14: Ever after

Mallory frowned as she heard her phone going off. It was not her personal phone, which was resting a few feet away from her by the television. She ignored it as she had taken to doing since unofficially moving in with Poe almost three weeks ago. She had turned it on in a moment of curiosity to see what she was missing, but found herself uninterested in her messages one text in and had disregarded it again, forgetting to turn it back off.

"Is that your phone?" Poe asked as she flopped down on the couch next to Mallory.

As soon as the smaller woman was down, Mallory gathered her up in her arms and pressed Poe to her. "Yeah, but I'm letting it go," she replied before kissing behind Poe's ear. Holding her has to be what heaven feels like.

Poe giggled and then her brow furrowed, as if something troubling just entered her mind. Her eyes drifted to the phone by the television. "It's your work phone, isn't it?"

Mallory sighed, wishing the artist had not realized that. She held Poe closer to her. Poe returned the embrace and turned to face the redhead. Brown eyes locked onto hers.

"You haven't gone to work since you got here," Poe noted.

"No, I haven't," Mallory replied, not really wanting to talk about it. She was certain that any reminder of her job would ruin the little bubble that they had created around themselves and might even cost her everything that she managed to build with Poe.

"Did you quit?"

"I haven't. You're just my top priority right now," Mallory easily admitted. She wanted Poe to know just how much she meant to the redhead, but she could not quit her job. She did need a means to support herself, after all.

"Are you going to go back?" Brown eyes glistened, letting Mallory know there was a wrong answer here and she was probably going to give it.

"I'd like to. I like my job, it's good money, and I'm good at it," Mallory answered. "I'm good at it?" Why the hell would I tell my girlfriend I'm good at being a hooker? Fuck! "You don't want me to?" she asked, even though she could guess the answer.

Poe pouted. "I don't wanna share you."

Mallory leaned down to kiss away the moue, which did not work. "You wouldn't be sharing me. My dates don't mean anything to me. You mean everything to me."

The painter sighed and shook her head. "You'd still be sleeping with other people."

"But, it wouldn't mean anything beyond making money. It's just a job to me, Poe. A service job, like waiting tables or masseuse. I don't feel anything for my dates."

The pout was full on now. "I was your date once."

"Aw, babe, you're special. Do you think I invite all of my dates back to my place for soccer?" Mallory teased, nibbling on the tip of Poe's ear.

"You better not," Poe grumbled, squirming slightly against the older woman.

"Poe, you are the only one for me. You got me to stop drinking my loneliness away. No one has been able to do that. You reach inside of me and touch my heart and soul." The redhead caressed the small of Poe's back, hoping it would calm her lover down.

The artist glanced down in thought. "I don't want other people reaching inside you."

"I guess that was a poor choice of words," Mallory said, sighing a bit herself. "Poe, I've been doing this for years. I know how to separate my work and my personal life. It doesn't mean anything to me, except money to go toward my dream."

Poe made a noise in the back of her throat and her eyes searched the floor. "You know, Nadi told me to be ready for this conversation when we had everyone over for dinner. She wanted me to think about what it meant to have a call girl for a partner."

Mallory frowned a bit, but she could not be mad at Nadi for trying to look out for Poe. Besides, she was the stupid one for practically bragging to Nadi about what she did for a living. She ran her hand through Poe's hair, causing brown eyes to flutter shut briefly.

"Poe, you know I don't want to hurt you in any way. My job is just that to me – a job. I know it's hard for you to wrap your head around. Honestly, I never planned for any of this, to fall in love, to need to make a decision. I've lived my life in a fugue state almost, floundering around, never really figuring out what to do with my life. I always told myself I'd figure it out eventually and there was no rush. There's a rush now," Mallory stated.

"I don't want to put any stress on you," Poe admitted in a low, almost ashamed voice. The way that she sounded made the redhead scowl because it seemed like Poe was ready to settle and she knew that came from Poe's unhappy childhood.

Mallory shook her head. "I need the stress. Poe, don't you get it? If not for you, I'd be a call girl until my tits fell off," she remarked with a chuckle. "It's not my ideal job. I'm just settled and it makes me so much money and I get so many gifts. I'd never figure out what I want to do with myself, but I do know I want to do right by you. You deserve the best and I have to be able to deliver as close to that as I can."

Poe squinted and looked so adorably perplexed. "So, you will quit?"

Mallory chuckled. "Will you give me some time? I just need to figure out what I want to do with myself."

"What do you mean? How much time?"

