into the closet to put on her holsters.

 

There was a short pause before Morrison asked “what do you mean?” in a tentative voice. Becky frowned, it sounded almost as though he was offended by the comment.

 

She poked her head around the closet door and said “not many bikers I’ve met who would buy a girl headache pills and a muffin”.

 

“Oh…” he said sounding relieved “...well I just try to be a good guy when I can”.

 

“Right....then why the hell are you trying to join the Aces and Eights? They aren’t exactly angels over there” Becky asked as she belted her duster closed, it was still covered in food stains but there was no helping that.

 

“Who says I am?” Morrison asked.

 

“Oh yeah, a real badass who hangs up a girls coat” Becky teased as she closed the closet and turned back to him.

 

“You ready to go?” he asked her.

 

“Aye, lets go. I need a bloody shower when I get back” she said.

 

“Why don’t you just take one here?” Morrison asked.

 

“And change into what? Or are you just eager to see me naked” Becky said with a raised eyebrow. She would have sworn he actually blushed at this but he didn’t say anything as he stood and opened the door to the room.

 

“After you” he said.



About an hour and a half later Morrison was guiding his bike into its place at the far end of the line in front of the Aces and Eights clubhouse. The pair had stopped once on their way into the city and Morrison had called ahead to alert the bikers of his impending arrival. So as he shut his bike off the lookout, Corbin once again, sent a quick message on his phone.

 

A few moments later the door to the clubhouse burst open and a beaming Bubba Ray came out onto the street followed by Devon, Tessmacher, and several other bikers. “There he FUCKING is!” Bubba bellowed as he threw his arms wide and enveloped Morrison in a hug.

 

“We heard all about it, nice work kid!” Devon said as he slapped Morrison on the back. The younger man tried to speak several times but each time someone else interrupted him with more excited talk.

 

“Brooke…” Bubba Ray said to Tessmacher “...take care of Finlays girl, we’re taking our newest brother inside to get patched!”. At this he wrapped a thick arm around Morrison’s shoulders and led him inside the clubhouse.

 

“Go on inside Corbin, I’ll take over out here after we settle up” Brooke Tessmacher said to the giant on his bike.

 

“You sure secretary?” he asked.

 

“You’ve been out here for a long time Baron, you’ve earned it” Tessmacher said. Corbin looked from one woman to the other before he nodded, stood, and headed into the clubhouse leaving the two women alone.

 

“So I suppose congratulations are in order” Tessmacher said as she folded her arms and gave Becky and appraising look.

 

“Save them for your boy, this is his moment” Becky said dismissively. She wasn’t saying this out of a sense of modesty. Ordinarily she made sure EVERYONE knew when she’d done a job. But in this case she wasn’t sure how her boss would react if he learned she’d been running an errand for the Aces and Eights. So she’d decided to push all the credit off onto Morrison.

 

“Oh I’m sure it was all Johnny…” Tessmacher said dryly. It was clear that she believed no such thing.

 

“I barely helped, he’d have been better off without me” Becky said.

 

“Did he at least bring my gun back?” Tessmacher asked in a resigned voice.

 

“As far as I know”

 

Tessmacher nodded but didn’t speak for awhile. She seemed to be debating something internally. Eventually she said “leaving aside whatever Morrison’s role in this was-”.

 

“It was all him” Becky cut in.

 

“-This was really only a minor skirmish” Tessmacher said, as usual she ignored Becky’s snarky comments “...The Disciples are still out there and even here in Vegas there are big things happening”.

 

Despite herself Becky was interested so she asked “what sort of big things”.

 

Tessmacher looked at her as though deciding whether she should answer. In the end she shrugged and said “I suppose you’ve earned an answer, you aren’t getting paid officially for the job MORRISON did after all”.

 

“Why would I be?”.

 

Tessmacher ignored this as she said “that guy you met yesterday, the one you pissed off and who now wants to kill you? His name was Nunzio Maritato. You know who he works for?”.

 

“Should I?” Becky asked.

 

“Probably...at least before you piss people off” Tessmacher said, for the first time showing the barest hint of a smile.

 

“I can’t possibly be expected to keep track of them all”

 

“He works for the Samartino family” Tessmacher said. Becky felt her heart sink at this news. Even she wouldn’t be flippant about that group. And she might have just pissed them off. This must have shown on her face because Tessmacher held up a hand and said “fortunately for you he’s just an errand boy”.

 

“Why was someone from the Samartinos meeting with you lot?” Becky asked.

 

“THAT…” Tessmacher said as she held up a finger “...is information too valuable to just give away. But I might be willing to trade it”.

 

“For what?” Becky asked nonplussed.

 

“Oh I’m sure someone as high up in the Irish as you are will come across something” Tessmacher suggested with a searching look.

 

“You want me to spy on them?” Becky asked incredulously.

 

“No, of course not…” Tessmacher said with a vigorous shake of her head “...only to pass on any little tidbits you might have in exchange for some from me. Information is the real power in what we do Becky. Now I sense you’re a friend worth having given how well you handled ‘helping’ Morrison on his errand. But I think you’re smart enough to realize I’m a friend worth having too”.

 

Becky stared at the other woman for a long moment. What Tessmacher was saying was true. And it couldn’t hurt her to have a contact in the Aces and Eights, especially someone who seemed to be as high up as Tessmacher. On the other hand if it became known she was passing ‘tidbits’ about the Irish on to others things could get deadly for her.

 

“I’ll think about it” she said eventually.

 

Tessmacher smiled thinly at this before she drew a scrap of paper out of her pocket and handed it to Becky saying “Ambrose’s current location is on there, I’d move quickly though since no one ever knows when he’ll move again. My number is on there as well in case you ever decide you want to talk”.

 

“Awww and here I thought you were asking me out” Becky said sarcastically.

 

Tessmacher ignored this and said “as for your car...we couldn’t find the actual parts though we did teach the people who stole them a painful lesson”. Becky could well imagine what that ‘lesson’ had been like. But this did nothing to help her current situation.

 

“So you just want me to walk then?” she asked Tessmacher in an annoyed tone.

 

“No, we can’t give your car back but we can give you this” Tessmacher said as she took a few steps down the bike line and pointed to a motorcycle. “It belonged to one of our former members, Conlin Delaney, but he was killed not long ago”.

 

Becky cast a critical eye over the bike before pointing to its fuel tank and fenders and saying sarcastically “really? Shamrocks?”. The bike was indeed emblazoned with them.

 

Tessmacher shrugged and said “no accounting for Colin’s taste”. She glanced at the bike for a few moments before she asked “can you ride one of these?”.

 

“I can” Becky said tersely. She’d ridden a motorcycle before but she wasn’t as confident riding the chopper style bikes that the Eights preferred.

 

“Then take this too and we’ll call it square over your car” Tessmacher said as she handed Becky a small bundle of bills.

 

“Yeah, OK” Becky said in response to the other woman’s questioning look.

 

“I hope to hear from you soon Becky, thank you for dealing with that problem for us” Tessmacher said. She stepped back as Becky got onto her new bike and kicked it to life. A moment later she was roaring off with a lot to think about.



Chapter Text

Though it was completely foreign to her nature, Bayley Martinez had been glum for two days. Ordinarily such a bright and chipper presence both at work and in general it had been some time since she’d been able to really smile. She’d managed to grin here and there and even to laugh, but she hadn’t really FELT these things. She’d merely been doing what was expected of her.

 

It was funny but just a few days ago she’d thought she couldn’t be happier. She’d honestly believed that that feeling would last forever. Her best friend, and the woman she now realized she loved more than anyone else, had ended their months long ambiguous relationship and had suggested they begin dating. Bayley honestly couldn’t recall a time when she’d been happier then in that moment.

 

But all it had taken to shatter this too perfect world that she’d been planning for herself was a single text message. Even if she deleted the message from her phone she knew she’d probably remember it forever:

 

Hey I think maybe going to the barbeque this weekend is a mistake. I’m sorry I pressured you into any of this Bayley. I’m sorry for everything but I think I need some space right now”

 

After she’d sent this message Sasha had gone dark. Bayley had sent many messages and tried to call her many times but no response. She knew that Sasha was getting the messages, she was still getting the notifications on her phone, but still nothing.

 

What made this worse for her was that in addition to her deep hurt she was also confused. They’d gone months as ‘friends with benefits’ with Bayley never once suggesting that they be anything else. She had known that Sasha would never be comfortable with more unless SHE decided on it. If she hadn’t been certain Bayley couldn’t understand why she’d raised the idea of them dating.

 

And what made THIS worse was that Bayley still had to do her job while she was dealing with this emotional turmoil. Moreover she and Alexa had finally hit a big break in their investigation. Carmella had come through for them and had messaged Alexa with an address in an out of the way trailer park. If she was on the level they’d finally located Dean Ambrose.

 

And so now they were sitting in their car, parked two blocks away from the trailer Carmella had indicated. They had been staring at it for a long time now. They’d been careful to park on the other side of a large tree for cover but Bayley couldn’t shake the idea that maybe they’d been made. Or maybe it was just her desire to not be here right now and at home in her bed.

 

Her partner Alexa Bliss had obviously been concerned for Bayley ever since she’d learned about the text message. Alexa knew Sasha through Bayley and had always gotten along with her but Bayley could tell her partner was angry with Sasha on her behalf. While she appreciated the sentiment she wished Alexa didn’t feel that way. Bayley couldn’t shake the idea that maybe SHE had done something wrong to scare Sasha away. And if that was the case then Alexa’s anger would be totally misplaced.

 

“Why couldn’t we be doing this stakeout in January” Alexa muttered as she wiped a sheen of sweat from her forehead. She then took a long drink from her water bottle.

 

“Hmm yeah” Bayley said distractedly. She was still staring at the trailer where Ambrose was supposedly living but this didn’t take much of her brain capacity. Unfortunately this meant that Bayley was perfectly capable of both watching the target AND dwelling on Sasha. A moment later she felt a soft hand on her arm and looked over to see Alexa looking at her with deep sympathy in her eyes.

 

“Bay, she’ll come around...I know it” Alexa said with a reassuring smile.

 

Bayley looked away quickly at this to swipe at a rebellious tear in the corner of her eye. Sniffing loudly she said “thanks Lex, I really appreciate you saying that”. Even without turning she could tell Alexa was still staring hard at her but she couldn’t bring herself to turn and look at the other woman. She was afraid she’d start crying again and was still embarrassed about an incident where Alexa had found her doing just that in the bathroom at the precinct. Alexa, who no doubt knew exactly what had just gone on in Bayley’s mind, helpfully changed the subject.

 

“So what’s your take on the task force they’re forming?” she asked Bayley. It took Bayley a moment to catch up to her but then she remembered. The ‘task force’ Alexa was referring to had to be the new joint effort between the LVPD, Clark County Sheriff's Department, Nevada Highway Patrol, and the FBI to combat the dramatic uptick in violent crime in Vegas.

 

“Oh you know how these things always are Lex, the Feds will come in waving their dicks around and we’ll just have to smile and nod until City Hall finds some sort of ‘victory’ that lets them declare mission accomplished and then everything will go back to normal”.

 

“No this is different…” Alexa said as she shook her head “...I hear that it’s going to be locally led, someone from inside the department”. Bayley made a skeptical sound at this so she pressed on saying “it will probably be someone from the major case squad or organized crime”.

 

“It will have to be someone who is ‘politically acceptable’” Bayley said scornfully, actually making air quotes for maybe the first time since the nineties.

 

“And what's wrong with that? We want to make sure we have the right person representing the department” Alexa said. Despite their close friendship the two women tended to differ when it came to their ideas on department politics.

 

“If the Mayor had any balls she’d give it to Sheriff Austin right away” Bayley said. She was referring to the current Clark County Sheriff Steve Austin. It was only in the last few years the decision had been made to separate the Sheriff’s Department from the LVPD proper, formerly they had been joined in the person of the Sheriff. Now there was a Sheriff and a Commissioner of Police.

 

Alexa didn’t react to this beyond making a small noise that was somehow both disapproving and skeptical at the same time. Steve Austin was probably as close to an old west Sheriff as there could be in the modern age. To some cops, like Bayley, he was a hero and almost a cult figure. This was due to his no nonsense take no prisoners attitude. He was very much a man of action who had no patience for bureaucratic red tape. To other cops, like Alexa, he was a dangerous maverick. Whose tendency to play fast and loose with rules often put him at odds with prosecutors and other law enforcers.  

 

“I don’t know why you like that cowboy” Alexa muttered.

 

“Because we need some more cowboy cops right now” Bayley insisted.

 

“No…” Alexa said patiently “...we need more good cops, like YOU, who follow procedure and prioritize doing things the right way. Not more rednecks who reach for their gun’s first”.

 

“You’re hopeless” Bayley muttered, but for the first time in what felt like awhile she did manage a genuine grin. She was going to say something else when something caught her eye. A woman on a motorcycle had just pulled up in front of Ambrose’s trailer and was now dismounting from her bike.

 

“Who is that?” Bayley asked as she took a pair of binoculars off the dash and peered through them at the newcomer.

 

“Someone whose stylist is lying to them” Alexa said dryly. It was true, the woman had hair that was a kind of luridly orange-red that Bayley couldn’t personally imagine anyone WANTING to have.

 

“She’s dressed like a steampunk bounty hunter” Bayley said as she continued to follow the woman with her binoculars.

 

“You think she’s a bail bondswoman?” Alexa asked prompting Bayley to sigh. Alexa was probably the smartest person she knew but sometimes she despaired for her.

 

“I said a STEAMPUNK bounty hunter” Bayley said exasperatedly.

 

“What is that?”

 

“Honestly what do you even do in your spare time?” Bayley asked her as she kept watching. The red head had stopped outside the trailer and was on her phone.

 

“I READ” Alexa said defensively.

 

“Remind me to get you some graphic novels then…” Bayley said distractedly as her brow furrowed in curiosity. She stared harder at the woman and saw that the odd duster jacket she was wearing seemed to be covered in food stains.

 

“Think she just couldn’t bother to get it dry cleaned or something” Bayley said as she handed the binoculars to Alexa. Her partner took them and peered through them for several seconds.

 

“If she’s here to see Ambrose then she’s probably someone worth noting” Alexa eventually said. Bayley agreed but didn’t say anything because the woman was now heading toward the stairs leading up to the trailer door.

 

“This is it, we can confirm if Ambrose is there or not”  Bayley said as he grabbed their camera and aimed it’s long lense in the direction of their quarry. No one spoke for several long moments as the red head looked around her before banging on the trailer door. Bayley found that she was actually holding her breath as she waited and watched. A moment later a latch in the door slid aside and the redhead had a conversation with someone inside the trailer.

 

“Come on…” Alexa breathed.

 

“Look at the way that coat is resting on her hips, she’s packing” Bayley said as she began taking pictures of the woman. Alexa made a noise of acknowledgement but didn’t speak. It was clear she was focusing on the trailer door with all her might.

 

“Got you, you son of a bitch” she breathed a moment later. The door had opened and for a brief few seconds a man with stringy red hair and a scruffy beard of the same color was revealed in the doorway. Bayley began frantically taking pictures but only managed a few before the door slammed closed once more.

 

“Well that’s that…” Bayley said as she sat back in her seat.

 

“I’ll call the precinct and get a surveillance unit out here to keep tabs on him” Alexa said as she took out her phone.

 

Later that day they were back at their desks filling out the forms necessary to ensure that a surveillance unit would stay with Dean Ambrose for as long as necessary. Or rather Alexa was. Bayley was, notionally, trying to learn who the mystery red haired woman had been. And she’d gotten as far as opening the LVPD’s arrest record database. But progress had stopped there.

 

Despite having resolved not to do so she hadn’t been able to resist sending Sasha another text message. This was similar in tone to previous ones though Bayley thought she was doing a better job of keeping them non-accusatory now. It read:

 

Sasha I’m FINE if you don’t want to date REALLY but will you please talk to me?! I can maybe handle losing you as a gf but not as my best friend! I love you”

 

She had debated for a long time whether or not to include that last part but she felt she had to. She couldn’t omit it without feeling like she was being a little dishonest. She only came out of her own head when she realized that Alexa had been talking to her.

 

“I’m sorry?” Bayley asked in a distracted voice.

 

“I said if the orange hair isn’t a new thing then it shouldn't be too hard to identify her if she’s already in the system” Alexa said.

 

“Oh, right...good thought” Bayley said as she finally began the process of searching the database open on her computer. Alexa looked concerned and like she was going to say something else when someone shouted at them both.

 

“Bliss! Martinez! In here!” Captain Sean Morley called from where he stood in the doorway to his office. Bayley and Sasha exchanged concerned glances before they both stood and began walking. The Captain’s tone suggested they’d done something to get on his bad side but neither woman could think of what that might be.

 

“Shut the door” Morley said to them as they stepped into his office. Bayley did so and then joined Alexa where she stood in front of the Captain’s desk. Morley stared quietly at them for a long time. Long enough that both women were becoming seriously concerned.

 

When the silence had become intolerable Bayley cleared her throat and said “sir?”.

 

Morley still didn’t speak for several more seconds. Eventually though he asked “any idea why I got a phone call from the MAYOR’S OFFICE about wanting to meet you two?”.

 

Bayley exchanged a startled glance with Alexa before she said “no sir” in a voice of genuine puzzlement. During her whole career, and she’d been decorated several times, Bayley had NEVER been personally noticed by City Hall.

 

“And you Bliss?” Morley asked Alexa who started at this as though he’d screamed at her.

 

“No sir, I can’t think of any reason why” Alexa said in an unusually small voice.

 

Morley gave them a look that suggested he was trying to work out for himself if he could believe either detective. A call from the Mayor’s office to a Captain was odd since most business that might involve the two of them would be coordinated by the Mayor’s police liaison or the Commissioner's office. And Bayley had never heard of the Mayor’s office calling two detectives in.

 

“Well I suppose it wouldn’t be like either of you to have done something so stupid that the Mayor’s office would be involved. At least not without my having heard of it first” Morley finally allowed grudgingly. Bayley thought it likely that he was upset because this unusual circumstance was disrupting his comfortable world of bureaucratic malaise.

 

“Yes sir” was all Alexa could think to say.

 

“First thing on Monday you two are supposed to be over at City Hall to meet with the Mayor herself, don’t be late’ Morley said sternly.

 

“No sir” Bayley said. She thought about pointing out to Morley that they were the leads on an active investigation and thus might need to be doing actual police work on Monday morning. But she knew that Morley would slap her down for this and that Alexa would disapprove.

 

Their Captain stared at them for one final long pause before he looked down at some paperwork on his desk and said “alright, get the hell out of here”.

 

“Yes sir” Alexa said automatically as she and Bayley filed out of the office. Bayley was turning toward their desks but Alexa put a hand on her arm and said ‘come with me”. Bayley gave her a confused look but moved to follow Alexa as the other woman led her into the women’s bathroom. Bayley frowned, they only did this when they had something to discuss they didn’t want anyone else in the squad to overhear. They were the only two women on this floor so in effect this was their private meeting room.

 

“Lex...what's going on?” Bayley asked her partner. But Alexa held up a hand and proceeded to look under the door of each stall to confirm they were alone. When she had she came back to Bayley and look directly up into her eyes.

 

“What I WANT to be doing right now is talking with my partner about why the MAYOR wants to have a meeting with us...this is HUGE Bay” Alexa said in a tone that told Bayley that she really did want to be discussing that and was impatient about not being able to.

 

“But you’re not going to?” Bayley asked questioningly.

 

“No…” Alexa said and now she sounded a little less confident though she didn’t break their gaze. “You’re working tomorrow aren’t you?” she finally asked Bayley.

 

Taken aback by this Bayley said “uh...yeah...it’s my one weekend shift this month”.

 

“Not anymore…” Alexa said in a tone of finality “...I’m covering the shift for you”.

 

“Any reason why?” Bayley asked though she thought she knew.

 

“You KNOW why” Alexa said.

 

“Lex...you don’t have to-” Bayley started to say but Alexa cut her off.

 

“Yes I do! First, I can’t have you distracted by how sad you are on the job Bay. You KNOW that” Alexa said in a firm tone. For a single moment anger flashed in Bayley and she thought about snapping something like ‘none of your business’ at her partner but she deflated quickly. She knew Alexa was right, her head hadn’t been in the game.

 

“I... “ she tried to say but couldn’t manage to continue.

 

“But MORE importantly…” Alexa said in a softer tone as she took Bayley’s hands in hers “...you are my FRIEND and I can’t stand to see you hurting like this”.

 

Bayley felt tears beginning to sting at her eyes but managed to speak in a steady voice asking “what do you expect me to do?”.

 

Alexa squeezed her hands as she said “that barbeque is on Saturday right? You’re going to get ready like you’re going to it and then you are going to go over to Sasha’s apartment. You are going to knock on her door and keep doing it until she answers. And if she doesn’t you’re going to stay outside her door until she at least talks to you!”.

 

Bayley was having a harder time holding back her tears now as she said “I...I can’t”.

 

“YES...YOU...CAN…” Alexa said in a strong voice “...you know that just sending text after text isn’t a real attempt at fixing this. You need to at least try this! One way or another you NEED closure”.

 

Bayley felt her lip quiver as she managed to say “...OK” before she couldn’t hold the tears back any longer. As they began to fall Alexa took her in her arms and hugged her tight.

 

Thanks to this conversation with Alexa, and more importantly her offer to cover Bayley’s shift, Bayley found herself putting on the dress she had previously planned to wear to the barbeque with Sasha that saturday. She’d been so giddy at the prospect at the time that she’d actually picked the outfit out the night after she and Sasha had decided to date. She took her time dressing, making sure that everything was perfect. She then took a comparable amount of time over her hair and makeup. Bayley knew that what she was really doing was stalling. Putting off the moment where she would have to grab her bag and get into her car. But despite her best efforts that moment did eventually come.

 

And so an annoyingly short time later she found herself sitting in her car in the parking lot of Sasha’s building. She was waging a fierce internal struggle with herself and feeling annoyed for having to do so. Bayley had kicked down doors, engaged in shootouts, and even once talked a jumper from the edge of a high rise. Yet she thought she’d rather do ANY of those things again than get out of her car and walk up the steps to Sasha’s door.

 

At that exact moment her phone buzzed. Grateful for any justification for delay she took it out of her purse and read the message:

 

“You can do this Bay! I know things will work out! <3 <3”

 

The message was from Alexa. Bayley beamed down at her phone. Her insides were still tied in knots but this simple encouragement meant the world to her.

 

So she took one final deep breath and got out of her car, making sure to bring her gift with her. Without hurrying or dragging her feet she made her way to Sasha’s door. She hesitated for only a moment when she got there. When this passed she closed her eyes, counted to ten, and then knocked on the door to her friend’s apartment.

Chapter Text

Charlotte Flair was breathing hard and fast as her body revelled in the sensation. She and her partner had achieved a near perfect rhythm. Move and reaction coming in a perfect and unbroken succession. This was thrilling, no exhilarating, it made Charlotte feel alive. Until she got whacked hard on the side of her head.

 

“You weren’t paying attention, you let me work you into a pattern and then weren’t ready when I broke it” Steve Blackman, Charlotte’s hand to hand combat instructor, said in his usual robotic tones. If anyone but him or perhaps Joe and Nia, who Charlotte occasionally trained with, had presumed to box the side of her head she would have had them killed.

 

But Charlotte took her training very seriously and appreciated Blackman’s thoroughness. He could very well have been the most dangerous man in the western hemisphere and in contention for the most dangerous man in the world. He had more high band blackbelts than he had fingers and, frankly, he was well past the point where he could be measured by belts. He’d been working for Charlotte’s father as an assassin for years before Ric Flair had ordered him to begin training his daughter.

 

Charlotte wasn’t sure if he enjoyed this duty, nor was she sure that he disliked it. The strongest display of emotion she’d ever seen from the man was a raised eyebrow. People often described Charlotte as being icy, but that would make Blackman the surface of Pluto. Charlotte often wondered WHY he chose to work for the Flair family. He didn’t seem to have any hobbies or interests or even any kind of life outside of killing or teaching others how to do so. So what he might actually use his considerable salary for was beyond her ability to guess.

 

Whatever the case it was now his job to keep Charlotte at her most dangerous. And Charlotte intended to see that she got her money’s worth. Without preamble Charlotte attacked again. She launched an elbow at Blackman’s face before transitioning the movement into a crouching leg sweep. When Blackman lept over this she used a kip-up to regain her feet before lashing out with her long legs.

 

Blackman easily avoided these kicks and launched a withering counterattack of punches so fast that Charlotte could barely see them. Charlotte did her best to avoid as many as she could but ended up being forced to take others on her shoulders. She saw an opportunity when he through one punch too many and she latched onto his arm. She’d been intending to hip toss him over her body but of course Blackman was two steps ahead. He simply rolled sideways over her back and landed on his feet on the other side. Before she could react or even straighten he kicked her hard in the gut. Charlotte grunted loudly as she folded over and spent a few moments gasping for air.

 

“You’re too cerebral, you’re planning this like a campaign. It’s slowing your reaction times and showing up in your eyes” Blackman said. As ever he looked as though he’d been doing nothing more demanding than reading quietly.

 

“Well I’m not sure how to simply STOP thinking” Charlotte said sharply as she massaged her stomach where he’d kicked her. Blackman didn’t seem to have any more thoughts to offer on the matter and he simply folded his arms and waited. Charlotte was gathering herself to attack once more when the door to her training room opened. Dana entered the room looking as though she had something important to discuss.

 

Charlotte looked up at the wall clock and debated. She knew how important these training sessions were to both her safety and to her father. The fact that they were tremendously good exercise was a side benefit. On the other hand if she didn’t make the decisions then Flair family business in Las Vegas would stagnate. She’d been at it for almost an hour and decided that this would have to do for the day.

 

“Thank you Mr. Blackman for your assistance today, I’ll expect to see you again tomorrow” Charlotte told Blackman. He didn’t react beyond simply staring at her for a few seconds and then leaving the room.

 

Dana watched him go before saying “I have that briefing that you requested Ms. Flair, would you like it in here or in the conference room?”.

 

“I’ll join you in the conference room in a few minutes” Charlotte said as she dabbed at the sweat on her face with a towel.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair” Dana said before turning smartly and leaving the room.

 

Charlotte continued to wipe her face for several moments before she called “Nia” towards the open door. A second later her bodyguard stepped into the room.

 

“Besides you and Joe, who are the best bodyguards in the world?” Charlotte asked her as she tossed the towel in a hamper and began her cool down stretching.

 

Nia thought about this for awhile before she said “the best in the world is probably that Lesnar guy who works for the McMahons”. Charlotte reflected on this for a few moments before she nodded and conceded the point.

 

“Besides him” Charlotte said.

 

“Hmm...probably Dave Batista or Matt Morgan” Nia said. Charlotte was familiar with both names, they were both legends in personal protection.

 

“Don’t they both already have jobs?” Charlotte asked.

 

“I believe so”

 

“And in any case they would both want well more than a million for their services” Charlotte said as she continued to stretch her muscles.

 

“You’re looking for a new bodyguard?” Nia asked suspiciously. If Charlotte had been then this would mean replacing Nia herself.

 

“Not for me personally, but I believe I’ll need to have another one available soon” Charlotte reassured her. She wouldn’t dream of replacing Nia. Her bodyguard might not have the reputation of some others but Charlotte felt that she was as good as any. Besides which, she’d become a valuable part of her advisory staff.

 

This seemed to mollify Nia as she said “so you want someone who is available and affordable?”.

 

Charlotte made a face as she straightened slowly and said “I will pay for quality Nia, but I would prefer not to pay premium prices”.

 

“Perhaps I could give better advice if I knew who you wanted protected Ms. Flair” Nia suggested. This seemed fair to Charlotte.

 

“I’m keeping the Bella’s girl around, Summer, it seems likely that I will need a ‘release’ in the future and she performed admirably” Charlotte explained. It was rare that she met a working girl that was both up to her physical standards and able to satisfy her more esoteric tastes.

 

“And after that gets out she’ll become a target” Nia said knowingly. It was true, simply being in proximity to Charlotte could make others a target. And if it became known that Summer was Charlotte’s new plaything some foolish or reckless person or group might go after her. Nia’s brow furrowed as she thought for awhile.

 

“And you won’t want someone who might get ideas with your girl” Nia said.

 

“Naturally”

 

“Then I’m thinking that Kia Steven’s is the best option” Nia suggested.

 

“She’s the one they call Kharma right?” Charlotte asked.

 

“Yes, because she always comes back for you in the end” Nia explained. Charlotte mildly disapproved of such a theatrical affectation but she could overlook it.

 

“How good is she?” Charlotte asked.

 

“VERY good, probably almost as good as I am except she’s older so she’s not as fast” Nia said contemplatively. One thing Charlotte admired about her was that she seemed to have no trouble setting aside her own ego when required, but also that she knew just how good she was.

 

“Very well” Charlotte said as she began to leave the room. “Tell Dana to make the arrangements to bring Ms. Stevens in, I will join you both in the conference room after I have showered”.



Twenty minutes later Charlotte was sitting at the head of the conference room table once more. Her hair was still damp but she would attend to it later. She was very eager to hear what Dana had come up with. Though the Flair’s certainly did have muscle of their own to call on, Charlotte had big plans for Las Vegas and bringing in all the men she’d need would be costly. So it was imperative that they locate a reliable source of local muscle.

 

“Please begin Dana” Charlotte said with a wave of her hand. Her assistant nodded and adjusted her glasses before she activated the room’s monitor and synced it with her tablet.

 

“What information our early research has gleaned points to five local groups as having the strength and organization to serve our organizational needs...” Dana said, sounding exactly like she might if she were delivering an earnings report in a corporate board meeting “...the Aces and Eights Motorcycle club, the Latin American Exchange, the Vegas Irish, the Prime Time Players, and the Golden Monkey Tong”. As she spoke each group’s name a new folder appeared on the monitor.

 

“Do you have a recommendation as to which we should approach?” Charlotte asked.

 

“I believe that of these groups only two: the Prime Time Players and the Golden Monkey Tong are viable options at this point. Our sources within the Samartino family indicate that they are already engaged in talks with the Aces and Eights. And for obvious reasons I believe the Irish and the Latin American Exchange will gravitate toward the McMahons and La Eme respectively” Dana said.

 

“Tell me about the last two groups” Charlotte said as she steepled her fingers and stared at the screen. Dana nodded and a moment later she’d discarded the other files and opened the one labelled ‘Prime Time Players’.

 

“The Prime Time Players are actually an amalgam of several smaller African-American street gangs based in what is locally called ‘black Vegas’. They came together under the leadership of a man named Montel Vontavious Porter, known locally as MVP. They focus mainly on street level narcotic sales, weapons running, and protection rackets though their larger goal seems to be to more efficiently resist inroads by the various latin gangs” Dana said, sounding as though she were narrating a documentary.

 

“And the tong?” Charlotte asked.

 

“The Golden Monkey tong runs similar rackets to those of the Prime Time Players but focused in Chinese neighborhoods. We don’t know much about their leadership or their long term goals. They recently dealt with a power struggle that left a brother sister pair in charge of the organization. Their names are Tian Bing and Lin Byron” Dana answered.

 

“Byron?” Charlotte asked.

 

“They are half siblings Ms. Flair” Dana corrected herself.

 

“What DO we know about them?” Charlotte asked as she continued to stare directly ahead at the screen. As Dana had detailed each gang to her the monitor had displayed various photos and documents relating to them.

 

“They seem to be cautious and conservative by nature. They levied no new taxes when they took over and haven’t tried to expand their reach. On the other hand they dealt swiftly and violently with attempts to expand into their territory when they appeared weak” Dana answered her.

 

“And this Montel Porter?” Charlotte asked after a moments reflection.

 

“Former Marine Corps. He did some time after leaving the military for an armed robbery in Florida before relocating here. It seems he was the one that brokered the agreement between the three largest African-American gangs to form the Prime Time Players. He has a reputation for being ruthless but also cunning, something that the former gangs had lacked” Dana said as she brought up a picture of the man next to a file.

 

Charlotte studied the screen for a long time. This Montel Vontavious Porter seemed to be an impressive man. And if he was as clever as Dana’s information suggested then he would likely not be as easy to bully into line as the Bellas had been. This was a perennial issue in organized crime of course, the more talented a potential lieutenant the more likely problems would arise in controlling them.

 

Charlotte thought for a few long moments. Of course she could simply try to bring them both into her organization but that would be costly. There was also no way to predict how two such organizations would coexist, even under her strong hand. It was possible they might become more trouble than they were worth.

 

“Bring this Mr. Porter to me here, tell him I have a business proposition for him” she said finally as she continued to stare at the man’s photo.



To Charlotte’s pleasant surprise they heard back from Montel Vontavious Porter that very same day. She’d sent a messenger to his hideout and the man had returned right away with the news that Porter would be waiting on Ms. Flair’s convenience. That convenience had been scheduled for a time less than ten minutes from the present.

 

“Can you handle this alone or should we call Joe back?” Charlotte asked Nia as she waited in the main sitting area of her penthouse. She’d decided that an overt display of wealth might be more useful for a man like Porter than the more subdued environment of her office.

 

“Yeah, as long as the twins are there with Dana. I’ll have a few men hidden around the penthouse as well” Nia said confidently.

 

“Very well” Charlotte said as she sat on one of the crescent shaped couches in the room. She checked her guns one last time before buttoning her jacket and waiting. She didn’t have to wait long. There was a beeping sound on the penthouse’s main door before it opened to admit two men.

 

They had the air of guards, though not the kind Charlotte would want. One was huge, Charlotte guessed over six and a half feet tall. He was wearing baggy jeans, boots, and a basketball jersey. His companion was only a few inches taller than Charlotte herself and was clad in dark jeans, a leather jacket over a white tank top, and a hat. Both men had expensive looking jewellery all over their bodies.

 

“Damnnnnn this place is LUX” the shorter man said as he turned in a slow circle and stared around the penthouse. He was grinning as he said this and Charlotte saw that several of his teeth were gold.

 

“Yo Jay! Yo Jay! Look we can see the hood from up here!” the big man said as he and his partner hurried over to the panoramic windows and pointing off into the distance. They had ignored Charlotte completely and were still gesticulating and talking excitedly when a sharp whistle from outside the doors they’d just came through cut them off.

 

“Yo playa’s what y'all doing? Acting fools like that. Yo don’t you know where you are?” came another man’s voice. A moment later an older man wearing a white suit entered. Charlotte guessed he was in his late sixties but he had sharp eyes that seemed to be drinking in every detail of the room. The first two men turned and looked suddenly abashed.

 

Assuming what they seemed to think were properly deferential poses they both turned to look at Nia though it was the shorter man who spoke saying “oh we’re sorry Ms. Flair ma’am, we didn’t mean nothing by it. We was just...ah...admiring your crib”.

 

“All of you shut up” came a sterner and much more authoritative final voice. It’s owner stepped through the doors a moment later to reveal the man whose photo she had seen earlier, Montel Porter. He was a powerfully built man with buzzed hair and and odd black marks under his eyes like those that athletes wore. He was dressed more soberly than his companions wearing dark cargo pants, a form fitting athletic top, and what looked to be military style boots.

 

In stark contrast to his men he wore no jewellery, just a pair of dog tags. His eyes, unlike those of the older man, only gave the penthouse a passing glance. A moment later they swiveled onto Charlotte and stayed there with palpable intensity. Charlotte, who couldn’t recall the last time someone’s eyes had disconcerted her, found this to be interesting. Though, as ever, she chose not to speak first.

 

It seemed as though Montel Porter also knew the value of not speaking first as he made no effort to break the silence either. It became an unspoken contest between them. It might have stretched on interminably if they had been alone. As it was, though Charlotte’s staff had been trained to be used to this, Porter’s men were not.

 

“Please allow me to extend our most sincere gratitude for reaching out to our organization Ms. Flair” the older man in the white said. “My name is Teddy Long and I am Mr. Porter’s lawyer among other things” he added by way of introduction and then said “these two are Shad and JTG, they are Mr. Porter’s assistants-”. Charlotte kept an inward twinge of bemusement at this description off her face. Porter shot Long a scathing look that cut him off, it was clear that even if Long didn’t his boss understood what advantage had just been lost

 

“Welcome, Mr. Porter” Charlotte said quietly. Now that she had an advantage she intended to press it to establish her position. “I appreciate your coming when called” she added. She was certain that Porter would have picked on her choice of words but he didn’t react beyond a slight thinning of his mouth.

 

“Yo we-” the larger of Porter’s two guards, Shad, started to say but he was cut off by his boss.

 

“YOU asked for me to come here Ms. Flair, I assume you want something” Porter said as he took a seat at the far end of the couch that Charlotte was sitting on. Charlotte also noted his use of the word ‘asked’. Charlotte thought about slapping him down again but decided it would be petty.

 

“To make you a lucrative offer Mr. Porter” Charlotte said in a voice she’d allowed to warm by one or two degrees.

 

“Is that so?” Porter asked.

 

“Indeed...Dana?” Charlotte said without breaking eye contact with Porter.

 

“Our analysis indicates that your organization nets roughly half a million dollars a year from your various endeavours. We are willing to offer you double that amount to work for the Flair family” Dana said from where she stood behind Charlotte. Porter didn’t speak right away though his companions seemed excited by the prospect.

 

“And are you so sure that I want that?” Porter finally asked her. His companions looked scandalized at this but he ignored them.

 

“Don’t you?” Charlotte asked. In response Porter leaned back against the couch and gave her an appraising look.

 

“Money is useful only as a means to an end...I’m not where I am because I blindly chase dollar signs” he said in a tone of explanation that bordered on insulting.

 

“And what does motivate you then Mr. Porter” Charlotte asked cooly.

 

“In a word...power” Porter told her simply. When Charlotte didn’t answer beyond a raised eyebrow he added “why do you think I put in all the work it took to create the Prime Time Players?”.

 

“Enlighten me please” Charlotte told him.

 

“In this city we are outnumbered eight or even ten to one” Porter said, Charlotte assumed ‘we’ meant the residents of black vegas. Porter paused and seemed lost in a reverie for a few moments before he added “LAX is just the biggest group. The LWO, the Mexicools, and any number of others are constantly circling us just looking for a chance to pounce”.

 

“And so?” Charlotte asked.

 

“The Prime Time Players are another means to an end, as seperate groups we stood no chance but together we can not only protect our own but even strike back!” Porter showed some passion as he said this, the first Charlotte had seen from him. His eyes seemed to blaze just a bit more now as he turned to look directly into Charlotte’s eye’s and asked “so let me ask YOU something Ms. Flair, how does our working for you help me do those things?”.

 

Charlotte kept any reaction from her face but privately she increased her estimation of the man. She’d been expecting to hire the usual greedy attack dogs that often served as organized crime muscle. Instead she’d been handed something more than she’d been bargaining for. Provided that Porter was telling the truth of course.

 

She didn’t speak for a long time, just cooly studying Porter. After almost a minute had passed she asked “perhaps there is a more beneficial arrangement that we can reach them Mr. Porter?”. He didn’t answer he just folded his thick arms and raised his eyebrows at her. Charlotte had to take a moment to fight down a momentary surge of anger at this impudence before she turned to Dana and asked “how many reliable sources of weapons do we have in the United States”.

 

Dana scanned through her tablet for a minute before saying “Over two hundred Ms. Flair”.

 

“And those capable of supplying high end equipment?” Charlotte asked as she looked directly at Porter again.

 

“Forty-nine”

 

“Tell me Mr. Porter, would defending your homes be easier with ready access to military grade hardware?” Charlotte asked him in a voice of earnest curiosity. This seemed to impress Porter though he took his time answering.

 

“Tell me how it would work” he asked eventually.

 

“In addition to the figure that Dana quoted my organization will agree to supply you with high end weapons at regular intervals. In return your men will become MY men and will be employed in protecting Flair interests around the city”. Before she continued speaking she added “and as a way to counterbalance the dip in the amount of men you’ll have to guard your homes I will make a small group of experts available to not only guard the area but also to train your men”.

 

“What? Do you have a team of drill sergeants on hand? Porter asked her sarcastically.

 

Charlotte said nothing for awhile but just held his gaze before asking “do we have a deal Mr. Porter?”. He thought about it but in the end Charlotte saw his answer on this face before he said anything.

 

“We do...Ms. Flair”

 

“As to my team of experts Mr. Porter...have you heard of the Bullet Club?”





Chapter Text

Sasha had decided that what she needed most was a short break from it all. She’d spoken to Naomi and after filling her friend in on the details of her situation, she’d asked if she could stay with Naomi for the weekend. Lately she’d been doing nothing at home but moping and she felt like getting away might help. Naomi, being the great friend she was, had been happy to have her.

 

As a uniformed police officer Naomi was one of the few people Sasha knew whose job was just as stressful as her own. Sasha knew how much she valued her time off and really appreciated her allowing this invasion of her personal space. She’d resolved that she’d try to be as helpful as possible to her friend while she was staying with her. Naomi had only protested for a while before acquiescing, who didn’t want someone else to clean for them after all?

 

Friday evening had been fun for both women as they’d watched TV and drank too much wine. Most of that Saturday had also been peaceful. Naomi had gone to work and Sasha had deep cleaned her friend’s house finding that the menial tasks distracted her nicely. It was only when Saturday evening came around that the shit had hit the fan.

 

Sasha had been thinking of ordering some takeout for the pair of them when the front door to Naomi’s house had burst open and Naomi's voice had called “Sasha?! Are you here?”. Sasha had hurried into the entryway to find her friend half assisting and half carrying another woman over the threshold. Before she could ask any questions she’d recognized the other woman, her name was Cameron Lynn.

 

Sasha, Naomi, and Cameron had all grown up together on the same street. They’d been best friends throughout their childhoods and through high school, but their paths had diverged there. Though they had all grown up on the block Sasha and Naomi had both always planned to leave. Cameron, as it had turned out, had no desire to do so.

 

And so while Sasha and Naomi had both gone off to UNLV, Cameron had remained in the neighborhood. While Sasha had been in nursing school and Naomi studying criminal justice, Cameron had been bouncing between a series of dead end jobs. And by the time Sasha and Naomi had both began their careers Cameron had gotten mixed up in a former local gang known as Cryme Tyme.

 

Because she’d moved away from the area Sasha had naturally seen less of Cameron than Naomi over the ensuing years. She’d done her best to stay in touch but she’d simply had less and less in common with Cameron as time had passed. Without realizing it she and Naomi had begun to unconsciously exclude their former friend and form a separate group of their own. And when they had all gotten together Cameron’s resentment of the pair of them had made the occasions awkward and uncomfortable.

 

All of this flashed through Sasha’s mind along with a sudden upsurge of guilt as she watched Naomi drag Cameron through the door and then kick it closed. Cameron looked very bad. She was pale, her face and arms were covered in a sheen of sweat, and a trail of fresh vomit dribbled down her front. Sasha had been a nurse for long enough to instantly recognize the signs of someone who had overdosed. Without speaking she hurried over to Naomi’s couch and tossed the pillows aside before she hurried back to help move Cameron.

 

“Let’s put her on the couch. Do you have a first aid kit in the house?” Sasha asked Naomi as she took half of Cameron’s weight across her shoulders. As she did she almost winced at the stench coming off the other woman, more than vomit it smelt like Cameron might not have showered for days.

 

“Yeah I’ll get it” Naomi said as they eased Cameron down onto the couch. Taking hold of Cameron’s wrist as Naomi left the room Sasha didn’t need to count to tell that the pulse was racing. A quick palm on Cameron’s forehead told her that she was burning up. A groan drew Sasha’s eyes and she saw that Cameron was still barely conscious.

 

“Cameron?! Cameron?! Hey it’s Sasha! Look at me baby! Eyes up here!” Sasha said loudly as she snapped her fingers in front of Cameron’s face. When all she got in return was a gurgling moan she actually began slapping Cameron’s cheek. She needed to keep Cameron awake if she could or she might stop breathing or even go into cardiac arrest.

 

“Here’s the kit!” Naomi said as she rejoined Sasha and set a large first aid kit on the coffee table. Sasha turned and threw open the kit’s lid before examining it’s contents. It was surprisingly well stocked for a home kit. Pulling a pair of gloves out Sasha pulled them on before grabbing a stethoscope and placing it against Cameron’s chest.

 

“Her heart is going to burst if we don’t get her to a hospital!” Sasha said as she began digging for her phone.

 

“Nooooo” Cameron breathed suddenly. Both Naomi and Sasha looked at her startled, they hadn’t realized she was lucid.

 

“Cam we need to get you some treatment or you could die” Naomi said soothingly down to Cameron as she took one of her hands.

 

“Nooooo...they....kill me…” Cameron murmured thickly.

 

“She’s delirious” Sasha said dismissively as she raised her phone. To her surprise Cameron found the strength to reach out and push it out of her hands.

 

“No!” she gasped in a stronger voice.

 

“Cameron I can’t treat you here! You need a hospital!” Sasha said as she reached for her phone only for Cameron to seize her hair and pull hard enough to make her wince.

 

“No!...if I go there they’ll kill me” Cameron insisted, sounding much better than she had seemed just a few moments before.

 

“Easy Cameron, let Sasha go, who's going to kill you?” Naomi asked as she helped break Cameron’s grip on Sasha’s ponytail.

 

“The...the…” Cameron gasped in a voice that was suddenly much fainter. It seemed she’d used all her strength to grab Sasha.

 

“Who Cam?!” Naomi asked. But Cameron didn’t answer as she suddenly began making gurgling and choking noises.

 

“Get her onto her side!” Sasha snapped as she and Naomi managed to roll Cameron onto her shoulder just before a fresh wave of vomit erupted out of her mouth. Sasha managed to jerk mostly out of the way, though some still got on her shirt. Naomi’s couch and rug got most of it.

 

“Damn it Cameron I-” Naomi began to say in an annoyed voice but she was cut off as Cameron began to convulse.

 

“She’s having a seizure!” Sasha spat as she held Cameron pressed firmly back against the couch with one arm and tried to maneuver the corner of a pillow into her mouth with another. She certainly didn’t want Cameron to bite the tip of her tongue off but she also wasn’t going to risk her fingers by trying to make sure it was out of the way. Thankfully the seizure only lasted for a few moments.

 

As Cameron’s body stopped convulsing Naomi asked “is she…?” but couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence.

 

“Cameron?! Cameron?! Hey! Cameron can you hear me?” Sasha shouted at her once more. Cameron had stopped shaking but a quick check of her neck told Sasha that she had no pulse.

 

“Naomi get an ambulance here now!’ Sasha barked as she pulled Cameron back onto her back and began CPR.

 

“Sash you heard her, what if-” Naomi began to say but Sasha cut her off.

 

“Naomi if she doesn’t get medical help now she WILL die here on this couch. Leaving aside anything else do you really want either of us to have to explain how a dead body ended up on your couch when we could have called for help?” Sasha snapped as she kept compressing Cameron’s chest.

 

“You’re right” Naomi said as she took out her own phone and dialed 9-1-1.



Sasha rode with Cameron in the back of the ambulance to her hospital (the closest one) while Naomi followed in her car. When they arrived she quickly briefed Dr. Nowinski, who was once again in the ER that night, and then stood aside as she watched the active duty personnel rush Cameron away. She stood with her arms wrapped protectively around herself for awhile before heading to the nurses locker room and putting on a fresh scrubs top.

 

Naomi arrived not long after and they spent an anxious several hours in the waiting room. Sasha could probably have gone back and checked on Cameron but she wasn’t on duty and thus wouldn’t be allowed to help treat her. In any case hospital policy prevented her from assisting in the care of a loved one. She wasn’t certain if Cameron counted as one of those in her life anymore but she knew the hospital wouldn’t appreciate the distinction if one existed.

 

It was about two hours after they’d arrived at the hospital when one of Sasha’s coworkers came to get them. Naomi had been dozing on Sasha’s shoulder but she was alert the moment Sasha shook her. They were then led further back into the hospital and too the room where Cameron was now resting. Sasha took the chart off the end of the bed and studied it as Naomi went to hold Cameron’s hand.

 

Her brow furrowed as she read. Sasha had seen some pretty stunning things in her time as a nurse but this was exceptional. Cameron had overdosed on crack, something Sasha had suspected, but the sheer amount that had been found in her system was enough to raise Sasha’s eyebrows. Whatever Cameron had been involved in it clearly hadn’t involved healthy living.

 

She was still reading when Naomi broke the silence “do you think she meant it?” she asked.

 

“Meant what?”

 

“That she’d get killed if we took her here?” Naomi asked quietly as she stared down at Cameron’s unconscious form.

 

“Maybe she believed that, but the alternative was she died at your house” Sasha said trying to reassure her. It didn’t seem to work as Naomi’s expression remained grave.

 

“She’s been mixed up in some bad stuff lately Sash, worse that the usual shit” Naomi said sounding rueful. Sasha knew her friend well enough that she could tell that Naomi was blaming herself for this. Naomi had always been the protector of their group, looking out for Sasha and Cameron when they were kids. Sasha suspected that this instinct helped make her a good cop as she’d just expanded it to encompass everyone around her.

 

“I didn’t know...we....haven’t talked in awhile” Sasha said regretfully/

 

“I know…” Naomi said as she looked over at Sasha and gave her arm a squeeze “...but don’t beat yourself up Sash, you’ve been really busy”.

 

“Yeah…” Sasha said quietly. She’d been ‘busy’ recently wrapped up in her ongoing personal turmoil about the nature of her relationship with Bayley. She quickly pushed this thought aside as going down that rabbit hole would simply distract her now.

 

“Do you think she’ll be OK?” Naomi asked her.

 

Sasha shook herself out of her reverie and said “she should be fine physically but if she keeps doing what got her here than this treatment won’t matter much”.

 

“Yeah… I know” Naomi said.

 

“You said she’d been mixed up in some unusually bad stuff…” Sasha said. She didn’t inflect it as a question but knew Naomi would know what she meant.

 

“She’s been seeing this guy named Rodney Mack...really violent and a hot head. I’ve brought him in personally a few times” Naomi said as she turned to look down at Cameron once more.

 

“I wish I could say I was shocked that Cameron was seeing a bad guy” Sasha said quietly. It was true, Cameron’s life could have been measured by her string of terrible relationships.

 

“Yeah but this guy is the worst. He’s a thug for the Prime Time Players. Not street trash either he’s pretty high up” Naomi said, it was clear she wasn’t really listening to Sasha. “She was actually excited about it...thought she’d made it but…” Naomi added before trailing off.

 

“He the one that got her on rocks?” Sasha asked. Cameron had been into party drugs since she’d been in high school but Sasha hadn’t ever known her to use the hard stuff.

 

“Yeah that and meth” Naomi said.

 

“How long has that been going on?”

 

“Probably as long as they’ve been together so…I don’t know...a couple weeks? Maybe a month and a half?” Naomi said sadly. Sasha was about to respond when Cameron suddenly inhaled heavily through her nose and a moment later her eyes fluttered open.

 

“Where the hell-” she asked as she looked around.

 

“Take it easy” Sasha told her as she moved around to the other side of her bed from Naomi and checked the monitors. “You’re in the hospital, we had to take you here or you would have died on Naomi’s couch” she explained. Cameron’s eyes widened at this as they began racing around the room.

 

“What the fuck? Yo I told you no hospital bitch!” she tried to snap but her voice was still too weak for that. She looked down and saw Naomi holding her hand and jerked it away. Naomi looked hurt at this but recovered quickly.

 

“I know…” Sasha said soothingly “...but we weren’t just going to let you die girl”.

 

“Yo I ain’t yo girl! You fucking stuck up bitch” Cameron said as she tried to sit up before being held down by Naomi and Sasha.

 

“Cameron you need to calm down, or you’ll tear out your IV and then your meds will stop and trust me you don’t want to be off your pain meds right now” Sasha told her firmly.

 

“Yo get off me, I gotta get out of here” Cameron said sounding more frantic as she struggled weakly against the other two women. Sasha looked over at the EKG and saw that Cameron’s heart rate was increasing.

 

“Cam, calm down-” she started to say.

 

“Don’t call me that! We ain’t friends!” Cameron said as she began to thrash limpy in her bed in an effort to escape.

 

“Alright then Cameron Lynn, if you don’t calm down an alert is going to go off out at the nurses station and in a moment a whole team will be in here. If you keep fighting after that they’ll sedate you!” Sasha said harshly, drawing a reproachful look from Naomi. She clearly thought Sasha was lashing out due to Cameron’s comment but this wasn't true. She just knew how you had to deal with belligerent patients.

 

This seemed to get through to Cameron as she sagged in the bed before saying in a defeated tone “like it even matters...I’m dead no matter what now thanks to you bitches”.

 

“You’re welcome for saving your life” Sasha said dryly drawing another sharp look from Naomi.

 

“No you aren’t!...” Naomi said firmly “...you’re safe here”.

 

“Fucking so?...” Camera asked hotly “...you gonna follow me around forever once I get outta here?”. Naomi didn’t answer but Sasha knew that Cameron had a point.

 

“Who is trying to kill you Cameron?” Sasha asked her.

 

“What the fuck do you care? You ain’t from the hood no more” Cameron asked her angrily as she glared at Sasha.

 

“I care because I’m your friend” Sasha said patiently. She didn’t let it show but Cameron’s words had stung her more than she would have expected.  

 

“Yeah whatever bitch, good enough friend that you never come around and think you’re better than I am” Cameron muttered scathingly.

 

“I have never thought that” Sasha said in a voice she kept perfectly calm only with great effort.

 

“Whatever bitch...why don’t you just fucking leave? At least Naomi stayed in the hood even if she is a fucking cop. You don’t belong with us anymore” Cameron told her in a voice full of venom.

 

“Hey! Chill out OK!” Naomi said, quickly coming to Sasha’s defense.

 

“Yeah you can fuck off too cop, you ain't much better than the fucking wannabe white girl stuck up bitch over there” Cameron said as she glared into Naomi’s face. This remark stung Sasha deeply. She was of mixed heritage and many of the taunts she’d received as a girl had been about that fact. They had always hurt her then even if she’d learned not to show it. Cameron, who had been her close friend, knew this of course and it was doubly wounding that she had gone right to it now.

 

“Alright…” Sasha said tightly as she fought back a surge of temper “...I’ll go”.

 

“Sasha” Naomi said imploringly, but Sasha was almost out the door by the time she got the two syllables out.

 

As the door closed behind her Sasha forced herself to take a few steadying breaths. She knew that Cameron was really just another scared patient lashing out like they often did. But that didn’t make the words sting less. Maybe it would have been different if she’d been part of Cameron’s treatment team. But as it was Sasha just started walking and eventually found herself out in the waiting room once more.

 

Naomi joined her about half an hour later. She had clearly been looking for Sasha and when their eyes met Sasha could tell that she hadn’t fared much better from her conversation with Cameron than Sasha had. Then again she hadn’t run out like a pouty child. Sasha was already annoyed at her own reaction.

 

“I tried to get her to tell me more about who she’s so scared about but I didn’t make much headway” Naomi said as she sat heavily next to Sasha.

 

“Yeah” Sasha said not really hearing Naomi.

 

“Just something about the Prime Time Players being caught up in some big secret thing called ‘Project: Andre’ and that if they even think she could have talked they’ll kill her” Naomi said, she too was clearly speaking mostly for herself.

 

Something about this caught Sasha’s attention. She knew who the Prime Time Players were of course, she even had several relatives who were part of the gang. But this wasn’t what had her attention as she turned to ask “Project Andre? What are they super villains now?”.

 

“I don’t know, it sounds like the kind of thing that a banger would make up to sound more important than he actually was. It’s probably her boy friend just talking shit” Naomi said though Sasha got the feeling that she might be trying to convince herself of this as much as Sasha.

 

“You going to try and do anything with the information?” Sasha asked her.

 

“Not really much I can do, I guess I could tell your friend Detective-” Naomi cut herself off quickly as she shot a worried glance over at Sasha. She’d almost said Bayley’s name, something she’d been avoiding around Sasha. Sasha had felt her stomach tighten at the near mention as well but she tried to downplay it. She didn’t want Naomi to know how much just hearing Bayley’s name was still affecting her.

 

“Yeah that might be a good idea, maybe she can investigate it” she said in a terrible approximation of a casual voice.

 

“Yeah, maybe” Naomi said, sounding like she was regretting opening her mouth at all.

 

Sasha was quiet for awhile before she asked “can we go back to your place? It’s pretty obvious that Cameron doesn’t want us here anyway”.

 

“Yeah…” Naomi said sadly as she looked back in the direction of Cameron’s room. She seemed to take a moment to steel herself before saying “...let's go get my car”. And so, leaving their former friend, they left.

 

That night was a lot less fun than the night before had been for Sasha and Naomi. They both were up early the next morning after having not slept well. They did their best to share a pleasant breakfast but in the end Naomi had offered to drive Sasha home before eleven. Sasha had left her car at her apartment when she'd left on Friday.

 

When Naomi finally stopped in Sasha’s parking lot she leaned over and gave her friend a big hug and said “I’m sorry our weekend went crazy, maybe we can try again soon”.

 

“It’s fine girl, and that sounds great” Sasha told her as she hugged her back. A moment later she’d gotten out of the car and was waving to Naomi as she drove away.

 

It was odd. Sasha had been looking forward to getting back home with some relish. She loved Naomi dearly but living in close proximity with her friend for two days had been enough to remind Sasha why she so loved her own space. But now that she was actually hear she almost got out her phone to call Naomi back. All she’d done in her apartment recently was circle think about Bayley. The prospect of going back there was daunting.

 

Still it was that or stand out in her parking lot forever. So she made her way slowly up the stairs to her door. When she rounded the final corner from the staircase she was surprised to see something waiting for her on her doorstep. Laying in front of her door was a small neatly wrapped package and an envelope.

 

She instantly guessed that the gift must be from Bayley. To her surprise this idea made her feel happier than she had in a long time. For many days the only feeling’s she’d been able to summon about Bayley had been sadness over what might have been. But here she was suddenly almost giddy over the idea of a gift from her.

 

Deciding to open the box first she carefully untied the ribbon around it and lifted the lid. Inside, nestled in purple tissue paper, was a framed photograph of her and Bayley together. They were both laughing as they smiled at the camera and Sasha recognized it as being from their trip to Denver together. She found herself beaming at the memory of that weekend as she stared down at the picture.

 

Carefully replacing the picture in the box she tucked it under her arm and picked up the envelope. It was addressed to her in Bayley’s handwriting. Opening it she withdrew a small note written, oddly, on a folded sheet of notebook paper. Unfolding it she read:

 

Sasha,

I waited for you for three hours today. I saw your car out in the parking lot so I know you were home. But I guess you just didn’t want to talk to me. I want you to know that I’m not mad at you. You were clear that you wanted space and I didn’t respect that. I’m sorry. I’m also sorry that I was so eager to be something more that I ended up losing you as my best friend. But I get it and I hear what you are telling me, I’ll go away.

 

I will always miss you and love you Sasha. Thank you for years of amazing friendship and memories that I will cherish forever.

 

Bayley Martinez.

Chapter Text

Bayley had thought that after her saturday morning she would once again be in a sadness spiral for days or weeks. She’d been surprised when she realized that while she was certainly sad, she now felt a kind of clarity that helped her push forward. Sasha had made her position abundantly clear when she’d left Bayley standing on her doorstep for hours. There was no ambiguity left, they were no longer going to be a part of each others lives.

 

Clarity or not though, about the last thing Bayley wanted to be doing this monday morning was heading over to City Hall. Ordinarily she would have been at least a little curious about being singled out by the Mayor but not today. Having to take extra care about her hair, makeup, and clothing hadn’t been how she would have chosen to start this first week of the rest of her life. Her post Sasha life.

 

For once she hadn’t argued with Alexa about who would drive when the other woman had arrived at Bayley’s apartment. She’d gotten there bright and early so they could make it over to City Hall with plenty of time to spare. Though if it had been left up to Alexa alone they might have spent the night at City Hall to avoid any possibility of being late.

 

Bayley felt bad that she was not her usual cheerful self. Alexa was obviously thrilled at the chance to meet the mayor. It was equally obvious though that she didn’t want to seem too chipper given Bayley’s obviously glum mood. This wasn’t fair to Alexa at all and so Bayley did her best to assume a false air of happiness, though of course Alexa wasn’t fooled.

 

“So...do you want to talk about how it went this weekend?” Alexa asked tentatively as she maneuvered their car through traffic.

 

“Not really Lex, I’m just trying to put it behind me now” Bayley said distractedly as she looked out the window. Las Vegas was treating them to one of its infrequent summer rains and Bayley was watching one particular drop of water slide down the passenger side window.

 

“OK…” Alexa said sympathetically. Bayley hadn’t actually told her the specifics about what had happened on Saturday. But it wouldn’t have been hard to tell that it hadn’t gone how Bayley had hoped it would.

 

Forcing herself to smile for Alexa’s sake Bayley turned to look at her partner and said “but we should talk about this morning meeting, any ideas yet on why we got called over?”.

 

“No!” Alexa said, the eagerness she’d been trying to suppress for Bayley’s sake finally bubbling through. She was obviously thrilled.

 

“Maybe for that Los Boricuas bust?” Bayley suggested. This was in reference to an arrest they had made the previous month. Bayley and Alexa had broken up a small time gambling operation centering around illegal cock fighting.

 

“Hmm maybe...but why would they wait this long then?” Alexa said skeptically.

 

“Good point...I got nothing then” Bayley admitted. She really had no clue as to why the mayor might have taken an interest in them. There were many more highly decorated police officers in Vegas who might make better PR opportunities if that was the angle. And it was undoubtedly a breach of decorum for the mayor to be approaching certain cops directly if she wanted a favor.

 

“We’ll just have to see I guess…” Alexa said giddily. A moment later her face fell almost comically as she half whispered “...you don’t think we’re being reprimanded do you?”.

