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Two Roads Diverged

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The Last Word

Emily marched through the door in a huff. She didn't have a chance to slam the door behind her before Declan came racing towards her to wrap himself around her legs. "Mommy!" he cried, overjoyed to see her like she'd been gone a month.

She very much wanted to be in a bitter mood after the morning she'd had, but it was hard when two big blue eyes were staring up at her, full of so much love. She sighed relentingly and bent down to pick him up, pressing kisses all over his face, leaving little red lipstick marks all over his still chubby cheeks, until he was giggling uncontrollably and breathlessly begging her to stop.

"I missed you," he said seriously, trying to wipe off the kiss marks, but only succeeding in smearing them. "You were gone forever!"

"I missed you more," she replied, tapping his nose.

"No way!" he retorted.

"Yes way!" she said right back. They had this debate every time she came home. "Say it or I'll tickle you..."

"Nu-uh!" he squealed.

At that moment, Ian emerged from his office. "You're home," he said, brows high on his forehead in surprise. "I wasn't expecting you to be back so early."

And, just as quickly, her sullen mood returned. She pursed her lips in irritation, struggling to keep in a few choice words she didn't want her son to hear. "There was some kind of mix up. He didn't know I was coming. Apparently, there is no position."

"What?" he asked, indignant on her behalf. They'd moved to DC specifically on the promise of this position. "Did they already fill it?"

She shook her head. "He said they didn't approve any transfers. He didn't say it, but he clearly thinks my parents pulled some strings or I'm some kind of rookie who couldn't get in on my own merit." Her eyes blazed – there was nothing she hated more than people assuming she didn't pave her own way in the world simply because of her name.

"That's ridiculous," he scoffed. "I thought Easter wrote you a glowing recommendation?"

Clyde had basically promised her any job she wanted when she'd left Interpol, even if he wasn't exactly thrilled with her choice to shack up with Ian and raise his son as her own. "He did, but I don't think that's the problem. I heard what happened with the last new hire. He seems to have issue with trusting any woman."

"The guy's some kind of misogynist?"

She shrugged, let out a huffy breath through her nose.

He ran a hand through her hair and pulled her in for a kiss. "I'm sorry, Love. I know how badly you wanted that job." His lips contorted in a wicked grin. "I know how to make you feel better..." he murmured close to her ear.

She attempted a laugh, but it came out high and squeaky as the implications of his words traveled straight to her core. "There are children present..." she reminded him, even though she suddenly wanted nothing more than him between her legs.

"Isn't it nap time, Declan?" Ian asked, eyes never leaving Emily's.

"No!" Declan whined in protest because he was five and thought he shouldn't have to take naps anymore.

"I'm afraid so, buddy," Emily confirmed, checking her watch.

"But I want to play with Mommy," he said, pouting, crossing his little arms over his chest.

"I'll be here when you wake up," she promised, kissing his forehead.

"Promise?" He batted his eyes up at her.


Once the boy was safely tucked in bed and the bedroom door closed behind them, Ian's lips were instantly attached to her neck, travelling up to her ear. Patience had never been his strong suit.

"What are you doing?" she husked, tilting her head so he had better access to the sensitive spots along her neck, the ones that made her tremble and sent heat coursing through her body. He knew each and every one of them and was able to reduce her to a needy mess without even touching her clit and he wasn't afraid to do so at the most inappropriate of times. On more than one occasion, he'd turned her on so thoroughly that she'd been unable to resist fucking him in a public bathroom.

"I think you know exactly what I'm doing," he replied and she could hear the shit-eating grin on his face. One hand travelled up to palm her breast, kneading the sensitive flesh through her sweater.

She groaned faintly, eyes fluttering shut. "I need..." she started to ask, all pretense of resisting him vanished.

He pinched her nipple, effectively killing any intelligent thought she might have had. "Yes?" he taunted. "What do you need?"

She gripped his wrist, fingers clinging on for dear life, and moved his hand under her skirt to cup her through her panties. She let out a breath of relief at the much-needed contact.

He chuckled at her eagerness, already damp beneath his hand. "Naughty girl," he whispered in her ear, tickling her clit through the lacy fabric making her gasp sharply.

"So naughty," she agreed readily. She would've agreed with just about anything at that moment, so long as he kept touching her. His teasing fingers made her buck against him and she could feel him hard against her ass, straining against the seams of his khakis. He let out a rasping breath at the friction, one hand gripping tightly at her hip, keeping her ass flush against him. "What are you going to do about it?" she asked, his words doing just as much to turn her on as his touch.

He smirked. She'd always been a mouthy little thing in bed – Emily much more so than Lauren. "You want me to teach you a lesson?" He pulled her skirt up so the fabric was bunched around her hips.

"Yes, please," she whispered, not trusting her voice.

In one movement, he pulled down her panties and pushed her forwards so that she was forced to support herself against the bedroom door.

She gave a little cry of surprise.

"Hush," he scolded, "Don't want to wake the boy." For good measure, he slapped her ass, hard enough to leave a reddened imprint of his hand on the pale skin. She was forced to swallow down the cry it produced as she didn't, in fact, want to wake Declan who was sleeping on the other side of the thin wooden door.

"Touch yourself," he demanded as he pulled out his cock, pumping his hand up and down a few times as he stood back to admire the sight of her bent over, ass presented so nicely, ready and waiting for his cock.

She didn't need to be told twice. One hand traced down to her dripping pussy, two fingers slipping inside, pumping messily in and out. She knew he loved the sound of her fingers sliding about in her juices.

"God, Em..." he growled, stroking his cock in time with her movements, smearing himself with the precum that dribbled out. "You ready?" he asked when he could no longer stand to watch – he needed to be inside her, to come inside her.

"Fuck me, Ian!" she demanded, bracing herself against the door to prepare for the force of his thrusts.

"You've got a filthy mouth," he chided as he lined himself up and pushed himself into her. She was so hot and snug around him he could barely stand it.

She keened softly as he pushed himself in to the hilt. "Fuck, Ian, yes!" He had a big cock and he knew exactly how to use it; she'd had more than her fair share of lovers and he was easily the best she'd ever had.

He started moving within her, panting slightly with the exertion as he fucked her hard from behind, the sound of his balls slapping against her ass echoing down the hallway. She liked it from behind. It reminded her of the first time they'd fucked – in the alley behind the Black Shamrock.

"Harder, Ian," she begged, "Harder, please!"