The older woman scratched her head, thinking about it for a second. "I won't take forever. But, I just need to figure out what to do with myself. Like you, you know you're an artist. You get paid to paint and write. You're good at those things and they make you happy. I have to figure out what job would make me happy."

Poe nodded, but her eyes still appeared skeptical. Her brow furrowed as she thought on things. Mallory ran her fingers through Poe's hair again. She hoped that Poe accepted that, but she was certain that she would bend if Poe demanded that she quit. She just was not sure what she would do about remaining in the lifestyle that she was accustomed to, but Poe came before that. Poe came before everything.

"You were a call girl before we made things official and I didn't really mind. I never really thought about it," Poe commented in a low tone, as if she were speaking more to herself.

"But, we weren't official then," the redhead pointed out. While she was making things harder for herself, she wanted Poe to consider everything before giving in to make sure the artist did not end up resentful.

"No, we weren't, but I never would've thought to tell you what to do with your life and I still won't. I want you to be happy, just like you want me to be happy. I know better than most how hard things can be when people start to try to control you. I don't want to control you."

"And I don't want you to be bothered by my job," Mallory insisted.

Poe nodded. "I might be able to live with it. I've seen a lot of things in my twenty short years and interacted with a lot of different people. I'm not going to judge you about your job or be upset when you have to leave. I think I can separate our private lives and your job."

"Are you sure?"

Poe smiled "I'm willing to try, just like you're always willing to try stuff for me. I should be able to handle it. Plus, it's not forever, right?"

"Definitely not," Mallory insisted. I have to figure out what the hell to do with myself because I'm not going to let this damned job cost me Poe.

"I'll tell you if I feel uncomfortable."

"Please do." Poe nodded and Mallory hugged her tightly. "How did I get so lucky to find you?"

"I think we were lucky to find each other."

Mallory smiled and leaned down to kiss Poe. The author eagerly returned the show of affection, kissing her until they were both out of breath. Mallory caressed Poe's cheek as they pulled away from each other.

"You have exclusive rights to my kisses, though," Mallory stated and Poe laughed.

-8-8-8-8-

The next time that Mallory's work phone rang, she decided to answer it. She was not surprised by her boss' thundering yell almost blowing out her eardrum. The crazy Russian was screaming so loudly that Poe was looking at Mallory with a puzzled look. Mallory waved Poe back to her painting.

"Tatijana, we both know I have no fucking clue what you're saying unless you speak English!" Mallory hollered back at the woman she imagined was red in the face from her boisterous rant.

"Don't tell me what language to speak, you traitorous son of a mule!" Tatijana roared.

Mallory rolled her eyes. "I'm sure that sounds worse in Russian. How am I a traitor?"

"I know you've moved onto another agency! That can be the only reason you've missed so many dates and haven't returned any of my calls! I had hoped you were dead, so I wouldn't have to kill you with my own bare hands!" She then went off in Russian, swearing and cursing Mallory more than likely.

"Calm the fuck down. I can't understand shit you're saying," Mallory pointed out. She hoped that Tatijana could be reasoned with or she was sure that the livid Russian woman would try to murder her with her bare hands.

"Don't fucking tell me to calm the fuck down!" More loud Russian followed.

Mallory was not in the mood for a headache, so she hung up. "Let her think about it for minute."

"Is everything okay?" Poe asked with concern lacing her big, brown eyes.

"Yeah, crazy boss just being crazy is all," Mallory replied. As her phone began buzzing again, she turned her attention back to it. "Hello," she answered in a pleasant voice to mock Tatijana's anger.

"How dare you hang up on me?" Tatijana bellowed.

"It's pretty easy. I'm about to do it again if you don't calm the fuck the down," Mallory said.

"You don't tell me what the fuck to do!"

Mallory rolled her eyes and hung up again, secretly hoping she was not signing her own death warrant. Poe glanced at her, but she waved her lover off. Poe shrugged and turned back to her painting. Mallory's phone began ringing again and she just let. She decided to check her messages, only to find more of Tatijana's screaming. Blue eyes rolled again and she deleted all of the messages. Once she was done, she saw that her boss was trying to call her again.

"Do you have to go to back to work?" Poe asked.

"Not yet. I do have to watch a movie with you, though," Mallory remarked.

Poe chuckled. "Let me wash my hands."

"I'll get as some snacks."

They both moved to get things in order before meeting back out the couch. Mallory threw her arms around Poe as soon as she could. That put the snack bowl in Poe's lap, which was fine since she was going to do most of the eating. Mallory nuzzled her neck just for the hell of it.

