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The Changing of Seasons Started by: AuroraMastrosimone on Oct 09, '19 05:59

"Miss Tara!"  Effie threw open Tara's bedroom door with only a quick rapping of her knuckles to warn her that it was about to happen.  

Tara blinked the sleep from her eyes, she'd only just entered dreams, "What is it?"  She groggily asked.


Tara sat up.  "And?"

Effie was smiling from ear to ear.  "All three on board.  All three in one piece... your mother sends the message that it's done.  They're coming home."

Tara covered her mouth.  

Effie had tears in her eyes but she was laughing, "It's over.  It's finally over!"

"Wake my father."  Tara swung her legs out of bed and snagged her housecoat from the chair beside her bed and her gun from under her pillow.  "No.  You know what?  I'll do it.  Go tell Gavin & call Catalina Rey.  Let her know Oriana is safe and en route.  Tell her that our people ... no... I will meet them at the airport."

"Yes, Miss Tara."  Effie stepped back and before closing the door peaked her head back in to add,  "And, Miss?  If you don't mind me saying so... you did good work.  Everyone says so.  Your Dad is really proud of you and I know your Ma will be too."

Tara beamed.  As Effie disappeared, Tara wasn't sure if she'd ever felt so happy in all her life.


The clouds parted and the full moon illuminated the night sky like the noonday sun.  Aurora stared out the window at the twinkling stars, even from up here they seemed so little and yet her studies told that they were massive things, as big and bigger than the whole of the earth itself. 

Perspective alone made them seem so much like tiny jewels.  Depending on where one was, their size and importance changed; and now as a forty-year-old woman, listening to Brigitte prattle on with Ori a short distance away, Aurora felt as if the whole of the world had changed. Where she had begun this journey as just a girl, barely a woman, wanting to go home ... a girl who had lost her mentors... a girl who had lost her parents, she was now the mother.  She was now the mentor. 

Turning off the light above her to sleep, Aurora saw her reflection in the darkened glass of the window.  It was just as she had seen in the glass of the oven door that day Oriana attacked her in the kitchen.  She expected to feel that same sharp pain she'd felt upon seeing the 'ghost' of her mother and instead, her own reflection smiled back at her.  All she saw now was a wife, a mother, the Consigliere of the soon to be Godfather of New York... Aurora Mastrosimone.

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Oriana was surprised to be back on the plane. After being sequestered in the hotel room, the long talks with Tara on the phone, the long talk with Aurora, the revelations about Lucia and Francesco... well, frankly, Oriana had planned on ditching the Mastrosimones and settling her own business. But with Aurora passing out after the fight... well, it was better to just get these two back home. Brigitte had done well on the job, but that didn't mean Ori was ready to leave her alone if Aurora went out again. No, Oriana would complete the mission, get them home, rest- briefly- herself, then be on her way back to find Francesco and finish things. After that? Well, she'd return to Catalina and the Mastrosimones. Tara, especially, had been in her thoughts; there was a nagging itch, a question, a possibility that Oriana hadn't previously considered. If she was going to scratch that itch, she had to finish Francesco first. Otherwise, she'd spend her whole life looking over her shoulder and waiting for a bullet.

She hadn't slept on the flight; it had been a long time since the regular napping in the hotel room. Even thinking about her fatigue forced her to yawn and fog up the glass. There was too much on her mind- and Brigitte was a chatterbox. More importantly, Oriana had to admit that she liked the blonde. Part of a new team, perhaps, that would replace her old one.

Assuming this new team didn't die of old age first.

Excusing herself to Brigitte, Oriana stood and made her way back to where her bag was stored, resting her hand on Aurora's shoulder for a moment as she passed. She didn't give Aurora a chance to respond, saying "Based on what I read, I think your parents would be very proud of you."

It wasn't much, but it was all she could really offer Aurora.

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Pulling the long coat tighter around herself to keep off the autumn chill, Tara looked to the east.  The sky was just becoming pink and blue, the plane looked as if it had brought with it the brilliance of the day as it manifested distantly on the horizon and made its descent. 

Her heart thrummed in her chest and she told herself she would not do anything foolish at the sight of Oriana.  The men with her needed to see her as a very serious and important future leader in this family after all.  They had to respect and obey her.  It wouldn't do for them to see her break down like a weeping child the second a pretty girl appeared...

Brigitte appeared in the doorway of the plane first.  She was wearing a leather jacket, one well-known to all the Mastrosimone children as their mother's jacket, but to mom, it had always been Grandpa Gavin's jacket.  That Brigitte was wearing it was as big a statement as could be made about how things went on a personal level for her sister and Tara's smile grew double in size upon seeing the leggy blonde descending the stairs confidently.

"OH MY GOD TARA!"  Brigitte laughed and waved at her sister surrounded by her father's most trusted muscle.  "LOOK YOU!"

Her mother appeared next and as Brigitte had spoken it seemed her mother's eyes searched her out and found her.  Her mother looked different to her, older somehow.  Maybe she was just tired, or needed something to eat?  Maybe it was the dawn playing tricks on her eyes?  Her mother clung to the railing as she came down towards the ground one careful step at a time and behind her appeared the woman Tara felt she'd been waiting forever to see.

She stared up at Oriana with wide doe-like eyes, the morning sun making their amber hue shine.  Tara marveled at how nonchalant the woman was... one might not even suspect she'd just killed a Godfather, the most powerful man in all Italy for how bored she seemed.  Tara's heartfelt filled to bursting at this moment and the more she dwelled on disinterested Ori seemed in the arrival... the more she questioned the phone calls, and all the things she'd resolved she was going to tell Ori the moment they were first alone.  Even as Brigitte all but tackled her in an embrace her eyes remained on the other woman - thinking and rethinking everything she thought she knew only five minutes ago.  

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A few minutes later, they'd finally landed. Brigitte couldn't be kept from leaving first, and Oriana saw Rora slowly get up to leave. Buckling her gunbelt, Oriana followed her out. Her grey eyes carefully scanned the area, and she smirked as she saw Tara, wearing Oriana's old coat, standing in between three armed guards. And the college girl seemed armed as well, based on a scan of her clothing.

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"I think I missed you most of all."  Brigitte admitted as she hugged Tara.

"I missed you too."  Tara said into her sister's wild mop.  

As Brigitte stepped aside her mother came in for an embrace and for all that seemed different about the woman, she felt none-the-less strong and steady as she always did. 

"I swore for a moment I saw your Grandmother standing down here with her men waiting to welcome me home from a mission."  Aurora chuckled.  "God, but you do look like her."

Tara blushed.  So often people commented that Isabella had the many blessings of her namesake, and only occasionally would they remark the same about her.  Too often Tara felt she was far too plain to resemble the lovely woman her grandmother had been expect in a few younger photos of her... when she was little better than a street punk.  Done up as she was in nearly every other picture though?  No.  Tara didn't suppose she could stand in her grandmother's shadow.  Still, it was nice of her mother to say so and Tara supposed what she meant was more about her demeanor.  What with her armed and surrounded by men as she was.  Yes, perhaps she might at least resemble the mobster she hoped to one day be.

"Where's your father?"

Tara's eyes looked away from Ori for the first time as her mother pulled back and let her go.  Tara knew her mother would instantly be aware something was wrong.  She could never have lied to her mother... not about something like this and so she wasn't surprised by her mother put her hand on her arm.


"He wanted to be here," She said looking at the ground.  "... but when we got to talking about the practicalities it was easier for him to meet you at home... and if I'm being honest, I think we both knew I need to talk with you before you see him."

"Why don't we have this talk in the car?"  Oriana suggested.

"Yes."  Brigitte agreed.  "Come on Mom, you can sit by me."

Brigitte helped a very quiet Aurora into the car and Tara couldn’t help but stare at how Brigitte was fussing over her.  Looking to Oriana she spoke low enough for the other woman alone to hear, “Is she hurt…?”

"In the car means IN the car. And she passed out for a while, but she seems okay. Ish. Tell her whatever- just break it gently."

Oriana leans in closer where only Tara can hear her. "Unless someone's dead, in which case, get a doctor. Might not be a bad idea to have someone call a doctor to meet her there anyway.

Oriana gets in the car.

"I'm afraid there's nothing gentle about this."  She glanced to one of the guys, "Drive us past the hospital on the way home.  Just in case we need to make a detour."  The man nodded and made his way to the driver's seat.

Tara settles into the backseat beside Oriana, her mother already taking steadying breaths before asking, "How bad?"

Tara wet her lips as the car begins to move.  "He was stabbed, the wound was to his back.  The wound didn't look like much but... the damage was to his spine."

Brigitte's eyes began to tear up but she was struggling to maintain calm for her mother whose hand she held.

Oriana studies Tara's face for a moment, then looks out the window.

"He... isn't accepting things well, but the doctor was very clear about the prognosis.  He's... in a wheelchair and they have said he won't walk again."

Aurora stared at Tara for a long while in silence.

Brigitte, in spite of her best efforts, broke before Aurora and began to weep.

"We'll get another doctor."  Aurora said in a confident tone.

Oriana tilted her head in a half shake. About as far from "gently" as you can get.

