Actions

Work Header

So, Harv Walks Into a Bar

Chapter Text

Just across the Brown Bridge, Harvey Dent stood at the window of his second story brick house, one hand on the windowsill, the other grasping a half finished cigarette. He stood there staring at the storm raging outside and felt strangely claustrophobic. How long had it been since he'd felt some measure of peace? He wanted to rage and beat down on this miserable city just like the rain and lightning outside his window.

He wanted to be able to look at a woman, just one goddamn woman, and NOT see pity, revulsion, or fear etched across her features. To not always be surrounded by yes men and flunkies who were just waiting to be ordered about. It had been so long since he'd had a normal conversation he wasn't sure he remembered how. A real conversation… what a concept.

One without a twenty minute argument about where it was a beer or liquor night… Where every other word out of the other person's mouth wasn't an obscenity... God forbid he actually find someone who was intelligent enough to keep up with his opinions on politics and current events, or discuss the latest novel he'd just read.

He, plain old Harvey Dent, was tired of playing mob boss, and master criminal; for once he wanted to sit down and have a real conversation with someone. And just once he wanted to find someone who could tolerate Two-Face as well. It was impossible to hold a decent conversation with someone when his other half was constantly screaming at him about what a loser his companion was.

Fuck you...  I’ll be twice damned before I listen to some bitch prattle on about shit I don’t care about.

Enter the opposition.

Well excuse me for finding a use for women other than just sex… though I wouldn't turn my nose up at that either.

Isn't a little early in the conversation for name-calling?

Oh is that what were having. I thought you were still bitching about not having any fucking friends.

Oh! Because of course people are crawling out of the damn woodwork to spend quality time with you! Admit it! You're just as hard up for company as I am!

Are you saying I need some bitch's shoulder to cry on!

I'm suggesting it would be nice to talk with someone who doesn't ALWAYS argue with you.

I could get that just by shooting the shit with one of my flunkies.

Bullshit! Over half of those idiots can't even hold up a conversation about the WEATHER!

So what! I didn't pick them for their conversational skills you jackass! What… you wanna go babe searching or something. You… ACTUALLY attracting someone to talk to- let alone fuck. This oughta be good for a few laughs.

I said I wanted someone to talk to. I don't have to end up sleeping with her!

What kind of a broad just wants to talk? Christ, why don't you just visit a fucking library! I'm sure you could find a nice uptight old biddy in there.

Just because a woman wants to talk about more than what her favorite position is does NOT make her boring. Could you be more SHALLOW!?

Could you be more PATHETIC! Why don't you just go on fucking Oprah for Christ's sake? The voice suddenly took on an insulting whiny tone. Nobody loves me, I don't have any friends, I'm lonely…

Because of course you're so much better off. When was the last time you had a woman stick around for more than five minutes- let alone had one in bed? I pause for your response.

… a sulky silence.

Yeah, that's what I thought. Since the great Two-Face can't get the job done, then maybe wussy boy Harvey can manage to entice a woman to stick around long enough to like ME well enough to IGNORE you!

Like bloody hell! If you think I'm gonna sit on the sidelines while you mack on some wench…

Fine! Just SHUT UP! You're giving me a headache.

Don't tell me to shut up. You're the one who came up with this stupid idea in the first place.

If this woman turns out to be even half way attractive- not to mention interesting- I want you to promise not to run her off.

What do I get outta this little arrangement?

Well if you manage to not be a COMPLETE jackass and attempt to be halfway polite… perish the thought we might actually end up with a VERY close friend.

So you want me to be me usual charming self and pretend to be interested in what ever she prattles on about so she'll go home with us.

Harvey sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Oh for the love of God! Just don't say anything stupid!

Harvey mashed his cigarette in the nearest ashtray and reached blindly to his left for his bottle of Bud-Light. They had sent their four best guys to scope out the local bars for one that they could frequent without drawing too much attention – one where their was limited to no police presence, provided it wasn’t a complete cesspool.

Sure, The Iceberg was a nice place, but it gets old constantly being surrounded by the criminally insane. He was crazy enough all by himself, he didn't need to compete with his fellow villains thank you very much. If he had to listen to Jack's laugh one more time he was gonna yank his intestines out through his throat… and that was if the coin landed unblemished side up.

The boys had managed to locate an older bar on the lower east side. They had seen a few bar fights and never once had the cops shown up. Chances were good no one would notice four or five more miscreants. It wouldn't be hard to run out any other local gangs that had claimed the area as their turf. Harvey couldn't help but smirk. There were perks to being one of the most dangerous criminals in the city.

Apparently the bartender and owner of the establishment was a good-looking woman. They had guessed her as mid to late thirties, said she was polite but not nosy…sounded like a nice enough girl. He heard Two-Face snort in disgust. She could be as nice as she wanted but Harvey silently prayed she was tolerant, too. Very tolerant…

 

00000000000000000000000

 

Jamie Mackenzie turned the corner onto Franklin Blvd, Billy Joel's 'New York State of Mind' ebbing through her car speakers. The steady drizzle of rain left Gotham covered in a hazy film and she could faintly hear the puddles splash under the tires of her Honda.

The saxophone echoed throughout the car and she couldn't help but let the feeling of self-pity get the better of her. Rain splashed against the windshield as the flip-flap of the windshield wipers swept it away.

Yes, she owned her own bar and lived in one of the largest cities in the county.  Hell, she didn’t even mind the fact that she was single most of the time.  In fact when she’d been younger she’d loved her life.

Unfortunately her small bar, which may have once been a well-known police bar, now served the dredges of society: thieves, murderers, and gangsters. She lived alone in her small house – which was in desperate need of a new everything, and that large city also turned out to be the crime capital of the United States.

Her clientele at the bar and the crime rate of Gotham were most likely never going to change.  The single part, however, was open for debate.  Yes, it may have only been irritating around the holidays, and the occasional relapse into bouts of loneliness – like now...  All the same, watching the cute elderly couples who inhabited her neighborhood sometimes made her miss having someone of her own.  Mack kept telling herself it was over-rated, but they seemed so happy, holding hands and taking walks after dinner.

What she truly missed the most was the comfort of having someone around.  Just one person to share her day with who cared about what she thought and how she felt.   She and her mother had been incredibly close and she missed sitting around the bar on slow days and talking over today's paper and discussing the latest novel.  But since her mothers death six years ago, all that she had left were her bar patrons, and most of them were too hell bent on reducing themselves to oblivion as quickly possible to worry about chatting up the bartender.

Mack spent more and more time driving aimlessly after work, listening to the radio; it was easier than facing an empty house. It might have only been a small three-bedroom house, but there was only one of her now and a person only needed so much space.

Mack turned onto route 54 and accelerated to a comfortable fifty-five. The road stretched in front of her and she allowed the depressing weather and slow piano to lull her into a comfortable state of misery.

Most people would have handled her current situation much differently. She could have easily befriended any number of the gang leaders the frequented her bar. They weren't normally openly rude to her, though they frequently caused and participated in bar fights. Mack could have asked any one of them for some sort of protection or maybe an employee or two to act as bouncers. It just didn't seem right to act like someone's friend simply for a few favors. Most people would have taken gross advantage of the situation. Perhaps she should have capitalized on a few of her more lucrative offers.

Of course, then those individuals would come around when they needed a favor in return, and who knew what kind of a favor they'd want. Or better yet, they'd assume she was available as their Friday night gal. Thanks but no thanks. She had enough on her plate without needed to swear fealty to some group of crooks that would only change their pecking orders within a few months.

She had considered selling both the bar and the house and moving to upstate Jersey where her aunt and only remaining family lived. Still, this was her home and all her memories were here. Besides... she'd rather eat broken glass than have to live around her aunt and her 'perfect' cousin Stacy, who REALLY DID have a white picket fence. No joke…

What she wanted was a friend. Male preferably, for a few of those colder nights, but it wasn't a necessity. She'd survived this long without any sort of steady male companionship, and she was sure she could survive a little longer.  Still, it would nice to have someone to read the paper with every once in a while, and someone she could count on when the chips were down.

Mack sighed and resisted the urge to slap herself. This pity party was wearing out its welcome. It wasn't doing her any good to dwell on things she couldn't change. She squared her shoulders resolutely and turned the car towards home.

She had been spending most of her free time fixing up a large room just down the hallway from the bar. It had kept her from moping around the house and as soon as it was finished she could use the space for storage and god knows she needed a bigger office. Tomorrow she would put the last coat of paint on the walls and then she could start hanging up a few pictures.

Mack smirked. She had the most luscious picture of Nicholas Cage just aching to be hung up. She had found it on e-bay a few weeks ago and just had to have it. The poster was from a scene in Face Off. Wearing the standard suit sans jacket, the shirtsleeves rolled up, and Cage just standing there… one hand in his pocket, the other loosely holding a cigarette. With his smirk firmly in place and a double gun holster looped through his belt, he looked like he'd just as soon shoot you as look as you, but he'd make sure you enjoyed it.

Dangerous men in suits, a gun holster slung over one shoulder… Was there anything sexier than a well-dressed bad boy? Mack turned the radio up and forced herself to sing along with Billy Joel's 'Only the Good Die Young'.

Some say there a heaven for those who will wait

Some say it's better, but I say it ain't

I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints

The sinners are much more fun…

You know that only the good die young

By the time she turned onto her street she was singing at the top of her lungs, horribly off key, her moodiness having vanished along with the coinciding thunderstorm.

000000000000000000

Mack wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand, smearing blue paint across it instead. It was late August but the mugginess from the summer was still very apparent. She had air conditioning of course, but it could only do so much when manual labor was involved- besides the AC system was ancient and didn't put out as much cold air as it used to.

Leaning back against the chair she had drug in from the other room she surveyed her handiwork, bottle of water in one hand. Well... what could she say? It was a dark blue. Purposely chosen to not show the normal assortment of dirt, smoke, grime, and God forbid... bodily fluids.

It had apparently been a good decision because she couldn't even pick out the brushstrokes around the windowsill. Taking a long swallow of water she looked down at her watch. Four thirty... she had thirty minutes to cool down and get cleaned up.

Grabbing the gym bag off the floor she stood up and made her way towards the ladies room. Ten minutes later she had washed her face and a few other choice areas at the bathroom sink. Applying the normal toiletries and female products she slipped into her faded jeans and laced up her steel-toed shoes. Pulling a black tank top over her head she slid her inter pants holster through her belt and slid it around to the middle of her back, quickly tossing everything back in the gym bag.

The gym bag went back to the office and her red button up got casually tossed across the back of a nearby chair. Why bother putting in on until the last minute? Mack set up her daily dose of tequila, lemon and salt, and poured herself a coke. One shot of tequila and a grimace later she found herself sitting at the closest table, coke in one hand, attempting to marshal her thoughts.

It was Monday, generally a slow evening. Most of the guys around here were paid on Friday and they would be here that same evening in full force, but towards the end of the weekend their money tended to run out and business dwindled. Then Friday would roll around and the whole cycle would start again.

Mack paused and pursed her lips. There were four gents who had started frequenting her establishment a little less than a month ago. They were nice enough guys, but they all wore suits and absolutely NO ONE dressed like that down here unless they were either lost or connected with organized crime. Mack really didn't want to start dealing with any sort of crime boss, mafia or any other flavor, and she was pretty damn sure they didn't need directions to the nearest Denny's.

They had never caused any problems but they made her nervous. Maybe she'd get lucky and they'd start drinking somewhere else. She liked her bar, but sometimes managing it could be more trouble than it was worth.

00000000000000000

 

Harvey Dent stood in front of their closet absently running a towel through his damp hair. He might spend a lot of time arguing with Two-Face about any number of things, but what to wear had never been one of them. Though, to be honest, Harvey wasn’t exactly fond of the white suit he got stuck with. Two-Face was a total bastard in every possible way but he really did get the better end of the deal- clothes wise. Though the suit as a whole was quite impressive, all that symbolism you understand.

That's why I get the better half of the suit... I'm more impressive.

Harvey snorted... There are several words I would use to describe you. Impressive wouldn't be at the top of the list.

Well of course it wouldn't be you jackass. Obviously menacing, foreboding, merciless, unremitting, fearless, vengeful, callous, sadistic, heartless, destructive, and implacable would come way before impressive. Not that I’m not... impressive that is.

Four years at Gotham State and three years at Harvard, and this is what my substantial vocabulary gets used for.

Harvey tossed the suit jacket across the bed and pulled on their dress pants. Looking down, he prodded at his stomach. Thirty-eight and I still have a flat stomach. That defies all possible logic of growing old.

Yeah well, running from the cops tends to keep a man in shape... and they say crime doesn't pay!

Harvey chuckled. It wasn't often Two-Face said anything Harvey found even remotely amusing, but he did have moments.

The shirt, socks, and shoes were added in quick recession, but there was a pause as he started to reach for the shoulder rig that hung by the bed.

Two-Face growled. I don't know why we always argue about this. You’re not leaving without the goddamn guns. It's fucking stupid Harvey. Even a dumbshit like you oughta know that. Remember the last time you won the toss and you left unarmed?

Harvey resolutely ignored him, but Two-Face only talked louder.

NO you don't! And do you know why that is! BECAUSE YOU WERE KNOCKED FUCKING UNCONSCIOUS! Some jackass trying to make a name for himself shot at us and you had to run like a little bitch because you couldn't return fire. THEN your stupid ass trips in the fucking alleyway and your head went flying into the nearest fucking brick wall! If Mark hadn't been there we'd be talking to St. Peter right now!

That was an isolated incident. It was pure chance damnit! And I did not trip. I was dodging bullets and dove behind that dumpster to keep from getting a piece of hot lead lodged in my ass.

And then you ran our head into a brick wall. Not that it matters. We flipped for it afterwards, remember, and I won. We don't EVER leave without the guns, so pick em' up!

Harvey sighed. He hated it when the sorry bastard was right. He wrapped one hand around the well-worn leather and slung the shoulder rigs across their back, making sure he slid his belt through the straps to keep them from moving.

Harvey felt the familiar feeling up unease rising in his stomach and promptly squashed it. He didn't know what was worse, the queasiness in their abdomen every time he wore the damn things or the fact that it had been fading recently. Shrugging their shoulders, the straps quickly fell into their customary niche.

Quickly making sure both weapons were fully loaded, he reached for their suit jacket, buttoning the front of it on his way downstairs.

Contrary to popular opinion they did not live in a house painted two completely different colors. This was supposed to be their main 'hide-out'. A house with one black side and one white side might have been a tad obvious. Of course just because the outside looked normal did not necessarily mean the inside would win a place in Better Homes and Garden. Two words... lava lamp.

Most of their work was done from various abandoned buildings inside the city limits and all of them were equipped with the standard living requirements. This house however, was the one they had invested the most time and money in. It was also the one they kept as quiet as possible.

Gotham city was largely an urban area. Subdivisions were few and far between. There might be the occasional smattering of houses pretending to be a neighborhood, but it was mostly apartment, condos, hotels, and run down warehouses. Just across the Brown Bridge; however, is Gotham County, which is nothing but one big coastal area. The only properties in that area belonged to incredibly wealthy people who wanted a secluded home on the coast. It hadn't taken long to acquire one for themselves.

Most of the arrangements had been made by Mark, their top lieutenant, through one of their forged identities. The funds for this little expenditure however, had been the result of an argument and a large wager.

Two-Face by far created all sorts of nefarious acts, all of which tended to turn a handsome profit- a fact that he constantly rubbed in Harvey's face. Harvey had eventually retorted snottily that in the space of three months he could make a larger profit with five hundred grand than Two-Face could.

Two-Face, never one to back down- especially to some wimp like Harvey, had agreed and they had started their own private competition. Harvey had quickly set himself up with a laptop, Internet service, and several forged identities purchased through Oswald Cobblepot. Two-Face had begun a very long and lengthy crime spree.

Harvey opened several off shore bank accounts and invested in lucrative companies and their subsidiaries. The minor in marketing from Gotham University and his connection to Bruce Wayne had come in quite useful.

At the end of three months Harvey officially took over the handling off all monetary gains, ill gotten or otherwise, and had quickly double their profits inside two years.

Two-Face had sulked for a good week or more, but eventually managed to console himself with the fact that they now rivaled Cobblepot as the richest crook in Gotham. Even if it did mean that pussy Harvey was good for something after all. So when they decided to move their main base of operations just over the bridge to the edge of Gotham County, it hadn't taxed their pocket book to purchase a large house on the coast.

Harvey rounded the corner and he made his way towards the living room, one hand absently fingering their coin- as always. Passing through the hallway, Harvey grimaced as their eyes fell on that infernal print of the dogs playing poker. He generally made a point of ignoring the ugly thing, but today he had forgotten. He temporarily considered 'accidentally' knocking it off the wall when he heard Two-Face pipe up.

Feel free to toss it out the front door, but that Waterhouse you're so fond of is gonna be right behind it.

That Waterhouse is an original!

Then keep your fucking hands off my shit.

Nice to know you recognize it for what it is.

Keep fucking with me funny boy and that stupid photo of the birds at the beach by what's-his-face, is gonna meet an untimely death, too.

It's by Ansel Adams you culture nazi!

Feeling the overwhelming need for a cigarette, he pulled one from their jacket and was soon inhaling his daily fix of nicotine. Entering the living room, he paused to lean on the doorjamb. Kevin and Brian were hogging the couch and John was leaning over the back of it, arms draped between the two of them. Mark, as always, was in one of the leather recliners, leg slung over the side. Their own armchair was unoccupied. Two-Face tended to be very territorial and the boys had learned early on to just sit somewhere else.

Brian Broderick, as usual was making a spectacle of himself. It was amusing, but when he ran out of stories, he tended to start making them up. Not that he'd ever admit it of course. His blonde hair had been arranged in that spiky style that was so popular these days and his suit jacket had been idly tossed to one side. Brian was fairly short in comparison to the rest of them, maybe five eight or so. At first glance he looked like a grown up Boy Scout. He had the most innocent looking face, and when he wanted them to, his blue eyes actually seemed to sparkle. He was also the consummate actor.

It was what made him such a damn good enforcer. He was one of the last people you'd actually consider dangerous, and by the time you figured him out you were down and bleeding.

His cousin Kevin Broderick was slouched in the corner of the couch, long legs stretched in front of him. Kevin was tall, wide, brunette, and bore absolutely no family resemblance to his cousin whatsoever- in appearance or personality. Kevin was, for the most part, a quiet sort of man- though he had a tendency towards sarcasm that bordered on down right acerbic.  Having grown up with wealthy and affluent parents Kevin had lead a very pampered lifestyle. 

Unfortunately Kevin was one of the most violent drunks Harvey had ever met and one night he lost him temper and beat a man to death with his bare hands.  Not sure if his money and connections would be enough to keep him out of prison Kevin had called his cousin for help.  Months later, in return for the favor, Kevin was putting his master’s degree in computer science and accounting to use for their mob organization.

Harvey turned to John Westphal, who was currently rolling his eyes at some outrageous statement from Brian. His dark hair was curly and he was, as usual, in desperate need of a shave. There wasn't really much to say about John. He was a Jewish boy who had grown up in a bad neighborhood, and by nature had run with a rough crowd. He had met Brian in his formative years, which they spent planning low level crimes and doing their best to not get caught - they’d been friends ever since.

Mark Dillinger on the other hand was something of an enigma. He was a little less than six feet with blonde hair and tan skin, and had actually spent eight years with the USMC. After his tour of duty, which had included a long stint in Kuwait running black ops, he had come back to Gotham and immersed himself in every possible vice a man could have. Eventually he found work and quickly moved up the ranks up the Denati family. At the time of his employment, Denati and Two-Face were planning a mutually beneficial heist involving a cargo ship with the standard supply of firearms.

When the terrible trio had shown up with Two-Face to finalize the deal, Mark had taken one look at Kevin and, in a look of sheer disbelief, called him A.J by mistake. Later that evening, over a few beers, the whole story came out. Mark had served in the same unit with A.J. Broderick, Kevin's older brother- whom he was the spitting image off. He had also carried A.J's body back to base for a proper burial after he took a bullet between the shoulder blades. Touching wot?

Now, Two-Face had never put much stock in standard mafia tradition. They weren't exactly Italian- and they sure as hell weren't Catholic. The Denati's, on the other hand were very traditional. It might be acceptable to do business with other crime syndicates, but you simply didn't make a non-Italian a made man. Mark was Irish, and a year or so after working for the Denati, he hit the proverbial glass ceiling.

Now it was true that the only way out of the mob was in a pine box. Good help, however, was always hard to find so Two-Face had taken Mark in after his fall out with the Denati's. As expected Mark's ex-employer took exception to his interference and Two-Face had the perfect excuse to wipe them out and take their holdings. After all, it was bad form to let one of your guys get snuffed by someone other that you, right?

Now they had the perfect group of guys, all of who were connected somehow- by something other than their involvement with the same gangster. All four of them trusted each other, and by extension, generally made nice. There were no petty power plays or rivalries, unless you including the occasion bickering over a good-looking woman.

Mark was completely loyal to Two-Face and Harvey for saving his ass, and where ever they went Mark went. Where Mark went the Brodericks went, and where... well you get the idea.

Harvey finished his smoke, reached for the nearest ashtray, and took a seat in their recliner. He cleared their throat and turned towards their Lieutenants, or in Two-Face's opinion- the "Four Horsemen."

Harvey paused and snorted. How corny can you get?

This from the man who finds Happy Days funny?

The four guys turned their heads toward their boss at the obvious call for attention, and then shared a knowing glance.

They repressed the urge to sigh and roll their eyes, Brian failed. It really wasn't all that unusual, watching the boss argue with himself. Slightly annoying yes, but the boss had never done it at an inopportune time so they couldn't really bitch too much. So, they all had the good graces to sit quietly until the two of them were finished.

Besides, it was bad for your health to start talking again after they called for your attention, even if they were completely ignoring you. The one time Brian had done it, Two-Face had stopped his conversation with his other half and demanded to know why Brian was talking when he was talking.

There really was no response to that question that wouldn't get the shit knocked out of you. Unless you wanted to point out that it was crazy to try and argue with yourself and hold a serious conversation with your employees. That would most likely get you shot. Needless to say Brian got pulled off the couch and tossed across the room. The boss could be kinda scary sometimes. After all, have you ever tried to argue with a crazy person? Well don't bother, you won’t win. It was easier to let Two-Face smack you around once or twice than to argue with him and really piss him off.

If you really made him angry he tended to forget he actually needed you around, and by the time Harvey cooled down enough to kick Two-Face out of the drivers seat, you were already dead and it was a little too late.

So Harvey and Two-Face continued their argument and the four of them all tried not to bring any sort of attention to themselves.

No, you'd much rather spend your free time making up apocalyptic monikers for our employee's!

Yeah, cause' calling them, our guys, DOESN'T make you sound like a fucking faggot!

I didn't call them, our guys, you jackass. I called them our lieutenants!

Oh... WELL... stop the fucking presses! Wussy boy joined up with the goddamn army when I wasn't fucking looking!

For Christ's sake! I'd like to get to the bar sometime this evening so shut it! No wonder I'm a fucking alcoholic. I'm trying to reduce myself to unconsciousness as quickly as possible, so I don't have to listen to you!

Bullshit! When was the last time you had more than three beers at a time. Wouldn't want to drink too much would you Harvey?!. Then I might actually get to have some goddamn fun for once! Fucking pussy...

Just fucking forget it. When we get to the bar tonight just remember our agreement! Try not to be a complete pig!

Harvey sighed irritably and looked up to find four pairs of eyes staring at him. "Is there a reason you're all staring at us like we're some side show freak," Harvey barked.

Mark lifted one eyebrow. "Sorry, boss. Wasn't trying to make you uncomfortable." Mark lit a Marlboro, took a drag and then exhaled. "You wanna grab dinner at the berg' before head to the bar or you wanna get drive through?"

Harvey pressed their lips firmly together and in a fit of pique, threw one leg over the arm of their chair and slumped. Then in a slightly sulkily tone, "Exactly what is wrong with Happy Days?"

There was a brief exchange of alarmed looks. Was that question supposed to be rhetorical?

"Well!" Harvey voice took on an expectant tone when no one responded.

Obviously not...

They're came rush of 'nothing's' and other comments, involving how much they all preferred the older sitcoms, from their yes men.

00000000000000000000

It was just before eleven and to Mack’s surprise, Andy and a few of his friends had dropped by this evening. The surprise was that they still had a few bucks left to burn, but hey, if they wanted to spend it at her place- well, why the hell not? Andy was a good guy- big, beefy, and worked at the steel mill across town.