"Before we start, you should know we have to do some shopping. That's the last salty treat in the place," Mallory informed the younger woman.

"What? But, I need salt!" Poe joked.

Mallory laughed and ran her hand through Poe's hair. "You need food that goes together, though. I refuse to let you eat pickles and jelly again."

Poe frowned. "It tastes good!"

"To you. I'll never eat that, so I refuse to eat it."

The artist chuckled. "I'll eat anything, but you know that."

"Clever," Mallory deadpanned.

"Hey, can I go with you shopping? I shouldn't just leave it to you," Poe said.

"You don't have to come if you don't want to. I can handle the shopping."

"You don't have to do everything. We can be partners in this. I want to be there with you doing stuff," Poe said, patting Mallory's hand.

The redhead smiled. "You're right. I'd like to do regular stuff with you."

"Me, too. I like having you around, so I want to do things with you to help keep you around. We should do little things together since we're official."

"You got it." Mallory kissed Poe's head. They focused on the movie after that, ignoring the buzz from Mallory's phone.

-8-8-8-8-

Poe watched Mallory looking through the kitchen, taking stock of what they needed. She had seen her mother do something similar before going on a "shopping expedition," as her mother used to call them. She never bothered with that when she went shopping.

"Can we go yet?" Poe groaned. She wanted to go and come back as soon as possible, as she always did when she had to go shopping.

"No, I need to make sure I know what we need. I don't want to make a trip to the supermarket and take a cab back only to find out we need to go back to the market for things," Mallory explained.

Poe sighed impatiently. "How long is this gonna take?"

"Poe, if it's such a bother why don't you just leave it to me? I've got this."

The younger woman puffed out her cheeks and pouted. "Sorry for being such a pill. I just never do it like this. I just go out and buy stuff."

Blue eyes rolled as Mallory moved to see what was in the cupboards. "Why am I not surprised?"

Poe did not respond. She did her best not to fidget while Mallory worked. She wanted to do this to get closer to her lover because she really did like being around Mallory and liked having her around. She wanted to be able to take care of the redhead just as the older woman did her. So, she needed to learn to do normal things the right way.

"All right, I'm ready to go," Mallory announced.

Poe grinned. "Hey, before we do the shopping, let's get lunch at the diner two blocks away."

"Sounds good. Oh, I want to go to that bath and beauty store, too."

Brown eyes blinked twice. "Why?"

Mallory smirked. "You'll see."

A shiver ran through Poe. She wondered what Mallory had up her sleeve. She looked forward to it.

The pair left the loft and started off for the diner. Poe lived in a very good section of the city where there were tons of things within walking distance, including everywhere they had to go. They sat down in the diner and Poe ordered breakfast just because it was still being served.

"It's never too late for pancakes," Poe chuckled.

Mallory smiled at her and for the first time she was able to see the love sparkle in sapphire eyes. She could actually see that Mallory thought she was adorable. She smiled back, hoping that her eyes showed the same. She could feel the emotions swelling her heart and calming her soul. Unable to help herself, Poe reached across the table and put her hand on Mallory's. Mallory clutched her hand tightly and smiled again.

"We should go on more dates," Poe realized.

"I'd like that," Mallory replied.

Poe beamed. "I'll take you to the movies tonight!" It seemed like the right thing to do. They watched movies all of the time now and enjoyed them on the couch. Watching a new movie in a theater should be just as good.

"I'd definitely like that."

The artist beamed even more. She made a mental note to do more date things with Mallory. I need to do more things for Mallory, just like she does things for me.

"Bear with me while I learn how to be in a real relationship," Poe requested.

Mallory laughed. "Of course. I know this is hard for you. Poe, you're not the only one that has to learn. After all, my last real relationship was when I was a teenager. Don't stress yourself. I think we're doing fine so far and we'll learn as we go."

Poe nodded in agreement. Their food arrived and they ate in peaceful silence for a while. The writer glanced up and out of a window in front of their table. It felt like someone was watching her, but she did not see anyone focused on her. But, it happened a few times.

"You okay?" Mallory asked, probably because Poe kept looking out of the window. "Something going on outside?" Blue eyes glanced out the window.

"No, it's nothing," Poe replied, going back to her food.

Poe did her best to focus on eating, if only to avoid freaking Mallory out and to not look like a crazy person. She managed to make it through the meal without peering out of the window again. When the check came, she insisted on paying.

"Why do you get to pay?" Mallory asked with a teasing smile.