He groaned, head tilting back as he obliged, plunging in deeper until he was flush against her ass with every thrust. He snaked a hand around to her clit, calloused fingers working against the sensitive nerves.

She couldn't help but moan at the contact, on the edge of orgasm, barely keeping herself from falling. He'd been known to punish her if she came before he'd given her permission. She'd been known to deliberately come so he had to punish her...

"Quiet!" he scolded, taking his hand away in punishment.

She whimpered softly, sinking her teeth into her lip hard enough to break the skin. "Ian..." she pleaded.

He couldn't help but chuckle at her desperation. While he was very fond of teasing her and had more than once left her on the edge of coming without giving her release, he didn't toy with her today. "Come for me, Love," he coaxed, returning his fingers to her clit, "Come on..."

"Yes, Ian," she sighed in relief. The feel of him was too good to resist now that she had the permission she needed. She had to clap a hand to her mouth to hold back the sounds she couldn't help but make.

He sank his teeth into the exposed skin where her neck met her shoulder as he sped up his pace, pounding into her relentlessly, to keep quiet the sounds of his own pleasure. The fact that his teeth would leave a mark was just a bonus.

When she came, it was with a cry muffled by her hand and her cunt tightening around him, making him come quickly afterwards, milking him for every drop.

As he pulled out of her, he pressed tender kisses to the bite marks he'd left in her skin. He'd never been shy about marking her as his and she couldn't say that she minded all that much, even if it meant that her turtlenecks got more wear than the rest of her wardrobe.

"Do you think he managed to sleep through that?" she asked, pulling down her skirt and smoothing out the creases.

"Lord, I hope so," he said, grinning smugly like he wasn't sorry at all.

She just shook her head, silently deciding that it was his responsibility to explain what they'd been doing if he'd heard.

"You should go back," he said, apropos of nothing. She looked at him quizzically. "I know're still determined to get that job. Show them that fire. Show them that you deserve the job. Show them that you refuse to take no for an answer. It's never stopped you before..."

"You're probably right," she agreed, chewing a nail thoughtfully.

"I usually am," he said with a smirk. He pulled her hand away from her mouth, kissing the back of her knuckles tenderly.

She laughed and pulled him in to kiss him hard. "I'm going to get that job," she said determinedly.

Chapter Text

Lessons Learned

It was only her first case with the BAU and Emily was already feeling like a bad mother.

By the barest of margins, she'd missed Declan's first school play. She'd desperately wanted to go, but she couldn't exactly leave work early, considering she was literally in Guantanamo Bay. By the time the plane touched down in DC, the play was over and she was sure she'd likely lost Declan's trust for years to come. She may or may not have cried in the car on the way home.

When she got home, Ian had left her a note telling her he had it covered and not to worry, but she decided she'd worry anyway because that's just who she was as a person. She was irrationally jealous of Ian sometimes because he got to be the one that stayed home with Declan while she was out hunting monsters; she knew it was the only way, Ian couldn't exactly go out and get a nine to five with his history, but that didn't stop her from being bitter about the whole thing.

Declan had pitched a minor fit about her starting work because he was afraid of exactly this happening. He was very much a Mommy's boy and he wanted her to be there for every single important moment in his life (his idea of an important moment didn't always match hers, considering that just last week he'd made her take a picture of him with a sandwich he'd made all by himself...she'd obliged and didn't even point out the jam on every surface within the boy's reach). She'd repeatedly assured him she wouldn't miss anything important and even pinky swore on the matter and now she'd made a liar of herself.

She'd barely had time to make herself a late dinner when she heard Ian's car pulling into the driveway. "Declan Oisin Doyle, stay in your seat or so help me, God..." she heard Ian threaten, trailing off because he didn't have a PG way to end the sentence. At five the boy should really know better, but she forgave him because he was excited to see her and if that made her a pushover, well, she was okay with that.

"Daddy," the boy scoffed like he knew the threat was empty. He was getting a little sassy for Ian's liking and Emily would never admit that she found the entire thing rather hilarious while simultaneously living in fear of his teenage years. If he grew up to be like either one of them, they were in for a hard row to hoe.

Declan came bursting through the door still in costume, clambered into Emily's lap and she prepared herself for a hug, but he instead hollered in her face, "Mommy!" Then, he proceeded to start eating the macaroni and cheese she'd made for herself. Her face fell a little at the lackluster greeting, but his back was turned so he didn't notice.

He wasn't ordinarily this loud and obnoxious – in spite of Ian's overwhelming personality, his son was quiet and laidback most of the time – so Emily knew the boy had too much sugar running through his system.

Ian came trudging into the kitchen shortly after, looking every bit his age and then some. He sank into a chair and covered his eyes with his hand and for a split second, Emily thought he might be crying. She knew better than to say anything before he'd had a strong glass of whiskey, though, so she didn't comment. Ian may have wanted a large family, but he just was not meant to be around more than five children at a time.

"Mommy! I did the best job in the school play!" Declan said between bites of pasta, cheese sauce already smeared around his mouth.

"I'm sure you did, Buddy," Emily said, trying (and failing) to sneak a bite of her dinner around him. She pressed a kiss to his head. "I wish I could've been there to see it." There would be other plays, she knew, other soccer games and field trips and graduations, but this one was the first and that mattered to her. She didn't want to set a precedent of her missing important moments.

"It's okay," he said with a magnanimous shrug and a mouthful of food. "I'm not mad." And it felt like a knife through her heart. Upset and anger she could handle, but her son not wanting her? Not needing her? She didn't think she could survive that. "I was mad, but Daddy took me for ice cream after." If the orange and black smear staining the front of his shirt was any evidence, he had the tiger flavour she never let him get for precisely that reason.

Emily gave Ian a stern look and he just shrugged like it couldn't be helped. She couldn't decide if she was mad that he took their son for ice cream before dinner or that she was only worth an ice cream cone in her son's eyes.

"You bribed him to love me again with an ice cream cone?" she asked, one brow quirked somewhere between amusement and annoyance.

"An ice cream cone saved my sanity," he said deadpan, pouring himself a generous tumbler of whiskey. "I sincerely hope he hasn't been bitten by the acting bug because if I never have to go to another one of those, it'll be too soon." He tossed back a healthy swig of the amber liquid like it was the fountain of youth and he was taking his dying breath.

Emily knew Ian loved his son more than life itself - he did - but he also wasn't exactly cut out for all the little details of parenting, like silently suffering through terrible kindergarten plays and then acting like it was akin to watching Brando perform Streetcar.