Sure he tended to get a little rowdy when he got hammered, and he started at least one fight a week - but, he almost always took it outside, so what could she say? Bar fights really weren't that uncommon. Deep down he was a good man. Liked his booze a little too much, but she had seen him with his kids at the local grocery store, and he seemed to be a good father. She'd never seen him pick up a woman at her bar, it didn't mean he never had, but it was generally a good sign he was faithful to his wife. What more could you really ask for it a man?

Andy's normal drinking buddies, Sam and Ty, were nice guys. Occasionally they were a little too friendly, but they kept their hands to themselves, and after a while you get used to rebuffing offers. She'd actually gotten damn good at it. It took skill to turn down a man and not bruise the fragile male ego.

Andy and his friends she was used to. Them she could deal with. Hell, there wasn't a person in her joint that hadn't been coming around for at least six months or longer. Whether it was Peggy and Barb breaking hearts in their short skirts and halter tops, or her collection of neighborhood thugs and their groupies, she knew them all and she knew how to handle them. Her environment was chaotic, yes, but you couldn't say she hadn't weathered the storm with aplomb. That was until some jackass decided to throw a wrench in her slightly rotting, but still rolling wheel.

000000000000000000

It was hard to be inconspicuous in an overcoat during an eighty degree heat wave, and the hat pulled down over their face probably didn't help matters much.

Of course if any one interfered, well... they could always have them shot.

Two-Face snorted. As if you would EVER have ANYONE shot...

I can think of one person I wouldn't mind shooting.

The feeling's mutual.

Harvey took a seat in a darkened corner and shrugged off the overcoat. If they were going to start coming here, then the air conditioner was going to have to be replaced. It was cool inside, but not cool enough for a group of men in suits. What could he say? He had worn a suit since he graduated from law school, why bother to start wearing jeans now?

It had just seemed practical to have their four best, dress the same way.  Especially, when the other families they dealt with had a tendency to look down their nose at people who looked 'scruffy'. Apparently gentlemen wore suits- the fact that all these so called 'gents' pillaged and plundered for a living was beside the point.   Besides, it hid the guns.

When in Rome...

The rest of their entourage pulled up chairs to the small wooden table that, in Harvey's opinion, was so shabby looking they were almost afraid to lean on it. He doubted the damn thing could hold five drinks without collapsing under the weight. He couldn't help it; Harvey wrinkled their nose in disgust. Being a successful lawyer, and holding a public office, had accustomed them to a certain life style. A life style that had so far been maintained thanks to Two-Face and his own brilliant investments. Needless to say, their current surroundings were well beneath their standards.

The walls, at one time, Harvey mused, had probably been paneling. Even paneling; however, needed to be replaced on occasion and the surrounding walls were long overdue. Of course, since nothing had been done about their shabby state the damn things had started to pucker slightly at the seams. How quaint...

Harvey's face hardened and his mood grew considerably worse as he inspected their surroundings.

The room itself was a little on the small side, though a quick glance behind the bar reassured him that it was reasonable well stocked. The floor on the other hand was made of an ugly beige linoleum that, at first glance, he suspected had once been white. He grudgingly admitted after a closer look that, while it was indeed stained a lovely shade of beer brown, it had at least been mopped recently.

On the far left side of the room there were four or five steps leading to an elevated section of floor, which the pool tables sat on. The tables themselves were most likely from the late seventies- how else could you explain the odd orange color of the felt? He didn't even want to think about the condition of the slate underneath or how badly the pool tables slanted.

The small, round table that they were currently sitting at was dangerously unstable. While it did appear to have been wiped down recently, you could see the cracks in the tabletop where it had been broken and then glued back together. He was willing to bet every other table in the bar was the same.

In fact there wasn't a thing in this place that shouldn't have been tossed out years ago. How in the blinking blue blazes could they actually bring other bosses to this place? It was a dive, and a little elbow grease here or there wasn't going to fix anything. This joint needed a serious overhaul. Was this REALLY the best their four "best men" could do! What the hell were they paying them for! He distinctly remembered asking for a bar they could frequent without drawing to much attention, but it had damn well better not be a complete cesspool.

Well this… clearly qualified as a cesspool!

Oh, well. This is just great. Apparently they don't think I have any standards. I want to see someone bleed for this shit.

For once, and I'm gonna be fucking sick just saying this- you're fucking right. Let's just kill the fuckers. Two-Face paused as if remembering something. Unless the broad is good-looking. Then maybe I'll just rough the fuckers up... a lot.

She'd have to be best looking bartender on the planet and have the personality to match. I don't want to even think about how much it would set us back to make this place presentable.

Yeah well, I might be the fucking anti-Christ, but I don't wallow in nickel and dime hill jack watering holes. And I sure as fuck ain't bringing Tater or the Solvetti’s down here. The sons a bitches would be so insulted, it'd be a cold day in hell before they'd do any goddamn business with me again.

Harvey drummed their fingers on the table, absently flicking their Zippo open and closed with the other hand. Their lips curled up in the beginnings of a sneer.

Harvey took a deep breath and attempted to rein in their collective tempers. While he couldn't necessarily speak for Two-Face, he liked Mark and the others. They were the closest thing to friends he had, but if they didn't have a good damn reason to bring them to such a worthless, low end dive, then he didn't think he stop the other half from killing at least one of them.

In a very controlled, very reasonable voice, he managed to ground out, "Would someone care to explain this." Moving one hand, Harvey gestured expansively towards the greater portion of the smoke filled room.

Mark exchanged a quick glance with the rest of the guys. Great, five minutes after their arrival and they were both already pissed. "Look, Harve..."

Harvey whipped their head around and Mark could almost see Two-Face sliding behind his eyes. "Look...boss, I would never have brought you here without a good reason." His employer's eyes continued to bore into his own.

"Yes, this area,” Mark motioned to the main bar area, “is a complete dive, but there's another room just down the hallway about thirty feet behind you. It's being redone, and should be completed by now. It's big enough to hold a pool table and a couple of tables and you wouldn't even have to mingle with the regular patrons."

Harvey folded their hands on the table in front and scowled when it rocked underneath their weight. "I... good old, plain ass, Harvey Dent... am feeling pretty goddamn irritable right now. I don't think I need to remind you that when IM irritable, Two-face is generally pretty fucki..."

Harvey tried. He really did, but it had been a long day and after arguing for most of the evening with his other half, his patience was running a little short. Mark should have known better to begin with, and he sure as hell should have at least warned them that the bar was way below the requested standard. So it wasn't really his fault when Two-Face shoved him out of the hot seat.

Two-Face leaned across the table, lips curled into a snarl. "We're not fucking happy." Their hands dug into the wood in front of them until their fingertips were white. The men across from them swallowed convulsively. "We don't think we need to remind anybody here, what happens when we're not fucking happy! So unless you worthless bastards want to sport new bullet sized holes we suggest that somebody gets us a goddamn whiskey in the next two mother fucking seconds!"

Two-Face afforded Mark a look that promised an ass beating in the very near future and leaned back against their chair, one elbow slung over the back.

The requested beverage was in their boss's hands in record time.

00000000000000000000000

Mack gave the table in the corner a cursory glance, absently tapping a well-manicured nail on the counter of the bar. The four guys, whom she knew as Kevin, Brian, John, and Mark had a habit of always sitting at that exact table… Mostly, she thought wryly, because it was the closest table to the hallway. The hallway that just happened to contain the back door.

Mack had seen them arrive. Truth be told, she had been looking for them. They made her slightly nervous. She had given the issue a fair amount of thought and they absolutely had to be involved with organized crime, there wasn't really any other explanation. Mack just wasn't sure she could handle a group of mob guys.

Not that she'd ever know any mobsters, most of her clientele were petty crooks and small time gangs, but members of organized crime had real power. They bought judges and cops, blackmailed politicians, and ran protection rackets. If they were here about the latter then she was in deep shit. She didn't make much more than enough to keep the doors open and pay her own bills.

There had been five of them this evening, instead of the usual four, and it was fairly obvious the fifth one did not want to be recognized. Who the hell wore an over-coat in eighty degree weather, not to mention wore a hat so low that it conveniently covered half his face? Hope the guy didn't think he was being slick, 'cause he might as well have carried a sign around announcing, "wanted man- please arrest me."

Mack gave them another covert glance and noticed that the tension in their corner had risen, a lot. Hey, after fifteen years in a bar, you tend to pick these things up. High tension levels meant a possible fight; something to be avoided at all cost. If any more of her tables and chair got broken, her patrons would be drinking standing up.

She raised an eyebrow as she watched John slide his chair back and practically run towards the counter. Mack hadn't realized it was possible to move that fast.

"Mack. Whiskey, top shelf, now!"

Her eyebrows went from slightly raised, to the top of her hairline. She provided the requested beverage and watched to see whom he gave it to. Yep, he slid it back to the guy in the corner, and yes, they were all looking at said guy like he was the devil incarnate.

Ggrreeaaattt... This was a good sign. Four grown, most likely dangerous and armed men, were all scared of the same unknown man. There was only one thing this could mean. The man in the corner was there boss, and they had most likely pissed him off.

A mafia boss she did not need to get involved with, but she sure as hell didn't want to deal with an angry one either.

Sighing, she looked up and wondered if God was punishing her for something. No divine assistance was forthcoming, so she smoothed down her shirt and sighed once more for good measure. Mostly likely those four guys could use a stiff drink, and it was, after all, her job to reduced men to stupidity and then unconsciousness as quickly as possible. Taking a deep breath she stepped out from behind the bar and made her way across the floor towards their table.

She wondered briefly if this would justify as hazard pay?

0000000000000000000

Two-Face scowled and took a swig of whiskey. Not bad really... not that he'd ever admit it. Snapping the Zippo open he lit another cigarette and stared at their soon to be bruised and broken henchmen.

Kevin wasn't moving, Brian was fiddling with the front button on his jacket, and John was twirling that silver band he wore on this right hand. Mark... well Mark was looking a little pale.

Their employees were nervous and it showed. Two-face snorted, the fuckers should be. He flicked the Marlboro absently on the floor when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a pair of scuffed black boots heading their way.

Idly tossing their coin through the air, his eyes moved from the tops of the boots and worked upward. Faded blue jean encased long legs and slightly too wide hips... he smirked.

Definitely a woman.

Two-Face gave her hips a speculative look- wide hips suggested a woman who might actually have a real ass for once. Average sized waist, probably a 32... the smirk got bigger. A leather belt kept a black, fitted, tank top tucked into the top of her jeans, and… they paused. Well, well, well... will wonders never cease. An ass and a nice rack, it was a shame that red button front she wore obstructed most of the view.

A slender neck lead into an oval face complete with dark eyes, full lips, and a smattering of freckles across her cheeks. He was stunned. It was an honest to god women who didn't look half fucking starved. There were curves, there were long legs, and...

His repertoire was interrupted as said female placed one well-manicured hand on the table.

"Haven't seen you boys around for a few days." Mack made it a statement; she wanted to be friendly, not nosy. "Can I get you the usual?" She gave them a pleasant smile, but couldn't help but cast a fleeting look at the figure in the back. The hat and the shadows hid his face and most everything else, but she got the distinct impression she was being sized up. It was an irritating sort of feeling and it became more so when she had to repress the urge to shiver and the hair on the back of her neck stood up. Who the fuck was this nut job? Her face showed her annoyance for a brief second, but she covered it well.

Two-Face cocked their head to one side. That was interesting. She hadn't even met them yet and he had already irritated her. The broad covered it incredibly well, but he had a lot of practice reading facial expression and body language. Perhaps she had felt him staring at her?

Their was a round of agreement and she noticed that their hanger-on was gonna need another round himself. Two Bud Lights, a Jack and Coke, Gin and tonic, and a whiskey later, she was back at the bar doing her damnedest to mind her own business. She didn't need to know who he was, and she probably didn't want to know either.

Two-Face looked at the new whiskey she had brought him, making sure he checked out her ass when she left. Finishing off the previous beverage he reached for the newest one. "Let me see if I've got this right. She's the bartender and owner right?" Mark nodded; hoping like hell the boss was warming to the place.

"The wench wasn't nosy enough to ask who we were- an act, which I think any jackass will agree, is an inhuman feat for a woman. She gave me a refill I didn't even have to ask for, and the broad's got one of the sweetest fucking asses I've ever seen."

Mark nodded his assent, not really trusting himself to speak. A sudden shout for joy at this point might not be very strategic, espically as this situation was taking a decided turn for the better.

Two-Face smirk turned down right evil. "We'll reserve judgment until after we've seen this back room you've been spouting off about, but we might not have to break any bones tonight after all."

To their credit their flunkies hid their relief well, thought the sudden lack of tension in the air was obvious.

Two-Face, being the sadistic bastard that he was, couldn't help but add, "Of course, we never said somebody wouldn't bleed later this evening."

Mark sighed. Sometimes it was nice only answering to the boss and making more than the rest of the guys, but having to answer for everything that didn't always go the way the boss wanted it to, could be a real bitch. After all, the boss had a mean right hook.

00000000000000000000

Harvey stood outside next to the black sedan, while the boys were inside settling up the tab. It was just after three in the morning and the only thing that could be heard was the wind and the occasional car driving past. It should have been relaxing.

We are NOT beating the shit out of Mark! Christ, how long do we have to argue about this?

Like hell were not! I don't recall authorizing any sort of fucking creative thinking. We asked for something presentable, remember fuckwit!

Oh, so you don't want to come back? It wasn't you I had to listen to all night yapping about the bartender and what you'd do to her if you got her alone? Yeah... rrriiiggghhhttt...

That's not the fucking point you jackass. I don't want some two-bit thug fucking making decisions and shit without fucking telling me.

Yes, It might have been nice to have a little bit of warning, but it's a goddamn bar, and he's hardly a two-bit thug! He's been are acting second in charge for years now. It's not like he decided to change the plans to a heist for Christ sake! This is the most inane conversation. You're acting like a four year old. You just wanna beat the shit outta somebody!

Yeah! I fucking do. I don't like mother fucking surprises! This is not what we fucking asked for, so it doesn't matter if it worked all right just cause the bartending bitch makes you fucking hard! It's the fucking principle you dumbshit. You let one goddamn thing slide and the next thing you now your hip deep in shit that you didn't fucking agree to.

Don't' give me some shit about it being 'about the principle'. You don't have any! And quit fucking acting like the woman wasn't turning you on, cause' you're a lying bastard. Do you want to come back here or not?

Hell yes I wanna fucking come back, but that doesn't mean I want to set up a permanent residency here - and it SURE AS HELL doesn't let the bastards off the hook! I’m not gonna have my goddamn flunkies disobeying me! But if you wanna be a whiny bitch about it then why don't you just fucking flip for it you wimp.

Fine, be a prick. But when we don't have anybody dependable left, cause you shot them all, don't come bitching to me.

Harvey dug in his pocket for the infamous double-headed coin just as the henchmen in question were crossing the parking lot towards them.

Kevin reached out one arm to stop John and motioned behind him for Mark and Brian to hurry up.

"The pay might be good, but sometimes it’s really not worth it.  I am not feeling all that lucky this evening." Mark grimaced.

There was a disgruntled sigh from John. "Well we probably should have warned them that the place is shabby as hell."  He continued on to add a thoughtful, “still, even if Two-Face does lay into us he probably won't do much more than smack us around."

Brian's voice was hopefully as he added his two cents, "Maybe John's right. How bad can it be? You know they thought Mack was hot."

Kevin deep voice rumbled, "Do you guys remember the Chrysler incident?" They all paled slightly. "The boss wanted a black Chrysler, and we brought him a black Buick because it was the middle of July and the Chrysler we found didn't have air conditioning."

Mark snorted, "He'd been pissed if we'd brought him a car without air, but he got pissed when we brought him the wrong model."

"Bloody hell," Brian ran a hand through his hair, "Face it me boyo's. Our boss is nuts. There have been times I thought we were dead men and he laughed the shit off!"

They saw the coin vault into the air and come spinning back down into Harvey's outstretched palm. "Anybody wanna call it?" John placed his hands in the pockets of his suit coat and looked over at his friends.

Mark watched as his boss's shoulder straightened ever so slightly and sighed. "It's gonna be a long night."

"I still think it's a Harvey night." Brian took out a cigarette and went to light it.

Mark stopped him with a wave of his hand. "Put it out Broderick, I told you it's a Two-Face night and unless you wanna be wearing a cigarette burn tomorrow you'd better put it away."

"C'mon Mark, relax. No way did it come up scarred side up. Face would already be sending us home. The sooner we get home the sooner he can beat the shit out of us, and you know how much he enjoys that." Brian sent Mark a sidelong glance as John nodded in agreement.

Mark scoffed at his friends, “Do you really think he doesn't know were over here talking about it? His hearing is excellent you know. Hell he's probably been listening for the last ten minutes. He just wants us to stand here and sweat about it while he decides which one of us he wants to break in half this evening." Mark tone was cynical.

Two-Face's gravelly voice carried across the parking lot to the four gentlemen standing five or so feet away. "It's a little disturbing how well you know us, Mark. And Brian," Two-Face turned to face their flunkies as his voice dropped into a growl, "Don't call me Face. I'm not your bitch. I don't need you to think up pet names for me."

He walked nonchalantly across the parking lot, a sinister look on their face. "I should shoot your sorry asses for the shit you just pulled, but luckily for you worthless fuckers I'm feeling benevolent this evening." Two-Face sneered at them, their coin rolling across his knuckles as he came to a stop a few feet from Mark.

He nodded sharply at Kevin, Brian and John, "Go the fuck home.  I'm sick of looking at you."

Turning abruptly on his heel Two-Face headed for the other black sedan, barking out an order over his shoulder. "Get in the car Mark, you're driving."

Mark received sympathy looks from his cohorts but they all quickly dispersed to their appointed places. Two-Face wasn't known for his patience.

000000000000000000

Two-Face leaned against the backseat and watched the scenery fly past the window of the sedan. Mark had been driving aimlessly around Gotham County for a solid twenty minutes without hearing so much of a peep from his boss. It was never a good sign when Two-Face was this quiet. It was much better to let him sound off. If he started to brew over something, it festered until he either worked through whatever was bothering, or he exploded leaving a wake of destruction in his path. Mark could count on one hand the number of times he'd seen Two-Face actually work through one of his problems.

Two-Face rubbed his jaw in irritation as his mouth pressed together firmly to form one solid line. It really pissed him off to have to waste energy on beating the shit out of his employees- well... the top four at least.  How fucking hard was it to just do what you're fucking told!

He looked back on today's events and had to admit that aside from the fucking shit hole they had to sit around in, most of the night had gone fairly smoothly. He had stopped to look at the backroom on his way to the pisser and had been fairly surprised. The floor was wood, and the walls had been recently repainted a serviceable blue. The room itself could easily hold a pool table and several table and chairs for poker night- just like Mark had said.

Their face fell back into his customary snarl as he came back to the same thought. Their flunkies had disregarded their orders. It didn't matter that things had worked out fairly well. They had been very explicit in their expectations and in this business a small fuck up in the details could get your ass back in the slammer, or worse- dead. Two-Face scowled. This sort of behavior was fucking inexcusable and it built dangerous work habits. Two-Face snarled and quickly fell back into his normal state of pissed off.

He sighed and ran a hand through their hair. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy taking his frustration out on other people; hell he actually fucking loved it. Still, as odd as it seemed, he wasn't really in the mood... a fact that was quickly pissing him off. Maybe wussy boy was starting to rub of on him? He snarled and inwardly cringed at the thought.

Two-Face raised one eyebrow and lit another cigarette irritably. This was fucking bullshit! His flunkies had ignored and disobeyed him. The entire thought made his blood boil all over again. It had been a good thing the bitch had been good-looking and competent, for a serving wench that is, 'cause if she'd hadn't- they all be fucking dead men.

Hell, he was already itching to plant their fists in the middle of Mark's face, and Brian was gonna get it too for that stupid "face" remark.

Not really in the mood. He snorted. The fuck...

He was probably getting sick from that cheap burger joint John took them through. He made a mental note to knock his block off too. Their lips curled into a cruel sort of smile as he place both hands behind his head. What the hell, why let Kevin off the hook. If he was gonna smack three of em' around, why not all of them.

"Mark," Two-Face sounded a little too self-satisfied with himself for Mark's personal comfort.

"Yeah boss?" Mark sighed and resigned himself to the inevitable. The only thing that made Two-Face happy were generally the very things they made other people unhappy.

"Take us home."

Mark raised an eyebrow and rolled his eyes. Great... home... he couldn't wait to get his face kicked in.

Feeling satisfied now that the immediate problems were taken care of, Two-Face's lips turned into a dastardly grin. The car rolled to a stop in the driveway some ten minutes later and Two-Face climbed out of the vehicle to head for the house. Passing by Mark he nonchalantly grabbed him by the tie, and casually kneed him in the stomach. Mark doubled over and Two-Face shoved him out of the way.

Mark bounced off the car and went sprawling painfully into the gravel underfoot. He attempted to catch his breath, waiting for his boss to drag him up to slam his infamous right hook into his face. Mark paused expectantly and then, after several seconds, blinked, and looked up to find Two-Face staring down at him with an inscrutable expression.

Two-Face flicked his finished cigarette off to one side and slid one hand into his pocket to pull out his coin. He gave Mark one last glance and then flipped it into the air. Two-Face stared down at the unmarked side and then looked impassively at Mark who was still lying at his feet.

"I hadn't taken you for a gambling man, Mark." Two-Face shoved the coin back into his pocket and continued, "The next time you try and pull a fast one on me, fucking think about what I would have done to you if I hadn't liked the bitch."

Two-Face grew sinister. "The next time you disobey me, even over some fucking small shit like this, I'll make the 'Buick' incident... look like a mother fucking walk in the goddamn park."

Mark blanched and Two-Face chuckled derisively. "Don't get too comfortable down there. I'll need you in the study after I'm done giving your useless friends hell."

Turning away, Two-Face crossed the driveway, gravel crunching under his leather shoes. Mark let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and quickly thanked God that for once he had managed to make it through one of these incidents without bleeding. The boss must have liked the place more than he had let on.

Heading up the front porch step, Two-Face stepped into the foyer and tossed their overcoat and hat onto the bench seat next to the door. Maria, their maid, would hang it up tomorrow. Working his way through the hall, he managed to catch both John and Kevin standing just outside the kitchen. Without a second thought, he grabbed John by the front of his shirt, and tossed him across the kitchen. Two-Face looked around Kevin to watch John slide across the floor and slam into the far wall. He was pleased to see that his distance was improving. Turning back to Kevin, he watched Broderick sigh as he waited for the inevitable. His patience was quickly rewarded with Two-Face's famous right hook, and Kevin went sprawling across the floor.

Whistling the opening to Guns and Rose's 'Patience,' he turned and headed up the stairs to their bedroom just in time to see Brian headed back down the stairs to the kitchen. Brian's eyes widened as he looked over his boss's shoulder and saw Kevin sprawled across the floor rubbing his jaw, Two-Face, remembering the 'Face' remark, cheerfully chucked Brian down the last six stairs. Fortunately, Kevin was there to break his cousin's fall.

Feeling decidedly more relaxed, he headed back to his quarters in the far corner of the house. Two-Face entered the first of two rooms. Originally there had been a master bedroom and bath next to a moderate size office. They simply had part of the wall knocked out and had placed a door there instead.

Now they had an office/den connected directly to their bedroom. A large cherry desk was in one corner, complete with a leather executive chair. There was a small balcony to the right of the desk that offered a panoramic view of the water. Well, at least Harvey seemed to think so. Truth be told he had better things to do with his time than stare out at an ocean that wasn't going anywhere.

He tossed the suit jacket across the back of one leather recliner and picked up the remote laying in the other chair to turn on his previously recorded version of the Raiders pre-season game. The television flickered to life and illuminated the adjacent wall. A mini fridge was situated nearby and Two-Face reached down to grab the nearest alcoholic beverage. He pulled out a Bud Light and then sneered. Hell, if he had to drink beer it was at least going to be a Corona. He shoved the Bud Light to the back of the fridge, pulled out the barely approved beverage and appropriated a lime from a small dish. Two-Face made a mental note to relinquish his hard liquor stock.