"I asked you, so I pay. I believe you taught me that," the younger woman answered.

The redhead chuckled. "Touché. The teacher has been schooled. Pay on, my dear."

Poe smiled at the term of endearment, even though she knew that Mallory was just playing around. Poe paid for the meal when they were done and they were off to the next store, which was a few blocks away. Again, it felt like someone was watching her as they walked. She glanced behind them.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Mallory inquired as she slid an arm around Poe's waist.

"Yeah. I dunno. I must be paranoid or something," Poe replied, waving the sensation off.

"What do you mean?"

"I feel like I'm being watched, which also makes me feel like we're being followed. Do you think I'm being silly or that something's up?"

Mallory glanced behind them. "Something might be up or we might both be silly. We'll see."

Poe shrugged because there was nothing that they could do. They went into the bath and beauty store that Mallory wanted to visit. Poe watched and wondered as Mallory grabbed scented candles, lotion, a jar with what looked pink jelly beans, another jar that looked blue dust, and what she guessed was bubble bath. Poe scratched her head.

"What's all that stuff for?" the artist asked.

"A bath," Mallory simply answered.

"So, you're gonna take a bath later?"

Mallory smirked in a way that made Poe want to melt. "You'll see. You'll like it."

Poe's brow furrowed as she tried to figure out what that meant. Nothing came to mind and Mallory went to pay for her items. After that, they marched to the supermarket. There were several more glances behind them, but Poe did her best not to worry about it.

"Grab a cart," Mallory told the younger woman as they passed the line.

Poe nodded and obediently moved to get the shopping cart. She then followed behind Mallory as the redhead went right to the produce section. She bagged up several pieces of fruit.

"You can have some healthy snacks," Mallory said with a smile.

"I like pears," Poe piped in.

"We'll get some. You need to eat better."

"Says you and my mom. I'm fine, though. It's called being young," Poe remarked.

"Don't get sassy. You want to keep looking nice as you get older, so you need to eat right. I want something nice to look at thirty years from now."

Poe blinked. "Thirty years?"

"Yes, thirty years. I'd say more, but I don't want to overwhelm you," Mallory teased, bumping the younger woman with her hip.

Poe laughed and continued to follow Mallory. She studied the redhead as Mallory traveled the aisles with ease, scanning some items, but did not pick them while others were put in the cart with hardly a glance. She clearly had been to the supermarket before, but she did things that Poe did not understand.

"I don't shop like this," Poe blurted out.

"No? How do you shop?" Mallory asked, looking down at the shopping list.

"I just grab junk I like that I can carry," Poe replied with a shrug, even though Mallory could not see.

"Of course, that explains why the kitchen was stocked the way it was before my extended visit. You never went shopping with your mom?"

"No, it didn't interest me at the time and I didn't see the point. I should've gone, though. Mom would've liked it," Poe realized.

"Don't sound so guilty about it. Your mom wants you to be happy and comfortable, which she knows you wouldn't be doing grocery shopping. You bonded with your mom in other ways," Mallory pointed out.

Poe nodded. "I guess. Did you go shopping with your mom?"

Mallory laughed. "All the damn time and we all hated it, especially my mom. Three little kids bugging her for junk food or shit we couldn't afford. We always left the store mad with my mom promising beatings all around. On really bad days, she'd threaten to abandon us in the store."

The artist gasped. "Did she?"

Mallory paused and stared at her girlfriend. "No, it was just a meaningless threat. Did someone do that to you?" She sounded like she would go beat the people up if Poe answered in the affirmative. That thought made Poe feel good about herself.

"No, not exactly. But, I've had a family move while I was at school."

"The bastards!" the redhead snarled, causing Poe to blink a couple of times. "I'm sorry that happened to you, baby."

Poe shook her head. "Don't be. They weren't good people. You're making me wish I had gone with Mom, though. I'd like funny shopping stories."

"Well, never too late to start."

Poe nodded. "You're right. Maybe I'll do it the next time I go to see them."

The redhead smiled and they continued shopping. Mallory called for a cab as they waited in the checkout line, which was a good idea because there was no way that they would have been able carry everything back home. Home. Is it home now? She glanced at Mallory as the line moved. Maybe it is home.

-8-8-8-8-

Mallory was not surprised that she and Poe had some difficulty bringing their groceries upstairs. They had a lot of bags, but they managed it in one go with a lot of effort, and also a lot of putting bags into other bags. Thankfully, the plastic handles made it up to the apartment, even though the handles were completely stretched by then. Poe dropped the keys a couple of times before it occurred to her to put her bags down and then opened the doors.

