Amber looked up in a panic as the door to her apartment opened. When Kermit found his way to her desk, she dropped the letter she’d been reading over and regarded him strangely.
“I thought we’d said tomorrow?”
“I think what we have to say is important enough to take the chance you were home.”
Amber slid her papers into a neat pile and dropped them in the desk drawer. She rose and asked almost timidly, “Would you like some coffee?”
“It would be a nice change from the toxic waste at the precinct,” he told her, following her to the kitchen.
Amber filled his favorite mug and refilled her own. “Here.” She gave him a nervous smile. “So, how do we begin? I’ve never been good at this.”
“Neither have I. But I’ll try. Amber, this freaky behavior of yours has gone on long enough. If you’re going to call it all off, you’ve got to do it and get it over with. I’m not going to make it easy on you: you have to tell me yourself that you want me gone.”
Amber dropped her coffee. “Bright Lady!” She reached for paper towels, blotting it up hurriedly and placing her mug on the counter, wiped down and luckily unbroken. Finally, she turned to look at the dark glasses. “You think I’m planning to leave you?”
“I want to know -- need to know. Was this all-day meeting really with Jennifer, or were you seeing someone I should know about?”
Amber laughed shortly. “I was with Jennifer. You thought I was stepping out on you? I don’t know what you’re on, but that’s insane,” her tone was flat.
“Well, at least that’s good news. So, who’s this Jennifer you can’t talk to when I’m in the room?”
“She’s my lawyer. Well, she is now. She is also an old friend. If you need proof she exists, I can arrange for you to meet her at some point.”
“I’d like that. But now the question is, what do you need a lawyer for?”
She let out an exasperated breath. “I’ve got to be in court. I don’t know when -- the lawyers are extending the court date with all kinds of motions. I’ll be able to tell you more soon, but not right now.”
“Soon? Why not now?”
“There are things about me you don’t know, Kermit! You think I was always the sweet, obliging creature I am now -- well, I wasn’t. I didn’t always do anything someone asked of me. I was not the woman you know. We haven’t ever really talked about the past, and there are things that I have to deal with from mine!”
“You think I don’t understand having a past?” Kermit was starting to feel angry now. How could she act as though he didn’t know what could come back to bite? “What do you take me for?”
Her eyes flashed. “When I was younger, I crushed people like you...” She stopped, took a breath in the shocked silence. “When I was younger, I crushed people.”
Kermit let the laugh escape before he could call it back. “When you were younger? Amber, you’re still young. How bad can your past be? I’ve killed people.”
“I’ve damned people.” Her eyes were haunted. “You don’t understand, and I can’t explain it all right now. The question is, are you going to be around long enough to understand at all, or are you just going to give up and leave me?”
Kermit laughed again harshly. “I’m not going anywhere. We’ve got something, or I thought we did. It’s going to be up to you, Amber Adair. You can keep jumping every time I move an inch, or you can cut what you appear to think are your losses, or you can move in with me.”
She almost dropped her coffee again, but caught it in time and set it safely on the counter. “Move in with you?”
“Damn it, yes. Someone’s got to water those plants you put all over the place. I try to do it, but I forget too often.” He pulled off his sunglasses and fixed her with a stern gaze. “You’ve so far asked me for one thing -- that I let you know when I am going away. I promised I would, but I may not always be able. If you move in, you would at least know what had happened by the fact that I was gone without a word, and you would also know that I was coming home. I need some kind of sign that you are committed to us.” He shook his head. “Damn, isn’t the woman supposed to be the one saying this? I need to know that you’re coming home. I need to know that you trust me; that you’re not going to fly off like you did in New York or Texas or San Francisco. I want you where I know I can find you.”
Amber stared back up at him for a long moment. “You’re saying that you want to be able to trust me.”
“In a way, maybe. Frankly, sleeping alone is just not doing it for me anymore. We’re more often than not here or at my house together. There’s not really enough room for both of us here, and I have a better kitchen. Why not just make it all simpler?”
Amber thought furiously for a moment. I’ve never lived with anybody else, not since I was a child. How can I do this? What guarantee does this idea give either of us? Then, with a sudden flash of insight, she saw. He really was worried about who I was with. He really has been upset at how jumpy I’ve been, but he doesn’t want to call it off, like so many have done before. He wants to make sure we have a chance to work out both of our demons.
Aloud, she asked, “Are you sure about this? I mean, really sure?”
“You know me, woman, would I say it if I weren’t sure?”
She sighed, looked away, then met his eyes once more. “All right. I think I would like to move in with you. And it would be better for Joseph and Mai to live over the shop, anyway. Just remember: you don’t understand what I used to be. Since I have decided to stand and face it rather than keep running from the demons and dragons that are undoubtedly hunting me, they will find me. And they will find me here. I don’t want to get you caught up in any of my problems, but if I am with you, I can’t guarantee you won’t be.”
“I’ve told you before, I have my own demons to face every so often. I’m used to it.”