He paused on his way to their desk to peruse one of the many overflowing bookcases scattered randomly around the room, that in Two-Face's opinion, held nothing of any interest. Digging around until he found Harvey's dog-eared copy of Macbeth, he opened it to find the small desk key stuffed between the pages.

Two-Face shuddered and quickly shoved the book back into the bookcase, all the while ignoring Harvey's whiny ass bitching about 'mistreating' his property. Hey, it wasn't his fault 'wussy boy' was so attached to some worthless, gay ass piece of literature.

Just because the only thing you read is Penthouse is not my fault!

Hey! Don't be insulting. I don't READ the fucking articles okay!

... Silence- then... unfuckingbelievable.

Besides, no one on the face of the goddamn planet would ever think for a fucking second that I would hide my desk key…

You mean our desk key.

I said what I fucking meant. It's MY desk. I just LET you use it! And you fucking know NOBODY would look for MY DESK KEY in YOUR lame ass, nineteenth century waste of fucking paper!

Harvey snorted. Well of course not. No one believes you can read. Hell, I'M not sure you can read!

Is that fucking so! Last time I checked I was the brains of this operation.

Really... cause' last time I checked the returns on my savings account paid for the house you're currently standing in.

You know what Harvey. You think you're so fucking smart... let's see you figure out how to read a book that's been burnt to fucking smithereens.

Two-Face grabbed the book off the shelf and strode into the bedroom towards the fireplace. Pulling out their lighter he ignited the flame.

Hey! That was a Christmas present from Gilda! Put it back!

Two-Face ignored him.

You burn that book and as God as my witness I'll have every fucking scrap of clothing we own bleached bright fucking white.

Two-Face paused. You wouldn't fucking dare, I'd destroy everything you fucking owned.

Tough shit! Don't fuck with the shit my WIFE bought me!

C'mon Harvey don't tell me you still love the bitch after all this time!

Don't talk about my wife like that!

You mean you EX-WIFE don't you. After all... she did divorce you. Two-Face twisted the knife a little deeper just for spite. Say... didn't she remarry last year. I heard she's even expecting a little brat now.

‘ … ‘

So, you still want your sentimental little gift from the devoted missus? Two-Face chuckled.

‘ … ‘

I didn't think so. But since it means so much to you, his voice dripped mock sincerity, I'll just put it on the bedside table so you have a little memento of your blissful union with Gilda!

One of these days some chick is gonna do to you what you Gilda did to me. She’s gonna leave you broken and alone, and I’m gonna laugh my ass off at the sheer irony.

Two-Face snorted. Like I’d ever give a shit about some fucking broad!  All this time together and you still don't know me at all!

That's funny, cause' I remember you being pretty unhappy when Renee Montoya rejected you.

Don't you dare bring that fucking up!

Aaahhhhh...Did the great Two-Face get his feelings hurt!

Why you miserable... Two-Face broke off abruptly, to angry to speak.

He growled and threw the paperback as hard as he could against the far bedroom wall. He stood there briefly, fists clenched, a low rumble in his chest, and then the lamp closest to him went right out a closed glass window with a satisfying crash. The paperback that had started the entire argument followed it shortly thereafter, onto the lawn below.

Stalking back into the office he shoved the key into the desk and gathered the necessary documents for his latest heist. Still seething, he scribbled out the remaining additions to his instructions and practically threw them at Mark when he came up to collect them. After shoving Mark back out into the hall, Two-Face proceeded to destroy another window and another fourth of the office before downing enough alcohol to reduce him to a drunken stupor.

Chapter Text

               Mack took a long swig of coffee and unlocked the back door to the bar.  It was just after eleven in the morning and since she had been up til' six it was way too early.  She shut the door behind her, not bothering to lock it.  Dave, the man who had delivered her alcohol every Tuesday morning would be there shortly and he knew to let himself in.

               Sitting down at the bar, she scanned the front page of the Gotham Globe, halting when a headline on the lower left hand corner caught her eye.  Fire at Harry's: Arson suspected.  The article was under the local heading, and Mack quickly flipped through the paper and pulled out the page in question. 

               Mack's eyes widened in horror as she read the article, and a funny lump began to form in the back of her throat.  Harry's, a local bar like her own, was two or three blocks west of hers.  Early that morning- around four thirty- the building had caught fire.  Police and fire officials found accelerants at the scene and believed the fire was caused deliberately.  There were no suspects at this time, and no one was injured.

               Mack swallowed and looked at the picture the paper had so thoughtfully provided.  The building had been almost completely destroyed.  Only a few pieces of the frame were left standing, and you could just barely make out the remnants of a pool table.  Mack had known Harry.  Not well, but most of the business owners within the vicinity were at least acquaintances.  His bar had been on the same level as hers.  Run down, slightly shabby, but business was steady.  It wasn't a great life, owning a bar, but it was a livelihood.  Now his was gone, and because the bar had been in such a state of disrepair it was unlikely his insurance would pay him enough to rebuild there, let alone anywhere else.

               Mack took a deep breath and told herself not to panic.  After all, it was an isolated incident.  There was no proof that the people who had started the fire over at Harry's would attempt to give her problems, too.  Unfortunately, the thought of losing her bar in much the same way as Harry had was not an easy one to shake.  Sure, her bar was a pit, and most of the time it was more headache than it was worth, but it was hers, damnit.  She owned her house, but she still had mortgage payments on the bar- not to mention utilities to pay at both places.  If something happened to her business, the insurance would cover most of the mortgage on the bar, but she'd have to find work almost immediately to continue paying her living expenses.

               She took another deep breath and mentally slapped herself.  She was being silly.  There was no reason to think anything would happen to her or her possessions.  It was probably the result of a bunch of punk kids trying to prove how big and bad they were.  The gangs around here didn't run in protection rackets.  Hell, she'd been here on her own for over a year now; if they were going to approach her about it they already would have.  So unless some new big shot crime boss was moving in....

               The styrofoam coffee container slid out of her hand and hit the floor with a splat.  Mack slapped one hand across her mouth and tried not to hyperventilate.  It wasn't working.  Placing her elbows on the bar in front of her she leaned her head on the palms off her hands and just sat there.  A few minutes later, her breathing considerably slowed, and she thought back over her last few encounters with her group of mafia guys.  The four of them, and their still unnamed boss, hadn't done anything to suggest they'd give her any trouble and they'd been coming in regularly for close to a month.

               In fact, every time she'd waited on their table, the boss- if indeed he really was- couldn't be more pleasant. Generally speaking, she exchanged words with him every night and it turned out that he was really pretty damn funny.  Oh sure, about fifty percent of the time he was caustic and abrasive as hell, but so far he hadn't been shitty with her.  God help the poor schmuck who did irritate him, but he seemed to be trying very hard to put her at ease.  Even when he was in a decidedly bad mood you could hear the forced smile in his voice. 

               It didn't really make sense that a crime boss would spend five or six nights a week at one particular bar, softening up the hired help only too strong arm them later for money.  Still, it was really pretty coincidental that they showed up a few weeks before this arson thing happened.  Fortune hadn't exactly smiled on her of late and she couldn't quite shake the feeling that something earth shattering was about to happen.  She wasn't sure just how many more "events" she could stand before she went postal.

               Looking up at the sound of Dave's voice, she slid off the bar stool and almost busted her ass when she slipped in the spilled coffee.  Cursing, she made a mental note to clean up the mess and went to start stocking shelves.

 

88888888888888888888888888

 

               Harvey was displeased.  Mack was once again delivering a new round of drinks to their table and once again she was spouting nothing but empty platitudes when he spoke to her.  She was deliberately avoiding him.  The woman hadn't even looked in his direction once this evening. 

               Harvey drummed their fingers on the table in irritation.  He had purposely gone out of his way in the past four or so weeks to be nice and charming.  Hell, even Two-Face had been fairly polite... well for Two-Face anyway.  Still, they had done everything possible to put her at ease and things had been going beautifully until now.  How the hell was he supposed to make any sort of arrangement with her when all of a sudden she didn't want anything to do with him!  Christ on a crutch...she'd probably run screaming for the hills if she knew who she was really dealing with.

               No... something was wrong.  This change in attitude was too sudden.  The only reason she would have to avoid him was if someone had said something to her about his real identity, which considering only himself and his four men knew, wasn't at all possible.  Or she suspected him of having something to do with some crime related incident that had upset her.

               Harvey paused and pursed his lips.  The wench might just be acting fickle, but Mack didn't strike him as a fickle sort of person... well... for a woman anyway.  Either way, something had to be done.

               "Mack," Harvey drawled, "Is something," he paused as if searching for the proper phrase, "... bothering you?"

               Mack swallowed convulsively.  She had never had a good poker face; people said her face was too expressive.  Christ, from the tone of his voice she must look as nervous as she felt.  No matter what she had told herself, the minute they had walked through the door the bottom had dropped out of her stomach.  She just couldn't forget the picture of Harry's bar they had printed in the paper today.

               Mentally slapping herself for what was easily the hundredth time today she attempted to pull herself together.  For the love of God!  I've got to have more mettle that this! 

               Mack raised an eyebrow and pulled one corner of her mouth into a halfhearted smirk.  Inwardly sighing, she decided some sort of excuse was needed.  She really had been acting oddly this evening.  Even Andy had commented on it, and he was about at observant as a box of rocks.

               More than likely, these people were crooks; and chances are they'd know if she attempted to lie.  Some perverse "spidey sense," and all that.  So the best thing to do would be to tell them some of the truth, topped off with a small show of camaraderie. 

               Looking back to the darkened corner where the boss sat, Mack sent him a considering look.  "Actually, it's been a little hectic around here today.  There was an article in the paper, I don't know if you saw it, but a bar a few blocks west of here was a target of arson early this morning.  Naturally, it has the other business owners in this area a little on edge." Mack leaned over the table and reached for John's empty glass.

               Harvey reached their hand forward and lightly wrapped their fingers around her wrist.  Mack started and looked up, but could only make out his outline and the very top of his hat.  His hand was surprisingly warm, and Mack couldn't help but notice how large his hand was compared to her own.  Blinking, she realized he wore a scuffed class ring on his ring finger, and looked at it more closely.

               When Harvey spoke there was an added edge in his voice.  "Is someone bothering you Mack?"

               Mack jerked her head up and gave him a surprised look, "What?  Um... no.  I mean, not yet." She gave him an odd look, "Did you go to Harvard?"

               Harvey blinked and looked down at his hand.  He had been wearing the damn thing for so long he'd forgotten it was there.  "Yes, I went to Harvard."

               "I thought Harvard was primarily a law school." 

               "It is."  Harvey looked up and saw the odd questioning look in her face.  "Tell me, what you meant by that 'not yet' comment and I'll tell you what I went to Harvard for."

               Mack bit her lip and weighed her options.  She could let the whole thing go but he'd just read the damn article himself and come to his own conclusions.  Besides, despite her better judgment she was really curious about the Harvard thing.

               "Deal." Mack nodded and leaned slightly on the table underneath.  His hand didn't move from her wrist.  Surprisingly enough, the touch was oddly comforting.  "The paper said that fire was most likely caused by arson.  Well, Harry's is only a few blocks from here, and I don't need some schmuck getting any ideas about my place being his next target.  Yes, It was probably just a group of punk kids being jackasses- but the whole thing is making the rest of us nervous."  Mack shoved a stray hair absently behind one ear.

               "Do you think that fire was random?"

               "I want that fire to have been random."

               "But do you think it was?"

               "You're a persistent son of a..." Mack caught herself just before she managed to insult a man who, with her luck, owned half the bloody criminal underworld.

               "I believe the word you're looking for is tenacious," Harvey smirked.

               Mack huffed, "No, I don't think it was random."

               "Who do you think was responsible?"              

               "I don't know who was responsible."  Mack shoved the same rebellious strand of hair behind her ear, this time a little more roughly.

               "In your opinion, Mack, what would the motive be for destroying that bar?"

               Mack blinked at him in disbelief.  "Are all lawyers this damn pushy?"

               "What makes you think I'm a lawyer?"

               Mack made a small hmph sound, "Only a lawyer could be this bloody exasperating."

               "Tell me one thing Mack."  Harvey paused and when he spoke all trace of amusement had left his voice.  "If someone was bothering you, would you tell me?"

               Mack looked towards him and could feel his eyes boring into her own.  Her voice was slightly resigned, "No.  I wouldn't tell you."

               Harvey sighed irritably. "One of those 'independent' women I take it."  I was more of a statement than a question.

               She bristled at the insinuation there was something wrong with independent women.  He smirked.  "Do you have a problem with independent women?" she declared indignantly.

               "Only where they're being deliberately obstinate."

               Mack narrowed her eyes.  "I believe sir, that you owe me an explanation concerning your connection to Harvard."

               "I graduated from Harvard, and passed the bar when I was twenty-six."

               Mack jerked back slightly.  She had been expecting a similar response, but hearing it was still a shock.

               Harvey released her wrist and watched her absently gather the rest of their empty glassed.  She looked back at him over her shoulder as she headed back to the bar, suddenly not knowing exactly what to make of him.

               He watched her until she slipped behind the bar to fill someone else's order.  Pulling out a cigarette, he leaned their head slightly to the side and lit the end.  Taking a long drag, Harvey conferred briefly with his other half and when his men turned to look in their direction Two-Face was staring back at them.

               Flicking his cigarette angrily to one side, he nodded at the Brodericks.  "It's still early.  Go find out who the hell is nosing around this goddamn area.  Some fucker is setting shit on fire around here and I want to know which worthless bastard is responsible.  If some fucker is trying to set up a protection racket in this shithole area, I want to know whose ass I need to kick." 

               He snorted.  "If by some fucking chance it is some punk kids," he rolled their eyes, "looking for a good time, then give the fuckers something to think about."

               He looked around the table.  "Since we all know how fucking unlikely that is, I want the name of the family responsible for upsetting our little fucking operation and I want it in the next twenty four fucking hours." Two-Face looked at the Brodericks and snarled, "Feel free to be persuasive."

               Brian gave the boss an evil smirk, "I love it when you let me go out and play."  He stood up and finished off his Bud Light before turning away from the table.

               "Brian, sometimes you're a little odd."  Kevin shook his head and stood up.  He re-buttoned his suit jacket so his firearms wouldn't show and adjusted his collar.

               "Are you telling me you don't like knocking some punk ass bitch around for the fucking hell of it?"  Brian started across the bar room floor, Kevin directly behind him.

               Kevin rolled his eyes.  "I never said that.  I just said you're odd."  He snorted, "Go outside and play... how corny can you get." 

               "Kindly remember that you are related to me, shit head.  One of these days you might wake up and have the same affliction as I do.  It's called a sense of humor."  Brian enunciated the last three words to emphasize that Kevin, in his opinion, didn't have one.

               "God forbid," Kevin followed his cousin out the front door of the bar and the three remaining men could still hear Brian arguing with his cousin until the door swung shut behind them.

               Mark turned to Two-Face in astonishment, "I don't know what's scarier- Brian's personality or the fact that you just unleashed him on some poor unsuspecting fool."

               Two-Face took a swig of Jack Daniel's and chuckled, "Cruel, ain't it." 

 

8888888888888888888888888

 

               Mack sunk down into the porcelain tub feeling innately pleased with her self.  The weather had finally cooled down to a reasonable seventy degrees and she had opened the windows first thing this morning.  Shockingly enough, she had actually managed to complete the crossword puzzle in this morning's Gotham Globe; a feat that always left her with a puffed opinion of her own intelligence.  To celebrate, she had rewarded herself with a long hot soak in the tub.

               Music from Enya was echoing through the house as she tried to decide whether to paint her nails fire engine red or blood red.

               Decisions, Decisions… she mused.

               Her head lolled to one side and Mack found herself distinctly wishing for a glass of wine, in one of those really fancy glasses you use at weddings.  What was it about bubble baths that made you go all girly?

                Looking over at the clock she stretched and reached for a towel.  If she wanted to prim and preen and still get to Barnes & Nobles before she had to open the bar, she was going to have to get her butt out of the tub.  Besides, the water was getting cold.

               Stepping out of the tub, she wrapped a hair towel around her head and wrapped a larger one around her torso.  She wiggled her toes in the cozy blue bath mat and reached for the nail polish- fire engine red it was.

               One manicure and pedicure later, she stood in front of her closet with pursed lips.  Generally speaking, Mack was a very down to earth sort of woman.  The fact that over half her closet consisted of jeans, button fronts, and tank tops would attest to that. Still, every once in a while it was nice to look like a chick. 

               Throwing caution to the wind, she grabbed her favorite pair of hip hugging black pants, the kind that made your ass look perfect, and reached to the very back of the closet to pull out a fitted shirt.  It was slightly lower cut than her normal attire, but what the hell, it wasn't that low.  Besides, it was as close to her nail color as humanly possible.  Her standard button up could go straight to hell today.  Sure, she wouldn't be able to carry the gun this evening, but what the hell; she had one under the bar anyway. 

                Tossing her hair back behind one shoulder she reached for her favorite silver earrings.  They were dangly, sparkly, and had cost six bucks at Claire's.  How could she not love them?

               She choose to forgo her standard steel toed shoes this evening and opted for a pair of leather boots that gave her an extra inch.  When you're only five feet four… you'll take what little help you can get.  Purse slung over one shoulder, and her book list in her back pocket, she made her way out the door in record time.

               Sliding a pair of sunglasses on, she strolled across the lawn to her Honda.

               Oh yeah… looking 

               Fifteen minutes later Mack found herself at the back door to her bar. 

               It's just like me to forget and leave the damn bills lying on the office desk.

               Last night had been fairly slow and the clean up had been easier than normal, so she had stayed over and balanced the store account.  The checks had been made out, and she had planned to drop her mortgage payment off at the bank on the way to the bookstore.  It might have helped if she'd remembered to take the envelope home with her.

               Another five minutes and she would have made a clean get a way. 

               Mack stared over the top of her car, keys already in hand, at the black Crown Victoria that pulled in directly behind her.

               Well, this is a good sign- an unknown car just purposely blocked me in.

               The back door to said vehicle opened and a gorgeous blonde man in a gray suit stepped out.  She hated him on sight.  He looked like he'd just stepped off of a used car lot.  It was probably the incredibly fake smile that was plastered to his face.

               Hey there little lady, I have this nice bridge for sale…

              Blondie approached her and quite effectively, and no doubt purposely, pinned her between the hood of her own car and himself.  Intimidation techniques, expensive suit, black car…yup… ten to one it was a gangster.

               She wondered briefly if there was some sort of spray she could buy.  Mob Be Gone or something similar… 

               Blondie turned that vapid smile up to one hundred watts and gave her a slow once over.  He stopped at her chest on the way back up.  How original…

               "Can I help you sir?"  Mack tried to sound polite, but she was positive her body language was telling him to fuck off.

               "I'm so glad you asked, little lady."  He managed to pull his gaze away from her chest and she swore to never leave the house in anything less than a turtleneck ever again.  She'd had drunk men stare at her more times than she could count, but this guy gave her the heebie jeebies.  "My colleagues and I are new to the area and we're just going around introducing ourselves and getting to know the local business owners."  His smile started to look suspiciously like a smirk.

               "You're Jamie Mackenzie, right?"

               "Yeah, call me Mack."

               "Leon Schultz at your service."

               Mack sighed and rolled her eyes.  She recognized the surname- it was in the paper on a regular basis.  Article after article about crimes that the cops were trying to link to Nick Schultz.  The way this schmuck was acting, chances were good he was related to good ol' Nick.

               Leon gave up all pretense of a real smile and smirked.  By the resigned look on the her face, she had been expecting something like this.  This neighborhood was going to be a pushover.  After that little episode at Harry's, the other small business owners around here had fallen quickly in line.  

               This area wasn't going to generate much revenue compared to some other areas Schultz controlled, but strategically it was a goldmine.  A couple of years ago Nick Schultz had lost his only son Andrew when a deal with Tater went sour.  Andy had caught a bullet between the shoulder blades and there had been bad blood between the two organizations ever since.

               Shultz couldn't really move against Tater without serious cause or the other major players in the area would take sides against him.  At the level that the larger bosses operated, most maneuvers were primarily political and generally slightly petty.

               Shultz couldn't outright confront Tater, but applying pressure on the edges of his playing field might someday prove beneficial.

               Leon looked up at Mack, "This neighborhood can be a little rough Jamie." Mack narrowed her eyes at the use of her first name, "My friends and I want to see the small business owners in the area continue to flourish, and we're willing to do whatever it takes to see that happen.  Now for a small…" 

               Mack held up one hand, "Look… Leon was it?  Don't take this the wrong way, but some of your friends already drink here.  I don't think there's room for more than one group of you."

               Leon blinked and hid his surprise.  More than one group...  He narrowed his eyes in irritation.  The bitch must be having him on.  If this bar was catering to somebody else his uncle would've mentioned it.  Besides, if there was somebody hanging around it was probably some low-end gang.  He'd have them 'removed' and then it would be business as usual.

               "Look sweetheart, I don't want to see anything happen to that pretty face of yours so I suggest you reconsider.  I couldn't give two shits who drinks at your bar; your patrons are not my concern.  We'll be back tomorrow evening- you might want to think about how much this bar means to you."  Leon shot her a dark look and turned away.

               His car door slammed behind him and the Crown Victoria pulled out of the parking lot, leaving her standing there staring after him.  She rubbed the back of her neck, and wondered how the hell she was going to get out of this- all thoughts of Barnes and Nobles forgotten.

 

8888888888888888888888 

 

               Brian Broderick opened the front door with a flourish, bursting into song. The chorus to 'Walking on Sunshine' echoed through the house as he tossed his suit coat haphazardly to the side. Spinning on the sole of one leather loafer, he did an insane version of the electric slide while shouting the ending line, "And don't it feel good!"

               John looked up from the kitchen table and laughed.  Brian was one of the meanest sons a bitches in the surrounding area, and he carried a small arsenal with him wherever he went- but damn if he wasn't fucking hilarious.

               Brian moved his performance further into the living room and proceeded to take gross advantage of the extra space.  Mark took a seat at the table next to John and waved at Kevin, who was currently dodging his cousin's flailing dance moves.  Kevin managed to escape unharmed and crossed the short distance to the kitchen to lean against the kitchen counter.

               "I take it the evening was productive."  Mark looked over at Kevin and then had to chuckle as Brian busted into his personal rendition of, "Brick House'.

               "You would not believe the shit that punk ass bitch Shultz is up to."  Kevin made his way down the hallway, tossing his coat absently on the bench seat that graced the hallway.  Mark and John exchanged glances and then followed him.

               John raised one eyebrow in disbelief, "Are you telling me that Shultz is strong arming that shit ass neighborhood?"

               Kevin nodded, "The same shit ass neighborhood that just happens to be on the boundary line of Tater's property."

               Mark chuckled darkly; "I can't wait to see Tater's face when he finds that out."

               "Fuck I can't wait to see what he does to Shultz," John muttered and ran a hand through his hair.

               "Want me to go fill in the boss?"  Kevin turned to look at Mark.               

               "Naw, he said he'd be down after watching the Raiders vs. Patriots game.  We'll fill him in then."

               Kevin loosened his tie, shrugged, and in a purely spontaneous moment joined his cousin in the electric slide, his deep bass blending in smoothly with Brian's off key singing.

               John and Mark laughed and very shortly found themselves joining in as well.  John's tie followed his suit jacket onto the nearest chair and Mark rolled up his sleeves to reveal a set of tanned forearms just as Kevin initiated a stirring rendition of, "Play That Funky Music White Boy."

               When Harvey came back downstairs, slightly irritated at his teams' defeat, he found the four of them at the kitchen table, brewski's in hand, yapping about god knows what from their bar hopping days.

 

8888888888888888888

 

               Two-Face yawned and rubbed one hand across their eyes.  Blinking, he looked over at the alarm clock next to the bed.  Five-thirty... fuck, the bloody sun will be up soon.  Good things they had dark drapes. 

               Sitting up he scratched their stomach and threw the sheets off to the side.

               One of those days...

               There was nothing more irritating than being tired and still waking up every few hours for no bloody reason.  Padding across the carpet on bare feet, he groped for the handle to the top dresser drawer.  Digging around, he felt for the tell tale feeling of flannel.  He paused and then searched again.

               Harvey.

               Silence...

               HARVEY!

               What?!  Harvey's irritation was obvious.

               Where are those plaid flannel pants I like to wear?

               You bothered me to help you find your laundry? he asked incredulously.

               Yeah.  What's the fucking problem?

                Never mind... Harvey paused; I didn't think you liked those blue and green plaid pants.