"We should get you a set of keys," Poe said and Mallory thought her heart stopped at that statement.

"I'd like that," the redhead managed to say. She was surprised that her voice did not tremble because her lips and throat were quivering.

Poe smiled and gathered her bags up again to go inside. She stepped in, but suddenly stopped and dropped the bags once more. Mallory ran into the younger woman.

"Poe, what the hell?" Mallory grumbled as she managed to maintain a grip on her bags.

"What the hell indeed! Who the hell are you?" Poe demanded, facing into the loft. Mallory looked over the short artist and saw what had her attention.

"Baran, what the fuck are you doing here?" Mallory growled, quickly stepping in front of her girlfriend.

The large man stepped away from Poe's canvass and focused on them. "The boss wasn't happy with you hanging up on her twice and being MIA for almost a month hasn't sat well with her either. The fact that you're probably working for someone else, even though she hasn't found out who yet isn't exactly helping to calm her down either."

Mallory glared at the tall driver. "How the fuck did you even find me?" How dare this bastard invade our home?

"You should know better than most that she has eyes all over the city. Now, I don't want this to be tough, so just come with me." Baran stepped closer.

"You were the one following us," Poe accused him.

"Poe, let me handle this," Mallory implored.

"No, I'm not going let you leave with him and I don't like how he's going about things. I don't know what the hell is going on, but I do know that he broke into our home and he's threatening you," Poe stated.

"Poe!" Mallory shouted, wanting to warn her girlfriend. Baran was a dangerous man and she was not sure how he would react to the smaller woman challenging him.

Baran stalked over to them. His footfalls were so heavy that they seemed to drum against the floor. "You're coming with me," he snarled while reaching for Mallory, but Poe grabbed him.

"Don't fucking touch her," the writer said in a hard, cold tone that made Mallory blink.

"Stupid bitch, sticking up for a whore," he barked and turned to backhand her.

Poe ducked the assault and attacked his open mid-section. He fell back, but looked at Poe with hated fire in his eyes. Poe did not look phased, even though Baran was twice her size. He came at her with a speed not expected from someone so enormous, but did not make it as Mallory put her foot in his balls.

"Don't even think about it!" Mallory screamed.

"Fucking whores!" Baran hollered in a high-pitched voice and leaped at Mallory before she could react. Honestly, she was surprised by his ability to move after her well-placed kick.

He hit her on the chin with a pretty decent left cross and made her teeth rattle. Her back slammed against the wall, but Baran did not touch her again. Poe came at him, taking him out at the waist, tackling him in a way that made it seem like she played in the NFL. He crashed onto the floor and Poe fell on top on him. The artist wasted no time punching him in the side while Mallory climbed to her feet.

The redhead could not reach Poe before Baran retaliated against her. He punched Poe in the stomach, lifting her entire body in the air. The short woman grunted as the blow landed and she stumbled away from him as he stood up.

"Poe!" Mallory rushed to her side.

"I'm fine! Look out!" Poe coughed out the warning.

Mallory turned too late and Baran grabbed her, palming her face. She felt pressure on her skull and wondered if he could crush her head with one hand. As breathing became difficult for her, he picked her up with frightening ease and then tossed her over the couch and into the television. She had to fight against blacking out when she landed, pain throbbing in her back. Rolling onto her side, she focused on Baran as he went after Poe again.

"Come here, you little fucking gnat," he growled at the younger woman.

Poe did not back down, dodging all of his slow punches and focused her attack on his knees and groin area. He roared in pain when she tagged him directly in the balls; the section had to still hurt from when Mallory kicked him. Poe was far from finished, kicking his knee in a direction the joint was not meant to bend. He dropped to one knee and Poe let out a mighty war cry as she punched him in the face. The sound of bones crunching echoed through the apartment and blood gushed from his nose.

Poe was breathing hard, but she continued on, putting her all into another punch. Baran grunted as the blow landed, but he did not go down. He reached into his pocket as Mallory climbed to her feet. She was standing just in time to see Baran pull out a stun gun and shove the weapon against Poe's small body.

Poe let out a short holler before the shock was too much for her. Poe dropped like a sack of rocks while Baran attempted to catch his breath. Mallory saw red and moved so quickly that she doubted Baran knew what hit him. She knocked the weapon from his hand first and foremost before taking hold of the same hand and pummeling his shoulder out of the socket.

"Fucking bitch!" Baran screamed before she grabbed the nearest object, oddly enough her work phone, and bashed him in the face with it until it shattered in her hand. He was bleeding, dazed, and kneeling.