 

“No of course not! We haven’t done anything to earn a reprimand from Morley never mind the mayor!” Bayley said trying to reassure her.

 

“Of course, you’re right” Alexa said in a not entirely convinced voice.

 

“Well there was that one thing…” Bayley said hesitantly.

 

“What thing?” Alexa asked sharply before she realized that she sounded paranoid and tried to assume a carefree expression.

 

“Well…” Bayley said as she fixed her partner with a serious look “...there was that pen you once STOLE from a bank”  she finished with a weak grin. It wasn’t much by her usual standards of humor but even Bayley had to admit that teasing the tightly wound Alexa made her feel slightly more normal.

 

“Why would- Oh ha ha...I’m glad you’re feeling good enough now to be an ass” Alexa said in an affronted tone.

 

“It’s nice to be back” Bayley said as she turned to look back out the window. Maybe if she just went through the motions of being her usual self then eventually she’d feel normal again.

 

They chatted amicably for the rest of their drive to City Hall, which didn’t take that long. After they parked they hurried through the rain to the front doors. Upon identifying themselves and their business at the reception desk they were directed to the elevators which they took to the top floor. When the doors opened they found themselves on a floor full of large offices.

 

“You two Martinez and Bliss?” said a deep voice from beside them as they exited the elevator. The turned to see a giant thick set man standing off to one side. He was wearing a dark suit and had the unmistakable air of a bodyguard.

 

“That’s us” Bayley said in a nervous tone that made her scowl inwardly. She tried to cover this by smiling at the man but even this came out as strained and toothy.

 

“Bubba Rogers, the head of the Mayor’s security detail, follow me” the man said as he beckoned them down a long hallway. Bayley and Alexa exchanged a quick glance before they set off after him. As they went they passed office after opulent office of various city officials though most were empty at this hour.

 

The door at the very end of the hallway was labelled ‘Mayor’. Rogers pushed through it and held the door for the two detectives. They entered a plushly appointed outer office that included a sitting area and a reception desk. Behind the desk sat a tall woman with dark hair and dressed in an expensive looking suit. Bayley had done her best to look as professional as possible for this meeting and yet she felt like a little girl playing dress up next to this woman.

 

“Eve Torres, special assistant to the mayor. You must be detectives Bliss and Martinez…” the dark haired woman said as she stood and smoothed her skirt. She walked around the desk to offer her hand to each of the detectives. After she’d shaken both hands with a very firm grip she turned to Rogers and said “...you can wait outside Bossman”.

 

Rogers smiled at this and said “right you are Ms. Torres” before leaving the room.

 

“He’s a former cop like you two, but I guess he decided that he’d rather get rich working private security” Eve Torres told them as she sat down behind her desk again.

 

“I’m sure he’s very good” Alexa said awkwardly.

 

“Oh he is, the best in fact…” Torres said before she hit a button on her desk and said “...Madame Mayor, your guests are here”.

 

“Send them in” came a voice from a speaker built into Torres’ desk.

 

“The Mayor will see you now detectives” Torres said smiling pleasantly at them as she hit another button and the door behind her opened. Exchanging one last glance, Alexa and Bayley stepped forward and through the door into another office. Large windows gave a sweeping view of Vegas. The strip in particular stood out even in the early morning light. Bayley instantly picked out the shape of the Dibiase Casino, always easy to spot as it was the tallest building in the city.

 

“Good morning detectives, I’m so glad you could make it! I hope my asking for this meeting hasn’t taken you away from anything too important” said Mayor Trish Stratus as she stood from behind her desk and approached. She shook both Alexa and Bayley’s hand before waving them toward a pair of seats in front of her desk.

 

“Not at all ma’am and may I say that it’s a real honor to meet you” Alexa said as she sat gingerly on the edge of her seat. It looked as though she was expecting to have to leap up again at a moments notice.

 

“That’s very kind of you to say detective Bliss!” Stratus said as she sat herself behind her desk and smiled at Alexa. Bayley took this opportunity to study the mayor up close for the first time. Stratus had won the Mayoral job after unseating the long time incumbent John Laurinaitis in the last election. Bayley hadn’t voted for her but she had to concede that Stratus seemed to be doing well in the job.

 

“I’m a huge fan of yours madame Mayor, I think your adult entertainer protection acts have been a real step forward for the city” Alexa said eagerly. She sounded exactly like Bayley would have if she’d gotten to meet Nathan Fillion or Stan Lee.

 

“I appreciate that detective Bliss, I suppose as vice detectives you get to see first hand the kind of conditions I’m trying to address with them” Stratus said leaning forward enthusiastically as she spoke. It was obvious that she was every bit as excited for these policies as Alexa was.

 

“Oh yes ma’am, and I’m just glad our city finally has leadership willing to do it even if it isn’t the politically popular thing to do” Alexa gushed. Bayley supposed she agreed with Alexa on that point. Taking steps to ensure the safety of adult performers and sex workers certainly wouldn’t win any friends among the moral majority crowd. But as someone who often had to deal with that world Bayley was glad that some of the issues within it were being addressed.

 

Stratus smiled at this but didn’t answer Alexa. Instead she turned to face Bayley and said “and welcome to you too detective Martinez, I’ve studied your file and I admit I was very impressed by what I found”.

 

“Thank you Madame Mayor” Bayley said with a pleasant smile. She caught Alexa shooting her a quick harsh look out of the corner of her eye. Clearly her partner believed that Bayley should be more openly in awe.

 

Bayley for her part didn’t dislike Mayor Stratus, and she’d been pleased when a woman had won the office. She was simply less inclined than Alexa to assume that just because someone was in power that they were necessarily trustworthy. And Stratus hadn’t been mayor for long enough for Bayley to be willing to commit one way or another on her. If Stratus was at all put off by Bayley’s slightly aloof manner she didn’t show it, in fact it seemed to please her.

 

“Now I’m sure you’re wondering why I asked you both to come here today, and especially why I chose to ask for you directly rather than go through the normal channels” Stratus said to them as she clasped her hands on her desk.

 

“Yes ma’am” Alexa said while Bayley nodded cautiously.

 

“Perhaps you two have heard about the new task force that my office is coordinating between several law enforcement agencies? Well I would like to-” Stratus started to say when she was suddenly cut off by a bellow from outside her office.

 

“BURN IT DOWN!” a woman screamed a moment before Bayley heard the unmistakable sound of gunshots.

 

“Mayor Stratus get down behind your desk!” Bayley shouted as she stood quickly and drew her sidearm in one smooth motion. Without having to look she knew Alexa would be doing the same thing. The sounds of shooting continued outside before they were punctuated by a man’s anguished howl.

 

“That was Rogers” the Mayor said sounding horrified from behind her desk.

 

“How many other guards on this floor?!” Bayley snapped as she and Alexa unconsciously separated, each woman moving in an opposite direction. This was so that anyone entering through the door would be confronted by a crossfire.

 

“None! He’s always the first one in!” Stratus shouted back over the sound of more shots.

 

“Detectives 389 and 390 reporting shots fired at City Hall, repeat shots fired at city hall! We are with the mayor and are under attack” Alexa was saying urgently into her radio.

 

“Roger detectives 389 and 390, please advise how many shooters?” came the garbled reply through the radio.

 

“Unknown” Alexa shouted back as more shots sounded outside the door.

 

“Roger, we have units inbound ETA 4 minutes” the dispatcher said, unhelpfully in Bayley’s opinion.

 

“Might as well be four hours” Bayley muttered as she began looking around for something to barricade the door. Noticing a heavy looking file cabinet to one side she hurried over and began heaving against it with all her might.

 

“Let me help!” the Mayor said as she half stood from behind her desk.

 

“No! Stay behind your desk!” Bayley barked at her in a voice that she wouldn’t normally have used with the mayor.

 

“Be advised 389 and 390 the commissioners office is ordering you to stay with the mayor” the dispatcher told Alexa.

 

“No shit!...” Bayley grunted as she heaved against the file cabinet once more before looking over at Alexa and yelling “...quit chatting with the Empress of obvious and help me!”.

 

“Understood” Alexa radioed back before cramming her radio back onto her belt and hurrying to help Bayley. They both shoved and pushed with all the their strength and finally the file cabinet began to tip sideways.

 

“Come on Lex!” Bayley grunted as she gave one last tremendous heave to send the file cabinet crashing down on it’s side, blocking all but the top three feet of the door.

 

“Oh my god…” Alexa gasped as she sucked in several breaths.

 

“I’ll find something else” Bayley said as she turned and began heading toward one of the chairs that she and Alexa had been sitting in.

 

“Good idea I’ll-” Alexa started to say but a moment later she was hurled forward as an enormous blast seemed to rock the whole office. Bayley herself was shoved down onto her knees by the blast, a moment later she cried out in pain as something very hot and moving very fast hit her between her shoulder blades. Before she could move to check on Alexa two voices screamed through the smoldering wreck of the doorway.

 

“BURN IT DOWN!” they shouted in echo of the first cry they’d heard. Before Bayley could do more than duck behind a large bookcase bullets began smacking against the windows behind the Mayor’s desk. Bayley forced herself to open her eyes and look over at the Mayor who was still sheltering behind the massive bit of furniture.

 

Bayley caught the Mayor’s eye and nodded at her before making a stay down gesture with her hand. Stratus’ eyes were wide but seemed very calm as she nodded and did her best to wedge herself under the desk. A moment later the bullets stopped and someone spoke through the smoke. This time it was a male voice.

 

“Oh Madame Mayor…” it said in a mocking sing song voice “...come out come out wherever you are?”.

 

“Awww is someone playing hide and seek with us?” said the woman whose shout had started the whole attack.

 

“Ohhhh I wonder where she could be” the man said. It sounded to Bayley like they had stepped further into the room now.

 

“Awww look at the poor broken barbie!” the woman said mockingly. Bayley could only assume she was speaking about Alexa, something that filled her with fury.

 

“Was that your only other security besides the big ox outside? Wow you just want to die don’t you Stratus” the man’s voice said sounding almost annoyed as though he’d hoped for more of a challenge.

 

“Come out from behind the desk now with your hands up or we turn around and go to a new floor with fresh clips!” the woman roared in a voice that made clear that she would follow through on her threat. Bayley looked over and met Stratus’ eyes and gave her a quick nod but made a slow lifting gesture, indicating that she should stand very slowly. Stratus looked scared now but she nodded and began to stand slowly.

 

“There she is” the man mocked.

 

“Put in a fresh one baby, let’s fill her full” the woman said.

 

“Right you are my love” the man said and a moment later Bayley heard the sound of something metal hitting the floor. This was her moment.

 

She blew out the breath she’d been holding and spun out from behind her cover. With only a split second to react Bayley’s pistol snapped up and fired four times. The first two shots struck a woman with red brown hair, impacting on her collar bone. Her second two shots struck the man next to her in his right breast and his throat. Both went down instantly. The man, whose gun was empty, simply collapsing heavily. The woman, who was carrying a TEC-9 that had obviously been illegally modified, went down while spraying bullets wildly around the room.

 

Stratus took advantage of this to throw open one of the drawers on her desk and pull out a compact pistol. She moved slowly around the desk with trained ease and kicked first one weapon and then another away from the two people Bayley had shot. Bayley then heard her say “detective Bliss? Detective can you hear me?”. From Where Bayley was now sitting it sounded like she was trying to wake Alexa up.

 

Bayley strained her hearing as best she could under the circumstances and finally heard a pained moan before Alexa asked weakly “what...what happened?”.

 

“You hit your head on my desk when the explosion threw you, lay still now, I think you may have a concussion” the Mayor told her.

 

“Bayley?” Alexa whispered sounding concerned but still very woozy.

 

“I’ll go check on her now, she saved our lives” Stratus said before Bayley saw her stand on the far side of the desk and hurry over to her. “Detective Martinez how are-...” she started to say but trailed off when she got a look at Bayley who had slumped back against the wall of the office and slid slowly down it into an awkward crumpled position.

 

“I’ve...been better” Bayley said in a tight voice full of pain. Her fingers were pressed against her side though she could feel feel blood beginning to seep past them. She'd been hit.

 

“Oh god” Stratus said as she tugged off her jacket and pressed it hard against Bayley’s wound. When Bayley let out an agonized hiss at this she said “I’m sorry detective but I need to keep pressure on this”.

 

“I think...I think one or two rounds clipped me” Bayley said as she squeezed her eyes shut against a fresh wave of agony.

 

“Don’t worry, help is on the way and I’ll stay here with you until then” Stratus reassured her as she continued to apply painful pressure to Bayley’s side.

 

Though she still hurt everywhere Bayley found that she was suddenly feeling somewhat floaty and realized she was going into shock. In an effort to stay lucid she gave a grimacing smile and said “and I didn’t even vote for you”. Stratus looked up at her startled for a moment before she realized what Bayley had said and a sardonic smile spread across her face.

 

“Well if I keep you from bleeding out you’ll have to next time” she told Bayley.

 

“I don’t know, you’re causing me a lot of pain right now” Bayley said as she tried to shift to a more comfortable position.

 

“That’s politics I’m afraid” Stratus said as she pressed against Bayley’s wound with renewed pressure making Bayley wince again.

 

“Are you doing that on purpose” Bayley snarled as she shot a glare at the mayor.

 

“Yes, I’m trying to keep you awake” Stratus said matter of factly.

 

“Can you…” Bayley grunted with pain “...grab my radio from my belt?”. Stratus looked down and grabbed the radio for Bayley before handing it to her.

 

Nodding her thanks Bayley hit the transmit button and said in as strong a voice as she could muster “this is detective 390, we have two officers down but the Mayor is out of immediate danger. City Hall has not be secured, repeat the scene has not been secured, but the Mayor is not in immediate danger”.

 

“Roger 390, please advise on the Mayor’s location” the dispatcher asked.

 

Before Bayley could respond Mayor Stratus took the radio from her hand and spoke into it saying “this is the mayor dispatch, we’re in my office. Detective Bliss seems to have a concussion and detective Martinez has been shot. We need emergency services immediately”.

 

There was a noticeable pause before the dispatcher came back sounding less mechanical than usual saying “yes Madame Mayor, SWAT is on it’s way to extract you and clear the building, then we can-”.

 

“No” Stratus said calmly but in an absolutely final tone. She let this word sink in for a moment before she said “the detectives come out with me or I’m staying here with them”. When she got a response it wasn’t the dispatcher speaking.

 

“Madame Mayor this is Commissioner Bischoff, getting you out of the building needs to be our priority right now. The detectives will tell you the same thing. Believe me we won’t leave them behind but right now-” Commissioner of Police Eric Bischoff’s voice started to respond before he too was cut off.

 

“RIGHT NOW we need to get the two WOUNDED people out of here, I’m fine. There is no reason why your team can’t grab all of us” Stratus said in an even more authoritative voice.

 

“Madame Mayor, Trish, we need to-” Bischoff tried to object.

 

“Make it happen Eric or start getting your resume ready” Stratus said firmly. There was a long pause during which Bayley could imagine her bosses, bosses, bosses, boss fuming quietly before he answered.

 

“Yes Madame Mayor” he said in a voice that sounded sulky even over the radio.

 

“Very good Commissioner, we’ll be waiting...” Stratus said before turning back to Bayley with a grin and adding “...sometimes it’s nice to be the boss bitch”. The smile melted off her face as she looked down at Bayley and said “Detective?! Hey I want to see those eyes open!”. But Bayley couldn’t comply, the Mayor suddenly seemed to be speaking from a great way off. Her vision was starting to narrow and the last thing she remembered was the Mayor’s concerned face hovering over her.

Chapter Text

Sasha Banks had seen horrific things during her time in the ER. She’d seen limbs severed, chests cracked open, bullet and knife wounds, and people whose whole body had been horribly burnt. She’d dealt with all of these horrors with skill and professionalism, no matter what had come at her she’d always been equal to it. But not today.

 

When the first victims had begun to arrive from the shooting at City Hall Sasha had been prepared. She, Molly, and the other nurses had worked with the doctors to stabilize each one as they had arrived. But then the final stretcher had come bursting through the OR and Sasha had seen her. Bayley.

 

She’d just stood by shocked as the stretcher had rolled past her. She’d heard the words “adult female with a pair of gunshot wounds to the abdomen” but didn’t really process them. She was still standing there several seconds later. It was only when Molly came up and shook her that she finally came back to herself.

 

“What?” she asked in a dazed voice.

 

“What are you doing? We still got lots of work to do baby girl” Molly said urgently.

 

“I...I just...that was my friend Bayley” Sasha said, not even sure if that was true any longer. Molly’s expression softened as she shot a look over her shoulder. And when she looked at Sasha again her eyes were kind but her voice was still firm.

 

“Sasha I need you out there right now, those other patients need you too. I promise we’ll do our best for your friend but I need your head in the game right now OK?” Molly said as she took a gentle but firm grip on Sasha’s shoulders and stared directly into her eyes.

 

“OK…” Sasha said as she nodded. She was still dazed but she was already finding that focusing on her job was helping. Molly gave her a quick hug and then hurried off after Bayley’s stretcher. Sasha took one last deep breath and then followed before heading toward one of the other ER beds.

 

The rest of Sasha’s shift passed in a kind of hazy blur. Thankfully Molly’s pep talk had seemed to do the trick as Sasha was been able to stay reasonably focused. More importantly: through the combined efforts of the hospital staff they didn’t lose a single one of the shooting victims. In fact all but one was able to walk out of the hospital that day. The exception was Bayley.

 

But the mental life preserver of throwing herself into her work was fast slipping away from Sasha. Her shift would be over in a few minutes and then she would HAVE to see Bayley. No, she reminded herself, she didn’t ‘have’ to she SHOULD see Bayley. She knew this in both her head and her heart and yet somehow it felt like it would be the most difficult thing she’d ever done.

 

In the day and change since reading the note Bayley had left on her doorstep Sasha had been on the point of calling or texting several times. She wanted to explain that there had been a mistake, but to what end? Did she want Bayley to pull her into her arms and kiss her? Did she want Bayley to hug her and say that they were best friends once more? Or was she hoping Bayley would simply nod in understanding and then walk out of her life.

 

At times it felt like any of these things would be best. Any would have been better than what Sasha had been doing, avoiding the problem. She knew that the longer she refused to hit send or dial the harder it would eventually be. But it was that last hill that she kept slipping down. And yet Bayley had not only been pushed forcibly back into Sasha’s life, but in a way that made avoiding her basically impossible.

 

Sometime after her shift had actually ended Molly found her standing on the roof looking out at the city around them. It was chilly that evening and Sasha had pulled on a cardigan she kept around for such eventualities. She’d only remembered after she’d been outside that Bayley had gotten it for her birthday. Pushing this aside she’d allowed herself to slip into a moody reverie.

 

“It’s been a long time since I found you up here” Molly said from behind her, causing Sasha to turn. Molly was wearing a light jacket and carrying a bouquet of flowers. This last accessory caused Sasha to frown.

 

“You visiting someone?” she asked, thinking Molly might have a friend or a relative currently in the hospital.

 

“Oh these are for you…” Molly said with a shake of her head. As she handed them to a nonplussed Sasha she amended her statement saying “...they are for you to give to your friend”. There was the slightest stress on the word friend that made Sasha flush slightly, she was suddenly glad it was dark out.

 

“Molly you didn’t have to do that” she said as she turned back to look at the city, more to hide her face than anything.

 

“I had a feeling you might forget to stop by the gift shop before it closed so I ducked down there on a break” Molly explained as she moved to stand beside Sasha, resting her arms on the edge of the roof.

 

“Thanks, how much do I owe you?” Sasha asked her but Molly just gave her an exasperated look that made her drop her gaze and say “thanks”.

 

“I wish you’d told me about your friend though…” Molly said in a delicate tone. Sasha suddenly felt her stomach sink. Was the religious Molly about to give her a lecture about same sex relationships?

 

“I…” Sasha started to say before trailing off. She wasn’t sure what she would have said anyway, nor how she would react if that really was why Molly was here.

 

“Yeah...I wasted a lot of time trying to find you BOYS to date” Molly said as she grinned over at Sasha and gave her a soft nudge with her elbow. To her own surprise Sasha let out an honest laugh at this, one of the few she’d uttered since her drama with Bayley had begun.

 

“Thanks Molly” she told her friend as she hugged her.

 

“You’re welcome baby” Molly said, holding her just a little longer than usual which made Sasha smile again. Sasha had grown up without a mother but she imagined being hugged by Molly was what being hugged by a mom felt like.

 

“I…” Sasha said for the second time in the conversation but again found herself coming up short. She wanted to tell Molly so many things at that moment but found that she’d lost her command of English. Molly however, mom-like again, seemed to know what she meant.

 

“Just go down and talk to her, even if I haven’t know WHO it was I’ve known you were crazy about someone for months now Sasha. And whatever you two are going through it can’t be so bad that you don’t want to go see her now. This is the perfect chance for you two to patch up whatever is going on” Molly said.

 

“You’re right” Sasha said as she looked down at the flowers in her hand. They were sunflowers, Bayley’s favorite. Molly would have had know way of knowing this but Sasha took it as a sign.

 

“Of course I am” Molly said as she stepped back from the roof’s edge and lifted an arm toward the door. “Now get down there girl, room B14 on two” she said before turning her gesture into an impatient wave.



Even at this late hour it wouldn’t have been hard to find Bayley’s room even if Sasha hadn’t known the number. Whenever a cop came in who had been wounded on duty there were usually one or two other cops standing outside the room or inside visiting the wounded officer. Ordinarily Sasha found this custom touching, though it could get irritating when the small rooms got overcrowded. But today she fervently wished that she’d found Bayley alone.

 

She actually hid around the corner from the room for several moments as she worked up the nerve to go inside. It was only when she recognized one of the people coming from the other direction that she forced herself to turn the corner and head toward the room. As she did two hulking men left it, each clad in blue t-shirts that read ‘LVPD SWAT’ across their chests.

 

As Sasha approached one of the two men turned to her and asked “are you going in to take care of the detective?”. He looked to be in his late forties or early fifties, older than Sasha would have guessed SWAT officers ever were. But if his powerful chest and biceps the size of her head were any indication he kept himself in remarkable shape. He had a shaved head and a graying goatee that gave him a fearsome appearance though he’d spoken kindly.

 

“I’m not part of Bay- I mean the detectives care team. I’m just visiting a friend” Sasha explained awkwardly.

 

The man’s younger companion, who if anything looked to be even more muscular, removed his hat and ran a hand along his clean shaven scalp. His skin was almost as dark as his eyes and Sasha noticed that he was wearing a sweatband under his hat. “Take good care of our girl in there OK? She’s a hero” he said. Sasha had been privately wondering why these two behemoths were wearing t-shirts that were obviously too small for them but she just nodded.

 

“I’m not part of her care team but I will pass on the message officers…?” Sasha said as she looked inquiringly up at them.

 

The first man extended a hand the size of a bear paw and said “Sergeant Bill Goldberg ma’am”. Sasha took his hand and promptly saw her own get swallowed by his.

 

“Officer Bobby Lashley” the second man said, his hand too making Sasha’s vanish.

 

“We won’t let anything happen to her” Sasha said with a tight lipped smile before she ducked between the two man mountains and opened the door to the room.

 

The lighting had been dimmed considerably. Most of what light there was came off the monitors around Bayley’s bed. For an instant Sasha thought they might be alone together but then her eyes fell on a shadowy figure sitting in the chair to the right of Bayley’s bed. After letting her eyes adjust for a moment she recognized Bayley’s partner Alexa Bliss asleep there. The sound of the door opening must have penetrated her dozing however as a moment later her eyes fluttered open and looked around to fall on Sasha with her flowers.

 

“Hi...Alexa” Sasha said awkwardly.

 

Alexa seemed to be fully alert now despite coming out of a nap as she said “hello” in a flat tone of voice.

 

“Is Bayley…” Sasha started to ask but Alexa cut her off in a harsh whisper.

 

“Oh...my...god are you serious? You’re just going to walk in here and ask that?” Alexa asked Sasha as she stared at her with more anger in her eyes than Sasha had ever seen. This took her aback. Sasha and Alexa had been friends mostly through Bayley but they’d never been anything but polite to each other.

 

“What?” was all Sasha managed to say.

 

“You have some damn nerve lady, coming in here after breaking Bayley’s heart TWICE in as many weeks. What? Are you looking to go three for three?” Alexa asked harshly. Her voice had never risen above a whisper but it felt to Sasha as though she’d been slapped. Of course Sasha was not the most long suffering of people either. She knew that part of this was just Alexa reacting like the loved ones of patients often did and that she herself fully deserved some of it. But that didn’t mean she was just going to stand there and let herself be attacked.

 

“I appreciate that you’re being protective of her Alexa, but what you’re talking about is none of your business and even if it was you DON’T know what you are talking about. Do you think you’re the only person who loves her?-” Sasha cut off abruptly as she realized what she’d just said. Fortunately Alexa hadn’t noticed as it seemed Sasha’s words had touched off a fresh wave of anger.

 

“It BECAME my business when you crushed my friend!” Alexa half snarled half whispered. She may have been a small woman but right now she was five feet of pure fury.

 

“Look, I just came here to check on Bayley. So why don’t you just back off” Sasha said.

 

“You’re not even treating her, so how about you prance back out of here and go mess with someone else’s head!” Alexa retorted. A small part of Sasha reflected how ridiculous there conversation would seem to anyone watching them. Alexa leaning protectively over Bayley’s bed while glaring at Sasha who in turn had set her flowers down so she could plant her hands on her hips. All the while they were approximating a shouting match in hushed whispers. They probably would have gone on like that for a very long time. But apparently they hadn’t been being as quiet as they’d both hoped.

 

“Alexa...it’s OK…” said a weak voice from the bed. Both women turned quickly to see Bayley’s eyes fluttering open. She looked around the room for a few moments before turning to Alexa and saying “it’s alright”.

 

“Bay you should be resting” Alexa said. Sasha was struck by how quickly her ferocious expression had melted into one of heartfelt concern.

 

“I’m fine for a short chat Lex, just...could you give Sasha and I a minute?” Bayley said in a reassuring voice. But Alexa clearly didn’t want to leave her partner’s side and it showed on her face. Eventually Bayley forced a smile and said “I could really use a soda anyway”. Alexa bit her lip but clearly didn’t want to argue with Bayley in her weakened state. Eventually she nodded and stood stiffly to leave.

 

“Do NOT hurt her again” Alexa whispered dangerously as she passed Sasha on her way out of the room. Sasha didn’t respond and a moment later the door shut behind Alexa. She left an awkward silence in her wake as Sasha took a step forward and fussed with the flowers where they sat on Bayley’s table.

 

Eventually Bayley cleared her throat and said “thank you for the flowers, they’re really pretty”. The remark was desperately inadequate to cutting the tension in the room.

 

Sasha gave Bayley a smile that felt horribly false on her lips as she nodded and said “no problem...uh….you probably shouldn’t be drinking Soda though”. Her voice sounded choked and unnatural in her ears.

 

“Oh...OK…” Bayley said as she folded her hands in front of her and looked down.

 

Seized by a sudden impulse Sasha pushed the table out of the way. She stepped forward, sat on the side of Bayley’s bed, took her face in both hands, and kissed Bayley with all the strength of her conflicted emotions. All the turmoil that had built up in her recently drove her to do it. And yet, she knew immediately that something was wrong.

 

There was the familiar warm sweetness of Bayley’s lips that she remembered so well. The skin on Bayley’s face felt like the softest silk under her hands. But there was no feeling in Bayley’s return of the gesture. Sasha had kissed Bayley, but Bayley wasn’t kissing her back. A moment later Sasha broke the kiss and withdrew, her eyes searching Bayley’s face for some sign.

 

Bayley didn’t look Sasha in the eye at first. And when she did she didn’t look like she was going to cry or like she was crushed, she looked regretful. One of her hands came up to cup Sasha’s cheek as she whispered “you have no idea how much I wish you’d done that a few days ago”.

 

“Bayley…” Sasha breathed, feeling her insides plummet downward like a stone dropped from a plane.

 

“Sasha, I can’t…” Bayley said. It was her tone that surprised Sasha more than the words themselves. She wasn’t fighting back tears she was imploring Sasha to understand.

 

“Bayley...Saturday was a mistake. I was spending the weekend at Naomi’s! I was-” Sasha’s words tumbled over each other as they came out. It was as though she thought there was some window of opportunity in which she could explain herself and everything would be OK.

 

“That doesn’t change how it felt...how I felt afterword...and since” Bayley said as she brushed Sasha’s face with her thumb. The gesture, so tender and yet so sad, overwhelmed Sasha to where she couldn’t speak for several moments. She just leaned into Bayley’s hand and closed her eyes as tears began to fall.

 

“Bayley please” Sasha finally whispered.

 

“I can’t Sasha...I can’t let my heart get broken like that again. Not a THIRD time” Bayley said. She was still begging Sasha to understand. Sasha for her part couldn’t speak, her mouth had turned to ash.

 

She’d done it. The very thing she’d been worrying about for months. She’d let her chance for happiness pass her by because she wasn’t ready to accept who she was. Because she wasn’t ready to take the chance of letting herself be vulnerable. She’d had it and then she’d let her fears squander it. Sasha cried silently for a long time, she never knew how long. Bayley didn’t speak but she also never let go. Eventually though Sasha sniffed loudly, turned to kiss the palm of Bayley’s hand, and stood.

 

Wiping her eyes she said “before I go, I’ve been meaning to tell you something…” she sniffed again before continuing “...do you remember my friend Cameron?”. Bayley nodded silently but didn’t say anything as Sasha took a tissue and blew her nose. “Her boyfriend is big in the Prime Time Players...she told me they are up to something important called Project Andre and...I thought you should know” Sasha said, gasping out the final words as though they physically pained her, which they did.

 

“Thanks for telling me...I’ll let the right people know” Bayley said. Her face was full of sympathy but she didn’t reach out for Sasha again.

 

“I hope you like the flowers” Sasha said before another flood of tears forced her to turn and quickly flee the room with her head down. Because of this she didn’t see Bayley drawing the table and its flowers closer to her. Or when she ran a finger around the petals of one of the sunflowers as a tear rolled down her own cheek.

 

Chapter Text

Of the few pleasures that Charlotte Flair allowed herself riding was perhaps her favorite. Of course growing up wealthy in the deep south had all but ensured that she would learn to ride from a young age, but she’d continued the practice into her adulthood. Even in the unforgiving heat of a Las Vegas afternoon Charlotte found it invigorating to be out on horseback. It was perhaps one of the few times she felt truly free.

 

When her half brother David had been the presumptive heir to the Flair empire Charlotte had more or less been allowed to do as she pleased. So she’d studied hard and had actually been accepted into medical school. She also would have qualified for the Olympic equestrian team if her last name hadn’t worked against her. All that had changed when her father had retired David and named her as his heir.

 

Ever since then her whole life had been consumed by the needs of the family. Charlotte knew that most people would envy her position in life. She was beautiful, intelligent, and extremely wealthy. But these people didn’t have to carry the burdens she did. Charlotte and her father didn’t work as feverishly as they did to keep the Flair family running purely out of vanity or lust for power. They did so for their own survival.

 

The top of the criminal underworld afforded many privileges but also spawned much enmity. And if the perception got about that the Flair’s were vulnerable then the sharks would swarm. Inevitably this would lead to Charlotte’s own death as well as that of her father. And it was extremely unlikely that these ends would be quick ones. And this was to say nothing of the fates of anyone who worked for them.

 

Charlotte carried this weight around with her every moment of her life. Or nearly so. When she was alone on her horse, she could pretend like it didn’t exist. She could pretend like her father's life and the lives of many others didn’t rest on her ability to succeed. She could pretend like she’d come to Vegas like so many millions of others did, just to enjoy herself. Of course this couldn’t last.

 

It was late afternoon as Charlotte trotted her milk colored arabian around the large enclosed riding area at the Jacques Rougeau Riding Academy. Another turn and she saw that Joe was waiting for her at one of the gates. Her staff knew how important times like these were to her so he wouldn’t have interrupted her if the matter wasn’t urgent. Sighing, Charlotte kicked her horse into a gallop and a few seconds later brought the animal skittering to a halt.

 

“Yes?” Charlotte asked Joe in a voice made more surly by her disappointment. If Joe was here it was almost certain that her ride was over.

 

“We found MVP’s guy, the one you wanted us to grab. He’s being held at the carwash” Joe said flatly.

 

Charlotte thought for a moment. This wasn’t the kind of thing that would necessitate her stopping her ride instantly. But on the other hand now that it was in her mind it would sully the pure escapism of the experience. And in any case she was beginning to sweat more than she felt was entirely seemly so she decided to end her treat.

 

“Excellent, have the car ready I’ll join you in a few minutes” Charlotte said as she waved for him to open the gate. Joe did so and Charlotte, after dismounting, led her horse off toward the stables. A few minutes later she was met in the parking lot by her personal limousine.

 

“Would you like to head to the car wash now Ms. Flair?” Joe asked her from the driver's seat after Charlotte had settled herself with a bottle of water.

 

“No Joe, he’ll keep, take us to wherever Summer is shopping. I’ll join her for a few hours beforehand” Charlotte answered. Joe nodded and a moment later he vanished from view as he raised the glass between the driver and passenger compartments.

 

“How did your call with your father go this morning Ms. Flair?” Dana asked from where she sat a few feet away from Charlotte.

 

“He...was not happy but after our chat he’s content for now” Charlotte said with a scowl, any residual contentment from her ride evaporating. Charlotte’s father had been concerned by the amount of money Charlotte had been spending since she’d arrived in Vegas. Their resources were great but no bottomless and Charlotte’s decision to retain the services of the Bullet Club had meant a substantial dip in the families cash reserves.

 

Charlotte had taken the lecture calmly as always but inwardly she’d been quite annoyed. If her father was concerned about economy then he shouldn’t have insisted that they spend into eight digits on retaining the Dibiase penthouse indefinitely. As Charlotte saw it: the Bullet Club was a business expense while the penthouse was an indulgence. Charlotte realized that she was bending her riding crop in frustration as she thought about this and set it carefully aside.

“Dana, make sure that Malenko, BOTH Bella twins, Mr. Porter, and Cody are all present at the carwash when I arrive. Tell them I will be there around nine and will not tolerate being kept waiting” Charlotte said to her assistant.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair” Dana said as she set to work on her tablet.

 

Charlotte turned to Nia now, who was sitting opposite Dana, and asked “have you managed to learn anything else about that attack on City Hall?”.

 

Nia shook her head “no one seems to know anything about who did it, just that it wasn’t any established group”. Charlotte pursed her lips in annoyance at this. She, as much as the rest of Vegas, had been shocked by the brazen attack on the Mayor though probably not for the same reasons as most. Charlotte’s father had early inculcated the belief into his daughter that for organized crime to exist there needed to first be an organized society.

 

Organizations like the Flair family simply could not exist in a world where anyone could do anything they liked. They NEEDED for the majority of society to be productive law abiding citizens with predictable patterns of behaviors. A brutal and open attack on the Mayor did not fall into this category. Whatever individual or group had planned this attack, and Charlotte did not for one moment believe they had died with the two gunmen, represented a rogue element.

 

“SOMEONE knows SOMETHING” Charlotte said impatiently. She was eager to have this new and annoying complication dealt with as soon as possible.

 

“We’re still digging but so far I can only think that it’s a new player in the game” Nia said.

 

“Find out quickly and then I’ll send Blackman and some of Cody’s men to deal with them. The city should thank me for doing them a favor” Charlotte muttered.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair”

 

“Dana have we learned anything else about the other delegations?” Charlotte asked her assistant in a still testy voice. This had less to do with the attack on City Hall and more with simple nerves. This was, after all, the real reason why Charlotte had come to Vegas.

 

“I have some encouraging news on that front Ms. Flair” Dana said with the air of a puppy expecting a pat for a job well done. Charlotte, who was in no mood, just stared at her. Realizing her mistake Dana cleared her throat and said “we know who will be attending for two of the groups”.

 

“And do you intend to tell me?” Charlotte asked impatiently.

 

“Yes ma’am…” Dana said nervously. As ever she sounded slightly manic when she realized she’d displeased Charlotte in some way. Composing herself Dana said “the Inoki-Kai Yakuza will be sending two Wakagashira named Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura. They are both quite young and very influential in Tokyo and have been groomed into their positions by Kanji Inoki himself”

 

This was very interesting to Charlotte. As a simple matter of course she had educated herself on the basics of how her competitors organized their own groups. She knew, for example, that a Wakagashira was a regional bosse who might oversee several smaller groups. By sending two promising young Wakagashira, proteges of Inoki himself no less, the Yakuza might not have anyone as senior as herself at the meeting but they were indicating that they took it seriously.



“And the second group?” Charlotte asked Dana.

 

“The Sammartino’s are sending a pair of underbosses and a consigliere. Their names are Tommy ‘the Dreamer’ Laughlin, Chuck Palumbo, and Joy Giovanni” Dana said as she read the names from her notes.

 

“A female consigliere?” Charlotte asked with a raised eyebrow.

 

“Yes ma’am”

 

The Sammartino family, that had come to dominate the rest of the Italian mob in the United States, was one of the most traditional it their outlook. For this Joy Giovanni to have risen to the rank of Consigliere in one of their clans meant she must be an impressive woman. Of the other two Charlotte had only heard of Laughlin, or as he was universally known ‘Tommy Dreamer’.

 

“So it seems our Italian friends are less intrigued than the Yakuza” Charlotte said musingly. This seemed to be a reasonable conclusion to draw based on the Sammartino’s decision to send relatively obscure representatives to the meeting.

 

“So it would seem” Dana said. She looked as though she wanted to add more but her confidence had been stung by Charlotte’s disapproval so she chose to remain silent.

 

Rolling her eyes inwardly Charlotte said “speak your mind Dana”.

 

“I think that the decision to send Giovanni along with two relative non-entities is important ma’am” Dana suggested tentatively.

 

“Hmm…” Charlotte said as she considered this.

 

“It lets them seem non-committal or above it all while making sure they get a detailed report of what went on” Nia interjected. This had been Charlotte’s conclusion as well.

 

“Whatever the case, we need to prepare for them. Dana, I want more detailed files on all of them. And as soon as we know which McMahon or McMahons will be attending I want more on them as well” Charlotte directed.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair”

 

Charlotte’s car reached her ultimate destination around eight thirty, she was pleased to see that several other vehicles were waiting already. This and the presence of several men who were clearly guards meant that she would likely be the last one to the meeting despite being half an hour early. Excellent, she thought. After Joe had scanned the area suspiciously he and Nia ushered Charlotte out of her limo and through the back doors of the building.

 

This facility was a literal car wash, or rather a future car wash. The building was under construction on the very outskirts of Las Vegas in an area that didn’t seem conducive to it’s kind of business. It was surrounded mostly by light industrial buildings and warehouses, the area saw little traffic. But this had been part of why Charlotte had bought the building.

 

Waiting inside were the leaders of the Flair family interests in Las Vegas. Montel Vontavious Porter was there with his advisor Teddy Long. Charlotte had recognized his bodyguards waiting by one of the cars. The two men were conversing quietly when Charlotte entered though they fell silent when they saw her.

 

Standing nearby was a group of five people. Charlotte saw that both Bella twins had indeed attended, along with their pet police detective. Charlotte had been amused to learn from Dana that he was actually married to one of the two women. All three were looking decidedly nervous, understandable given how their last meeting with Charlotte had gone. But while the twins tried to cover this with flat stony expressions the detective tried to do so with a false air of hostility, glaring all around him.

 

Standing next to them were the two men Charlotte had tasked with overseeing their business. Dean Malenko was a handsome man with thinning dark hair and carefully cultivated stubble on his face. He was one of the most clever men in the Flair’s employ and delighted in the move and countermove of criminal strategy. He was known in many circles as the ‘man of a thousand plans’.

 

Standing next to him was a black man with the body of an athlete. This was D’Angelo Dinero and he was charged with Malenko’s safety. Though the Bella twins had been thoroughly cowed there was always a chance they might grow bold in the future. If that happened Malenko would likely be their first target. And so Charlotte had requested Dinero’s services from her father. He was an accomplished gunman who wouldn’t let anything happen to Malenko.

 

The final people waiting for Charlotte were a pair of men wearing nearly identical outfits of black leather jackets, jeans, and despite the hour: sunglasses. While the others had stood on Charlotte’s arrival these two had remained pointedly sitting on the overturned buckets they were using as chairs. The first man had dark hair and a build that was lean but still suggested a great deal of physical power. His narrow face had a half mocking smirk on it as he watched the others stand. His companion had long dark shaggy hair and stubble like Malenko. These were Cody Rhodes and Kenny Omega, representatives of the Bullet Club.

 

The Bullet Club was a collection of criminals from around the world that did many things. Sometimes they were assassins, sometimes bodyguards, sometimes mercenaries, and they even dabbled in high end heists. Essentially they would take on any job that someone might have, for their usual exorbitant rates. This was the payment that had sparked her argument with her father earlier that day.

 

Charlotte strode into their midst and regarded each group in turn. Her gaze, both regal and icy, held each individual until they either looked away or stood up a little straighter. When her gaze fell on the Bullet Club representatives she even managed to get them to remove their glasses, though neither stood.

 

“Thank you all for coming” Charlotte said as she allowed Nia to remove the coat she had bought earlier that day. She was still clad in her riding clothes but for her purposes tonight that might prove to be a positive.

 

“What can we do for you boss?” Cody asked from where he sat. He put the tiniest hint of insolence on the word ‘boss’. Charlotte didn’t answer him for a long time just staring at him until his grin shrunk by a centimeter.

 

“You are all here because a lesson needs to be taught” Charlotte finally said. She noted that both Bella's eyes widened at this.

 

“Oh yeah? What’s that?” MVP asked from where he stood leaning against the wall. Rather than answer right away Charlotte turned to Joe and gave him a quick nod which he acknowledged with a grunt before leaving through a nearby door.

 

“I’m glad that you asked Mr. Porter…” Charlotte told him in a dangerous tone of voice “...as it’s due to YOUR organization that we are here tonight”.

 

Many people would have looked abashed or surprised at this. They would have tried to cover their reaction or even launched into immediate denials. Charlotte had seen it all. MVP simply raised his eyebrows and asked “and how’s that?”.

 

Charlotte didn’t answer him directly instead turning to the group at large she said “as a courtesy to you, my top lieutenants in Las Vegas, I have given you each a brief outline of my reasons for relocating here. As I explained at the time this was to make you understand WHY I order you to do the things I do and how seriously I would take any action that threatens my goals. I promised you all that if you did as you were told you stood to make a great deal of money. You still do, though this was threatened recently”.

 

“By me?” MVP asked skeptically.

 

“Your organization yes Mr. Porter…” Charlotte said, in a voice of icy calm.  “WHAT was the first thing I instructed you all NOT to do upon discussing my plans with you?” Charlotte asked as she turned a still colder look on each group. When no one spoke she raised her voice a fraction and snapped “well?!”. Still no one spoke, though Charlotte was pleased to note that the Bullet Club had stopped smiling. Eventually she turned her gaze onto one of the Bellas and asked “Mrs. Bella? What did I tell you all?”.

 

Brie Bella looked briefly startled at being called on but mastered herself quickly before saying “you said for us never to discuss Andre”.

 

“Very good Mrs. Bella” Charlotte said with a regal inclination of her head before turning back to MVP and asking “...and did I tell you the same thing Mr. Porter?”.

 

MVP just nodded but Teddy Long spoke up saying “yes, Ms. Flair”.

 

“So how does it come to pass that we picked up chatter on the streets in YOUR territory Mr. Porter about something called Project Andre” Charlotte asked the man with all the force of a prosecutor who had just unveiled her most damning piece of evidence.

 

“I have no idea, it didn’t come from me” MVP said calmly.

 

“Oh I believe you Mr. Porter...in fact I know you are telling the truth” Charlotte said in a voice that, despite her reassuring words, pressaged nothing but danger. When MVP looked confused at this Charlotte spun on her heel and headed toward the door that Joe had left through saying “all of you, with me, now!”.

 

Her long legs had carried her almost to the door before she heard the others begin to move. She was leading them out of a back storage/office area and into the actual car wash itself. The building was long, almost sixty yards, and was designed for two cars to drive slowly side by side through it stopping at several stations along the way. Charlotte was waiting for her lieutenants in almost the exact center of the car wash surrounded by the inert machinery.

 

Several of her men were standing with her, all openly armed. Also nearby was Joe who was standing behind a bound and kneeling man. His head was covered with a black bag. He was clad in a white tank top and baggy black pants. As the others arrived and formed a semicircle around her Charlotte nodded at Joe who stepped forward and removed the man’s hood.

 

“Do you recognize this man Mr. Porter?” Charlotte asked MVP in a pleasant tone of voice as she studied him intently.

 

MVP took a moment or two before answering but eventually said “yeah, his name is Rodney Mack he’s one of my soldiers. Why is he here?”. He asked this last question sharply, clearly he didn’t like the idea of his people being grabbed.

 

“Mind your tone Mr. Porter…” Charlotte said icily. MVP looked like he wanted to say something harsh in reply but stayed silent. Charlotte waited a moment longer before she said “...he is here as part of a favor I am doing for you”.

 

“Yeah? What favor?” MVP asked in a voice that betrayed resentment.

 

“We did our own investigating and found that the rumors circulating in your territory can be traced back to Mr. Mack here. You have a leak in your organization Mr. Porter, I’m plugging it for you” Charlotte said as she felt her temper beginning to rise slowly within her.

 

“You got any proof of that?” MVP asked simply. Charlotte was impressed even if she was angry. Most people would have been much more defensive or even frantic by now. There was a short whistle from nearby and MVP turned to see Cody waving at him.

 

“That would be me there chief, when Charlotte told me about what was going on I had my guys hit the streets. It comes back to him” Cody said with his grin back in place. Charlotte felt her anger intensify at his use of her first name but she told herself to focus. Cody’s reckoning could come later.

 

“That’s it?” MVP asked skeptically.

 

At this Joe slapped Rodney Mack in the back of the head and said “tell them”.

 

The man looked angered at this but he said “yo boss I didn’t see no harm. Not like any of the motha fuckas I told can do anything with it”.

 

MVP stared at him for awhile before he asked “so you DID do it?”

 

“Yeah but what's the big fucking deal? I was just talking with the homies and all the sudden his big mutha fucka…” he jerked his head back at Joe “...is grabbing me from my crib”.

 

“I think you’ll agree that I do indeed have ‘proof’ Mr. Porter?” Charlotte said in a rigidly controlled voice.

 

“I’ll take care of it” was all MVP said.

 

“Oh no, Mr. Porter, please allow me” Charlotte said. She turned to Joe and nodded again. In response her security chief took a knife from inside his jacket and cut Mack’s bonds before stepping back. Mack looked confused and suspicious but he stood slowly rubbing at his wrists. “Do you know who I am?” Charlotte asked him.

 

“No” he said back sounding both sulky and belligerent.

 

“My name is Charlotte Flair, I am the only daughter of Ric Flair the head of the Flair family. One of the most powerful criminal organizations in the United States. Your recent actions have placed in jeopardy a plan that my father and I have been working on for years” Charlotte told him as she stared directly into his eyes. He didn’t seem to have anything to say to this.

 

“Yo playa, tell Ms Flair you’re sorry for being a goddamn idiot” Teddy Long called.

 

“No, Mr. Long. That won’t do…” Charlotte said before adding “...what Mr. Mack has done is nigh unforgivable. Ordinarily I would simply have him killed but I have decided to offer him a chance”.

 

Rodney Mack’s eyes had widened at the mention of killing but now narrowed suspiciously as he said “what chance?”.

 

“I will offer to forgive your almost unimaginable stupidity Mr. Mack...all you need do to earn my forgiveness is walk over to your boss” Charlotte told him.

 

“Yo what?” Rodney Mack asked sounding incredulous.

 

“Come now sir, it’s not difficult. Walk over to your boss Mr. Porter and all is forgiven” Charlotte said in an annoyed tone. She watched Rodney Mack shoot a confused look over her shoulder toward where MVP was standing. As he did Charlotte looked Joe directly in his eyes and nodded slowly one final time.

 

“OK…” Rodney mack said as he tried to step around Charlotte. He never got there as a moment later an iron grip closed around his throat from behind and shoved him backward with enough force to send him rolling several times.

 

“Yo what the fuck man?!” Rodney Mack roared as he came up looking furious in search of his attacker. He found him a moment later, Joe was standing between him and Charlotte.

 

“Yo boy bout to get himself killed” Rodney Mack shouted, Charlotte assumed he was speaking to her.

 

“Focus Mr. Mack, forgiveness awaits” Charlotte said.

 

“Man fuck that!” Rodney Mack said as he suddenly through a punch at Joe. It never landed as Joe casually swatted it aside and slammed his own right fist hard into his opponents face. Rodney Mack went down once more but recovered quickly and with a snarl lunged at Joe from his knees in what seemed to be an attempted tackle.

 

He might as well have been trying to uproot a redwood tree with his shoulder. Joe simply let him come and watched as Rodney Mack struggled futilely to drive him backward. After a few moments of this Joe grabbed his head with both of his hands and held it still as he brought his knee up hard into the other man’s face. There was a loud cracking and Rodney Mack fell backward into a sitting position with blood streaming from his nose.

 

Howling now Rodney Mack surged to his feet once more and sent a series of wild punches at Joe. For his part Joe blocked most of these and simply absorbed the others. When his opponent began to tire Joe grabbed the straps of his tank top and drove his big forehead hard into Rodney Mack’s own. There was a loud wet thunking sound as Rodney Mack went down for a third time though much more limply. Joe seemed to have been waiting for this as he took two steps forward and hauled the bleeding man up to his knees before drawing his fist back again and hammering it into Rodney Mack’s temple.

 

“Get him up” Joe told two of Charlotte’s men who hurried to obey him. They hauled the blood soaked and clearly dazed Rodney Mack to his feet and held him there helpless as Joe went to work.

 

Using nothing but his fists, elbows, and palms Joe proceeded to demolish Rodney Mack. Bone after bone crunched under the withering hail of expertly aimed and punishingly hard blows. It took an awesome amount of strength to do this, to beat someone to death with one's bare hands. And In addition to this strength Joe brought the trained eye of a surgeon. What Charlotte witnessed was much less of a beating and much more of a systematic and deliberate dismantling of a human body.

 

Charlotte actually did check her watch when Joe finally did lower his hands to inspect the bloody mess in front of him. He’d been at it for just over two minutes. If she’d had to guess Charlotte would have said that Rodney Mack had been stunned when he’d been hauled to his feet. Unconscious about thirty seconds afterword, fatally wounded at the one minute mark, and dead by one minute twenty seconds. Joe had effectively been punching meat for the rest of the time. Turning to face her lieutenants Charlotte saw expressions of awe and horror on their faces.  

 

“I trust...I can rely on your discretion in the future...ladies and gentleman?” Charlotte asked in a voice of icy silk. No one spoke, everyone nodded. “Very good” Charlotte said as she motioned for Nia to hand her her coat.

 

“Should I have the boys bring a car in Ms. Flair?” Joe asked as he took a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his face, his suit was a total loss. He didn’t even seem to be breathing hard.

 

“Please do Joe. Go with them to dispose of the body and, I am sad to say, your clothes, though I will of course pay for a replacement suit” Charlotte said lightly.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair, thank you” Joe said as he motioned for the two men holding the pulped mass of human wreckage that had once been Rodney Mack to take the body away.

 

“And don’t forget to run the car wash twice” Charlotte told him. Her men would bring a car into the carwash and then put the body in the back. The first running would be to clean the car’s exterior of evidence, the second would be to clear the carwash itself. The car would then be disposed of along with the body somewhere out in the desert.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair”

 

Turning back to her audience Charlotte snapped “now all of you get out of here and find out who else that traitor…” she said as she pointed to the body “...talked to and SILENCE THEM!”.

Chapter Text

Speechless was not a word that one could often associate with Becky Lynch. Whether she was facing insults or bullets her smart mouth almost never shut off. And so it came as a surprise to her when Dave Finlay stunned her into tongue tied silence. She actually gave her head a tiny shake to make sure she was hearing correctly.

 

“I’m sorry what?” Becky asked in a disbelieving voice.

 

Of course Dave Finlay was not the sort of man who liked to repeat himself so when he said “jesus girl are you hard of hearing?” it was with more than his usual gruffness. He, Becky, and Finn Balor were once again in his office at his construction company.

 

“No...I mean I’m sorry Mr. Finlay I guess I was just surprised is all” Becky said, trying to force some of her usual cocksure manner back into her voice.

 

“Why?” Finlay asked harshly as he glared at her.

 

“I just didn’t think you’d trust me with anything this important-” Becky started to say before Finlay cut her off.

 

“Is there some reason I shouldn’t Lynch?” Finlay barked.

 

“No sir, I’ll be glad to watch your back at this little parlay” Becky said.

 

If Becky had been expecting some kind of gratitude from Finlay for her handling of the Ambrose job then she’d been disappointed. He’d simply grunted on receiving the news that Ambrose would be starting on their order as soon as he’d moved again, the paranoid lunatic was convinced he’d picked up a police tail, before handing Becky a stack of money. He’d then proceeded to announce that he wanted Becky herself to come with him to a parlay that he’d arranged. She and Balor would be serving as his bodyguards.

 

“You want HER to come along?” Finn Balor asked from his usual lurking spot. He sounded offended at the very notion.

 

“Christ are you both deaf?!” Finlay roared as he brought a fist down on his desk. He glared at them for a few moments before turning to Balor and growling “she’s dangerous and she’s put her work in, she’s earned this”. Though she agreed with this sentiment wholeheartedly it still took Becky aback to hear Finlay expressing it.

 

“Yes sir” Finn said quietly as he glared at Becky as though it were somehow her fault that Finlay had rebuked him.

 

“Now I don’t like this at all, we’re an independant crew and I don’t want some big shot from back east trying to muscle in on us. But when the McMahon’s ask for a parlay you can’t damn well refuse. Each side is bringing three so I want the both of you there with your heads OUT OF YOUR ASSES!” Finlay’s voice had been rising steadily throughout his remarks and he finished in a roar.

 

“Yes Mr. Finlay” both Becky and Finn said at the same time.

 

“Now both of you get the hell out of here” Finlay barked as he jabbed a finger at the office door. Both Finn and Becky made good on their retreat. They didn’t exchange another word as they both descended the stairs. At the bottom Finn turned to head deeper into the building while Becky stepped out to the parking lot.

 

With her duster pocket bulging with new cash Becky decided she’d go where she usually did in such cases, The Goldust. This was a rickety little off the strip casino of the sort that dotted Las Vegas. It was dingy, rundown, and usually mostly empty. But the drinks were cheap and the lighting was low. Becky loved that shithole. Settling herself on her bike she lowered the goggles she’d taken to wearing while riding it and set off.

 

As usual she had no problem finding a parking spot near the door when she arrived. She nodded to the doorman who she knew preferred to be called ‘Meanie’ as he opened the door for her. She privately thought that the luridly blue suit he always wore undercut this message but she’d never said anything to him about it. She had to pause just inside the casino to give her eyes a moment to adjust to it’s dim and smokey interior.

 

What she saw was hardly impressive. Row upon row of older slot machines that were so scuffed and dented that they looked as though they’d fallen off the back of trucks. A small niche of card tables with bored looking dealers standing mostly idle behind them. And topping it all off, Becky’s home away from home, a large oval shaped bar that dominated the center of the casino floor. With a happy sigh she made a beeline for her usual stool.

 

“Hey there red, which bottle will it be this time?” the bartender, a middle aged woman with bleach blonde hair, asked Becky as she sat.

 

“You see that’s why I love you Marlena, you always know just what I need” Becky said as she reached over the bar and grabbed a bottle of Steve Casey brand whiskey. She set it down with a loud clunk on the bartop.

 

“Well someone’s feeling fancy” Marlena, the bartender, said as she accepted a few bills from Becky as payment. She was right, Casey Whiskey was a cut above what Becky usually drank.

 

“I’m celebrating today” Becky said as she wrestled with the bottle’s cork. It seemed that Marlena wasn’t interested in learning why Becky was celebrating because she simply walked away to deal with another customer. Becky shrugged at this, fair was fair. She didn’t much care about Marlena’s life so she saw no reason why the bartender should do so about hers.

 

An hour later Becky was about a quarter of the way through the bottle and enjoying a pleasant buzz. Looking around the bar she surveyed the other patrons and decided that the one weakness of the Goldust was that it’s customers were just fuck ugly. Becky had been entertaining the idea of finding a man for a fling but she definitely wasn’t going to find that person here. She was still looking around the bar when she heard and felt someone take the stool next to her.

 

Annoyed at this Becky began to turn as she said “there are a lot of open stools, go choose another”. When she got a full look at her new companion however she narrowed her eyes in concentration. She recognized the thickset woman from somewhere but she couldn’t recall exactly where in her current state.

 

The other woman let her stare for a few moments as she reached across the bar to grab a glass. She held it up to the light experimentally and then gave it a quick blow to clear out the  dust. Apparently satisfied she set it back down on the bar and helped herself to Becky’s bottle. Meeting Becky’s scandalized glare she said “since you cost me a job I think you can spare me a drink”.

 

That knocked something loose in Becky’s head as she finally recognized the other woman. She was the bartender that she’d bribed to help her deal with the Ascension MC. As Becky had caused the place to explode she supposed that she had in fact cost the woman her job. Though she was now recalling that the bartender hadn’t seemed that happy to be working there at the time.

 

“ONE drink…” Becky said testily as she slid a forearm protectively around her bottle. She wasn’t bothering with a glass herself.

 

“Fair enough” the other woman said as she downed the whiskey in one gulp.

 

“See? Wasn’t that nice? I’m so glad we got to share this girl time. Now you can fuck off” Becky said as she lifted the bottle to her lips.

 

“There’s still the matter of the job” the other woman said as she gazed steadily at Becky. The look made Becky fidgety so she took refuge in another long pull from her bottle.

 

“I Hear the internet is great for finding a new one” Becky said dryly.

 

“Or the Las Vegas Irish mob?” the other woman suggested. With only the slightest wisping sound Becky’s pistol was out of her holster and jammed into the other woman’s side in a second. The whole motion and the gun itself concealed under the bar by Becky’s duster and the low light.

 

“Now why did you have to go and say that…” Becky said in a deadly serious tone “...here I’d been hoping to spend a pleasant day getting drunk and now I have to deal with you”. To Becky’s inward surprise the other woman didn’t even blink as the pistol dug into her.

 

“You can still keep drinking, since I’m here to help you Becky Lynch” she said as she held Becky’s eyes.

 

“Is that so…what do you want a gold star for knowing my name?” Becky asked skeptically as her finger slid inside the trigger guard. In truth she couldn’t shoot the woman here. Even in a place like the Goldust she’d have police on her ass in minutes. But she was considering the possibility of marching the other woman outside and stealing a car.

 

“Yeah, because I want to work for you” the other woman told her in a steady voice. That did surprise Becky. She’d killed multiple people and had dealt with several kinds of pleading for one’s life. But this was something she’d never encountered before. And the other woman did really seem to be indifferent to her present dangerous situation.

 

“And even if I did what you seem to think I do, why would I want that?” Becky asked. She let a slight edge of menace creep into her voice at this.

 

“Because I know you’re just reaching a point with the Irish where you can’t rise any higher without your own crew and a racket or two” the other woman told Becky. Becky’s eyes narrowed dangerously at this as she curled her finger around the trigger itself. If this woman was a cop of some kind then this was disastrous. And if she wasn’t it meant that Becky had been so careless that she’d allowed herself to be followed, and followed for some time it seemed. A different sort of disaster.

 

“Who the hell are you?” Becky asked in a dangerous whisper.

 

Still ignoring the gun in her side the other woman said “ODB”.

 

Becky blinked before she asked “and just what the hell kind of a name is that?”.

 

“Mine”

 

Becky snorted at this, she had to admire this woman’s guts even if she was still perfectly willing to spill them. She thought for a moment and said “and why would you want to work for me of all people...ODB?”.

 

“I liked the way you handled those idiots in Dudleyville, and I don’t have any other kind of introduction to a big time crew” ODB said matter of factly. Becky supposed this might have been a weak attempt at flattery but somehow she doubted it. ODB sounded more like someone laying out a plain set of facts.

 

“And how do I know you aren’t a cop?” Becky asked, redoubling the pressure of her gun. ODB actually gave Becky a half pitying and half annoyed look at this.

 

“Don’t shoot me I’m getting something out of my jacket pocket” she said dryly, as though bored with the proceedings. Becky shot a nervous look around her at the word ‘shoot’ but no one was nearby.

 

ODB gave Becky a questioning look and then, upon receiving a nod, unzipped a breast pocket on the jacket she was wearing before withdrawing a dime bag of white powder. Without another word she opened and spread a rough looking but generous line out for herself on the bar surface. She then lowered her face and snorted the whole thing up her left nostril before closing her eyes and quivering as the drug hit her.

 

“Hey! Not at the bar c’mon!” Marlena called from where she was standing cleaning glasses.

 

Becky knew that undercover cops weren’t allowed to use drugs. Still it was possible that the powder was fake. Running a quick fingertip through the remains of ODB’s lines she rubbed the powder onto her gums. A moment later there was no doubt.

 

“Quite a treat” Becky said dryly as she lessened the pressure on her gun but didn’t lower it. “You still haven’t explained why I should want you to work for me” she said to ODB.

 

“I found you didn’t I?” ODB asked her bluntly.

 

“So?”

 

“I found you, in a city the size of Las Vegas, with nothing to go on but orange hair and an Irish accent” ODB elaborated.

 

“My hair is RED” Becky said testily.

 

“Sure, but the point is that I’m good at finding people and information about them...VERY GOOD” ODB said.

 

“Well if I ever lose my dog I’ll make sure and call you” Becky said.

 

“AND I can handle myself when the shit goes down” ODB said. Becky gave ODB an appraising glance and decided that this was probably true.