               I don't.  I want the red and black ones.

               They aren't in the dresser.

               Obviously fucking not genius.   Would I be bothering to talk to you if I knew where to fucking find them?!

               All right, don't keep snippy.  Look in the damn closet on the top shelf.

               I'm not, nor will I EVER be snippy, and why the bloody hell would the damn things be in the closet?

               Because I vaguely remember stuffing them up there when I ran out of room in the dresser.

               Well next time stuff your own shit in the closet.

               Those pants are my stuff.  I specifically remember asking John to pick me up a pair from Old Navy.

               Harvey?

               What?

               Shut the fuck up and go back to whatever the hell it was you were doing.  You're starting to fucking irritate me.

               Imagine that...

               Two-Face pulled the pajama pants out of the closet and slipped them on.  Grabbing one of their glocks he padded down the stairs towards the kitchen.  Crossing the formal dining room he prepared himself for the inevitable shock of bare feet on cold linoleum.

               Laying the gun on the small table in the 'breakfast nook' he opened the door to the fridge.

               Breakfast nook... He snorted, Why can't people just call it what it fucking was- 'The space where the kitchen table fucking went.'

               Digging out the mustard and a pack of deli sliced turkey, he turned around to rummage through the pantry for a loaf of bread.  Despite what people said, he did eat more than red meat and pork rinds. 

               One turkey sandwich and a beer later he was at the small table, feet purposely propped up on the bottom rungs.  Hey… even he didn't like cold feet.  Well... unless you were purposely placing them on your bed partner's legs just to be a shit head.

               Taking a large bite of sandwich he considered the current situation with the Shultzs.

               Nick Schultz had once been a rather formidable force.  For the last several years; however, he had only been interested in yanking Tater's chain.  It sucked that somebody had put a bullet in his little brat, but he really needed to get the fuck over it.  If the sorry bastard hadn't been trying to double cross Tater his son wouldn't be six feet under to begin with.  Why couldn't he just shoot himself or move the fuck on?

               All that wussy ass political bullshit was starting to get old.  Running around being shitty to people, but not doing anything openly hostile so nobody really had a reason to retaliate…

               He snorted.  Power plays... what a bunch of bullshit.  If the fucker hated Tater so much then why didn't he just walk up and put a bullet between his eyes.

               Because the other families would take offense if he killed him for no good reason, and then they'd have him eradicated from the face of the planet.     

               Nobody got shitty with us when I knocked off old man Denati and everyone connected with the worthless fucker.

               We're crazy, we don't have to have to have a reason- something you take gross advantage of.

               Why waste a good opportunity.

               Not that it really matteredif it was Shultz sniffing around or somebody else.  He wasn't about to let some two-bit thug walk all over his property.

               Oh... so it's our bar now.  I thought you didn't want to set up anything permanent there?

               Yeah well, I changed my fucking mind.

               You mean you didn't want to set up anything there until someone else wanted to.

               Hey!  It's my fucking bar.  I fucking drink there.  I'm not so hard up for company that I want to be drinking with Nick and his worthless fucking nephew.

               So you're stepping in so you don't have to drink with the undesirables of the city?  Harvey's voice was skeptical.

               Two-Face swore.  Christ... why in the fuck else would I interfere.  It's sure as hell not out of the fucking goodness of my heart.

               And here I thought Mack might be growing on you.

               Are you suggesting I'm only stepping in because of a WOMAN?! 

               Well she is the only person in a fifty-mile radius that actually laughs at the shit you say.  Harvey paused and then added.  Not including the fuckers who are too scared not to laugh.

               She is not the only person who thinks I'm fucking funny.

               Well of course she isn't.  You think you're fucking hilarious.

               Oh cause you don't put everyone else to sleep when you start rambling on about what the hell ever it was you read in the fucking paper.

               Just because the woman stays up on current events doesn't mean nobody else does either.  Kevin reads the paper all the time.

               Only cause' he's a suck up.

               Harvey sputtered and flushed slightly.  Would you stop changing the bloody subject?  Admit it!  If the bartender was some middle-aged, balding white boy you'd throw him to the fucking wolves.  Better watch out... you might be starting to develop some protective male instincts.

               My fucking male instincts are just fine, and they sure as HELL don't include feeling protective about some goddamn skirt.  I like the fucking bar...

               Yeah, cause' the interior is so upscale.

               Look wiseass, keep fucking with me, and I WILL hang the wench out to dry.

               I don't believe you.  You're too goddamn territorial to turn and walk away now.  Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if you'd already pissed in one of the corners.

               Harvey... I really fucking hate you.  If I wasn't so fucking fond of myself, I'd blow your goddamn brains out.

               You do realize that you're starting to sound a little unhinged.

               I AM A LITTLE UNHINGED.  I have to put up with YOU!

               Don't worry; tonight you can drown your sorrows in a beer and stare at Mack's ass until you feel better.

               We're not going to Mack's tonight.

               Yeah... sure we're not.  What if the Shultzs show up?  You gonna let em' wander around the bar like they own the place.  Hell, I'd bet they'd even sit at our table.  It is the closet one to the back door, after all.

               No fucker is gonna sit at MY fucking table!  I don't care if I have to take the bloody thing with me when I leave.  IT'S MINE!

               Well actually it does belong to Mack...

               Yeah, well what's hers is mine.

               Everything that's hers...

               Two-Face smirked, Everything.

               So, I take it were dropping by.

               Yeah, shit head, we'll drop fucking by.  That is why you bothered to goad me into that little rant isn't it? Two-Face sneered.  Some piece of tail you've known for barely a month has already got you whipped.

               Considering you let me goad you into that little rant, I'd say you're right behind me.  She might have to break out a chair to go with that whip...

               There's a few things I could do with Mack, a chair, and a whip, but letting her turn lion tamer isn't one of them.

               Two-Face finished his beer and deliberately tossed it into the trash and not the recycling bin.  Making his way back up stairs, he tossed the flannel pants on the floor and sprawled chest down across the bed.  Yanking the covers up, he made a mental note to pick up a pool table and a couple of tables and chairs.  He'd be damned if he was gonna keep drinking at a table that made him fucking cringe every time he sat down. 

               The fact that it really would be your table is just a bonus right?

               Fine, be a dick.  You can sit at her wobbly ass table all you want, but I'M not.

               I think I'm gonna need to transfer some money to our bank account.

               Considering what we'll be spending on that damn bar in the next month or so.  Yeah... might be a good fucking idea.  Now shut up, I'm trying to fucking sleep here.

               Two-Face reached out to turn on the pedestal fan next to the bed, and then shoved one arm under the nearest pillow.  Surprisingly enough, he only argued with Harvey once more before managing to drift off.

 

88888888888888888888888888888888888

 

               Mack wasn't sure if she should be breathing easier or not, now that her normal group of mob guys had arrived.  After her conversation with good ol' Leon she had pretty much ruled out all possibility that they had something to do with the fire at Harry's.  If her mob boys had been working for Shultz, then Leon wouldn't have needed to drop by this afternoon. 

               Still… the nagging little voice in her brain wouldn’t quit feeding her "what ifs."  Mack sighed and rubbed the bridge of her.  She had gone back to the house after Leon had left, to pick up her gun and a dressy black button front.  She wasn't really sure what good it would do her, but it made her feel better. Not that it was a good idea to shoot anybody, let alone someone connected to the mob.  They seemed like the kind of people who held a grudge.

               She never had gotten to Barnes and Nobles, though she wouldn't mind drowning her sorrows in one of their premier desserts.  Instead she had sat at her kitchen table for a solid hour going over scenario after scenario, trying to reason out a solution to this problem.  So far the only idea she had come up with was based purely on the hope that the bastards were in a car wreck on their way over.

               When had life gotten so bloody complicated?

               Mack pulled down a couple of glasses and began the makings of another round for the boys.  Sliding one hand under the tray she pulled out a Michelob for Carl, an older guy whose wife had died a couple years back.  Mack dropped it off at his table and exchanged the normal set of pleasantries before making her way towards the back corner.

               Mack smiled and greeted them with the usual, "So how you boys doing."

               Brian, who was always incredibly talkative, leaned over.  "I am fantastic - had a damn good night last night."  He paused and gave her a conspiratorial glance, "have you ever seen four grown men do the electric slide?"

               Brian covered his head with his hands, as Mark, Kevin, and John all moved to smack him.              

               "Actually," Mack replied with an amused glance, "I've seen The Replacements.  That jail scene is one of my favorites.  Tell me, did you boys to sing, I will survive, too?"

               Two-Face laughed.  "No I believe the preferred tune was Brick House."

               Mack couldn't help it.  She laughed so hard her eyes started to water.  Maybe she'd blame it on the stress.

               "Laugh all you want," Brian said in a mock dignified tone, "I bet your evening wasn't as much fun as ours was."

               Mack tossed the empty tray onto an unoccupied table behind her.  She shoved the button up out of her way and placed one hand on her hip.  "Actually, I made sure to record the Patriots vs. Raiders game yesterday evening, so I had something to watch when I went home.  I'm happy to report that my team kicked some Raider ass last night... as if there was ever any doubt." 

               Mack's lips curled up into a smug sort of smirk.  "I don't know if you guys saw the game, but our defense was all over it.  Especially the way they sacked the Raiders QB in the third quarter.  I mean what were they thinking letting some newbie QB play in a game against the Patriots, for god's sake.  Did they really think he could keep up with Tom Brady?"

                Mack shrugged and stood their looking innately pleased with herself. "But hey... not everybody can be the best." 

               The table full of men stared at her in astonishment.  Mack misinterpreted their silence, "What, you think chicks don't like football?"

               Brian slapped a hand across his mouth and tried not to laugh.  The rest of them were doing their best not to grin, but she could see the corners of their mouths twitch.

               Mack furrowed her eyebrows.  What in the hell...  I mean I know I tend to ramble on occasionally, but it's not the first time that I'm talked to them and got slightly carried away.

               Suddenly Mack eyes widened in horror. She placed one hand across her mouth and looked around the table.  Everybody was trying not to laugh, except their boss who she couldn't see.  If they were trying not to laugh, then there was a very good possibility that it was because their boss was a....

               Open mouth... insert foot.

               Mack leaned over towards Mark, occasionally sending their boss slightly alarmed looks.  "Ummm... Mark?"

               Mark cleared his throat and rubbed one hand across his chin.  "Yes, Mack?              

               "I... ah... don't suppose that your... ah..." Mack looked pointedly back towards the unknown man.

               "Boss." Mark supplied helpfully.

               "Right," Mack drawled, "I don't suppose that he's ah..."

               "A Raiders fan?"  Mark slung one arm across the back of the table, and smirked.  It was kinda fun watching Mack squirm. 

               "Right.  Cause' I've heard that their fans were kind of..." she groped for the right word.

               "Hardcore?"  Mark gestured with his glass and then took a swig.

               "I was going to say insane," Mack made a placating gesture, "but hardcore is good."

               Two-Face drummed his fingers on the table and drawled, "Why yes Mack.  I am a Raider's fan."  His voice became slightly amused, "One of the insane ones."

               Mack sighed, "I knew you were going to say that."  She leaned one hand on the table and adopted a rather wry expression.  "So I don't suppose there's, you know, a form or something I can fill out.  Something like a formal request not to kill me."

               Two-Face choked slightly on his whiskey and alternated between trying to cough and laugh.  "Uh, actually Mack... people generally... you know... just beg."

               Mack gave him an indignant look.  "Beg!  Like hell!

               He threw back the rest of his beverage and slid it across the table.  "Well, lucky for you, I'm feeling benevolent this evening."  The smirk in his voice was evident.  "I suppose I could let your disparaging remarks slide just this once."

               Two-Face paused briefly and went in for the kill, "It's not your fault you're so misguided.  Women tend to overlook the more important intricacies of the game, so you really can't be held accountable for your delusions.

               He sighed theatrically.  "I suppose you couldn't really help yourself."

               Mack bristled, and she slurred her sentence until it sounded like one long word, "Why I oughta..." She narrowed her eyes; "You know at least we don't go around shouting, 'Ahoy Matey', on game day."

               "No you'd much rather carry a fife and play the drums."

               Mack started to reply, but he kept right on talking, "Now why don't you be a good girl and run along back to the bar and get me a refill."

               He sounded so goddamn pleased with himself that it was all she could do to keep from reaching across the table and strangling him with his tie.

               Two-Face watched her standing there, sputtering in indignation.  It was so amusing watching someone so small get so damn irritated.  And damn if she didn't look hot, staring at him like she couldn't decided if she wanted to keep arguing with him or just throttle him.  He couldn't help himself... he laughed.

               Mack had never been so outraged in her entire life.  Why don't you be a good girl, Mack mocked his voice in her head.  And now he was laughing at her.  

               Oh, hell no...

               Mack let a particularly evil smile cross her face, "I suppose when you root for a team, like… say the Raiders.  You have to console yourself with these 'little intricacies' since they can't seem to actually win.  Fortunately for us 'mere women' we at least know how to read a scoreboard."

               "Why you cheeky wench!"  Two-Face broke off and muttered a string of unintelligible curses.

               She couldn't help it, she smiled and replied in a slightly sarcastic tone, "Aaahhhhh... you say the nicest things." 

               Mack slid one small hand around his empty glass and afforded him a genuine smile.  "If I every go to one of your football parties, remind me to bring along a white flag."

               Crossing the bar floor, Mack slid open the swinging door that served as an entrance to the behind the bar area.   She saw Andy and Ty waving for another round and had to smile.  Ah… Friday night.  Was there anything like it?  Andy and his friends were being rowdy, as usual, and Peggy and Barb were working their magic over at the pool tables- though most of their allure was in the curves on their body, and not their pool playing abilities.  Grabbing two long necks for Andy and company she headed out onto the bar room floor, the boss's whiskey in the other hand.

               "Well you look pretty damn smug with yourself?" Andy reached out a hand for his beer.  Sam was absent from their little group, most likely out with his new bride, but Ty was sitting dutifully on Andy's left side, making eyes at Barb.  Hell, knowing Ty he was making eyes with both of them.  Mack’s smirk got bigger.  There was no way Ty was man enough for both Peggy and Barb... and that was saying something.

               "Those guys in the corner were talking smack about my football team, I politely remind them that they were losing their marbles.”

               Andy snorted and took a long slug of beer.  "Girl, I hate to break it to you, but your team does suck!"

               "This from the man who roots for the Buffalo Bills?!"

               "Listen here girly, the Bills are going all the way this year, just you wait."

               Mack gave him a skeptical look, "Mmhmm... sure they are."

               Mack stepped away from the table and Andy yelled after her, "We'll see how smug you are after the Patriot's/Panther's game tomorrow.  Your team is going down!" 

               Andy smirked as Mack flipped him off and kept walking. “That’s it Andy, I'm cutting you off!

               He laughed and turned back to Ty who was still eyeing Peggy and Barb. "Dude, don't even think it.  Those chicks would tear you up."

               Ty smirked, "It'd be worth it."

               Andy rolled his eyes.  "Well, go on then, ask the broads for a game of pool." 

               Ty smoothed out the collar of his blue polo and gave Andy a considering look.  "I think I will actually."  Ty headed up to the pool area and Andy surveyed the rest of the room.  Carl was sitting by the window absently staring at the traffic driving by, and there were a few small time gangs hanging around, but that wasn't all that unusual.  Lou and David, who both worked at the gas station down the way, however, were occupying a table just left of the front door.  Grabbing his beer, Andy weaved around the cluster of tables and went to join them. 

 

Chapter Text

Mack absently played with her towel and looked at the clock again. It was a little after one and she still hadn't seen hide nor hair of the Shultz boys. That was a good thing right? Hell, maybe they really had been in a car wreck. Rolling her eyes at her own optimism, she mentally started to go through her list of options and quickly remembered she didn't have any.

It might have been easy spouting off outside in her parking lot when she didn't really think they'd hurt her or her bar, but this was different. If they did show up, there wasn't a doubt in her mind that they really would 'persuade' her. Still, she had reasoned that they'd give her one more opportunity to be 'reasonable' and Mack had already decided she'd have to give in.

Murphy's law my ass... oughtta be called Mack's law.

She hated it when the bad guys won. Mack squarely her shoulder's resolutely. She had weathered through all the pressure to be 'gang' affiliated, she'd broken up more bar fights than she could count, and she could stretch a dollar farther than humanly possible. There wasn't a single thing life could throw at her that would surprise her anymore. She'd gotten through all that and she'd get through...

Mack stopped and made a small 'hhmmph' noise.

Christ, I sound like a high school seminar on 'positive thinking'. There's nothing worse than a forced pep talk. Hell... even a voluntary one is nauseating.

Turning her attention firmly towards the new patrons who had just approached the bar, she smiled politely and went back to mixing and pouring drinks.

Thirty minutes later there was a lull in business and she soon found herself back at the boss's table. Mack had started to referring to the unknown guy as 'the boss' simply because she didn't know his real name, and 'hey you' sounded a little rude... even for her.

John was busy dealing a deck of cards amongst his companions and Mack leaned across him to avoid setting anything on their cards.

"What's the game fellas?"

"Poker, what else?" John looked up at her and grinned.

"I'm assuming you don't play anything else?" Mack set their empties on her tray, then shoved it on a nearby table that still needed cleaning.

"Why would we play something else?" Harvey glanced at his cards and threw in a couple hundred to open. Hey... he'd save the big bucks for poker night with the other bosses. "Wanna play a hand?"

Mack could hear the slight touch of challenge in his tone and raised an eyebrow. She looked down at the pile of cash on the table, and her eyes widened slightly, "Somehow I'd think I'd need to take out a second mortgage on my bar to keep up."

"I'll front you, Mack," Harvey nodded at John. "Deal her in."

Mack flung out one hand and waved it madly in front of her, almost knocking Kevin in the head.

"NO! Really, it's okay," John paused momentarily in his distribution of the cards, and she felt five pairs of eyes turn towards her and stare.

She flushed and in a soft, sheepish voice, "I don't know how to play."

Disbelief flashed across four, presumably, five faces and Harvey's voice was decidedly skeptical.

"Mack you own a bar."

"Yeah well, I also run the bar. I just... " She floundered, looking for the right phrase, "I just never really had a reason to learn.

He sputtered slightly, "Well, this is completely unacceptable. We will be correcting this situation. I cannot have a bartender who doesn't know how to play poker."

"It's not really a big deal. It's just a game."

"Well, if it's 'just a game' then it's not a big deal if I teach you how to play now is it.

"But I don't have time. I have to wait on my customers." Mack forced herself not to smile. It was sort of a game with him. One of them would want the other to do something, or they'd argue about whatever random topic, and they spend several minutes attempting to get the better of each other.

"You're never busy on Sunday nights. We'll do it then."

"Yes, but I take inventory on Sunday," Mack smirked.

"That's funny, because last Sunday, and the Sunday before that, I distinctly remember seeing you cooking a steak on the portable grill you keep back behind the bar and then refusing to share. So unless taking inventory has changed since my day, you're full of shit."

"First off, I only had one other steak, and if I can't feed all of you it wouldn't be nice to only feed one of you. More importantly, I was on my break. I'm hardly going to starve myself on the off chance you might try and coerce me into learning a card game."

"That still doesn't explain why I didn't see you doing anything that would constitute real work. In fact Sunday's and Monday's here are so slow that you bring a book to keep yourself from falling asleep."

Mack rolled her eyes and threw and exasperated look his way, "That book was a day over due. I didn't have a choice, I had to read it."

"Last time I checked Mack the public library was closed on Sunday."

"Yesss... what's your point?" Mack gave him an odd look and tired to figure out why he had made such and abrupt change in conversation topics.

"The library loans books for two weeks at a time, correct?"

Mack muttered a wary, "Yes."

“Well, if that book you were reading was a day overdue on Monday night then you had to borrow it on a Sunday. Which would be impossible since as you just admitted... the library is closed on Sunday."

He steepled his fingers and rested his chin on them. He watched her eyes widened slightly as she realized exactly what he was getting at. Mack pressed her lips firmly together in irritation as she realized she had incriminated herself.

Harvey smirked. Arguing with her was so damn entertaining. She was always so damn smug whenever she won their private little competition and he loved being able to return the favor.

Mack frowned, he sounded so damn pleased with himself. "You are such a smug little bastard."

Harvey laughed, "Smug... probably. A bastard... most definitely. But I'm actually quite tall, so little wouldn't really apply. Ah well..." He sighed melodramatically, "I suppose two out of three ain't bad."

"If you bust into a Meatloaf song right now, I won't be held accountable for my actions."

"I think I can spare you the indignity of attempting to strangle me with my own tie by refraining from bursting into song."

"Don't worry, I'd never strangle you with your own tie. I find that actually hitting someone is much more therapeutic." Mack curled one side of her mouth upward into a wry sort of smile.

Harvey voice was skeptical. "You... actually hitting someone. Mack, a good stout breeze would knock you over, and now your trying to convince me you could actually hurt someone with that tiny fist of yours!"

Harvey tried to stifle a laugh, "Hell Mack, you'd have to jump just to reach my chin."

Kevin suddenly burst into a coughing fit in an attempt not to laugh. Brian, however, made no such attempt, and since laughter seems to be contagious, soon all five of them were laughing.

Mack sighed heavily and look upward, "Why me Lord?"

Once the table had reverted back to relative silence, Harvey turned his attention back to Mack who was looking at them as though she was considering mutiny.

"Hardy, har, har... Go ahead make fun of the woman controlling the booze. Great idea." Her tone was dry, but the small smile on her face assured them she wasn't all that irritated.

"So Mack... Sunday or Monday night?"

Mack looked back towards Harvey, "What do you mean?"

"Your poker lesson, Mack."

Mack started to reply when she heard the front door open. She swung her head around, years of bartending making it a reflex action, and the bottom dropped out of her stomach. Her friendly bickering with the 'boss man' had made her forget all about Leon and his threats. Seeing him and two of his friends walk through the front door, however, was a sobering experience to say the least.

Dimly she registered someone calling her name, but she couldn't focus on much past the three men in the doorway, the man in the middle particularly. Mack swallowed hard, and summoned up as much false bravado as possible, but couldn't stop herself from exclaiming a particularly heated, "Well, fuck me sideways."

Harvey gave Mack a hard look. He wasn't really used to being ignored, especially when he was in the middle of a conversation with said person. He was about to reach across the table and grab the hand she had rested on the edge of the wood when he heard her curse. Following her line of sight towards the door he saw the Shultzs boys approaching the bar counter.

Mack sighed, and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Might as well get this over with. Removing her hand from the scratched wood surface, she stepped back from their table, and for the first time years she had to firmly squash the urge to cry out of sheer frustration. Squaring her shoulders, she headed back towards the bar to meet them.

 

88888888888888888888888888

 

 

Harvey watched Mack straightening her shoulders, and saw the smile that had just graced her face turn into nothing more than a grim line. Looking at her resigned expression, he suddenly found himself becoming quickly angry on her behalf.

"Do you want us to throw them out?" Mark turned towards Harvey and absently fingered his glass.

Harvey paused briefly and considered it.

You know if we take care of this personally it's the perfect opportunity to introduce ourselves, and manage to look like the good guys at the same time.

Yes, dumbshit I AM aware. We move in, throw him out, save Mack from some jackass's protection racket, and suddenly were everybody's fucking hero.

I don't want to physically throw them out.

Why the fuck not?

Because starting a fight in her bar wouldn't necessarily endear us to her. It'd just remind her that we bust heads for a living.

We do bust head for a living, you jackass.

Yeah, well that doesn't mean we need to rub her nose in it until after she gets used to us.

Oh, so what... you want me to stroll the fuck on over there and ask him to leave!

No, you're not strolling anywhere, I am. Try and remember that we're the head of a very large crime syndicate. Leon doesn't have the authority to cause us any sort of problems without his uncle's express permission, and it'll be a cold day in hell, before Shultz even thinks about fucking with us to begin with..

Two-Face rolled his eyes. So, you’re gonna pull rank, and then rub his nose in it.

Sounds like fun, huh?

I'd rather kick his goddamn teeth in.

It he actually attempts to cause trouble then yes, you can beat the shit out of him.

Oh... thank you Harvey for you fucking permission. Two-Face snorted and curled his lips up in disgust. What the fuck ever... Just flip for it.

Harvey shook his head. Talking to Two-Face was like talking to a brick wall. He pulled the sliver piece out of their breast pocket, and tossed the infamous coin into the air. He smirked when it came out the way he wanted it to.

