He lifted his head from the thick ledger he was studying and looked up as Jo came in the door, slowly. She was nine months pregnant and due any day now, one of the reasons he was at home and not at the office going over the accounts.
"Yes?" he asked calmly, making sure to keep his tone neutral, she'd been extremely moody lately.
She sighed, looking exasperated.
"Did you eat the last pickles? Cause if you did, you should've went out and bought more."
He shook his head gently.
"Nope, wasn't me. Galen might have and he's not around right now, so I'm going to assume that he went out to buy more."
Jo frowned at his gentle tone, he'd been treating her like glass lately.
"You don't need to talk to me like I'm two years old." she snapped, harsher than she'd meant to. "I'm not going to come unglued."
He raised an eyebrow at her.
She growled and turned to leave.
"Oh, shut up."
He chuckled and got to his feet, chasing her down. Catching her in the hall, he grabbed her gently from behind and wrapped his arms around her.
"I love you." he said softly, kissing the side of her cheek while his hands came to rest on her swollen abdomen possessively.
She sighed and leant into him.
"I love you too. I'm sorry that I've been so cantankerous lately, I just want this kid to be born so he can quit playing congas on my kidneys."
"Any time you're ready." he chuckled. "I finished the nursery two days ago."
She frowned at him and started back towards the kitchen.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm working on it. You think that Wade and Lacy have some pickles kicking around?"
Ares shrugged, he honestly couldn't say. Lacy was also due any day now and there was a bet going between all of them to see who was going to become a father first. Both of them had taken a liking to pickles, so there wasn't a store within a five mile radius that had any sitting on the shelves.
Wade and Lacy had bought the house next door, on the right. They'd ripped out the dividing fence and joined them with a four car garage. That way they could visit each other without having to go outside in the winter. Galen still lived with Ares and Jo, it was like having a teenage boy around.
He shirked responsibility, came and went at all hours of the day, and was impossible to get a hold of when you needed him; the reason why Ares was at home instead of at work. Galen was going the wrong way quickly, being as unreliable as he was.
"Come on, not so little dove." chuckled Ares, moving towards the garage. "We'll go see."
Lacy was sitting at the table, struggling to get the lid off a brand new jar when they came in. Jo let out a squeal of happiness and hurried over as fast as she could. Lacy saw her and grinned widely, her cheeks flushed and glowing beautifully.
"Brand new jar!" she declared, looking at Ares. "But I can't get it open."
He chuckled and took it from her, popping the top with a gentle turn and handing it back.
"I'm glad I can still be of use."
They didn't reply as the pickles were exposed and they dug in, crunching loudly and chattering amongst themselves.
He spun and saw as Belle came running in the door, dropping her school bag and jumping up into his arms.
"Hey, Belle." he said giving her a hug and kissing her on the cheek. "Where's your Dad?"
She giggled, showing off twinkling blue eyes as her pig tails bobbed.
"He's in the backyard." she said softly, then leant in to whisper. "He's building a dog house."
"For Mandy and Jake?"
She shook her head.
"No. He said that we're going to get a puppy."
Ares set her down and rolled his eyes; one more dog when they already had two, was definitely not what they needed.
"I'm going to go visit him." he said softly, patting her on the head and moving towards the backyard. "Don't get two close to that pickle jar, you'll loose an arm."
She giggled again at the look her mom sent Ares as he left.
Ares found Wade in the backyard. Pieces of lumber were scattered everywhere and he was looking at the monstrosity of bent nails and crooked boards with a frown on his face.
"It's definitely not the Ritz."
He looked up and grinned. His brown hair fluttered in the breeze, grown out since he'd fulfilled his three years of service and discharged. He'd married Lacy after his basic training and officially adopted Belle a year later. He now looked like the happiest man in the world, especially with Lacy's present condition.
Ares hadn't officially married Jo yet, they were still engaged. They had planned on setting a date, but then she'd discovered she was pregnant and they decided to wait a little longer; they loved each other, so when they made it official didn't matter.
"I'm not a carpenter."
Ares walked up and jiggled the rickety structure, noticing how big it was.
"That's a big dog house." he commented, taking a step back in case it fell down. "And I don't think I want the dog's sleeping in it."
Wade cast a cautious look around the yard and into the house. He leant towards Ares with a grin on his face.
"I told Belle that. I'm trying to build the kids a playhouse, but as you can see I'm not Bob Vila."
"Why don't you ask Galen to help you? He's good at this type of stuff, does all the fixing in the houses."
"I did. He said, yeah sure thing, and didn't show up. Leaving me no choice but to embark on this endeavour on my own."
Ares sighed heavily. He'd have to sit down and have yet another talk with his brother. It seemed that his irresponsibility was getting worse instead of better. When he'd first been brought to the house, he'd been scared to venture too far without anyone and he was reliable. Now, he wasn't afraid of anything and Ares was always waiting for the phone call that he was in jail or dead.
"I'll talk to him, again."
"He's just a kid. You have to remember, he hasn't been around as long as we have and everything is new to him."
"That's no excuse to make a promise and not keep it." he argued. "One of these days, we're going to really need him and he won't be anywhere to be found."
Wade couldn't argue with that, Galen was getting worse with time.
"Whatever, but you're here now so we can tear down and start anew!" he declared, reaching for his hammer. "I'm sure that you've read plenty of construction books, you know what needs to be done."
Ares frowned, crossing his muscled arms over his chest.
"Yeah, hire someone. I can sneak through an open field in the middle of the day with grass two inches tall and not be seen, but I can't change a light bulb if my life depended on it."
"It's a good thing that rarely happens." he paused to chuckle and put on a menacing face. "Change this light bulb or die!"
Ares chuckled softly, shaking his head but a startled cry from inside the house stopped it abruptly.
He rushed in to find Lacy holding Jo's with a puddle around both their feet.
"What? Did you drop the pickles?"
Lacy gave him a dark look.
"No, fool. She's in labour!"
Wade came skidding in and grimaced at the mess.
Lacy's face flushed darkly.
"Screw your floor! Go get the car! Phone the doctor! Do some-" she paused and gripped her stomach as she sank into the chair, a groan escaping her lips as she looked up at him. "Oh, God. Too much excitement, Wade-"
He didn't let her finish, he broke for the phone and shouted up the stairs to Belle's room.
"Code red! Belle we have a code red! This is not a drill!"
Ares heard the frantic footsteps as Belle came running down the stairs carrying a bag and brand new teddy bear. She was making the noise of a air raid siren as she grabbed the keys and headed to the car. He turned and looked at Wade as he hung up the phone.
"Get them to the car." he said, helping Lacy stand and moving her over the slippery tile. "I phoned the doctor and he's on his way, he'll meet us there."
Ares started steering Jo towards the front door, following Wade's lead.
"I'm beginning to think he practised this." he mumbled.
Jo snorted and groaned.
"You have to phone, Galen."
Ares rolled his eyes and grabbed Wade's cell phone off the foyer table as they went by. He doubted that he'd get a hold of him.
--- --- --- --- ---
Ares hung up the phone as he paced outside the hospital with Wade.
"I don't know where that foolish ass is." he snarled, tossing the phone to Wade. "I know he takes the damn thing with him everywhere he goes, I'm the one who pays the fucking bill."
Wade smiled sheepishly.
"Maybe he's at a movie or something?" he suggested. "Galen never really tells us what he's doing."
"For all I know, he could be out doing drugs with the cartel. I don't know what I'm going to do with him."
Wade rolled his eyes.
"I'm sure it's not that bad. Did you leave a message?" Ares nodded and he grinned. "There, he'll get it and it'll all be good."
A nurse came out, smiling widely.
"It's time, gentlemen."
--- --- --- --- ---
She was going to break his hand. Ares kept his expression blank as Jo gripped it tightly and screamed as the doctor offered encouraging words. The nurse kept mopping her forehead with a cool cloth and he didn't really know what to do, everything seemed to be well taken care of.
"You're doing great, little dove." he said softly, relaxing as she released her tight grip on his hand.
She snarled at him.
"If I didn't love you so much, I'd kill you right now."
His eyes widened slightly.