Her tone somehow formal, even ritualistic, she asked, “So you are willing to take the risk?”
“Life’s a risk, Green Eyes. I’m willing to take it.”
She sighed again, but it was in relief this time.
“Then I’ll start packing as soon as we get Lucy and her parents back together. We’ll have to talk about this all again, though.”
Kermit grinned. “We certainly will -- I haven’t shared a house with anyone in fifteen years.”
“You don’t understand...”
He pulled her close. “We can talk about it later.” His voice grew husky. “Let’s put all of this back in the closet for now. I want to celebrate the end of our first fight.”
She melted to him, willing to be distracted.
Amber woke slowly, letting her eyes drift open. The sun streamed over the bed, letting her know it was past time to wake up. She looked at the clock -- eight thirty? How could she have overslept like that?
She rolled back over the other way to push at Kermit’s chest -- her hand tingled pleasantly at the contact. It’s so good to have things worked out. I’m sure we’ll have to hash things out again, but at least we know we can. I was afraid it might break us.
“Wake up, tough guy. I think we had better call Peter. We’re late.”
Kermit reached for his dark glasses, slapped them on, then looked at her. “You’re kidding. It’s eight thirty already? I should have been at the station half an hour ago!” He barked. “All right, all right, I’m moving.”
“If you caught me completely up to date last night, after...” she colored as she made the bed up. “I need to go talk to the Quangs again, while you get up with the others and go see Shang.” Amber shuddered at the thought of her former captor. “It sounds like we may get the whole thing over with today.”
“That’s what I’m hoping, Green Eyes,” Kermit called over the noise of the shower.
Amber threw a robe on and padded off to make coffee. This morning, everything looked less frightening and uncertain -- she thought she had never seen the sky so blue. As the coffee dripped, she debated absently about which plants she would take and which she should leave for Joseph and Mai. She needed to start running again -- the last two weeks had been too chaotic and confused in her memory. Now she had a fresh outlook on things, and one of those things was that she was going to put on some pounds if she didn’t get back to her morning runs. But I must admit, I needed to sleep in this morning. And I certainly needed last night.
“And today we find out about Lucy Quang,” she mused out loud, carrying the two mugs of coffee back up to the bedroom.
Kermit was almost dressed now, and he took his mug with a quicksilver smile. “Oh, yeah. And we get Shang off the streets. I’ve still got a couple of loose ends with him.”
“Well, I leave that to you. I’d rather not see him ever again,” Amber retorted. She bent for a kiss, then passed into the bathroom for her turn in the shower. “Soon as I’ve got everything settled for the day around here, I’m heading over to see Mr. and Mrs. Quang. Call me if anything happens, or I’ll see you later.”
For once, she did not force him to eat breakfast. He went out the back while she was still showering and whistled tunelessly all the way to the station.
Amber spent a little while listing all the things she wanted to take to Kermit’s then decided they’d better talk about it later. She went down to check on Joseph. When all was ready there, she went to find Caine, who would give her the Quang’s address. She wasn’t sure how she would talk to them yet, but something would come to her.
Caine and Lo Si were together in Caine’s patio garden when she’d climbed the fire escape. Amber kissed the Ancient on one dry cheek, and he patted her hand happily. “You are feeling better today,” the little man told her.
“Yes, Master, I am. Good morning, Caine,” she made a small bow.
“Good...morning.” He placed his heavy hand on her shoulder. “I am...happy for you. But now I sense...that you need something...of me.”
“Yes. I need to go talk to the Quangs. I know you’re going to meet the others and see Shang again, so if you could just tell me where they live, I’ll figure out a way to speak to them.”
Lo Si laughed. “Amber, child, I will accompany you. All you have to do is ask.”
She grinned. “I knew something would work out! Thank you, Master. I’m asking, I’m asking!”
Caine spoke. “They live...at 214-B...Little Court.”
“Thank you.” She gave another little bow. “We’ll see you later.”
The trip down the fire escape was quick, and she and the Ancient were on their way.
Kermit sat half on Peter’s desk with his first cup of what Blake called coffee. “Well, we’d better finish up what we can of the paperwork and then get rolling,” he said.
Peter eyed him narrowly. “Something’s...I know! You must have gotten things straight with Amber.”
Kermit’s mouth twitched. “Oh, yeah. Let me go see what’s in my inbox that can’t wait. Come get me when you’re ready, kid.”
Jody stomped over. “Not without me, you don’t. I’ve already cleared it with Captain Simms. I’ve been in on it since the beginning. I’ll see it through with you.”
Peter grinned. “Jody, Jody, Jody...always a step ahead. Of course you’re coming! But we’re not due until eleven. Let me finish filing this report and the next one, and we’ll go.”
Jody laughed lightly. “I’ll bet you don’t make it through the first one before it’s time to go.”
Kermit stood. “No bet,
sweet cakes. See you in a few,” and he vanished into his office.