"That sounds wise. It's only been a short amount of time. You never know, with injuries like this."

Aurora nodded, "They told my mother she'd never have children before she had William."

Tara nodded.

Brigitte sniffled.  "Papa's strong..."

Oriana looks steadily at Tara, trying to convey that the current mission was to inform people what happened in a way that left them functional. Soul-crushing reality was fine to save for tomorrow.

Tara reached out and touched her mom's leg.  "They told me there's a doctor in Boston we might talk to... he specializes in this sort of thing."

Aurora nodded.

Oriana turns to Aurora, giving her what seems like a genuine smile. "Just tell him I stabbed you again. He'll be stomping into a restaurant to yell at me in no time. Like the good old days."

"How's your brother, Tara?"

Tara seemed glad to have better news to share, "Gavin is up.  He's healing well.  Eating again... though maybe a bit slower than before."  she chuckled.  "He's been talking to dad about making some decisions on what he'd like to do with himself.  He's thinking about taking over Calico Development out in Vegas for Dad."

"Oh..."  Brigitte said fondly.  "He'd be good in construction.  That would be a good fit for him!"

Aurora softened.  "Yes.  He would.  He's smart, strong, creative... he'd like the work I think though I am loathe to think of him out there in that desert alone."

"That seems like excellent news."

"It's so far away..."  Aurora adds.

"The health part, I mean."

"Not so far by plane mom." Brigitte threw in.

Tara looked to Oriana clearly glad the other woman was stepping up to help distract her mother so well.

"Malcolm is settling in."  Tara offered.  "He's been playing with the other children, seeming to get more comfortable around the house and with Dad."

"Is he talking yet?"  Aurora asked.

"A little,"  Tara admitted.  "But ... baby steps, right?"

Aurora smirked.  "Baby steps."  She allowed.

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When the car arrived, Aurora and Brigitte exited almost before it came to a stop. Brigitte's heels clicked as they moved inside, and Ori and Tara watched the two of them disappear inside. Oriana slung her small bag over her shoulder as she slowly moved onto the sidewalk with Tara trailing, first behind her and then at her side.

"You know," began Oriana, "that wasn't exactly gentle. Start with 'he's hurt, but he's alive.' Then be more vague." She flicked her eyes over to Tara."How are you holding up?"

"Trust me, I pulled some punches... but yeah, I might have something to learn about breaking stuff like that. I'm a lot better now that you're all safe at home. Honestly, I almost think I could sleep a week now. For a while there this house didn't have a single day where someone wasn't running in here to tell us someone we love and cared about was either hurt or dead... it'll be nice to have that stop for a while at least. "How are you doing?"

"Fine," shrugged Oriana. "Killed Mattaranzi, his RHM, LHM. Sister. Nephew- kinda, but I'll count it. Your mom got two, and I got two. But she was in a van half the time and I never lost consciousness, so I'm counting it as a win for me."

Tara chortled. "You're keeping score with my mother?"

 "I keep score with everyone. Just a habit, I guess."

"Well, I was beginning to pick up on your competitive nature over the phone..." She drew a breath and decided to throw out something the other woman might be wondering about, "Catalina is fine, by the way. Did some work for Dad, but all went well. She's been informed of your impending return. I ... I called her a couple hours ago."

 "I figured someone would have told me immediately if something was wrong with Cat."

 Tara nods."Yeah I guess I would have." Tara opens the front door for Ori, this time the guards do not stop them or even glance twice at either of them for potentially having weapons.

 "Can you take me somewhere where I can shower, sleep, change? I suppose I need to report to your father before I head back to Manhattan... but I'm thinking it might be a few hours before he's ready to see me."

"You can use the shower in my room again. My bed. No one will bother you."

"I thought you were tired too," said Oriana; her flicked her eyes over to Tara again for a moment as she walked.

 Tara shrugged, looking at the floor, "I can always sleep the chair. Honestly been sleeping there a lot these last few days."


Tara stopped walking. Oriana stopped as well. Tara looked at Oriana and nodding to herself she simply stated, "I killed a man."


 "I shot him."


"In the basement of a butcher's shop."

 "I meant where on him."

"Oh." Tara said sheepishly.

 "The head. I didn't do it right... and it was messier than I thought it would be and that sound stupid as hell now that I say it out loud but it's true." Tara sighed.

 "It's a messy business. Why'd you shoot him?"

 "Would you accept the answer 'it's complicated' ...?"

"Sure," said Oriana matter-of-factly. But I don't think it is? You don't need to give me a full knowledge-is-power monologue. Was he threatening you or any member of your family? Or had he hurt you or any member of your family?"

 Tara thinks about it a moment before she nodded and said simply, "Yes. He did." Tara is quiet and thoughtful.

"Then fuck him. You got him before he got you. It's that easy. Can take a little while to get used to. I'm... 75% sure I remember my first... but if you've got a reason as good as yours, just keeping saying it to yourself. Remind yourself why you did it, and you'll be fine." Oriana started walking again.

"Have you ever lied to yourself about why you killed someone?" Tara asked as she walked quickly to catch up.

 "Yep. That gets easier over time as well," said Oriana. "Why'd you really do it, then?"

 Tara nodded. "He was the man who should have been protecting my father when he was stabbed."

 "Good. You just made your family safer. The next guy will know he has to do better."

 Tara sighed. "Yeah, I'm sure you're right.

 "Another point for me, then."

Tara couldn't hold back a laugh, saying  "I'm glad you're back."

Oriana turned the corner as they approached Tara's room. As Oriana pushed the door open, Tara noticed the Italian's hand reflexively move toward her gun, as it does whenever she walks through a doorway. When the room was cleared, Ori noticeably relaxed and unbuckled her gun belt.

"I've been sleeping with my weapons now," offered Tara as she fidgeted with her ring.

Oriana smirked. "Good. Don't stab anyone in your sleep." She kicked off her boots and starts stepping on her socks to pull them off without bending down. "Let me shower and sleep for a couple hours. Go see your family. They seem to be in rough shape, and you should probably be there for them."

Tara, perhaps more affected by tiredness than she wanted to admit, watched Oriana kick off her shoes and socks without saying anything for a while. "Yeah... if you need anything, I'm just a shout away. I think you can find your way around the room though..."

 "Yep. Give me 2 hours. 3 at most. If I'm not out by then, wake me up." Oriana paused. "Knock on the door. I'll lock it. Don't want to almost knife you again."

 "I'll make a loud noise at the doorway, lots of space," said Tara, smiling. "No need for rope today. Enjoy the shower and sleep. I'll be back in a bit."

Oriana nodded, already thinking about hot water as her bare feet padded toward the bathroom and the door closes behind her.

Tara goes to her closet and pulls out the box there, leaving it on the bed to be found when Oriana comes out. Tara smiles at the contents: a large floppy sun hat ... a matching one on her vanity. With a final grin, Tara leaves; turning to find her family, she feels the smile bleed away from her face.

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"You just had to show me up and take a damn bullet for him, didn't you?"  Brigitte mocking bemoaned as she came through the door into the den where Gavin was propped up on pillows listening to the radio.

"Mom's jacket.  So are you the newest enforcer?  Cause, if so, I'll leave being shot to you from now on.  This is completely for the birds."

Brigitte laughed and put her arms around her not-so-little younger brother.  Gavin held her in return.  

"How's mom?"  He asked before letting her go.

"I need you to push her to see a doctor, with what I've heard about Papa she's gonna be all focused on him ..."

Gavin nodded grimly.

"... and Gavin, something's not right with the baby."

Gavin's face became a wall of stone.  He simply nodded.  There was one person in the whole house who Aurora could not refuse when he asked a thing (of course he rarely asked for anything) and it was Gavin.  And he knew it.

"The moment she's settled, unless you think it's an emergency, she'll go if I have to carry her there."

Brigitte smiled, "Let's hope it doesn't come to that, don't need you popping a stitch.  Let me see."

Gavin pulled up his shirt and peeled his bandage a bit to show the healing wound.  

"Gonna be one hell of a scar."  Brigitte said, impressed.  "Only a couple hundred more and you'll look like Grandpa."

Gavin chuckled, "I'm in no hurry to do this again.  What about you?  You joining the family business now?  Giving up on Broadway?"

Brigitte shrugged.  "I'm gonna start training with mom, but the plan is to live my life but always be ready if trouble comes looking for me.  If I become a mom one day, I'll make sure my kids are ready too.  Just in case they're right and there is no getting out."

She settled down in a chair near Gavin.  "I hear you're talking about Vegas?"

Gavin sighed and nodded.  "Just a thought really.  Nothing in stone yet."

"Good."  Brigitte stated flatly.  "Cause you don't belong in Vegas.  I got a better idea."

Gavin looked taken aback.  In the family no one had thought to tell him what he should be doing... of course, no one else thought or acted like Brigitte either. 

"And that is..."

"Hollowpoint needs a new caretaker and I can think of no one better than Grandpa Gavin's namesake."

"I..."  Gavin shook his head.

"The kid is eight Gavin.  Tell me he won't want to go home every single day of his life just like mom."

Gavin's mouth shut.