"You stupid motherfucker!" Mallory hollered as she began kicking him wherever she could reach.

She knew that would not be enough, so while she had the chance she grabbed the stun gun. She jammed the weapon into his neck, not knowing or caring if shocking him that close to his brain could kill him. He fell like a lead balloon and she moved to get something to bind him with. Good thing we do light bondage.

Baran was quickly tied down with cuffs and other bonds. Once he was chained to the old radiator, Mallory turned her attention to Poe. The artist was sitting up, holding her head. Mallory kneeled at her side.

"How you feeling, sweetheart?" the redhead inquired, looking into Poe's unfocused eyes.

"Uh … he down?" Poe slurred.

"Yeah, baby, he's down. Let me help you up," Mallory offered, putting her hand on Poe's arm. All the writer could do was nod.

Mallory worked her way up, taking Poe with her. Poe stumbled once on her feet and fell into Mallory's body. She walked the younger woman to the sofa and eased her down.

"We'll get some ice for your face," Mallory said and she rushed to the kitchen. When she returned, Poe was a little more coherent and her eyes were not glassy.

"Did I get hit by the fucking moon falling from the sky?" Poe wondered as Mallory pressed ice to her face.

Blue eyes glanced at Baran, who was still unconscious. "Close enough. Do you think you need to go to the hospital?"

"Nah, I'm fine. He just rang my bell pretty good with that stun gun. I'll be fine."

Mallory decided to take her word on that until she saw signs of the contrary. "That's good. That's really good."

"How'd you down him?" Poe inquired as her eyes strayed to the chained man.

"Same way he downed you. Apparently, that stun gun is a bitch."

"Hell, yeah," Poe concurred and she blinked hard a couple of times, needing to focus herself. "So, what do we do with him?"

"I'll take the gorilla back to his owner once he wakes up. He probably will need a hospital, so he'll more than likely be happy to leave and get back to her. I have a few choice words for her, anyway."

Poe took her hand. "We'll go."

"Poe," Mallory sighed. "I don't want to put you in any more danger and Tatijana is dangerous, way more dangerous than this moron."

"I can wait outside. I'm not going to let you transport a guy that attacked us in our home to God knows where to a woman you're telling is worse than him and she's pissed at you!" Poe huffed.

Mallory frowned. "Knowing you as well as I do, I can sense a losing battle involving you following me anyway."

Poe nodded and smiled. "You know me pretty well."

"One of the things I love about you is that hint of crazy that likes to pop out every now and then. You can't go in, though. The crazy Russian lady he works for and I work for, she won't let you in the office. You don't want any part of that anyway."

"I'll stand outside the door. A good compromise, no?" Poe figured.

"Fine," Mallory agreed with a sigh.

Poe smiled and they took some time to take care of their injuries. Things proceeded rather smoothly when Baran regained consciousness once Mallory assured him that she would go to see Tatijana. He did look confused over it, but he accepted that quite quickly. She could tell that he just wanted out of the apartment, especially since he was clearly in pain.

"Oh, and Mighty Mouse is going to come with," Mallory casually remarked, jabbing her thumb in Poe's direction.

"What the hell?" Baran barked, trying to glare, but he only had one good eye now and that one was swelling up, too.

"She goes or you stay chained until we get sick of you or you starve to death. Whichever." Mallory shrugged nonchalantly.

"If he starves, we can eat him and then we would absorb his power," Poe joked.

"You must be in a writing mood to come up with that," Mallory commented. Her lover shrugged.

Baran tugged at his bonds, testing them no doubt. He was secure and, from that deep frown on his rough, he was sure of that. Mallory smirked, especially enjoying how much in winced and grimaced when he moved.

"You think I, of all people, don't know how to strap a man down? Me, the whore?" the redhead mocked him with a chuckle.

Baran roared and went red in the face, but then hissed as agony shot through him from the simple movement. Mallory only laughed more. He went slack and she moved to sit closer to him.

"What's the big deal? She wants to see me and I'm coming in? It works out, you moron," she said before plucking him in the forehead.

"Stupid bitch!" he growled before wincing. He put his head down, trying to cover up what they had already seen. He was in sheer agony and could not do anything to them, even if they let him go. He was totally defeated.

Mallory turned to Poe. "What was that about eating him?"

"We start with the heart," Poe piped in. "He might be a little gamey and tough if the muscles mean anything, but I bet you could make even him taste good."