 

“If I put my gun away, you’ll keep your hand away from the one you’re wearing under your left arm?” Becky asked. ODB’s eyes widened for a moment but then she nodded with a grin. Becky had just demonstrated that she had skills too.

 

“Thank you for not shooting me” ODB said dryly as Becky withdrew her gun. ODB then waved Marlena over.

 

“Think nothing of it” Becky said as she holstered her pistol. She took another sip from her bottle as Marlena arrived looking annoyed.

 

“Keep the hard shit out of sight here OK…” she asked in a pleading and exasperated tone of voice. It was clear she just wanted to be able to tell anyone who might ask questions that she hadn’t seen anything.

 

“Just bring me some of whatever she’s drinking” ODB said as she jerked her head toward Becky’s bottle. Marlena gave them a sour look but didn’t say anything as she poured the drink.

 

When she’d left Becky said “I don’t know what you think you’re going to gain here, I don’t get paid unless Finlay hands me a job so how am I supposed to keep paying you?”,

 

“Pay me when you have work for me” ODB said simply.

 

“And just what the hell would that even be? I handle my jobs solo” Becky asked. She was becoming annoyed at this whole conversation. And she was honest enough to admit that this was partially because she knew ODB was right. Becky HAD plateaued and wouldn’t rise any higher until she became an earner and not just an errand runner. But she had no idea how to make the transition.

 

“I’m sure you’ll come up with something. And I have a few ideas I can chase if you’re willing to bring me on” ODB said.

 

“If you’ve got ideas why don’t you just do this yourself?” Becky asked suspiciously. Her lifestyle was not one that rewarded selfless people and ODB’s apparent generosity had set alarm bells sounding in Becky’s head.

 

“Simple, I don’t have any introductions. And if you try to set up for yourself in this town one of the bigger groups will stomp on you. But if you set things up then they’ll have Irish protection” ODB said with a shrug. Becky hadn’t considered the problem that way but it did make sense.

 

“Alright, we’ll try it” Becky allowed cautiously.

 

“50-50 split?” ODB suggested. This drew a bark of laughter from Becky that was so loud that the few patrons in the Goldust all turned to look. Becky didn’t notice however as she was still laughing. This went on long enough that she actually had a stitch in her side before she could speak again.

 

“Oh...oh...oh my...you’re a funny girl ODB…” Becky said as she wiped at her eyes. When she’d taken a few deep breaths she looked at ODB and said “...you can’t do this without me, I could do it without you. So we’ll say 80-20”.

 

ODB, who had sat patiently through Becky’s laughter, scowled and said “but if you have me it will be easier for you”. When Becky didn’t say anything she suggested “65-35”.

 

Becky shook her head and said “not that much easier, 75-25”.

 

ODB thought about this for almost a minute before she nodded and said “deal”. The two women shook on it. Becky then clinked her bottle against ODB’s glass and then they both drank.

 

“Tell me these ideas you have” Becky said after she’d taken her bottle down another few centimeters. The whiskey still burned but suddenly she felt energized rather than floaty.

 

“Well there are three big money makers in Vegas: guns, drugs, and sex” ODB said. Becky nodded but didn’t say anything. This was little more than a truism. ODB seemed to realize this and she continued “...guns bring too much risk and too much attention. I don’t know many people who deal anymore but I think I might be able to find us a girl or two”.

 

The mention of drugs had spawned an idea in Becky’s head but she didn’t say anything about it. Instead she thought about ODB’s suggestion. She knew that the prostitution rackets in Vegas were still in disarray following the death of the Godfather. She’d heard rumors about some new group scooping up most of his organization but this still left a lot of the market up for grabs.

 

“Who are these girls you know?” Becky asked ODB.

 

“We had two who used to dance on weekends at the bar that...had that accident” ODB said, delicately avoiding any mention of Becky’s involvement. “They used to make some money turning tricks on the side” ODB added, answering Becky’s unspoken question which had been how the other woman knew these girls were anything more than strippers.

 

“Do they live in that shit hole of a town?” Becky asked her.

 

“They did, though I heard that they moved to Vegas after they lost their workplace. But like I said, I’m good at finding people” ODB explained. This was good enough for Becky. She took about a thousand dollars from her pocket and pressed them into ODB’s hands.

 

“Consider that your first payment, get out there and find the girls. Convince them to work for me and I’ll think about where we can keep them” Becky said.

 

“Alright...boss” ODB said as a grin spread slowly across her face.

 

“I have a thought about where we might find ourselves some dealers, not the best mind, but they’ll do for a start” Becky said. She and ODB then exchanged numbers. ODB then nodded and stood. She waited silently for awhile until Becky said “...well? Get out of here”. As ODB left Becky was struck by how she’d unconsciously channeled Finlay in that moment.

 

Becky didn’t leave the bar for sometime after ODB left though she slowed her drinking considerably. It wasn’t often that opportunities like these literally found you, and she was now focusing with all her might on her germ of a plan. She took another sip from her bottle before she pulled out her phone and scrolled through her contacts. Eventually she found the name she was looking for: Brooke Tessmacher.

 

Becky was reflecting on what Tessmacher had told her before they’d parted. She’d said that information was the real power in crime. Becky privately thought that this was selling bullets short but she agreed with the overall sentiment. Still, what she was considering could be dangerous for her. So now she was weighing just how much she wanted to move up in the world, what prices would she be willing to pay.

 

In the end she took a huge gulp of whiskey before composing a message to Tessmacher. It read:

 

I’ve got something for trade, if you’ve got something to offer in return

 

She was about to set the phone aside when motion caught her eye. Looking down again she saw that the icon indicating the other person was typing a message had already appeared. She blinked in surprise at this, it was as though Tessmacher had been waiting for her to reach out. A moment later her phone buzzed indicating that Becky had a message. She opened it and read:

 

When and where?








Chapter Text

Sasha was sitting in church. This was the first time she’d done so in almost a decade. She hadn’t had any sort of late breaking religious epiphany, but she did have an appointment. San Marianne's Church was empty in this early afternoon hour allowing Sasha to sit in solitude toward the back of the nave. One thing she would say for the place was that the air conditioning felt like heaven today. Sasha smiled at that thought given her location.

 

Sasha’s family had been baptists for as long as any of them could remember so her early impressions of Catholic churches had been formed secondhand. She still thought of them as massive stone structures full of elaborate showy decorations and stained glass windows. She imagined that there were always small groups of older women huddled in front of shrines. San Marianne’s took that stereotype and turned it on it’s head.

 

First, the building wasn’t that large. The nave could probably sit fifty people at most and the altar had an almost improvised quality about it. And from what she’d been able to observe over the years the congregation of San Marianne’s was surprisingly young. What might have gone as far as to call it the ‘counterculture Catholic church’. And Sasha attributed this to the presence of Father Rey.

 

Having a priest with his past and array of facial tattoo’s was not a recipe to appeal to rigid traditionalists. Rey, due to that past, also made a point of seeking out those who might not normally feel welcome in a church. Gang bangers, street walkers, pushers, addicts, and anyone else was welcome in his church. Another measure that would probably keep most old ladies away. But Sasha admired the idea just as she admired Rey’s decision to rename the Church after Marianne Cope, the patron saint of outcasts.

 

Sasha often envied people of sincere faith, even as the blatant hypocrisy of others turned her off to the concept of religion as a whole. But the good ones like Naomi, Molly, or Father Rey all undeniably had something Sasha didn’t. They had a fixed source of comfort in their lives. Sasha’s own convictions and intellect didn’t allow her to believe things simply because she wished she could. But she often imagined that having that bedrock certainty on at least one aspect of life would be a source of solace.

 

Sasha had been raised baptist though by the time she was in High School she was non-observant. During her time at UNLV she had flirted first with Hinduism and then had labelled herself a practicing Buddhist for several years. Nowadays she thought of herself as an atheist, her time in the ER having made it impossible for her to believe in the idea of any kind of higher justice in the universe.

 

Sometimes she toyed with the idea that she might be agnostic. That if someone were to present her with real, tangible, empirically based evidence of a deity she would happily accept it. But her mind shied away from even this tiniest toe dip into theology. Automatically rushing to that notional point where she’d receive this proof and then have to really confront the dichotomy of the terrible things she’d seen within a supposedly just universe.

 

Sasha was saved an even deeper plunge down the theological rabbit hole by the sound of a door opening behind her. Twisting in her seat Sasha looked back and saw that Father Rey was leaving his office accompanied by another man. Rey’s companion stood quite a bit taller than the Priest and had long dirty blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail to reveal a rugged looking face. He was wearing clerical black but of a slightly different style to Rey’s.

 

“Thank you for coming Pastor Michaels, I look forward to working with you on this” Sasha heard Rey tell the other man as she turned to face the altar again. When the other man spoke Sasha thought she detected the barest hint of a southern accent in his deep voice.

 

“Father Rey, always a privilege and pleasure. May the blessings of God and his son go with your thrice damned papist soul” the other man said. Despite his words his tone made clear that he was simply teasing the Priest.

 

Rey laughed with genuine pleasure at this jest before saying “ perhaps someday you’ll allow me to welcome your erring soul back into the arms of mother church Shawn”. Both men laughed at this and a moment later Sasha heard the front doors to the church open and then shut again. A moment later she was joined in her pew by Father Rey.

 

“I hope you haven’t been waiting for too long Sasha” he said as he scooted himself down the pew to sit next to her.

 

“Not long Father” Sasha said with a smile before allowing Rey to hug her.

 

“I was surprised when you asked to see me. As much as I’d like to believe you’re seeking conversion and baptism, somehow I doubt it” Rey said with a smile.

 

Sasha managed a weak one in return before she turned to look forward once more. She thought for a long while before she said “do you remember when you asked Naomi if you were talking to her as a cop or as your friend?”. Rey nodded but didn’t speak. Sasha sighed softly before saying “I need to ask you the same thing. Am I talking to Father Rey or my friend Rey”.

 

“Like Naomi I need to respond by saying that I am always both” Rey answered.

 

Sasha closed her eyes for a moment before she said “yeah...I suppose I knew that”.

 

“Would it be safe for me to say that you came here seeking...um...'secular' advice?” Rey asked her kindly.

 

“That's a good way of putting it” Sasha acknowledged.

 

“So you want to talk to me the man but you’d like the conversation to be just the two of us without being God present” Rey prompted her.

 

“I guess” Sasha said.

 

“Would it matter if I pointed out that God is always watching us” Rey said.

 

“Well that just sounds creepy” Sasha muttered.

 

Rey actually laughed at this as he said “well, I suppose I phrased that badly then”. He thought for awhile before saying “I was planning to go for a walk this afternoon anyway. Would you care to join me? I hear the God doesn’t keep too close an eye on Melina’s”. Now it was Sasha’s turn to laugh. Melina’s was a coffee shop not far from the church.

 

“Lets go” she said as she let Rey pull her to her feet. They left the church without locking the door behind them. As a rule Rey never closed the place.

 

“Shall we then?” Rey asked her as he offered Sasha his arm. Smiling again Sasha took it and they began walking at a leisurely pace.

 

“Shouldn’t you have some other staff around the church? A deacon or two or even just an office worker?” Sasha asked Rey as they walked.

 

“I could but my flock has not provided me with anyone seeking the position yet” Rey said. He didn’t sound at all disappointed at this, on the contrary he gave every impression that he would wait happily as long as it took.

 

“Perhaps heaven can loan you some cherubim or seraphim” Sasha teased.

 

Rey laughed again as he shook his head and asked “yeah imagine them on the block eh?”.  His smile thinned though as he looked over at Sasha and said “but I think that you didn’t come to me to discuss my staffing problems”.

 

“No” Sasha said ruefully.

 

“Why don’t you tell me why you came to me then Sasha?” Rey asked. He waved a blessing at a passerby who greeted him but quickly returned his attention to Sasha.

 

“I…” Sasha started to say before she cut off. She took a deep breath and forced herself to start again. “I have been in a relationship for a few months...and because I was afraid to move forward I broke my partner's heart twice. Though the second time was on accident”.

 

Rey raised an eyebrow at her last words but didn’t respond beyond saying “go on”.

 

“We...recently had a chance to talk again and I...I indicated that I was ready now. But was told that they couldn’t risk their heart again on me” Sasha explained. As hard as it was to talk about this she was finding it cathartic to get it out.

 

“I see” Rey said simply.

 

Sasha braced herself and added “...and I’m getting tired of being ambiguous with my pronouns, this other person is a woman Rey”. Sasha had been prepared for any number of potentially negative reactions to this. She was after all talking with a Catholic Priest. She hadn’t really prepared for the possibility that Rey would simply smile over at her.

 

“Now I see why you wanted to talk to me, the man, not the servant of God” he said not unkindly. Sasha nodded as she gave him a nervous look.

 

“Officially the Priest in me wants to remind you that homosexuality is a sin…” Rey said but he must have felt Sasha stiffen because “...but as a Priest who disagrees with the church on this matter. And more importantly in this case, as your friend, I say that I am sorry that happened Sasha”. Sasha actually gave a tiny manic laugh as the tension unraveled inside her.

 

“Thank you Rey” she said, really meaning it with all her heart.

 

“In this world, anything that brings more love and joy should be embraced not shunned” Rey said.

 

“I bet that made you popular at the seminary” Sasha joked.

 

“You’ve noticed my tattoos right? I was never going to be popular with the reactionaries” Rey said with a grin.

 

“So now that I know you won’t be damning me to hellfire-” Sasha started to say.

 

“-It’s still early-” Rey joked.

 

Sasha laughed again but continued “...what should I do Rey?”.

 

“I think it would help this discussion if you told me, and yourself for that matter, what exactly YOU want” Rey pointed out. Sasha bit her lip. This was indeed the crux of the matter. She’d been thinking about it a lot.

 

“If I could have anything I wanted I’d want us to go back to how we were” She said finally before explaining the arrangement she and Bayley had been using for months.

 

“Life moves forward Sasha, you can’t go back” Rey said quietly after he’d finished listening to her.

 

“I know…” Sasha replied at the same volume.

 

“So what do you want going forward?” Rey asked her.

 

“I want my best friend back” Sasha said. The response had come so quickly that it surprised her. She’d expected a lot more uncertainty than this.

 

“Well that seems simple” Rey said.

 

“But...I also want her to hold me again” Sasha murmured. This second answer had come just as naturally as the first. Sasha knew that if she’d been talking to someone who was acting like she was now, she’d want to shake them.

 

Whatever Rey was going to say he stifled it as he looked across the street at the sound of a commotion. Sasha followed his gaze and saw two groups of men in their late teens and early twenties squaring off against each other. One group was black the other latino. Panicked, Sasha looked around for a street sign. Finding one she saw they were several blocks into what was usually thought of as Hispanic territory. It was odd to see a group of black youths here, especially a group so clearly looking for trouble.

 

“I need to stop this” Rey told her as he extracted his arm from Sasha’s and began hurrying across the street. After debating for only a moment Sasha scrambled to join him. “This could be dangerous Sasha” Rey said to her when he saw her following.

 

“If you’re going then so am I” Sasha told him flatly. He accepted this with a nod. As they got closer to the groups Sasha could begin making out their words.

 

“...Yo you must be lost homie, this ain’t your hood” a latino teen standing at the front of his group was saying.

 

“Man fuck you ese , ain’t you heard? This is our territory now!” a black man about the same age as the first speaker said.

 

“Says who mother fucker? Just wait ‘till we tell our boss. What’chu think your the only ones with friends?” the latino man said. At that exact moment Sasha and Rey arrived. Despite being easily the smallest man present Rey shoved himself through to stand between the two groups.

 

Bendiciones de nuestro señor Jesucristo, mis hijos…” Rey said to the Hispanic group. Several crossed themselves at this before Rey turned to the black men and said in English “...blessings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on you my sons”. Of course everyone there knew Father Rey and his presence alone cut off the posturing for a moment.

 

“These pendejos are on our side of Lou Thesz Father” the lead latino teen said eventually. He was referring to the east-west running street that traditionally marked the southern boundary between black and hispanic Vegas.

 

“Yo things change homie, you better get used to us” the speaker for the black group called. This started a fresh round of recriminations between the two groups that Rey had to work for some time to quell.

 

“Please my sons! We must remain calm. Our home does not need any more violence!” Rey said in a voice raised to reach all the men present.

 

“But this is OUR home not the mayate’s Father” the hispanic teen said.

 

“Juventud, please listen to me…” Rey said as he took a grip on the youth’s shoulders and stared into his eyes “...if there is a problem then we can arrange a parlay and discuss our differences”. For half an instant Sasha thought Rey had won the day. But then the black man, who Sasha now realized she knew, had to get in the last word.

 

“Yeah, do as you’re told mutha fucker like a good little bitch!” he sneered.

 

“Yo what’chu say homie!” Juventud said as he tried to move around Rey to reach his tormentor. As they came together Rey put a hand on both men’s chest as he shouted at both of them to stay calm. But his voice was lost among the overlapping threats flying from each group. Sasha saw several reaching for their waist bands and knew that when the first gun appeared this would become a blood bath. She had to act now. The two groups may have been barking at each other but Sasha had a voice that could be heard over the chaos and clamor of an ER.

 

“KENNETH KING!” She shouted as she pushed her way forward to join Rey.

 

“Sasha you shouldn’t be here-” Rey started to say but she ignored him.

 

“Kenneth King are you serious?!” Sasha said in an angry voice as she stepped up to the black man and poked him in the chest. Kenneth (or ‘Kenny’ as he preferred) King was another childhood friend of Sasha’s. Actually ‘friend’ might have been overstating the case, they’d known each other through high school. Kenny had then fallen into the gang life that claimed so many young black men as Sasha had left the neighborhood.

 

“What the fuck-” King muttered incredulously but Sasha drowned him out.

 

“Kenny! I treated your brother Orlando for a gunshot wound three months ago and I was there when we had to slide his body into a drawer in the morgue. All over dumbass macho hood shit. THREE MONTHS Kenny, Is that all the time it took for you to forget him?” Sasha shouted.

 

“Those mutha fuckin eses killed him Sasha! And I still ain't got mine for that!” Kenny shouted as he tried to push toward his opposite number. But Sasha stayed in front of him just as Rey did with Juventud. She was dimly aware that Rey had been speaking to the latino group in Spanish while she had been yelling.

 

“Your momma buried one of her boys THREE MONTHS ago, are you really going to put her through that again over some bullshit turf war?” Sasha asked Kenny harshly as she stared directly up into his eyes. No one spoke for a few moments. Moments in which Sasha dared to hope that she and Rey might have rescued this situation. Kenny looked down and for a moment Sasha thought she saw a gleam of moisture in his eyes. He sniffed loudly but in a blink his anger returned, apparently spurred by this moment of weakness.

 

“Man fuck this” he suddenly snarled as he reached for his waistband.

 

“Kenny don’t!” Sasha shouted in panic.

 

“Please my sons!” Rey shouted in the same voice. But as it turned out it wasn’t either of them that the two groups listened to.

 

“No!” came an impatient and bored sounding voice from somewhere behind the black group. Sasha turned toward the voice as the group in front of her parted to reveal a man leaning against the building to Sasha’s right. A white man. This was unusual in itself in this part of Vegas but this man would have stood out anywhere. He was wearing clean jeans, a brown leather jacket over a dark blue t-shirt, and tinted aviator sunglasses. His build was muscular enough that it showed clearly even under his clothes.

 

“Yo who the hell is this gringo ?” Juventud asked, his hand still hovering near his waist.

 

The man didn’t answer him just shifted his position slightly before re-folding his arms and saying “you aren’t shooting anyone”. He spoke with such absolute certainty and undeniable authority that Sasha saw several arms drop back to sides. Sasha studied him more closely. In another context she would have said that he was a handsome man with his short dark blonde hair and a beard that she would have described as ‘immaculately scruffy’.

 

“Man you ain’t in charge here” Kenny said but Sasha noted that he sounded petulant rather than challenging. The voice of a subordinate not of an equal.

 

“Aren’t I?” the blonde man asked. He held Kenny’s gaze until the younger man looked away before he said “ask your boy Rodney Mack how that worked out for him”. The name caused Sasha’s eyes to narrow, it was the name Naomi had given for Cameron’s latest bad boyfriend. Fortunately, ‘Glasses’ didn’t seem to notice.

 

“Yo I don’t know you gringo but you can’t tell me to do shit!” Juventud said but he didn’t move. Glasses just sighed as though he were a teacher disappointed by the progress of a slow student.

 

“Look around you gents…” he said as he raised his palms and offered a smile full of gleaming teeth “...you’re seriously going to start a gun fight with an audience?”. Sasha looked and saw that a small group of onlookers had indeed gathered, many had their phones out. “I expect some of these citizens have already called the cops as well so I suggest we all disperse”. Sasha exchanged a confused look with Rey whose own expression showed that he had no more idea than her about what was going on.

 

“Then let us clap these fools before 5-0 show up!” Kenny snapped. Again, Sasha noted that he was asking the man for permission. He wasn’t telling him what he was going to do.

 

“If you want to get killed or go to jail then thats your affair but if you lose some of that fancy new hardware to the cops the boss will not be happy with YOUR boss...and how do you think that will go for you? Remember Rodney” Glasses said. Sasha could see that Kenny wanted desperately to posture for awhile longer but it was clear the moment had passed.

 

Rey started to speak to the latino men in Spanish again as Sasha stepped forward and said quietly “Kenny...don’t break your mom’s heart again”.

 

“And there’s that, don’t forget about the moms” Glasses said. His voice was delighted as though he hadn’t ever considered this himself though Sasha knew he was mocking her. Kenny and Juventud exchanged one last glare before both groups began to melt away.

 

“Man fuck those eses they ain’t worth it” Kenny said in a face saving mutter.

 

“They aren’t” Glasses agreed mock enthusiastically. Though as the group he’d come with disappeared he didn’t move. Instead he just looked at Sasha and Rey with a bemused expression.

 

“That was gutsy, I like that” he said. Sasha wasn’t sure how to respond to this. She found herself disliking the man despite the fact that he’d just saved a lot of lives. Rey had no such problem.

 

“Thank you sir” Rey said as he stepped forward and offered his hand. Glasses looked down at it with an amused smile but didn’t take it.

 

“Just doing my job Priest” he said before pushing off from the wall and walking after the black men. When he’d gone and the onlookers had begun to leave Sasha turned to Rey.

 

“Who was that?” she asked him.

 

“I have no idea” Rey said quietly clearly as troubled as Sasha. “But he prevented a lot of bloodshed today” he added.

 

“I don’t get the feeling that he minds spilling blood himself, he’s just smarter than that idiot Kenny” Sasha said darkly.

 

“Indeed...” Rey said grimly before turning to look at Sasha again and adding “...I find I’ve lost my desire for that coffee I’m afraid”.

 

“Me too…” Sasha said honestly.

 

“But to address your earlier issue Sasha…” Rey said as he gently placed his hands on her shoulders “...the world moves forward but it moves forward at it’s own pace. At god’s pace. We can’t hurry it. If you and your friend are meant for each other then in time you’ll come together again. But for now, you simply need to respect her wishes”.

 

Sasha stared back at him for a long time before she could nod and say “I know”.

 

“That’s my girl” Rey said with a warm smile. He turned back the way they’d come and said “...I can make you some coffee back at the church if you like” but Sasha wasn’t listening. Her phone had just buzzed and she’d pulled it out of her pocket to see she had a new message. It was from Naomi and it read:

 

Cameron is missing!!!! Come to my house after work!!!

 

Sasha’s heart sank. Her face must have fallen to because Rey asked “what's wrong?”.

 

Sasha handed him the phone and he read the message. His face fell too. Cameron had spent as much time at the GCC growing up as Sasha and Naomi had. “I have to go” Sasha said as she took her phone back and hurried away.



Chapter Text

“Can I call you?” Becky Lynch’s partner from the night before asked her.

 

Becky assumed a theatrically thoughtful look before she said “you can sure, but I won’t pick up. I’ll call YOU next time I feel the need”. She punctuated this remark with a quick wink before settling herself into her bed.

 

“Fair enough” John Morrison said with a grin as he tugged his jeans on. Though it had taken several days longer than she would have liked Becky had eventually found herself a fling. She’d stumbled upon Morrison’s number still in her phone and then had recalled what had almost happened the night she’d taken care of the Ascension. She’d stared idly at her phone for a few moments before sending off her text.

 

Less than an hour later she and Morrison had been tangled around each other. To Becky’s delight she’d found that not only was his body all that she’d hoped, but his stamina had far exceeded her expectations. She’d lost track of how many times they’d had sex over the course of the night but judging from the twinge of soreness she was feeling, it had been more than enough.

 

Enough that, for the first time since she’d left Ireland, she’d fallen asleep immediately after the final go. Sleepovers simply weren’t Becky’s style, she usually kicked her partners out immediately after she’d seen to her own needs. But Morrison continued to be the best kind of surprise to her. Not only had he not tried to have an awkward emotional conversation with her when they’d both awoken, but he’d also suggested that he leave right away. Amazing sex with a partner who then left her to sleep in. Becky could get used to that.

 

As Morrison was searching for his shirt Becky toyed with the idea of calling him back to bed one last time. But she was just so comfortable that she decided it wouldn’t be worth it. Besides, she intended to have another opportunity in the near future. Becky had two or three men that she usually called when she was seeking release but Morrison’s performance had put him squarely at the top of that list. She was only dimly aware of the sound of him leaving as she felt herself falling back to sleep.

 

She was jerked rudely back to awareness a few moments later as she heard Morrison called “uh...Becky? You have a guest”. Her eye’s shooting open Becky’s hand automatically slid behind her bed to reach for the pistol she kept hidden there but then her reason caught up with her. Morrison hadn’t sounded alarmed just surprised. Still, it didn’t pay to trust rashly so after she’d thrown on sweats and a tank top she grabbed one of her usual pistols from where they hung in her holsters.

 

Emerging out into her living room she was surprised to find Morrison standing in the door with ODB. Becky’s brow furrowed at the sight of the other woman. She hadn’t told ODB where she’d lived. And in fact, from almost the moment they’d parted Becky had been kicking herself. What had she been thinking to trust some random woman so quickly? She must have been drunker than drunk to do that. And to top it all off she was out a grand for being an idiot.

 

But here ODB was. She was dressed like a biker herself in her battered jeans, vest and top, and bandana. ODB was eyeing Morrison with open amusement while Morrison was determinately pretending to look down at his phone. ODB wasn’t armed so Becky set her pistol aside and addressed Morrison first. “Run along now Johnny, the grown ups need to talk” she said in a still groggy voice.

 

Morrison might have taken offense at these words but the implied insult didn’t seem to register. The man was gorgeous, a phenomenal lover, and too dumb to realize when Becky was insulting him. If Becky had believed in the concept of a perfect man then Morrison might well have been it. In the end he just nodded at Becky and left closing the door.

 

“What was he? 18?...” ODB asked sarcastically before adding “...but a tasty 18”. Becky decided that it was too early for banter and went searching for coffee. Finding one of the several half finished starbucks cups round her apartment she lifted the lid and sniffed experimentally. Shrugging she put it in her microwave.

 

Turning to ODB she said “can I help you with something?”. ODB didn’t answer her though as she was staring around Becky’s apartment. As usual it was in disarray but on a grander scale. Becky and Morrison hadn’t actually begun their nocturnal romp in her bedroom, and she was only now seeing the results. Her apartment was never really well organized but the pair had knocked almost anything that HAD been on a surface to the floor.

 

“What the hell happened here? Were you robbed?” ODB asked Becky incredulously. Becky decided that she wasn’t in the mood to receive housekeeping advice from a woman who smelled like cigarettes.

 

“And just how the hell do you know where HERE is?” Becky asked waspishly just as her microwave beeped insistently. ODB didn’t answer but just gave her a look. Grabbing her coffee Becky sat back down and muttered “oh right...you’re good at finding people”.

 

“And places” ODB said as she grabbed another chair and sat across from Becky.

 

“What do you want?” Becky asked as she took a sip of her drink. It tasted as bad as one might expect but she was mostly drinking it out of habit anyway.

 

“I found one of our girls” ODB said as she began digging in her pocket. Producing a pack of cigarettes and a lighter she was opening the pack when Becky snapped at her.

 

“Oi! What do you think you’re doing? Not in here” Becky said incredulously.

 

“Are you serious?” ODB said as she shot a significant look at the bong standing next to a small bag of weed on Becky’s coffee table.

 

“Thats different, it’s an ancient Irish tradition. No smoking in here!” Becky said as she took another horrible sip of reheated coffee. Deciding that eleven AM was late enough Becky stood and grabbed one of several half empty bottles of whiskey from a kitchen shelf. Adding a decent dram to her coffee she swirled the mixture before taking another sip. Much better.

 

“Whatever, I found one of our girls” ODB said sounding miffed.

 

“Already?” Becky asked in surprise. On receiving another look she scowled and said “...oh for christ sake YES you’re good at finding people”.

 

“Her name’s Ariel Thorn and she’s living here in Vegas but she’s having a hard time finding work” ODB said, ignoring Becky’s annoyance.

 

“And what did she say when you talked to her” Becky asked.

 

“That she wanted to speak with you first” ODB said.

 

“Hmm…” Becky muttered into her cup before she finished her drink. She thought for awhile before she said “...lets meet her at the Goldust day after tomorrow. I need to be there anyway since I have a lead on a girl of my own”.

 

“OK, I’ll tell her” ODB said. Becky was silently impressed by the other woman’s efficiency. And surprised that she hadn’t simply taken Becky’s money and left town, that's what Becky herself would have done. A thought then occurred to her which she mulled silent for a few moments before deciding to take the plunge.

 

“Are you busy tonight?” Becky asked. She instantly kicked herself for doing so. Finlay never ‘asked’ Becky if she could do something. He just told her to do it.

 

“No” ODB said cautiously.

 

Speaking in a firmer voice Becky said “I need you to meet me tonight, I have a little parlay set up and I need someone watching my back from a discreet distance”. ODB didn’t answer but just nodded slowly. Becky then gave her the address of the meeting place she’d given Tessmacher. She would meet ODB an hour and a half before the meeting was set to begin.

 

“If I find any other leads today should I call you or come see you?” ODB asked Becky as she stood to leave.

 

“Tell me tonight, I’ll be busy this afternoon” Becky said. She didn’t tell ODB that she’d be busy serving as a bodyguard for Finlay. ODB was to the door when Becky got her attention once more and said “don’t forget to be packing tonight”. ODB looked at her for a moment but just nodded before she left.

 

Becky actually went back to bed for a few hours before rising for the day. She then took slightly more care over her appearance that usual. This wasn’t a concession to vanity but to experience. She’d learned early that female criminals could derive a great advantage if they were striking. She was usually dealing almost entirely with men and if she could have them distracted even a little then so much the better. And today was a day for finding every advantage she could.

 

Finlay had ordered Becky to arrive at the “Broken Shillelagh” at three in the afternoon. Becky arrived at the pub at two. In addition to his construction company Finlay also owned this pub, as had his father and his grandfather. Most people who bothered to think about such things thought of the place as the ‘headquarters’ of the Vegas Irish. This wasn’t true, Finlay did most of his business from his construction office, but he encouraged the popular view as a ruse.

 

Despite its reputation the place was usually busy. A lot of this was tourists or curious locals hoping to catch a glimpse of a real gangster. As far as Becky knew some of Finlay’s men might go there for lunch or for drinks but she didn’t think they spent an unusual amount of time there. Except for today it seemed. Becky was pleased to find that neither Finlay or Balor had arrived when she got there but she did recognize several of Finlay’s other men pretending to drink at the bar.

 

This wasn’t surprising. Finlay had told her that each side was bringing only three to the meeting. And so each side would. But they also would be doing everything else they could to make sure they had many more people in the area. Becky herself made some quick preparations by stashing an additional gun for herself in the women’s bathroom and, subtly, behind the ancient jukebox.

 

She then sat at the bar and waited until Finlay himself arrived with Balor in tow. Both men were wearing dark suits. When Finlay caught sight of Becky he scowled. Well, his current scowled deepened. Becky was looking more put together than usual but her ensemble was essentially what she always wore. Leather pants, calf boots, black top, her duster, and (a recent addition) her riding goggles. Aside from these the whole outfit came in shades of black.

 

“What the hell are you wearing?” Finlay growled at her by way of greeting. As he did this Finn smirked from behind him.

 

“Well what did you want me to wear? A ball gown?” Becky asked him sharply. She had a theory that Finlay, on some level, appreciated how she would speak her mind to him. So she’d resolved to continue to do so, but carefully.

 

“Just get over here” Finlay grumbled, seemingly satisfied by her response. She followed him to a table that he chose for himself. Becky noted that it was one that would have the sunlight shining in the face of whomever sat across from him. Settling at the table he leaned forward and said in a confiding voice “Sheamus is waiting out back in a truck with a few more of the lads”. Sheamus was one of Finlay’s men. A wild giant with a violent temper he was the one Finlay called when he wanted to intimidate.

 

“In addition to the boys at the bar then?” Becky asked. For almost the first time in Becky’s experience, Finlay smiled. It was more like a tight lipped grimace but he did smile.

 

“Clever girl, just some insurance” he said. Then his scowl returned as he said “Balor will be at the table with me, you stand by the window”. Becky nodded and moved to her assigned spot. She checked her phone once and saw that it would be about half an hour’s wait. She thought about grabbing a chair but decided that if Finlay wanted her to stand than she would.

 

The general public often assumed that meetings like these took place in dark alleys or in remote parts of the desert. In Becky’s experience, no meeting of any importance followed this pattern. Picking an isolated or out of the way place just encouraged both sides to plot treachery since no one else would be around to witness it. Adding an audience was a way to encourage fair play on all sides. Of course treachery happened in public places to but much less often. And the more organized and professional a crew was the less likely it became. Street gangs might shoot each other in broad daylight but true organizations took care of their problems discreetly.

Becky only had to wait fifteen minutes before Finlay’s guests arrived. Becky had been curious to see them as she’d never met anyone involved with the McMahon syndicate. She knew that though the McMahons had begun as an Irish crew in New England, and still called themselves East Coast Irish, they had in fact long since transcended that label. The McMahons were a truly global organization with few true rivals left in the world of organized crime.

 

Becky had, unconsciously, been expecting a representative of the McMahons to be every bit as fearsome looking as their reputation. So she was somewhat cast down when the representative turned out to be a middle aged man with a pot belly and bald scalp surrounded by a ring of hair on the sides and back of his head which he had pulled into a ponytail. He was wearing a black pinstripe suit and gave the impression of being slimy even without speaking.

 

“Greetings Mr. Finlay, my name is Paul Heyman, and I’m here on behalf of my client” the bald man said as he sat across from Finlay. Becky assumed that by ‘his client’ he meant Vince McMahon. He then twisted in his chair to wave at the two brown skinned men standing on either side of the chair and said “these are my associates Jimmy and Jey. If you haven’t heard of them I suspect you’ll have heard of their family, the Anoa'i”.

 

Finlay gave no reaction to this but both Becky and Finn sat up a bit straighter. The Anoa’i family were a key part of the McMahon family legend. Sometime in the middle of the last century the current Vince McMahon’s grandfather had hired Tovale Anoa’i and his blood brother Peter Maivia as bodyguards. Ever since then the members of the Anoa’i family had always worked for the McMahons who had in turned showered them in wealth. This was due to the simple fact that the Anoa’i had produced some of the toughest and most loyal criminals the world had ever seen.

 

The family was as close to criminal celebrities as there could be. Becky had always wanted to meet one of them so now she studied Heyman’s bodyguards more closely. They were both tall and thickly built with polynesian facial tattoos on their faces. Becky guessed they might be twins given their physical resemblance. For their part, Jimmy and Jey didn’t seem the least bit interested in either Finn or Becky.

 

“Well you know who I am, let’s get down to business” Finlay said brusquely, making no effort to introduce Finn or Becky.

 

“Very well” Heyman said, seemingly unmoved by Finlay’s manner. From personal experience Becky knew that this sort of non-reaction annoyed Finlay.

 

When Heyman didn’t say anything else Finlay asked “so what do you want?”.

 

“My client…” Heyman started to say, emphasizing the last word “...would like to retain the services of you and your organization for a little matter he needs some assistance with”.

 

“Go on” Finlay said.

 

But Heyman wasn’t finished with his original thought “...and if you were to perform well in this task I am instructed to tell you that my client would be willing to discuss a more long term and lucrative partnership”.

 

Finlay was silent for awhile before he cleared his throat and said “well, you can tell Mr. McMahon-”.

 

But Heyman cut him off sharply saying “MY CLIENT”.

 

Finlay’s expression darkened but he continued “...your client, that while we’re flattered he thought of us, we aren’t seeking any sort of long term partnership at the moment”.

 

“Is that so?” Heyman said in a tone of mild curiosity.

 

“It is” Finlay said tersely.

 

“You may wish to reconsider that stance Mr. Finlay or you’ll risk being left behind” Heyman said silkily.

 

“And what's that supposed to mean?” Finlay asked.

 

Heyman sat back and regarded him for awhile, Becky thought he was evaluating Finlay to see if he was worth sharing with. In the end he just shrugged and said “your biggest local competitors are already busily making friends. The Inoki-Kai Yakuza have already made an alliance with the Golden Monkey Tong. The Sammartino’s are in negotiations with the Aces and Eights. And did you know, Mr. Finlay, that Charlotte Flair herself is in Vegas right now and allied with the Prime Time Players?”.

 

This information, delivered so matter of factly, stunned Becky. Heyman had just named three of the most powerful criminal organizations in the United States and probably the world. Becky hadn’t realized that the Nunzio character she’d run into at the Aces and Eights clubhouse was working to bring the MC into the Sammartino fold. And to learn that Charlotte Flair was PERSONALLY in Vegas. Well that was something to remember.

 

Finlay would have been even more aware of the implications of this news then Becky was. But he did a good job of keeping it from his face as he said “so you’re looking for local muscle”.

 

“Yes” Heyman said plainly.

 

Finlay seemed to be thinking about his response very carefully before he said “I’ll need to think about any kind of partnership-”.

 

Heyman interrupted again saying “Let's not get ahead of ourselves Mr. Finlay, we can only discuss a partnership if your organization handles the job I mentioned”. Becky could tell that Finlay was fuming inwardly. This was probably the first time in many years that someone had interrupted him twice in one conversation.

 

After an obvious effort to calm himself he asked “...what KIND of job does Mr. Mc- I mean your client have for us?”.

 

Heyman smirked at this but went right to business “as I said, Charlotte Flair is in Las Vegas. She’s been busy trying to carve out local markets for herself but ultimately she is in Vegas for the same reason the Sammartino’s and the Inoki-Kai are. There will be a meeting between those groups and my client’s organization in the coming weeks”.

 

“What meeting?” Finlay asked, sounding intrigued despite himself. Becky was beyond intrigued. Heyman had just revealed that the most powerful groups in American organized crime would be having a sit down in Vegas.

 

“All in good time Mr. Finlay, take care of this for us and perhaps my client will let you in on that particular secret” Heyman chided Finlay. Something that would only further anger him.

 

“What is the job” Finlay asked in a tight voice.

 

“My client has learned that the local Flair associates are all scrambling to locate someone. We suspect it might have to do with a potential leak about our collective purpose here. My client would be very grateful if you would find out who they are seeking then locate them first. My client would very much like to speak with them, to find out what has Charlotte Flair so concerned” Heyman explained.

 

“That’s it?” Finlay asked sounding suspicious.

 

“It seems that the person in question is very good at concealing themselves as the Flair’s, with all their resources, have no idea where they might be” Heyman said.

 

Finlay chewed on this for a moment before he said “tell your client I’ll have one of my best people look into it”.

 

“Might I ask whom that will be?” Heyman asked. Finlay glared at him for awhile before barking “get over here lass”. Becky assumed this meant her so she stepped forward.

 

“And who might you be ma’am” Heyman asked Becky in a condescending tone.

 

“This is Becky Lynch, she’s one of my best. She’ll get your job done” Finlay said without looking at Becky.

 

“I’m sure…” Heyman said sounding amused. Standing up he took Becky’s hand, Becky had to fight down the urge to snatch it away, and lifted it to his lips saying “...I look forward to hearing of your success Ms. Lynch”. Unsure of what to say Becky just nodded.

 

“Are we done here?” Finlay asked Heyman testily.

 

“Yes I believe that concludes our business, I’ll be in touch regularly to see how things are progressing” Heyman told him pleasantly. Finlay didn’t look at all like this pleased him but he didn’t speak as Heyman and his guards stood. A moment later this surly expression was replaced by a stunned one as Heyman clapped his hands and said to the bar in general “alright folks let’s go”. At his words every single patron in the place, aside from Finlay’s men at the bar, stood as one. Without speaking they all began to file out of the restaurant.

 

“What the hell is this? I thought we were only to bring three to this meeting!” Finlay growled, apparently forgetting that Heyman could see that he hadn’t done this either.

 

“So we were, and so I did Mr. Finlay. Only three of us came to the meeting, the rest of my associates were simply here for a nice lunch” Heyman said in a suddenly steely voice. He held Finlay’s gaze for a long time before he added “...I’ll assume it’s on the house”. And with that he beckoned for his guards to follow him as he left the pub.

 

Becky’s head was still spinning at this and the enormity of the job she’d been assigned when she finally arrived at her meeting with ODB that evening. Ordinarily she might have spent the ensuing hours pleased with Finlay’s open endorsement of her. Instead she’d been trying to work out all the potential angles of the situation. Wondering if she might even be being set up to fail. And even if not, what the likelihood of her being offered up as a scapegoat if anything went wrong was.

 

The address she’d given ODB was for a low office building that Finlay’s company was currently building. Most of the outer facade had been added to the buildings skeleton but it was still many months from completion. Becky had a key to the place’s gate because she and Finn had used it as a place to dispose of a body once. She found ODB sitting on the treads of a power shovel parked by the foreman’s trailer.

 

“What’s up?” ODB asked her as Becky pulled up on her bike. Without answering directly Becky just stood and opened one of her bike saddlebags. She began withdrawing jet black metal components which she set on the treads next to ODB. When she’d almost emptied both saddlebags she began clicking the components together. A minute or so later she stood and thrust the newly assembled rifle into ODB’s hands.

 

“Can you use that?” Becky asked her. In response ODB lifted the gun and peered expertly down the scope before pulling back it’s bolt and holding out an expectant hand. Satisfied, Becky reached into her saddlebag once more and withdrew a pair of four shot magazines which she passed to ODB.

 

“This is a Hart Arms Rifle” ODB said sounding impressed. She was correct the rifle had been made by the famous Canadian arms manufacturer.

 

“The best there is, was, or ever will be when you want someone dead from a long way off” Becky said distractedly as she looked up at the building. She was estimating how high up she would need ODB to be. Eventually she said “get up to the fourth floor and face east, I’ll be in the smaller building under construction across the street" She was referring to a lower longer building that Finlay’s people were building across the street.

 

“Got it” ODB said as she accepted a wireless headset from Becky.

 

A few minutes later Becky had crossed the street and made her way to the exposed second floor of the other office building. She cast a quick glance back the way she’d come to scan the fourth floor of the taller building. She couldn’t see ODB but a moment later there was a pop in her ear followed by ODB’s voice.

 

“I can see you, and I have the whole second floor in view accept for the staircase on the northside” ODB told her.

 

“Alright get comfy, we’ll be here for awhile” Becky said as she sat down with her back against a steel column. She dozed lightly for awhile but eventually, when she heard the distant sound of motorcycle engines, she shot upright. Re-dialing ODB she waited for the call to connect to the earpiece she had hidden by her hair.

 

“You’ve got four coming in from the south on bikes. One woman and three big guys” ODB told her without bothering with a greeting.

 

“Alright they know to come meet up here, keep them covered. If you hear me say the word shamrock then start dropping bodies. But if you hear me say Ard-Rí just put a shot over their heads” Becky said quickly.

 

“Shamrock, dead. Aired Rye for a warning” ODB said.

 

Ard-Rí” Becky corrected her.

 

“Yeah that's what I said” ODB answered. Deciding not to bother Becky stood and leaned against her pillar with what she hoped was a casual air as she faced in the direction of the stairwell. It didn’t take long before the motorcycles sounded as though they were right below her. Then just as abruptly they were cut off to be replaced by the sounds of booted feet walking on dirt.

 

Becky wasn’t unaware of the irony of her situation. Just a few hours before she’d been thinking about how real criminals didn’t have meetings like this. And yet here she was. However she justified this by saying that her present meeting demanded the utmost secrecy. At least for her. And besides, she had backup.

 

After only a short wait Becky heard Tessmacher’s voice calling “Becky? Can I come up?”. Drawing one of her pistols Becky took a deep breath.

 

“Up here, slowly now” Becky called back. A moment later Tessmacher’s silhouette appeared at the top of the stairs with her hands spread wide.

 

“Why are we meeting here? I could have used some coffee” Tessmacher called as she approached. Becky didn’t answer as she saw several huge shadowy forms filling the stairwell behind her.

 

“Who are your friends?” Becky asked Tessmacher as she gestured openly with her gun.

 

“Easy…” Tessmacher said as she walked forward into the dim evening sunlight “...I’m the secretary of the Aces and Eights Vegas chapter, I don’t go to places like this without guards but they won’t do anything unless you do...or I tell them to”. A moment later three men emerged from the shadows to stand near Tessmacher.

 

They were too far away for Becky to read their patches but she could see that they were a scary looking bunch. The shortest of the group still seemed to be a few inches over six feet while his companions were both several inches taller than that. All three men had long beards that, when combined with their size, made them seem like mountain men.

 

Gesturing to the first man Tessmacher said “this is Bray Wyatt, the club Chaplin, and these are his brothers Luke and Erik”.

 

“Hello boys” Becky said in a mocking tone as she wiggled her fingers at them.

 

Tessmacher looked amused at this as she said “Chaplain, take your brothers and wait below”.

 

“Are you sure secretary?” Bray Wyatt asked her. He was looking at Becky and the gun in her hand with great suspicion.

 

“We’re just going to have a little girl time, want to stick around for the mani-pedis?” Becky asked him mockingly.

 

“I’m armed too Bray, I’ll be fine now get out of here” Tessmacher said. She was still speaking gently but her voice was now a definite command.

 

“OK” Wyatt said as he turned and beckoned for his fellow behemoths to follow him.

 

When they were gone Becky asked “do you recruit based on ugliness?”.

 

“And yet it seems you don’t find ALL of our members so unattractive?” Tessmacher said dryly. Realizing she meant Morrison Becky scowled, had the idiot been bragging about their night together around the clubhouse.

 

Deciding she didn’t want to know Becky said “I’ve got some information to trade, provided you have something to offer in exchange”.

 

Tessmacher gave her a long look before she nodded slowly and said “I do...but you called me here. So you should go first”.

 

“And what’s to stop you from just leaving then?” Becky asked immediately.

 

Tessmacher gave her an annoyed look that reached her voice as she said “if you’re concerned about that then I can just leave now. These exchanges are a waste of time if we don’t have even that much trust”. Becky narrowed her eyes in thought for a few moments. Tessmacher could just be trying to bully Becky into giving away what she had. But in the end she decided that she’d been taking a lot of leaps of faith lately. What was one more?

 

“Alright” Becky said as she gathered herself, when she took this first step there would be no going back. Wetting her lips with her tongue she said “Finlay had a meeting with a representative from the McMahons today. They want us to take care of a job for them and if we do then they want to talk about hiring us on as local muscle”. Tessmacher didn’t say anything for awhile but just regarded Becky evenly.

 

Eventually she asked “what’s the job?”

 

But here Becky put her foot down and said “you get three follow up questions Tessmacher, after that you pay again”. Tessmacher nodded in acknowledgement. “We’re to locate someone that they have interest in” Becky said.

 

“Someone?” Tessmacher prompted.

 

“They don’t have details, they just know other groups are looking for them and they want us to grab them first so they can find out why” Becky said.

 

“Other groups?”

 

“Yeah, including your friends in the Sammartino’s” Becky said. This did seem to get Tessmacher thinking. While she was Becky debated if she wanted to add what she knew about Charlotte Flair, but decided that was too valuable to part with for free.

 

“So the McMahons are also looking to find some friends locally” Tessmacher said thoughtfully. Becky got the impression she was merely thinking aloud.

 

“So it would seem”

 

“Thank you Becky, this has been...VERY interesting” Tessmacher said in a voice that suggested she really was grateful. Then she shared her news with Becky.

Chapter Text

“Is this the place?” Charlotte Flair asked as she stared out through the tinted window in the back of her limo. The building was a nondescript adobe brown color that was common in Vegas. Indeed many of the buildings around it were of the exact same shade. It sat in the far corner of a massive parking lot boxed in on three sides by large strip malls filled with the stores that formed the blood in the arteries of suburbia. The sign on the front of the building read ‘Bella Yoga and Wellness’.

 

Charlotte hadn’t actually been shopping at a store like any of these in many years, her freshman year in college in fact. She had occasional fantasies of what it would be like to be Charlotte Flair: Private Citizen, but she was wise enough to recognize these for what they were: idle. Her life’s path had been set from the moment her brother had been retired.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair” Joe said from where he sat at the wheel of her car. Charlotte looked out once more and  nodded in approval. The Bella twins’ operation was a clever one. Nestled safely in it’s suburban cocoon their prostitution ring was far from police attention. From humble beginnings the twins had turned a few girls entertaining bored suburbanites into a small empire. Had they not run afoul the Flairs they may have become a dominant force in Las Vegas’ underworld.

 

But they had allowed their ambition to outstrip their good sense. They’d ordered the hit on the Godfather without really understanding what would result. And now their business belonged to Charlotte and the twins were pretty well trapped. Charlotte was here to see their operation first hand, something she’d been remiss in not doing sooner. Though she had another reason for being here, one that was all together more intriguing to her.

 

Dressed in a white pants suit with gold accents Charlotte stepped out of her car and then walked to the entrance to the building flanked by Nia and Joe. Akam and Rezar were already waiting at the doors and Dana trotted behind her. The twins held the doors open for Charlotte as she glided into the lobby. Lifting her sunglasses from her face Charlotte stared around her imperiously.

 

The place looked like you might expect it to. Soothing wall paint with quasi-East Asian decor designed to allow the illusion of a more spiritual experience than was truly plausible in a building that shared a parking lot with an Arby's. Stepping forward to the reception desk Charlotte met the beaming blonde woman there with a look that instantly made the receptionists smile melt away.

 

“Where can I find Ms and Mrs Bella?” Charlotte asked her.

 

“Umm...they are in a meeting at the moment but if you would like I can…” the girl’s suggestion died in her throat as Charlotte lifted an eyebrow at her.

 

“I assure you…” Charlotte leaned forward to read her name tag “...’Kelly’ that they WILL make time for me”. Kelly swallowed as she looked from the imposing shape of Nia to the equally frightening Joe.

 

“Up the stairs there...their office is at the very end of the hallway” Kelly said in a small voice as she pointed to a flight of stairs.

 

“Thank you” Charlotte said coldly as she swept past the desk with her staff in tow. She paused only to instruct Akam and Rezar to wait at the bottom of the stairs. Then it wasn’t long before she’d reached the end of the hallway. Without bothering to knock Charlotte simply threw open the door and stepped through.

 

“Damn it Kelly I swear I-” one of the twins, who was sitting behind an expensive looking desk off to Charlotte’s left said as the door opened. Her words died in her throat as a look of pure panic spread across her face when she saw who had just entered the room.

 

“Ms. Flair I- I apologize I just...I wasn’t” whichever twin she was said as she leapt up from her desk. She did so too quickly and disturbed a bottle of water which spilled it’s contents across several sheets of paper on her desk. Swearing the twin tried to save the sheets but they were already soaked through.

 

“Who are you?” Charlotte asked, bored.

 

“Nikki, Ms. Flair” Nikki Bella said as she hurried to offer Charlotte her hand before realizing it was still wet and instead converted the gesture into a vague sort of wave toward a small knot of furniture in the middle of the room. “Please have a seat, can I have something brought for you?” Nikki said, still flustered.

 

Charlotte didn’t answer right away but took a moment to look around the room. It was a long rectangular space with two identical sets of furniture on each end. Clearly with one twin sitting at each set it could be disorienting for any visitor standing between them. This amused Charlotte as she looked at the two couches and chairs the sat around a marble table. Clearly her new associates knew how to gain an upper hand in a meeting.

 

“No, thank you Ms. Bella” Charlotte finally said as she settled herself on the couch that face the door. “Please join us though, is your sister here?” Charlotte asked as she waved for Nikki to sit next to her.

 

“Uh yes Ms. Flair. She...she stepped out for a moment I will go get her” Nikki said as she darted from the room. Being kept waiting was one of Charlotte’s greatest pet peeves but in this case she was intrigued. The way that Nikki had spoken made Charlotte think that whatever her sister was doing, it wasn’t something she wanted advertised. The answer to this puzzle was revealed a few minutes later when both Bella twins returned accompanied by Detective Bryan. Charlotte instantly noted that Brie Bella and her husband looked slightly flustered while their clothes looked rumpled.

 

“I’m sorry for keeping you waiting Ms. Flair” Brie Bella murmured as she sat on the couch to Charlotte’s left with her husband. Nikki took the couch to Charlotte's right.

 

“Thank you for joining us Mrs. Bella…” Charlotte said softly before looking at her husband and saying “...and you detective. It appears you don’t spend much time protecting and serving the good people of this city as you seem always to be with your wife”. Charlotte put a slight stress on the word ‘with’ that deepened the flush on Brie’s face.

 

“I’m on my break” Detective Bryan said sulkily.

 

“How lovely for you…” Charlotte answered dismissively before looking at Nikki and saying “...I am surprised by your surprise at finding me here Ms. Bella as you DID tell me that you had information for me”. This was true. Nikki Bella had, through Dean Malenko, indicated that she had vital information for Charlotte.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair, I had just assumed you might call” Nikki said. Charlotte noted that she seemed to have regained her composure after being wrong footed by Charlotte’s sudden arrival.

 

When she didn’t continue Charlotte glared at her and said impatiently “well? Evidently not, as I am here. I haven’t yet seen your operation at first hand so I felt a visit was in order unless you have some objection MISS Bella”.

 

“No Ms. Flair of course not, my apologies, would you like to hear about our business first or the information that we found” Nikki asked solicitously, clearly eager to improve Charlotte’s mood.

 

“Since you chose to be cryptic about it with Dana I presume the information isn’t time sensitive. So you may begin with your business” Charlotte told her.

 

Now Brie Bella took over as she said “we currently have five girls who work directly out of this building and a further twenty three around the city. This last group comes here after we arrange a job for them to bring us our cut. They do so under the cover of attending one of our classes”.

 

“And those who work here?” Charlotte asked.

 

“They are our top earners and available only through advance appointment. Potential clients are screened here before we arrange for a session with one of our girls. Depending on how much a client is willing to spend one of our girls will either entertain them here in one of our private wellness rooms or do a standard outcall” Brie explained.

 

“And you explain these girls’ presence at your building how?” Charlotte asked pointedly.

 

“They are all officially on our books as yoga instructors. Our head instructor Dallas Page has tutored them all to the point where they are capable of leading classes of their own. That way if anyone checks they can show that they do work here” Nikki answered. Charlotte suspected that this trick they had of alternating which twin spoke was a tactic they used to wrong foot people. It wasn’t unlike a police technique she was familiar with.

 

Changing the subject Charlotte asked “and where is Mr. Malenko?”.

 

“He said he had a personal matter to attend to and that he would be back later” Brie told her. This had been a test on Charlotte’s part as she’d been the one to send Malenko on his errand. She’d been curious to see how the Twin’s would speak about him while he was out of the room. Apparently they had decided on a policy of silence on the issue.

 

Turning her attention to Detective Bryan, Charlotte raised an eyebrow at him and asked “what is your role in all of this detective? You are obviously not a clean cop and yet I know which cops are on what pay rolls and no one seems to know about you”. Charlotte had been deliberately slighting in tone and choice of words to see what sort of reaction she might provoke.

 

She wasn’t disappointed as the man seemed to swell in indignation as she said “I’m a major case detective with the LVPD, I make sure that the local cops stay away and deal with the ones who get too nosy”. His voice was petulant and whining, sounding more like a child than anything.

 

“And all out of a sense of chivalry? Most cops go dirty to make money but it would seem that any money paid to you would still be ‘in the family’ as it were” Charlotte pointed out.

 

“As Brie and Nikki get richer then so do I, they can’t do that if the cops are on their backs so I take care of it” Bryan said sounding indignant.

 

“How gallant” Charlotte said in a voice heavy with mockery. She held his gaze for awhile daring him to reply but he stayed silent. Turning back to the Bellas Charlotte asked “how much money do you estimate you will make this year?”.

 

The two women exchanged a quick glance before Brie spoke up saying “four hundred to four hundred and fifty thousand”. What went unsaid was that this figure was obviously BEFORE Charlotte took her cut. These estimates were in line with what Malenko had told Charlotte which meant the Twins had passed another test. They were undoubtedly still resentful of the way Charlotte had taken over their business but they were smart enough not to try and lie to her face.

 

Charlotte knew that there were three ways to bind a person or group to one’s cause in organized crime. Loyalty, Greed, or Fear. People like Dana and Nia were loyal to Charlotte personally, though there was obviously no chance of that from the Bellas. Charlotte had brought them into her organization through a demonstration of pure force so she knew they feared her. But fear was the least reliable of the three methods to holding onto an asset.

 

People who remained part of an organization out of fear would only do so as long as they felt that fear. It necessitated a strong and direct hand from their overlord as well as constant reminders of the consequences of betrayal or failure. They would also be on the lookout for their chance to escape from their chains, which would limit their efficiency as an asset. Fear had its place of course but Charlotte preferred not to rely on it exclusively.

 

She’d been forced through her killing of Big Cass and the demonstration with Rodney Mack to show the Bellas the whip, the consequences of disobedience. Now it was time to show them her golden hand. She needed to show the women that not only could she end their lives if they crossed her. But that she could also reward them fabulously if they served her well.

 

“Mr. Malenko has been seeing to an errand for me this afternoon. I have decided that it is time for your operation to expand” Charlotte abruptly announced. Both twins looked confused at this pronouncement but didn’t speak.

 

Detective Bryan had no problem finding his tongue as he asked “what do you mean?”.

 

Charlotte gave him a stern look before saying “detective, if your wife desires your presence at this meeting then here you shall be. But this is a conversation between myself and two of my lieutenants so I’ll thank you to remain silent unless spoken to”. Bryan recoiled as though he’d been slapped at these words and looked as though he were about to snap back at Charlotte. But then his wife put a hand on his arm and shot him a restraining look leaving him with nothing to do but flush angrily and glare at the floor.

 

“What Daniel meant to ask was ‘how do you intend to expand our business’ Ms. Flair” Nikki asked Charlotte.

 

Charlotte glared at Bryan for a few more moments before saying “Mr. Malenko has found and secured a suitable building for a second location for your business. You will begin using it to expand your operations, in the end I believe we might see a doubling in the profits from your business”.

 

The twins exchanged another look before Nikki said “but..Ms. Flair, we are VERY grateful for this, but we don’t have the girls or actual staff to support another location”. Charlotte didn’t answer directly instead just waving to Joe who dropped a heavy briefcase down onto the table between them.

 

“Open it” Charlotte told the Bellas simply. There was a long hesitant pause before Brie Bella leaned forward and gingerly undid the locks. She took a breath and lifted the lid before inhaling sharply. The case was full of money. “Four hundred thousand dollars Ms. Bella and Mrs. Bella and I have already purchased you the building. I trust you’ll be able to see to the details with it” Charlotte said smoothly.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair” Brie breathed.

 

“And you may keep the rest as a token of my intentions that we all prosper from our arrangement” Charlotte told the Bellas. At this both of them exchanged a look of delighted surprise.

 

Apparently unable to help himself any longer Detective Bryan burst out saying “No! You can’t do that! It will mean dealing with a whole new group of cops! It will take a LOT of work to get them all in line”. Charlotte gave him a stare that would have frozen water. She didn’t speak for over a minute. When she eventually did it was in a voice just above a whisper.

 

“You fundamentally misunderstand your position MISTER Bryan…” she said as she deliberately omitted his title “...it is not you who choose what I can or cannot do. And if you ever suggest through word or deed again that it is...I will have you flayed alive”. Charlotte’s voice made perfectly clear that she both could and would follow through on her threat.

 

Bryan tried to be defiant, tried to hold Charlotte’s eye. He even ignored his wife’s restraining had on his arm for a time. Eventually though he looked away and muttered something like “I’m sorry Ms. Flair”.

 

“Louder Detective!” Charlotte snapped.

 

“I am SORRY Ms. Flair” Bryan said sullenly.

 

“Joe, take 100,000 out of the suitcase as a penalty for the detective’s temerity” Charlotte said quietly. Joe stepped forward and did just that, stuffing the money into Dana’s briefcase which the blonde woman held out for him. Nikki Bella looked furiously at her brother in law at this while Brie simply looked frightened. “Now, I believe you said you had information for me Ms. Bella” Charlotte said to Nikki after letting the pause stretch for awhile.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair, as you instructed we’ve been trying to find anyone else who might have been talking about Project-...I mean...who might be discussing your business” Nikki said, catching herself before she said ‘Project Andre’ aloud.

 

“And?” Charlotte asked her with a hint of asperity.

 

“One of our girls who works in MVP’s territory told us about a group of the dead guy’s friends who are hiding out trying to avoid MVP’s guys. She says they went to ground a day after people learned what had happened” Nikki told her. Apparently she wasn’t quite ready to talk about what she’d seen happen to Rodney Mack except obliquely.

 

“Interesting” Charlotte mused as she shot a look at Nia. Her bodyguard took the hint and withdrew her phone to begin sending texts. “And did your girl tell you anything else?” Charlotte asked.