"If you're there, he can visit.  He can heal.  And you can take over the care of any or all of the family businesses there.  There's plenty to do.  Try everything, find what calls you.  If it's construction when Malcolm is 18 you won't yet be 30.  Still, lots of time to go to Vegas and run Calico.  Give it some thought Gavin.  Trust me when I say I know how much losing your parents can fuck you up.  Mine is still alive and I ... I still have issues.  Not like mom or... maybe Grandpa Gavin and certainly not like Malcolm might have... but we can help.  We can make sure he knows he has family who care and who are going to do everything possible to make him feel loved and safe and... home."

Gavin nodded slowly and looked thoughtful.

Brigitte took Gavin's hand.  "You're a good man.  I know you'll do what's right."

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Ori rested with Tara and Lucia laying against her. She could feel them both resting against her chest, blonde on one side and dark brown on the other. It was comfortable. Relaxing. Right. Ori had stretched out her arms to hold each other them when Francesco walked through the door. His snakelike grin excited and terrified her, and she tried to move to reach her gun, but Tara was in the way. Francesco walked closer to her-

and Oriana woke up alone in Tara's bed with her gun in her hand. There was a knocking at the door.

"Give me a minute!"

The nightmare would solve itself; it was already fading away. Finding something to wear was the more immediate concern.

Cazzo. She barely felt rested at all. Oriana walked to the bathroom and splashed water on her face. She was halfway to picking up her pants from the floor and putting them back on when she realized she'd previously worn them for almost a day and a half straight- and that they were stained with dirt and blood, just as her blouse was.

She left them in the pile of clothing on the bathroom floor and quickly rifled through Tara's wardrobe. Oriana was taller than Tara, with more lean muscle,  but still slim enough where she should be able to fit into some of the Mastrosimone girl's things. But there weren't many options there. Sighing, Oriana slipped on the robe on the chair near the end of the bed and made sure it was securely fastened before answering the door to find Tara.

"Hey. Could you grab me some clothes from Brigitte? Her stuff would fit me a little better than yours. All my stuff is covered in... well, blood."

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The v-shaped opening illuded to what Oriana was wearing under that robe, HER robe, a robe she sometimes wore as naked as the day she was born which (if she didn't miss the mark) was likely what Ori was ... right... the fuck ... now!

Tara tried not to stare and resolved to look away, "I'll go find something."  She said a little too quickly and made for Brigitte's room.  Brigitte sat up on her bed the moment the door flew open and Tara entered without so much as a knock.  


"I'm sorry..."  Tara stammered still trying to push the thoughts of Ori sleeping naked in her bed from her mind.  I'll never wash those sheets again...

Brigitte put her knife away. 

"Is this whole family is going to start sleeping with weapons?"  Tara asked walking toward Brigitte's closet.

"Maybe we should... what the hell are you doing in here anyway?"

"Ori needs some clean clothes."  Tara pulled open the closet door and grabbed the first thing she saw, a mustard-colored blouse.

"Oh you can't put THAT on her... with her complexion?"  

"It's just a shirt and besides," Tara blushed slightly, "she can make anything look pretty."

Brigitte rolled her eyes.  "The cream-colored one.  I have a pair of high-waist trousers in my dresser that are dark brown that will look amazing with them.  Lots of pockets.  Very functional.  If her feet are about my size she can wear suede boots too.  

Tara pulled out the shirt.

"Will she need a new bra and panties?"

Tara gaped.  "I... I... I didn't ask."

Brigitte sighs and gets out of the bed throwing her comforter violently.  "Well. I'm awake now so ..."  The leggy blonde opened the top drawer of her dresser and pulled out a lace bra and matching panties.  "Here."  She thrust them at Tara.

Tara took them gingerly, her mind couldn't help but to imagine Oriana in them.  

Brigitte smirked.

Tara glared, "You're making fun of me."

"Nope.  But if you hope to not make an idiot of yourself you might treat them like they aren't on fire."  Brigitte took the underclothing and plaed them between the pants and the shirt.  "There.  Just ... give them to her and step out.  If you stay in the room she's sure to catch wise to your feelings... you've got only about an ounce more guile in you than Gavin and she's a pro.  She'll eat you for lunch."

Brigitte giggled at her own joke.

"Not funny."  Tara said storming towards the door.

"And by not funny you must mean hilarious?"  Brigitte laughed, flopping back onto her bed again hoping to return to her nap.

Tara still annoyed made her way down the hall and knocked aggressively on Ori's door.  Thrusting the clothing at her, eyes averted when the door came open again.  "Brigitte says these should do fine.  I'm going down to the kitchen to make a late lunch... you interested?"

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Aurora's knife had just caught the skin as it'd ripped throwing Oriana's blouse, back during her first meeting with the Mastrosimones. It was healing nicely, although not yet completely. Hearing the loud knock, Oriana immediately fastened the robe again. She accepted the clothing and listened to Tara before responding.

"Sure. Lunch is good. I'll meet you down there."

Yawning as she turned back into the room, Oriana inspected the clothing. Excellent taste- Brigitte must have picked. A few minutes later, she was stepping into the suede boots. Form fitting brown trousers were fine. Ankle holster, knives, and gun-belt were on almost like normal- for today, she eschewed the one between her shoulder blades and tucked it into her belt instead. The cream colored blouse was a little looser in the chest that it would be for Brigitte, but Oriana tucked it deep into the pants and left an extra button undone to make it look well enough. It was a little too flirty than she'd prefer to be for this scenario, but that was better than looking either rumpled or childish in a shirt too big for her. Undergarments were a little less practical than Oriana preferred as well, but it made sense; "Brigitte" and "practical" didn't seem to go hand in hand. Oriana's straight dark hair, shorter than it was when she'd left but in its original color, was tied up in a short ponytail.

A few minutes later, she sauntered into the kitchen with her thumbs in her gunbelt, looking for Tara.

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Tara says, "I've got some tomato soup going."  Tara had her hair up in a casual/messy bun, clearly not overly thought about.  On the island in the kitchen she had sandwich supplies laid out.  Ham, Turkey, Swiss and cheddar cheeses, mayo, mustard, salt, pepper, lettuce, tomato and a jar of pickles.  "I didn't know what you liked so I grabbed it all out.  You can either make your own or sit in the breakfast nook and let me know what you want.  I gotta make my own anyway." 

Tara nodded towards the small breakfast nook which was in a small alcove of windows looking out into the backyard.  Of course, Oriana was somewhat familiar with all of this being as she killed a man in that backyard on her first visit here.

Tara stirred the soup slowly.

Oriana entered the room to see Tara cooking, experiencing a strange sense of deja vu from the first time she was here. This time, she'd be friendlier.

Oriana says, "Tomato soup sounds fine to me."

Oriana slid onto a stool in the nook after stealing a handful of pickles.

Oriana says, "Thanks."

Tara says, "My dad hates the canned stuff, likes to make everything fresh when he's ..."  Tara paused.  With everything so high up now, above Billy's head... how much cooking could he hope to do?  She sighed.  "Well, he used to."

Oriana says, "Still will, I'm sure. Doctors really said he had no chance?"

Tara says, "They were clear, though, mom's not wrong."  Tara lowered her voice for fear Malcolm might be lurking.  "They did tell Grandma Bella with certainty she'd never have children... and then another doctor found a way for her to get pregnant with Uncle William."

Tara shrugged.  "I'd like to think they could be wrong again..."

Oriana says, "Who did it to him?"

Tara says, "Ham or Turkey?"  She deflected.

Oriana says, "Neither. Soup."

Oriana wanted for an answer.

Tara says, "Just soup?  Okay... thought maybe you'd be more hungry that that."  Tara stole a glance at Ori and smiled.

Tara says, "You look nice by the way... Brigitte was right about the outfit."

Tara gets two bowls and begins filling them.

Oriana says, "Thanks. And if I'm being honest, I'm starving. I don't really eat much when I'm on a mission like that. But if I stuff myself with 4 sandwiches, I'm not going to fit in my cab later, and I'll probably fall asleep again."

Tara says, "Is it such a bad thing you might sleep again?"

Oriana says, "Depends on when your dad is ready to see me, I guess. I don't even know if I have an apartment anymore. Last time I was there was before I came looking for you for our training session. Feels like a month ago."

Oriana says, "And besides, I need to check in with Cat. Had some other business of my own... though I'm sure I'll have to push that off now."

Tara nods.  "Well... regardless you always have a place to stay so long as I'm around."

Tara brings the bowls to the table.

Oriana raised an eyebrow.

Oriana says, "You're in charge now?"

Oriana says, "Although you're right. I'm sure your father will be more welcoming since I helped out with this."

Tara says, "No.  I just mean that ... I mean, you could always crash on my bedroom floor or something if you were in a pinch.  Here... at the dorm."

Tara says, "Whatever."

Tara sits down across from Ori.

Oriana says, "So who hurt your father? Was it the person you killed?"

Tara looked towards the door and lowered her voice to a whisper that could barely be heard.  "That topic is... sensitive.  I'm not yet sure how we're going to handle it.  And no... the man I killed didn't stab dad... he killed the person who stabbed Dad."