Two-Face swore. The minute he gets shitty, I'm taking over this little fucking operation.

Ignoring Two-Face, Harvey looked up and smirked. "Thanks anyway Mark, but we'll take care of it ourselves."

There was a round of knowing smirks, as Harvey climbed to his feet and crossed the short distance from their table to the edge of the bar.

 

88888888888888888888888888

 

Mack grabbed her towel off the corner of the bar, on her way through the small swinging gate. Wiping her palms on it, she took a few steps to her right and began stacking the glasses down below so they would be organized when she went to wash them.

If they want to talk to me they can damn well come down here. It was petty making them come to her, but it made her feel better all the same. Besides, this way she was only a few feet from the swinging door that separated the rest of the bar from the server area. A swinging door, coincidentally, that was only a few steps away from the hallway and thus the backdoor.

Mack looked up as Leon and his cohorts made their way down the bar and leaned against the counter in front of her. Leon looked just as sleazy as before and neither of his friends was any better. They all looked like they should be in some snobby fraternity, but she would guarantee his two friends had the personality of door-to-door salesmen- just like Leon. Unfortunately, since they were here to sell 'insurance' the comparison wasn't as funny as it had been before.

"Jamie, it's nice to see you again." Leon smiled, and she had the sudden urge to make a dent in his oh-so perfect teeth with her 'tiny' fist.

"So glad I could brighten your day," Mack sent him the ultra fake serving smile she reserved for only the most irritating of customers.

"I see you're having a fairly busy night. I imagine it's been a very profitable day for you?"

"Somehow, I get the impression it's been a profitable one for you too."

Leon smiled maliciously, "It sure has, and it's about to become more so. I assume that you've thought it over and made the right decision?"

"Do I have a fucking choice." Mack tried not to sound as angry as she felt, but it was hard to be nice to someone who had you backed into a corner and then proceeded to be smug about it too.

Mack tossed her towel onto the surface below her and turned expectantly towards Leon and his friends, her control over her temper slipping slightly. "Well, are you gonna explain this shit or what? I don't have all day you know, and I'd like to get this over with."

"You sure are an unfriendly broad aren't you?"

"Yeah, well I told you I had enough on my plate to begin with. Did you think I was lying?"

"Ah, yes the mysterious 'group' you mentioned. Do you think I'm fucking stupid," Leon's face grew dark, "If there was another organization affiliated with you, I would've known about it, so cut the shit."

Mack opened her mouth to respond when an all too familiar voice cut her off.

"Is there a reason you kids are bothering my bartender?" Harvey leaned nonchalantly against the edge of the bar, one elbow on the counter top, the other hand in his pocket.

There was a brief silence, and Mack’s stomach flip-flopped...hard. She really didn't want anyone to shoot up her bar, and the tension in then room had just risen considerably.

"Look buddy, this doesn't concern you, so get lost."

Harvey turned towards Leon, hat cocked rakishly to one side, still half standing in the shadows of the bar. He smirked. Hell, might as well hold out for the impressive entrance. Harvey heard Two-Face say something unflattering about his flair for drama, but he didn't care. This was more fun than he'd had in ages; he couldn't wait to see Leon's face when he pulled the rug out from under him.

Harvey replied in an insulting tone, "This is my bar. If I wanted to share it with every asshole in the city, I would have sent you a fucking invitation. Get out." He fingered his coin absently, and tried to ignore Two-Face's insistence that Leon's previous response clearly qualified as 'Leon getting shitty'. Of course the harder he tried to ignore him the louder he talked. It was an incredibly disconcerting feeling to have your own education used against you, and Two-Face would not shut up about Harvey's 'breach of contract'.

Mack looked nervously between the two of them, but had to hide a smile. She couldn't decide if Leon was pissed or just flustered, but damn his face was getting red. Either way it was funny. Well... as long as her mob boss could back up all the shit he was talking. Mack paused, since when is he my mob boss? She sighed, the devil you know or the devil you don't.

"I don’t need permission from some two bit hood playing at being a gangster. You obviously don’t know you’re fucking with.” Leon chin came up slightly and he scowled at the unknown man.

Two-bit hood! Who does he think he fucking is?

I think he’s a fucking dead man.

Harvey smirk faded into a sneer as Two-Face shoved 'wussy boy' firmly out of the way. Stepping past the swinging door he stopped a foot or so from Mack and flicked the hat up with one forefinger, just enough to be recognized.

If Mack hadn't been so busy trying to remember how to breathe, she might have found the way Leon's face went completely white, kind of funny.

Two-Face snarled, "I think the question, junior, is do you know who you’re fucking with?"

Mack was doing her best to keep it together. Half of her wanted to have a nervous breakdown and the other half wanted to laugh hysterically in Leon's face. She had a majorly insane criminal in her bar! And she was rooting for him! She shrugged internally. At least she didn't have to worry about him being able to back up his big mouth.

Mack shook her head slightly to try and clear her thoughts. She'd sort this crap out later. Right now she had more important things to worry about. Mack turned her attention back to Leon just in time to see him spin around and gestured wildly at her.

"You didn't tell me he was the one drinking here." Leon had recovered slightly from the shock, and was now attempting to salvage something out of this situation. The fact that it was already too late for him to not look like an ass hadn't occurred to him yet. The two guys he had brought with him had backed up slightly and were staring between Two-Face and their boss, not really sure what to do.

Leon pulled himself up to his full height and gave her a demeaning look. A broad he could handle. After all, the bitch should have told him Two-Face drank here. Fucking women... He gave her an expectant look as if waiting for an explanation.

It looks could kill, Leon would now be six feet under, "Don't look at me Shultz, I thought all you big time bosses organized this shit so nobody's toes got stepped on."

Behind her Mack heard Two-Face let out a malicious chuckle that raised the hair on the back of her neck. He stepped up behind her and placed one hand firmly in the small of her back. The only indication she had that he even noticed her gun was when his hand paused briefly over it and then moved down to rest on one side of her hip instead. She could feel his chest rumble when he spoke and she wondered briefly if his voice had always been that raspy.

"Well, that's the problem, Mack. Leon would have to be big time, and he's not." Two-Face looked across the counter at Leon's red face and snarled, "The door is behind you Schultz, why don’t you find it, before I lose my fucking temper and help you find it."

For just a second Leon's hand twitched towards the inside of his suit. Mack was positive it was where he kept his gun, and she couldn't stop herself from trying to step backwards. Two-Face, however, was standing almost flush against her, and the inch or so she could move backwards only served in bringing her into closer contact with his chest. His hand tightened slightly on her hips and she felt a low rumble in his chest that she suspected was the beginnings of a growl. She had no idea what Leon saw in Two-Face's expression, but Leon suddenly dropped his hand back down to his side and stepped away from the bar.  

"I'm sure my uncle will want to talk to you about this." Leon nodded sharply at his two companions and they headed for the door.

“If you had any fucking authority at all you wouldn’t need to run to your fucking uncle.” Two-Face's low voice carried across the room and Leon paused slightly.

Mack swallowed convulsively. Two-Face was deliberately goading the poor bastard. Is he looking for a fight!

Leon half turned as if to respond, but apparently thought better of it, as he continued out through the front door without saying a word.

 

88888888888888888888888888888

 

Mack took a deep shuddering breath and tried to decide what she should do next. Unfortunately, she couldn't have formed a coherent thought at the moment if her life depended on it. What she really wanted was a drink, just one swig of alcohol to help with the shock- and not just the whole, 'my regular mob boss is actually an insane psychopath thing', but the whole she-bang. Threats, almost shoot-outs, people's bars being destroyed... really, there was almost so much a girl could take. Hell, who was she kidding, she was in desperate need of a little Dutch courage. Two-Face apparently was psychic.           

One arm on either side of her, he grabbed a clean glass with one hand and a bottle of Jack in the other. Seconds later, he was placing a Jack and Coke in her hand. A hand, which he noted, was shaking slightly.

"Thanks," her voice was a little breathy.

"You’re welcome."

"Well, actually I meant the whole," she floundered briefly.

"Chasing that worthless fucker out of your bar?"

"Uh... yeah."

"You’re welcome."

"So what do you want?"

"For you to drink that."

She huffed at his evasion of her question. "I have tables to wait on."

"They all left Mack. You ran them off." Two-Face smirked when she whirled around and fixed him with a disgruntled expression.

"I ran them off! I don't recall having anything to do with this little," Mack waved one hand wildly, "...operation."

He looked down at her upturned face, and just stood there looking amused as she started to realize that she was toe to toe with a very dangerous, very large, wanted man. She looked surreptitiously to either side and made some show of gauging the distance between herself and the exit.

He quirked an eyebrow, “Mack, you wouldn't make it five steps before I hauled you back. But hey," he shrugged, and continued tongue-in-cheek, "feel free to try. I could use a good laugh."

He gave her a stern look. "Of course, if you had told me who was bothering you I could have had this taken care of beforehand."        

"Well, if you had told me why you were so willing to help me, which incidentally I'm still interested to know, then I might have divulged that particular information. Besides," she sniffed disdainfully, "you weren't even willing to introduce yourself."

"Mack, you would have run screaming in the opposite direction."

She furrowed her eyebrows in indignation, "What a thing to suggest! I do not run!"

"Ha... Ha... Next time I want to know something I'll just beat it out of you," he muttered.

"It wouldn't have done you any good. They didn't approach me until yesterday."

"Did you really tell them you had 'company'?"

"Yes, but he didn't believe me. Hell, I don't believe this!"

Two-Face glanced at her hands to see if they were still shaking, and found the untouched glass of whiskey still in her hand. He tossed his hands up in exsasperation. "Woman, would you drink that already! I didn't make it for my own amusement you know."

Mack looked down at her glass, and sniffed it. He snorted, "I didn't poison it, though I'm starting to wish I had."

"Your beside manner needs a little work. Besides, I hate whiskey. You drink it."

"Mack," Two-face clenched his teeth and tried to keep his cool, "What do you drink."

She heard the irritation in her voice and pointed to the Jose. "I like snakebites."

He set up, she slammed it back and promptly demanded a coke. "I was impressed until you needed the chaser Mack."

"Well, not everyone can be as tough as you hoodlums."

Two-Face sounded affronted, "I am not a hoodlum, Mack. I am a crime boss. A very large one."

"I beg for forgiveness, ye man of the prodigious title." Mack rolled her eyes and surveyed her bar. Yep, everyone had left except Carl, who probably didn't even know what happened, and Andy and Ty, who were to nosy to leave.

He leaned to one side and looked down at her, "Do you even know what that means?"

"Yes. Do I need to define it for you? I wouldn't want the man with the Harvard education to not be able to keep up with me. Perhaps I should keep my vocabulary under three syllables." Mack couldn't help it, she grinned.

"Of course I know what it means! He snorted, "you know for a woman eight inches shorter than me, seventy pounds lighter, and currently has no place to run... you sure are a mouthy broad."

"And they say I don't like to live dangerously."

"And they say I don't have any tolerance."

Mack swallowed, and tried to squash the sense of panic in her stomach. All jokes aside, she was really a little uncertain what was going on here. The Jose had settled in the pit of her stomach and she was disappointed to realize that Dutch courage was overrated.

She looked off to one side; her voice slightly strained, "Look, I'm not sure exactly what you want from me."

Mack had been around men most of her life and she had talked to some incredibly arrogant, egotistical men in her time, but the way his almost seemed to purr had her snapping her head back around to look at him. Her eyes widened slightly at the predatory look on his face; like a kid who had just acquired a new toy. Mack swallowed and for the first time she saw the real Two-Face hidden behind all the friendly bickering. It hit her like a ton of bricks between the eyes and she heard the other shoe drop as she realized exactly who she was dealing with.

His voice was dark and raspy, and his response made the hair on the back of her neck stand straight up. "I thought you'd never ask." His mouth curved into a wicked smile, and he crooked one finger at her.

Mack stared at him blankly for a few long seconds, and then her feet seemed to move seemingly of their own accord across the floor towards him. He stepped in behind her and ushered her out from behind the bar and down the hallway.

"Umm... where exactly are we going?" Mack tried to make her voice as even as possible but she was sure he heard the slight note of panic in it.

"Relax Mack." His reply was soft and might have been comforting if it weren't for the slight hint of villainy in it. "If I really wanted to do you in, I would have done in weeks ago."

"Well... how reassuring." She muttered. It most likely sounded churlish, but she couldn't help it, and honestly... she didn't give a shit.

He ignored her and within seconds she found herself standing just inside her recently overhauled back room. Mack was officially confused.

Two-Face entered the room behind her and proceeded to use the royal 'we' they used only when discussing possessions and business, "We have a proposition for you Mack."

She turned around to face him, taking the time to really look at him. If you could get past the whole 'half his face was scarred' thing, there was no denying he had a nice body. The incredibly well tailored black and white suit didn't exactly hurt him either. Mack favored him with a wary look and he smirked. It was a definite improvement from the wicked look he had sent her way earlier. Of course now that she knew he was really much more depraved than he let on, it was a little hard to still treat him like the man she had been joking around with for the last month or so.

"What kind of a proposition."

He gave her a slow once over and grinned, "Not that kind of a proposition Mack." He walked further into the room and lit up a cigarette. "Look Mack, we've been coming here for what... four or five weeks? Your bar is perfect for someone like us. As I'm sure you've noticed, we're fairly easy to pick out a crowd."

He smiled self-deprecatingly, and continued. "There are very few places we can frequent and not be either," he stuck out one hand and ticked each finger off, "chased by the cops, hounded by wannabe criminals, bothered by our fellow rogues, or generally be annoyed with the stupidity of your average blue-collared jackass. If I have to listen to Harvey bitch one more time about the lack of decent conversation at the Iceberg I'm going to kill someone."

"So you want somewhere to drink and not be bothered?"

"Exactly." He stood there looking immensely pleased with himself.

"You had that before all this happened though. Why did you bother to interfere to begin with?"

"Mack, we don't really enjoy wearing an overcoat and a hat everywhere we go. We want to be able to lounge around and not be stared at by every fuck head who walks by."

She gave him a long hard look, trying to figure out if there was some sort of ulterior motive. Mack rubbed her jaw and looked around. There wasn't anyway he could sit out front and not be noticed. If he wanted anonymity he would have to be out of the public eye. She blinked and then let out a long-suffering sort of sigh.

Rubbing the bridge of her nose she looked over at him with a resigned expression. "You want my back room, don't you?"

"Want it? Mack we've already measured the room and ordered the furniture."

"You had this planned all along!" She waved an accusing hand at him.

"Of course we did. We're going to be around a lot Mack. We suggest you get used to it."

Two-Face inhaled a lung full of cigarette and ignored Harvey's commentary about his 'lack of subtlety'. "Look Mack, we’ve been drinking here for a while, and have we ever caused you any sort of problem?"

Mack crossed her arms and huffed, "No."

"In fact, you just gained our protection at no cost. Which is more than you could've said for Shultz." Two-Face snorted, "Besides, our protection is worth more than his anyway."

"I thought Shultz was supposed to be some big shot mafia guy?"

"He is."

"Then how is it your threat will keep me safer than his will?"

He lifted one eyebrow and grinned maniacally. "The fact that we're crazy tends to scare people."

She started and he shrugged, "We'll keep people from fucking with you and your bar, and you look the other way when we bring other crooks around to play poker and shoot the shit."

"While we’re on the subject of, 'rules' so to speak, I have a few requests of my own." He leaned one shoulder against the wall and stared at her. It was unnerving, but at least she had his undivided attention.

"You have a reputation for, " Mack stopped and tried to find a word that wouldn't offend him, "for brutality." She glanced at him, but his face remained blank. "I would like your word that you won't... take your frustrations out on me."

Mack paused and he waved one hand at her, "You said you had a few requests. We're assuming you have more than one."

She nodded, "I don't necessarily mind whatever mob boss you bring, but you have a few more colorful associates that I might find a little harder to adjust to. If you absolutely have to bring one of them by, fine. But only one at a time, please. My nerves can only take so much. In fact, advance warning would be really nice."

Mack looked over at him to make sure she still had his full attention. "There is only one thing, under no circumstances whatsoever, I will not allow."

She narrowed her eyes and returned his stare with a harsh stare one of her own. "Absolutely, one hundred percent, no way in hell, that I'd had better see even an inch of purple... not one inch... not once speck! Nothing! I'd better not even hear even a hint of maniacal laughter or you can damn well serve yourself!"

Two-Face felt the corner of their mouth start to twitch upward. He watched her place her hands on her hips, and he could almost imagine her with a wooden spoon in one hand threaten to whack people who tried to steal food before dinner. The imagery of Mack in a frilly apron and a wooden spoon was more than he could take. He tossed their head back and laughed.

"Why do you always laugh at me when I'm angry damnit!"

He crossed the floor and walked over to where she stood. He smirked, "Mack, I imagine the schmucks you regularly wait on find you incredibly threatening."

"Oh, first you laugh and now you're mocking me! Well this is just dandy. I'm serious damnit!"

"Of course you are Mack."

"Don't patronize me either!"

"Mack, we deal with lunatics and psychopaths on a regular basis. All of which have a death toll of at least several hundred. You are a short, sane female who runs a bar."

"If you were angry with me over something and I laughed at you, what would you do?"

Two-face reached up and tucked a loose piece of hair behind her ear, "We'd knock you into next week. But then we're scarier than you are, so it's a little different."

She threw her hands up in defeat, "Never mind. Just tell me whether or not you're willing to hold up your end of the bargain."

"You have my word that if we can't beat you up, we won't let anyone else smack you around either. And no, we will not bring Jack with us to your bar. If we do bring one of our fellow rouges with us, we'll try to let you know beforehand, but we're not making any promises on whether or not we'll remember. You; however, need to promise us that you'll do your best not to make us angry."

"Why would I go out of my way to piss you off?"

"Mack, you're one of the mouthiest skirts we've ever met. We cut you slack, because most of the time we think it's funny. Especially," he smirked, "when we succeed in provoking you and you get all riled up."

His smirk turned into a grim line and his tone sobered, "But if we tell you to drop it, then do it. If we're having a conversation and we start to look annoyed and walk off... I suggest you let it the fuck go, cause' if you don't, and you actually piss us off, we can't guarantee we won't knock the shit out of you."

Mack pursed her lips and shifted her weight to the other foot. "That's not much of a guarantee."

"It's more than we give anyone else, so I suggest you take it."

"What about the other guy?"

Two-Face looked surprised, "You mean Harvey."

"Yeah, will he promise the same? To let me know when I'm pushing the wrong buttons?"

"Mack," he said wryly, "If you actually manage to piss Harvey off, then he'll be the least of your worries, but yes he'll follow the rules. The next time you see him you should thank him. It was his idea. I would have let you take your chances." She blinked as the corners of his mouth pulled up to form that wicked smile she had seen earlier.

"Ummm, speaking of Harvey and what-not. I don't suppose you go by some other name, do you?"

He blinked and raised one brow, "No, Mack I don't."

She swallowed convulsively, "Well, it's gonna be a little conspicuous if someone overhears me addressing you by your 'working' name."

"So don't let them over hear you."

"Look, I'm not trying to be insulting..."

She trailed off and he took the opportunity to add a comment of his own. "Which is a good indication that you’re going to be anyway."

She sighed, "It's just that calling you that is so... so..." she groped blindly for the right word, almost wishing she hadn't opened her mouth in the first place, "it's just rude!"

He blinked and looked at her incredulously. "You're worried about offending me?"

"Well... maybe."

"Mack, what's your real name?"

"Mackenzie."

"Your first name Mack."

"I don't like my first name, but since I'm sure you'll insist... it's Jamie."

He made a disgusted sort of face, "What in the hell was your mother thinking!"

"Gee thanks..." she muttered. "Look, it's just gonna be hard treating you like the same old bar patron I normally talk to when I have to go around calling you Two-Face. Hell, I might as well just refer to you as- the scourge of the law enforcement and caped crusader community- at least it'd be more entertaining!"

"Well... whatever makes you happy... Jamie." He smirked and turned to walk away.

Mack narrowed her eyes at his retreating back. If he thought this conversation was over, then his cheese had done slid off his cracker.

"You know if you start calling me Jamie, I'm going to be forced to make up a nick name for you myself. I'm thinking you look like a Earl."

He half turned and fixed her with an icy glare. "Earl... Mack? Is that really the best you could do?"

"Sorry, I'm not really all that creative," she shrugged and grinned impishly.

"You just christened me 'the scourge of the law enforcement and caped crusader community'!"

"Admit it! You took it as a compliment."

"Yeah well, the Earl remark wasn't."

"So good of you to notice."   

Two-Face gritted his teeth as he heard Harvey start to laugh, "Look wench, you are not going to start referring to me as whatever randomly insulting nickname you just happen to think of. If you insist on being a pain in my ass, which you obviously do, I'll attempt to find something else that won't make me cringe every time I hear it!" Mumbling incoherently to himself, he stalked out of the room, waving his hands, presumably headed back to his seat.

Mack stood there for a long minute attempting to figure out what she had just agreed to. Sighing, she decided to sort it out later, and headed back to the bar to get the man some more alcohol before he became too agitated.

 

88888888888888888888888888

 

Carl, Andy, and Ty had left sometime during absence and she looked around at all the dirty tables and sighed. She'd be here forever cleaning up. Looking down at her watch, she was pleased to note it was only thirty minutes until close.

Hallelujah...

Approaching the corner table, she suddenly felt slightly self-conscious. This felt completely different. It was almost as if the though the entire previous month or so had never happened. Sure she hadn't known who he was but they had built up a very good rapport. Now it felt like she didn't know him at all.           

She snorted, Or them I should say. Of course this would explain the massive personality shifts from day to day.

Two-Face was slumped down in his usual chair looking disgruntled. "Hmmph. It's about time." He snorted and downed half the glass in one swig.

Mack kept her mouth firmly closed, and bit back a retort. Completely ignoring his churlish behavior, she looked around the table, making sure she avoided eye contact with Two-Face. If he was going to be unpleasant, then she would just pretend he wasn't there.

“Can I get you boys another round?"

"Another round would be good, Mack," Mark nodded at her and watched her walk away. Mark turned to his boss. “I take it everything went fairly well?”

“Well she didn't run screaming from the room in complete and utter terror if that's what you fucking mean.” He made a hmmph noise. “Sure is a fucking demanding broad though.”

He forced his voice into a high pitched whiny voice. “Don't bring your crazy friends over, don't hit me, make up a new name for yourself...” He trailed off and then snorted. “Fucking women.” Two-Face slumped farther into his chair muttered something unintelligible. The four guys exchanged confused looks.

“Um boss? What do you mean she wants you to make up a new name?”

Two-Face waved one hand wildly, “Did I stutter? I mean the wench wants to call me something else. She actually said she'd think up a nickname for me herself if I wouldn't do it. She went so far as threatening to call me Earl!

Kevin sent Brian a warning look as he saw his cousin's mouth start to twitch up. Mark shot his own dirty look at the Brodericks and turned back to Two-Face. “Which friends does she prefer that you not bring in?”

“I can't bring more than one member of the rogue gallery with me at a time, and she actually wants to know before hand. Like I need to ask fucking permission.” He smirked slightly as he remembered something. “She also has a strictly 'no purple rule'.”

When he saw his employees confused looks he clarified, “Absolutely no Jack. I though she was gonna burst a blood vessel when she started in on that fucking one.”

Two-Face launched into a convincing imitation of Mack and her little rant. They all burst into a round of laughter that stopped suddenly when she approached their table.

OH. That was slick. Gee, they all suddenly stop laughing when I walk up. They wouldn't happen to be laughing at me would they? Mack rolled her eyes and passed out their drinks.

“What's so funny, boys?” She put a slight emphasis on the last word and raised an eyebrow at their boss.

Two-Face looked nonplussed. “Oh I was just reciting to the boys here what we could and could not do here at your fine establishment.”

“Let me guess. You were mocking my 'no purple' rant.”

At the mention of 'no purple' Brian collapsed into a fit of laughter again. She let a long-suffering sigh and muttered, “I must have done something really bad in another life to deserve this.”

Two-Face looked at his watch and then swore. Finishing off his drinks in quick secession, he turned towards his cohorts. "Boys, settle up the tab. We need to take care of something."

Mack looked around and felt distinctly uncomfortable. They'd never said anything around her that ever sounded remotely business related before, and she didn't really want them to start.

"Um, can I talk to you briefly before you run off?"