"I'm so jealous," she said with all sincerity, resigning herself to the fact that she wasn't going to get any of her dinner.

"Mommy! Mommy, are you listening to me?" Declan demanded, all benevolent dictator in a cardboard crown. He clanged his fork against the table to get her attention.

"Hanging on every word," she promised.

"We're learning fairy tales, so we did The Paper Bag Princess and I was the Prince, even though I wanted to be the dragon 'cause the Prince isn't very nice and at the end the Princess gets to say Bum!" He dissolved into peals of giggles and Emily couldn't help but chuckle along with him, giving Ian a your son is fucking weird expression. "We singed–"

"Sang," she corrected.

"–singed," he repeated in spite of her correction, "songs and everyone clapped. And then Joey falled–"


"–off the stage."

"Was he hurt?"

"No. So it was funny," Declan said seriously. He nodded once, satisfied with his assessment. "Everyone laughed."

"Declan!" she reprimanded. "That's unkind. You wouldn't want people to laugh if you fell and hurt yourself."

"What?" he said, seeming genuinely confused, "Daddy said it was funny. He laughed."

"Ian..." she groaned, rolling her eyes.

He smiled at her over the rim of his glass. "What?" he says, bewildered by her annoyance. "It was. He landed on his back and couldn't get back up again."

She just shook her head, sighing dramatically because this was the man she'd given up her career for, the man she'd changed her entire life for. A man who, despite having previously been an internationally wanted criminal, had become a stay-at-home dad who went to school plays and bribed her son into loving her again so she could have the career she'd spent the better part of her adult life working towards. And she was willing to bet it probably was pretty funny to watch a child in a cardboard dragon costume fall on the floor like a turtle, so she was going to let his immature laughter slide.

At bedtime, Emily contorted herself to fit next to Declan in his bottom bunk at his insistence. It wasn't particularly comfortable, but she still hadn't quite forgiven herself, so she considered that part of her penance.

They read The Paper Bag Princess so Declan could read his parts so it would feel like she was there and Emily appreciated his attempt to make her feel better. He was still wearing his cardboard crown, along with his Spiderman pyjamas because 'Spiderman could be a prince if he wanted to, Mommy'.

Afterwards, they took turns yelling, "HEY DRAGOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNN!" until Ian stuck his head into the room and looked at them like they were nuts, causing Declan to giggle uproariously.

As they settled into sleepy silence, Declan whispered, "I was really mad at you today. Really mad. Really really mad. I told Daddy I was never gonna talk to you again 'cause you lied. I said the dragon should eat you up 'stead of the Prince. But Daddy said not to be mad at you 'cause you didn't mean it and then he got me ice cream."

"It's okay if you want to be mad at me, Schnecke." The boy had gone through a period where he found snails to be the most interesting thing in the world, much to Emily's chagrin, so she'd started using the German word for snail as a nickname for him and he was eternally delighted by it. "You're allowed to feel what you feel. I was mad at myself too and I'm really sorry I didn't keep my promise. I'll try not to do it again, but I'm not going to promise because sometimes I'm going to miss things and disappoint you and I hope you'll forgive me again." She didn't add that if it took ice cream to forgive her every time, she might start taking it personally.

He shrugged and burrowed under the covers until only his eyes were peeking out above the quilt. "I'm done being mad now. Can you read Mortimer?" Mortimer was his second favourite because they got to yell, "MORTIMER, BE QUIET!" His third favourite was Mud Puddle because they got to yell, "HEY MUD PUDDLE!"

She was well and truly exhausted by the time she crawled into bed next to Ian. "I'm still a good mother, right?" she asked, snuggling into his side so that he could wrap an arm around her.

He kissed the top of her head. "Of course you are, Love," he said like it was the most ridiculous question in the world. "You're the only mother he's ever known and he loves you like crazy."

"Even when I screw up?" she asked.

"Maybe especially then because he sees that you're human too."

"What am I the rest of the time?" she asked with a quirked brow.

"You're a super hero. You're his super hero. He told all his friends that you weren't there because you were catching bad guys like Wonder Woman."

"Really?" she asked with a half-laugh, half-sob because nothing got her quite so emotional as her son.

He nodded. "That boy loves you more than you will ever know."

"And what about you?"

"I'd love you more if you dressed up like Wonder Woman," he said a look of complete seriousness on his face, one hand wandering up her thigh.

She punched him in the shoulder, but kissed him anyway. "Maybe tomorrow," she conceded because she's not opposed to a little role playing, but she's exhausted and her throat is sore from yelling, "HEY DRAGOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNN."

She doesn't know how she ended up with this life, this strange chaotic messy suburban life of school plays and macaroni and cheese, but she thanks God every day that she has it.

Ian's smirk is entirely too mischievous for her liking, but he kisses her chastely anyway as he whispers good night against her lips.

Chapter Text

Sex, Birth, Death

Ian stood in the doorway to Declan's room, watching the two most important people in his life.

Declan had already been asleep when Emily had gotten home from work, but she couldn't resist saying good night to him anyway – she always said good night, no matter what.

He tried not to make a habit of letting the boy stay up past his bedtime, but in all the time she'd been in their lives, he'd never gone to sleep without saying good night to Emily first. And when he'd tried to put him to bed, Declan had been absolutely inconsolable over the absence of her. In the end, he figured that since it wasn't a school night, there was no real harm in letting the boy stay awake until Emily arrived home.

For her part, though she tried to act annoyed that he'd let him stay up, he could tell that Emily was glad she could say good night to him. But when she went into his bedroom, she found him splayed haphazardly across the bed, simply too tuckered out to stay awake long enough.

She'd laughed quietly at his awkward sleeping position, even if her smile was a little sad and he could read her thoughts a mile away: he doesn't need me anymore. She'd pulled his blankets up over top of him, tucking him in with tenderness that only a mother possesses.

She sat on the edge of the bed, stroking his soft curls. "I missed you today," she told his sleeping form. "I missed you so much, Schnecke."

"He missed you too, Love," Ian said quietly, announcing his presence, even though he knew she knew he'd been watching her. He crossed the room to rest a hand on her shoulder. "He wanted so badly to stay awake for you."

She reached across her body to squeeze his hand. She looked up at him with tender eyes and a soft smile. "I missed you too..."

"I know."