Tara shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

Tara says, "I told you, it's complicated, didn't I?"

Tara stirs her soup and furrows her brow at it, as if troubled by her own thoughts.

Oriana says, "If you don't want to talk about something, just tell me. I won't push."

Tara says, "I want to talk to you.  You more than anyone else... especially about all this but... I don't want little ears with big mouths to hear and there a lot here.  Sometimes truth is worse than a bullet even if it is a gift."

Oriana says, "You've read too many books. But okay. We'll talk later. What about other stuff? You stepping up? Handling everything okay?"

Tara says, "I did fine.  No one even knew what happened to dad, many still don't.  I kept things running and Dad is showing me some of the business side of things I've never looked at before.  Says I have a head for it..."  she chuckled.  "Of course, I don't yet know how I'm supposed to go back to my old life after all this.  I beginning to think I can't."

Oriana says, "Do you want to?"

Tara eats a bit of her soup.

Tara says, "You ever want something because of how nice it seems but know that it's totally unrealistic, selfish, and maybe a even a bit foolish of you to want?" 

Tara looks at Ori.

Oriana says, "... no, I don't think so." She thought harder. "Maybe. What do you mean?"

Tara says, "Mom, Dad... everything that is happening with this family."  She shakes her head.  "And I don't even know why I'm going to college at this point.  I have all the money I could want and a dozen businesses I could step into running - any one of them would earn me a fine living without being 'in' but... let's face it, my parents need me.  My siblings need me.  This place would have fallen apart without me this week.  I kept things organized and from crumbling as one after another crisis hit... not to brag but I know they're not lying when the staff tells me how important I was to things.  I can't abandon them."

Oriana eats her soup as she listens.

Tara says, "Vassar seems like... vanity at this point.  What am I trying to prove?  And to who?"

Tara shrugs.

Oriana says, "You're not. Your dad's back, and he can still give orders well, I'm sure. Your mom's back, and she's going to be holed up as well. They'll both be around here running things, right?"

Oriana says, "And hey, if you don't want to go, don't go. But I'm not the person you need to convince there."

Tara leaned back in her seat.

Tara says, "I just feel like so much has changed... so fast.  I..."  Words fail Tara and she goes silent.

Oriana says, "I get that."

She looks up at Ori's eyes and smiles at the thought that someone gets her.

Oriana says, "You just had to grow up within a week. Live in a totally different world. I've had that happen to me twice."

Tara looks at Oriana with empathy.

Oriana finishes her soup and glances at the sandwiches, resolving to make one in a bit.

Tara says, "I've been telling myself I'd go back and give it a week.  See how I felt."

Oriana says, "Seems like a good idea."

Tara says, "I just can't imagine going back to that dorm with all those girls I wanted to accept me, thinking about all this life and death bullshit, while trying to pretend I care about who is sleeping with who just so I can look like I fit in.  Here I am again... weird Tara... this time not because of books or ..."  she stops herself and changes directions.  "Weird now because of all this."

Tara eats more soup and sighs.  "So... what was it like for you?  Going back to Italy?"

Oriana says, "Then don't go back to the dorm. Live here. Start getting involved in the business. Drive to school for your classes, then drive back.

Oriana says, "And you're not weird. You're interesting. The other girls aren't."

Oriana waved her spoon imperiously. "Fine, you're still a little weird. But you know what I mean."

Tara smiled around her soup spoon, "Thanks."

Oriana says, "You're welcome. Think about what I said, though. Commute, if there's an easy train. Or just transfer somewhere here in the city."

Oriana says, "Or closer to it, at least."

Tara says, Maybe I could get my own place like Brigitte.

Tara says, "She lives in Manhattan, did you know that?"

Oriana says, "So do I. Assuming your parents relax enough to let you two do it, you could always move in with Brigitte. Still have family around."

Tara says, "Hmm.  Maybe.  Though I think she likes having her space for all her fancy friends to visit and..."  She looks towards the door, "For friends to stay over, if you understand?"

Oriana says, "Right. My mistake."

Tara shrugs.

Tara says, "It's something to think about though."

Oriana nods.

Tara smiles and hesitates.

Tara says, "You know..."

Oriana stands up and moves toward the sandwiches.

Oriana sighs, "Fine, Hit me with it. You've been patient. What do you want to know about Italy?"

Oriana starts slicing some turkey and laying it on bread with a thin slice of cheese.

Tara bites her bottom lip, "You said you didn't know if you had a place still... and you work in Manhattan.  Maybe YOU could be Brigitte's roomate?  I mean... you both have great taste in clothing, you got to know each other on the trip, and ... well, I don't think you'd mind so much if she has friends over.  She'd be a million times safer with you around and it wouldn't hurt you to have another set of eyes at your back... right?"

Oriana froze with her knife in the air before returning it to the turkey.

Oriana says, "That's not the worst idea, actually. I could probably charge your parents a passive security fee."

Tara smiled, "Just a thought."  She said standing up and going to get a glass of water.

Oriana passes Tara to return to her stool.

Oriana says, "I assumed you wanted all the dirt on Venice and Milan."

Tara says, "Well, I kinda do.  I'm also well aware there are part you might not want to share... maybe not here, maybe not at all.  I'm trying to emulate your respect for personal feelings."

Tara smirks

Tara says, "Hence the generic question."

Oriana paused, frowning, "Huh. That's fair."

Tara glanced at Oriana.  "Do you like it when I'm pushy?"

Tara arched an eyebrow.

Oriana smirked, "I don't know about 'like', but I think I got used to it."

Tara came back to the table with her water.

Oriana glanced at the door for a moment, like she was thinking about leaving, but seemed to refocus herself.

Tara says, "I'm glad you came back." 

Tara sat down, "I kept thinking about my mom and Philly and how much of her life has been focused on what happened there... how it shaped her and how much she's always longed to go back to that place - her roots and what she knows.  Hell she's wanted it so much she's often missed the fact that she's spent more time with us and this part of her life than she ever did on Race Street Pier.  And yet... her eyes always pull that way.  You know?  I worried maybe it would be the same with you."

Oriana says, "I don't have anywhere like that anymore."

Tara nodded.  "I want to tell you I'm sorry that you feel that way.  I want to tell you I wish it were different, but I don't.  I don't feel that way Ori.  I'm glad you're here.  I'm glad you're here with us trying to build a new place for yourself in the world."

Tara sipped her water.

Oriana says, "Yeah. We'll see what happens I guess."

Tara says, "Was it hard to be back there?"

Oriana says, "Only some of the time."

Oriana says, "Mostly, it was fun."

Oriana says, "Sorry to say it. I know things were hard for your mom. Brigitte. But it was the most fun I've had in months."

Tara smiled.  "It probably helped them to have someone there who wasn't as emotionally invested."

Oriana closed her eyes as a smile crept onto her face, sighing like a connoisseur who'd sampled particularly fine wine.

Oriana says, "Yea. I took out two of the big targets. Mattaranzi's sister and his lover- that's, uh, two different people just to be clear. They were both really, really good."

Oriana bit into her sandwich with a predatory flair as light gleamed in her eyes.

Tara says, "I know it was fun for you... but, it was dangerous and it meant the world to my family.  You read mom's journal.  You know how much our lives was affected by that man... and not just recently.  What you did for us, it won't be forgotten Ori.  Whatever Dad says, not withstanding, I want you to know how much it meant to me.  Personally.  Thank you for bringing them home."

Oriana says, "It's nice to have someone make me work to earn it every now and then."

Oriana licks a stray spot of mustard off her finger.

Oriana says, "I would have done it for free."

Tara stares at Ori.

Oriana says, "I might have, actually. We never really negotiated any prices."

Oriana shrugged.

Tara says, "I'm sure we'll find a way to repay you..."

Tara blinks and picks up her water to take a big drink.

Tara looks out into the backyard.

Oriana seemed slightly flushed as she finishes her sandwich and stands to get a water of her own.

Oriana drinks deeply with her eyes closed, finishing the glass with a smile and stretching.

Tara keeps looking out into the backyard.

Oriana says, "I wish you could have been there. Not really, you would have gotten yourself killed. But you would have appreciated it, seeing it."

Tara turns back to look at Ori, "If Brigitte survived I would have too."

Oriana says, "Maybe. Brigitte is better at blending into a fancy party than you. That was during our infiltration. Mattaranzi's sister was a pro- a hitter. I think I told you about her? She had a gun right next to her- I managed to get her with a knife before she could pick it up."

Tara leaned on the table, "So what you're saying is... you're fast?"

Oriana says, "And Brigitte wasn't with us when we hit Mattaranzi. I had to chase down Mattaranzi's LHM- killed one of her guards to use as a bullet sponge before I shot her."

Tara says, "Wait... a bullet sponge?  What the hell is that?"

Oriana says, "Like... a meatshield."

Tara nods, "Never heard it called that before."

Oriana says, "... I grew up with strange friends."

Tara says, "You're strange, but I like it.  So... fuck what anyone else thinks."  She smirked.  "Tell me more about this fight.  Was it the LHM who made you work for it?"