 

Nikki shook her head before saying “no Ms. Flair, Shaniqua heard it from one of her clients but when she tried to ask more he stopped talking “.

 

“Hmm...very well” Charlotte said as she stood. Crossing over to Dana she gestured for her assistant to open her briefcase once more. Withdrawing about twenty thousand from it Charlotte tossed it back onto the table saying “well done Ms. Bella, see that some of that gets to your girl”.

 

“Thank you Ms. Flair, I will” Nikki said.

 

Turning back to Brie Bella, Charlotte added “try to be as accommodating as your sister and these meetings need never get so tense in the future Mrs. Bella”. With that she left.

 

After collecting the twins at the foot of the stairs Charlotte walked quickly out to her car. When she got in she took out her own phone and sent several messages. The most important of which was to her contact in the police commissioners office. Having done this she was thinking quietly as Joe asked “where to Ms. Flair?”. Charlotte pondered for a few more seconds before she made her decision.

 

“Back to the penthouse Joe, then tell Mr. Blackman to be waiting. I have a job for him that he should enjoy more than sparring with me” Charlotte said darkly.

Chapter Text

Bayley was marvelling at the human ability to get exactly what you wanted, and still be unhappy. If you’d asked her what she wanted most in the world just the week before, near the top of that list would have been an extended break from work. A time where she had nothing to do but sleep and indulge her interests. Well now she had that and she found she didn’t much care for it.

 

She’d been released from the hospital after three days of care. During that time Bayley had had to smile and nod as seemingly every cop in Vegas came through her room to say hi. It wasn’t that she didn’t find this touching and nice, but it did get trying after a while. For those days her only physical activity had been to get out of bed twice. The first time she’d set off some kind of alarm and nurses had descended ordering her back into bed. The second time she’d been more careful and had managed to pace around her room for awhile before the same thing happened again.

 

When she'd been sent home with a bag full of pain meds she’d thought that the worst might be behind her. Instead she’d confronted one of her oldest bugaboos, boredom. Bayley had a hyperactive mind that often seemed to be sprinting on ahead of her as she clung on desperately for the ride. She usually combated this through frenetic activity and work. Both of those releases were now denied to her.

 

She couldn’t exercise out the stir crazy. Hell she could barely walk with all the pain in her side. She’d been told that she was actually healing remarkably well but it didn’t feel that way. Even the act of walking from her bed to her kitchen could leave her breathing hard these days. She’d tried yoga as an alternative only to find that her body protested vehemently whenever she moved her upper body even in the slightest.

 

And of course she couldn’t work. She wasn’t even allowed to seek an appointment with an LVPD medical evaluator about reinstatement for another two weeks. She’d thought about asking Alexa to bring her some case files but knew that would be pointless. Her partner was already back at work, she’d been diagnosed with a simple concussion, but she was a rule follower and wasn’t about to help Bayley disregard doctors instructions. Besides which, if Bayley was honest, she wasn’t really up to any kind of serious work.

 

So she’d been left with her various non-work hobbies. Once again she reflected that having an unlimited amount of time to indulge them would have SEEMED like a good idea to her. Before she’d been faced with the prospect. Now she knew better.

 

It had taken Bayley all of two days to finish the video games she’d been playing. She’d finished reading all three books and graphic novels she was halfway through. And she’d learned that she could watch about six hours of netflix in one day before she absolutely had to be doing something else. She didn’t even have any back load of around the house projects to attend to as she was very good at staying on top of things like that.

 

All in all Bayley couldn’t have been MORE appreciative when someone knocked on her door just before noon one day. She’d been thinking about rearranging her collection of 'Pop! Figures' in order of her first exposure to their particular fandom and had been instantly grateful for the distraction. Bayley was only about halfway to the door, she couldn’t walk very fast yet, when her visitor knocked again.

 

“I’m coming! I’m coming” Bayley shouted as she pressed a hand to her side. Trying to walk too quickly caused her wound to flare up as did shouting. Bayley had been doing both. When she finally reached the door she opened it expecting yet another well wisher from the LVPD. There had been a steady trickle of well wishers since she'd been released from the hospital. She was right but the person standing in the doorway drew a much more enthusiastic response from Bayley than most had.

 

“Tara! Hey!” Bayley said as she stepped forward to hug the dark haired woman standing in front of her with a smile.

 

“Hey there Martinez, how ya feeling?” Lieutenant Tara Victoria said as she hugged Bayley back. Tara had been with the LVPD for more than two decades and during that time had become one of the most well respected and highly decorated officers in the department. She’d also been Bayley’s Sergeant when she’d first joined the force as a uniformed officer.

 

Tara had already been on her way to becoming a legend at the time. But she’d taken a young Bayley, and Alexa for that matter, under her wing. Or that was how Bayley now saw it. At the time she’d been convinced that Tara had just hated her. Tara hadn’t been easy on any of her officers but she’d been beyond demanding with Bayley and Alexa.

 

It was only as the years passed that Bayley realized what the older woman had done for her. By holding Bayley to a higher standard she’d trained Bayley to accept nothing less from herself. The day after Bayley had passed her detectives exam she’d gone to Tara’s office and to thank her for everything she’d done. To this day Bayley remembered the other woman’s reaction fondly. Tara had looked up from her paperwork and said simply “about time you caught on Martinez”. Ever since then their relationship had warmed from that of strictly Mentor-Mentee. Bayley now thought of Tara as a friend.

 

“I am a lot happier now that you’re here!” Bayley said truthfully as she released Tara. She beamed as she looked her friend up and down. Tara was nearing fifty but she was in as good, and probably better, shape than Bayley herself. Indeed, Bayley thought she could never hope to have the kind of muscle mass that Tara seemed to pull off so effortlessly.

 

“Are they letting you leave the house yet? Can I take you to lunch?” Tara asked as she gestured over her shoulder down to the parking lot of Bayley’s building.

 

“If they want to keep me here they should have left a guard, just let me get my purse!” Bayley said eagerly. She hadn’t left her apartment in days and was ready for any excuse to do so. It took her a depressing amount of time to make it down the three flights of stairs that led up to her apartment. Tara was patient with her always offering a steadying arm when Bayley needed. More helpful were her pointed comments asking if Bayley would like a walker, these spurred her on much more effectively than simple encouragement would have.

 

“Where do you want to go?” Tara asked her after they’d both settled into her car.

 

“Micks! I NEED something full of sodium and covered in cheese” Bayley said, her stomach silently roaring in approval.

 

Tara shook her head ruefully at this as she started her car Asking “you’re still eating like a nine year old then huh?”.

 

“You know Alexa says the same thing all the time” Bayley answered.

 

“She always was the smart one” Tara quipped. She drove silently for a moment before asking “so how are you feeling really?”. She asked this last in a way that made Bayley forgo her automatic dismissive answer about being ‘ok’.

 

“Still hurts a lot, the meds help though. I hate that I can’t walk across my apartment without having to take a break halfway through” Bayley admitted soberly.

 

“That means you’re pushing yourself too hard Martinez, for the love of god stay in bed” Tara said in an exasperated tone.

 

“I’ve TRIED! And I hate to say this but I am starting to HATE it” Bayley said while silently begging her bed’s forgiveness.

 

“Well just do it anyway, take it from someone who's been where you are two or three times. If you rush this it will take longer for you to make it back” Tara said.

 

“How many times have you been shot?” Bayley asked her mentor with a furrowed brow.

 

“I know we’ve talked about this”

 

“I know how many times you’ve been given a commendation for bravery, that doesn’t tell me how much lead is rattling around in you”

 

Tara barked a laugh at this as she thought and then said “four times”.

 

“Who are you 50 Cent?” Bayley asked incredulously.

 

“Wow...I’m almost fifty an even I know that was a HUGELY dated reference” Tara said.

 

“Cut me some slack, I just got shot for the FIRST time” Bayley said.

 

“That’s why I’m buying you lunch. But no free meals for any subsequent shootings” Tara joked as she pulled the car onto the highway. She and Bayley continued their friendly banter for the rest of the drive and indeed until the very moment Noelle approached their table.

 

“Hey you!” Noelle said happily to Bayley before her expression fell as she asked “uh...can I hug you? That won’t hurt you right?.

 

Bayley grinned and said “even if it did I don’t care, bring it in!”.

 

After she’d released Bayley Noelle said “dad was so proud when we heard you were a hero on the news and everything. Kept saying how he was going to get a picture of you to hang up in here”.

 

Bayley actually blushed at this and said “I’m no hero, I’m just me”.

 

“Just saying, that sounds EXACTLY like something a hero would say” Noelle teased before she lifted her tablet and added “What will it be ladies? It’s on the house today, dad told me to tell you that whenever you next came in”.

 

“Well alright then” Tara said in amusement.

 

This announcement did nothing for Bayley’s flush as she said “you tell your dad that I hate him! And that I love him! But emphasize the first right now”.

 

Noelle just smiled and asked “the usual then?”. Bayley nodded and then watched as Noelle took Tara’s order and then bounced away.

 

“You and Bliss still come here often?” Tara asked Bayley.

 

“Not as often as I would like, not with Ms. Salads, but semi-regular” Bayley said in reply. She didn’t say anything more as at that moment Noel had arrived with their drinks.

 

“God I miss those days, now whenever I can get out of the office I’m always eating at places that have tablecloths” Tara said ruefully as she sipped her coffee.

 

“Oh yeah...POOR POOR you” Bayley teased. She was cut off again as Noelle re-appeared and deposited three separate appetizers on their table. “Noelle...really?” Bayley asked in a mock stern voice though she couldn’t keep a smile from her face.

 

“Take it up with my old man” the waitress said as she vanished once more.

 

“Well...I mean...it would be RUDE not to right?” Bayley asked with the air of someone trying to justify something to themselves.

 

Tara rolled her eyes as she helped herself to a buffalo wing and said “enjoy it now Martinez, when you’re my age this food will make you pay for days”.

 

“Yes ma’am” Bayley said as she dug into the chili fries.

 

Tara watched her eat with an amused expression for a few moments before she asked “so, you and Bliss working on anything exciting that you can talk about?”.

 

“We’re still on the Godfather investigation, homicide is just too busy to take it so we’re running down leads” Bayley said around a mouthful of cheese, chili, and french fry. She washed this down with soda before adding “or at least we were, I have no idea how that's going now”.

 

“Isn’t Bliss keeping you in the loop?” Tara asked.

 

“No!” Bayley said. She was trying to sound frustrated and indignant but this was hard with a full mouth. She’d been subsisting on whatever was in her fridge for a while now and the junk food tasted amazing. Forcing herself to swallow her latest mega mouthful Bayley added “she refuses to until I’ve been cleared”.

 

Tara made a soft noise of amusement as she said “yeah, that sounds like her”.

 

“It’s annoying as shit is what it is” Bayley said.

 

“Maybe, but I know you wouldn’t have Alexa any other way” Tara said.

 

“Yeah...it’s weird. I’ve spent more time with her than anyone else over the last few years and suddenly she’s not there right away in the morning until I leave at night” Bayley said wistfully.

 

“Hopefully you won’t have to get used to it” Tara said encouragingly.

 

“Hopefully”

 

“Anything else going on? How’s life outside of work?” Tara asked in a too casual voice.

 

Bayley looked at her suspiciously for awhile before she asked “what did Alexa tell you?”.

 

Tara didn’t bother with denials she just said “that you needed someone to talk to. I was going to visit you anyway but that just provided another push”.

 

“I’ll strangle her” Bayley muttered.

 

“She’s worried” Tara said simply. Bayley thought about trying to deflect this line of conversation with a quip, but decided against it. Tara wouldn’t be distracted.

 

“I know…” Bayley sighed.

 

“So what’s going on?” Tara asked her in a plain but not unsympathetic tone.

 

Bayley had to deal with a sudden rush of emotions at this. She’d been surprised how much her last conversation with Sasha had stuck in her mind. She’d made her mind up to have that conversation with her ever since she’d left her note on Sasha’s doorstep. And yet when she’d finally done it she didn’t feel any kind of relief or sense of closure, just a dull ache. This was the real root cause of her cabin fever. When she was stuck at home, she had unlimited time to dwell.

 

“Things outside of work are...tough right now…” Bayley said finally as she looked down at the table. She then proceeded to tell Tara about everything that had happened recently with Sasha though she was careful to use ambiguous pronouns. This care surprised her inwardly, she guessed that protecting Sasha’s sexuality had simply become a habit.

 

“What does Bliss say?” Tara asked when Bayley had finished speaking. Their food had arrived while Bayley was talking but Tara was ignoring her pork chops.

 

“That I should move on” Bayley sighed heavily.

 

“She’s not wrong Martinez” Tara pointed out.

 

“But it’s not that easy Sarge” Bayley said, unconsciously slipping back into Tara’s old title. She used a french fry to push another around her plate for a while before she said “I don’t know...Vegas just feels wrong now”.

 

“What do you mean?” Tara asked.

 

“I...I may have talked to someone back in San Jose about an opening they have in their department” Bayley muttered to the table. This was another thing she’d done to try and fill her enforced free time.

 

Tara didn’t say anything to this for a long time. She just regarded Bayley through slightly narrowed eyes. Eventually she picked up her knife and fork and began cutting one of her chops before asking “do you want me to write you a recommendation?”. This response took Bayley aback, she didn’t know what she would have expected from Tara but this wasn’t it.

 

“I...I guess if you would” Bayley said hesitantly.

 

Tara looked at her sharply as she chewed for a few moments. Swallowing her bite she asked “what? Did you expect me to beg you to stay? Try to talk you out of it?”.

 

“Well...no...but” Bayley stumbled to say.

 

“You’re a big girl Martinez, you know what’s best for you. If you need to leave Vegas then you gotta do what you gotta do. The department will be losing one hell of a cop and San Jose will be gaining one” Tara said matter of factly as she took another bite of her food.

 

“I don’t really WANT to leave but I don’t think I can just stay, just keep working as though nothing has changed” Bayley murmured. She was annoyed by how inarticulate she’d become. She felt exactly like she had when she was a rookie standing in front of Sergeant Victoria’s desk.

 

“It’s gotta be one or the other Martinez” Tara pointed out, emphasizing her point with a gesture from her fork. When Bayley didn’t respond to this Tara pursed her lips and set her utensils down. “Look…” she said as she stared Bayley directly in her eyes “...if you have to leave then I wish luck but if you’re running away then you need to at least be honest enough to admit that to yourself”.

 

Her words drove home, shattering Bayley’s rationalizations like a lightning bolt. A dozen replies suggested themselves to her but she didn’t say anything. Just thought hard about what Tara had said. In the end she looked up at her former Sergeant and said “thanks sarge”. Tara nodded as she caught Noel’s eye and asked for a box. When she got it she carefully filled it and then tossed a handful of bills onto the table.

 

“What’s that for?” Bayley asked confused.

 

“The tip and a cab for you, I gotta run I’m afraid…” Tara said as she stood and slung her purse over her right arm.

 

“People still take cabs?” Bayley asked in a weak attempt at humor.

 

“FINE it’s a big tip and you can take an uber” Tara groused. She sobered then and looked down at Bayley with warmth and sympathy in her eyes, the first she’d displayed all day. “You’re a great cop Bayley and I hope wherever you end up you realize that. But before you make any kind of big decision make sure you know why you’re making it. And then consider if that reason is enough” Tara said. And with that she was gone.

 

“Something wrong with the food?” Noelle asked Bayley as she approached a short while later. Bayley had been sitting staring straight ahead as though in shock.

 

“What? Oh it’s fine Noelle I just...I guess I’m not that hungry. Sorry, I really appreciate the free apps though” Bayley told the waitress apologetically.

 

“Oh no problem, the apps come out of a bag anyway” Noelle said with a laugh.

 

“Good to know”

 

“Want me to clean this all up?” Noelle asked.

 

“No!...” Bayley said, coming back to life a bit “...I want you to box it all up for me, bag or not I’m going to need snacks”. Noelle laughed at this as she nodded and then went off in search of more boxes. No sooner had she gone however then she was replaced by her father.

 

“Detective” Mick Foley said as he slid into the booth across from Bayley. Something in his demeanor was off. Bayley had also noted the absence of his usual effusive greeting and hug.

 

“Mick…?” Bayley asked cautiously.

 

“I wonder if you have a minute for a worried old man” Mick asked her.

 

“If he’s you then I have as many as you like” Bayley said with a small smile. Mick returned the gesture but only feebly. Bayley studied him for a few moments before she asked “what's wrong Mick?”.

 

“I don’t know detective, I don’t have anything for you really. Not like I usually do just...just a feeling” Mick said hesitantly. It was as though he were embarrassed by his lack of concrete offering.

 

“Your feelings have a way of being proved right” Bayley pointed out.

 

“Well...in that case I hope I’m wrong” Mick said. Bayley had never seen him so obviously worried. It was kind of unsettling.

 

“Tell me” she said.

 

“It’s like I say, it’s not much to go on. But there are a lot of new players showing up recently. Most of them are from out of town so I don’t know them or anything about them. But I do know that the streets are nervous, tense, like everyone is eyeing each other waiting for someone to make a move” Mick said.

 

“Any idea what they’re watching for?” Bayley asked. A stab of pain in her side told Bayley that she’d leaned forward unconsciously while Mick was speaking. She’d heard some of the rumors floating around the department about big out of town players arriving in Vegas but this was the first confirmation she’d received.

 

“No, and that concerns me detective…” Mick said looking and sounding worried.

 

Trying to reassure him Bayley said “thanks for telling me Mick, I’ll let the right people know and we’ll get to the bottom of it”. As she said this she reached across the table and squeezed Mick’s arm.

 

“I hope so detective” Mick said with a rueful smile as he rested one of his hands on hers.

 

“We’re the good guys Mick, we always win in the end” Bayley said with a smile. When Mick’s smile didn’t grow at this she asked “Noelle says you wanted a picture?”.

 

Now Mick’s smile did broaden as he said “I do, we’ll have Noel take it. It’ll make a nice addition to the place, having a picture of a hero up on the wall!”.

 

“I won’t do it if you keep calling me a hero” Bayley said sourly.

 

“OK how about a picture with a friend” Mick said.

 

“That’s better” Bayley said with a smile. She and Mick moved to stand in front of one of the windows with their arms around each other’s shoulders as Noelle held up her phone to take the picture. What neither of them saw was the car parked across the street with two people sitting in it. They were both staring at Bayley.

 

Chapter Text

It was times like these that Becky Lynch absolutely loved her job. She was holding the man’s head under the water as he thrashed and heaved against her grip. He was significantly bigger than her and ordinarily she wouldn’t have been able to keep someone his size down, but this was a special case. Dustin Rhodes, the owner of the Goldust casino, was not only almost fifty but also suffered from some kind of condition that left him weakened most of the time. Usually this would have kept him safe from Becky’s abuse but again, he was a special case.

 

Becky had been drinking at the casino’s bar for most of that morning as she’d tried to work out how she was supposed to complete the job Finlay had given her. She had no leads and no idea who she was looking for, but she knew she had to find them. She would have asked ODB to use her considerable talents in that area to assist her but she’d sent the other woman off on another errand and she wasn’t answering her phone. And so Becky had been seeking inspiration at the bottom of a bottle.

 

Her quest had been going poorly when an opportunity had once again dropped squarely into her lap. Becky knew that the phrase ‘luck of the Irish’ had originally been coined ironically but given what happened she was beginning to believe in the concept. The Goldust had been as empty as usual so when the quiet argument had broken out at the bar it had been hard to not listen in. Becky had tried to ignore it but then something caught her attention.

 

“...care what he says! If he does that again I’m fucking quitting!” a young woman was hissing to Marlena, who was standing behind the bar.

 

“Will you shut up!” Marlena whispered harshly as she looked around nervously. Apparently she thought of Becky as merely part of the decour as she was the only one who could have overheard them and yet Marlena chose to continue whispering. “You knew the rules when you started here!” the bartender whispered harshly.

 

“I’ll fuck him if I have to but not that sick shit!” the younger woman, who Becky now recognized as one of the casino’s floor waitresses, snapped back in what was now barely a whisper.

 

“BE QUIET!” Marlena snapped through clenched teeth as she slapped the woman quickly, the cracking sound of her hand on the waitresses face louder than either of their voices.

 

“I will fucking LEAVE Marlena” the waitress said angrily.

 

“There’s the door!...” Marlena said in a matching tone as she pointed to the exit “...but you still owe Mr. Rhodes so if you leave then what happens next is on you!”. She stared harshly at the younger woman for a long time before the waitress’ gaze faltered.

 

“Fuck both of you, I’m going to smoke” she finally said as she stormed off leaving Marlena staring angrily after her. Becky watched for awhile as she considered her options. Deciding that all she had to lose were a few minutes of solitary drinking, which she could get back anyway, she lurched to her feet and followed the waitress. This led her down a side hallway and out a back door to the area where the casino’s dumpsters stood.

 

When Becky emerged into the annoyingly bright light of the afternoon she winced. Donning her sunglasses she looked around and found the waitress standing off to one side struggling with a lighter holding a cigarette between her teeth. The sound of Becky’s approaching footsteps caused her to look up with a sour expression on her face.

 

“I’m on my break” the waitress said in an annoyed tone of voice as she continued to struggle with her lighter. In response Becky extended her own and deftly lit the other woman’s cigarette.

 

“That’s alright, I’m not looking for anymore bad drinks” Becky said casually.

 

“Thanks” the waitress muttered as she took a long drag on her cigarette. Becky looked her over and decided she was out of place in a dump like the Goldust. She was pretty with glowing skin, shoulder length blonde hair, and green eyes.

 

“Don’t mention it, sounded like you could use a break after that argument with Marlena” Becky said still using her casual voice. The blonde woman gave her a sharp look.

 

“Oh that was nothing…” she said quickly. Too quickly.

 

“Didn’t sound like nothing, sounded like you’re getting a shitty deal from the old pervert who runs this place” Becky suggested. The waitress was staring at Becky with open suspicion now and was clearly thinking of just leaving until Becky said “I can help you with that”.

 

The waitress narrowed her eyes for a moment before she asked “why would you do that?”.

 

“Not altruism…” Becky admitted “...and it depends on if you do what I think you do?”.

 

“And what do you think I do?”

 

“I think that you’re only a waitress to cover your real job, turning tricks for your boss” Becky said plainly.

 

The waitress brushed some hair out of her eyes as she exhaled smoke and said “are you a cop?”.

 

“No” Becky said. The other woman looked at her hard clearly trying to decide if she could trust what Becky said.

 

“What do you want?” was all the waitress eventually said.

 

Instead of answering Becky asked “What’s your name lass?”

 

“Ryan, Ryan Shamrock” the waitress said in reply.

 

“Would you be Irish at all?” Becky asked cheerily, not really caring about the answer.

 

“I suppose”

 

“Well Ryan, why don’t you tell me what your boss is doing and then I’ll tell you what my fee will be in return for dealing with it” Becky said.

 

Ryan bit her lip and thought for awhile before saying “Mr. Rhodes, the owner, has me work out of the motel most nights. Marlena makes the offer to whoever looks like a good mark and Meanie takes care of anyone who gets rough”.

 

“Why would you want to work out of a shit hole like this place?” Becky asked.

 

Ryan shrugged and said “it’s better than the street, safer too”.

 

“But your boss is making it worse?” Becky asked her leadingly.

 

Ryan snorted angrily at this as she said “look, we all knew we’d have to sleep with him occasionally. It was just part of the job. But he’s into so much sick shit that I don’t want to deal with”. She took another long pull on her cigarette before muttering “sometimes I’d rather go back to the street”.

 

“Why don’t you?” Becky asked her, genuinely curious about the answer.

 

“Because when we agreed to work here we agreed to do it as long as it took to pay him back for the money he spends on us. He pays for our check ups and lets us stay in the motel. Seemed like a good idea at the time” Ryan said in a resigned voice. Becky had to admire the man’s deviousness, he’d essentially trapped Ryan in a state of perpetual servitude.

 

“How much does he take from each job?” Becky asked.

 

“He takes half” Ryan muttered bitterly.

 

“Why don’t you come and work for me instead” Becky proposed. Ryan shot her a sideways look at this but didn’t speak right away.

 

“Why would I want to do that?” was what she eventually asked.

 

“Because I’ll make sure you keep your place and free checkups. I’ll only ask for a flat sum every month and I’ll make sure you have ACTUAL protection, not just that fat slob at the door” Becky said.

 

Ryan snorted skeptically at this and said “oh yeah? How are you going to convince my piece of shit boss to go along with that”.

 

“Oh I won’t be asking darling” Becky said as she pulled back her duster to reveal the knife and pistol on her left hip. Ryan looked at both weapons for awhile.

 

“If you do that then I’ll work for you, the other girls will too probably” she said as she finished her cigarette.

 

“How many of there are you?” Becky asked interestedly.

 

“Three of us total”

 

“Well alright then, don’t you go anywhere lass I’ll be right back” Becky had promised as she turned back to re-enter the casino.

 

“Yeah I won’t hold my breath” she heard Ryan mutter but then the door was closing behind her. She followed the signs that indicated the direction to the casino’s office and then found herself in front of a scuffed looking door. Without bothering to knock she just put her foot hard into the center of the door and sent it crashing open.

 

“What the hell?!” came a startled shout in a man’s voice from further back in the office.

 

“Dustin me boy we need to have a word!” Becky called as she stomped across the office and into the door she’d heard the voice come from. Stepping through it she had to pause as she stared around her incredulously before saying “Oh what the hell is this”. The room was very VERY yellow. Moreover it looked like it had been decorated by the set dresser from an eighties porno.

 

“Who the hell is that?!” the man shouted back again. Becky ignored him and edged gingerly past the silk sheeted bed that had a ball gag and harness on its surface. While resolutely ignoring the other signs of exotic sexual tastes around the room. Reaching the door that the man had been shouting from she drew one of her guns and stepped into what turned out to be a bathroom.

 

“You’re not Tylene!” said a startled looking very tall man. He was standing nude beside a full bathtub.

 

“No shit genius” Becky said. Averting her eyes, sighing in angry frustration at the absurdity of the situation, Becky stepped forward and backhanded him hard across the face with her pistol sending him crashing sideways. Unfortunately as he landed he ended up bent over the side of the tub affording Becky a perfect view of his hairy ass. “God damn it” Becky groused as she knelt beside him and put both hands on the back of his head.

 

“Please! I have hepatitis!” he gasped before Becky shoved his head down into the water. And now here she was. She’d been holding his face under the water off and on for a few minutes now. And as she'd reflected, it was actually a lot of fun. As she held him there she took a moment to observe that whatever kind of hepatitis he had it damn sure had turned his skin yellow. She gave it another moment before she pulled his face from the water. He came out choking and spluttering as she struggled feebly against her grip.

 

“Dustin...we need to talk” Becky said in mocking imitation of a breakup speech. Then she shoved his face under the water once more. Another long wait and she let him up again to renewed coughing and spluttering.

 

“W-w-what do you want?” he gasped.

 

“Well for starters you’re going to leave your girl Ryan alone from now on, I gather she doesn’t share your more fucked up tastes” Becky said before dunking the man once more. When she let him up again she added “also she’s no longer your girl, she’s mine”.

 

Rhodes couldn’t answer right away as his head had been shoved into the water once again. When he was allowed back up he choked for awhile before saying “you can’t-”. Sighing Becky thrust him back under the water once and held him under for a slightly longer span before letting him up again. She kept thinking this would get old but it still hadn't.

 

“You’re not hearing me Dustin so let me be clear, your girls are now mine and you’re going to let them stay in your dump of a motel while they work” Becky told her victim.

 

“I...you can’t...I’ll-” Rhodes tried to say as he coughed up water from his lungs.

 

“If you have any problems with this arrangement then you can take them up with DAVE FINLAY” Becky snarled ominously. Usually just invoking Finlay’s name was enough to make someone fall into line, not so in this case, though this wasn't bravery on Rhodes' part.

 

“Who’s that?” Rhodes coughed.

 

“Oh for christ’s sake” Becky snapped exasperatedly as she held the man’s head under the water one last time. Instead of maintaining her grip on his head this time when she let him up Becky released him. She then retrieved her pistol from where she had dropped it and shoved it roughly against his temple.

 

“Let me make this even more simple, you’ll do what I say or I’ll fucking kill you!” Becky snarled at him in her most intimidating voice.

 

“I’ll...I’ll call the cops” the man stammered timidly as he went stock still.

 

“And tell them what? Someone threatened me as I ran my prostitution ring out of my piece of crap casino?” Becky asked him dryly. This seemed to shut him up as he didn’t speak until Becky shoved the muzzle of her gun into his temple with fresh force.

 

“Alright! Alright!” he said in a panicked voice.

 

“Now don’t you go getting any ideas with your blue friend out front, I’ll gut him and watch thirty years of cheeseburgers spill out” Becky told him in a voice that wasn’t even hostile, just an inarguable statement of fact.

 

“I won’t!” Rhodes assured her desperately.

 

“There’s a good lad” Becky said as she stood but kept her gun on him. Rhodes didn’t move but just continued to hyperventilate as Becky added “and don’t you worry your yellow head, you’ll get your cut”.

 

“I...I will?” Rhodes asked sounding as though he didn’t dare believe his ears.

 

“Of course Dustin, we’re partners now” Becky said as she began edging out the bathroom, pointedly avoiding the view of his backside. As she went she suddenly noticed a familiar foul odor in the air...and then the puddle. “Oh god damn it are you serious?” she snapped as she stormed from the room, her amusement utterly gone.



Later, after nearly drowning her hands in sanitizer, Becky had a quick conversation with Ryan and her two companions named Tylene Buck and Dawn Marie. She informed them of the change of management to universal approval. None of them had cared for Rhodes or his ways. Becky had explained that as long as she kept getting her 1k a month she didn’t much care how they ran their affairs. Finally she gave them all ODB’s phone number with instructions to call her if they ever had problems with clients.

 

After all of this Becky found herself right back where she’d started, drinking alone in her booth. Marlena was glaring over at her now but Becky didn’t mind. In the space of half an hour she’d solved many of the biggest problems confronting her in her transition to being an earner. She had her girls, plus the two ODB had found that she still had to meet. She had a safe place for them to work from and, if everything went well, she would have $5,000 a month rolling in.

 

Of course she wasn’t allowed to revel in this victory. Her proverbial luck had other ideas. She had just resolved on writing off trying to make any progress on her job for Finlay when she got a text message. Squinting down at her phone she scowled. If James Ellsworth was reaching out it had to mean more work for Becky.

 

The day after her meeting with Tessmacher Becky and ODB had both gone back to work. ODB was still searching for her final girl while Becky had put her plans for a drug network into motion. This had involved her finding Ellsworth at his hidey hole and bullying him until he’d agreed to work for her. He’d agreed that he’d get her $1,000 a month in exchange for her help in finding more customers and her protection. It seemed that today he was in need of the latter. Leaving her bottle unfinished Becky had hopped on her bike and hurried to Ellsworth’s motel. She found the little worm sitting forlornly on his disgusting bed staring at the wall.  

 

“Well?...” she asked him harshly as she stepped over a pizza box laying in the doorway “...you said you needed my help”.

 

“I...got robbed…” Ellsworth muttered as he stared down at his feet.

 

“How can you bloody tell?” Becky asked as she surveyed his room which had, if possible, gotten even more filthy since she’d last been there. Shuddering she turned back to Ellsworth and asked “so what happened?”.

 

“Some black chick came looking for weed and molly, said she needed it because she and some dudes were going to be holed up for a long time” Ellsworth said as he rubbed the back of his head.

 

“Oh yeah?” Becky asked, not really listening. She was trying not to laugh as she thought she saw where this story was going.

 

“She said a lot of people were looking for her and that she’d pay me extra if I forgot I ever saw her” Ellsworth explained.

 

“Well you’d better give her money back then” Becky pointed out.

 

Ellsworth didn’t seem to hear this as he continued saying “then when I turned around to grab my stuff she hit me with something and grabbed my shit. She called someone and said that they needed to come get her before some lady found them”.

 

Becky actually burst out laughing at the idea of Ellsworth being taken down so easily by a girl. But as she did something piqued her interest. She looked over at Ellsworth and asked “some lady?”.

 

“I think...they said some lady was looking for them and she’d kill them if she got them. I didn’t really hear I was laying on the floor and-” Ellsworth started to say but Becky spoke over him.

 

“Yeah I don’t much care about your booboo Jimmy, did you hear anything else about this woman?” she asked urgently.

 

“I...I…” Ellsworth stammered, clearly taken aback by Becky’s sudden interest.

 

Moving like a striking snake Becky had her knife out and was brandishing it at Ellsworth’s throat in less than a second as she snapped “god damn it Jimmy tell me everything you know or I swear I’ll give you a smile from ear to ear!”.

 

“I didn’t hear anything else I swear!” Ellsworth yelped as he actually fell sideways onto the bed and curled in a ball.

 

“Oh good god man get up” Becky said disgustedly as she sheathed her knife. Waiting for Ellsworth to uncurl she asked “did they at least say where they were going?”.

 

“N-no just something about hiding in a abandoned motel” Ellsworth said timidly. He stared up at Becky for a moment before he said “you promised you’d protect me”. He didn’t sound angry about this, more like a child when they first learn that promises can be broken.

 

“Jimmy...how am I supposed to save you from every girl who wants to beat you up?” Becky said distractedly as she drew out her phone and called ODB. When she got voicemail she left a message saying: “when you get this drop what you’re doing and call me!”. Hanging up the phone she turned to Ellsworth and asked “did they leave you anything?”.

 

“No” Ellsworth said dejectedly.

 

“Well what bloody use are you then?...” Becky asked him harshly before stopping to think and adding in a slightly softer tone “...tell me when you get new stuff Jimmy and we’ll see about finding you a place where you’ll be safe from those mean girls”.

 

“But-” Ellsworth started to say but Becky was already out the door. Whether ODB contacted her or not she had some hunting to do. Sliding her goggles into place she actually smirked to herself. Luck of the Irish indeed.

 

 




Chapter Text

(Note: These events occur simultaneously with Chapter 21)

 

“Are you going to go in?” Officer Naomi McCray asked Sasha Banks impatiently. Sasha had been staring past Naomi through the open drivers window at Mick’s diner for a long time. Actually she was staring through the glass at Bayley.

 

Sasha and Naomi had stumbled upon her quite by accident. They’d been out on their own errand when they’d stopped at a light and Sasha had looked to her left. And there Bayley had been, talking with another woman with long dark hair. She’d made Naomi pull over by insisting that they stop and asked ‘detective Martinez’ for help. But she’d never actually mustered up the courage to go inside.

 

“I..no...let’s just keep looking” Sasha said finally as she sank low in her seat.

 

“Look Sash, if we find Cameron then I promise I’ll give you as much sympathy as you want about your situation. But right now we need to focus okay?” Naomi told her. A sharp retort rose automatically in Sasha’s mind but she squashed it quickly.

 

“I know, I’m sorry Naomi” Sasha said as she put her sunglasses back on and looked away from her friend. Naomi was right, they were doing something important and Sasha had just wasted almost twenty minutes of their time.

 

She and Naomi had spent the last day and a half frantically searching for Cameron. Naomi had picked up the news that her boyfriend, Rodney Mack, had gone missing as well as the members of his crew. Then the rumor had gotten around that Rodney Mack had been killed as some kind of lesson to the Prime Time Players. Neither Sasha or Naomi had liked to think about what sort of person or group could be so powerful that they were teaching the Players that kind of lesson, they just redoubled their efforts.

 

Sasha had actually taken the rest of the week off from work. Ordinarily no one could expect this kind of time off on short notice from the busy ER but Sasha hadn’t actually taken a vacation day in two years. Molly had sounded almost relieved when Sasha had told her. Not for the first time since this had all begun Sasha thought wistfully about what it would be like to actually be on vacation.

 

“We could go ask father Rey again, he might have heard something since we last talked” Sasha suggested to Naomi. Their searching had not yielded any kind of positive results thus far. Sasha and Naomi had covered most of black Vegas hitting on the places they knew Cameron frequented or even places they all used to hang out together. Nothing.

 

“Yeah...but I feel like he would have called us” Naomi said in a tone that was simultaneously worried and thoughtful.

 

“True..I’m running out of ideas Naomi” Sasha said despairingly.

 

“”Come on Sash! Cameron is probably scared and, knowing her, high at the moment. It can’t be that hard for us to out think her!” Naomi said angrily. Sasha knew how she felt. Cameron was proving to be very adept at concealing herself, something that neither of them had anticipated. In a place like black Vegas the streets talked and the walls listened. And yet no one seemed to have any idea where Cameron or the rest of Rodney Mack’s crew had gone.

 

“I think it just means that she left the neighborhood, she could be anywhere in Vegas now” Sasha said still sounding discouraged.

 

“Maybe, but we can’t do much about that can we?” Naomi said sounding frustrated at Sasha's comment.

 

Sasha looked over at her friend with her brow furrowed before she said “hey I’m just thinking aloud”.

 

“Yeah well maybe think aloud about something helpful” Naomi snapped. Sasha leaned away from her friend and raised her eyebrows at this. Sighing Naomi said “I’m sorry...I’m just...stressed and worried”.

 

“We both are, we’ve been out since this morning. Maybe we should take a break” Sasha said. She actually hadn’t slept very much the night before either and she was really feeling the affects.

 

“Maybe you’re right…” Naomi said, sounding deflated. She turned her car on but didn’t move out into traffic as she just stared straight ahead. Eventually though she sighed again and said “...maybe we can think of some places we haven’t looked yet”.

 

“Yeah, maybe” Sasha said quietly. She waited for Naomi to pull her car into traffic before she asked “has it been long enough yet where we can file a missing person’s report?”.

 

“It will have been when I get into work tomorrow, I’ll take care of it first thing. But I doubt they’ll let me help search when they learn that we were-...ARE friends” Naomi said as she caught herself in the same mistake Sasha had been making internally all day. She’d had to constantly remind herself not to think of Cameron in the past tense.

 

The two women spent a mostly silent ride from Mick’s to Naomi’s house. Each woman was lost in her own thoughts or, in Sasha’s case, her brooding. Part of her, an ignoble part, almost blamed Bayley for this whole situation. It was as though by pushing Sasha away she had somehow opened the floodgates to misfortune. But Sasha knew that this was beyond unfair and it even annoyed her that she somehow equated the two issues in her head. These dark reflections took her all the way to their destination where an unpleasant surprise waited for them.

 

Even before Naomi reached her house’s short driveway both women had noticed the two people waiting for them on her doorstep. Naomi didn’t slow down or drive away but she did look over at Sasha and say “stay behind me when we get out’. Sasha nodded as she opened her purse and clutched the pepper spray she always carried. She let Naomi get out of the car first after she’d parked it and only followed after a nod from her friend.

 

“Jazz...Monty...can I help you?” Naomi asked cautiously as she approached her front door only to be met by her visitors. Their names were Jazz Moore and Monty Brown and they were trouble. Sasha and Naomi had known them both while growing up and even then they hadn’t gotten along. Jazz was the girl who had set the record at Tony Atlas High School for most times hauled off by police. She was and always had been violent and short tempered. Sasha was only surprised she hadn’t ever done time.

 

Her companion, Monty Brown, could have been a sympathetic story. He’d been an all state football player in high school and had gone off to play college ball in the midwest. But a knee injury his freshman year had derailed what had once been a potential NFL career. He’d ended up losing his scholarship and right back where he’d started. He would have been sympathetic if he hadn’t quickly started working as muscle for local gangs.

 

Sasha was sure that if they were both here then it was for nothing good. She eyed them both nervously as Jazz stepped right up to Naomi and glared with open hostility. If something happened Sasha wasn’t quite sure what she would do. She’d been in a few scrapes over her life, no one who grew up here hadn’t, but it had been years and she was under no illusions. If a confrontation occurred her role would have to be to call the police.  

 

“Can I help you?” Jazz repeated Naomi’s words in a mocking tone. Monty laughed sycophantically behind her. “Damn bitch you even talk like a fucking cop” Jazz said harshly as she got right in Naomi’s face.

 

“Well...I AM a cop so that makes sense” Naomi said without flinching.

 

“What? You think that makes you bulletproof bitch?” Jazz growled at her in reply. Before Naomi could respond Jazz looked over her shoulder at Sasha and sneered saying “I see you’re still hanging out with the white girl”. Jazz had been one of Sasha’s most vocal tormentors about her mixed heritage growing up, and apparently she meant to continue the practice.

 

“Nice to see you too Jazz” Sasha said as she narrowed her eyes, determined not to show any kind of fear.

 

“Whatever bitch, yo we got a message for you” Jazz said as she turned her attention back to Naomi.

 

“What’s that? Moolah’s having a sale on shitty weaves?” Sasha asked mockingly. Jazz’s hair was indeed not going to pass as natural to anyone with open eyes.

 

“Hey why don’t I walk over there and smack you like the bitch you are” Jazz said as she glared angrily at Sasha.

 

“Sasha!” Naomi said quickly over her shoulder as she made a placatory gesture. Turning back to Jazz she asked “you have a message?”. But it was Monty who answered.

 

“Yeah, go the fuck away” he rumbled as he folded enormous arms in front of his chest.

 

“What?” Naomi asked sounding confused.

 

“He means you better back the fuck off bitch! MVP knows what you two bitches been doing and he don’t like it” Jazz snapped.

 

“I see…” Naomi said as she eased her hand slowly down to her hip where Sasha knew she was wearing her sidearm under her jacket. In a still casual voice Naomi asked “...and if I don’t listen to his warning?”.

 

“Bad things happen to people everyday...even cops” Monty said flatly.

 

“Are you two idiots seriously going to openly threaten a police officer like that?” Naomi asked challengingly.

 

“Yo bitch who’s threatening anyone? He just told you something everyone know” Jazz said as she raised her palms innocently.

 

“Uh-huh...you two can get the hell off my property now” Naomi said in a voice of steel. Sasha tensed at this, sensing that if something were about to happen this would be the moment. But it seemed that even Jazz had more sense than to assault a police officer in front of a witness in broad daylight.

 

“OK, you be hard if you want, but you heard what MVP said” Jazz warned ominously as she shoulder bumped Naomi roughly out of the way to leave. Monty followed without the physical contact. Jazz looked like she might say something to Sasha for a moment as she passed but settled for a nasty look. Sasha returned it but only automatically, something was causing her mind to go into overdrive.

 

When the pair got into a car parked on the street and drove off Naomi turned back to Sasha and said “well...that sucked, should we go inside-”. She trailed off as she saw Sasha’s expression, it was one of deep concentration. “Sash?” she asked.

 

“Naomi...what did you smell?” Sasha asked as her idea solidified more and more with each passing second.

 

“What?”

 

“On Jazz and Monty, what did you smell on them?” Sasha asked her friend urgently. Naomi looked puzzled at this but sniffed the air once. Realization exploded across her face as it solidified in Sasha’s mind. There was only one place in this part of Vegas that could produce that distinctive smell.

 

“The paper mill” Naomi said as both she and Sasha hurried back to her car.

 

The Vince Russo Paper Mill had been part of an initiative aimed at diversifying Las Vegas’ economy when Sasha and Naomi had been children. The Vince Russo Paper Company had been persuaded to open a mill in Vegas with the idea of finding cheap labor in black Vegas and the surrounding hispanic neighborhoods. The idea had been sound but the company’s owner simply hadn’t been able to turn this initial success into anything long term. After a series of disastrous managerial decision the mill had closed only a few years after opening.

 

The mill had stood abandoned for more than two decades since. These days the only people to be found there were the homeless, the criminal, or stupid kids. To a person they all emerged from the place coated in the odor that still clung to it all these years later. It was a combination of the many chemicals that had been stored there for so long and the smell of abandoned buildings. Anyone from the neighborhood would instantly recognize it. The mill stood in the far north-east corner of black Vegas, abutting right onto the city’s flood control. The drive took only about twenty minutes normally, but Naomi’s reckless driving cut that in half. As she brought her car to a grinding halt in the mill’s cracked parking lot Naomi looked over at Sasha with a serious expression.

 

“Sasha, I don’t think you should come in” Naomi said seriously. Sasha ignored this and simply got out of the car and began hurrying toward one of the mill’s many entrances. “Sasha!” Naomi called after her before running to catch up with her friend. She finally did after Sasha had gone through the doors, putting a restraining hand on Sasha’s arm.

 

Sasha spun angrily to face her friend saying “NO Naomi”.

 

“Sasha it might not be safe!” Naomi insisted in a hissing whisper.

 

“I don’t care” Sasha said, not bothering to keep her voice down. Naomi blew out an angry breath and looked like she wanted to argue but seemed to decide against it.

 

“You stay BEHIND me and if shit goes down you run!” Naomi said finally.

 

“No I-” Sasha started to say but Naomi cut her off.

 

“Just shut up and listen to me” Naomi snapped as she moved past Sasha to walk further into the mill. Early evening light was streaming in through the big windows set high on the walls but the place was still fairly dark. Naomi took out a flashlight and shone it around them as they walked cautiously.

 

“Cameron!” Sasha whispered loudly from behind Naomi, drawing a dark look from her friend. Sasha fell silent as she and Naomi passed through what had once been a locker room and onto the mill floor.

 

The place was utterly silent accept for their steps which echoed around the cavernous space. Dust lay thickly on every surface or floated in great motes in the few beams of light that made it down to the floor. The whole interior seemed to be covered in years of graffiti while the accumulated trash of those years was strewn everywhere. Food wrappers, liquor bottles, condoms, empty drug paraphernalia, it was all there. Sasha and Naomi did their best to step around the largest piles of debris as they moved deeper into the mill.

 

A flicker of something in the corner of Sasha’s eye caught her attention. Looking up she saw a metal staircase that led up on of the walls and to a series of what looked like suspended rooms. In the metal grated window of one of these Sasha saw a flickering light. Tapping Naomi’s shoulder she waited for her friend to look and pointed up at the motion.

 

“Stay behind me” Naomi mouthed as she and Sasha began moving toward the stairs. When they reached them Naomi put one of her booted feet experimentally onto the first step. She winced as though she expected it to creak loudly but it made no sound as she put first one and then both feet on it. They proceeded in this painstaking and maddeningly slow manner all the way to the top of the stairs until they were standing just out of view to the entryway of the first room.

 

“What should-?” Sasha began to ask but Naomi held up a hand to silence her.

 

“Stay here” Naomi breathed into Sasha’s ear as she drew her sidearm and took the last few steps on the staircase. Naomi hesitated for only a moment before she swung around the corner of the doorway with her gun up saying “LVPD show me your hands!”.

 

There was absolutely no reaction. Sasha watched as Naomi stepped further into the room with her gun in front of her always scanning. Eventually she moved out of view of the window Sasha was peering through. Sasha waited for what felt like a long time but probably hadn’t been more than a minute. She was straining her hearing so much that when Naomi’s voice sounded again it made her jump.

 

“Sasha…” Naomi said in a voice made suddenly hollow. This more than anything else frightened Sasha but she forced herself to stand and then join Naomi where she stood in a doorway to an adjacent room. Naomi’s weapon was down at her side now as she just stared at whatever was in front of her that Sasha couldn’t see. Nervously Sasha joined her and looked into the room.

 

Her hands flew to her mouth as she gasped “oh my god!”. Inside the room were four men, or most of what had been men. They were all dead and the cause was very clear. Each man’s lower jaw had been torn from his face and his tongue had been hacked off. The severed body parts lay near their former owners.

 

The source of the light that had caught Sasha’s attention was a tablet. It was still on and lay where it’s owner had dropped it. It was by this light that she and Naomi were able to view the grizzly scene in front of them. Naomi was a street cop and Sasha was an ER nurse, they had both scene horrible things. And yet neither of them had ever seen anything like this. Stunned beyond speech Sasha took a gingerly step into the room only for Naomi to catch her arm in a limp grasp.

 

Looking uncomprehendingly up Sasha heard Naomi say “don’t, can’t contaiminate the crime scene”. But she didn’t really process it. It was as though she’d suddenly lost contact with her own body and was simply watching it move automatically. She took a step back and just continued to stare at the carnage until she noticed that one of the bodies was familiar.

 

“That’s...Ahmed” Sasha said numbly. She pointed at the mangled remains that still had jean shorts on that revealed knee pads. Ahmed Johnson had been yet another acquaintance of her youth. She’d never known him well but everyone knew him for his odd habit of wearing knee and elbow pads almost all the time.

 

“I know...I remember when he started wearing those stupid fucking pads in high school” Naomi said sounding shell shocked. She looked at the rest of the bodies and said “my god what a mess. It will take days to clean this up”.

 

“Naomi...Cameron’s not here” Sasha said quietly.

 

“I know...I know...I saw…” Naomi said as she shook her head obviously trying to regain her composure. Turning to Sasha she cleared her throat loudly and said “but I can’t go look for her right now Sash I have to call this in”.

 

Sasha nodded and said “I know”.

 

“But you can get out of here, it’s not like you’ll have anything to say that I can’t tell them” Naomi said as she handed Sasha her keys. Naomi looked back at the carnage for a moment before she added “take my car back to my place I won’t be back for awhile”.

 

“Are you sure?” Sasha asked her. She was beginning to recover from her initial horrified reaction with the skill of an ER nurse. She was ready to act now but found herself in a situation with nothing to do.

 

“Yeah just go” Naomi said as she tried to smile at Sasha. Then she took her phone from her pocket and dialed 9-1-1. Sasha left, walking in a daze to Naomi’s car. She knew that her friend was technically breaking police procedure by allowing her to leave but she wasn’t going to complain. Despite how numb she was suddenly knew what she had to do with her reserve of energy. Knew with an absolute certainty where she needed to go.

 

She wasn’t sure how it had crystalized so fully for her. Perhaps it have been the association of ideas of high school, a damn mess, and Cameron. But now that she had the notion it was amazing to her that she hadn’t thought of it before. As she got into Naomi’s car she began driving south-west. All her life, as far as Sasha could remember, Cameron had been in a constant struggle with authority figures. As a young girl this had been her parents. In school it had been teachers. And now it was the law and, it seemed, the Prime Time Players. In all the time Sasha had been close to her as a girl and as a teenager she’d only known Cameron to take to and respect one adult. She was going to go see Sylvester Ritter.

 

Ritter had been the janitor at Tony Atlas High School in Sasha and Cameron’s day. Given all the problems that school had been subject to he had rarely been shown much respect by students. And yet somehow he and Cameron had seemed to click. Of course given how high schools everywhere worked the rumor had immediately sprung up that Cameron was sleeping with him, something she’d had to endure a lot of ribbled commentary on.

 

It would have been easiest for Cameron simply to cut ties but she hadn’t. She’d endured it all to maintain her wildly improbable friendship with the old janitor. Naomi, who had known Cameron wasn’t sleeping with him, had thought that Cameron might be in love with him. But Sasha had never thought so, to her it seemed simpler. Cameron’s life was full of adults who demanded things from her: obedience, respect, and many others. Ritter had never asked for anything from her, almost the only adult in Cameron’s life who didn't do so.

 

Ritter had long since retired of course, he was over seventy, but he still lived in the same old house he always had. Sasha had never really known him beyond the sort of gossip students always passed about school employees. She’d known he’d been a marine and that he’d earned the nickname ‘Junkyard Dog’ in that time. But she wouldn’t have known where he lived if not for the non-stop barrage of rumors targeting Cameron at the time. Over the years since then she’d occasionally heard bits of news about him, especially when he’d finally stepped down. That made him something of a unicorn in black Vegas. A black man who took a job and held it down long enough to retire in it.

 

It wasn’t long before she was parking Naomi’s car in front of the man’s house. Despite the age of the house and it’s occupant the place was well maintained. This made it stand out on the block where many of the buildings were in varying states of neglect. Exiting and locking the car Sasha walked purposefully up to the door. She was reaching for it’s knocker when it was suddenly jerked violently inward to reveal the older but still familiar face of Sylvester Ritter. Sasha would have been relieved that finding him was so easy but he was looking at her over the barrel of a shotgun.

 

“What the hell you want?” he barked at her harshly, sounding exactly like his nickname.

 

Sasha, panicked, raised both her palms and said quickly “Mr. Ritter! It’s me, it’s Sasha Banks. I don’t know if you remember me but I was a friend of Cameron’s in high school”. Ritter glared at her suspiciously for a long long time. While this was going on Sasha tried not to go cross eyed as she stared nervously down the barrel of his weapon.

 

Eventually the muzzle of the gun dipped a few inches as Ritter asked “what do you want?”. Sasha had to fight hard not to visibly sag in relief.

 

“My friend Naomi McCray and I are looking for her. We were- ARE her friends and we’re really worried about her. We heard she’s messed up in some bad stuff and we just want to help” Sasha said, once again having to correct herself on her use of verb tenses.

 

Ritter narrowed his eyes behind his glasses for a moment before he said “Banks...yeah I remember you. You’re the one who went and moved away, became a doctor right?”.

 

“A nurse actually but yes that's me” Sasha said smiling nervously. The gun was still pointed at her.

 

“And McCray is the one who become police right?”

 

“Yes that’s her” Sasha said nodding vigorously. Ritter stared at her for another long moment before he lowered his gun and stepped out of the doorway. Now Sasha actually did sag in relief.

 

“Come on in” he said as he held the door for her. After she’d enter she looked suspiciously out at the street before closing it and then locking it. He then turned to Sasha and said in an urgent whisper “are you going to try and help her?”.

 

“Yes sir, that’s all I want” Sasha said. Ritter seemed to want to believe her but it was clear he was waging an internal struggle over this.

 

He must have decided he could trust her because he said “if I tell you where she went, you need to promise me that you and your police friend will get her someplace safe!”. Sasha nodded but just waited. Ritter stepped to the front windows and peered through the blinds once as though he thought he’d find someone peering in.

 

“Was she here?” Sasha asked.

 

“She was, yesterday. Poor girl was scared shitless. I offered to put her up but she wouldn’t stay so I gave her some money and food” Ritter told Sasha as he turned back to face her. “You aint the only one looking for her though” he added darkly.

 

“Did someone else come here?” Sasha asked, she found that she was whispering.

 

“Nah not here, but I seen some of those crazy young cats hitting people up when I went to the market. It doesn’t take no genius to realize what they was after” Ritter told her urgently, his voice was low too. He sighed at this and suddenly looked very old as he said “it’s a damn shame what's happening to this neighborhood. Folk used to look out for each other, now these kids just wanna shoot each other”.

 

“I agree sir” Sasha said soberly.

 

Ritter seemed lost in a reverie for awhile before he said “Cameron said she had a stop to make, some white boy dealer she needed to see. Then she was going to go hide in the old abandoned motel, the Jakked Motel. She said she was going to stay there for a few days before she tried to sneak out of Vegas”.

 

Sasha was at the door almost before he was done speaking but something made her stop. Turning around she stepped forward and hugged the old man saying “thank you”.

 

Ritter returned the gesture and said into her ear “bring our girl home Ms. Banks”.

 

“I’ll do my best sir” Sasha said as she broke their embrace to turn for the door only to feel Ritter’s restraining hand on her shoulder.

 

“You’re going into a dangerous situation young lady...here” he said as he reached into the closet beside the front door and withdrew a pistol which he pressed into Sasha’s hands.  Sasha, who despite having grown up around them, had never even held a gun clutched it gingerly.

 

“Mr. Ritter I can’t I…” she started to say as she tried to offer it back but the old man shook his head.

 

“It’s my corps 1911, saved my life a few times. I hope you don’t have to use it but it could do the same for you” he said. He looked at Sasha for a moment and said “here, let me show you”. He then gave her a four minute crash course in how to operate the weapon before watching Sasha tuck it into her purse.

 

“I’ll bring it back” Sasha said.

 

“No, keep it. A young woman like you should have one anyway” Ritter said as he shook his head.

 

“But, it’s your pistol from when you were in the marines I-” Sasha said but Ritter cut her off with another shake of his head.

 

“I don’t need it anymore, and I hope you won’t, but it can do more good with you” he said as he stepped forward and opened his door for her. He nodded outside and said “now go get our girl”. Sasha looked at him and then nodded solemnly before she left. She hurried to the car and started it but the unfamiliar weight in her purse gave her pause.

 

She was alone. And she was smart enough to realize that she was alone in a situation that was hugely outside her experience. The pistol she was carrying wouldn't save her by itself, even if she’d had more experience with it then a quick briefing. What she needed more than anything right now was help. So she sent a text off to Naomi telling her what she’d learned. She waited and a few minutes later got a reply:

 

“Don’t go there alone, I’ll meet you at my place. Have something to tell you”

 

Sasha studied the message with a perplexed expression. Naomi knew better than anyone how urgent this situation was and yet she was telling Sasha to delay. Sasha thought about texting to tell Naomi that, no they needed to hurry, but then she remembered how out of her depth she was. Sighing in impudent frustration she texted that she was on her way.

 

She noted that Naomi hadn’t said to alert the police, nor that she was doing so. Naomi was a fairly meticulous person so Sasha assumed that this omission was deliberate. Still, this meant that they might be facing the prospect of going after Cameron by themselves. Sasha knew that she would be less than helpful to Naomi if anything went down. Her friend needed competent back up and there was really only one person she could think to ask.







Chapter Text

Charlotte Flair was staring out the floor to ceiling windows in her penthouse. She was watching the sun set over the distant desert but she was also thinking or, more accurately, plotting. She’d been standing in this position for almost an hour. She was thinking about the events of that evening, and the steps she’d taken in reaction to them. She sensed Dana hovering somewhere off to her right but she ignored her for a long time.

 

Several minutes went by before Charlotte asked “what is it?” without turning to look back at Dana.

 

“MVP called to tell you that his men have located that last loose end” Dana told her.

 

“Use his name Dana, I refuse to stoop to using his ridiculous nom de guerre” Charlotte said, her voice still soft but carrying the barest hint of reproof.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair”

 

Charlotte narrowed her eyes in thought as she said “instruct Mr. Porter to send enough men to make sure that this problem goes away. But before he disposes of the loose end tell him to question her thoroughly. I want to know who, if anyone else, she talked to”.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair. Also, Cody Rhodes wants to see you” Dana said.

 

“Does he indeed…” Charlotte said as the temperature of her voice dropped sharply “...how fortuitous as I need to speak with him”. She stopped talking after this though she could almost feel Dana stewing behind her.

 

“Then...should I call him to the penthouse?” Dana asked tentatively.

 

“YES you should call him to the penthouse” Charlotte snapped. Dana made a small nervous squeaking sound as Charlotte heard the sound of her fleeing from the room. A small part of her regretted snapping at her assistant but she payed it no mind. She might be able to finally put a serious problem behind her tonight. But there would always be another.

 

Charlotte Flair stared down at the city below her with the detached and slightly bemused air of an Olympian Goddess. All those thousands of lives below her were just so much distracting noise. She would not allow them or anyone else to jeopardize her family’s legacy. Tonight she WOULD finally put the fallout of Montel Porter’s monumental stupidity behind her. Then she would make sure the fool spent the rest of his life being constantly reminded who held his very short leash.

 

Charlotte Flair looked down on Las Vegas once more. As she did she was still plotting still calculating. She was musing on how many would need to die.

 

*****

Becky Lynch brought her motorcycle to a halt across the street from the ruined motel and stared through the chain link fence that surrounded the building. She could see a knot of three black men standing by a pair of cars parked on the broken blacktop that had once been the motel’s parking lot. They were talking but Becky knew they were also watching her. Not surprising as her bike simply wasn’t a vehicle that allowed for stealthy arrivals.

 

Becky had taken the information she’d gleaned from James Ellsworth and had set to work on her hunt. She’d guessed, correctly, that there couldn’t be too many abandoned motels in Las Vegas. It turned out that there were five. More than she would have liked but not a completely unmanageable number. Fortunately ODB had finally gotten back to her and Becky had sent the other woman to check out several of the locations as she did the same. Neither of them had found anything more notable than a few squatters until now.

 

Becky sent ODB a quick text before lifting her goggles to her forehead and dismounting her bike. There would be no chance of sneaking up on the men watching her so Becky didn’t bother trying. She just walked boldly across the street and through the open fence gate, she saw the recently cut chain and lock laying on the ground nearby. She continued her progress until one of the three men stood to block her path.

 

“Yo get lost bitch” he said as he stared darkly down at her.

 

“Awww well that’s not very hospitable of you…” Becky said with an exaggerated pout “...don’t you want to ‘holler’ at me? That's what you say right?”.

 

“Yo this bitch be trippin” the man said as he rolled his eyes at his companions. He then began turning back to Becky saying “...I said get to steppin bitch-”. Those were his last words. The man hadn’t been paying close enough attention and when he’d turned to look at his friends Becky had closed the remaining distance between them. In one fluid motion she reached her right arm across her body, yanked her Fairbairn-Sykes knife from its sheath, and slashed it’s tip hard across the man’s throat.

 

She ducked quickly to avoid the sudden spray of blood. She then crouched and grabbed the man’s shirt to spinn him around even as he choked on his own blood. Popping back up she grabbed the man’s shoulder from behind and held him upright as a shield. Using her free hand Becky then threw her knife at the man to her right. Despite what movies would have people believe Becky knew that throwing knives was about the least effective way to use them to kill people. But what a thrown knife WOULD do was make people flinch.

 

This man was no exception. As he jerked reflexively to one side he forgot that he was still sitting on the hood of a car and went spilling off the edge. Taking a step to her right to keep her dying human shield between her and the final man Becky’s hand moved in a blur to the holster on her right hip. Drawing her pistol took a moment longer than usual as she’d screwed a suppressor onto it’s barrell but she was still faster than her opponent. His hand was still tugging a pistol from his waistband as Becky’s gun came up and gave three quick ‘clicking’ noises.

 

He fell backward with three bullet holes in his chest. Spinning back to her right Becky located the man who she’d thrown her knife at and snapped “now don’t you even think of moving”. The man, who had been straightening from where he’d fallen, had been reaching for his own waistband but at Becky’s words he froze.