"But I thought-"
"Push, Johanna." said the doctor interrupting him. "The baby is almost here. I need two big pushes."
She gritted her teeth, breath hissing through them and Ares could've sworn he heard his hand crack moments before pain chased up his wrist and arm. He didn't flinch or move, now wasn't the time. She released and he switched hands quickly, tucking the other close to his chest.
"One more." said the doctor, looking up at her. "One more and this'll all be over."
She pushed again and a baby's cry filled the room as she fell back against the pillow, panting with tears streaming down her face.
The doctor stood with the screaming child in his arms, resting it a waiting blanket being held by a nurse.
"Congratulations, it's a healthy baby boy."
Jo started to cry and Ares kissed her on the forehead.
"A boy." she said softly, kissing him back. "I knew it would be a boy."
She frowned at him, knowing that couldn't possibly be true.
"Go check on Lacy and Wade. I'll be fine here and they're going to take him to get cleaned up."
Ares found Wade in the hallway, coming out of the delivery room with a frozen expression on his face. He grinned widely.
"It's a boy." he said lightly.
Wade's expression didn't change.
"A boy too."
Wade swallowed heavily as they wheeled Lacy out on a stretcher, rushing for the ER while doctor's and nurses shouted all around her.
"She's bleeding and they don't know if they can stop it."
--- --- --- --- ---
Galen washed his hands quickly and the nurse helped him with the gloves as he pushed his way into the ER. The stretcher came in and he didn't stop to look at who it was as he started shouting orders and tried to save her life.
It took him thirty minutes, but he found the source of the problem and stopped it. Her vitals stabilized and he straightened from her. A nurse came up, smiling at him beneath her mask.
"Good work, doctor."
"Thanks, you guys were great." he moved to the wash station and pulled the gloves off, tossing them into a garbage bin with his scrub top. Washing his hands, he pulled off the surgical mask and headed to the waiting room to see her family.
Stepping out of the hallway and into the waiting room, he froze when he saw Ares and Wade sitting there. His eyes flew open as they looked up at him, their expressions mirroring his own.
"My, God." he said softly. "It was Lacy?"
Wade jumped to his feet.
"Is she okay? What the hell are you doing, dressed up like a doctor?"
Galen held up his hand, regaining his composure.
"She's going to be fine." he said softly. "She had a small tear that was bleeding, but I found it and sealed it up. She'll have to stay in here for a couple of days, but it'll be fine."
Ares frowned suspiciously.
"Are you telling me, that you're the surgeon?"
Galen shrugged and grinned sheepishly.
"What can I say? Surprise?"
Ares scowled darkly.
"Why the hell didn't you tell me? Why did you sneak around like a damned snake and let me think you were out partying and doing drugs like some kind of miscreant?"
Galen sighed and pulled the surgical cap off, ruffling his dark brown hair.
"I didn't want you to make a big deal of it. I'm not even sure I like doing this, it just seemed like the type of thing I should do."
Ares's expression didn't change.
"Like the carpentry that you didn't finish? Or the art classes? Tell me, when are you going to decide what you want?"
"Do you have to do this here?" he asked softly. "I worked my ass off to get through those six years of school, I like the theory but I just don't think I'm cut out for the practical part. It's not that I'm not good at it, because I'm damned good at it. I just, don't like doing it."
Wade began to fidget.
"Can I see her?"
Galen looked up and smiled tightly.
"Yeah, she should be waking up any time now. The nurse over there will show you where she is. Did you have a boy or a girl?"
Wade grinned as he moved away.
Galen turned to look back at Ares.
He grinned widely.
"Who won the bet?"
Ares frowned darkly.
"You did. They were both at the same time."
--- --- --- --- ---
Galen finished his shift, his last shift. He'd neglected to tell Ares that he'd already told them that he was quitting. He cleaned out his locker and showered before heading up to visit Jo and Lacy. He'd pulled some strings and got them moved to the same room where they could keep each other company.
Taking the stairs to the maternity ward, he came out the top and found that the room had been flooded with flowers already; probably Wade and Ares trying to get back into their good graces. He chuckled to himself as he came in, he'd seen that before.
"Well, hello." he said softly, coming in and looking at the two tired women. "Aren't you two a sight for sore eyes."
Jo snorted loudly.
"Quit trying to charm us, Galen. Ares already mentioned what he discovered this morning."
Galen's smile faded.
"Oh." He shuffled his feet nervously. "Are you going to give me hell too?"
Jo snorted once more.
"Honestly, Galen. You should know me better than that by now. Besides, I'm way too tired to get myself up in a dander."
"I can't complain."
"It was no big deal, any of the doctors here could have done the same."
"All right, well, if you're looking for the boys they're down looking at their sons through the looking glass."
Galen nodded and adjusted his bag slightly.
"Jo, are you ever gonna marry Ares?"
She lifted an eyebrow.
"Totally off topic but yes, I plan to do so as soon as we get things back to normal again."
"It's just that it's been such a long time you've been engaged…"
"Galen." she said flatly. He looked at her solemnly. "When I get home, you and me are gonna sit down and have a little talk. I want to know where this is all coming from."
He nodded and left, leaving the two girls frowning. Lacy turned to Jo.
"What was that all about?"
"I don't know. It's strange that a man who is so brilliant can have no confidence at all. That's what this is about, the constant change in profession, he starts and doesn't have the gusto to finish it. He's looking at everyone else and feeling inadequate."
"So you're saying that he's comparing himself to Ares and Wade, and feeling like he's letting them down?"
"He just wants to please them, looks at them as role models rather than friends or brothers. Ares has been controlling him for a while, teaching him like a father would, so that's the bond they have."
Lacy sighed and leant back against her pillow as she closed her eyes.
"He's a damn good surgeon."
--- --- --- --- ---
Galen found Ares and Wade pressed against the glass like little kids at an aquarium. The two boys were lying side by side in the cribs, sleeping peacefully. He came up and set his bag down gently.
"Have you held them yet?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"No." sighed Wade. "And I have to go get Belle from Finkleman's right away."
He led them inside and smiled at the nurse, who smiled back.
"Is it alright if they hold their sons before taking off for the night?" he asked softly, careful not to raise his voice or wake anything. "Just for a moment or two?"
She nodded and started for the cribs.
"Of course, follow me."
She lifted the first boy and helped Ares hold him properly, smiling widely as he did so. The little boy had wispy black hair that stuck out around his little blue hat. He yawned and opened his eyes, looking up with a vibrant green for a moment before closing them again.
"He's so small." whispered Ares, looking at Wade as he held his child easily. "What if I break him?"
"Just be careful."
Galen looked down at them both, smiling slightly.
"Have you named them yet?"
Ares ran his thumb gently over the his son's cheek.
"The defender of men, and the healer." he smirked. "Appropriate."
The nurse glanced at the clock.
"I have to close this wing right away, so I think it's time you gentlemen should go." she said softly, carefully taking each child and laying it back in the appropriate crib. "Tomorrow, they'll be moved to the room and then the one will be able to go home." She looked up at Ares and then at Galen. "Your brother, Ares? You look so much alike."
"We're twins, almost."
She chuckled and steered them towards the door.
"If not for your hair, it'd be impossible to tell you apart."
They stopped to see the girls one last time before going to pick up Belle. She was ecstatic when she heard she now had a baby brother. It took forever to put her to bed, having to promise that first thing in the morning that she could go see him and her mother.
Galen sat at the kitchen table, flipping through the paper as Wade came down; his surprise at seeing him there reflecting in his face.
"You're not going to stay with Ares?"
"Eventually. I guess I'm trying to delay the lecture that is coming."
Wade sighed and sat at the table with him.
"He's just worried about you. You're always changing what you think you want and it's not that he cares about how much schooling is costing, that's not it, it's just that you're so damned secretive about it."
He shrugged again.
"I don't know what I want, and there's no sense telling anyone until I figure that out."
"Perhaps you should tell the one paying the bills."
Galen glanced to the kitchen doorway and groaned inwardly. Ares had come over anyway, obviously not wanting to wait for the argument.