He wondered sometimes, how he'd ended up with all this. How an undercover agent sent to ruin him had instead wound up loving his son and accepting him as her own, loving him... He was admittedly a lapsed Catholic, but everyday he thanked God for giving him her.

She picked up the stuffed snail she'd had specially made for him up off the floor where it had slipped from his grasp and tucked it under his arm. He slept with it every night without fail. She kissed Declan on the forehead and whispered to him, "Never stop loving me this much."

"Marry me."

Emily laughed a little around a mouthful of toothpaste. Putting away her toothbrush, she spit into the sink and spun around to give him a you're being ridiculous look and instead of playful teasing, found his expression entirely serious. "What are you talking about, Ian?"

"Marry me," he said again. "I want you to be my wife."

She pounced on the bed, crawling up so she was straddling his hips. She wrapped her fingers around his, staring down at his hands as if afraid to see what was in his eyes. "We've talked about it – I told you, I'm not the marrying type."

With one hand, he tipped up her chin to look into her eyes. "Lauren wasn't," he corrected, "But you...I think you could be convinced."

She unconsciously reached up to toy with the ring hanging around her neck. "Who said I want to marry you?" she challenged, unable to resist teasing him just a little, if only because his grin was entirely too sure of himself.

"You wouldn't be here if you didn't – you gave up everything to be with me..." he pointed out.

She chewed her lip thoughtfully. He had a point. She'd given up any future she'd had with Interpol or the CIA. She'd cut off ties with her family, knowing they wouldn't understand. She'd lost her friendships with her team – including a quasi-romantic relationship with Clyde – because they definitely had not understood.

But she'd also gained a family and she found it really hard to regret that, no matter what the cost had been.

She sighed dramatically, but couldn't help the mischievous smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "Fine. I'll marry you."

He pulled her down to kiss her properly. She giggled as he rolled her underneath him, pinning her down as he kissed her. He removed the chain from around her neck so that he could slip the ring onto her finger.

He kissed her knuckles softly. "So, you want to officially be a Doyle?"

She laughed. "Oh, I'll be keeping my name, Mister."

Then, little footsteps were heard at the door, interrupting anything risque that might have followed, considering the fact that his hand was already travelling up her thigh.

Ian sighed dramatically, rolling off her and attempting to hide his hard on under a pillow. "C'mere, Declan," he beckoned.

The boy scampered across the room and up onto the bed, burrowing between them. "Mommy didn't say good night to me," he said with a dramatic pout.

"I did too," Emily replied. "You fell asleep, so you didn't know it, but I promise I did."

He frowned, eyes narrowed in disbelief and in that moment, she swore father and son had never looked more alike.

She changed the subject, asking, "Do you want me to marry Daddy?"

"Marry?" he repeated.

"We'll be a real family," Ian explained.

"Me too?" he asked, not wanting to be left out.

"Yes, you're part of the family too, Buddy," Emily agreed.

"Okay," he said with a shrug, not really understanding.

Emily laughed, mussing his hair. "A family," she echoed softly, eyes crinkling at the sides with her smile. "My boys."

Declan quickly lost interest in the matter. "Can you tuck me in?" he asked, tugging on the hem of her shirt. "And read me Mortimer?" She scooped him into her arms, pressing kisses to his face until he dissolved into a fit of giggles.

"Hurry back..." Ian called after her, voice laden with implication of exactly what he was going to do to her when she returned.

Chapter Text

Profiler, Profiled

Emily couldn't sleep.

It was late at night – or very early morning – and she was lying wide awake, staring at the ceiling of some Chicago hotel room, counting the holes in the tiles, while JJ snored faintly in the next bed. She wondered how she did it – how she seemingly dropped off to sleep with but a few moments of tossing and turning. She supposed it came with practice, with years of cases and night after night away from home.

She wasn't yet used to being far from home, without Ian's form warm against her back and gentle snores by her ear to soothe her to sleep when her mind was racing long into the night. Occasionally, when she had a particularly bad sleepless night, he would lie awake with her, stroking her hair and singing old Irish lullabies in her ear in his soft brogue. Sometimes, she wondered how she'd ever slept without him.

She rolled over and glanced at the clock beside the bed reading two AM. In a little under four hours, the alarm would go off and she'd have to start her day without a minute of sleep to show for the night.

She knew Ian would still be awake, in spite of the late hour. When she wasn't home, he often stayed up late into the night – he used to use that time to do business before she'd gotten him out, but she didn't know what he used that time for anymore and she never asked.

She quietly dialled his number, just wanting to hear his voice and pretend he were there next to her.

"What are you still doing awake, Love?" he asked by way of answering the call, voice gravelly with whiskey.

"Thinking of you," she whispered. She hadn't thought she'd miss him as much as she did.

He chuckled, low in his throat. "Oh, really?" She didn't need to see his face to know the exact expression on it, that mischievous but undeniably charming grin that never failed to send heat coursing straight through her.

"Not like that," she chastized, but unable to help the smile quirking the corners of her lips or the sudden wetness from pooling between her legs.

"Are you touching yourself?" he asked, voice husky with arousal.

"Do you want me to?" she asked, teasing him, knowing full well the answer.

She could hear the sound of him undoing his zipper, followed by a soft groan and she imagined him taking his cock in his hand and stroking himself slowly. The image thrilled her a little.

"Always," he answered, voice broken by grunts of pleasure as he stroked himself.

She laughed softly, deciding to oblige him since she was awake anyway. If anything, an orgasm or two would help soothe her to sleep. "Tell me how..." she breathed into the phone in that tone she knew he found irresistible.

"Two fingers. Nice and slow. Don't you dare touch your clit, Emily," he ordered.

She whimpered softly in protest, but obeyed nonetheless, slowly slipping her hand below the waistband of her panties, sinking two fingers inside herself with a soft keening sound. She was wet already, unsure if it was from Ian's voice or the thought of getting herself off while JJ slumbered a bed away, not even a wall between them. She had a bit of an exhibitionist streak that Ian loved.

"They're my fingers," he told her. "Tell me how they feel."

She groaned, imagining the feel of him knuckle deep inside her. "They're rough and...and thick and, God, they feel good," she described, panting slightly as her fingers slipped in and out.

She sped up her ministrations, hips bucking and writhing in time with his ragged breathing. She had to sink her teeth into her bottom lip to keep from crying out as her fingers hit just the right spot, sending shock waves through her body. Her heart rate spiked sharply and she could feel her face flushing with the effort of restraining herself when all she wanted to do was come then and there. But she knew she had to wait for his permission.