"It would be a challenge," Mallory agreed with a smile and a nod.

Baran only snorted, but he reluctantly agreed to let Poe tag along. He was not in the best shape, so Mallory undid his bonds and he limped to the door. He could barely walk and almost fell over on the elevator ride down. They followed him to the car and he was left to drive. He pulled up to what appeared to be a regular orange brick office with a nice flowery facade. They marched inside and it was like being in any regular office building with a receptionist and everything. The receptionist did not say anything as they went by her without a word, entering a short hallway with a few rows of doors. They went to the end of the hall.

"You stay here," Mallory told Poe as they came to Tatijana's door.

"I'm staying," Poe grumbled, folding her arms across her chest.

Blue eyes cut to Baran. "You, too."

He snorted, clearly not wanting any part of the shit storm that was about to take place. Mallory half-wished that she could skip the shit storm, too, but it was inevitable. She took a deep breath before venturing into the office.

The average-sized office was decorated in onyx and crimson, dark and bloody almost. There were bookshelves against the walls and a business degree, showcasing that her boss had actually gone to school to manage a company. Of course, no one probably figured that she would be running an escort service. At the head of the office was an ebony desk with some papers on it and a tall, pale Russian woman was sitting at it.

Tatijana looked up, trying to pin Mallory with her glaze. It did not work. While Tatijana was an extremely deadly woman, Mallory had long since lost her fear of the woman. She was not sure if it was a foolish thing or not yet. This meeting might prove which one it is.

"Scarlet," Tatijana said, her accent hanging thick in the air. She was a dark woman in a sense that her hair was jet black and she dressed in the same midnight color all the time. She was wearing a corset, leather pants, and spiked boots, appearing like a dominatrix.

"Boss," Mallory replied as she sat down in front of the table. Dark eyes tracked her every move, looking for a weakness.

Tatijana went into her desk and produced a gun, which she rested on top of her desk, right where Mallory could see it. "Why shouldn't I just kill right now? You hung up on me twice."

"Well, aside from the fact that it would mess up the rug," Mallory remarked as she pulled out a hunting knife from inside her waistband. "I won't go softly and you were hysterical." Her heart sped up a bit, even though she liked to think that she could cut Tatijana before the woman could aim her gun, but she probably would not bet money on that. She needed to try to reason her way out of this before anything else.

"You haven't worked in a month nor have you returned my calls," the Russian pointed out in a tense hiss.

"I've been busy, but I'm ready to come back to work and willing to forgive and forget whenever you are," she explained in a completely business manner.

Tatijana scowled. "You think we can move on like this never happened? You think you can speak to me however you want without punishment?"

"Well, it's either that or we do it the hard way, which could involve making a mess or threats with a lot of unnecessary screaming and all sorts of time consuming nonsense. Do you really want to go through that? I'm back, all is well, and this'll never happen again."

"And I'm supposed to just take your word on that?" Tatijana demanded, her eyes glaring at the redhead just a bit harder now.

Mallory shrugged nonchalantly, even though she felt like she might have to spring out of her chair at any moment. "What else can you do? I know you're calmer now that you've had a few days to think about it. You're not as mad." While she was certain that was true, she was not sure what degree Tatijana had been mad at before, so she was not sure how far the Russian woman had dropped yet.

"Don't think you know me so well," Tatijana snarled.

"I do. Now, let's be civilized and calm. My life's changed somewhat in the last month and that's why you haven't heard from me, but you probably know that."

"You've allowed yourself to be domesticated." She looked down her nose with disdain.

"We both know it was bound to happen sooner or later. I'm a girl from the suburbs. I want what I know. You told me that when we met. In fact, you predicted that's how you'd lose me. So, first to make amends, sorry for disappearing," Mallory said.

Tatijana's mouth dropped open. "You apologized?"

Mallory shrugged. "I was wrong in the sense that if this was a regular job I'd have been fired. I just had shit I needed to sort out, which I've done and it won't get to be a mess again anytime soon. Now, can I just get back to work and we both walk away from this without it having to turn into a war?"

Tatijana narrowed her hard, almost black gaze on Mallory. The redhead did not flinch and steely blue eyes stared right back. The room seemed to fill with stiff air and electricity. It popped and whirled, almost threatening to blow the walls out. And, just as suddenly as it appeared, the gun was placed back in the desk. As soon as the draw closed, the tension vanished like thin smoke.

"From now on, we discuss matters like two adults without the avoiding," Tatijana stated.

"And without the screaming," Mallory added.