 

He just looked in horror at the scene around him. It had been less than ten seconds since Becky had first spoken to them and now he was the last man standing. He looked at Becky’s still gurgling human shield and the color drained from his face. Becky followed his gaze and then shoved the dying man forward. He collapsed into a bloody heap on the concrete causing his companion to flinch.

 

He tried his best to find some bravado as he said “yo, my two boys will be back soon and then you dead bitch!”. The effect of his words was spoiled by the tremor in his voice.

 

“So there are two of you left then? Thank you” Becky said appreciatively.

 

“No wait-!” the man said as his eyes widened but he never finished the sentence. Becky’s gun clicked twice more and then he was dead. This left Becky alone amidst the three dead bodies. Well, more like two and a half, as the man whose throat she’d opened was still gurgling softly. Becky debated for a moment before rolling her eyes and administering the coup de grace with one final trigger pull. She then retrieved her knife and surveyed the scene.

 

Despite the late evening sunlight Becky wasn’t worried about witnesses. She’d made several passes through the neighborhood on her bike before stopping at the motel, it couldn’t have been more deserted. Still, it didn’t pay to get too careless. Fishing a set of keys out of one of the dead men’s pocket she unlocked one of the cars and began the laborious process of dragging the men’s corpses into it. As she worked she kept her senses on high alert for her last two targets.

 

No new threats ever materialized as Becky heaved and dragged the corpses along. When she finally closed the doors she took a moment to take a few deep breaths. Not only was she winded but she had also been forced to deal with the powerful smell of bodily fluids which had been released when the men had died. Wiping some sweat from her eyes Becky took one more steadying breath and then began creeping along the ground floor of the motel.

 

The windows were so filthy that she couldn’t look in through them. Though this also meant that anyone inside couldn’t see her. Becky was forced to press her ear to each door as she reached it, listening with all her might. A couple of times she pulled open doors that she thought might lead to occupied rooms but never found anyone. She ended this process with conviction that these rooms were actually tidier than Ellsworth’s pit.

 

She was approaching the last door in the row when it opened in front of her. Gritting her teeth in silent frustration she pressed herself against the wall behind the door and waited as a man stepped through it. He wasn’t looking in front of him instead he seemed to be continuing a conversation he’d already been having.

 

“...Man fuck you, I’ma get me some of that good shit out of the car just watch the bitch” he said as he closed the door behind him. He was much bigger than Becky so she gave up on her idea of covering his mouth and stabbing him, instead she just stepped forward and jammed the barrel of her gun into his back before pulling the trigger twice. This brought him down fast enough that Becky was able to stifle most of his howl of pain with her palm as he fell to his knees.

 

Still she didn’t catch all of it and a moment later the door to the room opened once more and a final man came out asking “yo what the hell you doing-”. His words died in his mouth as he saw Becky kick his dead companion down to the ground and turn to face him. Becky doubted his mind had ever fully caught up to his situation before her bullet became the last thing to ever go through it.

 

Sighing in frustration at the new work she’d created for herself Becky decided she’d just store these two in the motel room. Holstering her gun and getting a grip under the first man’s armpits she began dragging him slowly toward the door. She was so engrossed in this process that it was only when she’d gotten him fully into the room that she noticed it’s occupant.

 

A black woman was tied to a chair in the center of the room. She was gagged as well but now that Becky wasn’t distracted with hauling a body she could hear the other woman’s panicked breathing. Her eyes were bouncing frantically around the room though they always ended up back on Becky. For her part Becky decided that she needed to finish the task at hand and thus went to retrieve the last body.

 

She had actually worked up a pretty fine sweat between all the heavy corpse hauling so when she’d finished with this she closed the door and slumped back against it. She let herself slide down it’s surface and as she tried to catch her breath. The girl in the chair was staring fixedly at her now but Becky let her head droop back against the door as she closed her eyes for a moment. Opening them again she looked over at the bound woman.

 

“You must be what all the fuss is about, you wouldn’t believe what I just had to do to get here” Becky said in a conversational tone.

*****

Naomi McCray looked surprised at Sasha Banks’ complete lack of surprise.

 

Naomi had just met Sasha at her house. She’d come bursting through the door with the information that she and her fellow police had searched the bodies of the men at the papermill. Naomi had found a matchbook in one of their pockets from the abandoned Jakked Motel. She hadn’t shared this with her fellow officers but instead pocketed the match book and then faked a family emergency call to get back here. Only to learn that Sasha had already found out where Cameron was from Junkyard Dog.

 

“Oh well that’s just great, I risked my job and possibly prosecution for nothing” Naomi said irritably as she flung the matchbook down onto her kitchen table.

 

“But why? I would think you’d want more police help on this” Sasha asked. She hoped that by doing so Naomi would explain her last text message. More specifically why she hadn’t immediately told Sasha to call the cops. Sasha thought she knew why but she wanted to hear it from Naomi to be sure.

 

“I do!” Naomi said in frustration as she began pacing back and forth in her kitchen. Sasha just watched from where she stood by the stove, giving Naomi time. “But I’m worried that if she hears sirens she might do something stupid and get herself killed or if she’s being held that the people holding her will” Naomi finally said sounding horribly conflicted.

 

This had been what Sasha had suspected. Naomi had always felt like she needed to work extra hard to be accepted as a cop being a ‘girl from the hood’. She’d always been extra diligent about following protocols and now here she was being forced into a situation where she felt the only thing to do was break them. Sasha sympathized but she also felt the growing urgency of the knowledge that Cameron might move at any moment...or worse.

 

“So it’s just us?” Sasha asked sounding bleek.

 

“No not ‘us’ you can’t go with me this time…” Naomi said and when she saw Sasha was about to protest she held up a hand saying “...Sasha tell me this. What will you do if someone starts shooting?”.

 

“Hide” Sasha said honestly. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell Naomi about the gun she’d been given but something stopped her.

 

“And while you’re doing that I’ll be worried about you and trying to protect you. That means I'm distracted and probably means I’m dead” Naomi told her bluntly. She plainly expected for Sasha to argue but no further resistance came.

 

“You can’t go alone” Sasha said firmly.

 

“I know that!” Naomi snapped before pausing in her pacing to cover her eyes with a hand. She was silent for awhile before she said in a calmer voice “I’m just...I’m just trying to think of who in the department I can trust with this”. Sasha took a while before speaking in an unusually hesitant voice for her.

 

“I...actually made a call for you” she said.

 

Naomi looked at her sharply as she asked “you did what?!”.

 

“I knew you’d need backup, someone better than me, and I guessed that rolling up with flashing lights wouldn’t be good. So I called someone who I think can help you” Sasha said before trailing off. She was lacing and unlacing her fingers now as she stared down at her hands.

 

“Who?” Naomi asked in confusion.

 

“Well you can see for yourself...she just got here” Sasha said as she pointed sheepishly out the window. Naomi turned to see that a car had just pulled up in front of her house.

 

*****

Bayley stopped her car on the street and looked up at the house for a long moment. Part of her was honestly annoyed that she was here. Not just with herself for coming but with Sasha for asking. She HAD to realize how hard it had been for Bayley to try and unplug from her and now she was asking for help. But Sasha’s voicemail had sounded urgent and ultimately Bayley had become a cop to help people.

 

Getting out of her car was a struggle, the motion aggravated her abdominal wound. When she failed at her first attempt she dug in her jacket pocket and withdrew her pain meds. She’d been reluctant to keep using them, the fear of potential addiction was always in the back of her head. But tonight she guessed she’d need to be able to function so she swallowed two pills with a gulp from her water bottle.

 

Of course they didn’t take effect instantly so Bayley’s second attempt to exit her car hurt just as much as the first. This time she made it however and after locking her car she headed for the door of the house. She was just reaching for it’s doorbell when it was opened to reveal a familiar face.

 

“Detective Martinez...hi…” Officer Naomi McCray said as she greeted Bayley awkwardly. Bayley was just as surprised as McCray was, she hadn’t known whose house this was only that Sasha needed her here.

 

“Officer McCray...hi yourself...I was told to come here by someone-” Bayley started to explain awkwardly, unsure how much the officer might know. Before she could finish though she was cut off by another, even more familiar voice.

 

“It’s okay…” Sasha Banks said as she stepped around the corner of a door frame. Bayley suspected that she’d been standing there waiting. Sasha looked terribly embarrassed as she looked silently at Bayley for several moments. When she did eventually speak all she managed was “hi Bayley” with a weak and forced looking smile.

 

“Hi...Sasha” Bayley said, hoping that her smile looked a little more natural but knowing it probably didn’t.

 

“You look nice” Sasha said awkwardly.

 

“Thanks...new jacket” Bayley said as she pointed unnecessarily at the leather garment. This whole exchange must have been excruciatingly painful for Officer McCray, caught standing between them.

 

Clearing her throat she said “umm...Sasha...we have that thing to do”.

 

Shaking her head as though to clear it Sasha nodded and looked directly at Bayley as she said “Bayley...I...WE...really need your help”.

 

Bayley looked at her and then McCray solemnly before she asked the officer “can I come in?”. McCray nodded and stepped aside to allow Bayley entrance before closing the door behind her. Sasha then launched on a long, meandering, but comprehensive explanation of all she and Naomi had been up to since they had first learned Cameron was missing.

 

*****

To Sasha’s immense relief Bayley never once interrupted her as she explained their situation. In fact she didn’t react much beyond occasionally raising her eyebrows and, when Sasha explained about the mill, whistling softly. By the time Sasha finished her tale Bayley was looking very grave. She didn’t speak for so long that Sasha eventually felt she had to break the silence.

 

“Uh….Bayley? Are you okay with this?” Sasha asked hesitantly.

 

“OK? Maybe not. But I get it” Bayley said as she put her hands on her hips in a gesture that was almost painfully familiar to Sasha. Bayley had just finished thinking something over and was now planning a course of action.

 

“So...you’ll help us?” Sasha asked, not daring to hope.

 

“Well I can’t very well say no can I? Not with your friend’s life in danger” Bayley said. Part of Sasha wanted to spring forward and wrap her arms around Bayley at this.

 

She settled for nodding and saying “thank you Bayley...this means a lot”.

 

Bayley just nodded back before turning to Naomi and asking “if it’s just the two of us officer then I hope you have some intel on what we’ll be up against”.

 

“The three of us!” Sasha said. When both Bayley and Naomi gave her dangerous looks she clarified saying “I’ll wait in the car but I can’t stand the idea of just waiting here and worrying”. The two police women exchanged a quick look before Bayley nodded her assent.

 

“As for what we’re up against I don’t think it will be anything more than a few bangers from around here. Hell they might even just scatter if we tell them we’re police” Naomi said.

 

*****

“Thanks for coming big man” Becky Lynch said to Sheamus Farrelly as they left the motel room where Cameron was still tied up.

 

“Thanks for the invite, I only wish you’d left some for me” Sheamus said, once again shaking his head at the trail of carnage Becky had left in her wake. Sheamus’ nickname was ‘the Celtic Warrior’ and that gave some flavor of how he handled conflict. The fact that he was now so openly impressed with Becky felt like a real win to her.

 

“You’ll be first call next time” Becky told him. Unlike most of the Vegas Irish Sheamus had never seemed to have much of a problem with Becky. She’d initially assumed that this was simply a desire on his part to sleep with her but he’d never made any move in that direction. Whatever his reasons Becky was grateful for his positive opinion now.

 

Becky had been preparing to use any amount of drastic measures to get the information she wanted from her prisoner. Instead she’d barely removed her gag before she’d been nearly bowled over by a flood of helpful information. The woman, who’s name she’d learned was Cameron, seemed to have decided that being cooperative was the best way for her to stay alive. Becky had only been listening for a few minutes before she realized just how monumental what she’d learned was.

 

And so she’d called Finlay and shared her news with him. He’d promptly ordered her to sit on the girl for the time being until he decided how best to use this information. This left Becky with a problem. Knowing what she did now she realized just how many people might be hunting Cameron, and what they would do to get their hands on her. Becky was an extremely dangerous woman but she was only ONE woman. Even after ODB had arrived they were still only two against whatever horde showed up to try and steal their prize.

 

So she’d called Sheamus. He sat roughly at the same level as Becky in the Vegas Irish power structure but with one key difference. He had his own crew. Becky knew that she’d have to establish her own at some point but that wasn’t going to happen in one night. So in the end she’d had to promise Sheamus a third of her reward from Finlay and to split the credit for her find. In return Sheamus had arrived with a dozen armed men to help guard their golden goose. And to aide in body disposal, the first thing they’d done was take the two bodies out of Cameron’s room and dump them into one of the cars.

 

“Any idea when you’re going to hear from the boss?” Sheamus asked Becky. They were standing in the Jakked Motel’s parking lot waiting for just that occurrence. Becky, who had lit a joint for herself as they waited, took a long hit on it before answering.  

 

“No, he just said later” she told Sheamus as she offered the man the joint. He took it with a grateful nod.

 

“Well at least we know why the McMahons were so bloody interested in your girl” Sheamus said as he exhaled a cloud of pungent smoke.

 

Taking the joint back from him Becky nodded. She inhaled deeply and then blew out her own smoke before saying “this Project: Andre thing is...big”. ‘Big’ was a woefully inadequate word for the plan that she’d learned about that evening.

 

If Cameron was to be believed, and Becky doubted that she was a 100% reliable source, Project: Andre was the most ambitious organized crime venture in the US for decades. The four largest criminal groups in the country: the McMahons, the Flairs, the Inoki-Kai, and the Sammartino Family had a plan that would allow them to take Vegas back to it’s organized crime roots. If successful Andre would net them all a nearly limitless supply of income and through that influence and power.

 

The four groups were to pool their efforts to force the Dibiase family out of their own casino. Everyone knew how they were struggling under the leadership of Ted Jr. They would then install one of their own number as the majority owner of the place. Using this as a base of operations they would then combine once more to seize control of the Extreme Expose casino ownership group, the casino itself still being under construction. They would then do what they could hurry to the building process before handing the pristine new casino over to another of their groups.

 

This pattern would continue until all four groups controlled their own casino. The plan was not only bold but also perfectly timed. It had been decades since there were so many new casinos being built on the strip and it would likely be longer still until it happened again. The corporations that owned most of the older and more established venues would be much more difficult to evict than would the new investor groups. But the plan didn’t stop with four casinos.

 

When all four groups had secured their power base they would then use their new influence to buy themselves the cooperation of city hall and the police. Having done so they would begin moving against the other casinos. If all went to plan, they would eventually end up as the de facto rulers of the city. Of course this would all be put at risk if infighting occurred among the groups so they had planned for how they would govern their future kingdom.

 

Taking their inspiration from the infamous ‘commission’ of the Italian Mafia, which was now under the control of the Sammartino’s, they would form their own council. Each group would have a vote with the chairmanship rotating between the four of them every six months. The chairperson would be responsible for setting the agenda and tone of their future expansion. The chairman, whoever they were, would be wield immense power.

 

Of course Cameron’s account had been much less coherent than this. Becky had been forced to piece it together after extracting the relevant information from amidst the rest. But the picture she now had was breathtaking. And it could all go away if someone had talked to the wrong person and the plan became known to the police or municipal government. Scrutiny on the Dibiase casino and the new constructions would be ramped up and this golden opportunity would be lost.

 

“Yeah...but how do we fit into it” Sheamus asked, breaking in on Becky’s musings. Becky looked down and saw to her annoyance that the joint had gone out while she was thinking.

 

“Seems the McMahons want us as muscle for them in town” Becky said as she used her lighter to reignite her joint. She never got to smoke it however, nor did she hear what Sheamus might think of her statement. There was suddenly a commotion from behind her and then two of Sheamus’ men appeared dragging a third man between them.

 

“We caught this son of a bitch trying to creep around the place” one of them said as they shoved their captive down to his knees in front of Becky and Sheamus.

 

“Well what have we here?” Becky asked giving the kneeling man a nasty smile. She knelt down and raised his face with her finger tips before asking “mind telling me what you were up to? Just out for a wee walk perhaps?”.

 

“Man fuck you bitch...my homie already gone. He gon be back soon with the whole fucking crew. Then you cracka ass motha fucks gonna be so fucked” the man said defiantly.

 

“Was he alone?!” Sheamus barked at his men who were suddenly looking nervous.

 

“No, boss...he was with someone else but they ran off before we could catch them” the first man told Sheamus. Becky felt her heart sink at this news, if whoever had sent the first men now knew that Becky had control of his prisoner he would be coming back in force. Sheamus’ reaction was much less cerebral. With an incoherent bellow he slammed a fist into his mans face sending him reeling.

 

“You fucking cunt!” Sheamus screamed. He raged on for a few moments before turning to the second of his men. “Take someone and chase the bastard down! Whatever it takes!” Sheamus roared. The man didn’t bother answering he just turned and made good on his escape. Ripping his huge pistol from his belt Sheamus unceremoniously blew the kneeling man’s head off and then did the same to the man he’d punched. Even Becky was taken aback by how quickly the man had gone from docile and contemplative to homicidal maniac.

 

“We need to move her” Becky told him after she’d given him a few seconds to cool off.

 

“Ya think?!” he barked at her. Before Becky could decide if she was going to snap back her phone rang. Pulling it out Becky saw that it was ODB calling her. The other woman was serving as a lookout.

 

“Yeah?” Becky snapped into her phone.

 

“We’ve got four cars full of gang bangers heading your way fast” ODB told her in a voice fraught with tension.

 

“God damn it!” Becky snapped before she spoke into the phone again saying “get somewhere you can cover us”. She’d left her hitman rifle with ODB once again.

 

“Will do boss, switching over to my headset” ODB said.

 

“How much time do we have?” Becky asked as she looked around for someplace that might make good cover.

 

“Three minutes tops” ODB said distractedly. It sounded as though she were moving fast as she spoke.

 

“Three minutes until we have company big man, I hope you and your boys are ready!” Becky said to Sheamus. The huge man just blinked once before comprehension hit his face.

 

“They fucking called the moment they got here” he said sounding furious at himself for not seeing this right away. Becky wanted to say something like ‘duh’ but knew it wasn’t the time.

 

“I hope you have some surprises, my girl says there are four cars coming” Becky said as she settled for ducking behind the car she’d hidden bodies in earlier.

 

“Fuck yeah I do” Sheamus said as he stomped over to the SUV he’d come in. Opening the trunk he astonished Becky by pulling an honest to god machine gun out of the vehicle. He slung this over his shoulder as two of his men came over to grab heavy looking green boxes from the SUV.

 

“What in the hell is that?” Becky asked incredulously.

 

“A piece of history, an MG42” Sheamus said quickly as he moved to the front of the SUV and dropped the weapon onto it’s hood. He then helped his men with the green boxes, which proved to contain ammo, before sending them away to find cover with the others in his crew.

 

“I like you Sheamus, you know how to show a girl a good time” Becky said with a wicked grin. Sheamus, showing his disconcerting ability to switch rapidly between disparate emotions, grinned back before turning to face the street with a snarl like a rabid dog.

 

The motel building was U-shaped enclosing the parking lot on three sides. This meant that if the attackers were coming by car, then they would have to drive right into Sheamus’ line of fire. Becky hoped that a few bursts from the machine gun might drive them off but she was prepared to do her part. At the last moment she remembered to exchange the half empty magazine in the pistol she’d used for a fresh one. All in all as dangerous as the situation was, Becky was feeling pretty confident.

 

*****

Charlotte was still looking out the windows in her penthouse though she’d moved to one of the leather chairs. She was holding a glass of wine as she eyed her phone which sat on a table beside her seat. Turning her head to one side she asked “status report?”.

 

“Porter’s sending a crew to the motel, whoever killed the group brought in some backup but he says he's got more than enough guys on the way” Joe said from where he stood behind her. When it came to matters like these Charlotte preferred to rely more on him than Dana.

 

“The first group should have been enough” Charlotte muttered as she took a sip from her drink. When MVP’s first group of men had stopped checking in he’d set two more to find out what had happened. They’d reported that the others were nowhere to be found and the only person visible at the motel was an orange haired woman. Charlotte found it highly improbable that one woman had killed five men by herself so she’d assumed that whatever backup the woman had had been concealed.

 

Then she’d heard the reports of more men arriving at the motel as well as another woman. Only the orange haired woman had met them and thus Charlotte had been forced to concede that, improbable though it seemed, she had killed all of MVP’s men. This undoubtedly meant she was a formidable woman but Charlotte was more inclined to believe that her feat was more of a reflection on the incompetence of MVP’s men.

 

Given this fact she didn’t have much more faith in this second group. MVP’s men were fine for intimidating business owners or even for guard duty. But anything beyond that seemed to be beyond them, this despite the efforts of the bullet club. Not for the first time Charlotte wondered if she’d made the right choice to back the Prime Time Players over the Golden Monkey Tong. She’d done so almost entirely based on her estimation of Montel Porter himself. And while she still thought of him as an exceptional individual his gang was not living up to that standard.

 

Still, they were now her muscle as much as his. Probably more so. And thus she would do her best to make sure they were put in a position to succeed. Lifting her phone she opened her contacts and selected one labelled ‘detonate - bus depot’. She stared at it contemplatively for a while before she took another sip of wine. Setting the glass aside she hit ‘dial’. The phone rang twice before there was a sudden brilliant flash of light that lit up the late evening sky of Las Vegas.

 

Focusing her attention out the windows once more Charlotte saw a great pillar of flame shooting up into the air for a second before vanishing from view. Though she couldn’t see them from here she could imagine the smaller but still substantial fires that would be burning in the remains of the Las Vegas Transit bus depot. The number she had called had been for a detonator attached to a large explosive she’d instructed her men to plant their several days ago as a contingency plan.

 

“That should keep law enforcement too occupied to think about a shooting at an out of the way motel” Charlotte said in a silky voice of self satisfaction.

 

*****

Becky’s feeling of self confidence from only moments before had faded quickly. Less than a minute before she expected the enemy to arrive there was an enormous thudding sound in the distance. Almost instantly ODB’s stunned voice sounded in her ear.

 

“Oh jesus…” the other woman said.

 

“What the hell just happened?” Becky snapped as she refocused on the street.

 

“I have no idea, there was just a gigantic explosion off in the city” ODB said still sounding like she was in shock.

 

“FOCUS we’re going to need cover” Becky said harshly. She was curious about what had happened but it wouldn’t much matter if that curiosity got her killed.

 

Gripping a pistol in each hand she raised both weapons as the first car sped into the view, coming from her right.

 

*****

“Detonation successful Ms. Flair” Joe reported.

 

“Yes I saw, thank you Joe” Charlotte said quietly.

 

“Police scanner has LVPD throwing almost everything they have toward the explosion but a call did come in about shots being fired near the motel” Joe added after a short pause. Charlotte assumed he was listening to either Akam or Rezar reporting from the commander center in her penthouse.

 

“Perhaps they require more persuasion that they have larger concerns on their hands” Charlotte said as she lifted her phone once more.

 

*****

“Oh my god...was that a second explosion” Bayley whispered as she stared in horror out the window of Naomi’s car. They’d been driving toward the Jakked Motel with Sasha in the back seat when they’d heard the first distant pop. A moment later the police radio that Bayley had on her belt lit up with reports of a massive explosion at the bus depot. Police and Emergency services were responding and expecting heavy casualties. They had just heard another loud pop though this time coming from another direction.

 

All units be advised we have a second explosion reported at the department of education offices” came the staticy voice on the radio.

 

“We shouldn’t be out here like this…” Naomi said quietly “...we should all be doing our jobs and trying to help those people”. Though she said this she didn’t stop the car or turn it around.

 

“I’m sure you’ll get a call to come in soon officer” Bayley said distractedly as she searched for any sign of flames in the distance.

 

“What is happening to us?” Sasha whispered, more to herself than anyone else.

 

Bayley closed her eyes for a moment before she said “lets focus on what we’re doing now. If we don’t then we’re going to get ourselves hurt or killed”.

 

“Right” Naomi said as she nodded. Sasha didn’t answer. She was thinking about what Naomi had said and she knew her friend was right. Sasha was here worrying herself sick over someone in Cameron who didn’t even like her anymore. She should have been in the ER waiting with Molly for the first victims to arrive. But here she was speeding toward a situation where she could be of little or no use.

 

“We don’t know what or who will be there when we arrive, just stay frosty and be ready for anything” Bayley told Naomi as she drew her sidearm and checked it for the fifth time. Sasha had surreptitiously slipped the pistol Ritter had given her into her jacket inside pocket. Feeling the weight there allowed her to believe she had some degree of control over her situation.

 

But as they approached their destination they began to hear odd sounds. Of course they all knew the sound of gunfire but this was something more. This was deeper and more continuous, if Bayley had been forced to describe it she would have said that a battle was going on. And given what had already transpired tonight she wouldn’t have honestly been surprised.

 

*****

Becky was one tough individual. She’d been in more fights than she could count using fists, knives, and even guns. But she’d never been in an honest to god battle, and that's what this night had become. Sheamus had met the first car with a spray of fire from the machine gun which had killed the driver. As he’d slumped over the wheel he’d thrown it sideways sending the car tumbling.

 

Becky had been grinning when there had been another distant pop like the one before. Everyone, including Sheamus, had looked around. Then the second car sped into view and before the Celtic Warrior could open fire again there had been a loud ‘plooping’ noise. A moment later Becky was temporarily blinded and deafened as Sheamus’ SUV exploded in an enormous fireball. The body of the car ended up upside down almost eight feet from where it had begun. Becky couldn’t see Sheamus but it was clear he was dead.

 

“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” Becky shouted as she rubbed at her eyes in a desperate attempt to clear them. This hadn’t taken long but unfortunately even that little time was time she didn’t have. Bullets were ripping past over her head at a rate that made clear that her attackers were packing automatic weapons. Yet even over this noise Becky could tell that they were closing in on her. Gripping her pistols tight and preparing to go out fighting she then heard something different over the ringing in her ears.

 

It was a different kind of gunshot, though she couldn’t make it out clearly. When the amount of fire shooting overhead slackened noticeably Becky peered quickly around the edge of her cover and saw that two attackers were lying dead on the ground. Just before she pulled her head back she saw yet another man jerk forward as though shoved from behind. Then it hit Becky, ODB. The other woman was obviously shooting from wherever she was hiding.

 

The attackers seemed to have realized this too as they began running back toward their cars but this was just an opportunity for Becky. Standing up from behind cover she let her guns begin speaking. Whatever else she was Becky was one hell of a shot and each time she pulled a trigger one of her targets went down. Despite the disastrous beginning the battle was actually turning in favor of the Irish.  

 

Had all four cars made it through then the attackers would have outnumbered them. But Sheamus had evened those odds by taking out one of the vehicles. And though he’d been killed the attackers didn’t seem to have any more of whatever they’d hit him with. Now if they wanted to get to the motel and Cameron they needed to cross the open space of the parking lot. This meant exposing themselves not only to the fire of the Irish but also to ODB from above and behind them.

 

“Keep shooting boys the bastards are dying like flies” Becky shouted.

 

*****

“Is my helicopter ready Dana?” Charlotte asked as she walked toward the elevator that would take her up to the rooftop landing pad.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair and I have seen to it that we won’t be troubled while in flight but may I ask why you wish to go to the motel yourself? You can always send more men” Dana dared to ask. Charlotte thought about chiding her assistant for her temerity but decided that Dana’s concerns were valid.

 

“I already sent another man Dana” Charlotte said laconically. She was walking fast and Dana was struggling to keep up with her long strides.

 

“Just one man Ms. Flair?” Dana asked as she finally managed to catch up just as the elevator doors were closing.

 

“Just one man” Charlotte confirmed. She didn’t usually explain herself to anyone but she was feeling quite proud of this stroke on her part so she added “I never believed that Mr. Porter’s men alone would be sufficient. Which is why I sent Mr. Blackman to the scene the moment we heard his first group had been killed. He should be there by now and I have instructed him to use the fighting as cover to find this loose end and deal with it”.

 

Dana processed this before saying “brilliantly done Ms. Flair”.

 

*****

Bayley lunged over from the passenger side seat as a string of bullets blasted through the windshield of Naomi’s car. She heard the horrible sound of shots striking flesh and a moment later Naomi slumped in the driver's seat. The car began to veer dangerously forcing Bayley to seize the wheel before doing her best maintain control. Fortunately Naomi’s foot hadn’t been on the accelerator and Bayley was able to bring the car to a stop by steering into a light pole. The resulting impact was sharp but none of them were injured from it.

 

“Sasha take care of her!” Bayley snapped as she tumbled out of the car and found cover behind it’s frame. There was still shooting going on but it seemed one side or another was retreating. Bayley shot a quick look out from behind the car and saw that no one seemed to be paying them any attention. Taking a moment to prepare herself Bayley then shot out from around the car and hurried across the street toward the firefight.

 

*****

Something was definitely wrong Becky decided. There were only one or two of the attackers left hunkered down by their cars but suddenly the amount of fire her side was sending out was slackening. In fact it seemed that all the shooting from the second level of the motel had stopped. “Keep the bastards pinned down” Becky shouted to the man nearest to her before she ran in a low crouch toward the stairs. She bounded up them only to find no one. Peering down the row she saw that several rooms had broken windows and that one or two had a dead body slumped over the frame.

 

Obviously Sheamus’ men had been shooting from inside the rooms. What wasn’t clear was what had killed them. It was just then that Becky heard two things in rapid succession. The first was ODB in her ear shouting “BOSS! Some guy just kicked down the door to the room with the prisoner!”.

 

“FUCK!” Becky swore violently as she ran toward the far end of the second floor balcony. “Can you get him?!” She shouted to ODB as she went.

 

“Sorry boss, I’m out” ODB said helplessly.

 

“Of course you bloody are” Becky muttered as she reached a position directly over the room she’d been keeping Cameron in. Without pausing to think she vaulted the low railing and promptly fell the ten feet down to the ground. Of course her footwear was not really designed for this sort of thing and as she landed she lost the heel off her left boot.

 

“REALLY?!” she snarled in exasperation.

 

As she got awkwardly to her feet she heard a man’s voice from inside the room saying “target eliminated, I’m on my way back”. Becky was listening for a reply but then she heard someone else shouting from behind her.

 

“LVPD! PUT YOUR WEAPONS DOWN NOW!”

 

*****

“LVPD PUT YOUR WEAPONS DOWN NOW!” Bayley shouted as she approached what she could only describe as the battlefield. She saw at least a dozen bodies lying around the open area as well as the burnt out husk of an SUV. But she also saw that there were still four men crouching behind a pair of cars in the parking lot. They were exchanging fire with two more men huddled by the cars in the street.

 

One of the men she was approaching in front of the motel turned to face her and paid for this as a shot from the street drilled through his neck. Another turned to raise his gun at her but Bayley promptly shot him twice in the chest. She had to do the same to the next man as well. Then she heard one of the men out in the street shout “cops!” in an alarmed voice.

 

Hoping against hope that they would assume Bayley was bringing backup with her Bayley through herself sideways as the final man in front of the hotel began spraying bullets toward her. Coming up into a low crouch Bayley shot him leaving her alone in front of the hotel, or almost. As she shot a look out toward the street to confirm that, yes, the two armed men there had run she heard a woman’s shout.

 

“God damn it you son of a whore I’ll kill you for that!” the woman shouted from inside the room as Bayley sprinted for the doorway. She was forced hit the ground again however as several shots blasted out through the shattered window and thick wall of the room. As she lay there she heard the sound of metal clattering on the ground as well as loud scuffling and more muffled swearing.

 

There came one last struggle before Bayley heard the same woman who had been swearing howl in pain. Without hesitating Bayley jumped to her feet and spun around the door frame to survey the room in front of her. There were two women on the floor, one motionless near the back of the room while the other was writhing in pain beside the door. Standing framed in the bathroom doorway was a tall lean man wearing a bulletproof vest over a plain black t-shirt and dark pants.

 

“LVPD FREEZE!” Bayley shouted as she leveled her gun. Somehow, and she didn’t see what happened clearly as it occurred so fast, something struck her gun and tore it from her grip. With seemingly impossible speed the man closed the distance between them and was attacking her before she knew it.

 

Bayley had always excelled in the police academy hand to hand training. She’d tried to stay in practice since then as a form of recreation and exercise. Bayley estimated that she was probably in the upper 20% of the department when it came to fighting skill. And yet it took two punches before she knew she was hopelessly outclassed against this man.

 

Bayley found herself getting punched or kicked two or even three times before she was even aware that the man had moved. He drove her effortlessly back out of the room as she tried desperately to stem the onslaught of his attack. When he’d pushed her several feet away from the doorway he suddenly spun and a moment later Bayley was falling sideways as something hit her face like a stone. Stars burst before her eyes at this but upon blinking them she saw the man standing over her with a knife in his hand.

 

He never said a word as he knelt and grabbed Bayley’s ponytail, using it to pull her head back. He then drove a fist into her temple so hard that her vision blacked out momentarily though the pain remained. He then used her hair once more to pull back on her head and bare her throat. Bayley closed her eyes and whispered one word as she prepared to die. “Sasha” was what she said. But death didn’t come, instead she heard the sound of a knife driving into flesh as the man gave a pained grunt.

 

She felt his grip on her hair vanish and, looking up, Bayley saw that the woman who had been writhing in pain on the ground had crawled out of the motel room and driven a knife into the back of the man’s knee. “Take that ya mute bastard” the other woman gasped. Had Bayley been less distracted she might have noticed her accent. Instead she gritted her eyes against the supernova of pain in her head as she pulled herself up to a sitting position against the wall of the motel.

 

For most people, being stabbed would have been more than enough to incapacitate them. Or at the very least it would have left them in a lot of pain. This man, after his initial grunt, gave no other reaction as he reached down and cooly dragged the knife from his knee. He then took a hobbling half jump half step backward, putting himself out of reach of the woman on the ground. For her part she was trying to fight her way back to her feet but it was too late. The man produced a suppressed pistol from somewhere and took careful aim. Then came the sound of a single shot.

*****

Sasha Banks stared in horror over the barrel of the gun in her hand. Ritter’s pistol, no her pistol now, had just kicked in her hand giving off an impossibly loud sound. A moment later Sasha saw the man who had been about to kill Bayley and another woman stagger backward. His face didn’t betray pain or even shock as he turned to look at her, if anything he appeared surprised. Sasha raised the pistol again though her hands were shaking so badly that she wasn’t sure she’d be able to hit anything. But the man didn’t raise his own gun.

 

A second later it clattered to the ground as his knees buckled under him. Blood was now spurting from the bullet wound in his throat. A second later he fell forward and didn’t stir. Sasha’s mind was reeling, unable to process what had just taken place. To Sasha, being a nurse was more than a job. Nurturing and healing were intrinsic parts of the core of her being. And yet despite this, her senses were now telling her that she’d just killed someone.

 

She let her own gun drop to the ground as she continued to stand and stare. It was only when she’d been doing this for a long time that she realized she was hearing something. Something that was familiar and yet somehow out of place at the same time. Coming back to herself Sasha realized what it was, she was hearing a helicopter. Looking up she actually saw it fly overhead a moment later. Now that she was able to think again she remembered Bayley.

 

Hurrying forward Sasha knelt beside her friend who was clearly dazed. Bayley was propped up against the front wall of the motel with a vacant stare that Sasha associated with someone who’d just taken a blow to the head. Bayley also had a set of nasty looking bruises and a few small cuts on her face but Sasha quickly saw that none of these were too serious. Her primary concern was concussion.

 

“Bayley, hey can you hear me?” Sasha asked as she slipped into her ‘work voice’. She snapped her fingers in front of Bayley’s eyes a few times in an effort to draw her attention.

 

“Yeah…” Bayley grunted in obvious pain “...yeah I can hear you”.

 

“What’s your name? Where were you born?” Sasha asked her. She was finding that, as serious as the situation was, doing something that she was familiar with was helping her remain calm.

 

“Sasha-” Bayley started to say but Sasha cut her off.

 

“Answer me! What is your FULL name and where were you born?” Sasha asked in the stern voice she used with recalcitrant patients.

 

“Bayley Davina Martinez...San Jose” Bayley said as she closed her eyes and groaned through gritted teeth.

 

“Where is San Jose?” Sasha asked insistently.

 

Bayley opened her eyes at this and glared at Sasha as she said “Santa Clara county California! I’m not concussed Sasha”. She had started speaking in an impatient voice but ended with another moan of pain.

 

“Yeah you’re clearly doing just fine” Sasha muttered as she pulled a tissue from her jacket and pressed it firmly against one of the cuts oozing blood on Bayley’s face.

 

Bayley managed to roll her eyes as she brushed away Sasha’s hand and said “I’m not dizzy, I don’t feel sick, and I can see you perfectly”. She sounded impatient as she began trying to stand.

 

“Whoa easy there!” Sasha said as she pressed Bayley back down.

 

“Sasha there could still be more shooters around and besides I need to-” Bayley trailed off as she looked to her left. The woman who had stabbed Bayley’s last attacker in the knee was nowhere to be found.

 

“Where did she-?” Bayley asked as she tried to stand again. Sasha tried to stop her but Bayley gave her a sharp look before saying “if you want to help then let me lean on you OK?”. Sasha bit her lip as she considered this before she nodded and got one of Bayley’s arms around her shoulders.

 

Clearly willing to be more generous now that she’d won on the issue of standing Bayley said “nice shooting by the way”.

 

Sasha paused and pursed her lips at the comment before she said “I don’t want to talk about it Bayley OK?”.

 

“Sure…” Bayley said sounding like she regretted bringing it up. Sasha really did NOT want to discuss it at the moment. Ideally she wouldn’t ever have to and she could forget about it entirely.

 

“Did you find Cameron?” Sasha asked. She felt Bayley stiffen at this but the detective didn’t answer right away. Instead she just turned to look Sasha in her eyes.

 

“Yeah... I think so” Bayley told her. Her tone of voice sent a chill through Sasha.

 

“Where Bayley?” Sasha asked in a small voice. Bayley looked like she was debating if she should tell Sasha but in the end she did.

 

“The room I got kicked out of” was all she said as she let Sasha half carry her toward the door. Sasha found that though she dreaded what she would find she couldn’t stop herself from walking forward. When she reached the doorway she let Bayley lean against it before she stepped through. She felt like she was walking in a dream, even the world around her seemed a little less real. Everything except for the body that lay on the filthy floor.

 

Sasha somehow wasn’t even shocked. Ever since she’d begun this journey she’d had the horrible feeling that it would end this way. Taking a series of uncertain and jerky steps forward Sasha knelt beside the crumpled form. A quick look told her what she already knew. Here lay the body of the woman, who had once been the girl, who had once been Sasha’s friend.

 

Cameron’s body looked oddly pristine. Sasha saw deep stab wounds under both her arms but nowhere else. Clearly whoever had killed her had known what they were about. Most stabbing victims she dealt with came in looking like they’d been mauled by bears. But this precision almost clinical kind of killing seemed far worse to her. Looking at Cameron’s face Sasha was surprised to see how peaceful she looked. It was as though all the pain, frustration, and fear of Cameron’s too challenging life had been lifted from her face.

 

She felt a hand on her shoulder and for a moment she almost pulled away. But then she heard Bayley say “come on Sasha, lets get you out of here” in a gentle whisper. Sasha found herself nodding but only mechanically. She would have expected to feel deep sadness but she was only empty now, cavernously hollow. Bayley was pulling Sasha to her feet when they both heard the sound of the helicopter returning. The noise got louder and louder until it sounded as though the vehicle was hovering almost directly overhead.

 

*****

“Looks like someone is coming out of the motel” Nia’s distorted voice said in Charlotte’s headset.

 

She was sitting in the rear of her helicopter as it hovered over the devastation below. Charlotte was studying the still burning vehicle and the slew of dead bodies with only mild interest. She’d been gratified to learn that Blackman had completed his mission and now she intended to pick him up before returning to her penthouse.

 

“It’s not him” Joe’s voice chimed in. Charlotte frowned and looked down to see that Joe was right. Two women were emerging from the motel, not her hand to hand combat instructor. As Charlotte watched one of these figures reached onto her belt and then held something small and metallic up above her head.

 

“She’s a cop, that’s her badge” Nia said. She was sitting opposite Charlotte and had a better view of the scene. Charlotte pursed her lips in annoyance at this complication. She had been sure that her two ‘distractions’ would be enough to keep the police away for awhile.

 

“She’s not doing anything else Ms. Flair, just holding up her shield, she must think we’re an LVPD bird” Joe put in. Charlotte supposed this was possible as her chopper’s flood light was trained directly down at the woman which might be blinding her.

 

“I uh...I found Blackman Ms. Flair” Nia said hesitantly. Her bodyguard then pointed down and to the right of the police officer. Charlotte followed her gesture and then saw him. Made unmistakable by it’s crew cut and particular build Blackman’s body was easy to recognize even from a height of twenty feet.

 

“Do you want me to drop her?” Joe asked. He was holding a rifle in his lap and Charlotte knew that he could easily make the shot. Charlotte didn’t answer though, instead she unstrapped from her seat and hit the control that would open the helicopters port side door.

 

“Ms. Flair!” Nia began to say in a concerned voice but Charlotte held up a hand as she stooped slightly to stand in the doorway, peering directly down at the policewoman. The person, she assumed, who had killed Steve Blackman. Then she transferred her gaze to the woman’s companion. Charlotte couldn’t make out much about her other than her magenta colored hair. Had these two worked together to kill Blackman? She had a hard time believing that either of them could have done so alone.

 

Charlotte’s helicopter had been drifting slightly as it hovered and was now above and to the right of the two women below them. Her present view allowed Charlotte not only to see them but the intersection that sat on the corner of the motel’s parking lot. It was due to this that she saw the headlight flare into life almost at the same instant as she heard the engine roar.

 

*****

It had taken Becky a long time to creep to where she’d had ODB stash her motorcycle. Now that she was on it she had intended to simply rocket off into the night to lick her wounds. And damn did she have a lot of wounds to lick. She had no idea how she was going to explain what had happened to Finlay but she knew she wasn’t going to try tonight. The rest of the night would be for drinking.

 

Yet something stopped her as she reached the intersection. She’d been hearing the helicopter for a long time but now it seemed to be stopped over the motel. Maybe it was simple curiosity but whatever it was it was enough for Becky to briefly stop her bike. She turned to her left and looked back at the warzone that the Jakked motel had become. Then she noticed the three other women.

 

Looking up she saw what appeared to be a woman dressed all in white staring down at her and the motel from the helicopter’s side door. Lowering her gaze Becky then saw that the cop who’d also been fighting the assassin earlier had come out into the night. She was holding her badge up toward the helicopter as though she thought it might be there to help her.

 

But it was the woman standing beside the cop who drew Becky’s attention. She couldn’t see much of her but she did see the magenta hair. She squinted for several seconds before she decided that yes, it was the same nurse she’d seen to get her arm stitched up. What in the hell was that little twit doing here with a cop?

 

But Becky lost interest in this puzzle as an odd feeling struck her. She got the sense that all three other women were staring at her a she stared at them. And that they were looking at each other as well. Becky felt a shiver run down her spine at this though she no had idea why.

 

“Boss, you alive?” ODB’s voice said in her ear causing her to jump.

 

“Yes, I’m here” Becky had to shout in response to be heard over the helicopter. “I’m on my way, let's get out of here” she said in a much quieter voice than usual. Something had happened here tonight that had nothing to do with the violence. And she needed to figure out what.

 

*****

Charlotte stared down at the three women that she strongly suspected had played key roles in the partial frustration of her designs tonight. She was tempted to order them all dead but something stayed her hand. She could tell they were all watching her just as she watched them. Some instinct in the non-rational part of her mind said that killing them was the wrong move.

 

“Let them be Joe, we won tonight. They can clean up the wreckage” Charlotte said as she stepped backward and regained her seat.

 

Brushing her windswept hair from her face she pondered for a long time. She guessed that the woman on the motorcycle must have been with the group that had initially stolen her prize from her. Could this be the same woman who had killed MVP’s men single handedly? The fact that she was still alive at all was a true testament to her skills. The same went for the cop and her companion. Perhaps these women could be turned into valuable allies as opposed to dangerous enemies.

 

“If there is one cop here then you can bet more are on the way and killing that one will only complicate our lives” Charlotte said finally, uncharacteristically choosing to explain herself. Truthfully she was feeling almost shaken, like she’d just been party to something momentous.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair” was all that Joe said.

 

“However, if more police are on their way we had best be cautious” Charlotte said as the helicopter lifted off into the night sky and she drew out her cell phone.

 

*****

Bayley watched as the helicopter flew off into the sky and the motorcycle vanished down the road. She knew now that the chopper hadn’t been from the LVPD, no air unit would have just ignored her badge like that. Of course ideally she would have detained both the woman on the motorcycle and the one in the helicopter. But the reality of her situation was that she had no way to do that.

 

Bayley stared silently off into the night for a long time. She didn’t know why but she felt that both the woman in the chopper and the one on the motorcycle were important. And she’d been a cop for long enough to know that you just didn’t ignore this kind of intuition. She resolved that when she could she would look long and hard into this situation. But right now she had more immediate concerns.

 

“Sasha, are you OK?” she asked as she turned back to face the other woman. Sasha didn’t say anything. She was just standing with her arms wrapped protectively around herself staring down at the ground. Bayley felt a deep surge of sympathy well up in her but she wasn’t sure what to do. In a previous life she would have taken her friend in her arms but now she didn’t know. To cover this lapse Bayley said “why don’t we go check on Officer McCray, I assume she’s OK if you left her at the car”.

 

Sasha didn’t look up at her when she spoke. She just sniffed once as she folded her arms still tighter around herself. And then Bayley understood. Sasha would never have left her friend at the car, even if she’d been able to stabilize her. The only reason she would have left the car was if there wasn’t anything more she could do there. And as this realization struck, Bayley’s uncertainty vanished in a moment.

 

Stepping forward Bayley wrapped Sasha in her arms just as the first tears began to fall. Sasha stiffened at first but an instant later she was clinging to Bayley as though she were her only link to life. Despite the horrors around her, Bayley’s whole world shrank in that instant. Now the only thing that mattered was the woman who was sobbing uncontrollably in her arms. Bayley whispered softly into Sasha’s ear as she cried but she knew that Sasha probably didn’t hear her. She also knew to an absolute certainty that the only wrong thing to do now would be to let her friend go. And yes, Sasha Banks was and would always be her best friend.  

 

Sasha cried for a long time as she clung to Bayley. But eventually her muffled voice reached Bayley’s ears. She still had her face pressed against Bayley’s shoulder but her voice was understandable as she sniffed “please don’t leave me Bayley, I need you”.

 

“I never will again” Bayley said.





Chapter Text

The day after the shootout at the Jakked motel was among the most trying in Bayley’s life. Once the adrenaline of the night’s action had worn off Bayley’s abdominal wound had returned with quadrupled fury leaving her almost unable to move. Of course her head was also still a little hazy from the two blows she’s sustained so not moving had actually been quite high on her list of priorities. Given her druthers she would have gone home and taken full advantage of the rest of her medical leave.

 

But of course that wasn’t going to happen, not after the mess at the motel. Bayley had called for more police to respond to the scene but there had been yet another large explosion after the first two of that night. The LVPD was stretched very thin and only a single car had been available. So as much as Bayley had wanted to go home she had stuck around for a long time helping the officers secure the scene.

 

She’d then been forced to go into the local precinct and confront a mountain of paperwork. She would have been there all night if not for the fact that her wound had begun to bleed, staining her bandages with fresh blood. Only then had the local Captain told her to go home though she had, understandably, been less than thrilled with Bayley. Bayley couldn’t blame her, on this night of all nights no one wanted to be dealing with the fallout of an enormous shootout.

 

But if Bayley had thought that the night before had been trying then the morning after had much much worse. Bayley had woken up to the very thing she’d been dreading, or ‘things’ rather. Checking her phone she found she had no less than 25 voicemails. She’d listened to about half before giving up on the process entirely, there was really only so much angry shouting she could deal with in one sitting.

 

Despite this. when looking to her left she’d smiled softly as she looked down at the still sleeping form of Sasha Banks. When Bayley had finally made it home she’d been surprised to find Sasha already there, already fast asleep in Bayley’s bed. Bayley had joined her and despite her pain and her preoccupied mind she’d had her best night of sleep in ages. Sadly it seemed that this pleasant interlude was about to end.

 

Carefully sliding out from under Sasha’s arm Bayley had dressed as quietly as she could and then slipped out of her apartment after leaving a note for Sasha. She’d taken her time driving into work, not being in any rush for what she knew was coming. She even considered limping into the precinct in hopes of softening the blow about to come, but rejected this instantly as pathetic. Besides Bayley had known going in that helping Sasha could get her into major trouble, and now it was time to take her medicine. No sooner had she stepped out of the elevator to her floor when she was driven against it's back wall by a blonde blur.

 

“WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!” Alexa Bliss snapped at her as she hugged Bayley with almost bone breaking intensity. Bayley, whose breath had been driven out of her, had to wait for a while before she could speak again and when she tried she got cut off. “HOW COULD YOU DO THAT?! WITHOUT EVEN CALLING ME?! I’M YOUR PARTNER!” Alexa half shouted half choked.

 

Bayley returned Alexa’s hug with as much affection she could muster while feeling like she was in the Death Star trash compactor. “Hey Lex I-” she started to say but once again Alexa interjected.

 

“Bayley!...” Alexa said, apparently not hearing “...it’s looking pretty bad in there”. She finished by jerking her head over her shoulder toward Morley’s office.

 

Bayley swallowed and asked “how bad?”. Alexa’s answer was a hopeless stare.

 

It turned out Alexa had been somewhat underselling the situation. Bayley had no sooner exited the elevator when she heard the bellow of “MARTINEZ!” coming from Morley’s office. Walking with the air of a woman heading for the gallows Bayley entered the Captain’s office to find that her situation was beyond bleak. Waiting behind the desk wasn’t Morley, he was standing off to the side, but no less exalted a personage than Commissioner of Police Eric Bischoff.

 

“Sit down detective, we have a lot to discuss” Bischoff said as he motioned for Morley to close the door to the office.

 

Bayley was in the office for about half an hour. The first fifteen minutes were mostly Bischoff, and to a lesser degree Morley, venting his spleen at her. Bayley had been a cop for long enough that she knew that for this part her job was to simply be quiet and take it. So she’d sat stone faced as Bischoff had, without ever raising his voice, eviscerated her.  But it was when he looked at her and said “now...let's talk about what we’re going to do with you going forward detective” that she felt a shiver on her spine.

 

Bayley swallowed hard before asking “sir?” in a timid voice. She’d been pouring over this very issue ad nauseum. Bayley knew she was definitely facing a suspension, and perhaps of great length. It was also a very real possibility that she could be staring termination in the face. Of course it was in the nature of these things that she hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the worst possible outcome. That she might somehow be facing charges over the events at the motel.

 

“Under normal circumstances I’d have you out on your ass before you knew what hit you so I could forget you the second the door closed” Bischoff said bluntly, causing Bayley’s fears to reach fever pitch within her.

 

“Yes sir” Bayley said.

 

Bischoff glared at her for a long time before he said “but it seems you have better friends, AND LUCK, than you deserve”.

 

“Sir?” Bayley asked, refusing to allow herself to hope.

 

Bischoff looked beyond annoyed as he said “as much as I want you gone I’d lose half my goddamn SWAT unit and a Lieutenant if I did. Nevermind having both the Sheriff AND the goddamn Mayor up my ass!”.

 

“I...I don’t understand sir” Bayley said in an uncertain voice.

 

“Just shut the fuck up detective!” Morley snapped from beside Bischoff. Despite this being a major violation of department regs for how supervisors could address their staff, Bischoff didn’t correct the Captain. The commissioner made an obvious effort to calm himself before he resumed speaking.

 

“What you did was put your damn nose someplace it didn’t belong Martinez. And your stupidity got a cop killed!” Bischoff said in a low voice that nonetheless cut Bayley to her core. The subject of Officer McCray’s death was an emotional wound that wouldn’t heal within her for a long time. This was in part because she actually did feel responsible for it.

 

“Yes sir” Bayley said, staring down at her hands in her lap.

 

“I can’t fire you because the city thinks you’re some kind of fucking hero, and you’ve somehow convinced some important people to believe that shit too!” Bischoff said, sounding as though the words tasted rotten in his mouth.

 

Morley muttered something that sounded like “bullshit” at this.

 

“So here’s how we’re going to handle this…” Bischoff said in a voice that made clear his distaste for the whole situation “...we’re going to spin this as McCray going cowboy and heading to the motel on her own. You went after her on a hair brained rescue and she got killed”. The unjustness of this finally stung Bayley out of her politic silence.

 

“Sir! That's-” she said, half rising out of her seat, but Bischoff roared over her.

 

“Detective when I want your input I will ask for it until then shut up!” he said as he brought a fist slamming down on the desk. Bayley started at this but she never broke eye contact. Bischoff collected himself for a second time before continuing his thought “...we can sell that you let your emotions get the better of you and you went charging after McCray. And since you ended up taking down an international criminal we can still make this a win for the department”.

 

“What?” Bayley asked, she was furious but Bischoff’s last words had cut through it.

 

“More of your damn luck, one of the guys you killed turned up a record with INTERPOL. Stephen Blackman, wanted for murder in six countries. We can imply that McCray lost control when she heard he was in the area. Black girl from the hood, people will eat it up” Bischoff finished this wildly inappropriate statement on a calculating note. He was obviously at home in this kind of conniving and scheming.

 

It took every bit of Bayley’s self control not to snap something career ending at Bischoff. Bayley hadn’t been close personally with Naomi McCray but she’d respected her greatly as a fellow cop. And perhaps more importantly she’d been one of Sasha’s closest friends. To hear her posthumous character assassination being planned so coldly was almost too much. For more than a moment it was on Bayley’s mind to quit, right then and there. Just put her gun and badge on the desk and walk away. But it passed when she realized that the only way she would ever right this wrong would be from the inside.

 

So despite the fact that every syllable stabbed on her heart she simply nodded and said “yes sir”. Bischoff had plainly been prepared for more resistance from her but it was equally clear he was happy to accept the easy victory. Still he was also unable to resist another show of dominance.

 

“And you’re not getting off free and easy either, I can’t fire you or bust you down to traffic without kicking up a shitstorm. You’re still what? Two weeks from seeking medical clearance? Well I hope you get it, then you can begin serving your three week suspension...WITHOUT PAY” Bischoff said.

 

Bayley’s eyes flashed but she fought to keep her voice calm as she said “I understand sir, but I should tell you that I will be speaking to my union representative about appealing this”.

 

“Go ahead detective, but I hear things are moving a bit slowly over at the union right now. Buried in paperwork or so I hear. I assume they’d be ready to go with helping you on that appeal about a month and a half or two from now. You can think about that and prepare for your appeal on your FOUR week unpaid suspension” Bischoff said with a smarmy smile firmly fixed in place.

 

Bayley was suddenly too stunned to come up with a sharp retort. Was she reading too far into the commissioner’s words? Or had he just suggested that he was somehow hindering appeals at the union? If he was then the open and blatant nature of the remark was stunning. This made Bayley think that anything she might do about it would fail. If Bischoff was being this candid about it, then she had to assume he felt bulletproof.

 

“You can go now detective” Bischoff said after Bayley had stared dumbfounded at him for several seconds. He matched this with a dismissive wave. Bayley was still grappling with alternating waves of shock and anger when she left.

 

She was met on her way to the elevator by Alexa who asked in a nervous voice “so what happened are you…”. She trailed off as though she couldn’t bear to finish the sentence. Bayley wondered dimly what she had been about to say before she put Alexa out of her misery.

 

“I guess I’ll be seeing you late next month Lex” she said with a lame attempt at levity. She wasn’t even sure why, she had every right to be angry at the moment. But she supposed she didn’t want to give Bischoff and Morley the satisfaction. Also, she didn’t want to dump her problems on Alexa. Of course Alexa wasn’t going to be deflected that easily.

 

“What does that mean?” Alexa asked sounding equal parts exasperated and worried.

 

“Look Lex, after I get cleared I have a four week suspension to look forward to. I don’t really want to talk about it now but just come see me sometime after work OK?” Bayley said, she suddenly felt so tired.

 

“OK” was all Alexa said as she gave Bayley another worried look.

 

“I’ll have the beer ready” Bayley said with another weak smile as the elevator doors closed in front of her.

 

On her drive home Bayley’s brain was racing. Not only with the implications of her conversation with the commissioner but with the prospect of what lay before her. In fact she preferred to think about this later problem because the former was just too much for her to deal with right now. Even when she did finally arrive back at home she just turned off her car and sat in it.

 

She might have stayed there forever if her phone hadn’t buzzed. Consulting it’s screen she saw the text was from Sasha. It read:

 

“When will you be back?”

 

Rather than answer Bayley just got out of her car and walked up to her apartment. There she found quite the surprise. Sasha had made her breakfast.

 

Not that Sasha being thoughtful was surprising. Despite her sometimes reserved nature she was a very sweet person. No what was surprising was that she’d actually cooked. As far as Bayley knew Sasha’s culinary abilities extended no further than warming things up. And yet from the smell of the apartment she’d even tried her hand at the oven.

 

“Hey…” Sasha said with a very weak smile of her own. Of course Sasha would be dealing with the loss of Naomi on a much more personal level than Bayley herself. Because of this Bayley hadn’t expected her to be up and about until much later if she was at all.

 

“Hey yourself” Bayley said cautiously as she sniffed the air again. Now she that was fully inside the apartment she detected the scent of burnt food. Still she kept this from her face as she hung her bag on a hook and moved to join Sasha at the counter.

 

“I made breakfast for you” Sasha said unnecessarily as she gestured toward a place setting. Bayley sat cautiously in front of it and looked down. Two eggs with thoroughly crisped edges that might have been intended to be over easy. toast that was black in places, and coffee.  Despite the foods lackluster appearance something about the situation struck Bayley as funny and before she could stop herself she let out a quickly stifled laugh.

 

“What's so funny?” Sasha asked sounding slightly hurt. But now Bayley was having a harder time controlling her laughter. Mortified by this she clamped a hand firmly over her mouth and was forced to sit quietly for a few seconds before she could get her shoulders to stop convulsing. Maybe it was how solemn their current situations were juxtaposed with Sasha's burnt food, but something inside Bayley kept her laughing.

 

“I’m...I’m sorry Sasha I really appreciate this” Bayley was able to say eventually when she’d regained control of herself. Sasha was still looking miffed however so Bayley quickly used her fork to cut a sliver off one of her eggs and popped it into her mouth. A decision she regretted almost instantly because the egg was so dry that upon swallowing it she began coughing.

 

“Oh my god…” Sasha said in annoyance as she threw her hands up and looked away.

 

“I’m...I’m so sorry Sasha I guess I just swallowed wrong” Bayley tried to assure her friend as she took a rescue sip of coffee.

 

“Whatever” Sasha muttered.

 

“Hey I really appreciate it Sash, I mean it” Bayley said solicitously. The last thing she wanted to do right now was hurt her friend’s feelings.

 

“OK” Sasha said noncommittally.

 

“You’re spoiling me” Bayley said with a smile, still trying to undo some of the damage she’d just done. Sasha seemed to relent a little at this.

 

“I know I’m not much of a cook-” she began.

 

“You’re wonderful” Bayley interjected with more passion than she actually felt.

 

“...-but I just...I needed something to do” Sasha finished as her fingers began interlacing themselves. Now Bayley’s look softened to one of deep sympathy.

 

“I mean it Sash, this is great. Do you want some?” Bayley said kindly as she offered her plate to Sasha. Sasha looked suspicious for only a moment before she picked up another fork and cut herself her own bit of egg. She ate and then immediately turned to spit it into the garbage.

 

“Oh my god...I didn’t think I’d done that bad” she said with a grimace.

 

“It wasn’t...terrible” Bayley said, trying to bolster her friend. But Sasha shot her a glare and she just said “but yeah it was". Bayley tossed the food and then suggested “how about we just do coffee for now”.

 

She was pouring another cup when Sasha spoke up from behind her saying “Bayley...can I...can I stay here again tonight? I really don’t want to be alone right now”. Bayley took her time with the coffee and then set a mug in front of Sasha before she answered.

 

“I want you to stay Sasha” she said as she hugged her friend tight. Sasha’s body seemed to sag against hers as though a great deal of tension had just rushed out of her body.

 

It was Sasha’s turn not to speak for a long time. When she eventually did it was in a tiny muffled whisper. “I miss her already Bay” she said simply. She didn’t cry, her voice didn’t even break, but it’s desolate tone hurt Bayley’s heart just as much.

 

“I know” was all Bayley could say even as she wished she could say so much more.

 

“Do we have to do anything today?” Sasha asked almost pleadingly. Clearly she needed the answer to be no.

 

“As it turns out I have nothing but free time” Bayley said. And over the next day or so they really did almost nothing. Sasha stayed with Bayley, fell asleep in her arms and woke up there the next morning. They did little else during the day except hold each other in bed or on the couch, both of their usual daily routines forgotten.

 

They were, perversely, a happy time for Bayley despite everything. And she sensed that on some level Sasha agreed with this. Of course they both had dark clouds hanging over them but their time together functioned like the eye of the storm, someplace uncomplicated and pure. They never even kissed, and yet somehow this time together did more to make them a couple than all their previous hookups ever had.

 

There was only one thing that could have convinced Sasha and thus Bayley to break their idyll. They had a funeral to go to.








Chapter Text

Charlotte pursed her lips in annoyance at the soft knock on her bedroom doors. Her staff were all fully aware of Charlotte’s standing instructions that she never be disturbed while sleeping or otherwise in her chambers. Only a true emergency would have caused them to violate this rule but this did nothing to allay Charlotte’s irritation. Setting her scourge carefully aside Charlotte stood slowly and shook her hair from her eyes. Donning her robe she walked to the doors and opened them to find Nia waiting there.

 

“Yes?” Charlotte asked in a voice of clear annoyance.