Oriana says, "Both of them, really. The sister was tougher, but the whole fight probably lasted three seconds. Just a question of my knife being faster than her hand going to her gun. The LHM I had to break down a door and deal with her and a guard."

Oriana grinned wide, but it faltered after a while.

Oriana says, "I probably shouldn't talk about this stuff so much."

Tara says, "What?"

Tara turns to face Ori.

Tara says, "Why?"

Oriana says, "Bad habits, I guess. Growing up, every time I killed someone I got..." She sighed, weighing her options and seemingly deciding that just being blunt with the truth made her stronger than hiding it. "... drugs. Sex." She paused. "So it's like an association thing. I shouldn't indulge it so much, but I still get a rush every time I kill someone. Less so, but still something, when I remember killing them."

Oriana looked steadily at Tara.

Oriana says, "I did warn you that I was a bad person, you know. And fucked up."

Oriana frowns as Tara seems to be grasping for what to say. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said all that. Just got carried away."

Tara let herself think about it a moment.  Drugs, Oriana didn't seem like an addict so maybe that wasn't so bad.  She'd known more than a few people who had tried them, did them casually - her own mother even according to the journal.  In some ways, her mother had made it sound as if it eased some of the worst feelings about some of the darker shit she did... it made sense the government would use drugs to manipulate and control Oriana in her work for them.

But sex?

Tara didn't like thinking much about Oriana having sex with anyone else, though she supposed it was stupid to assume a woman of her age hadn't.  She had a few years on Tara and if a woman could kill, was it really so odd to think she might do the thing that created life in the right circumstances?  Tara silently wondered how many there had been - not victims, but lovers.  Were they men?  If this was a government thing, probably.  What government would encourage any other behavior even passively?  Though, women alone could not create babies and babies would complicate Ori's ability to work.  Maybe this was why Brigitte thought Ori liked girls?

Tara says, "You're not fucked up."  Tara said softly.  "Anyone who used drugs to manipulate you is fucked up.  Anyone who would ..."

She looked up meeting Ori's eyes, "... take something as beautiful as ... and use it... to control you.  They are the ones who were fucked up.  That you sought comfort and pleasure and happiness?  That's human Ori.  That's not fucked up at all."

Oriana says, "You're a good friend, Tara. I admit it. Better than I deserve. But it's a little fucked up that I get turned on by knifing someone. It's okay to admit it."

Oriana smirked, trying to steer the conversations back to lighter things and eating another couple pickles.

Oriana says, "Want any more?"

Oriana She gestured to the food.

Tara says, "Maybe."  Tara admitted.  "Maybe you just need to kiss someone everytime you do something you think you should like better than knifing people.  That way you could recondition yourself.  And yes... a pickle please."

Oriana Tara had never seen Oriana drunk, but this was how she'd imagine the Italian would act under the influence. Less guarded, sharing more. Perhaps some combination of exhaustion and remembering the kills had put her at ease.

Oriana says, "Hold on. I need to try to follow that."

Oriana says, "Alright, Got it."

Tara smirks

Oriana tosses Tara a pickle to test her reflexes

Tara shoots a hand up trying to catch it.

Tara fails and laughs

Tara says, "Oh lord... that's it.  Dead.  Killed by a pickle tosser."

Oriana says, "Gotta work on that, Have you been practicing your shooting?"

Tara laughs again, "Yes!"  She shook her head.  "Though my reflexes clearly leave something to be desired.  How do we go about fixing that one... what do I call you Coach?"  She teased.  "Teacher?" 

Oriana says, "Ori is fine. Want to hit the shooting range now? I don't think your parents are going to be done talking anytime soon."

Tara nodded.  "Let me pick up the kitchen then we can go."

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Ori led Tara into the armory, looking around appreciatively. Some of those supplies had saved their lives. The grenades. Climbing gear. Silencers. 

It was good to have rich friends.

With a grin, Oriana grabbed a couple pairs of earplugs and headed toward the shooting range.

"First, on your own. Show me what you've been practicing. Don't forget your plugs."

Resting on a crate of bulletproof vests, Oriana watched Tara very intently.

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Tara gave a nod and prepared her gun in the way she’d been instructed at camp.  She put her ear plugs in and then began the process of positioning her body. It was a bit odd at first, having Ori watch her as she went through the process she had gone through the last few days alone, trying to call up the feel of the other woman behind her - positioning her.  Still, she managed the task admirably if she was any judge of it.


Tara raised the gun, both hands as Ori had instructed.  Took a moment to line up the sight. She drew a breath and exhaled before squeezing the trigger.  When the target was not hit, Tara felt as if she wanted to crawl under a rock and just die. She winced.  How the fuck had she missed? She’d hit the target dozens of times since she last saw Ori.  


She could feel the other woman watching her and if it was possible to feel more humiliated, Tara wasn’t sure how that would ever work.  In her frustration she made a noise, part grunt and part exhale.


“You know what… I can’t, not with you just sitting there like that.  Look… come over here. Let’s… how about a bet. Best five shots. You vs. me.  You win and I’ll pay for your first month’s rent either at your new place or half of Brigitte’s or whatever the hell you two work out.  I win and you take me to dinner some night. Manhattan, some place cool where younger people go. I only know places my parents like to go and I honestly feel like an idiot whenever I try to go out alone.  The only time I didn’t make an utter ass of myself was that night you took me to the party so… maybe you could help me again, if I win. What do you say?”


“You’re on, College girl,” said Oriana as she popped up off the crate and strolled over toward the shooting range. “Or ex-college girl. Whatever. I’m glad that practicing a few days has given you delusions of grandeur. Show me what you’ve got.”


Tara scowled her pride pricked and her competitive streak showing all too boldly.  “Oh no, you’re the guest. I wouldn’t dream of going first. By all means, show me how it’s done.”  


With a roll of her eyes, Oriana drew her gun quickly enough that she startled Tara. Then she prepared to fire.


Tara spoke before she thought, she needed something that would unsettle the other girl, something that would take her eyes off the target, something that she’d never expect to hear, “Brigitte’s mother stabbed my dad.”  Almost instantly she wished she hadn’t said it but there it was.


Oriana’s first three shots went wide, but she landed the next four- and ended with a perfect bullseye. “You,” she began, “cannot keep a secret. But that was well played. Does Brigitte know?”


Tara shook her head.  “I don’t know that she ever will.  She’ll blame herself. Especially if she learns what the weapon was - I can’t tell her that…  I can’t imagine my father ever telling her either and the three of us are the only ones who know now.”


“Your family isn’t good enough at lying to each other. You promised to keep something secret with me and it lasted about eight minutes. You need to tell her everything and let her deal with it. Same with your mother.”


“The nail.  You remember in the journal, the nail that Brigitte used to … Neil’s nail?  No. Mom would hate herself. Brigitte would too. It’s bad enough Dad will never walk again what happens when that sinks in and he … well, God.  Ori. I…”  


Tara turned and raised the gun and shot.  Her first three shots were perfect, deadly, shot in rage the same sort Aurora had displayed but like her mother her emotions threw the final four wide and she clearly lost.




Ori looked like she was about to launch into an instructional speech, but she froze. “Wait. Did you kill Brigitte’s mother?” Tara froze as well, and Oriana read her face. “You did. Shit.” She frowned. “But seriously...  your family really isn’t good at keeping secrets. You’ve got to tell her now- or else she’ll take it ten times worse when it comes out later. She’s a strong girl, much tougher than I thought at first. She can handle it.”


“I didn’t kill her.” Tara paused.  That wasn’t entirely true. She sat down right on the floor, gun still in hand.  “At least not directly. I… gave an order.”  


Oriana leaned over and gently took the gun from Tara. “Good. You did the right thing.” She dropped onto the ground next to Tara.


“Did I?  I ordered a man to kill my sister’s mother… and then before he knew what was coming I put a hole through the middle of his face from the back of his head.”  She shook her head. “I spent half a day, more than that really, cleaning up the bits of both of them. My God Ori…”


“So yes, you definitely did the right thing. Except the cleaning part. We pay people to do that.”

She tried a smirk, hoping to prod Tara into at least a small smile.


Tara was going to tell her that she had done it to keep things secret but quickly realized her friend was trying to make a joke.  Tara managed half-hearted smile in return.


“Look, that crazy bitch paralyzed your father. And the guy let it happen. You did the right thing. Punished people who hurt your family.”


Tara nodded, silent, looking down thoughtful.


“I’m sure it’s hard for you. But your mother and father have killed lots of people, right? Talk to them about it. They’re… well frankly, they’d be better for you to talk to here. I did just admit that I get turned on after I kill people, so I’m probably not the best… barometer, exactly.”


Tara paused, something in her eyes changing and slowly her head turned so that she was looking at Oriana.  Her eyes narrowed slightly, and it was clear that whatever she was thinking about wasn’t herself anymore.  


“I guess I owe you rent money.”  Tara drew a deep breath and exhaled, “I talked to my dad about all this.  He was waiting up for me. We… it was a good talk. But um, it wasn’t the same as telling you.”


“Good. I,” she halted. “I didn’t want to make it seem like you couldn’t talk to me. I just… I don’t remember really having to deal with this for the first time. I want someone to help you, though. If it’s any consolation, like I said on the phone, it gets a lot easier.”