He looked up at her and blinked. "Spill it. I don't have all day."

"I'm not saying you ever would, but I really don't want to know anything about what you guys do in your spare time. You know… the not so legal stuff."

"Well Mack I had planned on taking you along on a heist with us next Sunday, but if you don't want to go..."

She rolled her eyes, "Ha... ha... I'm serious. No business inside the bar... please."

Two-Face pushed back his chair and climbed to his feet. Tossing his coat over one arm he stepped towards her. "Mack I have no intention of putting you in a position where you would be aiding, or abetting, or could be considered any sort of an accomplice." He grinned, "The prison time for harboring a felon is enough all by itself."

"That's not funny," she hissed.

"I had assumed that you knew those things were a given. After all, the fewer people involved, the less chance I have of getting caught. Since you brought it up; however, I'm assuming you know what'll I'll do to you, if you rat me out to the feds or the bat, right?"

She swallowed convulsively. Nothing like standing right next to a guy who was threatening you to get the blood pumping. "Ummm, yeah... I sort of assumed as much. You know... bad things and all that."

"Mack, stop looking so nervous. It's just my out clause."

"What's mine then?"

He placed his hat on his head and headed for the door. "Mark will be here tomorrow around one to drop off my stuff. I don’t give a shit how you arrange it, but make sure the tv isn’t the first thing you see when you walk by. I don’t wanna have to bother hunting some ass clown down, just cause he tries to steal my shit."

"Hey!" she crossed the floor in an effort to catch him before he left, "you didn't answer my question."

"Didn't anyone tell you Mack?" He looked over his shoulder at her and gave her a evil look, "The only way outta the mob is in a pine box." His malicious chuckle echoed through the bar until the door swung shut behind him.

Mack stood there staring at the door long after they had left, wondering briefly, if this was how Faust had felt.

 

Chapter Text

 000000000000000000

 Psychotic insight, a stage in the development of a psychosis that follows an initial experience of confusion, bizarreness, and apprehension.  At this point, an insight is reached that enables the patient to interpret the external world in terms of a delusional system of thinking.  With the new sight, the factors that had previously been confusing become a part of the systematized pattern of the delusion, which, although irrational to the observer, is perceived by the patient as the attainment of exceptionally lucid thinking.           

                    Mosby's Medical, Nursing, and Allied Health Dictionary (sixth edition).

 000000000000000000

 

            Mack sat at her desk and stared blankly at the time-worn wall in front of her.  It was almost four thirty, but she couldn't find the energy to stumble out to her car.  The bar had been cleaned up for the last half hour, but she was desperately trying to organize her thoughts.  The only thing that kept circling through her head, however, was the image of Two-Face stepping out of the shadows, hat cocked rakishly to one side, and a malevolent look on his face.  

            Sitting back and thinking about it now, she wasn't all that surprised.  After all, any man who had to hide his identity had to be: A) wanted by the police and B) incredibly nefarious.  Those facts alone knocked out just about everyone but the so-called super villains.

            If you threw in that little detail about Harvard, and the fact that sometimes it really did feel like she was speaking to two entirely different people, she really should have seen it coming.

            Of course, hindsight was always like that.  Just consider some of the losers she'd dated in the past.                  

            Looking back, it was all too easy to pick out all the little things that he had been doing to further his little campaign.  Always joking with her, trying to put her at ease, the questions and concern about someone bothering her, and especially the large sums of cash he left for tips every night.  Not that she was complaining, but it was obvious he was showing her exactly how beneficial a 'business' arrangement with him would be.

            Unfortunately it had worked.  It was a convenient arrangement for the both of them.  He got his 'peace and quiet' and she didn't have to worry about being bothered by any other crime organization but his.

            It was the last part that had her slightly worried.  Sure he had agreed, without much hesitation, if you overlooked the whole 'name' thing, to all her requests.  Still, he was a criminal, and an insane one at that.  Could she really trust him to keep his word?

            Perhaps it was because she really didn't want to have deal with that sleazy bastard Leon again, but she was wanted to believe he'd uphold his end up the bargain.  After all, he had even made a few suggestions to help her keep from aggravating him.  It might only have been an addition from his 'nicer' side, but she'd take what she could get.  She definitely didn't want to be on the receiving end of his temper, or more importantly, a fist three times the size of her own.

            All that aside, given her previous rapport with him she was finding it easier than itshould have been to accept this little transition.  And that was what had her worried.  If he did double-cross her, or what the hell ever catch phrase popular society was currently using, she wouldn't have any reason to be surprised.  He was a dangerous, psychotic, sociopath who talked to himself.  If she made the mistake of trusting him and she was wrong, it was her own bloody fault.  She was taking a major leap of faith and feeling distinctly afraid of heights.

 

00000000000000000000

 

            It was early Saturday morning and the smell of bacon and scrambled eggs was rampant through the lower levels of the house.  Two-Face had to admit that it smelled damn good.  Padding into the kitchen in the preferred plaid pants and a t-shirt that said, "The beatings will continue until morale improves," he pulled a wooden chair up to the kitchen table.  His men were all scattered about the kitchen in various states of undress similar to his own.  Kevin and Brian were in their regular chairs, offering suggestions to John and Mark- who were the evening chefs.  Due to an ugly incident involving Kevin, Brian, a bowl of muffin mix, and a very perturbed Harvey, John and Mark were now the only ones who were allowed to cook.

            They were also, Two-Face mused, the only ones who could cook for shit to begin with, so it hadn't really been much of a loss.

            "Brian, I swear to fucking god, that if you don't shut up I'm going to rip out your larynx.  You do not put butter in scrambled eggs!  If I wanted to eat a giant grease ball I'd go to McDonald's."  Mark half turned away from the stove and snarled at the blonde man across the room.

            Brian didn't look the least bit worried.  Turning to his cousin, he mused, "You know McDonald's does have those really good hash browns."

            "Hey! If you want to cook instead of sitting on your fat ass, then be my guest!"

            Kevin, John, and Two-Face all yelled a startled, "NO!"

            Brian gave Mark an indignant look, "My butt is not fat!"

            Mark muttered something unintelligible, though Two-Face was sure he heard something about Brian's mouth and a loaded staple gun.

            John gave Mark a sideways look and murmured, "You know if his ass was as big as his mouth, he wouldn't be able to fit through the bloody door."

            Mark laughed and the two of them threw Brian a conspiring look.

            "I saw that.  You better not be spitting in my food!"

            Kevin thumped his cousin on the back of the head.  "Why in the hell would they spit in the food?  They have to eat it too!"

            "Yeah, well some people just can't be trusted," Brian assumed an innocent sort of look.  There was a small pause and everyone turned to look at Brian in disbelief.  His face broke out into an evil grin, and his voice dropped took on a sinister sound.  "Like myself, for example."  The five men shared a knowing laugh; overtones of depravity echoing eerily off the walls. 

            Brian managed to collect himself long enough to stand up and grab a stack of plates and utensils.  Once the flatware was in place, Mark and John brought over a huge stack of bacon and eggs. 

            "Did you guys put the coffee on?" Two-Face looked up from his loaded plate.

            Mark nodded, and since his mouth was currently stuffed full of food, he waved towards the bar counter.

            Two-Face grunted and grabbed a mug from the cabinet.  "It's decaf right?"

            Silence.

            He sighed, "Mark, while I'm positive that you do have rocks in your head, I can't hear you fucking nod."

            There was a muffled, "Sorry," and then a more clear, "Yes, boss, it's decaf."

            Sitting back down with his mug of coffee, black of course, he gave the table a quick once over.  "Where the fuck is the Tabasco?  How can I eat eggs without fucking Tabasco sauce?"

            John made a repulsed face, but went to the fridge and pulled out the requested condiment.  "Hey," Brian yelled out across the table.  "Grab the butter while you're up."

            "That is just fucking sick."  Mark muttered to himself as John came back to the table with a tub of margarine.  "When you drop dead from a heart attack, don't be looking at me to give your ass CPR."

            "Fuck, if I drop dead I'd hope you wouldn't be dumb enough to try CPR."  Brian grinned and finished clearing his plate.

            "Look smart a…"

            Two-Face cut them off with a wave of his hand, "As fascinating as this conversation is, I've had a relatively good evening so shut up before yougive me a fucking headache."

            Mark glowered at Brain from across the table but complied with his boss's wishes and breakfast continued in relative peace and quiet.  After the dishes were cleared from the table and refills had been made to everyone's coffee cups, they settled in for the usual meeting that always followed breakfast.  It probably had a lot to do with Mark's military background, but he was a stickler for accountability, organization, and teamwork- none of which could be accomplished if you didn't coordinate.

            Mark gave the boss a sidelong glance.  Normally Two-Face avoided these little 'meetings' like the plague.  He said it was unnatural for a group of fucking crooks to decide shit in a fucking committee- no matter how well it worked.  Apparently he was making an exception this morning.

            "I've decided to change the plans for Wednesday's heist.  It just came to my attention that Bats has finally managed to throw Jack's ass back in the slam.  Naturally the fucking rodent is gonna be looking for some other schmuck to bother, and as much fun as it would be to show old Bats a good time, we've decided to pass.  The bank we were casing is still a good prospect, but we've decided to use it as a decoy instead.  The waterfront area across town plays host to plenty of nice casinos to rob."

            "There will be more resistance at a casino, especially at night."  Kevin rubbed his chin, trying to remember what he knew about the security systems casinos generally used.  "Nothing we can't handle, but the necessary firepower would send up a red flag, so to speak.  Given the choice, Bats will probably check out the casino disturbance first."

            "Good thing I wasn't planning on giving him a choice."  Two-Face inhaled a lungful of cigarette smoke.  "The bank is question is relatively lax in the security department, compared to some of the others in this town.  They do enough business to have a healthy supply of cash inside, but not enough to afford a high-powered security system.  That's why we cased it."

            He turned towards Mark, "Send out a group of guys to place slabs of C4 around the building before hand.  Later on that night, have them make some big show of robbing the place.  Don't bother taking anything, I don't want the fuckers being so distracted that they forget what they're really there for.  The important thing is to wait until the authorities are on their way.  Then they duck out the back and blow the place.  If they time it right, Bats will arrive just in time to help the 'poor civilians' to safety.  It should keep him busy long enough for us to get in and get out."

            "There's always the possibility that our guys will get caught and not be able to blow the place.  Then Batman will head our direction.  Do you want us to set up backup charges in case the first team can't cause the necessary distraction?"  Brian turned to his boss, all hint of his normal exuberance gone.

            Two-Face leaned back in his chair and considered the suggestion.  "The casino is a solid thirty minutes across town, even if the first team couldn't finish the job; it's unlikely Bats could get across town quick enough to hinder us.  Still, if he thinks the police have the situation under control, he won't even swing by the bank in the first place."

            He scowled and then nodded, "Place the backups, but keep it between us.  Employees tend to lose their loyalty when they think they might be blown up.  Let the bastards think they're in control, but if it looks like they can't come through, blow it anyway.  I don't give a fuck who's inside."

            Brian nodded and began compiling a mental list of equipment he'd need. 

            "How low-key do you want to play this boss?  We could take out the security cameras, but the people inside would still identify you to the cops." Kevin drained his mug and crossed the kitchen to grab more coffee.

            "Reminding the fuckers I'm still 'at large' isn't the same as finding me.  We haven't been to the Iceberg in close to a month, except for the occasional dinner, and nobody knows about Mack's place but us and whoever Shultz tells.  Considering how fucking stupid he'd look if he actually admitted to be run out of anywhere, I don't think he's gonna talk." 

            Two-Face held out his mug expectantly towards Kevin, who decided it was in his best interest to warm up the boss's coffee.  "We'll do the casino, blow up the bank, and then spend the next couple weeks laying low at Mack's." He snorted, "Hell, by then Jack will break out again and they'll go back to forgetting about us.  Then we can take advantage of all the diversions he provides."

            Two-Face slung one arm across the back of the chair, "Make sure our stuff gets delivered to Mack's today and then swing by Tater's.  He's opening his own casino/nightclub uptown and he wants a silent partner.  Grab the paperwork so I can look it over."

            I want to eat a real meal for once.  Find out the location of that Italian restaurant Tater's cousin owns.

              Forget it.  I don't feel like be stared at tonight.

            They've got a private dining room for god sake's!

            The fucking wait staff will still be scared shitless.  Normally I'd find that pretty goddamn amusing, but not when someone's hands are shaking so fucking bad that I WEAR my whiskey instead of DRINKING it.

            It's not like we're just gonna waltz in.  Have someone call the damn restaurant and reserve the room.  As long as they know ahead of time who's showing up, the staff won't give a shit.  They're all probably related to Tater to begin with.

              Forget it you wimp, I'm not fucking in the mood.

             Do what you want tough guy, but don't come bitching to me when I make Brian cook dinner and then force myself to eat it.  It'll hurt you just as much as it hurts me, but I'll do it!

            The four guys waited expectantly for their boss to finish talking to himself.  It was fairly common, but the way he suddenly blanched had them all a little curious.  Their boss snapped his head around to stare at Brian in horror.

             You wouldn't fucking dare!

            Let's see... I think I'll ask him to make burgers.  It's a shame he never gets them done in the middle, but you like your food raw anyway.  What’s a little salmonella poisoning between friends, right?

            I'm gonna get you for this Harvey.

            You'll be thanking me when we're eating a large plate of chicken primavera.

            Two-Face fixed Brian with a steely gaze, one hand waving wildly.  "I have to be subjected to some worthless fucking waiter at some worthless fucking restaurant tonight, and it's your fault."

            "Umm... I didn't do anything."  Brian sat back in his chair, and was suddenly glad he was on the other side of the table.

            "Bullshit!  Why can't you learn how to cook a fucking hamburger?!"  He swiveled his head towards Mark and John. "Teach this sorry bastard how to fix some fucking pasta, or something.  Christ, I can't believe I was fucking blackmailed with a half-done piece of beef." 

            He snarled at Mark, "Find out what restaurant Tater's cousin owns, and reserve a room for us."

            Waving one hand irritably, he stood up and stormed out of the kitchen all the while rambling on about raw hamburger, and Harvey's lack of fucking respect.  Mark quirked an eyebrow but kept his mouth firmly shut as he followed his boss out of the room.

            "Umm…what just happened?"  Brian eyes were a little wild as he looked at his friends.

            "Fucking beats me, but you'd better buy a fucking cookbook or something, 'cause I don't think he was joking," John smiled into his coffee cup.

 

00000000000000000000

 

            Mark caught up with his Two-Face, just as he stepped onto the upstairs landing.  Two-Face turned to his left and headed down the hallway towards his quarters, Mark hot on his heels.  Two-Face looked at the blonde man out of the corner of his eye and sighed irritably.

             Every single night for the last three years, Mark had personal inspected his quarters for some imaginary threat before Two-Face entered them.  It was a habit that he tolerated, but found incredibly annoying, if not a bit redundant.

            Ninety-nine percent of the time Mark was the perfect epitome of calm, collected, and rational.  So, whenever he did display the one percent that led him to perform the occasional exercise in futility, Two-Face tried to look the other way… even if he did think it was fucking stupid. 

            He rolled his eyes and snorted, Yes, I'm sure there's a crazed killer hiding in my shower. 

            Even if there was some nut job lying in wait, you'd just end up talking shop with him…

            Very funny wise-ass.

            So, in the interest of keeping Mark from roaming the halls at night like a lunatic, he allowed him his little quirk.  For whatever reason, the man could not sleep unless he knew the area was secure.  Two-Face couldn't count the number of times he'd personally seen Mark check the exact same door several times before he actually believed it was locked.  Sure, there were a few times he had relied on the guys to double check the perimeter so that he could turn in early, but he knew for a fact that the man still got up at least twice in the middle of the night to make sure the house was still locked down tighter than Fort Knox.

            Two-Face ran one hand through his hair and yawned.  Mark was without a doubt the best employee he'd ever had.  He was dependable, efficient, and incredibly thorough, but any man who was that obsessive and who actually dived for cover when the occasional plane flew overhead, had issues.

            Of course he talked to himself on a regular basis, so who was he to throw stones?

            Stepping to one side of the door, Two-Face leaned one shoulder against the wall.  "Well, go on Mr. Paranoia.  I'll just stand out here and fucking twiddle my thumbs while you make sure I'm the only sociopath with homicidal tendencies around."

            Mark smiled ironically.  "But Boss- you just described every man in the house."  Reaching one hand out he flicked the hallway light off and the upstairs plunged into darkness.

            He waited for his night vision to adjust and then slipped his nine mm out of its holster.  Running his thumb down the familiar surface he flicked off the safety, turned the doorknob, and swung the door inwards.  Stepping quickly out of the way he spun and pressed his back against the wall opposite Two-Face.  After all, standing in the middle of a doorway before you were sure the room was clear, was just asking to get shot.  Wouldn't his drill instructor be proud…

            Ducking down in an attempt to make himself a smaller target, he moved into the room in full stealth mode.  Less than a minute later, he relaxed considerably as he found the room clear of any unauthorized personnel.

            He smiled self-deprecatingly.  His vigilance, he knew, was most likely completely unnecessary.  In the three years he'd worked for the boss, not once had he ever found anyone on the premises that wasn't supposed to be here.  Hell, who in their right mind would attack Two-Face, in the dark, on his own turf,knowing full well he was a murdering sociopath who'd rip out your spleen through your rib cage for fun?

            Not to mention that Mark could count on one hand the number of people who knew this place was out here… and they were all inside the house.  Still, he was responsible for the boss's safety, and he slept better knowing that he had personally checked the room before the boss turned in.  Two-Face, he knew, thought he was being paranoid, and more than likely he was.

            He snorted; Eight years in fucking Middle East will do that to a person.  Hey, he had a prescription for his PTSD- what more did you fucking want?

            He stopped and listened briefly before he opened the bedroom door.  Stepping inside, he crossed the room, making sure he kept away from the moonlight coming through the picture windows.  Systematically searching the room, from closets to bathroom, Mark moved through the darkness, back staying against the walls.  Finding the space unoccupied, he headed back out to the hallway, thumb absently shoving the safety back into place.

            "Room's clear," he nodded curtly to Two-Face, "we'll be downstairs if you need us."

            "Mark, if I need any of you… it'll just be to clean up the blood afterwards." Two-Face's lip curled up in a small snarl, and his eyes glinted mercilessly.  "Try not to let your paranoia make you forget that I am the crazed nut job in this organization."

            Mark smiled, and in a rare moment of camaraderie, "Uh… Harv… you most definitely qualify as the most dangerous person in the house, but I'm afraid Brian gets the title of crazed nut job."

            Two-Face mulled this over, and then smiled wickedly, "Well, I guess I'll just have to kill him.  I have to protect my reputation you know."

            Mark blanched slightly, and put out one had in a placating gesture.  "I was just kidding boss."

            "You sounded pretty fucking serious to me."  He narrowed his eyes.

            "No!  I was just joking.  You are definitely more insane that Brian."

            "Oh… so now I'm insane!  Are you trying to piss me off?"

            "Me!  I was just agreeing with you."

            "I said I was a nut job… not insane."

            "It's the same thing."  Mark's eyes widened slightly. 

            "Don't fucking shout at me!"

            Mark furrowed his brow in confusion. "I'm not."

            "Bullshit!  You just did it again!"

            "I swear I wasn't shouting at you.  I would never shout at you, boss."

            "Are you calling me a liar Mark, 'cause that could have devastating effects on your health."  Two-Face snarled but not before Mark saw the slight twitch at the corner of his mouth… and it wasn't related to the snarl he was now sporting.

            Mark paused and then narrowed his eyes.  When he responded there was an overtone of aggravation in his voice. "You know boss...  I really hate it when you start to act unhinged in the middle of a conversation.  We both know it's impossible to talk to you when you're like this and we both know you're doing it on purpose."

            Two-Face's laugh was slightly demented.  Not bothering to look the least bit apologetic, he sniggered at the other man. "You should have seen your face." 

            Still laughing to himself, he stepped into his office and shut the door firmly behind him.  Mark gritted his teeth and thought several nasty terms at his boss.  He hated it when the man played up the fact that he was certifiably insane.  It was so annoying to be in the middle of a conversation with someone who all of sudden started to make absolutely no sense!  It was bad enough we he really did ramble off without thinking about it, but it was even worse when the sorry bastard did it on purpose!  Hell, he was pretty sure he'd just aged another five years over the last minute.

            Mark was turning about to head back downstairs when Two-Face threw the door open and stuck his head out into the hallway.  "Hey!"  He fixed Mark with a steely gaze, "I was serious about Brian and the cooking thing."  Pulling back, he slammed the door shut behind him for the second time.

            Mark blinked, and then groaned, "He must have gotten tired of beating the shit out of us.  Now he's trying to poison us!"

 

000000000000000000

 

            Mack turned of the television set and looked at her watch.  Eight fifteen - her shoulders slumped and she fought of the urge to sigh.  She should have been in bed hours ago, but when she had arrived home a little after five she couldn't seem to sleep.  She had thought she had her 'little' problem worked out, but she still couldn't seem to let it go.  The local programming station had so kindly supplied her with a showing of The Witches of Eastwick, a movie that had been one of her favorites.  At the time she had been grateful for the distraction.  She was quickly changing her mind, however. 

            Sitting back against the outdated blue loveseat she was, once again, slightly overwhelmed with thoughts of Mr. Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face, aka the current bane of her existence.  What was it about watching a movie where three women duke it out with a humanized version of the devil that had her stymied?

            Well, she mused, it could be the similarity between Two-Face and Jack Nicholson's portrayal of 'old scratch'.  Scary, sinister, incredibly dangerous, persuasive, and oddly attractive... men who have that charismatic thing were so fucking annoying.

            Moving smartly along to the section concerning Harvey's power, wealth, and/or the over abundance of each, she found herself smack dab in the confusing task of deciding whether or not the possible rewards were worth the selling out of her personal integrity.  She paused... of course it wasn't like she had a choice, but that was hardly a consultation prize.

            Mack frowned as she came across the one difference between her predicament and that of the female characters in said movie.  They had the power to get revenge on the bastard when he stepped over the line.  Somehow she didn't think threatening Harvey with a wax doll was gonna do anything but give him a good laugh.  Hell, even she had to chuckle at the image of that one.

            Tossing the remote on the coffee table in front of her she headed towards her bedroom in the back corner of the house.  It didn't take long to pull the heavy drapes shut and to strip off her clothes.  Climbing between the cotton sheets, she closed her eyes and laid in the middle of the bed for a good five minutes before she admitted the inevitable.

            There would be no sleep until some sort of verdict could be reached on how, approximately, she was supposed to feel about all of this.  Mack thought back over the night's events for the second time that evening and was quickly swamped with a thousand different concerns and the feeling she had about each one.

            Irritated that she had to debate this for the second time in the space of a few hours, she pressed her lips into a thin line... perhaps a mental list should be complied.  Then she would be able to focus on the feelings associated with each problem, and be able to address them individually.

            Concern 1: Identity of mob boss reveals person of questionable moral character.  In short - person is a psychotic sociopath with homicidal tendencies.  Feelings - negative.

            Concern 2: Please see concern one.

            Concern 3: Some doubts as to whether or not H. Dent and association would really hold up their end of the bargain.  Feelings - mixed.

            Concern 4: Related to concern 3.  Possibility strong that Two-Face and H.Dent would re-neg on parts of the agreement- primarily the one about not smacking her around.  Feelings - so far past negative as to be in the lower ranges of 'definitely not fucking good.'

            Concern 5: Could she really wait on him day after day after day and actually manage to not make a snide remark about his occasional tendency to talk to himself at seemingly random intervals?  Feelings - mixed.

            Concern 6: Related to concern 5.  On the off chance she couldn't keep her mouth shut, would he shoot her or simply knock her into next week?  Feelings - negative on both counts.

            Concern 7: What sort of riff raff was he planning on bringing into her bar?  Feelings - mixed with a strong leaning towards negative.

            Concern 8: How much jail time would her association with Harvey and his psycho twin get her, should he be found at her bar?  Feelings - mostly assured negative with definite apprehension.

            Concern 9: Related to concern 8: Would he think she had something to do with said entrapment and respond accordingly?  Feelings - negative with the development of a nervous tick.

            Concern 10: Would he suddenly abandon her after a few months and leave her to deal with a more than likely very pissed Leon Shultz?  Feelings - negative.

            Concern 11: What if her involvement with him made her a target to any number of enemies he might have made?    Feelings - somewhere in the vicinity of 'not being able to breath properly.'