 

“I apologize for disturbing you Ms. Flair. Your father called and is waiting for you on the line in the conference room. Also, the Inoki-Kai have reached out and requested a meeting with you at your earliest convenience” Nia said, seemingly unmoved by her employers somewhat disheveled state.

 

Charlotte gave no visible reaction to Nia’s news though she had to work to keep her eyes from widening. After the events at the Jakked Motel Charlotte had been expecting to hear from her father sooner or later. Though she would have preferred that it not be THIS soon. The news that the Yakuza wanted to meet with her was both intriguing and potentially worrying. The Inoki-Kai were not famous for their sociability, if they wanted a private sit down then they wanted something.

 

“Tell my father that I will be with him shortly, then have Dana arrange for the Inoki representatives to come here tonight. Tell her to arrange a Japanese style formal dinner as well” Charlotte said, taking charge of the situation. Her disappointment at being denied her amusement had evaporated quickly. There was work to do now.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair” Nia said.

 

Charlotte was already striding toward her closet when she remembered to add “and Nia? Please unhandcuff Summer after I’ve left”.

 

A few minutes later Charlotte, now fully dressed, was sitting in the conference room of her sweet staring at the image of her father. As with the last time they’d spoken Ric Flair was behind his desk in his study. Also like last time he had an open decanter of bourbon to hand. Unlike last time, and much to Charlotte's annoyance, her father wasn’t alone.

 

Her father’s current ‘girlfriend’ was prancing about the study in a clinging mini dress in a way that made Charlotte want to curl her lip. Though she loved her father dearly Charlotte found his taste in women deplorable. He’d been married four times with each subsequent wife getting younger. In more recent years he had seemingly given up on the idea of remarrying but had simply kept a series of playthings to amuse himself. Most of these had been near or below Charlotte’s own age.

 

The current bimbo’s name was Stacy Keibler. Charlotte had only met her once and she had certainly seemed to have all the traits her father loved. A perky body and a near total absence of higher intellect. The fact that her father had chosen to allow her to be present for this call annoyed Charlotte greatly. Still, she knew there was no point in objecting to it.

 

“Hello daddy” Charlotte said tersely, refusing to look at or acknowledge Stacy.

 

“Hey there baby girl!” Ric Flair said happily as he pulled Stacy down into his lap possessively. Charlotte’s lips thinned noticeably at this as she watched her father take a sip from his glass of bourbon. “Just wanted to check in and see how things were going after all that excitement the other night” he said after setting the glass aside.

 

Charlotte tensed inwardly at this. She had no way of knowing how much her father actually knew, just that it would be more than what had made the news. She had no doubt that some of the people with her in Vegas would be reporting back to her father, though she was fairly certain it would be none of her inner staff. She considered for a moment, wondering how much she should share. Too much and she might expose herself needlessly. Too little and she might anger her father.

 

“Things are going very well daddy, we had a potential setback but I’ve seen to it and now Andre is back on schedule” Charlotte said.

 

“I’m glad to hear it baby girl, you had me concerned there for awhile. Bombings are a little outside your usual style” Ric Flair said in a fatherly tone. He sounded as though he were concerned for her but Charlotte recognized the subtle rebuke in his words. Three open bombings were far outside Charlotte's usual subtle ways and if something didn't go to plan could attract far too much attention to the family.

 

“Yes” Charlotte acknowledged though slightly gritted teeth. Stacy was staring at her with her big brown eyes as she spoke and Charlotte particularly resented her presence. “The bombings were...unfortunate...but I wanted to ensure that our men would have a free hand to dispose of the final loose end” she said with a dismissive wave. "I have also taken steps to ensure that none of them will be traced back to us. The recent attack on the mayor has proven to be a godsend in this regard as I've left evidence to suggest that these 'burn it down' attackers were also responsible for the bombings. This will be further bolstered by the fact that two of the three were government targets" She added, annoyed at having to explain herself in front of Stacy.

 

“Hmm” was all Ric Flair said as he stared at her intently. As he did so he idly groped his girlfriend's breasts making Charlotte stew still more. He didn't seem particularly convinced.

 

“It also became necessary to clean up after the Bullet Club. They…’over indulged’ their more bestial appetites with some of our targets at an abandoned paper mill, which was why it was the target of the third bomb” Charlotte admitted. She assumed her father would have known about the Bullet Club’s overreach at the Russo Mill. She hoped by admitting it straight away she might deflect further discussion on the topic. No such luck.

 

“Yes you were very insistent that we bring them on board. Proving to be some trouble are they?” Charlotte’s father asked casually. Charlotte’s hands clenched into fists under the table at this, her father was reminding her that he had been against the idea of retaining the Bullet Club. Now he was enjoying an ‘I told you so’ moment.

 

“We always knew there was this risk but on the whole they have been vital to our operations here” Charlotte said, trying not to sound defensive as she did.

 

“Well I’m sure you’ll make me proud baby girl” Charlotte’s father said noncommittally. He knew what he was doing and obviously felt he’d twisted that particular knife long enough.

 

“Yes daddy” Charlotte said. She didn’t trust herself to say anymore.

 

“You know baby girl I was thinking, maybe I outta send JJ out there. He can help you run the day to day stuff while you focus on Andre” Ric Flair suggested. He made it sound like he’d be doing Charlotte a favor but all Charlotte heard was the sound of impending doom.

 

“Thank you daddy I appreciate the offer but it’s not necessary, I have everything well in hand” Charlotte said. She let her voice rise half a register at this, hoping to manipulate her father into abandoning this idea.

 

JJ Dillon was one of Ric Flair’s oldest and most trusted associates. Indeed he had been one of the original five man crew, including Charlotte’s father, who had begun the Flair’s rise to power. Unlike the other four members of the crew however JJ had always been more dangerous for his mind than his fists. Even before he’d gotten old he’d never been an imposing figure. But it was widely whispered that the brains behind the rise of the Flairs were those of JJ Dillon And in her own more candid private moments Charlotte couldn’t disagree.

 

She had no doubt that JJ would have a great many ideas on how to improve the Flair family standing in Vegas. As her father had suggested he would probably be able to keep things running smoothly, if not MORE smoothly, in their day to day operations. But nothing would shake Charlotte’s feeling that if JJ Dillon or Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, or Tully Blanchard came to Vegas to ‘help’ her then it would mean her failure. It would mean that she hadn’t been up to the task and that she’d needed a babysitter to see things through.

 

“Hmmm you know I believe in you darling but there’s no shame in accepting some help” Ric Flair said. Charlotte was relieved though that he was speaking in a contemplative rather than mollifying voice. This meant he hadn’t yet made his final decision.

 

“I assure you daddy I have everything under control. We’ve put this small hiccup behind us and now we’re ready to begin Andre itself. Besides I couldn’t deprive you of JJ’s help or pull him away from his fishing” Charlotte said, trying hard not to sound like she was pleading even though she was.

 

“Well...if you’re sure then I’ll hold off baby girl. But I need to see some progress soon or I’m going to send him out there OK sweetheart?” Ric Flair told his daughter sternly.

 

“Yes daddy” Charlotte said. She wanted to beam at her father in gratitude but hated to do so while Stacy was watching. She settled for a small smile and a nod.

 

“Alright sugar plum I’ll call you later” Ric Flair said as he cut their connection, but not before turning to kiss Stacy Keibler. Charlotte held her smile in place until after the screen had gone black then let it slowly fade. She resolved that she would someday have Stacy Keibler killed. The thought amused her enough that she was smiling again as she left the conference room. She was met outside the door by Dana, who had clearly been hovering there waiting for Charlotte.

 

“The dinner you asked for will be ready by seven Ms. Flair” Dana said sounding nervous as though she were worried this wouldn’t be early enough.

 

“Very well Dana, communicate this to our Japanese friends” Charlotte said as she headed back toward the stairs. She was planning to spend some time working out before having to prepare for her meeting later that evening. Before she could get far though she stopped and turned back saying “and Dana...have Mr. Porter, the Bellas, Mr. Malenko, and Mr. Rhodes join us as well”.

 

“Yes ma’am” Dana said with a quick nod.

 

“Have you had any luck finding out who sent the men that were fighting Mr. Porter’s men at the motel?” Charlotte asked. She had asked Dana to look into this matter that night and had not yet received a status report. This was odd for Dana.

 

“No Ms. Flair, though I’ve had your people working on it. As soon as I have something I will bring it to you” Dana said in a voice tinged with a manic note. As usual the idea of disappointing Charlotte had worked it’s dark magic on her.

 

“See that you do” Charlotte said flatly before turning to walk away. She knew that this short response and exit would send Dana’s efforts into overdrive. Charlotte spent the next few hours training intensively against Nia in a variety of martial arts. Blackman’s death had left Charlotte without a personal trainer but both Nia and Joe were more than capable of stepping up in the interim.

 

Training was not only a good distraction for Charlotte but provided another equally critical benefit. It boosted her confidence. This sometimes struck her as odd as she had certainly never managed to best Blackman and rarely managed to do so against either Nia or Joe. Yet it was undeniable that she emerged from these sparring sessions feeling more in control of her world. And she would need to in light of who she was meeting with tonight.

Charlotte took great care over her wardrobe that evening. The Inoki-Kai were known as a group that valued formality in their dealings with others and Charlotte meant to play the part well. In the end she selected a metallic gold colored gown and shawl both purchased from Sable’s in Paris, one of the most high end fashion outlets in the world. Charlotte fully intended to be the most eye catching thing in the room when she sat down with the Yakuza.

 

As she finished putting the final touches on her outfit for the evening Charlotte quizzed Dana for information on her guests of honor. She had learned that both Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura would be joining her that evening and she was still frustratingly ignorant about both of them. As a rule she never liked to meet anyone she hadn’t been able to research thoroughly. And though this would be impossible tonight, she would do her best to educate herself as much as possible.

 

“Tell me about Nakamura” Charlotte said as she evaluated two sets of earrings. Nia and Dana were both present though she was speaking to her assistant.

 

“He spent almost fifteen years as a Shatei and then a Kyodai in Tokyo. He was a solid earner and capable gunman but his career seemed to have stalled until Kanji Inoki himself took an interest in him. He spent a few years working directly for him before he was made a Wakagashira. Since then he’s been known as Inoki’s right hand, supervising critical operations and handling important hits” Dana said as she read off her tablet.

 

Dana’s sources of information were varied and wide ranging. Of course she had the full scope of the Flair empire to call on but this wouldn’t have fully accounted for her research abilities. Charlotte knew for a fact that Dana spent a noticeable portion of her salary on cultivating contacts and other sources of information. This coupled with her quick analytical mind made her an ideal woman for compiling briefings like these. And explained why Charlotte had been surprised to find her lack of answers earlier on the motel question.

 

“What sort of rackets did he run in Japan?” Charlotte asked as she finally settled on a pair of pearl and gold earrings.

 

“Drugs mostly, at one point he was one of the major suppliers in Tokyo…” Dana said slowly as she brought up another screen on her tablet and then added “...unlike many of the senior Inoki-Kai he has never had any US presence until now”.

 

Charlotte stopped and raised an eyebrow at her assistant in the mirror at this asking “really?”. This was odd indeed. Unlike the McMahons, Flairs, or Sammartino's the Inoki-Kai Yakuza were not actually based in the United States. They had originated in Japan and their power base still resided there, despite their near total control over the American west coast. Most senior Inoki-Kai had business interests in both countries.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair. It seems that, though he is a very skilled manager of his rackets, he simply prefers to operate as a soldier for Inoki himself. He uses his rackets only as a resource to support his favorite hobby of hunting down his enemies. I would guess he views expansion here as a distraction from that” Dana told Charlotte.

 

“So he prefers to handle his own dirty work…” Charlotte mused to herself, trying to decide how she might use this information to her advantage.

 

“So it would appear Ms. Flair, hIs nickname of ‘the Artist of violence’ paints a picture of the sort of man he is” Dana said.

 

“Needlessly theatrical?” Charlotte suggested sourly as she began sliding rings onto her fingers. As she did this she asked “and his companion?”.

 

“Her name is Asuka Urai though no one seems to call her anything but Asuka. I haven’t been able to determine much about her business activities. If she has any they are minor or extremely well hidden. In either case they would be secondary to her main role for the Inoki-Kai” Dana explained.

 

“Which is?” Charlotte asked impatiently.

 

“They call her Inoki’s left hand. She seems to be his designated information broker and spy mistress. She has the reputation of knowing everything that is going on in Japan and all the people who are doing it. It also seems that she is usually the one who provides Shinsuke Nakamura with the details of his targets” Dana said in an odd tone. Charlotte suspected that her assistant admired the Japanese woman.

 

“And can I assume she has a flamboyant nickname of her own?” Charlotte asked dryly.

 

“They call her the Empress of Tomorrow” Dana said, still sounding slightly star struck.

 

“Hmph” Charlotte grunted as she stood and smoothed the front of her gown. She hadn’t learned anything that would really help her in dealing with the two Inoki-Kai representatives tonight but one never knew when information would prove valuable.

 

The dining room in Charlotte’s penthouse was on the floor below the one she lived on. It was less a room than a section of the floor that usually featured a long elegant dining table. For tonight however it had been replaced with a hybrid design that melded a western style dining table with a Japanese chabudai. In addition the straight backed dining chairs had been replaced with zabuton cushions. The table was set for a Japanese kaiseki style dinner.

 

Charlotte was gratified that her dislike of unpunctuality had become known to her lieutenants as they were all present before she arrived. She studied the rest of the group with keen interest. The Bellas were, as usual, nearly indistinguishable from each other. Both women were wearing identical red gowns that set off their skin and hair well. Charlotte wondered if mirroring their appearances had simply become habit for them. Malenko, their handler, had settled for a traditional looking charcoal suit and turtleneck combo. He looked quite handsome in Charlotte’s opinion, and she knew many other women before her had shared that view.

 

Cody was wearing a white sport coat and slacks with a black shirt. His ever present glasses were on his face and as usual he seemed mildly bemused by the world around him. This was unexpected as Charlotte’s last meeting with him had not gone well for the Bullet Club leader. He had left the penthouse sulking. Yet all seemed forgotten now.

 

The final two people at the table were Montel Porter and his shadow, Teddy Long. Long was wearing his usual white suit and red shirt though tonight he had added a gold headed cane to his ensemble. Though not perfect his outfit was at least not entirely out of place at the table. MVP on the other hand was the only one present who hadn’t dressed for the occasion.

 

Charlotte stared at his outfit of olive combat jacket, t-shirt, jeans, and combat boots with distaste. She thought for a moment of sending him away to change but then decided against it. His slovenly appearance might cause the Yakuza to underestimate him and thus Charlotte herself. Something she would happily take advantage of. Besides it might prove useful to have a designated dunce at the table for purposes of conversational manipulation.   

 

Of the group only the Bellas and Malenko seemed accustomed to this form of dining. Charlotte hadn’t expected for MVP or his crew to know much about Japanese dining but she was surprised to find this in Cody Rhodes. She knew the Bullet Club spent a great deal of time in Japan and would have thought he would know this fairly basic point of etiquette. But he seemed as awkward and uncomfortable on his zabuton as MVP.

 

Charlotte gave no instructions to the men, instead settling herself neatly onto her own cushion. She was amused to watch MVP, Teddy Long, and Cody all try to emulate her movements. She then turned to Joe and said “show them in”. A moment later the doors to this level of the penthouse opened and a crowd of people entered.

 

There were eight in total, six were obviously guards. Charlotte’s own men would have thoroughly searched and disarmed them but she was in no sort of doubt that they were still very dangerous. They were all clad in dark suits and, like Cody, wearing dark sunglasses. The final two members of the party were Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura.

 

Charlotte had only seen photographs of them thus far, and most had been from police sources. None of them did justice to the two people standing in front of her. Nakamura was tall and lean though his build suggested a surprising strength. He had long hair that fell like wires around his face though one side of his scalp had been shaved bald.

 

He seemed to have the odd mannerism of twitching or jerking as he moved while his eyes jumped around the room. It was easy to see why many would fear him, his whole aspect seemed to suggest the possibility of sudden and unpredictable violence. He had elected for a plain dark suit this evening that seemed something of a letdown given his otherwise eccentric visage.

 

Striking though Nakamura was Charlotte found her attention being drawn inexorably to the woman beside him. Much shorter than Nakamura, or Charlotte herself, Asuka nonetheless managed to project an imposing feel. She had chin length hair that had been colored various shades of purple and blue which complimented her dress. The garment seemed to shimmer and change color depending on the angle from which one viewed it, though always in shades of purple or blue.

 

But far more interesting than her dress were her eyes. They were like deep pits of endless blackness. When she locked them on yours it was easy to imagine falling into them and never getting back out. They bespoke a deep and incisive intellect that would make fighting her a dangerous proposition. Charlotte guessed that by the time you’d resolved yourself to the fight, she would already have worked out a way to win.

 

Charlotte found herself oddly captivated by the woman. And she was honest enough with herself to know why. Asuka seemed to be, of all the women Charlotte had ever met, the closest thing to an equal she’d encountered. Charlotte sensed that to pit herself against this woman would be to truly challenge herself. And the idea was...exhilarating. Still she shook this off quickly. She couldn’t afford to be distracted, not when she didn’t yet know why the Yakuza had asked for this meeting.

 

“Please join us Nakamura-San and you as well Urai-San” Charlotte said with a passable, though small, imitation of a Japanese bow.

 

“Ms. Flair” Asuka said gravely as she returned the gesture. Nakamura for his part didn’t speak or acknowledge Charlotte’s bow. Instead he stared at her for a long moment before taking the spot at the far end of the table from Charlotte with Asuka settling herself to his left.

 

Without breaking his eye contact with Charlotte, Nakamura launched into a long string of rapid Japanese obviously directed at Asuka. Nakamura’s eyes seemed to blaze as he spoke. His voice gathered intensity as he went though it didn’t become noticeably louder. To the uneducated it would be hard to tell what exactly he was expressing as his facial expression and body language gave nothing away. But Charlotte was not uneducated.

 

She let Nakamura talk himself out, fully aware of the eyes of her lieutenants on her. She then waited again as Asuka and Nakamura had a quick conversation. The whole time neither she nor Nakamura looked away, indeed they hardly blinked. When the two had fallen silent all eyes at the table turned back to Charlotte. For her part Charlotte didn’t speak right away, simply allowing the silence to build.

 

When Nakamura’s eyes had narrowed suspiciously at the length of the pause Charlotte spoke. In flawless Japanese she said “speak about me like that again in my presence Nakamura-San and, truce or not, I will have you fed to dogs”. Nakamura’s eyes narrowed still further at this though he was obviously taken aback by Charlotte’s command of his language. But it was Asuka’s reaction that cut the tension that had suddenly surged into existence.

 

The Japanese woman let out a loud shriek of laughter before saying in accented english “HA she was ready for you Atisuto”. Nakamura turned to glower at her, an expression she ignored, as Asuka gave the table a mischievous smile. Charlotte found herself wanting to return the gesture though she suppressed this urge.

 

Instead she simply waved to the food in front of her and said, in English now, “please enjoy this meal with us friends”. Nakamura gave one of his odd twitchy scowls at this but Asuka still seemed to be enjoying his discomfiture.

 

“Thank you Ms. Flair” Asuka said, still wearing her cheshire cat like grin. She leered around at Charlotte’s lieutenants for awhile before saying “we have much to discuss”. She then proceeded to explain WHAT she and Nakamura were there to talk about.

 

Charlotte Flair’s eyebrow rose in surprise.



Chapter Text

It was said that all good things must end, but Sasha Banks was hoping they need only be interrupted in her case. She and Bayley had been living in a cocoon of happiness for a few days but now the real world had battered down their gates. Now she had to face the brutal truths of her situation whether she liked it or not. But afterword? She hoped she could dive right back into her cocoon.

 

Sasha was standing in front of the mirror in her bedroom inspecting her appearance. This was the first time she’d been back in her apartment since the horrible events at the Jakked motel. At first she hadn’t been able to face the prospect of being alone, but then she’d somehow stumbled upon happiness in the darkest of times. But today she would be attending a funeral, and her lack of funeral appropriate attire had been what had finally driven her to go home again.

 

“I know this is a really dumb question, but are you OK?” Bayley asked from behind her as she zipped Sasha into her black dress. Sasha looked herself up and down somberly before meeting Bayley’s eye in the mirror.

 

“No...and I don’t think I ever will be” Sasha said truthfully. She had to look away quickly to keep herself from tearing up as she picked up her hat from her dresser. Bayley didn’t say anything as she did. Sasha sniffed once as she straightened and cleared her throat. She told herself that she wouldn’t cry now, she would be strong for Naomi.

 

Naomi. Just thinking her friend’s name clamped a vice around her heart and nearly drove the breath from her chest. Feeling moisture forming at the corner of her eyes Sasha sniffed again and turned to face Bayley. Her girlfriend was wearing the dark blue dress uniform of an LVPD officer. It occurred to Sasha then that she’d never actually seen Bayley in the outfit in person, only in photos.

 

“You look nice” Sasha said in a slightly choked voice as she brushed at a tiny crease in Bayley’s uniform jacket.

 

“So do you” Bayley said softly as she tucked her own hat under her arm. Her face revealed plainly how much she wanted to shield Sasha from this pain. And Sasha loved her for this more than she could ever possibly express.

 

Naomi’s funeral was to be held at San Marianne’s church with Father Rey speaking. Naomi had requested both in her will. Unfortunately that had been the last part of planning her funeral that had gone smoothly. And it tore Sasha apart to know that her friend would have HATED the controversy.

 

As with many other minority neighborhoods across the country, Black Vegas had a complicated relationship with law enforcement. Years of stringent and often harsh police presence had left the residents suspicious of the LVPD and bred a culture of non-cooperation. Even as a girl Sasha had been raised with the concept of ‘don’t snitch’. For their part, the LVPD had spent a lot of time responding to the violence and crime that pervaded Sasha’s childhood home. Officers patrolling the area had often felt as though they were under siege.

 

Sasha could still remember the day that Naomi had told her and Cameron, and the thought of Cameron also hurt her heart, that she wanted to be a cop. They had been in high school at the time and Sasha had been too stunned to even speak. Cameron had been under no such compunction. She had torn into Naomi calling her all sorts of names but none more hurtful than that of snitch. It had been one of the first of the incidents that had ripped the three formerly inseparable girls apart.

 

Naomi’s professional life hadn’t gotten any easier from that point on. From the moment she’d entered the LVPD academy she’d been pulled in two directions. On one hand she’d wanted desperately to excel as a cop so she could begin what she saw as her ultimate purpose, working to reconcile her home with her job. On the other hand she’d always remained Naomi from the block with many friends and relatives who refused to see her as anything else.

 

Sasha had lost track of the number of times Naomi had come to her to talk about this. As another girl who had ‘left’ the neighborhood Sasha was one of the few people who could relate in even a small way to what Naomi had been going through. In hindsight Sasha wished she’d been more supportive. Dealing with her own sense of dislocation she’d often been gruff saying things like ‘quit whining and get over it’. Of course it was one thing for Sasha, a nurse, to say that. It was another for Naomi the police officer to follow the advice.

 

For the length of her too brief time with the LVPD Naomi had lived this enforced double life. And yet in doing so she’d shown more strength than Sasha believed she could have in the same situation. Not only had she walked her seemingly impossible tight rope with grace but she’d never lost sight of her goal of reconciliation. Sasha had always been struck by Naomi’s fixed belief that she, as an individual, could and WOULD change the world around her. But now it seemed that Sasha was the only one who remembered what Naomi had been working towards.

 

The problem had started when the LVPD had, seemingly without asking, begun planning to give Naomi a police officer’s funeral. The department had no doubt meant this kindly but that wasn’t how the gesture was received. Just days before the funeral police commissioner Eric Bischoff had gone on TV to share the ‘official’ story of what had happened at the Jakked Motel. When the residents of black Vegas had realized that this version involved implicitly blaming Naomi for the nights events, tensions had skyrocketed.

 

It had become clear that any attempt by the LVPD to take over the funeral, even as a way to honor Naomi, would not be welcome. Indeed it was anyone’s guess if any sort of police presence would be tolerated at all. True to form Bischoff had then gone on TV again to denounce the ‘disorderly element’ who were preventing the city from honoring a fallen officer. The hypocrisy of this was staggering to Sasha. In one breath Bischoff had essentially blamed her friend and now he was scoring political points off her death.

 

She might have moved away but she’d never fully left the culture she’d been raised in. And the way Naomi was being treated after her death was raising all her old hackles. Since becoming a nurse Sasha had met many police officers, most of whom she felt were good people, but this situation was reawakening her old doubts. Still, it was in her nature to be a peacemaker and she had an advantage in this case. She was seeing a police detective.

 

She’d spent the better part of two days on the phone and running back and forth across the city. In the end she, with help from Bayley and Father Rey, had managed to broker a kind of truce. Father Rey would conduct the funeral according to the family’s wishes but police wishing to honor Naomi would be allowed to attend. Sasha supposed she should have felt happy that they’d been able to work something out. But the simple fact that a truce had been necessary depressed her. It wasn’t what Naomi would have wanted.

 

“Sasha...if you think it would be better if I stayed away I will” Bayley offered quietly. Sasha instantly rejected this notion in her head but the fact that Bayley had made it meant the world to her.

 

“No Bay, I need you with me today” Sasha said. Bayley didn’t say anything but just nodded. Sasha smiled softly and put her hand on Bayley’s cheek briefly before she grabbed her purse and left her bedroom. Sasha let Bayley drive to the church as she gave herself over to melancholy. She told herself she would handle this like she handled the terrible things she saw as a nurse, she’d be strong until she could be alone and then she would cry.

 

Bayley had to park her car almost a block away from the church when they arrived. Sasha knew that it would likely be standing room only in the small building judging from the number of cars and people in evidence. She knew that she, and thus Bayley, would have spots near the front of the church however. Naomi’s mother had insisted on this during the fight over the funeral arrangements.

 

But as she and Bayley walked, Sasha leaning against her girlfriend, they were given a rude reminder of the world that had claimed Naomi’s life. All along the way to the church there were single men or small groups of them scattered along the sidewalk. They were unmistakably members of the Prime Time Players and it was equally clear that they were looking for trouble. As the various funeral goers passed them they glowered openly, especially at the cops. Sasha felt Bayley stiffen several times as they passed larger groups but each time she squeezed Bayley’s arm gently, nothing good could come from confrontation.

 

Despite this Sasha was inwardly furious. Today was supposed to be about celebrating her friend’s life. And yet the Prime Time Players had taken it as an opportunity to intimidate people, the exact kind of behavior that Naomi would have fought against. Still she kept her eyes down for the whole walk to the church and no one bothered them. And when they finally reached the small crowd milling in front of the doors she let out a silent sigh of relief.

 

At the door she detached herself from Bayley slightly. It wasn’t that Sasha was in anyway ashamed of her new commitment. She just felt like flaunting it might invite unnecessary controversy with more conservative attendees. The last thing she wanted was to be a distraction today. Bayley for her part seemed content to follow Sasha’s lead, once again to Sasha’s deep gratitude.

 

Spotting a familiar figure standing in the narthex Sasha hurried over. Naomi’s mother, Jacqueline, was wearing a long veil but Sasha would have known her anywhere. Stepping up to the older woman Sasha engulfed her in a hug. Jacqueline McCray returned the gesture but let go quickly, through the veil Sasha could see that she was pale and had obviously been crying.

 

“Jacky I’m so sorry” Sasha said as she held the other woman’s hands.

 

Jacky sniffed as she returned Sasha’s grip and said “thank you baby, I’m so glad you’re here. Naomi always loved you and so do I”.

 

“Thanks momma” Sasha said quietly. Being raised mostly by her grandfather Sasha would have had no maternal figure in her childhood if not for Mrs. McCray. Almost from the moment she’d met Sasha Naomi’s mother had treated her like another daughter. And not just Sasha . Cameron, with her extremely unreliable parents, had also always been welcome and safe.

 

“To lose them both…” Jacky said in a quivering voice obviously referring not only to her daughter but to Cameron as well “...you’re all I have left Sasha”. She couldn’t keep talking past this and simply wrapped Sasha in another hug. Sasha had to blink back more rebellious tears but didn’t let any fall as she held onto Jacky until the older woman once again let go.

 

Perhaps to distract herself Jacky turned to address Bayley, who had been standing in respectful silence a few feet behind Sasha, asking “did you work with my daughter?”.

 

“I did ma’am. I respected and admired her very much as well” Bayley said somberly. Jacky didn’t respond directly but just stared into Bayley’s face with an expression that made it seem as though she were trying to recall something.

 

“Yes...I remember now. You were with Sasha and Naomi that night weren’t you? Detective Martinez?” Jacky asked finally.

 

Sasha saw Bayley swallow visibly before nodding and saying “yes ma’am”. She shot a quick look over at Sasha at this. They were both nervously awaiting the reaction from Naomi’s mother. If she decided that she blamed Bayley for not protecting Naomi, which Sasha knew Bayley already did, then this whole situation would get even harder for them all. To both Sasha and Bayley’s surprise Jacky McCray simply stepped forward and hugged Bayley tightly. Bayley looked startled for a moment but almost instantly was returning the gesture with real warmth.

 

“Sasha has told me what really happened that night, not what the police are saying. No matter what anyone else says to you today I want to say thank you detective. I want to thank you doing your best to keep all three of my daughters safe that night” Jacky said in a heavy but strong voice.

 

“I…” Bayley started to say before cutting herself off. Sasha guessed that she’d been about to object that she HADN’T kept them all safe.

 

“Shhh…” Jacky said, still holding Bayley, she patted the detective’s back as she added “...I can see it in your eyes detective, you blame yourself for what happened to my baby girl. And to Cameron. But my Naomi was always a girl...no...a woman who made up her own mind. If she thought that going to that horrible place was the right thing to do then she was going to go. You couldn’t have stopped her. But thanks to you I still have one daughter left”. As she finished speaking Jacky reached out and stroked Sasha’s face with a sad smile. For her part Sasha had to look down to keep her vow not to cry.

 

“Sasha actually saved ME ma’am” Bayley said quietly.

 

“That’s my Sasha, always helping everyone” Jacky said, still holding Sasha’s cheek. Turning back to Bayley she said “don’t let anyone else say differently detective, you’re welcome here today” before moving away to greet another group of people.

 

“Are you OK?” Bayley asked again as she put an arm around Sasha.

 

“Still no” Sasha half laughed half choked as she walked quickly into the nave of the church. Bayley followed a few steps behind as they found their marked seating in the second pew on the right. The rest of the pews filled steadily over the next few minutes until the small Church seemed to be bursting with people. It was then that Father Rey, for once clad in full clerical robes, stepped to the front of the sanctuary.

 

“Please be seated” he said in a voice rife with sadness. The priest then did his best to conduct the funerary rites of the Catholic church. And though he moved along steadily it was very clear that Rey himself was struggling with powerful emotions. When he finally reached the point where he asked if anyone wished to speak his voice cracked.

 

Sasha gave Bayley’s hand a covert squeeze before standing. She felt all eyes in the church riveted on her as she made her way slowly to the lectern on the sanctuary. She’d been dreading this part but also knew that it had to be her. What she had to say was important, and she didn’t trust anyone else to do it. Staring out over the congregation Sasha closed her eyes and took a slow deep breath. Then she began to speak:

 

“Naomi McCray and I have been friends for as long as I can remember. We first met in Mrs. Elizabeth’s kindergarten class and I don’t think we spent more than a day apart until we both graduated from high school. But even then we stayed in touch, because it was impossible for me to imagine my life without Naomi in it. And I know I’m not the only one here who felt that way.

 

Naomi was so many wonderful things. She was kind, caring, smart, tough, funny, and loyal. But I think most importantly Naomi was a protector and an optimist. You simply can’t understand her life...or death...without grasping both of these things. Because they were both fundamental to her from beginning to end.

 

If there was ever anyone in a fight they couldn’t win. Anyone who needed a helping hand against long odds. Naomi was always there to offer that hand. I remember so many times growing up when things looked like a fight for us, Naomi always stood up in front. If she cared about someone then she didn’t need anything else. Lots of folks say they are ride or die...but Naomi McCray lived it everyday.

 

But she was never a fighter just because she liked it. She was a fighter because she believed that by standing up for someone that she could make their world better. She believed that if she could help one person, or right one wrong then she could make the whole world better. And she was still protecting people, still trying to make the world better for someone, until the very end.

 

I remember when Naomi first told me she was going to become a cop. I was shocked, and our friend Cameron was angry. And I know that lots of folks, even some in this room, had unkind words for her. It seemed like no one could understand why Naomi wanted to be a cop. But she went ahead and did it anyway. She did it because she believed it was the way she could do the most good.

 

We all feel whats happening to our city. Life has never been easy here but we all know that it’s getting worse. How many of our boys are dying in the streets? How many of our girls are having their whole lives snatched from them? I understand that it sometimes feels like it would just be easier to put our heads down and ignore these things. I know because I sometimes want to do the same thing. But Naomi McCray would never put her head down. She would never look at our sad bleeding city and give up hope. Because Naomi was an optimist...and because she was a protector.

 

We all saw whats going on outside. We all know what it means. And I’m here to ask you to FIGHT IT. To look at the people who wanted to turn this sad day into just another pointless hood standoff and say ‘NO MORE!’. I know it’s scary, and I know it’s hard, and I honestly wish that Naomi was still here to do it for me. And we all know she would.

 

But she’s not here any longer to protect us. Now it’s up to us to believe that if we just work together and do the right thing that we CAN heal our home. That we WILL heal our home! That we, the good people, are MORE powerful than the selfish, the cowardly, and the violent who simply want to use our home for their own gain. We MUST do this because Naomi isn’t here to do it for us anymore. Now it’s our turn.

 

Naomi might not be here to stand for us but I mispoke...she’s not gone. She’ll never be gone from our hearts. And each time we decide that we won’t let bullies and thugs intimidate us into looking the other way she will be there! And each time we stand together against an injustice, no matter how easy it would be to ignore it, she will be there! And when it seems hard, and when we want to put our heads down and walk away she will be there to remind us of what we need to do.

 

There are so many things I wish I could tell Naomi now. I want to tell her about my hard days at work, about the show I watched, and about my weekend plans. But most of all I want to tell her how much I love her just one more time. I want to grab her, hug her, and never let her go. But I can’t. All I can do, and what I WILL do...is be like her. Because wherever Naomi is I know she’s already telling me to quit my crying and make her proud. And I will. I promise you Naomi...I will”.

 

As Sasha left the lectern it took everything she had not to burst into tears as she passed the coffin. She didn’t even look at it as she went. She was focusing with all her might on the empty space next to Bayley. She knew to an absolute certainty that if she didn’t get there soon her resolve would fail her. That she wouldn’t be able to stay strong for Naomi.

 

But then the noise started. At first Sasha didn’t notice it over the sudden rushing in her ears. It began as low murmuring among the congregation. But with each step she took it grew in intensity and volume as people held hushed conversations. Then the first person began to clap, and in a moment there wasn’t one person in the church left sitting. Sasha looked up in stunned surprise and stared around in amazement. They were at a funeral, but they were applauding her.

 

That did it for Sasha, she couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. Despite everything she’d been telling herself, she couldn’t approach this just like it was work. It was so much more. As the congregation continued to applaud she spotted Jackie in the front row. Their eyes met and as Sasha saw the look of pride mixed with deep sadness the damn burst. Before she knew it she was sobbing uncontrollably. She couldn't not cry for Naomi any longer, not because she wasn't strong but because she was.

 

She felt arms around her and a moment later heard Father Rey speaking directly in her ear to make himself heard over the applause. He said “I’m so proud of you Sasha...and I know Naomi is too”. But Sasha barely heard him as she took a few jerky steps back toward her pew. It was only when Bayley hurried to her, wrapped an arm protectively around her, and led her there that she finally found her seat.

 

Several other people spoke that day but none were able to match Sasha’s eloquence or feeling. And when Father Rey informed them all that they would be proceeding with the burial, many people sought her out to tell her how moved they’d been. Sasha did her best to acknowledge them but she was still too broken to really appreciate their words. Only Bayley’s voice finally brought her back.

 

“Sasha, I’m going to go get the car and I’ll pick you up outside OK?” Bayley murmured into Sasha’s hair as she held her tight. Sasha sniffed once and didn’t speak, she didn’t want Bayley to leave, but she knew that she had to move. Eventually she just nodded. “I’ll be right back” Bayley told her as she carefully untangled herself and slid out of the pew.

 

Sasha drifted like one in a dream out through the thinning crowd. She may have responded to those who spoke to her or maybe she didn’t. She couldn’t ever remember when she tried to recall that day. All she knew was that she found herself waiting outside the church mostly alone. The majority of the rest of the mourners had already left for the cemetary and those that hadn’t were just waiting for rides like she was. Sasha was still lost in a sad reverie when she heard someone speak from behind her.

 

“Nice speech” a voice said. Sasha turned and found herself facing a man that she felt she knew from somewhere. He was wearing a dark suit like many of the mourners but something told Sasha that he wasn’t really here for the funeral.

 

“Thank you” she said before turning away once more hoping he’d take the hint.

 

“But did you mean it?” he asked, ignoring her clear gesture. Turning back Sasha noticed the dark blonde close cropped hair and goatee and then she recognized him. This was the man whose intervention had prevented a bloodbath when Sasha and Rey had been caught between black and hispanic gang members.

 

“What?” Sasha asked, dabbing at her eyes.

 

“Did you mean it...what you said in there” he asked Sasha again. Sasha remembered that the last time they’d met he’d been wearing sunglasses but today she saw his eyes. They were a pale blue and shone with a mixture of emotions that Sasha couldn’t quite define.

 

“What kind of a question is that” she asked sounding stuffy.

 

“An unanswered one” he responded quickly. Sasha remembered feeling uneasy about him the last time they’d met but she was beginning to dislike him. His tone wasn’t harsh but something about it made Sasha think he was mocking her.

 

“Every damn word” she said coldly.

 

“I thought so” the man said with a theatrical sigh as though Sasha had disappointed him. He looked at her for awhile before asking “do you know the difference between rhetoric and action?...” Sasha didn’t answer but he didn’t seem to be waiting for her to as he continued almost instantly “...rhetoric is easy, action is harder. Rhetoric is also easily ignored while action...tends to have consequences”.

 

Sasha felt a chill run down her spine as she asked “what’s that supposed to mean?”.

 

“Only that I think you should take your RHETORICAL victory and be happy with it. It was a stirring speech. You’ll always have that memory and all the other people can go out and feel motivated for a few days before going right back to business as usual. It’s for the best” the man assured her.

 

“You can go now” Sasha said angrily as she looked away once more. Despite his pleasant voice Sasha knew she’d just been threatened.

 

“Of course, I wouldn’t want to intrude. Just remember though, words are free...but actions will carry costs. You might be willing to pay up but what about everyone else? Think about it” the man said as he stood and began walking away. Sasha almost went after him, to do what she wasn’t sure. Part of her wanted to demand an explanation and another wanted to hit him.

 

But it was just then that a honking horn drew her attention back to the street. Bayley was waiting there in her car looking concerned. Sasha looked back at the man one more time, he was already a good distance away, before deciding to forget him for now. Her head and heart were already fit to burst and she didn’t need something else to worry about right now. Composing herself she walked quickly down to the car and got in the passenger side.

 

“Who was that?” Bayley asked her, sounding as worried as she looked.

 

“No one, some guy. Lets get to the burial and then we can go home” Sasha said, her voice making plain that she wanted to be there already more than anything.

 

“Alright” Bayley said, not sounding completely satisfied. Sasha didn’t notice as she was already lost in her thoughts. One more than any other continued to swim to the front of her consciousness.

 

What would she do?

Chapter Text

“Are you really ready for this?” Bayley asked her girlfriend as she stopped her car.

 

“I’m ready” Sasha Banks responded as she smiled over at Bayley. Bayley beamed back at her with unfeigned joy. Sasha looked stunning in her yellow sundress that contrasted so well with her magenta hair and the red flower she was wearing in it. Of course she always looked stunning to Bayley, but today it just seemed extra special. And Bayley was in no sort of doubt as to why.

 

She and Sasha had seemingly come full circle. The whole emotional roller coaster they had, until recently, been on had begun with Sasha panicking about a cookout at her boss's house. And yet now here they were, parked on a quiet Las Vegas street about to attend one together. And not as friends, but as a couple. Merely thinking this made Bayley’s smile go from beaming to incandescent.

 

“What?” Sasha asked embarrassed. Bayley realized she must have been staring while she’d been thinking. Rather than answer she just leaned over the center console and kissed Sasha on her cheek.

 

“You just look so beautiful” Bayley said simply. The idea that she might want to say more had briefly popped into her head but now she realized that nothing more was needed.

 

Sasha actually blushed at this but she smiled softly before saying “thank you Bayley”. And Bayley knew that she wasn’t referring to her compliment alone. Sasha was thanking Bayley just for being there, thanking her for being patient, and mostly just thanking her for being in Sasha’s life. Bayley thought about saying something to the effect that she was happy to do it or that she was the lucky one but once again she stopped herself. There was no need, Sasha knew.

 

The angelic woman sitting next to her seemed to know or have guessed what had just gone on in Bayley’s head. Without speaking Sasha leaned back over the center console and kissed Bayley. It was the first time they’d actually kissed since that day so long ago when Sasha had suggested they try being a couple before the last cookout. Bayley didn’t count their brief contact when she’d been in the hospital.

 

Sasha’s lips were as soft as spun silk on Bayley’s own. In moments like this Bayley was always struck by how much the taste of Sasha’s lips reminded her of honey. But this reflection was swept away with most other conscious thought as Bayley melted into the kiss. Her whole universe shrank down to a collection of simultaneously vivid and yet hard to define sensations. The heat of of their faces, the satin like texture of Sasha’s hair, and the slight scent of lavender from Sasha’s lotion.

 

When they finally did break their kiss Sasha didn’t pull away. She held Bayley’s face with both hands, gently stroking her cheeks with both thumbs. For a long time all either of them could do was smile contentedly. In fact if they could have stayed like that forever Bayley would have been happy to do so.

 

“You aren’t going to run away again are you?” Bayley asked in a whisper. She’d meant to sound teasing but to her dismay her voice came out sounding almost like a plea.

 

“Never” Sasha said before kissing Bayley once more.

 

When they finally did manage to untangle themselves long enough to get out of their car both Sasha and Bayley were slightly flushed and smiling. Meeting Sasha on the passenger side of the car Bayley stood beside her girlfriend for a moment before, without looking down, she reached for Sasha’s hand. Sasha’s fingers automatically laced into hers and after one last exchanged smile they walked toward the house.

 

The Helms-Holly household could have come straight from a Norman Rockwell painting. From it’s neat lawn to it’s honest to god white picket fence it was pure Americana. Bayley had never actually met Sasha’s boss but from what she’d heard from Sasha over the years it seemed to fit perfectly. Just looking at it gave birth to unfamiliar feelings within Bayley.

 

She was in no doubt about her feelings toward Sasha. She loved her with all her heart and couldn’t think of anyone else she would want to be with. But what would a joint future with Sasha Banks look like? Did it look like the house in front of her? Was there a dog and 2.5 children in their future? Or was it something else.

 

All of these thoughts whirled through Bayley’s mind during the short walk from the street to the door. But as Sasha rang the doorbell she shook herself out of her reverie. Putting on her most winning smile she gave Sasha’s hand another squeeze as they heard footsteps on the other side of the door.

 

A moment later it was opened to reveal a man with an athletic build and a smiling face. He had dark eyes and a black chin strap style beard that looked like an underline for his face. Unusually he had some kind of green face mask resting on top of his head. This was complemented by an blanket of an eye hurting shade of green tied around his neck.

 

“SASHA! Hey!” he said in a delighted voice. He stepped forward and wrapped Sasha in a bear hug which Sasha returned with real pleasure.

 

“Hey Greg!” Sasha said happily. When they separated she asked “have you been playing Hurricane with the kids again?” before gesturing at his eccentric wardrobe.

 

In response the man pulled his mask down over his face, struck a theatrical pose with his legs spread wide and fists on hips, and proclaimed in a grandiose voice “yes...citizen Banks...it is I...the Hurricane-cane-cane-cane!”. The whole spectacle was so ridiculous that Bayley couldn’t hold in a bark of laughter.

 

“Greg this is Bayley, my girlfriend” Sasha said with a big smile. This almost literally rocked Bayley back onto her heels. This was the first time she’d ever heard Sasha say it outloud and she found that she liked it a lot.

 

“Nice to meet you!” Bayley said brightly as she extended a hand. Greg took it in a firm grip and returned Bayley’s smile fully. This put Bayley more fully at ease, despite Sasha’s assurances there had been the tiniest of doubts in the back of her head that they would be received kindly.

 

“Any friend of Sasha’s is a friend of ours here, double for girlfriends” Greg said with a grin as he stepped aside and waved the two women into his home. Closing the door behind them he said “Molly and the rest are out back Sasha, I’ll bring the kids as soon as we are done SAVING THE WORLD” he said the last part in his superhero voice again as he charged up a flight of stairs. As he vanished from sight Bayley heard the delighted shrieks of young children and felt her smile stretching still further.

 

“That’s so adorable!” she said to Sasha.

 

“He’s a great guy and an even better dad” Sasha said smiling back before she took Bayley’s hand again. She led Bayley through the house with a confidence that told Bayley she’d been there before. Opening a sliding glass door she led Bayley out onto a brick patio where a small group of people were already waiting.

 

“Hey everyone” Sasha said as she waved happily.

 

“Hey there girl” said a lean man with a red beard as he approached and hugged Sasha.

 

“Hi Sami! Where’s Kevin?” Sasha asked, casting a glance around the patio.

 

“He’s working today, SOMEONE wouldn’t let him have the day off” Sami said as he shot a sideways glance at a brunette woman who was placing cans of soda into a cooler. From what Bayley had been told be Sasha she assumed this was Molly Holly.

 

“I don’t schedule the orderlies” Molly said patiently without looking up from her task.

 

“Mmhmm way to pass the buck” Sami said in a mock accusatory voice.

 

“Sami this is my girlfriend Bayley” Sasha said as she tugged Bayley forward. Once again Bayley felt the pleasant flutter in her stomach at the word ‘girlfriend’. Still she couldn’t help but feel a little self conscious at being shown off like this.

 

“It’s nice to meet you” Bayley said as she shook Sami’s hand.

 

“I wish you could have met Kevin though...” Sasha said with a regretful expression on her face as she explained “...Kevin is Sami’s-”.

 

But Sami cut her off saying “NO...don’t say it”

 

Sasha rolled her eyes in exasperation as she said “you’ve been together for almost a year I think it’s safe for me to say that you are-”. She was cut off before she could finish when Sami reached out and pressed a finger to her lips before turning to Bayley.

 

“Sami Zayn, and believe me I am THRILLED to meet you” he said as he took Bayley by the shoulders and looked her up and down appraisingly. Bayley, feeling awkward, shot a look over at Sasha but her girlfriend was smiling so she didn’t object. Apparently Sami liked what he saw as he said “you are going to be SO GOOD for Sasha, we were all getting worried she might have forgotten what sex was like!”.

 

“Oh my god Sami” Sasha said in a deeply embarrassed voice.

 

“You know I’m just looking out for you girl” Sami told her with a grin.

 

“Whatever” Sasha said, still blushing. Still she let Sami air kiss both her cheeks before she pulled Bayley further out onto the patio. “Bayley this is Molly’s brother Bob Holly” Sasha said as she stopped Bayley in front of a tall muscular man with a blonde buzzcut.

 

“Ma’am”  Bob Holly said as he extended a hand. This exchange felt very formal to Bayley. Especially after meeting Sami Zayn. As Bayley took his hand, and almost winced at his vice like grip, she felt very awkward. It was like Bob Holly was silently measuring her with his eyes.

 

“Don’t let him intimidate you, he’s just terrible at meeting new people” another brunette woman said as she came forward and shook Bayley’s hand in a much more humane manner. She had olive skin and, Bayley noted, very toned arms for a woman her age. “Ivory Moretti-Holly, I’m Bobs wife” she introduced herself.

 

“And this…” Sasha said without giving Bayley enough time to respond “...is Elroy Holly, or as he’s more commonly known: Crash”.

 

“Crash?” Bayley asked.

 

“I’m a stunt driver ma’am, the name just kinda fit” Crash said as he shook Bayley’s hand and gave her a lopsided smile.

 

“That...sounds like it could be a bad thing” Bayley said hesitantly.

 

“Depends on how bad the crash is” Crash said earnestly.

 

“They are ALL bad and you should find another job” Molly Holly said as she joined the group. She wiped her hands on a towel she was carrying before taking Bayley’s hand and saying “I’m so glad to finally meet you detective, Sasha has told me a lot about you”.

 

“Really?” Bayley asked teasingly as she looked over at Sasha. She was actually a little surprised at this as Sasha was a very private person for the most part. Sasha was spared from answering however at the sound of yelling.  All eyes turned to see Molly’s husband Greg stepping through the sliding door with a child slung over each shoulder. The yelling had been the kids expressing their delight at the ride.

 

“Gregory Helms don’t you dare carry my babies like that over brick!” Molly said in a joking but slightly concerned voice.

 

“This better?” Greg said as he promptly plucked one of the children, a girl on his right shoulder, and held her dangling upside down by her ankle. The little girl seemed to think this was the greatest thing ever judging by her giggling. Bayley guessed she must have been about six.

 

“Careful!” Ivory said from where she stood next to her husband. Bayley saw that Bob Holly had turned his back on the proceedings and was prodding several hamburgers on an expensive looking grill.

 

“What do you think? Should I juggle them?” Greg suggested with a grin as he grabbed the other child, a boy who looked a bit younger than his sister, and held him upside down as well. Bayley noted that he was easily able to hold both children like this, his arms weren’t quivering in the slightest.

 

“No emergency room visits!” Molly said as she walked over and grabbed her daughter. As she righted the girl and set her on her feet she winked at Sasha and said “my best ER nurse isn’t there to take care of them!”.

 

“SASHA!” the little girl screamed, seamingly just noticing that the woman was present. She pelted over to her and wrapped her little arms as far around Sasha’s waist as she could manage.

 

“I want to see Sasha!” the boy cried as he began squirming in mid-air. As soon as his father set him down he too ran over to Sasha and upon arrival wrapped himself firmly around her right leg. Taking this cue his sister then did the same on her left.

 

“Hey guys!” Sasha said as she held her arms out to maintain her balance.

 

“Alright you two let Sasha go” Molly told her children. When they did Sasha knelt down in front of them with a big smile on her face.

 

“How are you two?!” she asked the kids excitedly. Bayley didn’t speak but just beamed down at her. Sasha was a reserved person with anyone she didn’t know very well. But watching her react so naturally with the two children gave Bayley a warm feeling. And as the kids launched into a long and detailed account of their day, with Sasha paying rapt attention, Bayley felt herself falling deeper in love with Sasha Banks.

 

“Would you like something to drink detective?” Molly asked Bayley, bringing her back to the present.

 

“Oh, thank you. And it’s just Bayley, I know Sasha loves you dearly and as far as I'm concerned that makes us friends” Bayley said.

 

“I hope so!...” Molly said before asking “...soda? Wine? Beer? Water?”.

 

“Well I’m on something of a break these days so I’d love some wine” Bayley told her.

 

“Atta’ girl” Molly joked as she turned to pour Bayley a glass. While Bayley waited she observed the scene around her. Bob Holly and his wife Ivory were talking quietly at the grill while Crash Holly, Greg, and Sami were having an animated conversation of their own. “Here you are” Molly said as she turned and handed Bayley a glass of white wine.

 

“Thank you” Bayley said as she sipped the beverage.

 

Clinking her own wine glass with Bayley’s Molly said “I wouldn’t have put it quite the same way as Sami but I really am so happy for you two. Sasha’s been alone for too long, she deserves someone nice in her life. Though I admit I wasted a lot of time trying to find her a BOYfriend”.

 

Bayley actually let out a laugh at this before she said “honestly Molly it was kind of a surprise for me too”.

 

“Well in any case I know that it’s been a very rough patch for Sasha and I’m just glad she has someone to be there with her and help her through it” Molly told Bayley in a voice full of gratitude.

 

“I think she’s probably been helping ME more than the other way around” Bayley said truthfully.

 

“Yes I heard about-” Molly started to say but whatever she’d heard about Bayley never learned. At that moment she felt a tiny tug on her dress and looking down she found herself facing Molly’s son.

 

“Are you a police officer?” he asked her in an awestruck voice.

 

“Yes I am” Bayley told him with a smile. Remembering how Sasha had handled the kids earlier she set her wine glass down and knelt until the boy could look her in the eyes.

 

“Do you get to shoot people?!” the boy asked her in a quietly excited voice.

 

“Matthew!” Molly snapped.

 

“It’s alright…” Bayley assured her before turning back to the boy and saying “...we really try not to do that. We always try to use our words first”.

 

“But you get to fight bad guys right!” Matthew asked her excitedly, he emphasized his question with a few energetic punches and kicks in the air.

 

Bayley chuckled and said “well...sometimes” before she winked at him. She was about to stand again when she felt another tug. Turning around she found herself face to face with the little girl.

 

“Hi…” was all the girl said as she half turned away out of shyness.

 

“Hi, my name’s Bayley. What’s your name?” Bayley asked her. When the little girl still didn’t speak Bayley reached out and touched her blue dress saying “I like your dress it’s very pretty!”.

 

“Did you forget how to talk Linda?...” Molly asked her daughter before she prompted her saying “...what do you tell Bayley for complimenting your dress”.

 

“Thank you” the girl murmured, still looking down at the ground.

 

“Awww you’re so welcome sweetie” Bayley said.

 

Linda seemed to find her courage now as she said “can I have my hair like yours?”. Bayley only blinked for a moment before she realized what the girl was asking. As was her custom when not at work and out of the house Bayley had put her hair up in a side ponytail. Sasha liked to mock this style choice but Bayley kept insisting she would bring them back.

 

“Of course you can...” Bayley assured Linda before turning to Molly and asking “...do you mind?”.

 

“Go ahead” Molly urged her. Turning back to the little girl Bayley proceeded to use one of the hair ties on her wrist to give Linda her very own side pony. She then took Linda’s hand and led her over to the glass sliding door and showed the girl her own reflection.

 

Linda, now beaming with pleasure, turned to Bayley and said “thank you!”.

 

“You’re welcome sweetie” Bayley said as the girl ran off toward where her brother was playing on a swing set.

 

“You were so cute with her” a voice said from behind Bayley. Turning she found herself facing Sasha who was looking at Bayley in a way she’d never done before. There was happiness in that look but also love, pride, and other emotions Bayley couldn’t define.

 

“I told you that the side pony can solve all problems” Bayley teased her. Sasha laughed and together they rejoined the party. They spent the next few hours eating too much and chatting pleasantly with Molly, Greg, and the other guests. Though both Sasha and Bayley also put in some time playing with the Linda and Matthew on the lawn.

 

There was only one potentially uncomfortable moment that day. Sami had seemed to be about to ask Bayley about the events at the Jakked Motel. But Bayley saw Molly shoot him a warning look and he quickly changed the subject. Bayley appreciated this immensely, not only for herself but for Sasha who she knew would probably never be ready to discuss that night casually.

 

They were still there as the sunset. Molly had gone inside to put the children to bed leaving Greg to entertain their guests. He was presently doing so by telling them a story about a customer he’d had in the comic book store he owned. Ordinarily Bayley would have been delighted to find that she knew someone who owned their own comic book store, but not tonight.

 

She and Sasha were sitting somewhat behind the rest of the group. Sasha was leaning against her while holding onto Bayley’s right arm. The soft feel of her hair on Bayley’s arm and shoulders gave Bayley a feeling of pure contentment. For her part Sasha had been looking increasingly dreamy for awhile now. Bayley knew her well enough to guess that if nothing intervened she would likely be out cold soon.

 

But to her surprise it was Sasha who broke their silence saying “I want to thank you Bayley” in a voice quiet enough that it didn’t interrupt Greg’s story.

 

“For what?” Bayley asked.

 

“For being here with me...It’s been...it’s been so hard since the funeral. And to just have a day like this with you...it’s everything Bay” Sasha told her.

 

“I’m glad I could help you be happy again...even for awhile” Bayley told her. At this Sasha looked up at her and held Bayley’s gaze for awhile. Concerned she might have said something wrong Bayley was about to say something but Sasha spoke first.

 

“I know I’ve been really depressing to be around lately-” Sasha began.

 

“No you haven’t” Bayley cut in.

 

Sasha gave her a small smile before continuing “...but I have been happy Bay. I’ve been with you. And I can’t imagine being happier than that”. Several replies suggested themselves to Bayley’s mind but in the end there was really only one thing to be said.

 

“I love you” Bayley told Sasha.

 

The rest of the night passed in a blur to Bayley. At some point they left the Helms-Holly home and drove back to Bayley’s apartment, the one that was closest. They didn’t so much open the door as burst through it as Sasha pressed Bayley hard up against the wall, her lips hungrily exploring Bayley’s own. In their rush to Bayley’s bedroom they left almost everything they had been wearing or carrying scattered around the floor of the apartment.

 

And thus while Bayley and Sasha had experienced a level of closeness that they had never before reached, Bayley’s phone was still in her purse on the floor. And she didn’t know when Alexa Bliss called, and then called again, and kept calling for a long time. Eventually the phone stopped vibrating.

Chapter Text

Becky Lynch punched Finn Balor with all her might.

 

Her fist made solid contact with the side of Finn’s face making a satisfying ‘thunk’ noise. Balor didn’t go down but he was sent staggering sideways. Of course a man like Balor had been in fights all his life and in less than two seconds he was back in Becky’s face with a wicked looking knife in his hand. This suited Becky just fine as she had her bowie knife in her left hand and her Fairbairn-Sykes in her right. Balor had just suggested that Becky had deliberately led Sheamus to his death and now she wanted to gut him.

 

They might have cut each other to ribbons right there if not for the shotgun blast. The sound was deafening in the confined space of the office. Both Becky and Finn took a step back as their hearing was temporarily replaced with a tinnitus ring. It thus took both of them a long time to realize that Finlay was speaking to them. For awhile Becky just had to watch his lips move without catching anything. But slowly her hearing returned and she caught the tail end of his statement.

 

“...what the hell happened?” Finlay finished as he tossed his Super-Shorty shotgun on the desk in front of him.

 

Speaking in a voice that was perhaps louder than usual Becky said “well someone obviously wanted at that girl just as bad as us”.

 

“No shit” Finn muttered as he winced and shook his head like someone trying to clear water from their ears.

 

“We were doing fine until that goddamn living lethal weapon showed up” Becky snapped at him, referring to the man who had very nearly killed her. Would have to if not for the intervention of Nurse Magenta and her cop friend.

 

“Right, some badass assassin happens to be wandering through the shitty part of Las Vegas at the perfect time. She just fucked up and won’t admit it” Finn Balor said to Finlay.

 

“Balor if you’re looking to get punched by a girl for the second time today just keep running your damned mouth” Becky shot back hotly. Before Balor could respond they were both cut off by the sound of Finlay thumping his desk with his shotgun. As neither of them was eager for permanent hearing loss both fell silent.

 

“Both of you shut the hell up with your fucking bickering” Finlay barked. He put both his elbows on his desk and thought for a long time. Eventually he spoke again saying “what matters is we got the girls information or at least the important bits. Now we need to decide what we’re going to do with it”.

 

“She fucking got Sheamus killed with her stupidity! We need to do something about that!” Finn spat incredulously. This was the second time he’d said something like this, the first time had gotten him punched.

 

“Aye Sheamus is dead, he was a good lad we’ll honor him properly when the time comes. But he’s still FUCKING DEAD. That means he needs replacing!” Finlay said in a tone that made clear that Finn was skating on thin ice.

 

“What? By her? She’s not even a bloody earner! Just a fucking errand girl” Finn said hotly, apparently allowing his anger to override his common sense. Becky saw the storm brewing on Finlay’s face and decided to intervene. Not to save Finn, she would gladly have killed him herself, but because she thought the moment was right. Stepping forward without a word she reached into her duster and then tossed an envelope onto Finlay’s desk.

 

“What the hell is that?” he asked her suspiciously.

 

“Your taste” Becky explained. Looking suspiciously at Becky and then down at the envelope Finlay pulled it closer to himself and then up ended it over his desk. Out fell a stack of money. Finlay looked up at her sharply before retrieving the money and thumbing through it.

 

“Where did you get this?” Finlay asked her.

 

“I’m an earner now, so of course I have me rackets” Becky said simply.

 

“Since when? What rackets?” Finn stammered from beside her. It was clear he couldn’t believe what he was seeing and hearing.

 

“How about none of your goddamn business you fucking-” Becky started to say but Finlay gave her a glare that would have melted stone so she cut herself off.

 

“What rackets are you running” Finlay asked. His tone and expression made clear that this WAS his business and that he’d tolerate no clever answers.

 

“I have a deal worked out with Dustin Rhodes at the Goldust. I run girls and drugs out of the motel next to the casino and in return I give him 2% and don’t kill him” Becky explained.

 

“And you have a crew to run these rackets?” Finlay asked her.

 

Becky hesitated before saying “I...have some help yes”.

 

“Do you have a bloody crew, yes or no?!” Finlay snapped.

 

“No…” Becky finally allowed grudgingly.

 

“There you see? Stupid bitch doesn’t even-” Finn began to speak but Finlay was having none of it.

 

“Balor, shut up” he told the younger man. Even Finn realized now that he was dangerously testing Finlay’s patience, never robust even at the best of times. He shut up.

 

“He’s right, what in fuck’s name were you thinking starting up TWO new rackets without having men to guard them?” Finlay snapped at Becky.

 

“I was going to-” Becky started to say but Finlay once again shut her up with a glare.