“It wasn’t that it was hard.  The things I keep thinking about aren’t what I thought I would think about.”


“Like what?”


Tara hesitated, “I guess I’m more worried about Brigitte and Mom. I haven’t really thought a lot about the dead people or who they were or whether I was right or wrong or what it makes me that I could do it like I did… I did a little, if I’m honest, but not like Nona Bella dwells on it in her journal or even mom.  It’s … different and I don’t know if that means I’m a better killer or a worse person. Or maybe if it’s just another thing that’s wrong with me.”


Oriana narrowed her eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re way too hard on yourself.”


“Not hard enough if that shit is what passes for shooting.”  She nods to her target. “But I’ll get there.”


“You’ve been practicing for… four days? Fuck how long was I even gone. Five days? It hasn’t been a week, at least. Come on, get up and we’ll practice again.”


Tara stood up, followed by Oriana.  “Alright.” She said reluctantly.  


Moving back to the topic of shooting, Oriana paced behind Tara. “You’re too casual. You’ve been watching your mother too much or something- or me- maybe just feeling too confident about yourself, like everything you do should be easy. You know how when you learn to write, you hold the pencil like you’re going to stab someone with it? But when you get older, all you need are a couple fingers, and you’re more precise? You’re not there yet. Look at the way you’re standing, like you’re standing in line at the deli.” 


She removed her knife, tapping the inside of Tara’s thigh with the flat of the blade. “Spread your feet wider. Keep this one further back a bit, to help with your recoil. Every time you pulled the trigger you lost some accuracy. And your hips are off.” 


Tara watched Ori move and instruct as much as absorbed what was being said, she was a wonder.  How had she seen so much, how had she just KNOWN what was right or wrong about how Tara had done anything?  It had all happened so fast, and Tara wasn’t sure she could even recall a moment of how Ori had stood or what she did only moments ago if her life had depended upon it. 


Her knife sheathed, Oriana’s hands went to Tara’s hips for a moment, straightening them out before disappearing. “Try again.” 


Tara arms were too low, lower than they’d been when she was shooting before. Oriana, with a smirk that no one else could see, reached around Tara and straightened them out. “Again. New clip. Seven shots. Double or nothing. All my rent paid- or the dinner thing. Deal?”


Tara nodded and took a deep breath, trying to focus but obviously still distracted from their conversation- or something else. Oriana leaned forward, and Tara found herself more distracted. She missed six shots in a row before Oriana waved her arm and stood up. 


“What the hell was that?


Tara was silent.

“Tara, what were you thinking about there? Nevermind, it doesn’t matter. Were you thinking?”




“Stop doing that. New clip.” Tara reloaded, keeping the gun safely pointed down. “I know you’re a thinker. But when you’re trying to shoot someone attacking you, thinking too much gets you killed. Just react. Your body knows what to do. Think with your body, not your brain. Keep your focus. Anger works. I want you to imagine someone hurting someone you love. Some bastard has taken a knife to them. They’re bleeding- whoever you’re picturing- your mother, father, Brigitte, Gavin, the twins… they’re bleeding, and they’re running to you for help. But they aren’t going to make it. They’re too hurt. They trip and fall, and there’s you with seven shots to try to save them. Do you see them? Hurt? Whoever you’re picturing?”


Tara nods, she was always very good at thinking about how people might think or feel.  She could almost feel what Lucy, Bella, and Rora wrote about in their journals and at time she cried with them as much as she cried with the characters in her romance novels.  So, it wasn’t hard to imagine Oriana hurt, bleeding, needing help.   


“Your loved one is looking up with you at desperation- but you can’t think about them. It’s just you and the target. Remember to breath. Shoot on the exhale. Don’t aim with your hand- aim with your eye. Take your time, imagine it, then shoot when I tell you to- when you need to protect your family.”


Tara held a long while, she wet her lips and swore she could taste iron - blood.  Ori’s lips were red with blood. She’d kissed those perfect lips for the first time only moments ago, telling her too late how she felt.  Someone from Ori’s old team had come for her. They would kill Ori first because they felt she was the most dangerous and then they would finish Tara off, but only after she’d gotten to watch the woman she loved die.


Tara’s vision began to blur as tears answered the calling of her empathic mind’s eye.




Oriana watched as Tara hit all seven shots. She was quiet for a moment, then began applauding.


“I am an amazing teacher.”


Tara put the gun down and sobbed.  “You are. I hate you, but really you are.”  Of course, what she meant to say was something precisely opposite of what issued forth from her lips.


“You’re not so bad either. That was good. Really good. See… you’ve got it in you. Just need more practice so you can do it in the rain in the middle of the night while five other people are shooting at you.” She winked. “That’s enough for today, I think. Unless there’s something else you wanted to practice.”


Tara stopped herself from popping off a wise ass remark.  The nature of it wasn’t something Tara was ready to throw her friend’s way.  Not yet. She’d need to be shot at a few times maybe, or stabbed a couple of times, maybe then she’d be stupid enough to believe the lie she sold herself a moment ago.


“Nah.  I think I’m good.  One trauma per day is probably my limit.”  She tried to joke, drying her tears. 


“Probably a good move. I usually dealt with them by the half dozen- less ideal.” Ori exhaled, grinning. “That was really good. Remember that, next time you’re practicing. Anger always worked better for me- imagining people that had hurt me. How I’d settle the score with them. But you’re a protector, I think.”


“Runs in the family.”  she said softly, putting her gun away.


“As far as inherited traits go, that’s a pretty good one. As for me, the only thing I know for sure that I inherited is running away from my problems.”


Tara stopped.  It wasn’t the first time today she felt like Ori was holding herself out there to be poked at and it struck her that she hadn’t really tried to push.  Was she really joking in the kitchen or did she need to talk? Did she want Tara to try? Was that the only way she’d eventually banish her demons? She hadn’t wanted to drive Ori to shutting down and fleeing, that was what she expected the other woman to do if she asked questions - it wasn’t like the woods, being here in New York.  Ori could just take her shit and run back to Catalina and that would be the end of it and Tara didn’t want this to be over. Not yet. Ori had only just gotten back.


“I think,”  Tara tried to find the right way to say it, was there a right way?  Was she about to fuck this up? “... you know what, it doesn’t matter.  Fuck inherited shit. It’s overrated. We’re what we make ourselves. WE choose everyday who we are and what we want to be, right?  I mean all those journals - what did they really do for me other than scare me senseless and give me a decent idea of how to get rid of a body?”  she chortled.


“Which turned out being useful, for the record.”


Tara continued on, not taking the bait. “I’m not my Nona and I’m not my Mom and you’re not those people you came from… whoever they are.  I like who you are Ori, and I know you have some shit you’re working through and you’re still feeling like the jury is out on whether or not you’re a good person or if you can be a good person - but everyday the choices are yours.  Be glad you’re not marked by some legacy. Your destiny is your own. You’re a blank slate. You get to choose what you do and don’t let shape you. Put down the bad stuff. Leave it behind. Take the good with you. Be the woman you want to be.”


“It’s not that easy, you know. I love your speech. I appreciate it. But… it’s complicated.” She sighed. “Let’s go upstairs and talk about what kind of food you want for dinner.”


If Tara had a title for the journal she would never write, it would surely be ‘It’s Complicated.’  She gave a meek smile at the thought. “I think I lost a few times over, since when are you in the habit of giving away a win?  Was that one for pity's sake?”


“Since I’m such a great teacher, you’ll be paying my rent for six months. I think a dinner balances things out slightly.”


Tara nodded, “I see, have I engaged your services officially then?  Long term. Not my mom hiring you I mean… but me?”


“You know, Tara. I’m being the woman I want to be. And the woman I want to be has no issue with getting paid for the same job by you and your mother. Hell, I’ll let your father pay me too. Because that’s the destiny that this blank slate wants for herself.”


“I’d better make this a very good dinner then.  I got a feeling that you’re going to make my whole family earn it.”  she chuckled.  


“Including you. Time to break out that dress in the back of the closet.”


Tara paused,  “Wait. You… the red dress?”


“The only dress. Well, the only one not appropriate for a funeral.”


“Tara!”  Rora gasped.  “Oh my God… you look so grown up.”


Tara spun in the dress and looked at herself in the mirror.  She smiled ear to ear. “It’s even prettier than you said.”

“I never thought it would fit you so well.  You’re keeping it.” Aurora said with a nod, wiping the tear from her eye.


“Where in the world would I wear it after tonight?” Tara shook her head.


“We’ll come back, eventually.  You’ll wear it at least a few more times I’m sure, maybe when a nice boy takes you on a date.”


Tara exhaled.  “Maybe.”


“My mother would want you to have it, Tara.  It’s a birthday gift. From her and from me. You can’t reject a birthday gift.”


“Okay.”  Tara said reluctantly.  “I’ve only ever wore it once before.  I guess it was good luck then… we’re not likely to get stabbed or shot while wearing it a second time… now that Mattaranzi is dead at least.”


“Don’t be a downer. Let me have some hope of an interesting evening?”