She heard him groan and she couldn't help the breathy little chuckle she let out, imagining him, cock in hand, face contorted in ecstasy. She wished she were there, her hand wrapped around his meaty cock or, better yet, her lips, bringing him off.

"Use one hand on your tits, Love," he demanded and she could hear in his voice the effort of holding back his climax.

She whimpered softly at the command, pressing her phone between her shoulder and her ear because she couldn't put it on speaker. She massaged one breast through her shirt with rough uncareful fingers like he would've, never one for softness, for gentleness. That was fine with her, as she liked it rough and he knew it. She rolled one nipple between her fingers until it was swollen and pebbled and she had to fight back a moan of pleasure. "Yes, Ian!"

"You like that, don't you?" he taunted. "Don't stop. Keep fucking yourself, just like that."

"It feels so good," she purred, unable to stop even if she'd wanted to. Her cunt was tightening around her fingers in response to her pinching her nipples and she knew it wouldn't be much longer before she couldn't keep her orgasm back any longer.

"Are you wet for me?" Ian asked, voice raspy with arousal and liquor.

"So wet," she husked. She popped her fingers into her mouth, the taste of her arousal on her tongue, and slicked them up before slipping them back into her dripping pussy, fucking herself harder and faster.

He hummed low in his throat. "I want that hot cunt..."

"Fuck," she hissed, scissoring her fingers inside herself. "I want you inside me. Please, Ian, let me touch my clit..."

He growled. "Emily..." he said warningly.

"Please, Ian...I need..."

"You'll wait for permission," he said sharply. Emily wasn't submissive in her everyday life, but when it came to sex, she loved to let him have complete control. She knew it turned him on to have her completely subservient to his every need and whim.

"Yes, Ian," she said softly, obediently.

"What was that?" he asked.

"Yes, Ian," she repeated louder.

She knew his expression would be smug if she were able to see it. "Tell me what you want, Love," he drawled, entirely too pleased with himself.

"I want you to shove your dick inside me," she whispered, adding another finger to better fill her aching need, "Over and over and you're stretching me so good – ah – it h-hurts, but I fucking love it."

He hissed and she knew he was struggling not to come at the visual of her crude words.

"You're fucking me so hard and I'm screaming your name and you hit that sweet spot and...oh, Ian, fuck me with that hot fucking cock and fill me with that sweet cum," she begged.

"You have a filthy fucking mouth, Emily – I fucking love it." She could hear the sloppy sound of his dick slicked with precum sliding in and out of his grip and it sent a thrill coursing through her.

"You want to come, I can tell," she teased. "Let me touch my clit and we can come together. Please?"

"Alright, Em, touch your clit. Imagine it's me."

"Fuck, Ian, Ian..." she chanted, hips thrusting in time with her fingers inside herself over and over, thumb furiously rubbing her clit until she was on the verge of climax.

"Come for me," he ordered. "Come all over your fingers just like you would my cock."

Finally, she could stand it no longer and she clapped one hand over her mouth to stifle her cries and keep from waking JJ. She came with a muffled moan, back arching into her fingers, juices collecting in the palm of her hand.

He grunted her name as he came, listening to her ragged breathing. "Shame you had to stifle your always make me come so hard."

"Now I want your cock more than ever," she whined, satisfied, but wanting more.

"Patience, Love," he said with a laugh.

"I miss you," she said softly. Then, she heard the unmistakable sound of JJ waking up. "I've got to go. Love you."

JJ grumbled sleepily. "Were you saying something?" she asked, stretching her arms overhead.

"Nope. Maybe you were dreaming." She tried to inconspicuously wipe her juices off on her shorts. Aftershocks were still twitching inside her and she kind of wanted to touch herself a second time, thinking of Ian coming to the sound of her voice.

JJ mumbled indistinctly and rolled over to go back to sleep, but Emily wasn't sure she hadn't heard more than she'd let on.

Chapter Text

No Way Out

Emily arrived home from the sweltering heat of the Nevada desert to a deluge of snow and cancelled class.

Ian had been sequestered in the house for the better part of three days with a stir-crazy five year old who wanted nothing more than to play in the snow, so he was understandably going a little crazy and was hiding in his study when she arrived home.

(She didn't understand why he didn't just take Declan outside and when she asked later, he said it was because he couldn't find the boy's snow pants. When she pointed out that he could have just texted her and asked, he blinked blankly at her for a few moments like the thought hadn't occurred to him. "You're useless," she scoffed. "How you survived without me for so long, I'll never know." He just smiled and shook his head. She may have been right, but he wasn't about to admit that to her.)

The first words out of Declan's mouth after he'd climbed her like a monkey to wrap his little arms around her neck in greeting were, "I'm boooooooored!"

She settled the boy against her hip and affixed him with a raised brow. "Bored? You have a million and one toys to play with!"

"But I want to play outside," he whined, going limp like a rag doll, nearly causing her to lose her grip on him.

"Outside?" she said with mock incredulity. "You don't want to play outside, you want to do math homework."

"No!" he squealed in protest. "Outside!"

She pretended to think about it, screwing up her face in mock concentration. "How about eat broccoli?"

He stuck his tongue out. "Yuck!"

"Hmm... How about bake cookies?" she suggested.

Declan instantly perked up. "Really?" he asked suspiciously.

She laughed and tickled his sides. "No – you remember what happened last time..."

"Kaboom!" he exclaimed, miming a dramatic explosion.

Ian poked his head out of his study. "Hey!" he said, pretending to be stern. "There'll be no baking cookies in my kitchen. I don't fancy another visit from the fire department."

Emily rolled her eyes. "There was no fire and no explosion."

"Regardless..." Ian said, "I think we're probably all safer the further you are from the oven."

"Outside?" Declan suggested yet again.

"That's the best idea I've heard all day," Ian said, clapping him on the back.

"You two have fun," Emily said, passing Declan to his father.

"Mommy," the boy whined, "You have to come too!" Then he batted his eyes sweetly at her.

She pinched his cheek. "Stop being so cute," she said with a conceding sigh.

"He can't help it – gets it from me," Ian said with a wink. Emily just rolled her eyes and smiled because this was the family she'd chosen.

The first winter they'd spent in DC had been a miserable one, especially for Declan who had spent most of his life in the Tuscan countryside where the temperatures rarely dipped below freezing.