 

“You were being a fucking stupid girl and you know it Lynch” he snapped. Becky didn’t dare answer though she felt her face burn at this remark. Finlay stared hard at her until he was certain she was cowed before abruptly asking “you can deliver this much every month?”.

 

Becky took a moment to catch up with him but when she did she nodded quickly saying eagerly “if not more, I’m still expanding”. Finlay just grunted at that.

 

“Alright Lynch, you cost me a lot of bloody men at the motel but you got the information. And I need another fucking earner to replace Sheamus. You’ll have his crew but YOU will be the one paying them”. Becky only had a few moments to be elated before that second bit of news hit her. Her racket was making her money but not enough to pay for a lot of men. Of course she kept this from her face and didn’t say anything about it.

 

“Something to say Balor?” Finlay asked the younger man. Finn had indeed a strangled sort choking sound at his last statement.

 

Finn did indeed look like he had a lot he wanted to say but settled for “it doesn’t matter what piss poor rackets she has, she can’t replace Sheamus sir”.

 

“Aww missing your boyfriend already Finn?” Becky taunted him only to jump when Finlay’s fist slammed down on his desk.

 

“You’ll keep a civil tongue in your mouth when speaking about our dead or I’ll rip it out and hang you with it” Finlay growled at her. Becky cast her eyes down at this rebuke, she sensed that Finn was grinning beside her now.

 

“Yes sir” Becky said stiffly.

 

“We have a bigger problem then who is replacing Sheamus. We may be at war with the Prime Time Players after what happened. Balor, you weren’t there so I want you to try and arrange a parlay with Porter. With all these big groups moving into Vegas I don’t want us distracted by a bloody war with the darkies” Finlay said.

 

“Yes sir” Finn said with a nod.

 

Finlay stared at him for a few seconds before giving him an impatient look and snarling “NOW, get to it”. When Finn had gone Finlay turned back to Becky and said “I have a job for you as well Lynch”.

 

“Are we finally going to end this song and dance and go on that date you’ve been wanting for so long” Becky asked him sarcastically. To her great surprise Finlay actually snorted in amusement at this.

 

“If you don’t learn to curb that smart fucking tongue of yours Balor will have it out someday” he said. To say Becky was surprised at this response would have been dramatically understating the case. Becky could only recall one or two times when she’d seen Finlay smile at all, and it had always been maliciously. He’d certainly never been amused by anything from or to do with Becky herself.

 

Hoping to keep Finlay’s good mood going Becky asked “what's this job you have for me boss?”.

 

“If we are at war, and if Finn can’t get us that sit down, then I fully intend to finish this quickly. We’ll need guns but we’ll also need more men. And I’ll be damned before I go running to the McMahons for help. The next thing we’ll know they’ll own us” Finlay growled, his brief happy interlude apparently gone.

 

“So you want me to find you more guys?” Becky asked.

 

“Did I fucking say that?” Finlay snapped. His good mood was definitely gone now. He glared at her for awhile before saying “I’m on good terms with the Aces and Eights, we’ll offer to split Porter’s territory with them if they’ll help us end this quickly”.

 

“That won’t work” Becky said before she could think about what she was doing.

 

Finlay’s eyes narrowed dangerously as he asked “did you hear me ask for your bloody opinion Lynch?”.

 

“No sir but it just won’t work” Becky said firmly, she was committed now.

 

“And just how the hell do you know that?” Finlay asked her quietly. Becky swallowed at that sudden drop in volume. She had the sense that if anything this was even more dangerous than shouting.

 

“I have a source in the eights, and I know for sure that they won’t be looking for allies right now. If you go to them for help they’ll see it as a sign of weakness” Becky explained. For a brief moment she fancied she was like Tessmacher. Advising and subtly influencing the man at the top.

 

Finlay was staring suspiciously at her now. He didn’t break the silence for long time and when he did it was to ask “what’s this source you have in the eights?”.

 

Becky had to do some fast thinking now. She had no doubt that if she gave Tessmacher’s name that the other woman would find out. Not only would that mean the end of her informational pipeline but Becky had the sense that Tessmacher would be greatly annoyed at this. And Becky was smart enough to realize that other woman would make a very dangerous enemy. Of course Finlay wasn’t going to be deflected so she’d need to give him something. In the end she decided on a partial truth.

 

“I slept with one of their new prospects, the poor boy can’t help himself around me” Becky said. Both of these statements were true. The fact that neither actually answered Finlay’s question was something that Becky hoped he’d never learn.

 

“And what else has this prospect told you?” Finlay asked.

 

“He’s a full member now…” Becky said, bolstering Morrison’s fictional snitch credentials, she then said “...and I’ve heard that the eights are talking to the Sammartino’s just like you’re talking to the McMahons. I doubt the guineas will be thrilled with the idea of their new dogs working with you”.

 

“So your source thinks that with Sammartino help they’ll be looking for opportunities to expand?” Finlay asked sounding intrigued.

 

Once again preferring to answer this obliquely Becky said “not just the Sammartino’s either. My source says that Bubba and Devon have reached out to the Death Valley chapter of eights. If everything works out for them they’ll be showing up here to reinforce the local chapter”.

 

“God damn it!” Finlay muttered to himself. He thought for awhile longer before he said “Fuck! Alright if we can’t reach out to the eights then I have another idea. Get out of here but wait for my call, I may have a job for you soon”.

 

“Alright” Becky said with a nod. Finlay stood then and made his way around his desk to stand beside her. Unsure of what was happening Becky eyed him apprehensively but stayed where she was.  

 

To her surprise Finlay put a hand on her shoulder and said “good girl Lynch, this info could save me a lot of trouble. You’ve done good”.

 

“Thank you sir” Becky said, taken aback. The notion that Finlay might be praising her was even more bizarre than him finding one of her remarks funny. Finlay squeezed her shoulder gently in response and gave her a rueful smile.

 

It was the speed from a man in his fifties that caught Becky off guard. Without any sort of warning she suddenly felt her face being slammed down onto Finlay’s desk. Stars exploded before her eyes as she tried to shove herself away from the desk but he was frighteningly strong. Before she could find any purchase Finlay seized a handful of her hair and used it to drive her face down onto his desk once more and then for a third time. Now thoroughly dazed Becky nonetheless still tried to escape only to feel her arm jerked violently up behind her back.

 

“Be still or I break it…” Finlay snarled at her, after Becky complied he bent down and spoke directly into her ear saying “...don’t think I didn’t noticed your ‘non-answers’ about your source girl. I’ll let you keep your secrets for now but if you play me Lynch...I’ll kill you. Nod if you understand”.

 

Becky was still stunned but even through that fog several harsh replies suggested themselves to her. But Finlay seemed to sense this and the pressure on her arm increased alarmingly. Before it could snap Becky forced herself to nod. The pressure on her arm didn’t vanish but it did stop increasing.

 

“There’s a good girl, now one last lesson to remind you NOT to play your games with me” Finlay growled. Before Becky could open her mouth to speak her head was jerked upward by her hair and then slammed back down. Becky only felt the upward jerk as she was unconscious as soon as her head hit the desk.

 

Becky awoke an indeterminate amount of time later with a devastating headache. Of course she’d done this many times in her life but it had always been due to alcohol in the past. Turning her head to study her surroundings was enough to make her nauseous and dizzy so she lay still. She didn’t move for a long time as she struggled to remember how she’d ended up in this situation.

 

Recollection struck then, with hot anger and embarrassment on it’s heels. Becky had been humiliated by Finlay and the only saving grace was that Balor hadn’t been there to see it. For the first time in many years Becky felt tears stinging at her eyes. Not from the pain, she and pain were old friends, but from the shame of it. For all her toughness and hard work in one moment she’d been reduced to a position of helplessness. And Finlay hadn’t even had to work hard to do it.

 

Batting angrily at her rebellious eyes she forced herself to sit up. The spin this sent her head into very nearly caused her to throw up but she held it down through sheer anger and willpower. Studying her surroundings she realized that she was still in Finlay’s office, apparently he’d just left her there. Taking a few steadying breaths Becky put a hand on the desk surface and used it as support to haul herself to her feet.

 

Becky had never previously been a believer in the idea of walks of shame. Every time she’d left a lover’s place after a night of fun she’d always done so with a spring in her step. But it took her a long long time to make it out to her bike. And along the way she passed many of Finlay’s other associates, all of whom stared openly at her. She imagined that this was what a walk of shame was supposed to feel like.


Still she refused to let them see her shaken. So she met everyone’s gaze openly until they looked away. She didn’t slink out she walked tall and upright. She kept this up until she reached her bike where she donned her goggles and kicked it to life. She didn’t go far at first, just a few blocks before pulling into a parking lot. When she’d killed her engine she took out her phone.

 

ODB answered on the second ring with her customary greeting of “yeah?”.

 

“Meet me at the Goldust, we have a lot of work to do” Becky told her, having to fight to keep her voice from shaking. Her shame and embarrassment had slowly transformed into white hot rage since she’d left Finlay’s office. Now she wanted revenge. But she knew it couldn’t come quickly, this would be a slow burn. But to start with she needed a plan.

 

“Right now?” ODB asked.

 

“Right now” Becky confirmed and without waiting for another response she disconnected the call. Her next text was to Tessmacher, it read:

 

More info to trade...Goldust casino tomorrow night...no gorillas this time

 

After hitting send on this Becky allowed herself a small surge of triumph. She’d been nothing but a good soldier to Dave Finlay and he still thought he could treat her like some ‘girlie’? Well if he did Becky would be there to see him burn someday. And she believed she’d just taken the first steps to making sure that happened.

 

She was about to put her phone away when another thought struck her. She sent one final text message, this one to Morrison. She’d meet with ODB to discuss her plans, and then get in touch with Sheamus’ old crew. But after that? Even a woman on the warpath needed to relax occasionally. Besides it might do something to help with the pounding in her head.  

Chapter Text

Charlotte was having to expend some effort to keep distaste from showing on her face. Though she could never have been called a particularly emotive person this was usually by inclination. Today she was censoring herself out of political need. She found she did not much like it.

 

She was sitting on the private balcony of La Resistance. Easily one of the most exclusive restaurants in Las Vegas, millionaires and politicians waited weeks for tables here. There had even been one famous incident wherein a visiting monarch had been told that he might have a table in a month or so. Charlotte Flair had received this private dining experience upon showing up unannounced.

 

Charlotte’s cuisses de grenouille sat mostly untouched in front of her. She had, however, already finished one glass of wine and was well on her way toward finishing her second. Charlotte rarely indulged in alcohol this early in the day, but today was a special case. She was dining in particularly trying company. Sitting across from her, happily munching his way through a half rack of spare ribs, was John Bradshaw Layfield.

 

It was only by pressing her lips firmly together that Charlotte was able to prevent a sneer spreading across her face. The big Texan had insisted that the French restaurant provide the ribs, his favorite meal, even going so far as to provide them the meat and sauce. As absurd as Charlotte found this she found Layfield’s table manners even more objectionable. As he plowed through his food he sent tiny droplets of barbeque sauce in all directions. And while he had tucked a cloth napkin into his collar against this the tablecloth, and indeed Charlotte’s own clothing, enjoyed no such protection.

 

“You know for a bunch of sissies these Frenchie’s can cook up a fine rack of ribs” Layfield told Charlotte around a mouthful of meat.

 

“Hmm” was all Charlotte could manage in reply. She didn’t even open her mouth for fear that she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from passing comment if she did.

 

John Bradshaw Layfield, or JBL as he insisted on calling himself, was a loud, boarish, petty, and obtuse excuse for a man. But he was a necessary excuse for a man. Absurd though it seemed he was the linchpin for Project Andre. This, unfortunately, made conciliating his goodwill a necessity for Charlotte. And so here she was having to dine with this odious man. Though if this afternoon went to plan, she wouldn’t have to put on airs much longer.

 

A self made billionaire JBL had made his fortune on the stock market as a speculator. Even among a profession of such low ethical standing JBL had quickly earned a reputation for shady dealings and practices. Leaving a trail of shattered fortunes and lives behind him he had grown more and more wealthy until he was one of the richest men in America. But like many extremely wealthy and powerful men he grew bored easily and thus hadn’t been content to simply rest and enjoy his fortune.

 

If there was such a thing as an organized crime dilettante then JBL was it. Lusting for the thrill of true risk and danger in his otherwise comfortable life he had embarked on several illicit ventures in his home state of Texas. A state that was by the general consensus of the criminal community, considered to be Flair territory. Had Charlotte been in charge of the family at the time she would have simply had him eliminated. But her father had had other ideas.

 

Recognizing JBL as a potentially useful idiot Ric Flair had not opposed his impertinent expansion. Indeed he’d gone out of his way to cultivate JBL as an acquaintance. Charlotte knew that her father and JBL had spent a considerable amount of time together and suspected that the Texan liked to think of Ric Flair as his friend. Doing so would appeal to his ego and allow him to feel as though he were a real player in the underworld. He wasn’t, but Charlotte’s father had nonetheless encouraged him in this view.

 

And now JBL was here in Vegas in all his revolting glory. Worse, he and Charlotte would have to work in concert for the foreseeable future. For obvious reasons men like Ric Flair, Vince McMahon, Kanji Inoki, and Bruno Sammartino could not openly purchase a casino. The red flags this would throw up would be legion. No they needed a proxy. Someone who was wealthy enough that they could plausibly be seen to head a group of investors interested in purchasing a casino. And yet not anyone intelligent enough to pose a danger to the crime lords when he was in that position. JBL fit both criteria.

 

The first step of Project: Andre called for the criminal groups to force Ted Dibiase Jr out of his position at his family’s casino. Then JBL, at the head of a group of supposedly silent shadow investors, would swoop in and buy control of the casino. Of course these investors would actually be the organized crime groups operating through their own layer of proxies. Once this part of the plan had been completed JBL would assume the leadership of the Dibiase. Or at least he would appear to, in truth he would simply be doing what he was told.

 

Apparently JBL’s thoughts had been running along similar paths to Charlotte as he asked “so when I have my casino what will the next step be?”. For obvious reasons JBL had been kept in the dark about any aspect of Project: Andre that didn’t directly involve him. When he’d realized this he’d thrown one of his tantrums that had required direct intervention from Charlotte’s father to calm down.

 

“OUR casino Mr. Layfield, and perhaps we should focus on the critical first step before speculating about the future” Charlotte said through gritted teeth that she’d forced into the approximation of a smile. She would never have discussed their plan so openly in a notionally public place.

 

“Oh right right” JBL said knowingly. He then, to Charlotte’s great annoyance, literally winked at her.

 

Deciding that if she didn’t push the conversation forward she might say something regrettable before her other guests could arrive Charlotte asked “have you been in touch with the other groups since arriving?”. JBL wiped at his mouth with his napkin before answering. He did this ineptly however as he merely smeared sauce further around his mouth.

 

“Yes I have. Met with that Italian gal, what’s her name now umm…” here he trailed off and actually had the temerity to snap his fingers at Charlotte for a cue.

 

“Ms. Giovanni?” Charlotte suggested as she wrestled her flaring temper back under control.

 

“Yeah that’s her, pretty little thing isn’t she?” JBL answered.

 

“I’m afraid I wouldn’t know” Charlotte said stiffly.

 

“Then I met with that Heyman guy, what a jackass” JBL said carelessly as he sucked another rib bone dry. Charlotte had learned the identity of the current McMahon representative in town only a few days ago. She only knew Heyman by reputation but what she’d heard inspired a healthy wariness in her. And she had no doubt that whatever contempt JBL had for Heyman it would be nothing compared to the scorn Heyman would have for the Texan. The key difference being that while JBL’s was born of unearned self confidence, Heyman's would be that of a very intelligent man for a fool.

 

“Was he alone?” Charlotte asked, interested despite herself.

 

“Just him and his two guards. They looked like twins, two of them Samoans? Whatever they’re called” JBL said dismissively. This tallied with Charlotte’s intelligence about the McMahon delegation. She had heard that the McMahon’s had sent members of the Anoa’i family to guard their negotiator though she hadn’t been able to learn which members. If JBL was reporting accurately she guessed these would be the twins Jimmy and Jey.

 

“Very well…” Charlotte said as she leaned back in her chair “...you may wish to slow your pace of eating Mr. Layfield, the Yakuza will be here shortly”.

 

But JBL waved this away saying “awww them Japanese is small folk and I got another half rack coming. By the time I finish that they ought to be full up so we’ll all be done at the same time”. Charlotte decided not to engage further on the subject, instead she just gave JBL a very tight lipped smile as she pulled her plate toward herself. They were still in this attitude, JBL scarfing his food as Charlotte poked at hers, when the Yakuza arrived.

 

Only Asuka was present today. As per the agreed protocol for today’s meeting she left her guards inside before she stepped out onto the sunlit balcony. She was dressed much more soberly today in jeans, a tan blazer, and black shirt though her hair remained as eye catchingly purple as ever. Before joining the table Asuka’s eyes darted around the otherwise empty balcony as though evaluating it for potential threats.

 

Rising from her seat when Asuka finally approached Charlotte gave the woman a deep bow as she said “O-genki desu ka Asuka-san”.

 

“I am very well thank you Ms. Flair” Asuka said in English though she returned the bow. JBL, who hadn’t stood from his chair, wiped clumsily at his face once more and extended a sauce stained hand toward Asuka.

 

“John Bradshaw Layfield ma’am, it’s a pleasyre to meet you. My friends call me JBL” he said in a booming voice. For a moment Charlotte wondered if Asuka would refuse to shake his hand but in the end she did take it gingerly. The clasp lasted less than a second.

 

“Very well Mr. Layfield” Asuka said in a hard to read tone. But give her her deliberate omission of Layfield’s chosen moniker Charlotte guessed that the Japanese woman was mocking the business man. Charlotte found this amusing but intervened before Layfield could realize he ought to be offended.

 

“Now that our esteemed colleague has arrived we can begin Mr. Layfield” she said briskly, pushing her plate to one side. As she did Asuka took a chair between Charlotte and JBL.

 

“Well alright, then. You ladies won’t mind if I keep on eating right? You going to have anything there Miss Ah-Soo-Kah ma’am?” JBL said. Charlotte saw a flicker of annoyance cross the other woman’s face at his butchering of her name but when she spoke she was perfectly civil.

 

“Perhaps later, I prefer to focus on my work” Asuka said stiffly. Inwardly Charlotte wondered if this was as much a veiled shot at her as it was at JBL but decided it didn’t really matter. It was time for the carefully choreographed dance that she and Asuka had planned at their earlier meeting to begin.

 

“So what did you two lovely ladies want to talk about? Them other two groups just wanted a bit of a meet and great but I sense that this is more” JBL said.

 

“You are correct Mr. Layfield, though I am sure that Asuka-san is...ah...delighted to meet you” Charlotte said delicately. She thought she saw Asuka shoot her a look of private amusement at this but she couldn’t be sure. When Asuka didn’t interject she continued on saying “...our friends in the Yakuza have some information that might interest you Mr. Layfield”.

 

“That so?” JBL asked sounding amused at the very idea.

 

Now it was Asuka’s turn to take up the narrative. Leaning forward in her chair she said “the McMahon and Sammartino families are plotting against you Mr. Layfield”.

 

“What?” JBL asked stupidly.

 

“The McMahon’s and the Sammartino’s are plotting against you” Charlotte repeated Asuka's words speaking slowly and clearly. She knew she was being slightly boarish but she felt she had to let some of her contempt out or risk a larger explosion later.

 

“They know you are a Flair family client” Asuka started to explain. JBL frowned at the word ‘client’ but before he could say anything Asuka continued saying “and so they feel they need some more concrete hold over you than your promise of good behavior”.

 

“As you are aware our four groups had initially planned to offer a fifth place in our plan to La Eme. And that in the end it was decided that they were simply too volatile and unpredictable to be trusted as part of an operation like Andre” Charlotte said.

 

“I agree, damned wetbacks” JBL muttered. The ‘wetbacks’ he was referring to were a collection of Mexican-American groups known collectively as ‘La Eme’ or the Mexican Mafia. The group was generally thought of as the fifth most powerful criminal group in the country. Though Charlotte wondered privately how long it would be before they passed her own family on that list. If things didn’t change for the Flairs that day wouldn’t be far off.

 

“They are understandably annoyed at this turn of events. And that is what the Sammartino’s, with McMahon support, are taking advantage of” Charlotte said.

 

“They intend to goad La Eme into attacking you and your interests until you are forced to reach out to them for protection. At that point you will cease to be operating on your own, you will become their puppet” Asuka added.

 

“Which is why we called this meeting to offer you a choice” Charlotte said, speaking in a light matter of fact tone.

 

“You can be forced into servitude for them or you can have the partnership you were promised with us” Asuka said with an unsettling leer.

 

“What do you mean?” JBL asked suspiciously. He was sufficiently distracted now that he’d stopped stuffing his face.

 

“Our organizations will undertake to protect you so long as you remain...cooperative toward us” Charlotte said delicately.

 

“Now hold on a minute here ladies I see what this is…” JBL said as he waved a finger at them “...and I don’t like it. I came on board promising that I’d be impartial between y'all and my word is my bond”. Charlotte almost scoffed aloud at this assertion, she knew how many people JBL had ruined on his way to wealth. But Layfield wasn’t finished apparently as he added “and besides...I have my own bunch of operators watching my back so if they try anything-”.

 

Here Asuka cut him off saying “no” with a shake of her head.

 

“Excuse me?” JBL asked, plainly annoyed at being interrupted.

 

“You do not have your ‘operators’ any longer Mr. Layfield” Charlotte clarified for Asuka. She almost smiled at this, she found his use of the term for his hired thugs to be amusing. Amusing in the way one might smile at a child wearing adult clothing.

 

“There was a mishap at the airport when they arrived, they are now all in custody” Asuka told JBL. To the end of her days Charlotte thought she would cherish the memory of the look on JBL’s face at that moment. A moment later it was replaced by a look of dark suspicion as he looked from woman to woman.

 

“You two did this…” JBL said angrily as he jabbed a finger first at Asuka then Charlotte “...you tell me that the other groups are threatening me but then you take away my security?”.

 

“You’re obviously still in shock from this sad news Mr. Layfield. Otherwise I know you wouldn’t be so rash as to accuse Kanji Inoki’s representative of betrayal” Charlotte said mildly.

 

But JBL’s temper was up now as he spat “to hell with that! We’ll just see what your daddy has to say about this! When I tell him he’ll pull your spoiled behind out of this project so fast your head’ll spin!” JBL snapped at Charlotte. He was about to say more but cut off when Charlotte withdrew her own phone, tapped the screen several times, and then slid it across the table toward JBL. The screen read:

 

‘Calling: Ric Flair’

 

“It’s calling him now” Charlotte told JBL as she stared directly into his eyes. It became clear quickly that whatever his words JBL hadn’t actually meant to call Ric Flair at that moment. Still he did his best to look intimidating as he lifted the phone off the table and held it to his ear. Inwardly Charlotte winced, she’d forgotten how dirty his fingers were. She’d probably need a whole new phone now. The device was on speaker so they all heard it ring several times before there was a click followed by a man’s voice with a southern accent.

 

“Hey there sugar plum!” it said.

 

JBL looked terribly awkward at this as he said “uh...no sir...Mr. Flair it’s me JBL. I wondered if you had a moment for me”.

 

There was a pause but eventually the voice on the phone said “for you brother? Two minutes if you like”.

 

JBL looked a little more confident now as he said “thank you sir”. He picked up the phone, took it off speaker, and launched into his litany of complaints. Charlotte looked on with a bemused expression while Asuka studied Layfield with laser intensity. JBL ranted for close to five minutes before pausing to give Charlotte a smug look. But from there on out it was pretty clear that the conversation wasn’t going his way. His face fell steadily as time wore on and everytime he tried interjecting he was cut off. By the time he handed the phone back to Charlotte he was looking thoroughly cowed.

“Hello?” Charlotte said as she took it and gave JBL a sickly sweet smile.

 

“Hey there sis” her brother David Flair, who did indeed sound alot like his father, said into her ear.

 

“Thank you daddy” was all Charlotte said in return.

 

“That’s just creepy and weird…” David laughed before saying “...I wasn’t gentle with him by the way”.

 

“I understand, bye daddy” Charlotte said.

 

“Seriously, gotta stop that” David Flair said before hanging up. With a smirk that JBL would assume was meant for him she took her napkin and wiped her phone clean before putting it away.

 

“Are you satisfied Mr. Layfield?” Charlotte asked the still stunned looking businessman.

 

“I can just get on my jet and leave! Then what will you do with your little plan!” JBL blustered, though he was sounding markedly less confident now.

 

“Only if your jet is still in the hanger” Asuka said with her cheshire cat smile on her face.

 

“You...wha-? How dare…” JBL didn’t seem to be able to finish a sentence.

 

“Also...and I hesitate to point this out Mr. Layfield but you are a known associate of a large group of men who were detained in an airport with an arsenal of illegal weaponry. No doubt the district attorney is very interested in speaking with you” Charlotte said.

 

“You can’t do that. You can’t afford to have me talking” JBL stammered.

 

“Oh I believe we’d manage. I have a great deal of influence in the mayor’s and DA’s offices…” Charlotte said, her voice suddenly ice cold, she glared at Layfield for a long moment before adding “...however, that influence can also be used in your favor”. JBL’s eyes widened at this but he didn’t speak.

 

Asuka, who had hitherto been watching his discomfiture with open delight, suddenly stood. She prowled around the table until she was standing behind JBL before saying “YOU...work for us now”.

 

“You will continue to preserve the fiction that you work for all four groups. And unless we tell you otherwise you will carry that job out to the best of your ability. However, when either myself, Asuka, or Nakamura give you an instruction you WILL carry it out” Charlotte told JBL in a voice that made clear she was not negotiating.

 

“You will get to keep your cut and your role in the casino” Asuka said from behind JBL.

 

“But should you disoblige us, resist us, or attempt to flee...I think you’ll find that law enforcement loses it’s hesitancy when it comes to your case”  Charlotte said cooly.

 

JBL’s face suddenly began to grow stormy. Charlotte could see the obvious effort he was having to expend to control his temper. Here was a very arrogant man who was unused to any kind of opposition, never mind being bullied. For just a moment his rage overcame his common sense. He began to straighten with his fists balled. He stopped an instant later as a gun appeared in Charlotte’s hand, a second later a clicking noise from behind him revealed that Asuka too was armed.

 

“Lets not do something foolish Mr. Layfield” Charlotte said quietly. She didn’t have to look toward the balcony doors to see that she and Asuka’s guards would have drawn on JBL’s. Layfield glared at her with eyes full of hatred. But as quickly as his temper had flared it fled. JBL seemed to shrink in size as he slumped back into his chair with his hands raised.

“Alright...alright...I work for you” he said in a downcast voice. He then gave a quick jerk at two dull thuds from inside the restaurant. But when neither Charlotte or Asuka blinked he must have decided he wasn't in danger.

 

“I did not hear you” Asuka said.

 

“I work for you two god damn it are you happy now?” JBL snapped. He’d obviously decided that if he couldn’t defiant then he would be petulant.

 

“You see Mr. Layfield? We are both reasonable women, oblige us and we will oblige you and see that you are handsomely rewarded” Charlotte said with a smile that never reached her eyes. Her gun didn’t waver from his chest either.

 

“Can I go then?...” JBL whined “...I’ll take my boys and get right over to the casino”.

 

“Oh they’re dead” Charlotte said.

 

“What?” JBL asked in confusion.

 

Asuka moved back to the table and leered at him saying slowly “they...are...dead”.

 

“Think of it as a way to remember our new secret arrangement. Please see to cleaning up the mess Mr. Layfield, I would hate to inconvenience Sylvan or Renee. In fact, see to it that they are generously compensated for this afternoon’s meals. You in particular owe them for your asinine requests” Charlotte said as she stood and holstered her weapon. She only did so because Nia had come out onto the balcony to hold the door.

 

Asuka didn’t move to leave right away however. She walked toward JBL until she was standing right next to him. Putting both palms down on the table she leaned in until her face was mere inches from JBL, the businessman leaning back in his chair trying to keep space between them. Asuka stared at the man for a long time as Charlotte looked on with interest. Eventually Asuka said “you tried and you failed. You were not ready for Asuka and Charlotte!”.

 

No indeed thought Charlotte Flair.




Chapter Text

“Lex, what’s wrong?” Bayley asked her partner and friend.

 

She and Alexa Bliss were having lunch at King Kong Bundy Burgers. The burger joint would have made Bayley’s list of favorite places in Las Vegas on most days though today something was off. It wasn’t her towering heap of poutine nor her double Korean BBQ burger. Something was clearly off about Alexa that the other woman didn’t want to talk about.

 

“Nothing Bay, sorry, I guess I’m just tired” Alexa said, looking up from the table just long enough to hit Bayley with a feeble smile. As one might expect there wasn’t much on the menu at KKBB that was to Alexa’s tastes, even the salads had melted cheese, so she was contenting herself with a cup of coffee.

 

“You know for someone whose brain can barely fit in her head you are REALLY bad at lying Lex” Bayley told her.

 

“Really it’s fine Bayley I just...I guess I didn’t get enough sleep. I’ve been pretty worried about you after all” Alexa said. Bayley recognized this statement for the combination deflection/change of subject that it was and thought for a moment about pressing Alexa on it but decided not to. Alexa always told her these things eventually and there was no sense in spoiling their afternoon by pestering her over it.

 

It had been surprising to Bayley how much she’d missed Alexa recently. Of course it really shouldn’t have been, she and Alexa had been more or less joined at the hip professionally for years. This sort of closeness inevitably ended in the two parties either hating or loving one another and Bayley was just glad that things had worked out in the latter way for them. Aside from Sasha, Alexa was probably the most important person in Bayley’s life.

 

“I’m fine Lex, I’m being ‘punished’ by being given a bunch of time off to spend with my girlfriend. Oh no...not that” Bayley said, trying to allay Alexa’s feelings. Despite the fact that she knew Alexa’s last comment to be a deflection from her own feelings she also knew that it would have been fully genuine. Alexa was a worrier and there was no changing that. And this went double for people she cared about like Bayley.

 

“So...ummm...I hope Sasha doesn’t hate me. I mean that last time we talked…” Alexa trailed off here unable to finish her statement. Bayley could understand Alexa’s trepidation here. The last time Alexa and Sasha had ‘talked’ had been the ferocious (though oddly quiet) argument they’d had beside Bayley’s hospital bed.

 

“Lex…” Bayley said as she squeezed her friend’s arm “...Sasha doesn’t hate you. She understands why you said what you did and that you were just being protective of me. Don’t forget she was fighting right back”. In truth Bayley wasn’t sure if Sasha would fully share this somewhat rosy recollection of the argument, she was nothing if not stubborn. But Bayley also knew that Sasha would make an effort to get along with Alexa because she knew how important she was to Bayley.

 

“Are you sure?” Alexa asked nervously.

 

“Of course” Bayley said reassuringly.

 

“How is she doing? I mean...after what happened at the motel...nevermind I’m sure you don’t want to talk about it” Alexa demurred as she quickly took a sip of her coffee.

 

But Bayley was shaking her head as she said “no it’s fine Lex, I’d actually kind of like to talk about it. Well, with you anyway. But Sasha seems to want to put it behind her so I’ve been avoiding the subject”.

 

“Well that makes sense though” Alexa pointed out fairly.

 

“Yeah...but….” Bayley said before faltering. Now it was her turn to look down at the table.

 

“But you want to talk about it I get it Bay, so let's chat” Alexa said encouragingly. It struck Bayley how quickly she and Alexa had flipped conversational roles.

 

“I’m not even sure what I want to talk about Lex. I, WE, have both been in shootouts before but this one felt..I don’t know...somehow it felt different” Bayley said, inwardly frustrated by how inarticulate she sounded.

 

“Well you’ve never been in a shootout with Sasha there before” Alexa said.

 

“True but it was more than that, I don’t know how to say it but if felt like this was different” Bayley said before she proceeded to relay that whole night’s events to Alexa. Her partner didn’t comment or ask any questions until Bayley had finished telling her about the odd stare down between herself and Sasha, the woman on the motorcycle, and the mysterious figure in the helicopter.

 

“That is...some weird shit” Alexa said, eyes wide. Bayley actually blinked once in befuddlement at this comment. It wasn’t that she disagreed with the sentiment, in fact she wholly approved, but Alexa had sworn. This was something she almost never did.

 

“Whoa...do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” Bayley asked, unable to resist teasing Alexa despite the subject.

 

“Oh shut up” Alexa said as she gave Bayley a look. She then looked thoughtful, always a cue for Bayley to be quiet. When Alexa Bliss thought hard she usually came up with something important and Bayley wasn’t going to risk derailing her train of thought. “Ordinarily I’d say you ended up in the middle of a gang shootout but this sounds like something much worse. Maybe an OC crew war?” Alexa finally suggested.

 

“It felt more like that then a simple gang thing, how many gangland shootings involve a destroyed SUV, an international criminal, and a freaking helicopter” Bayley said.

 

“True” Alexa said as she continued to look thoughtful.

 

“You have something else don’t you?” Bayley prompted her.

 

“Nothing really it’s just that thing you said Sasha told you that...that night in the hospital. I talked to some people in the gang and OC units about it. I even hit up Carmella and a few other CI’s. It’s just weird Bayley, you bring up the word ‘Andre’ and they completely shut down. It doesn’t seem like no one knows anything but it’s like they’re terrified of the mere mention of it” Alexa told Bayley, sounding troubled.

 

“Something for us to follow up on when I get back” Bayley said in a tone of forced happiness, meaning to cheer her partner up. If that had been her goal though it seemed she’d miscalculated as Alexa’s expression fell to the one she’d been wearing when she’d first arrived for lunch.

 

“Yeah, we can do that. I’ll probably have put a bow on the Godfather thing by then so maybe we’ll be able to just go back to busting drug dealers and pimps again” Alexa said with a smile as forced as Bayley’s. Her tone was friendly on the surface but Bayley thought she detected something else under it, was it wistfulness?

 

Bayley was wondering how best she could ask about this when her phone buzzed. As was their usual tradition when having a meal outside of work the two women had stacked their phones in the center of the table. Normally if either of them reached for their phone during a meal then they had to pay. But today Alexa seemed almost relieved by the distraction.

 

“Go ahead, it’s on me today anyway, I have to use the bathroom so I’ll be right back” Alexa said quickly before retreating from the table. Bayley let her phone ring several more times as she stared after Alexa in concern before answering.

 

“This is Martinez” she said into the phone. She hadn’t recognized the phone number so she’d used her ‘professional’ tone and greeting.

 

Good afternoon detective, this is Eve Torres the Mayor’s special assistant, we met that morning you visited city hall” said an unfamiliar voice.

 

“Oh yes, Ms. Torres, I’m glad you made it out of that OK” Bayley said.

 

Thanks to you detective…” Torres said in a more human voice before reverting back to her briskly efficient tone “...the Mayor asked me to reach out to you to see if you needed anything or if there was anything she could do for you at the moment”.

 

“Uh…” was all Bayley could come up with in response. The question was so unexpected that she couldn’t formulate a response.

 

Detective? Are you still there?” Torres asked. Bayley realized she hadn’t spoken for almost ten whole seconds.

 

“I’m here Ms. Torres, umm please tell Mayor Stratus thank you but that I’m doing fine at the moment” Bayley said.

 

"The Mayor will be glad to hear that. I’m also instructed to ask if you might have time to meet with her in the near future. She still wishes to discuss that matter with you from the first meeting” Torres replied.

 

“Oh...uh...sure. I don’t know if you heard but I’m currently suspended so-” Bayley started to say but Torres cut in.

 

The Mayor knows, she has expressed her displeasure to the commissioner about it” Torres said in a voice that really did sound indignant.

 

“Oh...well...tell her thanks again. But what I was saying is that I have time but I’ll have to coordinate with detective Bliss” Bayley said.

 

Oh we reached out to her already, she said that she was simply under too heavy of a caseload at the moment but that she’d be content if you went in her stead” Torres said. This news fairly rocked Bayley. Alexa, Mayor Trish Stratus’ #1 fan girl, had turned down a chance to meet with the mayor? And she’d totally failed to share this news with Bayley.

 

“I see” Bayley said as she tried to buy herself time.

 

Would you have time later this week detective?” Torres asked.

 

“What? Oh, I’m sorry no I’m going on a trip with my-...I’m going to be out of town” Bayley said. She was still too preoccupied with the news about Alexa to say much more.

 

Oh, I understand. Perhaps you could simply call me back at this number when you return to town?” Torres suggested.

 

“Yeah I’ll do that, thank you Ms. Torres” Bayley said.

 

Have a good day detective

 

Bayley hung up the phone without saying good-bye and was left thinking hard. Something was most definitely wrong with Alexa, but her friend had made clear she didn’t want to talk about it. Bayley was working out how best to re-broach the subject when Alexa returned looking much more flustered and nervous then one normally did when returning from a bathroom. Bayley also noted that she had brought her phone with her when she’d left. Something that Alexa, a low grade hypochondriac, usually refused to do at restaurants.

 

“Hey Bay I’m so sorry I gotta run back to work, we had a break in one of our cases” Alexa said apologetically.

 

“Oh...uh Okay well um...are you going to come over some night still?” Bayley asked deciding that now wasn’t the best time to have the conversation she wanted to have.

 

“Yeah definitely, sorry I have to dash like this” Alexa said as she leaned in and gave Bayley a quick one armed hug.

 

“That’s fine Lex I get it, tell Tara hi for me” Bayley said with a smile. She was surprised when she thought she felt Alexa stiffen at this but it passed so fast that she wondered if she’d imagined it.

 

“I will, it’s been nice to work with her again” Alexa said in an odd tone that was simultaneously strained and happy as she straightened up. Bayley had heard that Tara had pulled rank to get herself assigned as Alexa’s partner while Bayley was serving her suspension. Bayley remembered being happy about this but maybe things weren’t working out between them, perhaps that was what was bothering Alexa.

 

“I’ll call you later” Bayley said.

 

“Sounds good, tell Sasha hi from me” Alexa said before she hurried out of the restaurant. Bayley stared after her with her mind racing furiously. She supposed she might be right. Alexa, being such a devoted rule follower and authority pleaser, might easily be freaking out if she and Lieutenant Victoria weren’t getting along. Not only had the older woman once been their sergeant but now she was brass. But why would Alexa duck a meeting with the mayor over that? And would that have merited the amount of missed calls and messages that Bayley had found on her phone the morning after her cookout with Sasha and her friends?

 

“Excuse me, are you detective Martinez” said a voice from behind her, interrupting her thoughts. Twisting in her seat Bayley found herself looking up at a tall handsome man in the uniform of the Clark County Sheriff's department.

 

“Yes…” Bayley said cautiously.

 

“I do apologize for interrupting your lunch ma’am. My name is deputy Lance Cade and I work for Sheriff Austin. I went by your precinct earlier looking for your partner to see if she could help us get in touch with you and they told me she was here. I’m sorry I missed her but at least I caught you” Cade said. Bayley noted he had an accent that placed his origins somewhere in the American southeast.

 

“Well here I am deputy, would you like to join me?” Bayley said as she waved toward the place Alexa had vacated.

 

“Well I surely do appreciate the invite ma’am and I promise I won’t take up much of your time” Cade said as he sat across from Bayley. Now with a chance to study him more closely Bayley had to admit that he was a very good looking man. The effect was heightened by his uniform, just tight enough to reveal a powerful frame, and his cowboy style hat which he removed and set on the table as he sat.

 

“What can I do for you?” Bayley asked him .

 

“Well first ma’am I’d like to say that all of us in the department are big fans of yours. We heard about what you did at city hall and then at that motel and as far as we’re concerned you’re a damned hero detective” Cade said in a voice full of unfeigned admiration.

 

“Umm...thanks” Bayley said awkwardly. Apart from being uncomfortable with being called a ‘hero’ she was a bit surprised by Cade’s reaction. Not only was it odd to have a cop openly gushing to her like this but the Clark County Sheriff's department had charge of the rural areas around Las Vegas. In recent years they had become increasingly dangerous and lawless, meaning that Sheriff Austin and his deputies were quite often involved in life threatening situations. Bayley would have assumed that what she’d been through would seem routine to them.

 

Cade didn’t seem to notice her awkwardness however because he went on saying “then we heard that that SOB of a commissioner...oops sorry ma’am-” he cut off looking embarrassed at Bayley.

 

“It’s alright deputy” Bayley assured him.

 

“That...the police commissioner had elected to suspend you rather than pin a medal on you and I gotta say that Sherriff Austin was right pissed. Got on the phone that minute to give the commissioner an earful” Cade said, sounding admiring. Bayley now recalled that Bischoff had said something about the Sheriff when he’d suspended her. Bayley hadn’t really registered it at the time but now she realized just how odd it had been. It wasn’t usual for the Sheriff to interfere in the personnel matters of the LVPD or vice versa.

 

“Well please tell him thanks for me next time you see him. I’m a big fan of his and I appreciate him sticking out his neck for me” Bayley told Cade with a real smile.

 

“Well actually ma’am, you might get a chance to tell him yourself. The Sheriff wanted me to ask if you’d be able to meet with him sometime soon” Cade said. Bayley blinked at this offer. Suddenly it seemed she was awfully popular with powerful people.

 

“Uh, sure...I’m not going to be in town for a few days but if the Sheriff can wait I’ll have some time starting next week” Bayley said.

 

“Great, I’ll tell our office folks to wait for you to get in touch. The Sheriff is gonna be really happy to hear this ma’am. You said you were a fan of his but he’s a damned big fan of yours too” Cade said as he stood.

 

“I...well that’s very flattering to hear" Bayley said feeling herself flush slightly.

 

“And for my part I’d be real honored if you’d let me shake your hand and take a picture with you detective” Cade said as he offered his hand. Bayley actually laughed at this bit she stood and shook Cade’s hand and then posed with him as he asked a waiter to take their picture together.

 

“It was nice meeting you deputy...” Bayley said to Cade before remembering to ask “...by the way, do you know what the Sheriff wants to talk to me about?”.

 

“Well I don’t know that it’s my place to say too much ma’am but I imagine he wants to offer you a job” Cade said as he donned his hat and walked away with a polite nod. This left Bayley with a lot to think about. Not only did she have Alexa to worry about but now this.

 

Law enforcement in Las Vegas was a small place where news traveled fast and she knew that the Sheriff’s department was currently seeking applicants for multiple sergeant’s jobs. If it was one of these that Austin wanted to talk to her about it would represent a major step in her career. It would also mean working for an organization much less bound by red tape than the LVPD under a superior, in Sheriff Austin, whom she respected a great deal more than either Morley or Bischoff.

 

Of course it would also mean leaving the institution that she’d been a part of since she’d been a rookie patrolmen. More importantly it would mean leaving Alexa behind. Bayley knew that her partner would never want to work for Austin given her opinion of him. And Bayley wasn’t certain she’d be as good a cop if she didn’t have Alexa with her.

 

Checking her phone once more she saw that it was almost three. She and Sasha were planning to hit the road for their trip early the next day and she still hadn’t begun packing. But she was sudddenly even more grateful that Sasha had suggested this getaway, it would give Bayley time to think and get her girlfriend’s opinions on both issues confronting her. Leaving some money on the table Bayley stood and left the restaurant with a brain weighed down with deliberations.  





Chapter Text

Becky Lynch had been on a minor reign of terror for a week.

 

She’d been privately nervous about the time when Finlay would call her in about the job he’d spoken of. Not because she was leery about any sort of task he might have for her, but because it would mean facing him again. After he had almost casually humiliated her Becky wasn’t sure how much she relished the idea of that meeting. Fortunately the call had never come, leaving her free to pursue her own agenda.

 

Though she had privately resolved to someday watch Finlay choke on his own blood, for now she would play her part. She’d send him his taste once a month and she’d do as she was told. But all the while she would be working to build her own power base. This would have to begin by getting more, a lot more, of two things: money and muscle.

 

Becky was still unclear how she was going to go about finding more muscle. Technically she had inherited Sheamus’ old crew by decree of Finlay. But after the fight at the Jakked Motel this didn’t amount to more than eight guys and MORE importantly Becky couldn’t be sure of their loyalty. Oh they’d take her money and do what they were told, but only right up until Finlay told them not to. So there would be no using them as the core of her future empire.

 

Becky knew that many criminals made the mistake of simply rounding up any local street toughs they could find in order to get muscle. This never worked, not only were they rarely any good in an actual fight but they also couldn’t be trusted to tie their own shoes. Becky and ODB had put a lot of thought into this problem and had yet to come up with a good solution. The two of them were better than any ten generic thugs but they simply couldn’t be everywhere at once.

 

Money was proving easier for her. She wasn’t becoming rich by organized crime standards but she was definitely making more than she ever had as an errand girl. She now had five girls working out of the Goldust motel for her, all bringing in a steady income. An extra $5000 a month wouldn’t hand her the keys to Vegas anytime soon but it was a start. Being able to use the motel as a base was a godsend as it kept all of her assets in one place.

 

The greatest surprise of all had been Ellsworth. The little worm had proven to be a solid earner for her once he’d been removed from his former hell hole and kept under direct supervision. There had only been two hiccups along the way. The first had been when his girlfriend, whom Becky now knew was named Carmella, had showed up and objected to his new living arrangements. She’d been on the point of bullying him back to his previous location when Becky had found out she was there and told ODB to intervene. Once Carmella had fished herself out of the hotel’s dumpster she’d ceased her complaining.

 

The second hiccup had occured only a short time after that. It had arrived in the form of one of Ellsworth’s competitors who called himself ‘Slam Master J’. Of course ‘competitor’ was putting the case rather strongly. Ellsworth had never been successful enough to be real competition to anyone before working for Becky, it was more a case of Slam Master J enjoying the occasional chance to bully him. And while Becky certainly enjoyed doing the same thing she wasn’t prepared to tolerate the behavior in others.

 

She’d been alerted by one of Sheamus’ old crew about trouble at the motel while she’d been depleting the casino’s bar. She’d set most of her inherited muscle to work on simple guard duty reasoning that they couldn’t cause her too much trouble there. She’d been about to tell him to go tell ODB but then remembered that she’d sent her on another errand. Sighing dramatically she’d hiked up her holsters and headed toward the exit that lead out to the motel parking lot.

 

It hadn’t taken her long to spot the trouble. Ellsworth was being pushed back and forth between three men. Two were obviously hired muscle as they were taking orders from the third while another stood off to the side looking smug. This last man was not much bigger than Ellsworth himself though he seemed to be more muscular. He had long blonde hair and was dressed in nearly identical fashion to Ellsworth. Becky thought it might actually be amusing to see the two of them fist fight, it would be like the wannabe gangster grand prix.

 

Still she had an investment to protect so after nodding to her two guards, who thus far had simply been onlookers, she strode across the parking lot toward the fight. Without a word she approached the taller of the two hired thugs from behind, and without waiting for any of them to notice her simply kicked him between his legs. As he went down with a pathetic whimper Becky’s guards arrived and drew guns on the remaining three attackers.

 

“Whoa whoa whoa chill!” the group’s leader said as he finally noticed his peril.

 

Becky, who was now holding a knife, looked at it idly as she said “as much as I like seeing Jimmy here squirm, it’s really only my privilege to do it. So before I kill you would you mind sharing your names with me?”.

 

Rather than answering her directly the man who had been standing apart said “yo this whack fool been stealing my customers! I gotta protect my business bitch!”. Becky rolled her eyes at this and waved at one of her guards who promptly backhanded the man with his pistol. There was a cracking noise as his nose broke and he fell back onto his butt on the pavement.

 

“Jimmy is this true?” Becky asked Ellsworth in a mock disappointed voice. Ellsworth had fallen and was trying to pick himself up off the ground as he answered her.

 

“I...I...guess? I mean since you hooked me up with those new suppliers I’ve been selling all over” Ellsworth muttered as he rubbed at his jaw.

 

“Good lad” Becky said brightly as she approached and patted his cheek in a condescending way. Then, without any sort of warning, she punched him and sent him back down to the blacktop.

 

“What was that for?” Ellsworth said sounding more hurt than angry.

 

“I did just say that I liked watching you squirm Jimmy, pay attention…” Becky said patiently before turning to the invaders and saying “...now gents, your names please for your tombstones”.

 

“Yo I got BIG TIME clients bitch, you can’t touch me” the man who’d had his nose broken said as he regained his feet. Rolling her eyes at him for a second time Becky stepped forward and headbutted him. Of course his nose was already broken but this couldn’t have made him feel any better and he once again went down.

 

As she dabbed at his blood on her face with a cloth one of her guards handed her Becky asked “anyone feeling more cooperative?”.

 

One of the men still standing raised his hands and said “we didn’t mean no disrespect by it ma’am. We only heard that someone was getting supplied by our competitors and they was cutting into Jesse’s profits is all. My name is Jamie Noble and these are my cousins Jesse, Bam Neely, and Brian Christopher”. As he listed each name he pointed to himself, the man Becky had just knocked over, the one she’d kicked in the crotch, and the final member of their group.

 

“Impressive bunch” Becky said dryly as she looked them over. Of the last two Bam was a big bull but obviously not very bright and Brian simply seemed to be a slightly older version of Noble and Jesse.

 

“Yo my name is Slam Master J” Jesse muttered from where he was sitting up again.

 

“My GOD don’t give me any more reason to want to kill you” Becky snapped, this shut him up. Taking a calming breath Becky turned back to Noble and asked “so slim shady here sells and you’re what? His personal assistant?”.

 

“No ma’am, I’m the cook and the grower” Noble said. He actually sounded quite pleased with himself as though he’d said he was a doctor.

 

“Good for you…” Becky murmured wryly as she turned to one of her men and said “...call Big Jim and those Godwin idiots and see if they know anything about him”. Becky had initially been planning to simply kill these men but she was wondering now if there was a better way.

 

“Quit talking Jamie!” Jesse snapped from the ground though he flinched horribly the moment Becky turned to look at him.

 

“Jimmy?...” she asked as she kept staring at Jesse “...tell me about Jesse and Jamie’s business”.

 

Ellsworth, who sounded startled at being asked anything, hemmed and hawed for a moment before saying “they sell weed and meth...really good weed”.

 

“Better than what you sell?” Becky asked.

 

“Y-y...yeah” Ellsworth admitted. He didn’t get to say more as Becky punched him once again and he found himself back on the parking lot surface.

 

“I expect more brand loyalty from you in the future Jimmy! What YOU sell is what I sell! You gotta believe in the product you sell for Christs sake!” Becky lectured him before turning as her guard got her attention.

 

“Big Jim says that they are legit, his biggest competitors too” the man told her. This settled things for Becky. She turned to the man she’d kicked in the crotch, who had just regained his feet, and addressed him.

 

“Your boy here fucked up big man…” she said as she jerked her head toward Jesse “...he just led you to attack a business protected by Dave Finlay, the head of the Vegas Irish”. Becky was gratified at how each man’s eyes widened

 

“Shit!...” Noble muttered quietly as Jesse and Brian looked scared.

 

“Shit indeed boys…” Becky said letting an edge of threat creep into her voice “...and you know how Dave Finlay deals with people that fuck with his business”.

 

“We...we didn’t know” Noble started to say but Becky cut him off with a raised hand.

 

“How much do they pay you big man?” Becky asked Bam.

 

Bam looked as though this was the most complicated question he had ever been asked but eventually he said “umm…”. This wasn’t really the kind of answer that Becky had been looking for but thankfully Noble spoke up.

 

“Bam makes a cut of whatever Jesse sells ma’am” he explained.

 

“That worth dying for big man?” Becky asked Bam who seemed to really have to think about it. She got the impression that when Bam tried to use his brain for deeper critical thinking it was like trying to use a blender to make toast.

 

Eventually though the big man said “it’s not”.

 

“Bright lad!...” Becky said happily “...so how would you like to make more money and not risk getting killed because your cousins are idiots?”.

 

After a surprising amount of thought Bam nodded happily and said “I would”.

 

“Bam now you remember we’re family!” Noble said sounding alarmed.

 

“Quiet yourself, you’re working for me too” Becky told him. When he blinked in surprise at this she added “yeah you and slim shady here, we’ll be fine so long as you keep your hands off Jimmy here”.

 

“Yo for real?” Jesse asked, he was still sitting. Plainly he didn’t want to stand and risk being hit again.

 

“Yes for real, I’m expanding and I need your type of useful idiot…” Becky said before patting Bam Neely on his arm and saying “...not you big man, you’re a genius”. Bam smiled happily at this.

 

“So...so we’re free to go?” Noble asked.

 

“Oh no, you did put hands on Jimmy and I can’t let that slide” Becky said as she turned to the one member of their group who hadn’t spoken yet. “What do you do?” she asked Brian Christopher.

 

“Uh...I…” he said, apparently not even sure himself.

 

“Brian helps Jesse sell” Noble put in.

 

“Jimmy boy, do you sell on your own?” Becky asked without turning to look over at him.

 

“Yes” Ellsworth said. Becky assumed he’d probably flinched at saying this assuming she was going to hit him again.

 

“Well if Jimmy can do it then you can too Jesse” Becky told the blonde man. He opened his mouth to say something but she cut him off saying “I absolutely will NOT call you Slam Master J”. She then turned to one of her guards and nodded. The man stepped forward and grabbed Brian by his arms and began hustling him away toward the motel.

 

“Yo what the hell? Jesse? Jamie? You gotta help me!” he shouted, apparently too scared to even try and escape. No one even looked at him as he continued to shout until he vanished into one of the empty rooms.

 

“Here’s how this will work boys. Keep cooking, keep growing, keep selling, make sure I get my 10% twice a month…” Becky said before pausing briefly at the sound of a loud banging noise from inside the motel room “...and in return I WON’T tell Finlay about this and he WON’T kill ya. Also if you run into any trouble you let me know like Jimmy SHOULD HAVE and I’ll take care of it”. Ellsworth had the sense to look abashed at this but didn’t say anything. Noble, Jesse, and Bam were all still staring in the direction of the motel room but they all managed to nod.

 

“You’ll relocate here Jesse, pick any room and you can have it” Becky said casually as her guard emerged from the motel room, alone.

 

“Uh...yeah...OK” Jesse said, Becky noticed that his faux street talk had gone.

 

“But YOU big man, aren’t working with your cousins anymore” Becky told Bam.

 

“I’m not?” he asked slowly.

 

“Noooooo your talents are too important, you’ll be working directly for me” she explained Of course she didn’t actually know anything about him but she’d sized him up quickly. This man could be very dangerous but only if led by someone else, on his own he was just too dumb to be a threat to anyone. A perfect bodyguard for her in short.

 

“Alright ma’am” he said still sounding confused.

 

“One last things then…” Becky said to Jesse “...you mentioned big time clients”.

 

Jesse looked very hesitant at this as he said “...I don’t know I’m not supposed to say who they are. They love my weed but they don’t want-”.

 

Becky cut him off saying “should have thought of that before you picked on my favorite little worm here” before she pinched Ellsworth’s cheek. So Jesse told her and as he did a giant grin spread across Becky’s face.

 

Tessmacher had delayed their meeting though she had committed to another date. In the meantime Becky and ODB, joined by their new bodyguard Bam Neely, began raising hell. If there was a minor dealer or streetwalker operating anywhere near the Goldust they cajoled or bullied them into line. Where they met resistance they left threats, broken bones, and a body or two. Becky doubted if any minor earner had ever been able to so successfully expand their organization so quickly.

 

To top this all off Morrison came to her place two or three times a week and ensured she spent a VERY enjoyable night. To her mild surprise and annoyance Becky found that not only was she enjoying the sex but also his company. She contemplated simply ending their arrangement over this but decided that she wouldn’t let it distract her. And she really didn’t, she remained focused on her short term goal of expanding her power and long term goal of murdering Dave Finlay. Though she was careful not to share this last goal with anyone.

 

Her pace of work was relentless, and on days after she didn’t get much sleep due to Morrison, she ran herself ragged. So it was a very tired Becky Lynch that was waiting for Brooke Tessmacher when she finally did stroll into the Goldust one evening. To Becky’s mild surprise the other woman really did come alone this time. Though the large bulge on her hip made clear she was armed under her eights vest.

 

“Well this is...almost a step up from a construction site” Tessmacher said dryly as she looked around the casino before she sat across from Becky. She’d seemed to deliberate whether she wanted to actually make contact with the booth but eventually she did.

 

“You and your boys have the right of it, it’s nice to have a club house’ Becky said airily.

 

Tessmacher raised an eyebrow at this as she asked “what you own this place?”.

 

“Not officially but in exchange for not killing him the owner lets me run me business out of here so I like to think of it as mine” Becky said.

 

“I thought you said no gorillas” Tessmacher said as she nodded over Becky’s shoulder at the looming form of Bam Neely standing nearby.

 

“No I said YOU shouldn’t bring gorillas not that I wouldn’t” Becky pointed out.

 

“I didn’t know you even had gorillas of your own” Tessmacher countered. As always angling for information. Becky decided it wasn’t worth trying to make the other woman pay for this tidbit.

 

“Well, one gorilla, singular. But I’ve been expanding lately” she said casually.

 

“Yes...I’ve heard...WE’VE heard actually” Tessmacher said dryly as she looked around her. She thought for awhile before saying “would you be upset if I offered you a piece of advice?”.

 

“You dispense advice for free now do you?” Becky said not bothering to hide her skepticism.

 

“On occasion…” Tessmacher said mock defensively before she sobered and added “...you’ve been making a lot of noise Becky. So far no one is taking too much notice but if you keep it up someone will decide to slap you down. Criminals are the most conservative group in the world, they don’t like sudden change. Ambitious up and comers who threaten the status quo tend to get dealt with quickly”.

 

“Was that a threat” Becky asked, her voice serious now.

 

“No…” Tessmacher said as she held up her hands “...I simply have a vested interest in keeping you around so I’m trying to help you”. Becky thought about snapping something defensive but held back. As usual Tessmacher was probably right.

 

“I’ll take it under advisement” was all she said however.

 

Neither woman spoke for awhile but eventually Tessmacher said “well you called me Becky, do you have something to trade?”.

 

“Oh I do, but it’s big. So YOU go first this time” Becky said. Tessmacher pursed her lips at this but eventually must have decided she didn’t want to argue. Either that or she really was intrigued.

 

“Bubba made contact with the Death Valley chapter of the eights but it turns out they aren’t even the eights anymore. They lost a turf war with another club and got absorbed” Tessmacher said flatly. Becky would have expected her to sound upset at this news but she seemed detached and clinical.

 

“So you lot are at war with them?” Becky asked.

 

“That...was what Bubba and Devon wanted to do at first but...they were convinced that there was a better way” Tessmacher said delicately. She didn’t need to add whom had the one who had done the convincing it was obvious.

 

“And what’s that?” Becky asked, intrigued now.

 

“The new group says they have no grudge against the eights as a whole just against the former chapter. Apparently their old president and vice president, some guys named Test and Syxx, stepped on a lot of toes around the area. Now that they are gone this new group wants peace” Tessmacher explained.

 

“Isn’t there some kind of biker code that forces you to go and crack their heads?” Becky asked.

 

“Several other chapters from California, Oregon, and Arizona tried…” Tessmacher said dryly “...no one got anything back bigger than a few fingers”. Becky whistled softly at this. The idea of fighting off one chapter of the eights, a group not famous for its gentility, was daunting enough. Apparently this new group had sent several packing.

 

“So you’re out of luck on your reinforcements then” Becky said but Tessmacher shook her head.

 

“No, like I said this new group just wants peace. So Bubba talked it over with some of the other Presidents around the country and they decided that they didn’t want to feed anymore brothers and sisters into the meat grinder” Tessmacher said.

 

“I don’t believe that at all, they can’t let people think they’re just slinking away” Becky said skeptically.

 

“No…” Tessmacher said patiently “...but a deal was reached. This new group comes through for us as reinforcements like the Death Valley eights were going to, and we call it square”. Becky thought about this for awhile but nodded, it made sense.

 

“Whose this other group?” she asked but Tessmacher shook her head.

 

“No more until I get a taste at least Lynch” she said. Becky rolled her eyes but nodded in agreement. In truth she hadn’t expected to get even as much as Tessmacher had already offered without payment.

 

“I know you’ve heard about what happened that night I was at that bloody motel” Becky said, not asking since she knew that someone like Tessmacher would have intimate details by now.

 

“I did...didn’t know you were there though” Tessmacher said. Becky kicked herself inwardly at this, she’d just given away information.

 

“Well I was, and now I’m dealing with the fallout of it. He hasn’t heard anything and there hasn’t been any moves made but Finlay thinks we might be at war with the Prime Time Players” Becky said. She still used ‘we’ to describe the Irish because she damn sure wasn’t going to reveal her new plans to someone like Tessmacher, not yet.

 

“Understandable” was all Tessmacher said.

 

“But with the McMahon’s in town breathing down his neck, as well as your Italian friends and the others showing up, he doesn’t want to be bogged down in a turf war” Becky explained.

 

“Also understandable” Tessmacher said laconically.

 

“So he wants to strike first and end it quickly. But we don’t have the numbers to take on the players on their home turf so he wants to find an ally. In exchange he’s going to offer to split up the players’ territory” Becky said.

 

“And he doesn’t want to reach out to the McMahon’s because he realizes that that would leave him little more than a puppet” Tessmacher said slowly, as usual her mind making the important connections.

 

“Exactly”

 

“So who is he going to reach out to?” Tessmacher asked.

 

“Originally he wanted to reach out to your boys Bubba and Devon, after all they’ve always been on good terms” Becky said.

 

Tessmacher nodded at this as she said “but now that we're getting in bed with the Sammartino’s we can’t offer aide to McMahon proxies”.

 

“Right, and all the other groups worth a damn that we’re on good terms with are spoken for as well” Becky said.

 

“So what is Finlay’s plan?”

 

“I don’t know…” Becky admitted before adding “...but he’s working on something and intends for me to handle it when the time comes”.