“Alright.  Just promise me that you will dress up too or I’m going to feel like a fool if I’m the only one wearing something that nice.”  The thought of Ori dressed up was at least worth the hassle of pulling out the red dress again. Thank God she’d told Aurora before they’d left for Italy or her mother might suspect for sure.


Oriana sighed. “It’s hard to hide guns in a dress, you know. But… whatever… you need to get out more. And if someone comes after us with a gun, at least it’ll be a fair fight.”


“All you need is a knife anyway.”  She said smirking. “You versus a trained killer with a gun, we both know how that shit ends.”  Tara made her way up the stairs quickly, wondering if she even still owned a pair of stockings that didn’t have a run in them.


Oriana watched Tara walk up the stairs in front of her. “Flatterer. You’re right, of course. But still. Flatterer.”


“What color will you wear?  I mean, it’s a question Brigitte would probably ask… so it seems like one I should.  I presume you’ll make sure we don’t look odd standing side by side. I mean, we will, but only because I’m short and you are tall and I’m plain and you’re a stunner but you get my point.  Colors, right? Maybe you could wear black. No chance of us looking bad together that way?”

“You’re not plain. You just need to wear makeup and get dressed like you’re not wandering through the woods. And I can barely remember my closet.” They reached the top of the stairs and headed up through the kitchen, heading to the den. Oriana flopped onto a couch and rested the heel of one boot on the toes of the other. “Look, your parents are taking fucking forever. I don’t blame them. They’ve obviously got a lot to talk about. Let me sleep for two or three more hours. If you father is ready to talk to me, great. If not, we’ll sneak out.”


The idea of ‘sneaking out’ with Ori was thrilling, though the red dress was not something one snuck anywhere in.  In truth that dress made her the opposite of discrete, what with it’s v-neck and slit clean up the thigh. It was a dress that demanded to be seen, which was why Grandpa Gavin had given it to Nona Bella and why her mother had given it to her upon her sixteenth birthday.  


“You sure you wanna try to rest here on the couch?  Kids and what have you might wake you… I mean, I could sit here and chase them off if they come causing a commotion.”


“I assumed you’d be getting ready in your room. Is there another bed I could crash in?”


“You can sleep in my bed.  I’ll have Brigitte help me get ready.  I just need to take the dress to her room.  She’s a good sport. If nothing else she’ll do it to get a few laughs in and brag about how I know nothing regarding make-up and how she’s an absolute professional in all areas of being a woman and I’m all thumbs.”  Tara berated herself but smirked, clearly amused at the relationship she shared with her sister as much as annoyed by it.


“You’re being too hard on yourself again. But yea, that works for me. Thanks. When you’re ready, we can swing by my place and I’ll get changed. If I remember where it is.”


“Sounds good to me.”  With that Tara made a beeline to her room to retrieve the dress and a few items to go with it.  “Sweet dreams. I’ll be back in just a bit to wake you unless my dad asks for you sooner.”


Oriana stood to follow Tara to her room. “I just kind of assumed he wanted to talk to me. Now I’m wondering if I’m just basing too much off my previous… job. Life. Whatever. Should I have just split when we got back, do you think?”


Stopping in her doorway, Tara shook her head, “Absolutely not.  Even if Dad doesn’t want to talk to you, or doesn’t need to say much else to anyone but mom today, I wanted you here.  I’m glad you stayed. You helped me. Maybe I helped you a little too… if only in feeding your belly and your ego.” She smiled.

Oriana kicked off Brigitte’s boots and climbed on top of Tara’s bed, not bothering to use any sheets or blankets this time. She stretched once, cross her ankles and laced her fingers on her stomach. “My apartment mostly just has wine and bread, so you’re probably right. And my roommates don’t really do much for my ego.” She paused. “Well, not as much as you, at least.” She closed her eyes, listening to Tara gather up her things. “You should tell whatever maid you have to just burn that pile of clothes in the corner of the bathroom, by the way.”


“I’ll do that.”  She said pausing to look at Ori in her bed.  In in mind she played through saying a few different things and imagining how the other woman would react to those words and the actions that followed.  Instead she just drew a breath and turned away from the bed and walked out her door. Pulling it shut behind her she whispered, “sleep well” and then leaned against the wall in the hallway for a count of ten - hoping stupidly at the other woman would call her back.  When she didn’t, Tara pushed off the wall and went straight for Brigitte.


Oriana was a light sleeper, but she was also an easy one- and it had been a long few days. She started to go down almost immediately. And dreamed of beaches.

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“No.  You can’t wear Nona Bella’s red dress on a first date… this is a date three or five dress at the earliest.  Not date one.  How do you ever top a dress like this and once she learns the story behind it?  Don’t you think that creates certain expectations?”

Tara shrugged.

“Trust me,”  Brigitte said putting the dress back into its protective bag.  “It does.  It says shit that you’re not ready to say - especially since there isn’t really a relationship yet and this isn’t really a date.  It’s more of a girls' night out sorta thing, though her asking you to wear this is promising.”

“If not that then what?  I can’t wear your clothes.  You’re taller than I am.  I’ll look like a kid playing dress-up.”

“We’ll have to go shopping.  Brigitte grabbed her purse.

“We don’t have time for that, especially not how you shop!”  Tara protested.  “I gotta wake her in like two hours.”

“Trust me, she’ll sleep all night.  You’ll go to out tomorrow.”

“She’s gonna be pissed…”

“She’s gonna be rested is what she’ll be, ready to go see her boss with a fresh face during the day and ready to stay up late with you which greatly increases your chances of this going your way.”  Brigitte put on her shoes.

“My way?”

“Ending things with a kiss.”  Brigitte beamed.

Tara rolled her eyes and crossed her arms across her chest, of course she’d love to kiss Oriana but hoping for that tonight?  Or even tomorrow after Ori had slept?  That was just stupid.

“I’m your fairy godmother on this one, just trust me, okay?  I’ll get you a dress for the ball, a carriage, and the right coachmen.  I know everything that needs to be done to set the perfect mood and even a stone-cold killer like Oriana won’t stand a chance.  By the end of the night, she’s going to find herself falling helplessly in love with my kid sister and there won’t be shit she can do about it but succumb to your charms.”

“You can’t make people fall in love, that’s not how it works.”

Brigitte paused and put a hand on Tara’s shoulder.  “Poor naive Tara, that’s EXACTLY how it works.  Happily, you have me to help you or you’d die a spinster.”

Tara followed Brigitte down the hall and watched as she pounded on her parent’s bedroom door and called out, “Taking Tara shopping, we’ll be back in a few hours I got three guys with us, we’ll be fine.  Love you!”

Tara could hear her parents inside, but neither came to the door as Brigitte rushed her away.  Whatever they were saying or doing, it was as heavy a conversation as they probably had ever had and it wasn’t ending anytime soon.


It was nearly 9pm by the time Brigitte and Tara walked into the house.  Tara carried bags on both arms and she half expected to find Oriana in the den sitting with her legs on the end of the couch looking annoyed at having been stood up.  For once she was relieved that Brigitte was right.

“You can sleep in my bed.”  Brigitte offered as they passed by Tara’s room, finding her door still locked with a quiet check of the knob.

“Thanks.”  Tara and Brigitte walked past their parents' room again, and both paused hearing the low muffled sounds of talking. 

“Think they’ll be okay?”  Tara asked.

Brigitte nodded, “No doubt in my mind.  Come on.  We’ll open a bottle of wine and relax with the radio for a bit.”

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Lucia flipped through the pages of her book, letting the words of Pertrarca flow over her without thinking about them too much. It was hard to stay focused on anything for more than a few seconds other than her failure.

La Conigli, Lucia's group with Beatrice and Marta, were supposed to gather information. Just like good rabbits, they kept their ears up and listened. Then, they'd pass on the information to the others: La Lupi and La Gatti. The Lupi, like wolves, were heavy hitters. The Cats did everything. The were the best. Oriana, naturally. Violana and Serena. Probably the three best agents, who could gather information and fight as well as either of the other groups.

Lucia had wanted to be a cat, and she'd fucked herself thoroughly in the process. She'd tried to show Francesco she could eliminate a target as well as any cat... and wound up getting embarrassed, instead. Oriana had saved her. As always.

Not that Lucia could be truly mad at Oriana for saving her. Better than the alternative. But it was hard to- a shadow darkened her doorway. Lucia looked up and grinned as she closed her book; it seemed that Ori was eager to collect her debt. But the look on Ori's face chased Lucia's grin away.

"Ori... what's wrong?"

Dropping her bag, Oriana rushed to Lucia and spoke in her ear. "Francesco killed Ginevra. She was pregnant. You're being 'removed' from the team as well. We need to leave. Now. Get your things."

"Ori, I... no!"

Lucia's eyes went wide as she saw more shadows in the doorway. Oriana, somehow, already had her gun out. Vittoria, Marta, and Paola had their guns out too, but they'd stopped moving when they saw Oriana.

"Francesco said she was supposed to be alone..."

She? They were here for her, then. For fucking up one too many times. Lucia listened carefully to Oriana and the other girls, letting her hand move slowly to the gun under her pillow.