"Please." he said softly. "Belle is trying to-"
"Don't give me that bullshit. She's so excited that she's probably dead to the world right now. Now explain to me how, when nobody was looking, you became a doctor."
"Night school." sighed Galen. "While I was taking carpentry and art class. I had decided before I even got here that I wanted to be a doctor like my name. But, I don't like it now that I'm actually doing it. I finished my last shift today."
Ares's frown darkened.
"How many years have you been practicing?"
"You've been working for one year and you've quit already? How the hell do you know if you like it or not?"
"Because I don't! I don't like it and I'm not cut out for it."
Ares's expression fell blank.
"Did someone die on your table?" Galen said nothing, his jaw tightened. "Galen, did someone die on your table?"
He nodded jerkily.
"An old man. There was nothing I could do, of course, but I still had to tell his wife. I can't do that." He jumped to his feet, angry suddenly. "What if it had happened today with Lacy? What if I couldn't have done anything? What if I'd of had to go out there and tell you that she was gone? That all you had left was memories of her? Not a very nice consolation prize because your doctor's inadequate and couldn't do what he's trained to do."
"Are you scared? Is that what this is about? Do you think that you aren't good enough and there should be more that you can do? We're only human, Galen. There's only so much you can do."
He grimaced and started to leave.
"That's just it. We're not human, we should be able to do more."
Ares was silent until he heard the front door slam.
"I don't know what to tell him."
Wade leant back in his chair, smirking slightly.
"That's why you're marrying a shrink, you don't have to tell him anything."
--- --- --- --- ---
Galen wandered aimlessly through the streets, hands shoved in his pockets and head bowed. Cars whirled past on the road, and buses made his hair jump as he was hit with their back draft. He didn't know where he was going, but he was certainly not going home until he knew that Ares was asleep.
He paused as he waited for a light at the crosswalk, looking down into a puddle that had collected in the morning rain and still hadn't evaporated. His eyes were vibrant even in the dim light of a amber streetlight, seeming to glow. He looked like Ares, but that didn't matter because he was nothing like Ares.
Ares had everything. He had a beautiful fiancé, a son, a home, and a job that he was good at and enjoyed. Not to mention a dog and a car. According to everything he'd read, Ares was living a dream. A dream that Galen just didn't seem to be able to grasp.
He'd dated lots of girls in the six years since he'd been living with Ares but still hadn't found whatever it was that he and Jo had, or Wade and Lacy. And none of it ever worked out the way he planned. Perhaps it was better for him not to have a plan and just do whatever the wind decided he should do.
The light turned green and he crossed the street, heading do a back alley because he wasn't paying attention. Halfway down the street, he finally stopped and realized where he was. Frowning, he kept walking but didn't get far before something pressed into his back.
"Don't move." snarled a soft voice as he felt the prick of a sharp knife press through his coat. "Give me your wallet."
"I don't have my wallet." he stated dryly. "If I'd known you were going to try and rob me, I would've brought it for you."
The knife dug a little deeper, biting his skin.
"Alright, funny guy. Give me whatever money you have in your pockets then."
He spun and knocked the hand with the knife aside, sending it clattering to the cement. One hand grasped the little man that had held it and pulled him roughly within inches of his face. Hood down low on a dirty kangaroo jacket, he couldn't see the thief's face. His eyes began to turn black with anger.
"You've got a lot of nerve." he snarled, shaking the kid. It had to be a kid, nobody was that thin or gangly. "I should spank you and send you to bed without supper."
The hood fell back and big green eyes looked up at him, fringed with thick black eyelashes; it was a girl. Letting her go abruptly, his eyes returned to normal and he took a stunned step back.
"I'm sorry." he said quickly as she cradled her arm where he'd hit her to her chest. "I didn't know, let me look at it."
"Stay away from me." she snarled angrily. "I tried to rob you, remember?"
"And did a shitty job but that's no excuse to almost break your wrist." his temper flared unexpectedly. "Damn it, why are you out here robbing people anyway? How the hell old are you? Twelve?"
She growled, eyes glinting with anger as deep brown hair fell off her shoulders, dirty and matted.
"Fuck you, I'm twenty three. What's your problem anyway? I had a knife."
Galen bent and picked it up, looking at the dirty blade.
"And I'm probably going to need a tetna shot." he took it by the handle and drove it hard into the brick wall of a building, burying it to the hilt. "There."
Her eyes widened with surprise and she leapt forward, jerking at the handle but unable to pull it free. She whirled on him angrily.
"That was my protection!" she cried angrily. "What the hell do you think you are?"
"Saving you from yourself." he stated flatly. "Come on, I'll go buy you something to eat."
She bristled but followed him as he walked away.
"What? You think that if you give me money that I'm going to buy drugs?"
He frowned at her over his shoulder.
"I never said that. I just happen to be hungry right now and I'm going to eat, you're more than welcome to come or you can go away. Personally, I don't care."
She froze in the alley and he stopped, sighing heavily.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. Yes, I do care. You're young, and I don't want to see anything-" he stopped when she started to back away. "What the? I'm not going to hurt you kid."
She shook her head and he looked behind him, seeing the group of four thugs coming towards them down the alley. He turned to face them, talking to her softly.
"Don't run." he stated flatly. "Although, I'm regretting ditching that knife now."
She stepped behind him, using him as a shield.
"I told you." she hissed. "Don't think that you can come in here like a damned white knight and rescue the dirty damsel in distress. Now we'll be lucky to escape with our bodies intact, thanks to you."
He scowled at her but turned his attention to the four men approaching him.
"Hey, little girl." chuckled one, showing off several gold teeth. "I thought we told you that the next time we caught you out here, it would cost you?"
"Last time I checked, it was a free country." stated Galen flatly. "And I'm not paying a toll, so let us pass or you'll be sorry."
The thugs laughed and the one with the teeth rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"You're a big man, must think you're pretty tough." he said lightly, circling Galen slowly. "Probably think you can stop a bullet with your bare hands, huh big man?"
Galen shook his head.
"I can't stop a bullet, but you won't get your guns from the waistband of your jeans." he frowned and added. "As low as they're riding."
"What are you?" demanded a second thug angrily, getting in Galen's face. "Some kind of cop on a power trip? I ain't scared of no fucking cops."
Galen stared him down, eyes turning black.
"I'm not a cop. But you're going to wish I was if you don't step back."
They saw his eyes change color and one reached for his gun.
"Man! He's some kind of freak!"
Galen leapt forward, knocking the gun down as he ploughed his hand into the kid's throat. He went down coughing and holding it as he turned on the others, slamming one in the chest while he broke the other's arm with a load snap. The only one left was Mr. Gold teeth, and he was staring at Galen like a monster.
"Stay away, man." he said softly, backing away. "I don't want any trouble with you."
Galen was too angry to control himself.
"No, you don't. Now that your posse is lying on the ground and you've bitten off more than you can chew, you want to be my friend." he stopped with his face inches from the thug's and looked down at him through black eyes. "You have fifteen seconds to clear this alley or I'll kill you all. And if I hear anymore about you four in this alley, I'll hunt you down one at a time and make you wish you were dead. Do you understand that?"
The thug ran past him to collect his friends and Galen turned his head to watch them, his eyes returning to normal as a smirk came to his face. That had felt good after the day he'd had. The girl had come to step up beside him, watching as her friends scurried away into the night.
He looked at her and shrugged.
"I believe I'm still intact, are you?"
She growled at him.
"You said something about food?"
He nodded and chuckled.
"That's right, I did."
Two cheeseburgers and three pieces of pie later, and she finally stopped eating. He was amazed that she'd put that much away, had only seen Wade do that before. She was thin, practically starved, and there was no doubt that she had to have some form of lice the way she kept scratching her head.
He leant back in his chair.
"So, how did you end up in the street?"
"None of your damned business."
"That's okay, I'll just leave now I guess." he started to slide from the booth. "See you around."
She glanced at the cheque and groaned.
"You said that you were going to buy me dinner."
He sat back down and chuckled.
"A dinner. Not three." he saw the look on her face and chuckled once more. "I'm teasing you. Come on, I've got an idea."