            Concern 12: What if she actually learned to like him?  Not in a romanticized way, but merely on the scale of tentative friends?  Feelings - unsure, but not negative.

            Concern 13: What if, god forbid, she became rather attached to him in a slightly 'more than' friends sort of way.  Feelings - complete and utter panic.

            Mack mentally slapped herself.  Now, she was just being silly.  The man was psychotic, and apparently the stress wasn't started to get to her.  Moving smartly along.

            Concern 14: What if she did learn to trust him, and then he did something nefarious anyway?  Feelings - negative.

            Concern 15: What was she supposed to do if he did break his word?  Feelings - negative with connotations of 'completely fucked'.

            Summary: There were severe trust issues on her end of the arrangement, and since she already knew that, the previous ten minutes and the compilation of her list was a complete waste of time.

            Well, fuck.

            She made a mental note to go to church on Sunday.  Hey, she'd take all the help she could get.  Rolling over to one side she made sure the alarm clock was set and then grimaced when she realized she had to meet Mark at the bar at one.  She fought the urge to bang her head against something.  Sleep was quickly becoming a scarce commodity.

            Sprawling back against the covers she closed her eyes and forced herself to decide on a course of action.  She'd simply have to play nice, and play it by ear.  Of course, stopping at Barnes and Nobles in the near future wouldn't be a bad idea.  They had to have some sort of psych book that could be useful- Introduction to your insane criminal 101, perhaps.

            Bottom line: She didn't have a choice.  She had to go along with this newest development.  The trust thing; however, would have to be addressed at a later date. Eventually something would come up and he'd either have to put his money where his mouth was or have to admit to being a lying bastard. 

           

000000000000000000000

 

            Mark wandered back into the kitchen to find the kitchen table cleared, and his co-workers lounging about rifling through various parts of the morning paper.  Pulling back his own chair, he sat down, and greedily gulped down the new cup of coffee that had been provided.

            "Look, I'm tired, so let's just dive right in so I can go to bed, alright."  There were nods from all around and a yawn, which was contributed by John.

            "Look, I'll take care of Mack, and the arrangements with Tater," Mark began, voice serious.  "Kevin, find the blueprints for the casinos on the strip.  There's four or five of them in a row, and with any luck, we might be able to hit more than one of them.  Brian, go find Matt and his guys and brief them on the bank situation.  If they get blown up it's no big loss, hell... I never liked them anyway.  Make sure the charges are set by Tuesday night." 

            He stopped and then added a firm, "Make sure Matt doesn't fuck up the firepower; I want the shit to go off when it's supposed to- not before and not after.  After they leave, set up your charges.  I want you in position and out of sight when Matt moves in.  You heard the boss, if they can't get it done, blow it regardless.  We'll be staying in touch through the standard com-links."

            "John, you're with the boss today."  He looked around at the three men in front of him.  It was odd sometimes, sitting here in the kitchen, talking business to a group of highly effective criminals who were all wearing their pajamas.  Still, it was a good time as any.            

            "We'll revisit this subject on Monday, but until then have a word with your individual factions.  I don't like Schultz and I sure as fuck don't trust him; he's been slowly losing it ever since his kid took a bullet in the back.  This protection racket thing is shit.  There wasn't any reason to move on that area.  Hell, the revenue from it barely counts as pocket change.  I want to know why the fuck that neighborhood is so damn important to him so I can decide how shitty he's gonna get about the boss clipping of a piece of it for himself.  I'll be filling Tater in this afternoon, he ought to know what's going on in his own backyard."      

            "Mark, there's no way that even if he did get pissy about us moving in, that he's actually have the balls to get shitty with the boss about it.  Fuck, Two-Face would rip his goddamn lungs out.  Not to mention he's got Tater to worry about."  John shrugged and made a face.

            "It doesn't matter how unlikely it is, just fucking do it."

            "You've got that look, Mark." Kevin quirked an eyebrow, "The one that says you know something the rest of us don't."           

            Mark stared at the cream colored wall in front of him, and frowned.  Popping his knuckles he debated, briefly, whether or not to divulge his suspicions.  Coming to a decision, he swiveled his head back around to the three men staring at him.  "There is no reason to think Schultz is going to be a problem."

            "But..." John prompted.

            "Two-Face had already cemented himself as a permanent fixture in the criminal underworld when I first started working for Denati, but is was obvious even then that Denati and Schultz only tolerated him because they made a shit-load of money when they worked with him."

             Mark leaned back in his chair, balancing on the back two legs.  "Schultz did almost all his business with Denati, after all, Tater and Solvetti tended to stick together and everyone was very careful to make sure things didn't end up a three against one.  When I annexed from the Denati's and Two-Face took me in, Denati thought it was the perfect opportunity to wipe out what he considered to be a personal threat to himself.  After all, god forbid Two-Face should ever side with Solvetti and Tater."

            Mark stopped to collect his thoughts, and then continued, "Naturally Schultz was more than happy to lend his old pal Denati a hand.  Schultz never openly declared any animosity for Two-Face but over one third of Denati's manpower was a donation from Schultz.  Then the boss surprised everybody by completely wiping out Denati and every single person that Schultz had sent as well, officially earning him the reputation of being one of thescariest sons of a bitch on the east coast..."

            "Schultz was left a little weakened, as a result, and in a last ditch attempt to keep Tater from taking advantage of his situation, he married two of his daughters off to Solvetti's youngest son and one of his first cousins.  Tater, of course, was pissed, but Solvetti had decided that to keep things relatively peaceful the groups in power still needed to be two against two.  We all know Tater and the boss are tight, and if either one of them every wanted to go after Shultz, then Solvetti would have no choice but to take Schultz's side since he married into their family."

            John mulled this over, "So, Shultz disliked Two-Face from the very beginning because it added an unknown into their little equation.  Then Two-Face goes and has his little dispute with the Denati's, resulting in Schultz's current predicament.  If you add in the fact that we just appropriated a chunk of his newest acquisition, seemingly for no apparent reason," John grimaced, "I'd bet he's a little hot under the collar."

            Mark nodded, "Exactly.  People don't also think things all the way through when they're angry and Schultz is starting to slip into his dotage anyway.  If for some reason he gets a wild hair up his ass and actually decides to piss with the boss, Two-Face won't hesitate to pull a Denati on him.  As soon as Two-Face starts blowing shit up, Solvetti is gonna rush to Schultz's rescue.  Tater, of course, is just looking for a reason to get even with Schultz for being a general pain in his ass, and would throw in with us at a moments notice.  We'd end up with a world-class blood bath on our hands."

            "Yeah, but we'd win."  Brian smirked and chuckled maliciously.           

            Mark gave him a threatening look, "That's not the fucking point, Brian.  I don't want a fucking blood bath on my goddamn hands.  Police tend to notice things like that.  My job is to keep the boss alive and out of the joint.  I can't do that if I'm trying to wage a goddamn war for him.  If I fucking wanted to go back to carrying an AK-47 and smearing camouflage all over my face I'd go back to fucking Kuwait!  So get your asses out their and find out whether or not I need to personally assassinate Schultz before this shit hits the mother fucking fan"

            There was a short silence as John, Kevin, and Brian stared at their other boss.  It was true that all three of them were dangerous and violent criminals- especially Brian who was the official enforcer for the organization.  Mark, however, had spent eight years with the Unites States Marine Corps, some of which doing covert ops, and was only slightly less scary than the boss.  Unfortunately it was easy to forget that small detail; normally, it took a lot to really piss him off. 

            In a rare moment of contrition Brian uttered a sincere, "Sorry, boss.  I didn't mean to ah... remind you of your military days."

            There was a stunned silence as Brian broke character for just a second to show a little remorse.  Mark managed to shake off the shock from hearing Brian apology to mutter a gruff, "Uh... don't worry about Broderick, just uh... keep an ear out."

            They all nodded and then Kevin turned to Brian.  "Dude, I think all that butter you dumped on your eggs is making you sick."

            "Hey, I'm not completely debased," Brian shrugged.

            Kevin turned away from his cousin and asked skeptically, "Do you really think we could assassinate the fucker, and manage to make it look like we weren't connected?"

            "If we can have him killed before he openly declares any animosity for us, then yes, we can deny any involvement.  No one would have any reason to think we were involved.  But, if we wait..."

            John nodded in understanding, "Killing him after he pisses the boss off would create the same situation you're trying to avoid because everyone would suspect us and react accordingly."

            Mark nodded and then yawned.  "Exactly.  If the bastard's going to doing something that would piss Two-Face off, I need to know before hand so I can have him removed.  Otherwise, the boss will just rush right in and blow his brains out in front of everybody.  Let me know if you find anything.  I'm going up to bed, so double-check the perimeter before you turn in."

            "Aye, Aye mon capitan!"  They all groaned at Brian's horrendous French accent, though it was rather refreshing to have him back to his normal state.  Brian acting rationally was just unnatural.

            Mark stood up and headed across the cold linoleum floor towards the living room.  Suddenly remembering something, he raised his voice so it would carry back to the table.  "Kevin, do me a favor and pick up a copy of 'Cooking for Dummies', for Brian while you're out today."

            Heading down the hallway towards the stairs, he had to smirk as an indignant; 'Hey!' resonated from the kitchen. 

 

0000000000000000000000

 

            Are you finished sulking yet?

            Two-Face continued flipping through the channels on the TV in his office.  One leg was tossed over the arm of the leather chair, the other rested comfortably on an ugly orange footrest.  He purposely ignored the insistent voice in his head.

            You can't ignore me forever.  Eventually I'll piss you off and you'll forget about not talking to me. 

            Silence.

            Harvey hated it when he got the silent treatment.  Two-Face was a pain in the ass, and he really did hate him, but he was so used to arguing with him that all this silence was starting to get irritating.

            You'd miss me if I was gone, and you'd know it.  How else would you be able to explain away all the horrible shit we do?

            If I wasn't here, how would you explain all those pangs of guilt you feel when ever we hurt some poor unsuspecting fool.

            I don't have pangs of guilt you jackass.

            I don't have any control over the things you do.

            There was a mutual silence as each of them went back to their respective corners.  People liked to believe that Two-Face came out of nowhere.  That he hadn't existed until that courtroom incident several years ago.  As much as he fostered that belief, he couldn't lie to himself.  Two-Face had always been there, nameless and barely controlled. 

            The disfiguration was simply a cataclysm for something that would have happened eventually anyway.  It had been so damn easy turning to a life of crime.  Why the fuck was it so hard to stop?  The doctors at Arkham had spent countless hours trying to make him understand that people controlled their own actions.   They seemed to think that showing him he didn't need to flip a coin to decide if someone lived or died would help him suppress his alter ego.  

            What if they managed to make him into one person again only to realize that he needed his alter ego to keep himself from hurting people?  That without his coin there wouldn't be any reason to not commit crimes?  What if he needed Two-Face simply to have a good side?  What if Two-Face did disappear?  Would he have to admit that deep down he wanted to do those horrible things?

            Harvey, stop moping for Christ sake.  There's no way they're gonna cure your ass without getting rid of me, and I ain't going nowhere.  If you're that fucking worried about turning into a complete psychopath, let me be the first to inform you that you're too much of a fucking pussy to do it. 

            He snorted.  You're still a fucking boy scout, you still fucking irritate me, and much to my disappointment, you're not gonna suddenly turn into a crazed murderer.  Two-Face's mouth curved into a wicked smile.  That's my job.  You're job is to be a pansy, so relax... you're doing great.

            Harvey's voice was practically dripping sarcasm, Thanks... I think.

            No charge...

            There was a short pause as Harvey digested this bit of information.  It was odd sometimes that a much as they hated each other that Two-Face would still pick his ass up and set him back on his feet if he had to.  Of course the original reason his alter ego had been created was to protect Harvey from his abusive father; so it was only naturally that Two-Face would do his best to bail his ass out if he absolutely had to... even if it meant making him feel better on occasion.

            Hey- I can fucking treat you like shit all I fucking want, but that doesn't mean some other son of a bitch can, or that I'm willing to listen to you whine.

            Are we having a moment?

            Fuck you Harvey, Two-Face replied sharply, though it lacked some of the usual heat.

            The two men, feeling decidedly uncomfortable with this temporary show of solidarity, paused, and then Harvey quickly changed the subject to something much less introspective.

            So, did you come up with a nickname yet?  I'd be thrilled to help in any way I can.  He chuckled as he remembered the 'Earl' joke.

            Two-Face growled, NO!  I haven't.  I haven't even decided if I'm going to.  It'd serve the wench right if I ignored her.

            You do realize that friends generally have nicknames for each other don't you?

            Do I look like I'm gonna offer to do her fucking nails?!

            Look, I'm tired, and I want to go to bed so let's just keep this short all right?  She can call me Harvey, and she can call you Harv.  You're always spouting off about Big Bad Harv anyway...  Besides, Jack and Cobblepot call you Harv all the time.  Hell... you even let Mark call you that in private.

            Mark is a special case.  I don't find him COMPLETELY annoying, and Jack and Cobblepot are fucking business associates... He stopped and then growled as he realized the opening he'd just left his other half.       

            I'm sorry.  You were saying something about business associates.  Harvey tried his hardest not to laugh.

            Fuck you.

            We did make a business deal with Mack, did we not?

            Shut the fuck up Harvey.

            So if business associates can call you Harv then it's settled. 

            The urge to purposely fall down the stairs just to hurt you is almost overwhelming.

            You really worry me when you start talking like that.

            Good...  'Cause I'm fucking serious. 

            Turning the TV off, he tossed the remote in the chair.  His bare feet sunk into the carpet and he flicked the light off on his way to the bedroom.  He discarded the various articles of clothing on the way to the bathroom and was pleased to note it was spotless.

            Remind me to give Maria a raise.

            He exited the bathroom, and flipped the fan on as he headed to the window to clothes the drapes.  Harvey swore up, down, and fucking sideways that having black curtains was just morbid.  Two-Face snorted.  They kept the sun out, what more did you fucking want?  He sure as hell wasn't gonna lose a good night’s sleep because some jackass wanted to be fashion conscious.

            Setting the alarm for three o'clock, he sprawled out across the bed, taking full advantage of the space a California king size bed had to offer.  He laid there, mulling over the days events, hands behind their head.  The interaction with Schultz had been amusing, and Mack had taken everything better than he had expected, though it was obvious she had been nervous as hell.  Not that he blamed her- she'd be stupid not to be. 

            Mack was all right.  She was rather like Mark, in the aspect that she wasn't completely irritating.  He wondered briefly if she would act differently now that she knew who they were, and then, just as quickly, decided he didn't give a fuck.  The wench could either like it or not.  He couldn't have given two shits either way.

            He scowled as he mentally scanned through the list of things that would need to be corrected.  The AC and heating system are in desperate need of a tune up at the very least, and she needed some new tables before they collapsed.  Tinted windows and new paneling- though he would prefer a nice coat of paint, a buzzer on the front door so she'd know when people arrived while she was in the back room, and a buzzer on the back door so she'd know when they arrived.  Two-Face paused.  He had forgotten to mention he'd be routinely coming in through the back.  Making a mental note to inform her of such, he rolled over.

            He frowned.  If the wench is gonna call ME Harv, she'd better not call YOU that by fucking mistake.  There was a short silence and then he huffed, And YOU have to call her Jamie.

            Deal.           

 

Chapter Text

 

            Mack looked around what had been her back room and couldn't help but stare.  Who in the bloody hell brought a flat screen TV to a bar? 

            The pool table alone had her practically drooling.  She couldn't help it... as soon as they all left, she was playing a game on it.  It was that really nice color of cherry wood, the kind that was really dark unless the light hit it just right.  It probably wasn't a coincidence that it matched the tables. 

            She shouldn't have been all that surprised when they brought the dartboard in, but somehow she just hadn't seen them as dart players.  Well, not him at least, and god knows she didn't want Brian anywhere near a dart, plastic tip or not.

            She knew they had money, probably more than one person could comfortably spend in one lifetime, but that hadn't really prepared her for the electrician and the window specialists who came sauntering into the bar, in the midst of all this redecorating.

            "Mark?"

            He looked up from speaking with the electrician and waved one hand, "Over here Mack."

            She crossed the floor and looked at him skeptically.  "Brandon here, is going to be installing a buzzer on your front and back doors, and will be fitting the light fixture that's going above the pool table."  He motioned to the lean man in front of her dressed in denim and a polo shirt with his company name on it.

            "He's going to need you to show him where the breaker box is.  Altogether it shouldn't take him very long to get everything done."  Mark put one hand on her shoulder and turned her around, "Tim here is going to be tinting the windows.  It's a relatively quick process and he should be finished inside an hour or two."

            Mack nodded dumbly and blinked at Brandon who was looking at her expectantly.  "Oh!  Right, the breaker box," she floundered briefly, still somewhat taken aback, but managed to show the electrician where everything was.  Finishing with that task, she went Mark hunting. 

            She found him sitting at one of his boss's tables directing the flunkies who were still moving things about.

            "Mark, what the hell is going on?" Mack sat down across from him and frowned.

            "It's simple, Mack.  Boss wants the windows tinted for the obvious reasons, and he wants the buzzers installed so you'll know when someone comes in- should you happen to be back here with us."

            "And the buzzer on the back door," she replied with a slight edge to her voice.

            "He didn't mention that to you yesterday?"

            "Mention what?"

            "We're going to be coming in through the back, so I'm gonna need a key."

            She blinked, "Are you nuts?!"

            Mark sighed and shrugged his suit coat off.  He tossed his jacket across the chair to his right and folded his hands on the table.

            "Ummm... what if the service guys see that?" she waved after his obvious display of firearms.

            "They work for us."  Mark sat there for a moment staring at her, as if he was contemplating something.           

            Mack received the distinct impression he was trying to filter through what he thought she needed to know versus what she didn't.  He turned his head suddenly to the side and spoke to the rest of the men in the room.

            "Everybody out."  His voice was sharper and more commanding than she was used to.  She narrowed her eyes, Looks like Mark here has some rank to pull.

            Mark turned back to her and saw her expression. He smiled, "As much as I hate to admit this, things are different in the world of Harvey Dent and Two-Face.  They have a master's degree, more money than they know what to do with, and a reputation for being dangerous as hell.  People do not tell them no, not for long anyway."

            "Are you saying if I don't offer you a key to my bar, they'll have me tossed off a bridge," Mack couldn't hide her amusement.

            "I'm suggesting, for your benefit, you try to be a little understanding." Mark's expression turned into one of amused cynicism, "Two-Face thinks he's being nice because he asked."

            She blinked and then adopted an incredulous expression, "You have got to be kidding me!"

            "Whether you believe it or not, he's trying to be polite," he grinned, "he's just really bad at it."

            "This is unbelievable.  Even if I could tell someone about this, no one would ever believe me."

            "Mack, I know most of this is a shock to your system, and I'm sorry I don't have time to introduce you to this gradually, but I'm afraid a crash course is the best I can do."           

            Mack nodded warily and he continued, "What you or I might consider normal behavior is not necessarily going to be the same as what they consider normal.  When they make a request that you think is odd and slightly out of line, try and think about how they requested it.  They're trying to be polite and play nice, but it's never going to be what you think qualifies as nice or polite."

            He shrugged, "You have to pick the battles you can win Mack, and the key issue isn't one of them.  We both know they could just take it, so be gracious.  Maybe they'll start to realize they get better results when they're nicer about things."

            "I am not going to spend my entire workday worrying about whether or not I'm kissing your boss's ass enough to keep him happy, Mark."

            "I'm not telling you to kiss his ass, Mack.  I'm just warning you to play it cool, where he's concerned.  One of you needs to be able to control your temper, and it sure isn't going to be him."

            He reached out one hand for her key and she huffed slightly before taking it off her key ring and thrusting it into his hand.           

            "I'll have a copy made and I'll give it back to you this evening."  He headed for the door and then half turned towards her.  "Look Mack, try not to be so nervous.  So they're a crook with questionable sanity, they'll be nice," he couldn't help adding a sarcastic, "Well...at least half the time they'll be nice."

            She rolled her eyes at the corny reference to this double personality.  He waggled his eyebrows at her in return, "Obviously they like you or they wouldn't be hanging around.  They understand they make people nervous so they'll be cool about it." 

            He turned the corner into the hallway, yelling a quick, "We'll be in later tonight," on his way out the door.

            Mack slid one hand down her face, in a gesture of irritation.  Suddenly, she didn't feel so bad about playing the first game of pool on his new table.  Sitting back down in the chair, she surveyed the newly refurbished room and had to admit it looked damn nice. 

            "Momma, if you could see me now," she muttered to no one in particular. 

            She looked up as the moving crew came back inside and climbed back to her feet to finish directing the placement of Harvey's furniture.  They were quick to finish and she soon found herself grabbing her pool cue from under the bar.  It wasn't anything fancy, by any means.  If you over looked the fact that it said Jose Cuervo on it, it appeared to be your average cheap pool cue.  But, hey, Jose and her were old friends, and she really didn't want to share it with the rest of the bar.  She snorted.  Hell, the damn thing would just come back in pieces if she did.

            Sauntering back into the other room, she unwrapped the new pool balls and racked them.  Absently chalking the end of the pool cue, she frowned when inevitably some of the blue chalk wound up on her fingers.  Forcing her shoulders to relax, she pulled back and sent the cue ball slamming into the triangle of brightly colored pool balls.

            She smirked when she sunk the two and the ten.  It was nice to know she hadn't lost her touch.  Mack had never been good at cards, as evidence by her lack of poker knowledge, and there were very few sports she could play without making an ass out of herself.  Hell, street hockey and touch football were the only sports she would even attempt to play with other people, and even then she couldn't throw a football more than ten yards.  Hell, the only she could do, football wise, was run.  Hey, she was small, fast, and agile.  If you expected her to do much more than run, however, you were screwed.

            Then there was pool.  Ah... now there was something she was good at.  She had several pool tables at her disposal, and she hadn't been afraid to take gross advantage of that small fact.  She had lost count of the number of times she'd had a hard night at work, and had stayed after to take her frustration out on pool ball or two. 

            Turning her attention back to Harvey's new pool table, she lined up the six and sent it spinning into the side pocket.  Several games later, the servicemen had come and gone and she found herself programming Harvey's new TV for him and wasting her afternoon away on his pool table.          

           

00000000000000000000000

 

            Harvey was in a good mood.  Dinner had been great... despite Two-Face's bitching.  Though Two-Face had shut up the minute their food had arrived and they indulged in the world's best chicken primavera.  Rick, Tater's cousin, had been very nice, and as it turned out, the rest of the staff were related to Tater in some fashion or another, and were perfectly used to random crime bosses dropping by for the occasional dinner.  He made a mental note to thank Tater the next time he saw him. 

            Sliding his hands into his pockets he waited for Mark to open the back door and then he proceeded to saunter down the hallway of Mack's bar to observe his newly redecorated hang out.

            Harvey smiled, innately pleased with himself.  Damn I have good taste.  His smile widened as he slid off his jacket and for once didn't have to worry about some poor civilian screaming in utter panic at the sight of his gun holster.  He tossed the black and white jacket across the closest chair and rolled up his sleeves.  His fingers were just itching to get a hold of a pool cue. 

            Crossing the room, he pulled down a cue from the rack and leaned it against the table.  Looking around the area, he searched briefly for the box of pool balls.  He paused, and then looked again... nothing.  Harvey furrowed his eyebrows.  Surely Mark hadn't been so stupid as to forget the damn pool balls. 

            He stood there frowning, and then on a sudden whim slid one hand into the closet pocket.  His hand brushed the top of round object and he wrapped one hand around it only to pull out the six ball.

            What the fuck...           

            Going around to all six pockets, he tossed the balls back onto the felt.  Shaking his head, he shrugged it off.  Maybe the company had shipped it that way.  Racking the balls, he placed the cue ball, placed one hand on the table and stopped.  Blinking in disbelief he stared down at the remnants of blue chalk just to the right of his hand.  Standing up he leaned slightly to one side, hand still wrapped around the pool cue.

            "Mark, would you mind stepping over here for a minute."

            Mark looked up from his inspection of the TV and tossed the remote to John.  "Sure boss."

            Walking across the room, he leaned nonchalantly against the pool table and looked at Harvey.

            "Mark, I'm confused.  I thought I told you to buy a new pool table."

            Mark pulled back slightly, a baffled look on his face.  "I did buy a new one.  We picked it up from the warehouse this morning."