Keeping the then four year old entertained for an entire winter had been no easy feat after the first week or two once he'd exhausted his supply of books and movies and become bored with all his toys. She'd taken to telling him stories from her travels – about summer in Russia with a foot of snow on the ground, about Christmas in Saudi Arabia with not a flake of snow to be seen.

The stories enchanted him endlessly and he vowed that one day he would travel the world like she had. Emily had smiled indulgently and promised to take him anywhere he wanted to go, but first he had to go to bed.

Mostly, he just wanted to go outside.

"Can we go inside now?" Emily whined, wrapping her arms around herself to keep from shivering, in spite of her layers. "I'm cold!"

"Mooooommy," Declan hollered across the yard from where he was attempting to build an igloo. "You're not playing..."

"Sure, I am," she insisted, clumping snow together in a rather half-assed attempt to build a snowman. "See?"

He rolled his eyes dramatically at her in a way he'd definitely learned from her. "Mommy, that's the worst snowman ever."

"Hey!" She pouted. "I worked hard on that!"

"No, you didn't!" he insisted and she couldn't really argue with that.

"The boy's right," Ian piped up. "That's a terrible snowman, Love."

Emily affixed him with an 'are you serious?' stare. "Let's see yours, then."

He gestured weakly at his own very similar clump of snow.

"It looks just like mine!" she exclaimed, bewildered that he'd had the nerve to insult hers.

"Yes, but I actually tried."

She scowled, then stuck her tongue out at him childishly.

Declan put his hands on his hips and gave an exasperated sigh. "Guys... I wanna play!"

With a cheeky grin, Emily lobbed a weak snowball at the boy, hitting him square in the side of the head. "Like that?"

Declan let out a gleeful squeal, finally satisfied, then attempted to throw one back, though it fell several feet short.

"Don't worry, son, I've got her," Ian said, tackling Emily into a snowdrift and pinning her to the ground so Declan could hit her with a snowball. He ran over and pounced on Emily like a cat, mashing a snowball into her chest.

"You win!" Emily cried. "I give up!"

"What do you say, Declan?" Ian asked with a wink. Declan shook his head, smiling mischeivously as he prepared another snowball. "You heard the boy..." Ian said with a shrug as if it were out of his hands.

"Please? I'm cold and wet..." she begged. "I'll give you a kiss?"

Unable to resist, Ian leaned down to kiss her, quickly letting it get heated as was wont to happen when he had her pinned. Then, without warning, she stuffed a handful of snow down the back of his neck. She wriggled out from under him, laughing triumphantly, as she ran inside and shut and locked the door behind her.

Chapter Text

The Big Game

Emily stared at her reflection in the mirror as she curled her hair, determinedly ignoring Ian's silently fuming presence.

"I just don't understand why I can't come with you," he said yet again.

She attempted to avoid rolling her eyes. "You know full well why you can't come," she said flatly.

"It's been three years," he said pointedly.

"I know it has, but..." she started in on the familiar argument.

"Three years, Emily," he repeated. "Are you ashamed of me?"

She sighed and turned to face him, leaning against the counter. "Ian, of course not! I love you!"

"Then why can't I come with you?" he persisted.

"It isn't about whether I want you to come or not, it's about your safety, Declan's safety. If anyone should find out who you are...there's no telling what could happen to us."

"There's no threat I can't handle," he said reasonably.

"See, Ian, that's the problem. You still think like you're not in Witness Protection. You can't just go around threatening people anymore."

"You say that like it's a regular occurrence," he joked.

Her expression was not amused.

"Emily, I'm not asking for permission to whack someone, I just want to join you for a drink with your friends."

"They're my coworkers and they're some of the best federal agents in the country. If there's anyone you need to keep a low profile around, it's them."

"So, now that you're some big shot profiler, you think you're better than me?" he accused.

"Oh, fuck you, Ian," she snapped, turning back to the mirror to put on her lipstick.

In the next moment, he was grinding his hips against her ass. "No, fuck you, Emily," he growled, thrusting forwards so that she's forced to brace her hands against the counter.

"Ian, what are you...?" she started to ask. But it quickly became rhetorical as he pulled her jeans down over her hips. "Ian!" she protested, but it was already weak.

He wrapped a hand over her mouth. "I didn't say you could speak..." He stroked a hand over the crotch of her panties. "Do you always get wet when we argue?"

"I'm not..." she argued, words muffled by his hand.

"Don't lie to me, Emily," he hissed, removing the hand from her mouth to thread it through her hair, yanking her head back.

"Okay," she whimpered as he sunk his teeth into her neck.

"Now, I'm going to fuck you and I don't want to hear a sound," he demanded.


"Ah-ah. That's a sound." He slid her panties to the side, trailing his fingers through her folds, bringing them away slick with wetness. He offered them to her and she obeyed, taking his fingers into her mouth and sucking them clean.

"You like it, don't you?" he taunted. "You like fighting – it turns you on. Admit it, you miss being Lauren." He teasingly dipped a finger inside her.

She nodded frantically, eager for more.

He added another finger, slowly thrusting them in and out.

"You miss it – miss us, the way we used to be. Now you have to be a good little girl, but we both know you're not." He withdrew his fingers and she had to sink her teeth into her lip to keep from crying out in disappointment. "You want me to fuck you?"

She nodded eagerly, canting her hips back to grant him better access.

"Ordinarily, I wouldn't reward your bad behaviour..."

She scoffed.

He gave a firm scolding smack to her ass. "But I'm feeling generous."

She wasn't entirely sure what he meant by that, until he trailed his slippery fingers over her asshole and his intentions immediately became very apparent.

"Ian..." she says warningly, though she's not entirely sure why. She likes this, likes him in her ass, she just prefers that it be her idea; in fact, it had taken her quite a bit of convincing before he'd been willing to fuck her ass the first time.

Without a word, he went for the aloe gel she kept on the counter, as she was constantly burning herself with hot coffee and hot curling irons, and drizzled the liquid into his palm. The squelching sound of him slicking up his cock turned her on to no end and she gave in to the inevitable, spreading her legs wider, wiggling her hips temptingly.

With one hand on her hip, he stilled her movement, with the other, he slipped one finger inside her. His fingers were rough and calloused from years spent on the trigger of a gun and, against the sensitive skin of her hole, she found their abrasiveness strangely arousing.

"Touch yourself, Emily," he ordered and she wordlessly obeyed, her fingers on her clit the soft counterpoint to his rough ones. He sunk a second finger inside her, scissoring them roughly without warning and she bucked her hips, making him chuckle. "You always did like it rough," he husked by her ear.