She followed him from the restaurant and down the street, where he took her to a hotel. She frowned but followed him, unsure of what he was doing. When he booked a room and handed her the key, he was grinning widely.
"Here, take this and head up to room 244, I'll be up in a second. I've gotta go grab some stuff."
She took the key and he started away, his muscular legs moving gracefully over the tile floor.
"Wait." she called sheepishly, stopping him. "My name is Danny."
He grinned widely, looking handsome as he brushed his bangs from his forehead.
"Galen, I'll be right back. Wait for me, watch TV or something, I won't be long."
Danny sat on the bed and looked around the fancy room. It had to be some kind of a suite. It had one bed, and the biggest bathroom that she'd ever seen. She could've fit four of her in that tub.
Sitting and waiting for this mystery man to return, she started to get nervous. She'd done some stupid things for food and money before, but she had hoped that this guy was just nice and not a pervert. When he came in, carrying an armload of bags, he grinned at her widely.
"No need to look so stiff." he chuckled. "This is not for my benefit, I assure you."
She stood slowly.
"Look, I know what you want…"
"Oh, you do?" he asked, an eyebrow rising. "And just what would that be?"
A dark blush bloomed through her cheeks.
"You don't need to be a jack ass about it." she snapped angrily. "Just, stop with the damned bags and I'll do it and then leave."
He turned away from the dresser, a sceptical look on his face.
"So you're telling me that right now, you'll do whatever I tell you to just so you can run back out into the street?"
She nodded quickly, rubbing one arm in a self conscious manner.
"I know what you want, I've done it before."
He nodded slowly.
"Alright, strip naked and stand with your arms out."
She pulled her sweat shirt off and her pants followed quickly. He stood and looked her over with a medical eye, not a male one. She was skin and bones, probably lacking in so many vitamins that her body was absorbing itself to get what it needed. He sighed heavily when he saw the deep bruising on her chest and sides, probably from a fight.
He turned to the bag and pulled out a stethoscope, checking it and warming it with his breath. She frowned at him.
"Boy, you really are a whacko." she said as he came forward and pressed it to her chest. "You get off, playing doctor?"
He raised an eyebrow at her, listening to her heart race in his ears.
"Take a deep breath." he said, moving it to her side. She did so several times and he pulled it from his ears and let it hang around his neck. He pulled a notepad and jotted something on it. "Your lungs are clear and your heart is fine, there are no irregularities. Where did you get those bruises?"
She frowned at him and lowered her arms slowly.
"I fell from the back of a garbage truck, I was catching a ride."
"Do you bruise easily all the time?" She shook her head and he nodded, setting the pad down. "Well that's good to know."
"You're not playing doctor are you?" she asked softly, looking down at the carpet.
He chuckled and began pulling things from the bag. Gloves, a lice kit, some razors, and any other form of woman toiletry that he thought she might need.
"No, I'm not." he said lightly, pulling on a set of gloves. "Have you ever been to the doctor before?" She shook her head as he pulled out a penlight. "Then this should be a learning experience for you. You're going to have to trust me."
She nodded quickly and he pointed to the bed.
He sat her on the toilet and stood behind, carefully going through her hair. She didn't have lice, just a really irritated scalp. He doubted that they'd ever get the tangles out of her hair, as long and poorly cared for as it was.
"I think we have to cut your hair." he said with a frown. "I'm not a hairdresser, but I can do it for you. It just won't look very pretty when I'm done."
She stood up, towel wrapped around her tightly.
"Why are you doing this?"
"Because, everyone deserves to be healthy." he said lightly. "Tomorrow, we're going to start introducing some new vitamins and fibres into your diet, but slowly, if we do it too quickly then your body won't appreciate it very much." He took the scissors and motioned for her to take a seat.
He snipped quickly and soon, her hair was only four inches long and jagged. The long tangled tendrils that he'd removed filled the garbage can and he tied it off as he started a bath, pouring some salts and different things in it.
"There." he said lightly, stepping back to leave. "I'm going to run your blood tests to the hospital and go over them myself while you're in there, so take your time. There are some little things that I bought sitting on the counter there, in that bag. Some pyjamas, some pants and shirts, some razors and so on if you'd like."
She was too busy staring at herself in the mirror, fingering her hair. By the time she realized that she should say thank you, he was gone.
--- --- --- --- ---
Galen stepped into the hotel room and found Danny sleeping peacefully on the bed, wrapped in the complimentary bath robe. Her hair was sticking up erratically and her skin a pink shade from being scrubbed. She also smelt like lavender. One, freshly shaved leg stuck out and he smiled as he reached for the blanket and pulled it to cover her up.
Her test were all clean, amazingly enough. The only thing wrong was that she was dangerously underweight and vitamin deficient, but that could be changed; he'd picked up some supplies from the hospital and stopped at home, picking up his car. He'd told Ares that he was staying in a hotel tonight to think, he never said that he was rehabilitating a street urchin.
She was a pretty girl, but she was so thin she looked almost alien. Once she filled out a little and put on some weight, she would be beautiful. Her hair would grow back but right now, she looked like someone rescued from Auschwitz.
"Tough girl." he said softly, sitting on the bed and looking at the TV.
"I'm not a little girl." she said tiredly. "I'm a woman."
Yes, that was true. But right now, she looked so damned vulnerable, Belle could've beat her up.
She sighed heavily and moved over slightly on the bed.
"Shut up and go to sleep. You're buying breakfast in the morning."
--- --- --- --- ---
"Ah, no." he said, taking away the doughnut that she wanted to devour. He gave her some orange slices. "Here, eat that. You'll be sick if you eat that much fat and sugar."
She scowled at him, her hair spiking out around her head and the shirt he'd bought hanging off her frame. The room service cart had an assortment of food on it, he wasn't really specific and they aimed to please.
"You know, I'm beginning to think you're a real pain in the ass."
He chuckled and took a big bite from the doughnut.
"You have no idea." he glanced at the clock. "We've got ten minutes and then we gotta go to the hospital."
"Not for you. My brother's fiancé just had a baby yesterday, I'm meeting them there at eleven."
She scowled and reached for a muffin, just to get her hand steered towards a bran one.
"Have fun with that, I'll see you around."
He lifted an eyebrow, a look she was beginning to get annoyed by.
"And just where are you going to go?"
She shrugged and took a big bite, grimacing as she bit into a raisin.
"I dunno, doesn't matter."
"I didn't spend that much money and time just to have to drift back to the streets and end up dead in a back alley." he stated flatly. "You're coming with me, if I have to drag you."
"I don't need your charity."
"It's not charity." he stated flatly. "Consider it a gift. Believe me, you're going to earn it all back."
She stiffened again.
"So you were just checking me out to make sure you weren't going to catch anything? Don't want your own personal whore to be diseased?"
His temper flared, something she was good at doing.
"Damn it." he snapped. "That's not it at all. Christ, I'm trying to do something nice for you and you're making me feel like a dick while I'm doing it."
"If the shoes fit-"
"Don't." he snarled, grabbing the bags he'd packed up while she was still sleeping. "I'm going down to the car. You can come with me, sleep in a warm bed, get a job, get healthy, earn some pocket money, and make something of your life. Or you can run away, end up back on the street, get raped, murdered, or sell yourself for bus passes. The choice is yours." he headed to the door and stopped in the hall, his shoulders falling as he turned around. He shook his head and muttered under his breath. "Damn it."
"What did you say?"
He turned around quickly, reaching to shut the door behind him.
"I said if you run, you better run quick because I'll find you and I won't be pleased when I do. Two minutes."
The door slammed and she reached across the cart, grabbing several doughnuts and shoving them into a plastic bag before they made it inside her pocket.
--- --- --- --- ---
Danny stood out front the hospital, fidgeting nervously with the spiky ends of her hair as Galen watched two men walk towards them. One was his exact replica, except with black hair, and the other was a smiling man with shimmering brown hair and beautiful blue eyes. They made her feel like she didn't belong; the ugly duckling surrounded by beautiful swans. A little girl came running up and threw herself at Galen, who scooped her into the air and swung her around.
They talked quietly for a moment, the little girl peering over his shoulder shyly as he held her. She appeared to be around eight years old.