 

“Very interesting…” Tessmacher said as she narrowed her eyes in thought. Becky waited for a full minute before the other woman said “I should make you pay more for the identity of our back up but you have given me a lot tonight”.

 

“You’re all heart Brooke”

 

Tessmacher ignored this as she looked Becky straight in her eyes and said “I don’t know if the name will mean much to you since you’re relatively new to the area but...have you heard of a group called Deadman Inc? Their leader is a man called the Undertaker”.

 

Chapter Text

Charlotte Flair was staring in shock at the wall of her tiny apartment. Her entire world had just come tumbling down around her in a manner of minutes. Everything she’d worked so hard for over the last few years was now being taken from her. And all thanks to her criminal father.

 

Charlotte was the youngest child of Ric Flair, a man infamous around the country as the head of the Flair Family criminal organization. As a child she had, of course, been kept carefully away from the true nature of her family’s wealth. And as a girl this had never really troubled her, comfortable as she was in her life of privilege. When asked she’d told others that her father was a businessman with perfect conviction, because that was what she’d believed.

 

As she’d aged cracks had begun to appear in the veneer. It was in her early teens that she began to notice how her peers and their families were leary of her. How her equestrian instructors were almost painfully deferential to her despite the fact that she’d actually been the student. But it wasn’t until she’d turned 16 that she’d really been confronted with the truth.

 

Her years leading up to that point had been focused almost entirely on equestrian training. She had early decided that it was her goal to be an Olympic equestrian and had thus devoted all her talent and drive to that goal. And through that hard work she had developed into an extremely skilled horsewoman. Here was something she could be justly proud of, something that hadn’t been handed to her as a result of her family’s wealth or people’s fear of her father and brother. Charlotte was not just good, she was great and there was no reason to think she would be kept off the US national team.

 

On that fateful day she’d been on pins and needles waiting for the roster to be posted online. At the exact second it had been scheduled to be available Charlotte had logged in and eagerly scanned the list. To her stunned horror her name was nowhere on it. She’d read it again and again but her name never magically appeared. Years of effort had come to nothing and she had been crushed.

 

When she’d finally stopped crying she’d called her coach looking for answers. The list had contained many talented equestrians but several who were undeniably less skilled than Charlotte herself. It was then that her coach, and elderly man who was passed caring who he might offend, had completely shattered any delusions Charlotte still had about her family. Responding to Charlotte’s desperate pleas of ‘why?’ he’d been brutally blunt.

 

“What’s your last name Charlotte?” he’d asked before hanging up. Charlotte had no idea how long she’d actually cried after that, only that it was a long time. Of course no one had comforted her either. Her father and brother had been away on ‘business’ leaving her with the family’s servants. None of these would have dared approached her like this, even to offer comfort to a crying girl, for fear that they might anger a Flair and thus end up missing.

 

Charlotte had resolved at that very moment that she was done. She would be different than her father and her brother. They did nothing but put more hurt into the world so she would work to take some of it out. With all the passion she’d applied to her pursuit of Olympic glory she dedicated herself to becoming a doctor. She’d been the valedictorian at her elite private high school, and not based on her name either, she’d EARNED it.

 

She’d then insisted on attending the University of North Carolina under a false name. She wouldn’t get into school based on her family money or name. Not only had she gotten into the school but she’d gotten in on a full academic scholarship. During her time at college Charlotte had not confined herself solely to academics. She’d begun working in earnest on her mission to be a different kind of Flair (for, of course, her secret hadn't held).

 

Charlotte had been active in multiple volunteer groups. If there was a habitat for humanity project in need of extra hands or kids that needed reading to she’d always been there. She’d also become actively involved in pushing several social causes that she believed passionately in. Despite this she’d maintained a perfect GPA and when graduation had come she’d done so summa cum laude. To crown it all she’d been accepted instantly into UNC med upon applying. Life had not only been sweet but it had seemed to be on the right path.

 

But now here she was clutching a pillow protectively to herself as she stared up at her father and his companions. She wished more than anything else in the world she could just sink into her couch and never come back out. She’d thought she was free, even that she had some control over her life. But of course it had always been a fantasy and like all fantasies it had to end.

 

“Did you hear me Charlotte” Ric Flair asked her as he took a seat on the coffee table in front of her. Charlotte couldn’t answer, all she could do was stare.

 

“Charlotte? Are you OK?” Arn Anderson asked her from where he stood behind her father. Charlotte looked up at him numbly, not really seeing him. Of all her father’s associates Arn had been the only one she’d been close to as a child. ‘Uncle Arn’ had always been happy to make time to play with her growing up.

 

“I...I heard you” Charlotte said finally in a voice she didn’t recognize as her own.

 

“I know this is a lot baby girl, but it’s time for you to step up the family needs you” her father had told her. His words acted like a thrown switch in Charlotte. Suddenly her anger flared into life. Suddenly everything she’d always wanted to say to her father flashed into her mind.

 

“No” Charlotte had whispered in a voice that was nonetheless molten with anger.

 

“Excuse me?” her father had asked.

 

“NO...I WILL NOT!” Charlotte shouted, heedless of her neighbors in the building. Ole Anderson, standing beside his brother Arn, murmured something at this but Charlotte was passed caring.

 

“Charlotte Flair-” he father had begun but Charlotte lept to her feet.

 

“I am NOT like you!...” Charlotte spat as she jammed a finger at him “...I am not going to live my life just taking and taking from hardworking people and killing anyone who tries to stand up for themselves! You are a PARASITE on society and I refuse to be part of it!”. No one spoke for a long time at this, all eyes in the room were on Ric Flair who didn’t answer for a very long time.

 

“I understand that you’re angry Charlotte, but I need you to get over it quick because-” he finally said in a voice that he struggled to keep calm.

 

“I DON’T CARE! I don’t care about your ‘business! In fact, stop calling it that! It’s just crime! I don’t care what you and David are up to I want no part of it!” Charlotte bellowed. Her father had explained what had happened to David when he’d arrived before announcing that Charlotte would be coming with him. Well if he thought that he had another thing coming.

 

Now her father was getting annoyed as he said “you watch your mouth girl! You have no idea how much work your brother and I have had to put in to keep you safe while you’ve been on your little vacation here! It’s time for you to wake up and get back to the real world!”

 

“THIS…” Charlotte shouted as she waved hands around her “...IS THE REAL WORLD! MOST PEOPLE DO NOT KILL OTHER PEOPLE! They don’t go out and steal from them or intimidate them! YOU are the one who lives in a fake world! And by the way I NEVER asked you to protect me! And in fact I wouldn’t be in danger if you two weren’t so god damn selfish!”.

 

Her father slapped her then, not hard but enough to make a small cracking sound. Charlotte’s face jerked to one side as she gasped loudly. Her own hand found her cheek slowly as she felt moisture stinging at her eyes. Still no tears fell as she slowly straightened and looked her father directly in his eyes. What she saw there was anger but also sadness.

 

“I will never go with you...and if you take me against my will you’ll never have my cooperation. You’ll have a kidnapping victim. And I will NEVER stop trying to escape” she said in a voice so calm that it surprised even her.

 

“Oh yeah? And how long do you think you’ll last without your father’s help?” JJ Dillon, another of her father’s henchmen, asked from where he was sitting.

 

“Oh I’ll do just fine…” Charlotte said ignoring him and directing her words at her father “...I have a LIFE, and a life that doesn’t involve hurting other people. And you and your shit aren’t welcome in it RIC”.

 

Her use of her father’s first name caused his eyes to widen briefly but when he spoke he was calm once more asking “you have a life huh? You’re doing just great right?”.

 

“I’m going to be a fucking doctor I’m pretty sure that makes me the smartest person in this damn room by a good margin” Charlotte agreed hotly.

 

“And how long will that last?” her father asked in reply. This brought Charlotte up short, having expected him to start shouting again. Indeed she’d almost hoped he would.

 

“Think about it you stupid girl...” JJ put in “...the McMahons can’t get at David, he’s gone. And they won’t dare attack your father for fear that people will go after Vince. So who does that leave?”.

 

“I’m not involved in your life!” Charlotte snapped.

 

“You think they’ll care?” Tully Blanchard asked, he was the final member of her father’s entourage. “They want blood and any Flair will do!” he finished as he glared at her.

 

“Then I’ll DIE but I’ll die happy knowing that I never hurt people like you!” Charlotte snarled at her father. She refused to address his cronies.

 

“Oh so noble...” JJ mocked her “...and what about the other people in this golden life of yours?”.

 

“What?” Charlotte asked.

 

“What happens when the McMahon’s bomb the hospital you work in DOCTOR Flair?...” JJ asked her in a cruel and merciless voice “...or when they shoot up the restaurant you’re having lunch in? All those innocent people dead, but I’m sure they’d be comforted knowing that you got to die secure in the knowledge you were better than us”.

 

Charlotte pursed her lips at this as her eyes and nostrils flared. She was about to respond when her father said “why do you think you’re even still here at school?”.

 

“Because I worked my ass off to apply myself unlike YOU” Charlotte snapped.

 

“Oh you’re smart baby girl, smart enough to be a doctor and I AM proud, but that means you’re too smart to believe the lies you tell yourself. No matter what you do your last name is FLAIR and that means that the school wants you here like they want to host the Duke Basketball booster banquet” her father said.

 

“As evidenced by the fact that they graduated me with honors!” Charlotte said with a derisive snort.

 

Ric Flair just shook his head sadly as he turned to Ole and said “show her”. Charlotte folded her arms as Ole took a laptop from his bag and set it on Charlotte’s coffee table. Withdrawing a disc he inserted it into its drive and closed it. Charlotte thought about looking away but then she recognized one of the voices coming through the speaker. It was the voice of one of the medical administrators that she’d had to interview with before being accepted into the school, Dr. Mike Knox.

 

“...don’t see why the FBI would want that” Knox’s voice said.

 

Another voice that Charlotte didn’t recognize answered saying “it’s not as though we’re asking you to handicap yourself doctor. From what we hear Charlotte Flair is an excellent student”.

 

“Oh she’s smart enough, but I don’t want to associate this school with THAT family. I don’t care if the university president took Ric Flair’s money I WON’T”  Knox insisted. Ole paused the recording now and nodded at Charlotte’s father.

 

“Since the day you arrived baby girl, they wanted you out on your ear and I made sure that didn’t happen” Ric Flair said.

 

“You can fake anything on a computer” Charlotte said petulantly.

 

In response Ole started the recording again and the unknown voice said “so long as Charlotte Flair is here studying medicine then we know where she is and more importantly we know she’s not joining the family business. We’ve already arranged this with your superiors doctor, you’re going to admit Charlotte Flair to your school and keep her there until she graduates. We have agents who are close to her who will be observing her as well, you’ll make the necessary accommodations to keep them close”.

 

“And if I refuse?” Knox asked stubbornly.

 

“Then we discuss the nature of your relationship with several freshman undergrads” the other voice said.

 

There was a long long pause before Knox, sighing heavily, said “alright” and the audio ended. All eyes turned back to Charlotte who just rolled her eyes at them.

 

“I know you fossils might think that was pretty damning but I grew up in the computer age, and that was a fake” she said in a voice that was a bit more confident then she actually felt.

 

“Play the second one” Ric Flair said. Ole did so and a moment later a video began playing on the screen of the laptop. To Charlotte’s shock it showed a head and shoulders view of her best friend, Santana Garrett, speaking into the camera.

 

“This is a quarterly progress report from Agent Brittany Garrett, undercover monitoring subject Charlotte Flair case number alpha-hotel-tango-one-one-seven” she said directly toward the screen. Charlotte was so stunned, that she almost missed the watermark along the bottom of the video that indicated it was the property of the Federal Bureau of investigation.

 

“What the hell is this?” Charlotte asked angrily, instinctively denying what she was seeing. No one answered her as the video kept playing.

 

“Charlotte Flair continues to know me as Santana Garrett, and as per my instructions I have befriended her. I took it very slow and cautiously at first, Charlotte is understandably very leery about letting others get close to her. But I had a breakthrough in May, Charlotte invited me over and she told me about her family’s past. She didn’t say anything that I didn’t already know but this is big, Charlotte Flair trusts me now. And ever since then she’s been confiding in me about her father and brother”.

 

“It’s a lie!” Charlotte hissed angrily.

 

“Though we have yet to learn anything of real value from her I believe that I am only now positioned to truely benefit from this relationship. Charlotte Flair is so desperate for any kind of friendship outside of her family that I think she’ll be easy to manipulate” the woman who Charlotte had thought of as her best friend said to the camera.

 

Charlotte was shaken to her core. She and Santana had gone on a road trip together to Disney. They’d spent long nights chatting, sharing stories, even crying on each other’s shoulders. And now to see this. To learn that the woman Charlotte had loved like the sister she’d never had didn’t even exist. It was too much.

 

“No...no...you’re lying” Charlotte said though her denials sounded feeble even to her.

 

“So I see that you have a ring on your finger Ms. Flair” JJ said relentlessly from where he sat. At his words Charlotte’s chest tightened and a chill settled over her.

 

“No! You keep his name out of your mouth!” Charlotte snapped as she took a step toward JJ Dillon.

 

“Oh I won’t say anything...” he said “...but I know someone that will”. Now he nodded at Ole and the man opened a third file. The scene was the same as the first video accept this time the person speaking into the camera wasn’t Garrett, it was Dean Douglas. Charlotte’s fiance.

 

“This is Special Agent Shane Douglas filing this report for the FBI case number alpha-hotel-tango-one-one-seven. I think we may have hit the jackpot. I have asked Charlotte Flair to marry me as Dean Douglas and she said yes. This could be our chance to finally get someone inside the Flair family. I realize that would mean prolonging this assignment for sometime but I’m willing to take that risk. I don’t care much about Charlotte Flair in herself but I do care about using her to take the rest of these scum down..”

 

Charlotte Flair was suddenly detached from herself. She heard nothing but a loud rushing in her ears. She couldn’t see anything through the tears that were forming in her eyes. She was dimly aware of herself taking a stumbling step toward the laptop and then another. She reached out for it with hands that shook so badly that she could barely lift it.

 

Then she shrieked. There were no words, it was a sound of pure animal pain and betrayal. And as she shrieked she slammed the laptop down on the floor over and over again. An explosion of rage that continued as the keys flew in all directions and the screen cracked. It was only when it broke in half that Charlotte let it go and began to sob.

 

She had been dating the man she’d known as Dean Douglas for the best part of eight months. She’d thought that this was the first man she’d been close to who had been truly good. DEAN Douglas had been an artist and a social work major. They’d spent more time together than Charlotte could begin to count and when he’d asked her to marry him several weeks before she’d been overjoyed. She’d thought she’d really done it, she’d escaped from her family’s reach. She would become Dr. Charlotte Douglas and live a normal life.

 

She cried for a long time until she felt a strong arm around her shoulders and heard Arn Anderson say “you tried Charlotte, and we’re proud of you for trying. But you’re a Flair, that world doesn’t want you and frankly it doesn’t deserve you”. Charlotte didn’t answer she just kept crying.

 

“I don’t believe you” was what she finally managed to say in a tiny whisper. But even she didn’t believe these words now. In response the door to her apartment was thrown open and four people came in. Two were obviously some of her father’s goons as they were shoving a man and a woman roughly forward. These last two had their hands bound behind their backs and bags over their eyes.

 

“I don’t want to do this to you baby girl but you need to see what this world is really like” Ric Flair said quietly from where he sat. A moment later the two prisoners were shoved to their knees in front of Charlotte. Wiping her eyes Charlotte looked at them dully, not really comprehending what was going on.

 

“Take their hoods off” JJ said. Arn moved to comply and a moment later both bags were gone to reveal the faces of Agent Brittany Garrett and Special Agent Shane Douglas of the FBI. Charlotte’s eyes widened in shock as both prisoners eyes found hers. They were both gagged but both instantly recognized Charlotte and their surroundings, they had after all both been in Charlotte’s home many times.

 

“Stand up sugar plum” Ric Flair said to Charlotte who found herself complying almost against her will.

 

Reaching around from behind Arn Anderson ripped the tape off Garrett’s mouth first and then slapped her hard across the back of the head saying “talk”.

 

“Kidnapping federal agents is a capitol offense Flair!...” Garrett snapped at Charlotte’s father “...you and all your crew are going down for this! When I get out of here I’ll-”.

 

Despite the fact that when Charlotte spoke she did so in a whisper Garrett still cut off abruptly as Charlotte asked “...why?”. As she did she was forcibly reminded of another time she'd ask that very question in a similar voice so many years ago.

 

Garrett tryed to glare into Charlotte’s eyes but found it easier to go back to glaring at her father before saying “because it’s my job to keep the public safe from people like YOUR family it’s my job to-”.

 

But now Charlotte really was shouting “YOUR JOB?! It was your JOB to make me think you were my best friend! YOUR JOB to cry with me when my dog died! YOUR JOB to agree to be my maid of honor! THAT WAS YOUR JOB?!”. By the time Charlotte finished she was screaming so loudly that the light fixtures were shaking.

 

“Your family has killed HUNDREDS!” Garrett snapped back though she still couldn’t look at Charlotte in the eye.

 

“I AM NOT MY FATHER!...” Charlotte screamed as she almost choked with emotion, tears ran unchecked down her face as she yelled “...ALL I EVER WANTED WAS TO NOT BE LIKE HIM! YOU KNOW THAT! YOU WERE MY FRIEND!”. Garrett didn’t have anything to say to this so Arn ripped the tape off Douglas’ mouth next. The special agent spat once and glared up at Charlotte.

 

“You’re a wolf cub! You can take it out of the wild and raise it but it will ALWAYS be a wild animal! You don’t wait for it to grow up and start killing!” he snarled up at her. Hearing these words coming out of the mouth of the man she’d thought she’d loved hurt Charlotte more than she would have thought possible.

 

“You said you loved me...you had SEX WITH ME AND SAID YOU LOVED ME!” Charlotte howled like a wounded animal.

 

“I’ve got nothing to say to a criminal” Douglas muttered. Charlotte didn’t answer, she couldn’t. She just let her tears fall as she stared down at the two people who had been closest to her in the world not one hour ago. And the strangers who were wearing their faces.

 

“The car is out front baby girl” Ric Flair said as she came and hugged his daughter before kissing her cheek.

 

Charlotte didn’t return the gesture or even look at him, she just kept staring through tear filled eyes down at her betrayers. It was the clattering noise beside her that finally made her turn. Looking down at her coffee table she found herself looking at a gun, one she recognized from the movies as being a sawed off shotgun. Arn Anderson had just placed it there and now he gave her a slow nod.

 

“We’ll be waiting outside” Ric Flair said as he motioned for his men to follow him. They left the apartment and headed for the elevator. They had just reached it when they heard the two shots.

 

Five minutes later Charlotte was sitting with her arms wrapped tightly around herself in the corner of her father’s limousine. She wouldn’t let anyone talk to her or come near her and she stared resolutely out the window in a total silence. There were flecks of red all over her face and torso and her hair was plastered to her face. Her eyes appeared dead.

 

Charlotte was going numb. She would have expected to feel SOMETHING after killing two people but, oddly, the deaths hadn’t seemed to register. Or at least the effect hadn’t lingered. Where she’d been feeling the deep psychic pain of her friend’s betrayals she was feeling a cold spot. Like ice over water that chill was beginning to spread from her heart outward. One by one all the emotions she was feeling or had felt that day were frozen under.

 

She sat like this for a long time, until she heard her father say “...the boys sealed them all in their apartments. Now it’s just time to arrange for that ‘gas leak’. As he said this he accepted a small device that looked like the guts from a walkie talkie from Tully. He was about to press a green button on its surface when, to his surprise, Charlotte reached over and took it from his hand.

 

All eyes turned to her as she stared down at the device. She knew without being told that it had to control some kind of bomb. She didn’t speak at all as she looked. Said nothing as she calmly reached out and stabbed her finger down onto the button. She heard and felt the explosion behind them as much as anyone else in the car but she didn’t react. Charlotte was frozen inside.

 

“Welcome home baby girl” Ric Flair said from beside her.

 

Still looking out the window Charlotte said “thank you daddy”.

Chapter Text

Of all the vacations Bayley imagined herself on, The Grand Canyon never seemed to score very high on that list. A police detective by day, she enjoyed her creature comforts by night . That alone meant camping never made it very high on her list of enjoyable activities.

 

Between her suspension and Sasha’s bereavement leave, it only made sense to escape Las Vegas before it got crazy again. With that in mind, Bayley offered Sasha the world and found herself dismayed when Sasha picked a location only a mere four hours and thirteen minutes from home.

 

“We could be sipping coffee in Paris or having cabana boys bring us fruity drinks in Bermuda. Heck, we could even be at The Dixie Stampede, contemplating another day at Dollywood. So many options and yet, the love of my life picks The Grand Canyon . “ Bayley said their destination as though she’d gotten a taste of something bad. She refocused her attention on the never-ending desert abyss as she waited for a retort.

 

“I wanted a nice, easy trip. Haven’t we both had enough excitement lately?” Sasha cleared her throat as she reached over to fiddle with the car radio. After a second, a station playing Adult contemporary came in.  To Bayley’s surprise, the sound came in clear with no trace of static.

 

For the last hour, no clear sound came from the radio. The only two stations they could pick up with any real clarity were classic country and something Sasha affectionately called ‘Preacher Ned’s Hour of Why You’re a Horrible Person Who Will Pay for Your Sins by Burning in the Fiery Pits of Hell’.

 

After being forced to listen to that, she found anything to be better. Adult Contemporary wasn’t necessarily her thing but it would break the quiet between them.

 

Bayley opened her mouth as if to speak but found herself sucked into the old song. She didn't think most of the lyrics applied to them but the chorus jabbed at her core.

 

After all the stops and starts,

We keep coming to these two hearts

Two angels who've been rescued from the fall

After all that we've been through,

It all comes down to me and you.

I guess it's meant to be

Forever you and me

After all

 

With tears blurring her vision, Bayley needed to pull over. These desert roads could be so dangerous. After the events at the Jakked Motel, it seemed like a safe assumption to say they'd had enough danger and chaos to last a lifetime.

 

"You want to switch?" Sasha asked, laying a concerned hand on Bayley's shoulder. "I really don't mind."

 

Since they'd left Las Vegas, Bayley insisted on driving. For one thing, it cleared her mind, allowing her to leave the troubles of home right where they belonged. For another, she didn't want Sasha to worry about a thing. She'd lost so much. This vacation needed to be relaxing.

 

"Still good, Babe," Bayley mumbled, adjusting her sunglasses. "Just needed to get my bearings."

 

"You're a terrible liar." Sasha sighed, giving Bayley's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Five days- just you, me and the wilderness."

 

Pulling back onto the road, Bayley realized why Sasha chose camping for their trip, and it wasn't a sudden need to commune with nature.

 

By cutting themselves off from the world at large, it put distance between them and the problems still brewing at home. Las Vegas ceased to exist, allowing them to just focus on each other.

 

"Did you have your heart set on 'real' camping?" In charge of their accommodations, Bayley found she just couldn't book them in any old campground. An old Coleman tent and hot dogs on a grill did NOT scream romantic.

 

Through the power of Google, a campground specializing in 'glamping' revealed itself. Glamorous Camping meant they had their creature comforts while still communing with nature- the best of both worlds really.

 

She just hoped Sasha liked it as much as she'd liked the pictures.

 

It was a desperately needed break for the both of them.

---

 

Sasha's jaw dropped as Bayley gestured to the canvas tent in front of them. Not only was the tent huge , it also lived on a wooden platform, meaning they weren't directly on the ground.

 

Even more amazing was the fact Bayley managed to surprise her. Sasha prided herself on being street smart, an effect of her childhood in 'Black Vegas'. Because of that, surprises were a near impossibility.

 

"Glamping!" Bayley squealed, pulling Sasha into a tight embrace. "Why sleep in a big pile of dirt when you can have a big private tent, complete with indoor plumbing and a big soaking tub for 2?" She broke away from Sasha to pull back the tent flap.

 

Sasha couldn't hold a squeak of excitement as she poked her head into the space. It looked more luxurious than most 'luxury' suites she had been in.

 

"Just you, me and that giant bed. Wonder what kind of trouble we can get into?" Bayley bit her lip, giving Sasha a seductive stare. She stifled a giggle, as she moved to meet Bayley.

 

"Oh- you mean you're cleared for strenuous activity?" Sasha asked, giving Bayley a facsimile of an innocent gaze. She draped her arms around her girlfriend's neck as she waited for a response. "Would hate to start something we couldn't finish."

 

"Oh yes. Definitely cleared." Bayley reached up, caressing Sasha's cheek with the underside of her hand. As Sasha opened her mouth to speak, Bayley shook her head, pressing a single finger to her lips. "Shush. This is about us."

 

Allowing herself to be led to the bed, Sasha found herself only capable of nodding.

 

---

 

Bayley rose, doing her best not to wake Sasha. Reaching over, she tucked her in, promising to be back as soon as she possibly could. The sunsets in this place were rumored to be the best in the area and the last thing she wanted was to miss it.

 

On the off chance she ran into neighbors, she tied Sasha's silk kimono around her. Smelling sweetly of laundry soap, it reminded Bayley of everything she loved about Sasha.

 

She stood in the doorway of the tent, watching Sasha's chest rise and fall with the motion of sleep. She knew she could watch this forever. Moments like this made sense. They brought peace to Bayley's crazy thoughts.

 

As she’d lain wounded, and possibly dying, in the mayor's office, her mind strayed to Sasha- the pain her death might cause and the fact the finality of this moment meant the depth of her feelings would never be known.

 

Now with her body slowly healing, Bayley stood, watching Sasha sleep, realizing she could stay forever in this moment.

 

Bayley wandered onto the deck, settling into a chair. She stared out at the desert, relaxing as an incredible sense of peace came over. She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt like this.

 

Her racing thoughts left Vegas and eased to the serene beauty around her. She could get used to this.

 

No mayhem. No chaos. No trouble. Just peace. Just calm. Just the two of them getting to love each other.

 

Oh that would be heavenly .

 

"Don't get any ideas, Ms Martinez," Sasha murmured, resting her chin on the top of Bayley's head. "We are not leaving Las Vegas to become sheep farmers in Arizona."

 

As Bayley tilted her head up, she found herself met with a soft kiss. "What?" Her lips formed in a gentle smirk as Sasha pressed a gentle kiss to her temple.

 

"Just feeling like the luckiest person in the world."  Sasha sighed, her eyes twinkling with a mix of adoration and admiration. "Before you ask, I get to love you ."

 

Bayley knew their lives were far from perfect. Both of them saw more crap in a month than some people saw in their entire life. Even the mere contemplation of that would send most people running. Not Bayley, especially now. No matter what life threw at her, it wouldn't seem quite so bad.

 

Life never seemed quite as scary when you had someone waiting for the chance to make it all better.

 

Bayley had Sasha.

 

———

 

Sasha began to notice things about her girlfriend she had never noticed before. The way Bayley’s brow furrowed when she read things. The way she always smelled like cotton candy. Her enduring confidence, even when she wore nothing but a pair of panties and a t-shirt from the hospital Sasha worked at.

 

Really- it was about the small things.

 

At Bayley's insistence, they'd left the comfort of their tent to actually explore the Canyon. Sasha had been fine staying there. They had each other. They had champagne. What more could they possibly want?

 

Laughing the entire time, Bayley told her point-blank that while that sounded lovely , the chance to explore The Grand Canyon was not something to be taken lightly.

 

With that in mind, they strapped on their hiking boots, packed a picnic and set off to Uncle Jim Point.

 

"It was only 4.7 miles, You Big Baby!" Bayley squeaked, coming behind her and wrapping her arms around Sasha. "Besides, isn't this view the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?"

 

Sasha wrenched herself free from Bayley's grasp. Turning, she gazed from her girlfriend to the view and back. Most people would say the view but not Sasha.

 

This time, the decision came easy.

 

Bayley was the most amazing thing Sasha had ever seen. In this very moment, Sasha thought she would fall in love all over again.

 

"You've got that look again," Bayley muttered, wrinkling her nose. "What's going on in that head of yours?"

 

Sasha knew she could never do proper justice to the images swirling around her head. White dresses. Houses with picket fences. Bayley expecting their first child, her belly rounded with life. The inevitability of growing old with someone.

 

Quite literally, it was a future she never knew she wanted.

 

"Oh, just bits of fluff." Sasha draped her arms around Bayley's neck, pecking her on the lips. "You wouldn't be interested."

 

Some things were meant to be kept to yourself.

 

---

 

"Sash, do you believe in aliens?" Bayley winced as the impulsive question slipped from her lips. She gazed down to the pamphlet she'd found in the gift shop and then, across the deck to where Sasha stood, contemplating the sunset.

 

"Why would you ask me such a weird question?" Sasha turned, gazing directly at Bayley.

 

As though it were an adequate explanation, Bayley held up the brochure as Sasha approached her.

 

“The Mysterious Disappearances at The Grand Canyon and Where They Go”

 

"Filling my head with fluff," Bayley teased, parroting Sasha's words from earlier. "Just realized- never asked you that."

 

"Why?" Sasha asked, pulling Bayley to her feet. "Planning on getting abducted?"

 

"You can tell a lot about people by what they believe." Bayley bit her lower lip, gazing longingly at Sasha. "I mean- I believe we can't possibly be alone in the world." She tilted her head to meet Sasha's lips. The taste of warm honey managed to make her toes curl just as it always had.

 

"We aren't." Sasha scraped her teeth against Bayley's lip before allowing herself to melt into the warm, wet kiss. "I believe there are aliens. However, I know if they abduct me tonight, it won't be so bad."

 

"Why's that?" Bayley rested her head on Sasha's shoulder, burying her nose in the crook of her neck. Inhaling, she found herself enveloped in the sweet scent of cherries and pistachios- a smell reminiscent of Bomb Pops. "You smell like Bomb Pops."

 

"New body lotion." Sasha laughed, carding her fingers through Bayley's hair. "Oh, because I think even aliens would be a fun adventure with you. I'm not afraid of getting abducted right now because I know you'd go with me." Sasha exhaled, her body heaving with the effort. "I love you."

 

"I love you too." The words came a little too easy but Bayley didn't care. She needed to say them.

 

Bayley wasn't sure if Sasha meant this to be funny but regardless, her eyes flooded with tears.

 

Once again, she saw affirmation of her belief.

 

Nothing seemed quite so scary when you had someone with you.

 

---

 

The birds knew what love was. The warm feelings of being cuddled close to your mate. Knowing you were protected through it all. Realizing you would come back to your nest and find them waiting.

 

Really, they were well-versed in spotting love, especially in a place like this.

 

On this particular day, a brood of wrens sat on the top rail of the deck. They only appeared to those who needed to see them. They were a sign to follow your dreams and a guide through the rough patches.

 

Glancing through the flap, they saw the young couple sound asleep in each other's arms. Their song picked up, a loud reminder that the humans needed to wake up.

 

After a moment, the brown-haired woman appeared. Seeing the birds, a wide grin crossed her face.

 

"Hey, Sasha. We have wrens! You never see them!"

 

Beside her, a woman with bright colored hair appeared, adjusting her eyeglasses.

 

"What's the big deal?" she grumbled.

 

"You never see them. They're good luck!" The woman slipped her hand in her partner's hand before giving her a deep kiss. "They also mean you should follow your dreams."

 

"Did you read that in the alien brochure?"

 

The wrens, tiring of their arguing, chirped out one last song and flew off.

 

The birds knew what humans were too stubborn to admit. They knew the young couple was destined to be together forever and for always, even if they didn't.

 

They flew off to tell Mother Wren about the brown haired woman and her pink-haired love.

 

She so loved the stories of the couples.

 

"Bye, Wrens!" The brown haired woman called, waving. Turning to her partner, she admonished. "Don't laugh at me. You're my dream!"

 

Oh, how Mother Wren would love this story!

 

The love between these two was the strongest the wrens had ever felt.





Chapter Text

Charlotte Flair was doing her best not to smirk as she listened to Joy Giovanni rant. She’d been meeting with the Sammartino consigliere for the better part of an hour and the whole session had been an exercise in suppressed schadenfreude. GIovanni had reached out for the meeting several days ago, or rather she’d attempted to insist on one. Charlotte had instructed Dana to remind her, none too gently, that someone of her relatively humble standing did not demand anything from people like Charlotte.

 

To further emphasize this point Charlotte had kept the other woman waiting for the days since she’d first reached out. She hadn’t been idle during the time however. In addition to her continued work on positioning things so that the first step of Andre could go off without a hitch, she’d been busily studying any and all information Dana could find on Giovanni herself. Charlotte remembered being mildly impressed that a woman had achieved the rank of consigliere within the traditionalist Sammartino family and she’d found that Giovanni more than earned that reaction.

 

Consigliere, for the most part, did NOT look like Joy Giovanni. Thanks to mob movies the average citizen thought of them as disinterested older members of a mafia family who acted like elder statesmen. And perhaps some did, but this hadn’t been Charlotte’s experience. From what she’d been able to observe many consigliere were simply the brightest and most ambitious member of a mafia clan who had no realistic chance of someday becoming boss. This usually meant that they were frustrated older members who had topped out in their careers or aggressive young pushers.

 

They were never, accept in one case, Ivy league educated former models. And yet this was exactly what Giovanni was. Dana’s research had revealed that the woman had entered the world of organized crime as arm candy to a soldier in a smaller mafia crew. But over the years she’d learned more and more about the business and become steadily more indispensable to her boyfriend and then husband. Upon his death she’d simply hung on with the family becoming an advisor to the boss and underboss. When the former consigliere had died it had been natural for her to take over.

 

At some point afterword her family had been one of the many that had been absorbed by the Sammartino’s in their move to consolidate the American mafia under their control. This would normally have spelled the end for Giovanni’s position, given the intensely conservative nature of the Sammartino’s, but somehow she’d hung on. And not only hung on but thrived as a member of the larger group.

 

Whatever her undeniable natural gifts, today she was as nearly livid as one could be without actually shouting. Charlotte Flair looked on in amusement as the dark haired woman paced restlessly around the conference room in her penthouse. She could see how Giovanni had been so successful as a model, she had long dark hair and olive skin that made her quite attractive. But today her hands were hooked into claws as she paced as though she longed to use them to strangle someone.      

 

“We cannot let this stand! We need to do something!” Giovanni snapped to the air. Composing her face into a suitably impassive mask Charlotte took a moment before answering.

 

“You have my condolences Ms. Giovanni but I fail to see how this is MY problem?” Charlotte said. Giovanni’s nostrils flared as she turned to glare at Charlotte before she remembered herself.

 

Making a visible effort to collect herself Giovanni said “it is our collective problem because we are partners in our current venture are we not?”.

 

“In Andre we are partners, surely you can’t expect me to clean up your organization’s messes for you” Charlotte said.

 

“This is a bit more than a mess Ms. Flair” Giovanni said through gritted teeth.

 

“How so Ms. Giovanni” Charlotte asked pleasantly.

 

“This group has hit two of our operations and one of the McMahon’s, they have obviously expanded their targets from strictly government ones to organized crime as well” Giovanni said testily.

 

Giovanni was referring to a series of attacks against organized crime targets in Las Vegas. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have warranted the Italian woman storming over to see Charlotte but the brutality and thoroughness of these attacks had been unusual. Moreover they had been carried out by groups of men and women who had shouted ‘burn it down’ as they’d attacked. Both the Sammartino’s and McMahon’s had lost a lot of money in the attacks.

 

And it seemed the attackers weren’t done because they’d also blown up a DMV office. Whoever this group was they seemed to have a grudge against authority both legal and illegal. Charlotte wondered privately if they were perhaps responding to her framing them for her own bombings on the night of the motel incident. Though she chose not to share this thought.

 

“I agree, but what would you have me do?” Charlotte asked.

 

“Your organization is more well established here than the rest of us, hit the streets and find out who these idiots are so we can ALL come down on them. What’s bad for one group is bad for the whole” Giovanni said passionately. Charlotte didn’t let it show on her face but she was quite amused. Giovanni was telling her this to her face as she and the McMahons plotted to undermine Charlotte and the Yakuza. She was brazen, Charlotte liked that.

 

“What makes you think I haven’t done that already?” Charlotte asked evenly as she inspected her finger nails. She had in fact asked Dana to look into this matter but she’d learned nothing so far beyond what the LVPD had learned in investigating the attack on the mayor. The man and woman killed in that attack were named Mike and Maria Kanellis and aside from being drifters there hadn’t been anything particularly interesting about them. The LVPD’s current working theory was that they’d been lone wolf actors and that now that they were dead the threat was over.

 

Of course the most recent attacks seemed to turn that theory on its head. Though it was possible that these had been carried out by copycats. If so they’d been extremely well organized copycats. Charlotte privately agreed that something needed to be done about them but she wasn’t about to do so at the insistence of another group. And certainly not a group speaking through someone as junior as Joy Giovanni.

 

“I’m afraid my organization simply has other priorities at the moment Ms. Giovanni, perhaps you and your associates could return together and present a more…’substantive’ plan?” Charlotte suggested. Her tone was light but she knew that Giovanni would take it as the slap down it was. By suggesting Charlotte might look more favorably on a group visit from the Sammartino delegation she was saying that Giovanni herself was not enough.

 

“I can speak for our organization without Dreamer or Palumbo” Giovanni said testily. Charlotte sensed she’d struck a nerve with the other woman. Good, she thought.

 

“Of course you can…” Charlotte said in a patronizing tone of voice as she hit a control under the table summoning Dana “...but unfortunately I have other matters to attend to Ms. Giovanni. I do hope you will bring the rest of your delegation by some other time”. The door opened and Dana stepped through it before gesturing for Giovanni to proceed her out. Giovanni looked back and forth between Dana and Charlotte for a while, plainly wanting to argue but not sure if she should risk it.

 

In the end she decided on discretion and gave Charlotte a small nod saying “of course Ms. Flair” in a tone dripping with false courtesy. She then left leaving Charlotte alone with her thoughts.

 

She really did need to see to these disruptions and soon. Even if her own interests were never hit they were a distraction from Andre. They also had the potential to bring more law enforcement attention to their operations and that was simply unacceptable. Between herself and the other groups they had most of the LVPD bought and paid for but loud public attacks couldn’t be ignored, even by dirty cops. And there was always the possibility that the damned Sheriff might involve himself as well. Charlotte resolved to devote more resources to the problem. She was standing to leave the conference room when the intercom in the table buzzed.

 

“Ms. Flair?” Dana’s voice asked.

 

“What is it Dana?”

 

“Mr. Porter is here with a guest, he wants to speak with you” Dana said sounding hesitant. Her assistant knew how little Charlotte cared for surprise visits. Charlotte pursed her lips but decided that she’d been kicking Porter a lot lately. And deservedly so, but he was overdue to have a bone thrown to him.

 

“Send him here, have Nia join us” Charlotte said as she dropped heavily back down into her chair. She was waiting there when Nia arrived.

 

“Yes Ms. Flair?” Nia asked.

 

“Join me Nia, Porter is here with someone and I assume he’ll want something” Charlotte said in a tired voice. Nia nodded and took up a position beside Charlotte. They weren’t kept waiting long as only a few minutes later MVP and another black man entered the room.

 

MVP looked much as he always did but it was his companion that drew Charlotte’s eyes. He was very tall, appearing to loom over MVP who was not a small man. He was wearing a vest and dress shirt with slacks that showed off his powerful frame. He had a clean shaven head and dark goatee to go with his dark eyes. In contrast to the glowering MVP this man was beaming as he entered the room.

 

“Ms. Flair” MVP said guardedly with a small nod.

 

“Mr. Porter” Charlotte said quietly as she regarded the two men over steepled fingers. She held their gaze for a while before waving them toward chairs. “What can I do for you gentlemen today?” Charlotte asked.

 

“My guys have been putting in a lot of work for you Ms. Flair, they all over the city guarding your businesses and running errands” MVP said. Charlotte didn’t answer this, partially because it was a simple statement of fact but mostly because she didn’t want to. The silence stretched once more and eventually it was Nia who had to break it.

 

“I think Ms. Flair is still waiting to learn why you’re here” Charlotte’s bodyguard said.

 

“I’m just saying my boys have been putting in a lot of work for you and I haven’t asked for anything yet” MVP explained.

 

Here Charlotte intervened saying “if you’re attempting to suggest that I am somehow beholden to you Mr. Porter then save your breath. You’ve been extremely well paid in money and weapons for your efforts. And I will point out that you’re organization has also CAUSED me considerable problems”.

 

MVP stewed visibly at this rebuke but recovered quickly saying “if we’re partners then you gotta look out for me as much as I help you right?”.

 

“We are not ‘partners’ Mr. Porter, you work for me…” Charlotte said coldly, she glared icily at him for a moment before continuing “...but I will hear whatever it is you want to ask of me”. MVP obviously didn't like this comment but also knew better than to protest.

 

“This is my boy Titus O’Neil” he said as he gestured to the other man, who was still smiling at Charlotte.

 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Ms. Flair” Titus O’Neil said. Charlotte nodded minutely to him but still didn’t speak. She was hoping that by doing so she might remove the grin from his face but it remained untouched.

 

Annoyed now Charlotte said “you still haven’t explained your presence here Mr. Porter?”.

 

“I asked Mr. Porter if he would set up this meaning Ms. Flair…” Titus said “...I have a business proposition for you”.

 

“Oh? And what sort of business are you in Mr. O’Neil?” Charlotte asked.

 

“I run a record label Ms. Flair, Titus World Wide Records” he said proudly.

 

Charlotte narrowed her eyes as she asked “and what business proposal could you possibly have for me Mr. O’Neil?”.

 

“I believe that your particular sort of business can help mine at the moment” he said.

 

“Oh really?” Charlotte asked as both Nia and MVP looked nervous at the sudden drop on her voice’s temperature. They both recognized a danger sign though O’Neil seemed unaware of his peril. “And just what do you think it is I do Mr. O’Neil” Charlotte asked.

 

“Real estate” Titus said without batting an eye. Charlotte had to keep from laughing at this. Though it was an open secret that the Flair family made its fortune illicitly they did maintain a public face as well. ‘Flair Realty’ was located in nineteen states and actually brought the family a great deal of money.

 

“And what can I, a humble realtor, do for you?” Charlotte asked him, her voice fractionally warmer now.

 

“As you may know there is a massive music festival that will be happening soon here in Vegas, Fozzfest” O’Neil explained. Charlotte had heard of it though as someone who didn’t consume much modern music she simply hadn’t paid much attention.

 

“And?” she asked.

 

“I have my own acts set the perform but they are encountering some issues around town. Rumor is that some of your…’real estate’ competitors are to blame” O’Neil said.

 

“I doubt whether anyone in the real estate business would concern themselves with this matter” Charlotte pointed out.

 

“Not for itself but a music festival like this, properly arranged? It’s not just people like me and my acts who will make lots of money. Lots of opportunities for…’marginally legal’ substances to be sold. Nevermind the fact that having a big time musical act associated with a particular ‘real estate’ company can boost business and maybe address any concerns about legitimacy” O’Neil explained as his grin widened.

 

This didn’t quite satisfy Charlotte but she asked “and you mentioned a competitor of mine? How are they involved?”. She was more curious to learn which group might actually be involving themselves in something like this. It just seemed so tawdry.

 

“MY competitor, Regal Records, seem to be working with an Irish Group. They’re going around bullying people and intimidating others to make sure their acts get preferential treatment” O’Neil said sounding annoyed.

 

“Such as?” Charlotte asked, more curious now despite herself.

 

“Regal’s guys get on shows and the best appearances, mine don’t. Our promotional stuff gets messed with. Never mind the assholes who show up to intimidate my people and their fans. My acts also can’t get their preferred ‘chemical diversions’” O’Neil complained.

 

“And that last part is essential to their craft is it?” Charlotte asked bemused.

 

“More than you might think” O’Neil acknowledged.

 

Charlotte thought for a moment before asking “and what do I gain from this Mr. O’Neil, I highly doubt you’re acts play much Heiden or Boccherini so I won’t be reaping the dubious rewards of ensuring their catalogues are spread”.

 

“In addition to what I said about legitimacy?”

 

“Are you so certain that I NEED assistance on that score?” Charlotte asked with an arched eyebrow.

 

“Maybe not, but having a major act do a commercial for Flair Realty couldn’t hurt your bottom line. Might even change a few minds for people who were leery about the word ‘Flair’” O’Neil said boldly.

 

“I trust you have more to offer than that Mr. O’Neil” Charlotte said, ignoring his previous comment.

 

“I stand to make a lot of money if this festival goes off without a hitch, I’d be delighted to cut anyone in who helped me get there” O’Neil said lightly.

 

“Twenty-five percent” Charlotte responded flatly. This finally did shake Titus O’Neils grin. He looked uncomfortable for awhile and then as though he might speak to object. But one look into Charlotte’s eyes convinced him not to.

 

“Very well Ms. Flair” he said finally.

 

“And another thing Mr. O’Neil. I will have use for a stable of popular musical acts in the future and I trust that I may rely on your cooperation in this?” Charlotte asked. She was thinking of when she and the Flair family would control their own casino. It would be as well to have a prominent music act in house.

 

“Of course Ms. Flair”

 

“As a point of interest Mr. O’Neil...why not ask Mr. Porter for this assistance? Why come all the way to me?” Charlotte asked.

 

O’Neil and Porter exchanged a look at this but Titus eventually said “I did Ms. Flair, he said that before he could make that commitment he needed to talk with you”.

 

“Did he indeed?” Charlotte asked, genuinely surprised. She looked at MVP with renewed interest now. Apparently that old dog could learn new tricks. For his part MVP just stared darkly at the wall as though he were embarrassed.

 

Though Charlotte thought this would probably prove to be a distraction it might be a profitable one. She doubted that it would require more than a small group of MVP’s men to see to whatever Titus O’Neil needed and she could spare them. She had her eyes mostly on what the man could do for her once she’d secured her casino. If she reaped some short term gains as well then so much the better.

 

“Please coordinate with Mr. Porter over your needs Mr. O’Neil as to your...substance supply issues I believe I can assist in that as well. When I am certain I will have Mr. Porter communicate it to you” Charlotte said as she stood.

 

“Thank you Ms. Flair” Titus O’Neil said quickly as he stood as well.

 

“Before you leave you will tell my assistant everything you know about this group assisting your competitors” Charlotte added. She was almost out of the room before she asked “incidentally Mr. O’Neil, what are the names of these acts of yours?”.

 

He looked surprised that someone would have to ask but he recovered quickly and said “I have Apollo Crews the rapper, his last album moved almost a million copies between physical and digital. Maybe you’ve heard of-?” he started to ask but Charlotte cut in.

 

“You may assume that I have not heard of any of your acts Mr. O’Neil” she said brusquely. Charlotte was not a great fan of contemporary music.

 

“-Well I also have the Emm-Conics. They are a singing group from Australia made up of Emma Dashwood, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce” O’Neil said in a tone that suggested he was still checking to see if Charlotte would know of this group. Charlotte just raised an impatient eyebrow at him so he continued “and my biggest names are my grammy winners, they’re called the New Day”.




Chapter Text

Sasha Banks was back at work. And she was surprised by how happy she felt about being there.

 

Not that her five days at the Grand Canyon with Bayley hadn’t been wonderful. Indeed if she’d been pressed for an adjective she’d have said it was perfect. Barring their short rough patch she and Bayley had been best friends for years. She’d thought she’d known her friend, and now girlfriend, through and through. And yet their whole trip had been nothing but a series of pleasant surprises.

 

There were no revelations, only small things, but each had somehow delighted Sasha more than the last. From the way Bayley had so enthusiastically taken to their ‘alien disappearances’ tour to the fact that she hummed softly as she brushed her teeth, Sasha had done nothing but fall deeper in love with her girlfriend with each discovery. And this too had been something of a surprise.

 

Though she’d been overjoyed to be going and had had a wonderful time Sasha was by nature a cautious woman. Bayley often teased her about being a pessimist. Sasha herself saw it more as being cautious and realistic. So as they’d left for Arizona and even on the ride to the Grand Canyon Sasha had been busily tempering expectations. No one could spend this much time in close proximity as a couple and not find SOMETHING that they disliked about their partner, she’d told herself.

 

Sasha had never been more delighted to be proved wrong. She’d had her guard up against a disappointment that had never come. And she’d realized this most powerfully their last night in the tent. Bayley had fallen asleep next to her and Sasha had been resting on her elbow marveling at how beautiful she was. Bayley had the impossibly adorable habit of smiling most of the time when she slept and Sasha would have happily stayed there forever watching. And then she’d realized, she could. She could be with Bayley forever.

 

Sasha may have been love besotted but she wasn’t completely devoid of good sense. She wasn’t going to risk sending Bayley scampering for the hills by telling her girlfriend what she’d realized, at least not yet. As she’d reflected in their first days on vacation, somethings were meant to be kept to yourself. At least for a time.

 

Leaving their happy bubble had been one of the hardest things they’d ever had to do. Sasha remembered teasing Bayley about not wanting to move to the Grand Canyon and be a sheep farmer but at that point she would have if asked. Alas, they’d eventually gotten into their car and headed back to Vegas. The whole time Sasha had been dreading going back to work. She wished she could just keep spending her days lost in her happy fantasy with Bayley.

 

And yet when she’d arrived at work she’d found a different sort of contentment. Sasha Banks was not a woman who could ever be happy while idle. Break’s were fine and very necessary but a life without purpose, even a life of bliss, wasn’t one that could appeal to her. Sasha was a caretaker in the truest sense of the word and at the hospital she was fulfilling that purpose.

 

Not that this sense of fulfillment lasted long. Molly had greeted her upon arriving and told her that she would be spending her day on a clinic rotation. Despite her satisfaction at being where she was useful once more, this had drawn an eye roll and groan from Sasha. Her hospital ran a free walk in clinic out of one of it’s campus buildings and to all but the most saintly of staff it was seen as punishment duty. Of course Molly wasn’t punishing Sasha, it was merely her turn, but it still FELT like a punishment.

 

Sasha cared deeply in both a direct and abstract sense for her fellow human beings. But a shift in the clinic would try the patience of Gautama Buddha. For every person that Sasha ended up actually helping she dealt with a dozen who made her question whether people were worth saving. People who had cheated on their spouse and now had an STI, others who had let WebMD drive them into hypochondria, and an alarming amount of sexual mishaps.

 

Sasha, who like Molly was a nurse practitioner, which meant that she could operate with significantly more autonomy than a registered nurse. She could even prescribe medication which made her a real asset in a hospital as busy as hers. It also meant that she was capable of handling a shift in the clinic on her own, whereas most nurses would require a doctor as well. One of the perks of working in the ER was that Sasha was often excused this duty as she was needed on more urgent matters.

 

But there was no helping it today and, if she was being fully honest, she was still happy to be back. Even if it meant a morning of wiping runny noses and treating crotch rot. Upon reaching the clinic Sasha took a pair of glasses out of her scrubs top pocket and put them on. They weren’t prescription but they had thick frames and Sasha thought they made her look slightly older.

 

She’d learned early on that if you were a woman and had brightly colored hair you would occasionally struggle to be taken seriously. This was important because she needed to dispense advice and instructions in the clinic. She would have assumed that she’d deal with a certain amount of this from men but she’d been shocked by how many women had refused to take her seriously as well. And so she’d settled on the ruse of the glasses.

 

As it turned out they weren’t necessary for her first case. Taking the first chart out of the racks when she arrived she lifted the cover and rolled her eyes as she looked down at the name on it. Turning to the nurse at the desk she asked “seriously?”.

 

“Yep” was the only answer she got. Sighing Sasha walked over to the exam room on the chart and pushed through the door.

 

“God damn it are you serious Marty?” she asked as she stepped into the room and looked around. She was addressing the man waiting inside without any sort of preamble. She wouldn’t normally have dared speak to a patient like this but Marty Wright was one of their VERY frequent fliers at the clinic and even hospital management had grown annoyed with him at times.

 

“Oh, hi Sasha” Marty Wright said as he looked up at her. He was sitting on the exam bed, his long legs almost touching the floor. His appearance was...alarming. He was very tall with a muscular body but what really made him stand out were his facial tattoos. Unlike Father Rey whose tattoos all had some sort of meaning, Marty had simply had his face colored bright red with black blotches.

 

Despite this Marty was mostly harmless. Sasha supposed you could call him a big teddy bear but he wasn’t the right kind of friendly for that. He certainly tried to be but the effect could be more awkward and unsettling than anything. His biggest problem, as far as Sasha could tell, was his complete and utter lack of impulse control. Which was what had landed him in the clinic as usual.

 

“Don’t ‘hi Sasha’ me!” Sasha said exasperatedly as she looked around the exam room in disgust, Marty had clearly thrown up several times and only been partially successful in getting it into the sink or trash can.

 

“I threw up” Marty said.

 

“Yeah...I noticed” Sasha said as she closed her eyes and sighed. Stepping gingerly over to the wall she pulled some gloves from the shelf and tugged them on. As she did she said “so your chart says you’ve been throwing up all night and, obviously, this morning because you ate something ‘weird’”.

 

“Yeah” Marty said as he nodded sheepishly.

 

Finding that none of the chairs were clean Sasha stood in the corner of the room and asked “would it be safe for me to assume that what you DID eat wasn’t actually food?”.

 

“Well-” Marty started to say but Sasha cut him off with an incredulous look. She’d just read what the intake nurse has written.

 

“Worms…” Sasha said flatly as she stared at Marty, looking down at the chart once more she read on and then added “...a LOT of worms it seems”.

 

“Only like...seven or eight handfuls total” Marty said defensively,

 

Sighing loudly Sasha closed her eyes and asked “Marty...is that supposed to be better somehow?”.

 

“Isn’t it?”

 

“No...no it’s not” Sasha said. She was quiet for awhile before she asked “I know...that some cultures eat earthworms for food. Did you...order these? Buy them somewhere?”. When Marty just stared at her she said “of course not...you just dug them up somewhere didn’t you?”.

 

“My backyard”

 

“Oh...well then why are we even worried” Sasha said suddenly feeling very tired despite the early hour. She took another short pause to collect herself before saying “so...you ate at least seven handfuls of worms you dug out of the ground and your stomach is upset?”.

 

“Yeah” Marty said, nodding eagerly now. He seemed happy that Sasha had caught on and as usual, irony impaired.

 

“Just...go buy yourself some pepto and STOP eating the worms and you’ll be fine” Sasha told him.

 

“Thank’s Sasha!” he said brightly.

 

“You’re welcome Marty, see you next time” she said dryly as she left the exam room.

 

The rest of her patients that morning might not have had Marty’s originality but many were just as trying. As a bonus most weren’t as good natured as he was. All in all by the time the clock hit noon Sasha was more than ready to go get her lunch. Leaving the clinic she hurried through the long walk back through several buildings to the locker room where she left her stuff.

 

Checking her watch she saw that she only had a few minutes to spare so she hurriedly ducked into the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. She snatched off her glasses and then pulled her hair out of it’s ponytail. She tugged at it for a few moments before deciding to give up. It was very hard to appear cute while wearing scrubs and Sasha doubted she would be the first woman to crack that particular conundrum,

 

The reason she was more concerned than usual over her appearance was that she had a lunch date. Bayley, who was still serving her suspension, had her days free so Sasha had asked if she’d like to come by the hospital. Bayley had seemed delighted by the idea and they’d arranged to meet at twelve thirty. Which left Sasha just over two minutes to reach the cafeteria.

 

When she finally did reach the cafeteria, a few minutes late thanks to a crowded elevator, she looked around. It was as full as usual but she didn’t see a side pony among the sitting people so she guessed that Bayley wasn’t there yet. Walking through the double doors she tensed sharply as she suddenly felt arms close around her from behind. Then she heard Bayley’s voice in her ear.

 

“Hey beautiful” she said as she hugged Sasha tightly. Despite herself Sasha felt her own smile automatically spread across her face at this. The familiar feel of Bayley’s arms around her and that scent of cotton candy she’d forever associate with her girlfriend had that effect on her. But it was when Bayley turned her around and kissed her that happiness really blossomed within her.

 

For the first instant of their kiss Sasha tensed again. She’d never precisely kept her sexual orientation a secret per say but given how private she was there were probably less than five people in the world who knew. Part of the reason for her discretion had always been that she was concerned how it might change how she was viewed as a professional. Medicine tended to be dominated by older doctors many of whom, both male AND female, tended to be less forward thinking than people Sasha’s age.

 

The second instant of their kiss was full of realization. Bayley, as far as she knew, had never lost a night of sleep over her own sexual identity. More to the point she was generally one of the most unrestrained people Sasha knew when it came to her positive emotions. She never played a part and pretense was foreign to her. Of course she’d kissed Sasha because that had been what she’d wanted to do to express her feelings.

 

The third instant drove all conscious thought from Sasha’s mind. She found she suddenly didn’t care who saw or what they thought. She was here with Bayley and she loved her, that was enough. The only thing that still struck her was that she was able to have all these thoughts during a kiss that lasted for less than five seconds. By the time Bayley released her she was breathless and beaming.

 

“Well hey there” she laughed breathlessly.

 

“Is it dorky that I missed you today?” Bayley asked with her usual incandescent grin.

 

“VERY…” Sasha teased as she took Bayley’s hand and added “...but I love that you did”. Bayley beamed at her as she let Sasha lead her over the counter.

 

“What’s good here?” she asked.

 

“Nothing” Sasha said with a grin.

 

“Oh excellent, so glad you picked here then!” Bayley said with mock excitement. When they had their food they took a seat in one of the distant booths. This was old habit for Sasha who usually ended up eating by herself. They were about halfway through their meal before Bayley’s eyes suddenly widened and she slapped a palm to her forehead.

 

“Oh my god I forgot! Hang on!” she said before dashing out of the cafeteria. Sasha, confused, just blinked and was left wondering until Bayley returned a few minutes later. She was slightly out of breath but carrying a bouquet of flowers. “I’m sorry I left them in my car! But I think they’ll be fine if you get them in water soon...ish” she said. Sasha’s eyes lit up as she looked at the flowers. They were violets, her favorite. But more than the actual flowers the fact that Bayley had taken the time made Sasha swell inside.

 

“You are such a dork…” Sasha whispered as she smelled the flowers while beaming over them at Bayley “...and I hate you for making me want to cry at work”.

 

“If you like I can say something upsetting?” Bayley offered jokingly.

 

“Nothing could upset me right now”

 

“Can I put your hair in a side pony?”

 

“I’m happy not delirious” Sasha said with a laugh.

 

“Maybe deliriously happy?” Bayley suggested as she gazed happily into Sasha’s eyes.

 

“Definitely” Sasha said as she reached across the table to squeeze Bayley’s hand. They chatted happily until Sasha’s break was over. Bayley bussed their trays and then met Sasha outside the cafeteria.

 

“Where are we staying tonight?” she asked.

 

“Your place if that's OK, it’s closer” Sasha suggested.

 

“Of course, but I think you’re running low on clothes there” Bayley pointed out.

 

“Hmm...that could be a problem” Sasha said mock seriously.

 

“You can always borrow something from me” Bayley offered.

 

“Oh sweetie, I don’t want to look like I was playing paintball with pastels” Sasha teased.

 

“Oh my god you brat” Bayley said as she pulled Sasha in and kissed her.

 

“You love it”

 

“I do”

 

“Do you want me to take those home and put them in water?” Bayley offered as she gestured at the flowers.

 

“Sure, but let me take one for luck” Sasha said as she extracted a single flower from the bouquet.

 

“Perfect, you get off at 7 tonight right?” Bayley asked.

 

“Yep” Sasha confirmed.

 

“I’ll try to have something waiting then” Bayley said as she kissed Sasha’s cheek.

 

“OK Holly house wife” Sasha teased.

 

“Housewife this” Bayley said as she raised a middle finger on her way out the door. Sasha hesitated then but only for a moment.

 

“Love you” she called. Bayley paused with her hand on the door then and Sasha was sure she knew exactly what debate had occurred within her at that moment.

 

“I know” Bayley said with a big grin.

 

“Seriously? That’s all you’re going to say?” Sasha asked indignantly.

 

“It’s a reference! Look it up” Bayley called as she winked and left. Sasha, grinning to herself, turned and headed back toward the clinic. Lunch with Bayley had made even this seem like a bright and sunny place. She felt she might even be able to stomach another session or two with Marty.

 

Taking another chart off the rack Sasha studied it as she headed toward the last exam room in the hallway. As she did she held her flower with her free hand and smelled it idly. She had a slightly dreamy smile on her face as she entered the room. Inside she found a black woman standing nervously by the sink.

 

“Hi I’m Sasha Banks, I’ll be helping you today with your...ah...it says you didn’t want to talk about what was wrong with the intake nurse?” Sasha said. This usually meant that she’d be diagnosing an STI.

 

“You’re Sasha Banks from Tony Atlas high right? The one who spoke at that cop’s funeral right?” the woman asked, her eyes flying around the room.

 

Furrowing her brow Sasha said cautiously “umm….yeah thats me”. She was going to say more but at that instant the woman lunged at her with a knife she’d pulled from her purse. Sasha’s eyes widened as she lifted her arms instinctively to ward off the attack. She was driven hard against the wall, her head snapping back into it. Stars exploded before her eyes as her flower dropped to the floor.




Chapter Text

Despite the fact that Becky Lynch hadn’t even heard of Elias before this week, she found that she was already in debt to the man who was sometimes known as ‘the drifter’. It was thanks to him that she’d discovered a whole new form of entertaining mayhem. Breaking guitars was a LOT of fun!

 

Becky was currently standing in the man’s dressing room among the debris of three of his former instruments. For whatever reason he apparently travelled with his entire collection. This suited Becky just fine as she had plenty to play with. Selecting another guitar she examined it with a critical eye as Elias yelped in protest.

 

“That was my first ever seagull!” he whined. Becky looked over her shoulder at him and saw that he looked like he wanted to stand and inter