"Hey." Oriana said the word casually, lowering her gun slightly. Lucia knew that her friend was just trying to put Vittoria and the others at ease.

"Hey yourself. You're not supposed to be here. And why are you pointing a gun at us?"

"Why do you have your guns out?"

"No reason. Just wanted to scare Lucia. Send a message that she fucked up."

Right. Didn't look like Oriana believed that either.

"Well. Message received. Goodnight, ladies."

No one moved. No one spoke. Lucia gripped the gun under her pillow. When Oriana couldn't take it any more, she broke the silence like she always did. "Did Francesco send you?"

Vittoria nodded.

"To kill Lucia?"

Vittoria paused, then nodded slightly again. She and the other two girls in the doorway tensed up. Lucia thought about asking Ori to just leave, but she knew that'd be a waste of oxygen.

"So why the guns, then?"

"He said you might be here."

"And what were you supposed to do, if you found me?"

"Whatever it takes."

"I don't want to hurt you."

"Us too."

"We don't have to fight. Let Lucia and I walk out and-"

All three girls at the door shook their heads. 

"We don't have to do this."

There was a long pause. God, thought Lucia. She could read Oriana like a book- and she saw the muscles of her shoulder tense.

"Ori," said Vittoria, "just get up and walk out of the room. It's the only way."

After a moment, Oriana nodded. And moved. Then the world exploded in a hail of gunfire. Vittoria dropped immediately, then Paola; Oriana was driven backwards, and Lucia franctically picked up her gun and shot Marta. It was over in three or four seconds, and the silence was deafening.


No answer. Lucia flung herself at Oriana, who'd fallen back onto the bed. 

"No... no... no no no no no... Ori, wake up..."

Lucia started crying, hating herself for it even as it was happening. But she couldn't help herself. Oriana's eyes were closed, and she'd been hit in the side. There was a lot of blood. Forcing herself to breath steadily and avoid hyperventilating, Lucia ran to the bathroom and came back with a basic medical kit. She patched up the wound quickly and injected a painkiller, knowing that she was running low on time. There'd be more coming soon, surely.

Lucia, smaller than Oriana, had a hard time wrestling her friend's body onto the luggage cart from her closet. Oriana's head thunked at least twice, but Ori didn't respond to either that or Lucia's reflexive apology. She wheeled Oriana down the hallway toward the garage, praying that no one would see them. It didn't take long to reach one of the vans, but it took everything Lucia had to lift Oriana's dead weight into the van. By the time the van had started up, Lucia was crying in more ways than one. 

Did she really hear voices as they sped out of the garage and onto the road? Or was it just her imagination.

"It's going to be okay, Ori. I'll get you to town, and they'll find a doctor for you, and... well...  they'd kill us all within a couple hours. New plan. We'll just drive until we hit..."

Lucia's voice trailed off. How to hide from 7... no, fewer now... who was left? Ori said Gin had been killed. Vittoria, Marta, Paola. So that left Viola, Serena, and Beatrice. Two cats and a rabbit, all dangerous. They'd find them. 

Lucia drove in silence for a long time. There wasn't a plan she felt confident about, but she had to do something. And fast- Oriana wasn't waking up. She pulled into the bus station in Milan and bought one bus ticket for Venice. Oriana had been raised there, and she was at least familiar with the area. Lucia found out which bus was leaving and managed to wrestle Oriana to a standing position. 

Ori was breathing. She wasn't talking, but she wasn't dead weight anymore.

"Ori... sit up. Can you walk? Stand?"

Ori shook her head and clutched her side, obviously in pain and still out of it from the drugs. Lucia helped Oriana stand and, supporting her weight, limp towards the bus. It wouldn't leave for another half hour, and no one was on it. It was dangerous to leave her- but it was more dangerous to stay.


Ori's head had thumped against the window. Lucia, crying again, took Ori's face in her heads and looked straight into it.

"Ori... Ori can you wake up?"

Oriana's eyes opened slightly, but there was an obvious haze of pain and narcotics.

"You... you're going to be okay, Ori. You'll get to Venice, and you'll wake up I hope, and you'll be fine. I'm going to try to buy you some time. Maybe I'll even get lucky and beat them. Then I'll come back for you, okay?"

Oriana couldn't reply.

"I love you," said Lucia, kissing Oriana through her tears. "I-" Lucia shook her head. There was nothing left to say. She tilted Oriana back against the window, kissed her again, and left with a final look back over her shoulder.


The compound in the Dolomite mountains was quiet as the van came to a stop. Lucia had pulled it over on the side of the road in the treeline; she'd go the rest of the way on foot. With any luck, she'd slip into the compound, kill Francesco, and then go to find Oriana. Without Francesco, she didn't think Viola, Serena, and Beatrice would hurt them. Well, maybe Beatrice would, but she wouldn't go out of her way for it. 

Lucia wasn't nearly as good at fighting as the Cats were, but she was quiet and stealthy. She made her way past the normal guards and sentries, effortlessly slipping through security until she reached Francesco's room. She opened the door silently, took a step inside, and was shot twice in the chest before she could react. 

Lucia dropped to her knees and gasped for breath, more in pain from her failure- again- than her wounds. Francesco put his gun away as Serena and Viola materialized at his shoulders. Francesco knelt down, and extended a hand to Lucia's neck to keep her kneeling upright.

"Where is she?" he asked.

"... who?"

"Where is she?" 

Pressure on her throat, relaxed after a moment.

"Don't know. Mid-Atlantic by now I think."

For a long time, Francesco stared at Lucia, who grinned up at him with bloody teeth despite her wheezing for breath. Then he removed his gun and shot Lucia in the forehead.

"Clean this up, girls. Then find Oriana. Immediately."


Oriana woke up Tara's bed disoriented, breathing heavily, and with wet cheeks. She moved to the bathroom quickly, angry at herself. She pissed with her head in her hands, then splashed cold water on her face to remove any evidence of crying. What the hell time was it anyways?

God, Lucia. With a shuddering sigh, Oriana retreated to sleep. Exhausted, confused, and still groggy, she climbed under the sheets and decided that every fucking question would just have to wait until tomorrow.

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"Presentation is everything.  Trust me."

"Just don't go in.  Knock only."  Tara said seriously looking at herself one more time in the mirror and blushing demurely... she did, in fact, look as beautiful as anyone could hope to make her.  Beautiful was not a word she would have ever used in regard to herself, until tonight.  Tonight, for the first time ever, she felt it.

"What does she sleep nude?"  Brigitte chuckled.

Tara shook her head, "Nightmares. Didn't she have any on the trip?"

Brigitte hesitated, "Not that I noticed, but I wasn't sleeping with her so..."  Brigitte exited the room not waiting to hear what Tara had to say in response.  It was wholly unimportant.  What mattered now was wrangling the assassin and getting her head out of work space and into a different one.

Brigitte knocked loudly on the door, "Wakey wakey sleeping beauty!  Come on.  I found something you might want to see!"

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Oriana's eyes snapped open. In the last batch of sleep, her dreams hadn't been so bad. 

Shit. How long had she been out?

She blinked, indulging in a feline stretch as she rolled off the bed and landed on the balls of her feet. She made her way over to the doorway, opening it with a hand on the hilt of the knife on the rear of her belt. She opened the door to find Tara in a white dress and Brigitte dressed more casually than Ori had ever seen her. Her eyes lingered on Tara for an extra couple seconds as she left the door open and stepped aside.

"How long did I sleep for? Long enough for you to go shopping? Nice pick."

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Tara looked at the floor as Brigitte stepped inside revealing the full vision of her sister in a long flowing white dress with a plunging neckline that made Tara feel nearly naked but Brigitte insisted what passed for proper in New York City was NOT what was proper in New York City and she needed to get used to that.

"All day."  Brigitte said walking over to Tara's bed and flopping onto it as if she owned the place.  Tara folded her hands in front of her and struggled not to blush at Ori's compliment.

"You seemed really tired."  Tara insisted.  "And mom and dad are still busy."

"Like rabbits in spring, I think,"  Brigitte remarked with a smirk at Ori.  "So where are you kids going tonight?"

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Oriana rolled her eyes. 

"Well, your mother deserves it. And it's not like she needs to worry about getting knocked up."

She walked between Tara and Brigitte and sat on the chair, crossing her legs and flexing her bare foot.

"Huh. Well thanks, I guess. I suppose I needed it. I dunno."

She paused, blinking.

"Yes I do. There's a place I've been meaning to check out. Just need to swing by my place first and change. Joining us, Brigitte?"

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"Oh no.  Actually I'm hoping to use Dad's distraction to track down and find one of his newest button guys... goes by the name Bowman.  Eli."  She smirks.  "Devilishly handsome, large fellow, seems like he might like prefer a girl who can rock flannel & heels as well as skin a rabbit before cooking it for supper..."

Tara chuckled.  "Never thought you'd be using those skills to bag a friend for the night."

"For the night?  Oh ye of little faith.  I might keep this one for a week.  He's positively delicious with his little folksy sayings.  Maybe I'll steal dad's plane and take him to Montreal."  Brigitte hopped up off the bed and looked to Ori.  "If this new place you're going checks out to be good though, maybe another time?" 

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