Galen led them towards her.
"This is Danny." he said, introducing her. "Danny, this is my brother Ares and our friend Wade. This is Wade's daughter Belle, don't let her size fool you, she's nine."
Ares reached out and took her hand, shaking it gently.
"I'm scared I'm going to break you." he stated flatly. "You look like a swizzle stick."
Galen practically slapped himself in the forehead before running a hand over his face in frustrated gesture. Belle slid to the ground and remained silent as she looked the new girl over carefully.
"Ares, you have an uncanny knack for stating the obvious."
Wade chuckled, throwing an arm around Danny's shoulders and steering her into the hospital with him.
"Don't mind those two, they're clearly insane." he said lightly, the doors sliding open for them. "Myself, I'm not normal either but not nearly as bad as them. So where did you meet good old Galen?"
Danny smirked slightly.
"I tried to rob him last night and in return I got a fancy new haircut, breakfast, and a new life with no choice but to do as he says."
Wade's surprise registered for a moment before he started laughing hysterically.
"That's Galen. And if you think he's bad, you better steer clear of Ares; I think that's where he gets it from."
Ares came in then, having gotten the entire explanation from Galen. His eyes bored into Danny's as he loomed over top of her.
"Talk to me after we get home and I'll set up an account for you. There's plenty of room at the house, and once Jo's feeling better she can take you shopping."
She frowned darkly at Galen, who was grinning widely.
"I don't need to be treated like a damned child!" she said loudly, gaining attention from others around her. "I'm not a little kid and I don't need to be coddled."
Ares frowned at her.
"I never said anything about coddling. When we get home and after I set up the account, you have to walk the dogs and mow the lawn. Galen, will show you how."
He winced then, the grin fading.
"We also have to build a dog house."
Belle chose that moment to speak up.
"Big enough for three dogs."
They filed into the room and Danny faded into the background, feeling out of place and like an intruder. Both the women were smiling and going on about the little babies that were being passed around like a football during the Super Bowl. They were both beautiful.
Lacy, Wade's wife, was blond with creamy skin and beautiful blue eyes. She was a tiny thing, but looked tough enough to give anybody hell. Jo, Ares's fiancé, was tall with beautiful hazel eyes and shimmering black hair. She felt like a piece of coal surrounded by diamonds.
Galen noticed her withdrawal and cleared his throat loudly.
"Jo, Lacy, this is Danny." he said pulling her forward gently. "She's going to be staying with us."
Jo grinned widely.
"Great, it'll be good not to be outnumbered anymore."
"Especially on movie night."
"I'm sorry." said Danny quickly. "I know it's not my place to intrude and-"
"Nonsense!" cried Jo. "No intrusion, merely an expansion. Besides, you'll give Galen something to do besides drive everyone crazy. And I hope that you plan on making him as miserable as he's made everyone else by giving us trouble."
"Aw, come on Jo." he said lightly. "You love me, it's only because you met Ares first-"
Ares snorted loudly.
"Good twin, bad twin. Good twin, bad twin." he weighed the choices in his hands before looking at Galen. "I think sexy good twin wins."
Jo grinned and leant towards him, kissing him quickly.
"You know it, babe."
Danny felt a small burst of laughter but choked it back as she stepped away to let them battle out the pros and cons between each man. Even though to her, they were both incredibly handsome, but she'd have chosen Galen. She didn't know why, they looked exactly the same and seemed to even act the same but she'd have chosen his silky brown tresses over the silky black ones. Maybe it was like picking out seat covers for a car, something she'd never done before.
Galen laughed at something Wade said and looked at Lacy's chart.
"You're healing beautifully, my dear." he said softly, looking over the doctor's notes. "Another day or two and you'll be a free woman."
"Thank God." groaned Belle. "I'm running out of band aids when Dad cuts himself."
Wade held up a bright green finger, covered in band aids.
"Cheese grater." he announced. "From now on, we buy pre-grated cheese."
Galen chuckled and looked at Ares's hand, noticing the dark swelling that was covering the back of it.
"What did you do?" he asked, taking his hand without asking.
"I didn't do anything. It was her."
"What did I do?"
"You were squeezing the life out of me."
She laughed sarcastically.
"In more ways than one, I imagine. Why didn't you say something?"
He shrugged and let Galen examine his hand.
"It's fine now. It hurt like hell before, but now it's just bruised."
Galen was frowning.
"It has all the evidence that you broke it, but it should hurt more if I squeeze it. It doesn't hurt?"
Ares shook his head.
He let go and shrugged.
"Oh well, maybe you sprained it."
"What a doctor. Oh well, you'll live. Who cares if you're missing a limb, you'll get over it."
She had muttered to herself but when Wade burst out laughing, her cheeks flushed darkly at being heard. Galen was staring at her blankly and Ares was grinning like a fool.
"I like her." he decided, slapping Galen on the back. "You should bring home girls more often."
"Would that be with or without their consent?" asked Danny flatly. "Because I don't recall-"
Galen coughed loudly.
"Well, we'll be going." he declared, moving towards the door and taking Danny with him. "Lots of work to do, we'll let you guys bond. See you at home, take care, bye for now." He disappeared out the door and Belle laughed as she shook her head.
"Uncle Galen's getting weird."
Wade looked at her, astonished.
"You're just noticing now?"
--- --- --- --- ---
Galen had pulled apart Wade's monstrosity that he was calling a playhouse and started reconstructing it while Danny pushed the lawn mower around the backyard, cursing and groaning to herself as sweat collected down the center of her back and under her armpits.
"This has got to be some kind of slave labour." she muttered to herself as she pushed. "Cruel and unusual punishment."
He laughed as he tossed some nails into a pail.
"You wanted to earn your keep."
She shot him a dirty look.
"The kind of keep that poorly nourished and half-starved person should keep. I was thinking that keeping the sofa warm would do me just fine."
"You don't know Ares very well then."
"Maybe you should've warned me."
He stood and glanced at his watch. She saw the muscles bunch in his forearm and move beneath the tight t-shirt he was wearing. He was sweating as well, the shirt sticking to him, and she caught herself staring; until the lawn mower started to gurgle loudly and almost shake her arms off.
He turned and leapt forward, grimacing as he pulled it out of the flower bed and switched it off. The row of carefully planted flowers had a void of mulch in it.
"Jo's not going to like that."
Danny felt an unreasonable burst of tears coming.
"I'm sorry." she said softly. "I'll replant them, somehow, if I have to steal flowers."
He looked at her and examined her carefully. The faint sheen of tears and the position of her mouth.
"Hey, they're just flowers." he offered gently. "Flowers grow back, or you plant new ones. It's not like you ran over my leg or something. All right?"
She nodded slowly and he waved her to follow him into the kitchen, where he pulled out a platter of vegetables and set them before her.
"Here, eat this." he said seriously. "Snack time."
She groaned and picked up a carrot stick.
"Did I not just eat two hours ago?"
He nodded and took a seat to watch her.
"Yes, but you're not starving anymore. Eat small snacks instead of gorging yourself when you can. It shows your body that you're not starving."
"Because my body is used to starving."
He nodded again and smiled.
"Exactly, but you'll never starve again. I promise you that."
--- --- --- --- ---
Galen stood in the hall and watched as Danny applied a fresh coat of pain onto the walls of her room. It had taken a while, over a month, before Jo felt ready to leave Alexander long enough to take her shopping for new clothes and furniture for her room. She never complained once, and looked quite surprised in the morning when Jo was grabbing the keys and asking if she was coming or not.
Now, she had a small stereo and a couple CD's that she borrowed from Jo, as well as bedroom furniture that she could call her own. He'd cleared out her room while they were gone and now she was making it her own. She'd filled and she wasn't nearly as skinny as before. After examining her carefully, he'd pronounced her fit as a fiddle, but still needed to keep away from doughnuts, which he knew she snuck when he wasn't watching.
Now she was glowing and beautiful, her hair shining with health and bouncing with life. He took a soft breath and held it, just standing in the doorway and watching.
He turned and saw Jo coming out of Alexander's room, an eyebrow raised.
"You can either go help, and ogle. Or you can leave and not, but pick one."