She whimpered and nodded, rubbing her clit harder, faster, in time with his fingers pumping in and out of her. It was good, so good, the way he stretched her.

"You want another?" he taunted, removing his fingers altogether. She nodded vigorously, but kept her silence, determined that now that he'd started, she wasn't about to give him reason to wind her up then leave her on the edge.

He added a third finger and she whimpered, begging without words for his cock.

He laughed. "You're insatiable," he said with a scolding click of his tongue. But she could hear his absolutely shit-eating grin in his voice as he pressed the head of his cock against her hole.

She gasped sharply as he pushed forwards, accompanied by no small amount of pain – he's big, after all, the biggest she'd ever taken.

"This what you want?" he asked, sounding entirely too pleased with himself. He slides one hand up her back to tangle in her previously neatly done hair. She was too far gone to protest.

She nodded, teeth sinking into her bottom lip as he sank deeper into her ass until he was flush against her, skin on skin.

He paused for several moments, giving her a chance to adjust before he started moving. They both knew that once he got going, he wasn't about to stop. He slapped her hand away from her clit and took over with deliberate roughness.

A sharp cry clawed its way up her throat once he started moving, fucking her hard and fast and thorough. He gave a half-groan, half-laugh in response, tossing his head back as he slammed into her. The only other sound in the room was the slap of his balls slapping against her ass and damn, if the sound didn't turn her on even more.

She needed more and he seemed to sense it. "What do you want, Emily?" he taunted. She just mewled like a helpless kitten. He yanked sharply on her hair, stretching her head back. "Tell me what you want," he demanded beside her ear.

"More," she said breathlessly because it was the only word she could find.

He chuckled, but obliged, knowing she was close to coming.

In the next moment, as his cock sawed roughly in and out of her hole, she came, her body clamping down on his dick and she couldn't help but scream out, his thrusts producing a burning ache through her whole lower body. She clung to the counter with white knuckles as he continued his relentless pace.

It wasn't long after before he cried out, "Fuck!" and she gasped sharply as there was a warm rush of cum deep in her ass. He pumped into her a few more times, milking the last drops into her trembling body.

He pulled out with a wet pop and she could feel his cum dribbling out of her ass.

He chuckled low in his throat as he spread her ass, watching the liquid spill out of her. "Goddamn," he cursed breathlessly. Then, with a smug smirk, he patted her on the ass and pulled her pants back up. He hissed in her ear, "You're going to feel my seed spilling out of you all night long and you'll think of me... Enjoy."

Chapter Text


The house was oddly silent when Emily walked in the front door and dropped her go bag on the floor. "Hello?" she called into the silence. "Anyone home?"

A silent house with a five year old simply didn't happen, the two did not coexist, it was just a fact of life. So, she couldn't exactly be blamed that her immediate reaction was to jump to the worst possible conclusion, a bubble of panic bursting in her chest. Or maybe she'd just been in law enforcement too long. Either was possible.

Then came a little giggle and she let out a sigh of relief. Suspicion followed shortly after. Giggles like that never meant anything good. The gentle 'shush' that followed did nothing to ease her suspicions.

She followed the sounds down the hall, not sure what to expect, but fully anticipating chaos like only a five year old and his immature father could create without her supervision.

As she approached, Ian poked his head around the corner of the living room. "You're home!" he said, a little too cheerfully. He grinned too wide, looking like the Cheshire Cat. He rushed forward to wrap her in his arms and it didn't escape her that he was using his body to block her view of the inside of the living room.

"What's going on?' she asked, quirking a brow, craning her neck to try to get a look at what he was hiding.

"Nothing," he answered too quickly. Another giggle.

"Ian..." she said warningly.

"Promise you won't get mad?"

Nothing good ever followed those words. "Ian..." she said, voice low and displeased.

Before he could say anything to appease her, Declan let out a small, "Oops..." and a small grey blur dashed towards her and ricocheted off her leg, barking enthusiastically. Declan came racing in afterwards, looking sheepish.

"Is that a dog?" she asked, deadpan, face the picture of unimpressed.

"His name is Tafann!" Declan exclaimed, oblivious.

Ian pasted on his best innocent face like he'd had absolutely nothing to do with their sudden acquisition of a dog.

"Since when do we have a dog?" she asked, pausing after each word for emphasis.

"Since this morning," Ian said with a shrug as if it couldn't have been helped. "Declan found him in a box at the side of the road and was immediately attached. I just couldn't bear to part him from the boy. I had a dog just like him as a child."

"Who are you and what have you done with Ian Doyle?"

"It's just a puppy, what harm could it do? It'll teach the boy some responsibility." He waved away her concern.

"Declan is five. That's too young for a puppy – especially an Irish Wolfhound. Don't they grow to weigh over a hundred pounds? That's twice his size!"

"It'll be fine," Ian insisted.

"Isn't he cute, Mommy?" Declan asked, picking up the squirming puppy with some difficulty.

"Adorable," she said, smiling tenderly at the boy. She found it exceedingly difficult to be mad at the child when she loved him so much (and technically he hadn't done anything was Ian who should have known better).

"Pet him!" Declan insisted.

"I'm not really a dog person..." she protested.

"Pet him!" He shoved the dog into her arms before she could protest further.

The dog squirmed a little before settling its head against her chest with a contented sigh. Emily bit her lip, wanting to be annoyed, but finding it very difficult at the moment.

"I don't have time to look after a dog," she said, but it was weak.

"You won't have to," Ian promised. "Declan will do most of the work."

"I really don't think..."

He silenced her with a kiss. "You always did worry too much."

"Fine," she relented. "But when..."


"When this goes wrong, it's your responsibility."

He grinned foolishly, knowing he'd won. "I told you she'd be okay with it, son."

Emily rolled her eyes and, while the boys celebrated, she nuzzled her nose into the puppy's soft fur.

"Good night, buddy," Emily murmured, kissing the boy on his forehead. "I love you."

"Love you too, Mommy." She stood to leave, but he called out, "Wait! Aren't you going to kiss Tafann good night?"

"I'm not kissing the dog good night," she said flatly.

"Why not?" Declan asked innocently. "Don't you like him? He loves you!"

"I'm not kissing the dog," she insisted.

He pouted and batted his eyes at her. "Please?"

Emily groaned. "Why?"

"He's part of the family," he said seriously. "So, you have to love him."