"And we start now because I'm sure your domestication comes with terms."

Mallory shook her head. "None at all, except you know what's going to eventually happen."

Tatijana nodded. "Good. Then get to work."

The redhead nodded and, when Tatijana's eyes went back to her work, Mallory knew that she was dismissed. She got out as soon as it was all clear. She breathed a sigh relief. That wasn't nearly as bad as I assumed it would be. She's mellowing as she gets older and I guess the fact that she called this years ago helps.

"Everything okay?" Poe asked as she fell into step with Mallory.

"Yeah, it's cool. I get to go back to work without having my fingers broken," Mallory joked. Poe did not see it as a joke if her wide eyes meant anything. She just wrapped her arms around the younger woman and they started for home.

-8-8-8-8-

Epilogue

Poe closed her laptop and set it aside on the comfortable leather couch. She then turned her attention to her snack of Pop-tarts with peanut butter smeared on the top that was resting on the coffee table. She also grabbed the television remote, turning it on and it automatically came onto the twenty-four hour soccer station. She got lost in the match.

"Poe," Mallory grumbled, rubbing her eye as she made her way downstairs.

It had been a year since Mallory had moved in with Poe and things had changed somewhat in that time. The year had been good for them. They had arguments every now and then, but they mostly got along well. Their relationship was stronger than ever and they felt like it got stronger everyday, even during those rare occasions that they did not get along. They had gotten a three-bedroom condo together a couple of months ago. One room was a studio for Poe and the other was a walk-in closet for Mallory.

They had decorated the condo together, even though Poe did not think that she was much help in that area. Mallory pushed her, though, wanting her to make the condo home. She did her best in picking things out, but she had mostly just agreed with things that Mallory wanted because those things did not matter much to her. She felt like the condo would be home no matter what was in it. As long as Mallory was there, it was home, and she said as much.

"Why are you watching soccer? You said you were going to write some and then come back to bed," Mallory reminded her as she curled into Poe's body. Their arms went around each other and she cuddled into the smaller woman.

"I got a snack and wanted to finish it," Poe explained, pointing down at her plate. She had actually finished it and had not realized it until now.

Mallory chuckled. "You'll never change." She leaned in and placed a kiss on Poe's mouth. Mallory drew back, licking her lips. "Peanut butter and strawberry, yet I can tell it wasn't a sandwich. Do I even want to know?"

"Probably not." Mallory did not like hearing about her improvised meals or snacks. She had learned to stop sharing because every now and then, the reveal cost her kisses until she brushed her teeth.

"Your father is right – you are a garbage disposal."

Poe only chuckled. Over the past year, her family had begrudgingly accepted that Mallory was in her life and probably the rest of her life. So, little by little, they engaged Mallory and shared stories about Poe with her, much like Mallory's family did with Poe. They seemed to be slowly growing to like Mallory and Mallory worked to make sure that eventually they would genuinely like her.

Nadi still had a bit of a problem with Mallory. Poe expected that would last for a while. While she wished her best friend got along with her girlfriend, she was flattered by Nadi's righteous indignation on her behalf. Mallory did not seem fazed by Nadi's attitude, just accepting it and working to show that she was going to do right by Poe. Nadi would only accept Mallory when she was certain that Mallory would not break Poe's heart again.

"You say that now, but you're always happy I'm there when you order something gross when we go out," Poe pointed out.

Mallory chuckled. "I do love that you eat anything." She gave Poe another kiss. "In fact, since I'm off for the next few of days …" A lewd smile settled onto her face.

"Love night," Poe stated.

It was always "love night" when Mallory did not have work. She was still a call girl, which was why they used the term "love night" instead of "date night." Mallory did not "date" nearly as often as she did a year ago, but she still had not figured out what she wanted to do with her life. Poe was going to sic Meghan on Mallory soon. Meghan would push Mallory to open a gym more than likely, which Poe was sure Mallory would be very happy with considering how much time Mallory spent at the gym. Poe would be happy with that, too, because she liked working out almost as much as Mallory did.

"We should just stay home for a couple of days," Poe said.

Mallory purred. "I like the way you think." She kissed Poe. "I also love when you call this place home." She kissed the artist again.

Poe smiled. "Home. This is home, you're my home." The statement earned her a full on assault from Mallory's lips.

Poe pulled away only from Mallory for a moment, reaching for the remote. She turned off the television and turned her complete attention to her lover. They stared into each other's eyes.

"I love you," Poe felt the need to say.

"I love you, too," Mallory replied before they melted into each other.

The end.