He blushed darkly.
"I wasn't ogling. I was just checking to see if she was ready for her furniture yet or not."
Jo snorted and nodded exaggeratedly.
"Uh huh, sure buddy. When are you going to get her a job and let her leave?"
He stiffened but his face remained neutral.
"She can leave any time she wants, she's fine now. All she has to do is tell me that she's ready."
"Does she know that? Have you told her that she can leave anytime she feels she wants to?" he shook his head and she nodded knowingly. "Perhaps because you can't bear to part with her?"
"Not it at all. She's just a kid, you take me for some kind of pervert?"
"And how old are you, old man? I forgot, you have to be at least forty years old." at his blank look she laughed softly. "Honestly, you're twenty six years old, she's twenty three. She's not a kid, and in a way you're more of a kid then her. I'm sure there's lots of things she could teach you."
She stepped past and he cast one last glance into the room before chasing after Jo.
"What do you mean?"
"Determination, that girl's got it coming out the ass. Fire, spirit, all of the above. You're a great guy, Galen, but you're way too passive sometimes. Sometimes, a girl just wants to be pinned against the wall."
Galen blushed slightly.
"Does, uh, does Ares-"
Ares came around the corner, a smirk on his face.
"I'm the King pin."
Jo chuckled and wrapped her arms around him, kissing him softly.
"That you are."
Galen threw his arms in the air and walked away, taking the stairs two at a time. He strode into Danny's room and found her admiring her work. Paint smeared on her clothing and on one cheek as she turned and looked at him.
"I'm done!" she declared happily. "After it dries for a bit, we can move the furniture in."
He nodded and stood beside her. The window was open, allowing the fresh breeze to carry some of the fumes out.
"It looks great." he said softly. "And so do you."
She turned and looked at him with a slight frown pulling at her lips. He sighed heavily.
"I went over your charts and I've come to the conclusion that I can do no more for you. So tomorrow, if you want, you can start looking for a job. Once that's all done, I've got an apartment in my name that you can use until you have everything under control and-"
He didn't get to finish as she flew into his arms and hugged him tightly.
"Thank you, Galen."
"It's no problem." he said softly, wrapping his arms around her. The soft scent of lavender came off her and he didn't want to let her go, but all too soon she was moving away. "You don't have to leave too soon, there's no rush really."
"I want to have some money to pay bills before I leave." she decided, putting the lid back on the paint can. "And then I'll start paying you back for everything-"
"No." he said quickly, looking stunned. "You still don't get it, do you? You don't have to pay me back. I did what I did because it was the right thing to do, case closed and end of story."
"No." snapped Galen angrily. "Ares won't take a cent from you and if he does, I'll rip him apart."
She frowned at him.
"Then what do you want? I can't leave owing you so much."
He shook his head and headed downstairs to get her furniture ready.
The next day, Ares and Jo, took Alex to visit with Wade and Lacy, leaving the house empty for Galen. It felt nice to be able to walk around and do whatever he wanted without having to think about waking a baby. He'd been thinking about moving into that apartment but he'd already told Danny that she could use it.
He moved to the bathroom to have a shower and pushed the door open as he went inside. Looking up, he froze as he stared at Danny. Wrapped in a fluffy white bath towel, hair slicked back from showering, she stared back.
"I thought that people usually knock."
He couldn't seem to break his gaze from the swell of her breasts peeking through the top of the towel. Swallowing, he averted his gaze and backed out of the bathroom slowly. To his surprise, she followed, standing in the doorway and looking at him blankly.
"Is that what you want? For payment?" she asked seriously. "You won't accept my money, but you'll take my body?"
He shook his head.
"No, that's not-"
"I'm not blind, Galen." she snapped, cheeks flushing. "I've seen the look you just had in your eyes several times before. If that's what you want, then for you I'm willing to give it." she undid the towel and it pooled around her ankles. "But no more then that."
He stared at her beautiful body and backed into the wall, blocking his escape. He wanted her, more than anything as she stood in all her glory before him. But it wasn't right, and he had to keep telling himself that as he stared.
She came towards him slowly and he couldn't move as she pressed herself against him.
"You're not very good at this, Galen." she said softly. "I'm giving you what you want, but you're not taking."
"This isn't what I want."
She turned and rubbed her backside against his groin gently.
"That's not what you're body is saying."
He sobered quickly and grabbed her by the shoulders, moving her aside so that he could get by.
"Fortunately for me, I control my body and not the other way around." he stated flatly. "I know what you're doing and it won't fucking work. Just because you hate owing me something, you're willing to do anything to erode that debt, even lowering yourself like this. It's a shame that I have more respect for you than you do."
She picked up the towel and wrapped it around herself tightly, her eyes glittering angrily at him.
"Why can't you just fuck me, Galen? Why can't you just do that and get it over with so we can part and this is all over with?"
"Because it's not right!" he shouted, thankful that Jo and Ares had taken Alex next door. "Are you going to fuck Ares too? How about Jo for taking you shopping? Is that what you want to do?"
"Ares doesn't want my body and neither does Jo, you do." she retorted hotly. "I finally have something that I can give you and you won't take it. The only person not making it right is you."
He should've walked away at that point, should've just turned and went down the stairs to get away from her. But his temper was raging violently and his body was still reacting to her presence as he charged towards her and ripped the towel from her body, throwing it to the floor angrily.
"Is this what you want?" he asked roughly, grabbing her and lifting her so he could look her in the eye. His turning blacker by the moment and hers glittering green. "You want to be used like a stupid little doll? Like a dirty tramp?"
She wrapped her legs around his waist, hanging on.
"If it'll cancel my debit."
He nodded jerkily and started towards his room.
"Oh, it'll cancel it all right."
Galen slipped his pants on and left his room, not casting a second glance at the woman asleep in his bed and wrapped in the tangled sheet. There was no doubt in his mind anymore that she was a woman. He was angry with himself for giving her what she wanted, absolution. He liked holding what he'd done over her head because it gave him reasons to come around. Now he had none, and she was leaving.
Moving down the stairs, he froze when he saw Ares sitting at the table. He was reading the paper and sipping his coffee. Glancing up, he frowned slightly.
"What did you do? Because whatever it is, you look guilty as hell."
Galen growled and grabbed a clean cup out of the dish rack.
"I didn't do anything I should feel guilty about."
"But you do." sighed Ares, setting the paper down. "I'm thinking by the state of your undress, it has something to do with that girl upstairs?"
He looked up, spilling some coffee on the table.
"I had no choice." he stated flatly. "That stupid woman, she just…" he sighed heavily and sank into the chair. Head resting on his hands and fingers threaded through his hair. "She asked me to do it, and I did but for all the wrong reasons."
Ares lifted a black eyebrow.
"What reasons were those?"
"She said that she finally had something I wanted and gave it to me, paying me back for everything I've done for her." he sat up. "I have to go."
Ares shook his head.
"Don't run away, like every other thing you've started."
He stood and headed for the door, picking up his keys as he went.
--- --- --- --- ---
Danny woke and snuck down the hall to her room wrapped in Galen's sheet. She'd just done something really stupid, something she never would've done before. Sure, she'd sold herself before but not like this. Galen was nothing like those other men.
She knew that she didn't need to pay him back, she just wanted him. It was plain and simple, like night and day, but she shouldn't have done it. She'd used him and fed him excuses instead of telling the truth. Now that it was over, she had nothing; no respect from the man that she'd become attached to.
Slipping inside her room, she froze when all she saw was some folded clothes on the floor and nothing else. All her furniture was gone, all her belongings. It was an empty shell of what she used to have, a lot like her relationship with Galen. Dressing quickly, she ran down the stairs and found just Ares sitting at the table, looking bored.
"Are you ready to go?" he asked softly, his expression blank.
Her eyes widened.
"Are you throwing me out?"
He shook his head.
"I believe the deal was that once Galen accepted your offer, you were going to part ways? Well, you're parting now. His apartment was switched over to your name and you have enough money to live comfortably for the rest of your life. There's a cab waiting outside to take you."
She frowned darkly.
"You're acting like he had nothing to do with this."