"Do I have to?" Declan nodded. She sighed. "Fine." She reluctantly kissed the dog's forehead; the dog responded by happily licking her face. "Gross!"

Declan squealed with laughter. "Tafann loves you!"

Emily just rolled her eyes. "Time for bed, crazy kid." When she closed the door behind her, Ian was struggling not to laugh. She punched him in the shoulder. "It isn't funny!"

"It's a little funny," he insisted.

"Why did you have to get him a dog?"

"He misses you when you're at work," Ian said gently. "And I thought that maybe a puppy might help him feel less lonely." He watched her face fall and instantly regretted his words. "Emily, have to work. Declan will be fine."

"I should have explained it to him better," she said softly. "Why I have to go away. Why I have to leave him."

"He's a smart boy, he'll understand with time."

She chewed anxiously on her thumb nail. "I just don't want him to think I'm abandoning him. I always want him to know he matters to me."

He grabbed her wrist to stop her anxious fidgeting, wrapping her hand in his. "He knows."


"Of course. You're his mother – the only one he's ever known. You have to work to secure his future, that's what a good mother does."

"You think I'm a good mother?" she asked, smiling coyly.

"I know so. In fact, I'm so sure that I want to have a dozen more children with you." He smirked mischievously.

"That seems a little improbable."

"Maybe just a handful, then." He kissed her soundly.

She laughed into the kiss. "Maybe we should go practice?" she suggested, smirking.

"I like the way you think," he agreed enthusiastically, tugging her hand to lead her towards the bedroom.

Chapter Text

Fear and Loathing

Emily smiled coyly at Ian over her glass of wine. She may or may not have been mentally undressing him.

She was also thinking about how weird it was that the first 'normal' relationship she'd had was with an internationally wanted terrorist king-pin. But she supposed she'd never been the most conventional person in the first place and she kind of doubted he was either.

She was about to suggest the two of them cut their standing monthly date short so she could undress him for real, assuming she could make it that long (it wouldn't have been the first time they'd had sex against the door of a public restroom...), when he reached across the table to hold her free hand. "So, I've been thinking..." he said slowly, a tender smile playing about his lips. "Maybe we should get married."

Emily choked on her sip of wine. "Excuse me?" she sputtered. That was the last thing she'd been expecting him to say.

He quirked a brow at her less than overjoyed reaction. "I know you heard me correctly."

"I thought I already agreed to that..." She set down her wine as if she'd suddenly lost her appetite for it.

"I meant soon. Now."

"Don't you think that's rushing it a little...or a lot?" She attempted a smile, but it was tight and he saw right through it.

"Three years is rushing?" he countered pointedly.

"Well, not exactly, I guess," she admitted hesitantly, wracking her brain for a viable excuse. "But still... We just got engaged. Shouldn't we take some time, think about things?"

He frowned. This was not going at all the way he'd hoped. "What's there to think about? I love you and you love me, we want to get married – why not do it tonight, at the courthouse?"

"It's just..." She sighed heavily. Her tongue flicked out to lick her top lip as she tried to find the best way to let him down gently. "Things like this take time."

"Just to be clear – is it the courthouse you're objecting to or do you just not want to marry me?"

"No, Ian! Of course, I want to marry you! It's just..." She stammered, faltered.

"Then what is it!?" he demanded, voice too loud, attracting attention from nearby diners. "Why don't you want to get married?"

"Ian, keep your voice down," she urged quietly, grimacing apologetically at the other patrons.

"Stop avoiding the question, Emily," he snapped. "Is there someone else?"

"Ian, no!" she exclaimed, surprised by the sudden accusation.

"Is it me? You just don't want to marry an ex-terrorist? You're too good for me?"

Finally, she slammed her palms down on the table, rattling the silverware. "Enough, Ian! This isn't about you!"

"Then what is it about? Because I can't perceive of anything that would make me not want to marry you."

"It's about me, Ian."

"Then why did you even agree to marry me if you didn't want to?" he snapped.

"Because I didn't think you'd want to rush into it. I thought there would be time to get used to the idea..."

"I want to marry you, Emily – I want to be married to you now and I don't understand why you don't want that." He shook his head slowly as if he were disappointed in her.

"I do, Ian. Really," she tried to reason with him. "But marriage is a big step – huge – it changes things, it changes people."

"What change are you so afraid of?" he asked, seeming utterly bewildered by her reluctance.

She sighed slowly, eyes falling shut. When she opened them again, she took one of his hands in hers, consolingly. "What we have,'s built on sand. We're only together because you were a criminal. Yes, I fell in love with you, but is it enough? I really don't know..."

He frowned. "What do you mean?"

"You wouldn't build a house on sand and we can't build a marriage on it either. What happens when we're married and you realize you only love the illusion of me, not who I really am?"

"You're being crazy, Emily – I do know you and I love you."

She chose to ignore the first part of that sentence, focusing instead on the latter claim. "No, you know Lauren. You know the bits and pieces of myself I've chosen to reveal with time. If you'd known me, the real me, would we even be here today? I don't think so."

"Are you calling me shallow?" he accused.

"I was literally sent to arrest you! Are you honestly trying to tell me that wouldn't have killed your libido a little?" She laughed a little hysterically.

"That doesn't matter, Emily! You're hiding behind technicalities and what if's. Either you want to get married or you don't. It's that simple. And if you don't...maybe we shouldn't be together."

"Ian..." she whispered, clutching his hand tighter. She shook her head slowly, eyes filling with tears.

He stood up from the table suddenly. "Maybe you need some time to think about this."

"Ian..." she said again, voice choking on desperate sobs.

When Morgan asked her the next day if she'd had a long night, she couldn't exactly tell him that she hadn't slept well because her ex-terrorist fiance had been too angry over her refusal to marry him to sleep in the same bed as her, leaving her tossing and turning all night as she replayed their fight and worried that she'd ruined things between them for good.

Clyde had done her the favour of keeping Ian and Declan out of her personnel file, meaning no one – not even Strauss – knew of them and she planned on keeping it that way.

So, she told him the first thing that came to her head. It wasn't even a lie, really, more of a half truth. She had ruined their date, afterall...she just let him think it was a blind date with a stranger. And he'd chuckled and waggled his brows like he knew exactly what she meant and she gave him that forced smile while keeping him at a distance, afraid of what he might read in her, the truths he might discover.

She liked him, really, wanted his acceptance, his friendship...she just didn't know how to let him in without risking her entire castle built on sand.