"It never occurred to me that there was anybody to blame. But I know that you manipulated him, because that's what you're good at. I've seen the way you watch him, the look in your eyes when he's not looking. Instead of just asking for what you wanted, you tricked him and made him feel like an ass. So now, he's gone, and you're going right behind him."
"Where did he go?"
He shrugged once more.
"No clue. Good bye, Danny. If you ever need anything, call me, the number's on the fridge at your new home."
She turned to walk away but stopped and turned back. When she faced him again, the last thing Ares expected to see was tears flooding those beautiful green eyes.
"You don't understand." she said softly, the first tears falling. "He's a doctor, a wealthy man with a wonderful family. I'm just a dirty street urchin that sold herself for food and a warm bed once in a while. I'm not good for him and it's better that he sees that now, instead of thinking that there's more than what ever could be."
Ares shook his head.
"Galen was grown in a damned test tube. He never had a childhood, just woke one day the grown man that he is now. He used to hear voices, all the time, because some scientist thought it would be neat to have their own personal body guard that could kill on command. He can kill a man at the drop of a pin with his bare hands and see in the dark. Did you know that? No, you didn't. Do you have any idea what he faces on a daily basis? No, no clue. What you see is you and you alone, what your problems are and nobody else's. What you fail to see, is once you scrape off the generation fluid or the street grime it's all the same. Flesh, bone, and blood."
"He was really grown in a test tube?"
"A big one."
The tears began to fall, one after the other as she stood there.
"He doesn't want me like that." she said softly, blinking and sending a fresh wave down her cheeks. "He pities me, sees a filthy little kid. I'm like an injured animal. He'll never look at me with the respect and love that I feel for him. I once accused him of wanting to use me as his own personal whore, and I wouldn't have cared now. I would've done it willingly, just to be close to him."
"He's very forgiving and I have a feeling that if you find him and tell him the truth, then it might give both of you absolution and a place to start, free of all the jargon floating between the both of you."
She wiped at her eyes with the back of a hand.
"Do you think so?" she asked hopefully.
Ares smiled softly.
"Yes, I do." he patted a chair beside him. "Come sit down, there's no cab outside."
She snorted and went to the kitchen.
"Now who's manipulative?"
He shrugged and grinned.
"I learn quickly."
--- --- --- --- ---
Ares bounced Alexander on his knee while some stupid purple dinosaur sang in an annoying voice on the TV. Jo was going to laugh at the pained expression he was wearing but didn't dare, or he'd refuse to do it anymore. She took the picture quickly and stepped back.
"Who's going to be a big birthday boy tomorrow?" she asked, moving towards him. He squealed loudly, green eyes glittering as he clapped his hands together and smiled widely at her. Reaching out, she scooped him up and swung him around. "That's right!"
"Thank God." groaned Ares, switching off the TV before he was tempted to throw it through the living room window. Belle came in the backdoor, pony tail bouncing.
"I'm here." she said, puffing slightly. "Sorry I'm late, my bus broke down."
"That's okay." chuckled Jo, handing Alex to her. "Thank you for babysitting."
"Well, not really. He's just going to play with Jason for a bit and then probably go to bed and mom's gonna be there." she frowned, her little face twisting. "Do you think that it's really Uncle Galen? He's been missing for a long time."
"A year isn't really a long time." snorted Ares, grabbing his suit jacket and slipping it on. "And we're not sure."
She nodded and grinned as Alex grabbed her nose and squealed.
"Well, I better get back."
Jo adjusted her suit jacket and turned to fix Ares's tie.
"Did you call her?"
"Yep, she said she'll meet us there."
"I hope you didn't get her hopes up for nothing."
He frowned slightly.
"Yeah, me too."
--- --- --- --- ---
The three of them walked into the art gallery and slipped a large amount of money into the donation box. Ares had paid through the teeth to get tickets to the unveiling of the most anticipated artist in coming out and he hoped it was worth it all. Danny looked beautiful, wearing a strapless red gown that made her eyes shimmering a deep green.
"I'm so nervous." she said softly, fidgeting with her purse as they stood in line. "What if it's not him? What if he won't take me back? What if he walks away again?"
Jo rubbed her shoulder gently.
"Don't worry about that, just be happy if we find him and know he hasn't done something stupid."
She frowned and looked at Jo.
"Stupid? Like what?"
"Oh, join the army, shoot himself in the head-"
Ares almost came undone.
"Christ! It's been how many years? When, if ever, are you going to let that go? I can guarantee you that I wouldn't be shooting myself in the head now. No way. I'd be throwing a big party."
She frowned at him.
"Should we test that theory?"
He immediately froze and looked sheepish.
She patted his cheek and winked at Danny, making her giggle. The line started to move and they were ushered inside, where several paintings were hanging. Ares took one glancing look and froze.
Jo had to agree. All the paintings, every single one, had some aspect of Danny in it. Eyes, face shape, sometimes her whole face. They didn't express joy, however, the paintings made you feel sad, made you want to cry.
"I think we might have made a mistake, honey." whispered Jo, leading Ares through the crowd. "A big mistake."
He had to agree, but it was too late for that now. They were there and Galen was watching them from across the room, his expression carefully blank. Placing a hand on Jo's shoulder, he started forward.
"Wait here with Danny, I'm going to go talk to him."
Galen watched as his twin brother came up and stiffened when he saw Danny standing with Jo. Ares didn't give any preamble as he stepped in front of him.
"Not happy to see her?"
Galen shook his head.
"No, you shouldn't have brought her."
"Why are you so angry with her?"
He shrugged slowly.
"I just am. You shouldn't have brought her."
"Stop it." snarled Ares, grabbing Galen roughly and pulling him aside to speak more privately. "Quit blocking out the emotions that you've been so graciously granted with. You have to be angry for some reason, or you wouldn't give a rats ass if she was here."
Galen knocked his hands away and reached up to pull a curtain off the main piece of the exhibit. The crowd gasped and started clapping, but Ares didn't take his eyes off Galen.
He smirked softly.
"Maybe I didn't want her here because it was her feelings that I was worried about."
Ares looked up and his eyes widened in surprise. The painting was the most beautiful he'd ever seen in his life, one of the best that Galen had ever done. It was definitely Danny, lying in a provocative pose in a back alley of the city. Her hair was matted, she was filthy, and skinny as the swizzle stick he had accused her of being. Newspapers were draped over her form to hide her most private parts, but the rest of it was definitely her.
He turned and watched as the tears clouded Danny's vision and she ran from the gallery, her red dress flashing amongst all the black and grey suits. Looking back at Galen, his eyes flashed black for a moment.
"You've just done something really stupid." he snarled. "I finally convince that girl to tell you she loves you, and you go and do this. You've done some stupid things before, but this is by far the stupidest thing I've ever seen. Today, I'm truly disappointed in you Galen."
He turned away and grabbed Jo, who was standing in shock and staring at the picture.
"Come on." he growled, trying to drag her away.
"No, stop Ares." she said softly. She pointed up at the picture. "Look at it, it's beautiful. Even though she's skinny, and dirty, you can see the love and tenderness painted into each curve of her body. My God, look at her eyes. They're glittering with love and beauty. She's glowing despite her surroundings or state. Don't you see what this is saying?"
Ares shook his head.
"He's telling everyone that he loved her, even when she was like this." she said softly. "When he saw her, this is what he saw. He's showing the world her, through his eyes and she's beautiful." she slapped Ares in the arm. "You should learn how to paint so you can do that for me."
He frowned darkly at her.
"Does Danny know that?"
"Then we have to find her before she does something stupid." he stated, grabbing Jo and dragging her towards the door.
He lifted a black eyebrow.
"Oh, I dunno. Join the army? Shoot herself in the head?"
--- --- --- --- ---
Danny slammed the door behind her and sank to the floor, head in her hands as she cried. How could she have been stupid enough to think that he'd take her back? That he'd forgive her or let her explain? Now that cruel picture of her was floating around the world and it was her, anybody who saw it and her would know that.
There was pounding on the door behind her and she didn't get a chance to open it as it was unlocking and sliding her across the floor. She jumped to her feet and spun to see Jo standing there with Ares.
"I'm sorry." started Ares. "I honestly didn't think he was capable of something like this but you need to listen to what Jo is going to say."
Jo nodded and produced a copy of the picture she'd grabbed on the way out.
"I need you to look at this, honey, and tell me what you see."
She choked as a sob came up and she stared at herself.
"I see a dirty little street urchin and a manipulative whore."
Jo shook her head slowly.
"Look closer. Can you see what me, and everybody else in that room saw?"
Danny wiped at her face and shook her head.
Jo set the picture on the desk and stepped towards the door.
"Look at it, study it. When you see what I'm talking about, you'll realize something that even Galen isn't aware of. Painting is a subconscious art." she shooed Ares out the door and grabbed it to shut it. "Trust me, I am a shrink."
--- --- --- --- ---
Danny stared at the picture until her eyes hurt and she still saw the same thing as when it had first been unveiled. There was nothing about this picture worth looking for and if he'd mean to hurt her, he'd done a good job. It was everything about her past that she wanted to forget.
She threw it across the room and it slid across the hardwood floor, coming to a stop just below the glow of the TV. Sniffing heavily she cast a glance at it as she stood up and froze. Despite the grime on her face, her skin was luminous in the light and her eyes glittering like emeralds. Her hair, even though matted was shimmering with health and life. Despite the thick dirt and disgusting background, she looked beautiful.
Moving forward slowly, she looked down at it, staring at the picture with wonder. Suddenly what Jo had wanted her to see slapped her in the face; this is what Galen had seen in that alley. Snatching the picture off the floor and running to the door, she grabbed her purse and headed outside.
--- --- --- --- ---
Galen walked past the doorman and into his apartment building, not saying a word to anyone because he didn't feel like talking. He never thought that she'd show up, hadn't planned on it, looking like a goddess in that red dress with those beautiful green eyes. He almost didn't want to unveil that disaster he'd painted, but Ares had pushed his temper and he'd done it before he could think.
Now Ares was disappointed in him and Danny was crushed.
He sighed heavily and moved to the desk to see if he had any messages, surprised when he saw Danny leaning there, glaring at him. She had a print of the painting clutched tightly in her hand and she threw it at him like Frisbee.
"I take it you don't like it?" he asked dryly, watching as it slid across the floor.
She marched up to him, eyes glowing with anger.
"Bastard." she snarled. "You'll tell everyone else but not me."
He frowned slightly.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You'll tell everyone in the world that you love me, but you won't tell me."
He laughed curtly.
"You have a strange idea of love, honey."
She slapped him.
"Some artist, looks like you paint about as good as you doctor. You can't see what everybody else can and it's staring you in the face with every stroke of your brush. Maybe you should study your own paintings instead of letting the masses do it."
His temper began to rise.
"Have you gone crazy since I left? Have they let you out of Bedlam for a day pass? There's no love in that picture, just cold reality."
She snorted at him.
"A cold reality that you won't admit, therefore you don't see it. Well, I'm going to tell you this; I love you, that's why I tricked you into sleeping with me because I wanted you so bad that I hurt inside. I almost came undone when I thought you were going to be walk away from me, but then you didn't and I was in heaven the entire time. Then you ran away and you had that right, but the right you don't have is to ignore what's right in front of you anymore then I did back then. When you're man enough to face that reality, you know where I live."
She marched past him and headed for the door, leaving him standing in the lobby with a sore cheek and confused look on his face.
--- --- --- --- ---
Galen picked the lock on the gallery front door and stepped inside, careful not to touch anything that would set off the alarm. He strode down the corridor and stood before the painting he'd done, staring up at it as the dim gallery lights illuminated it.
"What do you see?" he asked himself. "I see a street urchin trying to tempt someone." he shook his head and rolled his shoulders. "What do you see?"
He repeated the process several times and nothing changed, it was always the same. He was about to leave when a guard came up, looking stern.
"You shouldn't-Oh, sorry, I didn't know it was you Galen."
"I was just trying to see what everybody else thinks is a big deal."
The guard leant on a small barricade post and looked up as he tipped his hat back.
"Well, I've seen a lot of art, but I've never seen beauty like that."
Galen frowned at him.
"Beauty? She's dirty, skinny, and lying on the street. There's nothing beautiful about that."
The guard shook his head.
"That's not it. Look at her, really look. It's all in her face, in her eyes and hair. Every stroke sings love." he straightened quickly and adjusted his hat. "I don't know art, but I've seen a lot, and that's what I see."
Galen stood there, staring openly at the painting for several moments before he saw it. It was like a golden light had been shone on him. He took a stunned step back.
"My God." he whispered, hand going to his chest.
The guard frowned at him.
"Are you okay? Having a heart attack? I can call an ambulance."
"No." snorted Galen, shaking his head. "I love her." he shook his head, still looking confused as he jerked his head up to stare at the painting again. "That dirty, skinny, matted, violent street urchin. I love her? I love her."
The guard looked ready to call in a SWAT team.
"You love her?"
"All this time, it's been right there." he said softly. "Slapping me in the face. I love her."
The guard cleared his throat loudly, looking stern again.
"I know you artist types tend to be eccentric, but I'm not really sure what you're talking about."
He grinned widely, remembering his run-in with her at the apartment.
"She loves me too, she told me she loves me."
"Well that's…" his voice died off as Galen turned and started running for the front door, his footsteps thundering and red scarf billowing behind him as he ran.
Danny was looking out the apartment window when she saw Galen's car pull up and double park itself out front. She was breaking for the door before he even got out and ran into him in the middle of the stairwell, throwing herself into his arms.
He hugged her tightly and kissed her before swinging her around.
"I love you." he said quickly, grinning widely. "God, I was so stupid not to see it before."
She nodded as a tear rolled down her cheek.
"I know, but I'll forgive you. I should have said something earlier."
"I promise, anything you want. I'll destroy that painting, never paint again if you don't want me too. Just, please, forgive me."
She laughed, wiping at her face as she held onto him tightly.
"I've already forgiven you, but I won't if you quit painting. You're the most marvellous painter that I've ever seen."
He kissed her again.
"Do I doctor as good as I paint?"
She shook her head.
"Even better than that, everything you do is wonderful." She brushed the back of her hand against his cheek. "I'm glad you realized this now."
"Jo and Ares picked a date. Two months from now, they're tying to knot."
"Hell, I've gotta go see-" he stopped mid-sentence and grinned, lifting her and heading up the stairs. "I can see them in the morning. I recall you saying something about heaven a couple days ago?"
"And you can take me any time you want to."
--- --- --- --- ---
The Priest smiled down at the blushing bride and grinning groom.
"You may now kiss the bride."
The couple kissed quickly and hotly, bringing a hoot of laughter from Wade and some encouraging words. Ares leant towards Jo.
"Aren't you glad that we didn't invite him?"
"Who? Wade was there, he was just bound and gagged. I let Galen do it because he did such a marvellous job the first time."
Danny and Galen turned away from the alter, both smiling widely as the headed back up the isle. The crowd was cheering and clapping as they headed out the door and towards the waiting vehicle. Ares smiled lightly, earning himself a curious look from Jo.
"What are you smiling about? You paid for this."
"I'm proud of that boy." he said softly. "He's been working at the hospital for the last year and painting on the side as a hobby. This is the first time I've ever seen him stick to anything."
Jo sighed and leant into him, holding the sleeping Alex against her.
"Because he's got Danny telling him that he's wonderful and marvellous. He'll never go wrong in her eyes."
"What about yours?"
She looked up at Ares, frowning.
"Well, sometimes Galen does some stupid things…" she saw him frown and smiled. "You could move mountains, Ares. Although I'm still smarting about that shot to the-"
"If you say head, I'm gonna kill you." he growled softly, careful not to wake Alex. "Let it go already."
She straightened and looked at him seriously.
"I can't. It doesn't make sense. You were dead, Ares. Wade and I felt for a pulse and found none, then all of a sudden you're back? Can you explain that?"
He shook his head.
"He couldn't explain that, didn't want to. Maybe something greater than him or the gun had granted a second chance. Mercy.