            "Then explain to me why the pool balls were left in the pockets, and there's blue chalk on my new felt."  He motioned towards the pool table, and Mark leaned over to examine the spot in question. 

            Looking up, Mark held one hand out towards Harvey, "Let me borrow your pool cue for a minute."  Harvey obliged and Mark laced the cue through his fingers and leaned across the table.  "I would say that someone had played a game of pool on your table, boss, but the finger marks are too close together."

            Harvey leaned down and compared the spread of Mark's hand to the small marks next to it.  "You’re right.  Those marks coincide perfectly with where you place your hand to break."  Harvey cocked his head to one side, "But those marks would have to have been made by, what..." he paused and continued in an amused voice, "a twelve year old."

            Mark stood back up and handed the cue stick back to his boss.  "I don't know a single man whose hands are that small.  Not to mention that none of our guys would have dared to play the first game on your new table." 

            Harvey nodded in agreement and started to respond when Mack walked through the door with a tray of drinks.  Mark and Harvey both looked at Mack and then turned back to each other.

            "You don't think..." Mark trailed off as they both looked back down at the four blue spots on the pool table. 

            Harvey quirked an eyebrow, "she's the only person who's hands would be small enough," He snorted, "and the only person with enough cheek."  Harvey waited until she'd placed the drinks on the table the other three men were occupying, and then cleared this throat.

            "Jamie, would you come here for a second."

            Mack grimaced at the sound of her real name.  God, she hated being called that. Turning around she smiled at Mark and Harvey who were currently giving her the oddest look.  Mack took a deep breath.  She had thought about this exact moment all day.  She had spent the first three hours of work figuring out word for word what she was going to say.  The minute she heard them come in she had, once again, reviewed through the approved conversation in her head. 

            Naturally, every word of this vanished the minute she went to open her mouth. 

            Forcing her feet to move across the floor, she attempted to quell the churning in her stomach.  It's just the guys.  You've known them for weeks.  You have a deal with them.  Try and give them the benefit of the doubt.  I'm sure they just want to chat.

            She approached the pool table and looked up at Mark and Harvey, "What's up fellas?"

            Harvey handed his pool cue to Mark and then reached for her serving tray.  She gave him an odd look but allowed him to take it.  Her odd look turned quickly into one of confusion when he handed that to Mark also.

            "Um... are you alright?"

            Harvey ushered her to his right side and reached for her left hand.  "I just need a quick favor, Jamie."  He paused and then looked down at her.  "You are right handed, aren't you?"

            "Yes I'm right handed.  Why?"

            He pulled her left hand down to the felt on the pool table and proceeded to arrange her fingers over the blue marks in question.  "Umm.  Is there a reason you're randomly arranging my fingers on the top of your pool table?"  Mack bit her bottom lip; slightly concerned as to where this conversation was going.

            "Ahah!  I knew it!"  Harvey sent her a triumphant look as he let go of her hand and they both stood back up.           

            "You knew what, exactly?"

            Harvey leaned one hip against the table and gave her a displeased look, "Are you aware Jamie, that you left your fingerprints on my pool table?"

            She started, as his previous actions started to make more sense.  "OH!  Is that what this is about?"  She shrugged, pulled her towel out of her back pocket and proceeded to wipe the chalk dust off the top of his table.  She leaned back, dusted another smudge off of the rail and then looked back at him.  "There you are.  All nice and shiny."

            Harvey sputtered, "That's not the point.  It's mine!"

            "Yes, I know it's yours," Mack spoke slowly and nodded her head.

            "But, you played pool... on my table."

            "Yes.  I played pool on your table."  Mack watched him open his mouth to say something and then shut it firmly.

            Why is she being so obtuse?!

            Hey, don't look at me.  I think the fucking broad has done lost her mind.

            Well, what do you want me to do about it?  I can't make her un-play the first game on my table.

            Hey!  It's OUR table asshole.

            That's not the point!

            Harvey jerked out of his reverie at the feeling of a small hand on his arm.  "Umm... Are you alright?"

            He looked down at her small, immaculately manicured hand and then back up at her.  "You played pool, on my table," he saw her confused look at then added impatiently, "Before I did!"

            She blinked started to say something and then changed her mind.  Somehow she didn't think asking him what his fucking point was, would be a good idea at this point.  "Is that a problem?"  She asked tentatively.

            "Yes, It's a problem.  It's mine!"

            "Are you always this possessive?'

            He paused and considered her question, "Yes, " he replied firmly.

            "Sorry," she shrugged.

            He gave her a flat stare, "Somehow I don't believe you."

            Mack quirked an eyebrow and retorted sarcastically, "What- you wanna meet me out in front of the saloon at high noon?"

            "Actually I was thinking more along the lines or you owing me a pool game.  Since, after all, you did cheat me out of the first game on my own table."

            Mack bristled, "I did not cheat you.  That implies I did it on purpose just to spite you!"

            "Are you telling me you wouldn't love to spite me out something at the moment?"

            It was Mack's turn to sputter, "Well... that's not the point.  Besides, I couldn't possibly have done it on purpose when I didn't even know it would irritate you," she looked up at him and smiled cheekily, "that's just a bonus."

            He drummed one set of fingers on the polished wood of the pool table.  "That's it woman... grab a pool stick.  Let's see how mouthy you are after I whoop your ass in a game of pool."

            She snorted, "Look, I appreciate the offer, but I don't think this is a good idea."           

            He gave her a flat look.

            Mack stared back at him, "I have customers to wait on."

            Harvey continued to stare at her.  She rubbed the back of her neck nervously and then sighed.  "All right, fine.  Have it your way.  Let me check on the guys up front and all be right back with my pool stick."

            "OH!  So you use my pool table, actuallygo to the trouble of unwrapping my new set of pool balls, but my pool sticks aren't good enough for you."

            Mack look affronted.  "Hey, you don't use another person’s cue stick.  That's just not right."

            Harvey couldn't help himself.  He gave her a naughty smile, "Are you saying there's something wrong with my..."

            She rolled her eyes and cut him off, "Don't even go there."

            She grabbed her tray from Mark and exited the room, trying to hide the faint blush gracing her cheeks.  Mack could tell by the masculine chuckle echoing behind her that she hadn't been successful.

            Mack shook her head and pushed open the swinging door behind the bar.  She'd been propositioned a thousand times over during her years as a bartender, but one suggestive remark from him had her blushing like a bloody school girl.

            Of course, it probably didn't help matters much that he made her nervous to begin with.  It was hard to keep cool about the little stuff when you she had to forcibly remind herself to relax.  Hell, in a few weeks, it'd be business as usual.  In the meantime however, she had an ass to whoop in a game of pool.

            She chuckled.  If he really thought he'd actually win than he was crazier than she had thought.  Making her way through the rest of the bar, she double checked on her 'normal' patrons, and then grabbed her pool stick from under the bar.

            Walking through the doorway to the back room, she saw Harvey leaning expectantly against the table.  He smiled in a self-satisfied sort of way and motioned extravagantly towards the pool table.

            "It's all yours Jamie.  Rack 'em and break 'em."  He shoved off the table with one hand and took a seat in a nearby chair to wait for her.  Mack looked around and noticed quickly that she had ten pairs of eyes staring at her, and was instantly grateful for all the times she'd played a game or two with the boys out front.   Hey, it took a while to get used to being stared at by a large group of people.

            She forced herself not to smirk.  Don't get cocky woman. If he didn't know what he was doing he wouldn't have challenged you to a game to begin with.  Keep cool, and keep your head in the game.

            Her small pep talk out of the way, she racked the pool balls and lined up the cue ball.  Taking a calming breath, she pulled back and sent the cue ball slamming into the rest of the balls, managing to sink the two and ten as usual.

            Not bothering to look at the group of men gathered to her left she added a quick, "You’re stripes," to Harvey.  Keeping her attention firmly on the table she sunk the three and the six, before her turn was up.  She was pleased to note; however, that she had managed to leave him an almost impossible opening shot.

            Moving away from the pool table she took an open seat next to Mark and looked over at Harvey.  "She's all yours."

            "Thanks," he muttered sarcastically.  "I see you left me an absolutely beautiful leave."

            She smirked in return, but was mildly impressed when he managed to maneuver around the eight ball to sink the fourteen in the corner pocket.  He knocked the twelve into the corner pocket, and took a few seconds to survey the table.  Harvey pursed his lips and then narrowed his eyes.

            He didn't have a decent shot and they both knew it, so Mack wasn't all that surprised when he deliberately knocked the cue ball in between the eleven and nine. 

            Mack stood up, and sent him a dirty look as he passed her on the way to his seat.  Squatting down she considering her options- there weren't all that many.  Mack worried her bottom lip and tapped one nail on the cherry surface.  She could play it safe or she could try and jump the eleven and sink the four on the other side. 

            Mack chuckled briefly as she suddenly heard Yoda's voice echoing in her head.  Do or do not.  There is no try.

            Rubbing one hand absently on the back of her neck, she continued to weight her options.  If she managed to make it, she'd be given the perfect opportunity to knock the five out of the way, leaving only the seven, the eight ball, which was currently hiding behind the fifteen, and the one, which was stuck behind the nine.

            She grinned wildly.  What the hell…she wasn't exactly known for playing it safe.

            Leaning over, she lined the cue up and proceeded to send it flying right over the eleven and into the four- just like she'd planned.  Fighting the urge to jump up and down with delight, she snuck a look at Harvey and found him staring back at her.  He cocked his head to one side ever so slightly and sent her a very calculating look.            

            Mack furrowed her eyebrows, and wondered what he was thinking.  Shrugging it off, she slammed the five into the closest pocket.  The seven was the only other likely shot and there was a good chance she wouldn't be able to make it.  Instead, she sent the cue ball careening into it, managing to free up the one at the same time. 

            Unfortunately, when she broke up the seven and the one it gave Harvey the perfect opportunity to knock in the nine, eleven, and fifteen.  He sat back down after his failed attempt on the thirteen but couldn't stop himself from sending her a smug look.

            She narrowed her eyes and sent him an unpleasant sort of smile.  That was it.  No more Ms. Nice Girl.  Stepping up to the table she sent the one slamming into the far corner pocket.  Moving to the other end of the table she pulled back, and banked the cue ball twice of the side rails only to watch it smack perfectly into the seven and drop into nearest side pocket.                       

            She couldn't help it.  She looked up at him from across the table and sent him a smug look of her own, just before she sunk the eight ball in the corner pocket.  His expression was inscrutable as he stood up, walked around the table, and stopped a few inches from her right side.  Reaching across her he pulled back the thirteen and reached into the nearest pocket for another ball.

            Setting the two of them up, one in front of the other he position the cue ball directly behind them both.

            Seeing her please expression he growled a low, "All right wench.  Don't get all cocky on me.  I almost had your ass and we both know it."

            "Hey, I'm always telling you not to irritate me, but you never listen," she replied saucily.

            Looking down at her, he motioned towards the arrangement of pool balls on the table and in a demanding voice, retorted, "Show me that jump shot of yours again."

            She blinked and then laughed.  "Oh come on Harvey, I know you can do that."

            "Yes, as a matter of fact, I can.  But my jump shot is not that smooth."

            Rolling her eyes, she positioned her cue stick and proceeded to show him how she managed to keep the ball in question from moving unnecessarily. 

            Harvey looked over her shoulder and he nodded in understanding.  Placing the balls back in the proper order, he motioned for her cue stick.  Leaning over the table he managed to execute the shot perfectly on the first try.

            Mack sighed, and muttered a low, "I think I'm gonna regret this."

            Harvey turned his head towards her and smiled wickedly, "Why don't you show me that bank shot of yours while we're at it."

            She snorted, "Like hell.  I think all head back to the bar while I still have an edge left."

            Removing her cue stick from his hands she moved towards the door, as he called out an amused, "You can run but you can't hide, Jamie."

            "I am not running," she replied indignantly, "I'm merely heading back to the bar in an attempt to keep you from finagling any more pool playing tips out of me."

            "Call it what you want Jamie.  If you're that unsure as to whether or not you could beat me if the odds were evened… well, there's nothing I can do about that."

            Mack sputtered and started to walk back across the room towards him, when she realized what he was doing.  She stopped, and narrowed her eyes.  "You are without a doubt one of the sneakiest bastards I have ever met."

            He placed on hand to his chest and looked immensely pleased, "Why thank you Jamie!"

            "It wasn't a compliment, "she muttered.           

            He chuckled and grabbed his glass from the table, and moved towards her.  "I believe I could use a drink."

            She started to reach for his glass, but he moved it out of her reach.  "I think I'll follow you up to the bar.  I want to talk to you anyway."

            Mack's eyes widened slightly, "About what? "She asked apprehensively.

            He gave her a soft smile, "Don't worry Jamie.  It's nothing to worry about.  I'm the nice guy in this little partnership.  Try to remember that."

            She blinked and pulled her lower lip between her teeth.  He actually seemed to be sincere, but somehow she just couldn't bring herself to believe him just yet.

            Harvey saw her doubtful expression and sighed, "You know, I liked our relationship much better, before you knew who I was."

            Mack flinched slightly.  Good lord, wasn't it bad enough that she wasn't really used to this new development?  Now he had to make her feel guilty to!  She opened her mouth to reply but then stopped.  What could she possibly say to that? 

            When it doubt… try the truth.           

            "I didn't." Mack stared blankly at the middle of his chest.  "I spent most of the time, wondering who you were and what you wanted." Her voice turned slightly rueful as she continued, "Hell, I think I almost developed an ulcer that week Harry's bar burnt down.  I kept trying to convince myself you didn't have anything to do with it, and failing miserably."  Mack floundered, not exactly sure where she was trying to go with this.  "Do you really blame me for being slightly apprehensive, all things considered?"

            He bent his head down slightly so he could look her in the eye.  "No.  I don't blame you, but that doesn't mean I have to like it." 

            Mack gave him a small smile and he shoved one hand absently in a trouser pocket.  "You know Jamie, there is one thing you could do for me."

            She quirked an eyebrow, not sure what do expect.  "What?"

            "You know that book you were telling me about last week.  The series about some museum beast or something?"

            "Yeah, I just finished reading it.."

            "I don't suppose you could tell me who wrote that could you.  I ran out of things to read days ago, and I'm bored out of my bloody mind." 

            He sounded so exasperated that Mack couldn't help but giggle.  Harvey gave her a slightly fascinated look as he heard the distinct sound of Mack acting chick-like, for the first time since he'd met her.

            "Well, we can't have you bored.  God knows what you'd get up to if you were left to your own devices.  Come on up to the bar and I'll write down the author for you."  Mack turned around and headed back towards the bar, Harvey trailing after her, empty whiskey glass in one hand.

            Mack was roughly four feet from the bar when she suddenly remembered that A) Harvey was highly recognizable, and B) was visibly armed.  He had made a comment about wanting to be 'low key', and this wasn't really the best way to go about it.  Thinking perhaps he had not realized he was being a tad obvious, Mack whirled around on one toe.

            Harvey had to admit that despite his odd thirty-eight years or so, he had damn good reflexes, which is the only thing that saved Mack from being squashed flatter than a pancake.  He thrust one hand out wildly and groped blindly for a handhold.  Harvey managed to catch his weight on the wall next to him just in time to come to a halt, inches from her nose. 

            He looked down at her upturned face and widened eyes, "You are aware that you were almost flattened by close to two hundred pounds of mob boss?"   She nodded numbly as he continued, "What pray tell could be so important as to risk such a terrible fate?"

            He looked at her expectantly, "Isn't it a little contradictory to claim to want privacy and then step into the main dining area where everyone can see you and your display of weaponry?"

            "I seriously doubt the world is going to end if one or two of your patrons sees me sitting at the far end of the bar.  There are going to realize I'm here eventually you know."  His tone was vaguely patronizing and he made sure to speak slowly just to irk her.  From her slightly miffed expression, it worked.

            "As for the display of firearms... well, I doubt there's a person in this entire bar that isn't armed in one fashion or another.  Hell, even the bartender carries."  Harvey cocked his head to one side, "What do you carry anyway?"  Not bothering to wait for an answer he reached behind her, slid one hand between her over shirt and tank top and pulled out her gun.

            "Excuse me!" Mack's eyes widened indignantly. 

            He ignored her squawking, and examined the black weapon in his hand.  "Double action, semi-automatic, mini-glock," he smirked down at her, "you sure you can handle this much firepower Jamie?"

            Could his tone be more infuriating?  Mack snorted... knowing them, it probably could.

            She rolled her eyes, "Why Rhett, I just don't know what us womenfolk would do without you big strong men here to protect us."  Mack paused and battered her eyelashes, "I just don't know what I was thinking carrying around that nasty ol' thing."  She gave him a wide-eyed innocent look and touch one hand to her chest, "Why, I don't even think I could lift the barrel on that monstrosity."  Judging from Harvey's expression, her southern accent could use some work.

            "Well, don't you worry your pretty little head about it, Scarlett," he drawled.  "You womenfolk have more important things to think about... like scooting on back to the bar and getting us big strong men another whiskey."  He accent wasn't any better than hers.  Still, he was so busy being amused with himself, that he didn't notice the small hand slinking up his side until Mack had already grabbed the glock from his holster.

            "What do you think you're doing!"

            She didn't bother to hide the madcap smile that crossed her face, and turned a deaf ear to his outraged response.  Mack turned the weapon over in her hand, noting that it was a semi-automatic... naturally.  It was a standard glock, black, though the butt of the gun had several worn spots that suggested repetitive use.  Pulling the clip out she noted it was currently full, and out of curiosity, pulled back to check the chamber.  Her eyes widened, "You carry twelve in the clip and actually shove one in the chamber to boot?!  Harvey you animal!"  Mack smirked up at him.

            "Ha, Ha... fork it over."

            Mack held out her own hand expectantly but didn't return the requested item.  He glowered at her, and snapped his fingers impatiently.  "Sometime this year woman."

            Mack swallowed a sarcastic remark as she remembered what Mark had said about playing nice with his psycho boss.  He started it, she huffed.  Mack gave a long-suffering sigh and held his gun out towards him.  It was quickly snatched from her hand and returned to its original resting place.  Mack waited a moment or to and then gestured impatiently at him.

            "I believe you have something that belongs to me sir."

            His voice was audibly deeper and had the slight overtone of malice that she had come to associate with Two-Face, "Maybe I should just hold onto this for you.   We wouldn't want you to hurt yourself now, would we?"  Mack jerked her head and watched as that wicked smirk of his crossed his face.

            Yep, definitely Two-Face.  Yay...

            "Very funny.  Now fork it over."

            "Why should I?"

            Mack bristled and forced down the rude remark on the tip of her tongue, though the aggravation in her voice was obvious. "You're being unreasonable you know."

            Two-Face blinked.  He couldn't remember the last time someone had looked at him like they wanted to give him a piece of their mind.  Normally he'd have taken exception to mutinous look she was giving him.  After all, it was always a bad idea to let people think they could question his authority.  But, it was hard to feel like his authority was being threatened by a woman who barely reached the middle of his chest.

            "What do I get out of it?"

            "The joy of doing the right thing."

            Two-Face jerked back in surprise and threw his head back and laughed.  "Mack, I'm a crook for god's sake.  I don't do anything for anyone if I'm not gonna profit from it.  Still, I'll tell you what.  You show me that bank shot of yours and I let you have you little gun back."

            "Why should I have to bargain with you to get my own stuff back?"  Mack's intonation turned from aggravated to down right scathing.

            "Well possession is nine-tenths of the law, you know."  His self-satisfied expression was almost more than she could stand.  Maybe it was a good thing she wasn't armed after all.

            "Well, this is completely..." Mack sputtered, and then managed a outraged, "I want my lawyer!"

            "And where exactly do you think your going to find a lawyer who would actually be willing to prosecute me, while I'm armed."

            Mack stopped and considered this. "Well, maybe I'll bribe Harvey into defending me. "

            Two-Face paused and favored her with a speculative look.  "Exactly what are you going to bribe him with."

            "Why should I tell you?!"

            His smirk returned in full force, "Well, if the price is right I could probably be convinced to take your case myself."

            "You can't prosecute yourself and defend yourself at the same time," Mack waved one hand incredulously.

            Two-Face shrugged nonchalantly, "Well, I'm a talented kind of guy."

            "This isn't getting me anywhere is it?"

            "Not really, but don't let that stop you."

            Mack narrowed her eyes.  This was completely unacceptable.  She simply could not allow him to think he could walk all over her all the time.  He always seemed to get his way, and frankly the man's ego needed to be reined in just a tad.

             "You are aware that in our previous agreement you swore not to do anything which might cause me any sort of undue stress?"

            Two-Face rolled his eyes, "This transgression does not count as undue stress.  Not to mention, that clause was merely an addition to the section outlying inappropriate acts of brutality against the plaintiff, and does not cover any action outside of A&B.  Since the defendant did not threaten, or cause any physical harm to the plaintiff in anyway, your complaint is inadmissible."  

            Mack paused to mull this over and Two-Face grinned.  Watching her attempt to one up a former district attorney was proving to be quite amusing.  The poor woman actually appeared deluded enough to think she had a chance of winning this little argument.

             "I believe my exact request was that you not, 'take your frustrations out on me OR cause me any undue stress'.  In no way did I specify that the two parameters had to be in conjunction with one another.”

            Two-Face sent her a disbelieving look, "the definition of 'undue stress' is outlined as: any behavior on the part of the defendant that would prevent or hinder the plaintiff from performing daily activities of living.  Unless you can find some evidence that your ability to function has been impeded in some way then the court will have no choice but to dismiss your case on grounds of insufficient cause."

            If it was possible, he managed to look even more smug than normal.  Mack fought the urge to chuck.

            "The precedent shows that in cases of harassment and intimidation it is the plaintiff not the defendant who decides what qualifies as undue stress and what does not.  And as the plaintiff I find this particular incident to be very stressful, thus placing you, the defendant, in breach of the agreement set forth on October 4, 2005."           

            "Whether or not you feel that the actions of the defendant qualify as harassment is irrelevant.  The judge would still compare the actions of the defendant to how a reasonable person would have acted in the same situation, and make a ruling based on that information.  And as the judge I can assure you that the defendant has been acting perfectly reasonable to date."

            Mack gaped at him, "You can't be the defendant, and the judge at the same bloody time!"

            "Who made up that rule?"

            "That's always been a rule and you know it!"

            "Well, you don't have to be rude about it.  Really Mack, you shouldn't be such a sore loser."

            "What are you talking about?"  Mack furrowed her brow, "I didn't lose!  We're still arguing about you being the damn judge."

            "While I'm touched by your confidence in me Mack, it really wouldn't be ethical for me to be the judge and the defending attorney.  I think you're a little confused about how the legal system works."

            Mack looked up at him and blinked.  She could not believe what she was hearing.  "I'm confused?  You're the one insisting you won a case that's still being argued!"

            "Are you still going on about that.  A verdict has already been reached, Mack."  Two-Face continued in a matter of fact tone, "I'll warn you Mack, arguing with a judge about the outcome of a case is a good way to be found in contempt."

            "How in god's name did this get settled when we don't have a ruling judge?"

            "Mack I'm the judge.  I could have sworn I just said that," he paused and peered at her intently, "Are you feeling all right?  You're starting to look a little red?"

            Mack waved one hand wildly, "No, I'm not all right.  You're not making any sense.  I swear it's like you're doing it on..."  She paused in mid exclamation, as she suddenly had the most horrific idea. 

             Her eyes narrowed, "You're doing this on purpose, aren't you!"  She saw his 'who me' expression, and she leaned forward to poke one finger into his chest.  "You are!  Here you are, making me think I'm crazy, when this whole time you've been deliberately changing the subject because you were losing."

            "Now Mack, let's not be hasty.  I was not losing, I was merely attempting to save you from an inevitable defeat.  I was the district attorney you know.  After all, no one expects you to win against such insurmountable odds. It's just not fair to expect so much from yourself."  Mack had never heard such a reasonable sounding voice before.  Odds were good he practiced sounding like that, and said as much.

            "Why Mack, you wound me.  You're not suggesting I'm being insincere are you?"  He took in her flat look and sighed dramatically.  "I've hurt that you don't trust me." 

            Two-Face rubbed his chin thoughtfully.  "I'll tell you what.  As a show of good faith I'll return your little trinket."

            She eyed him suspiciously, "What's the catch."

            "Catch?  What catch?"

            Mack snorted.  He's got to be kidding.  He actually expects me to buy that innocent tone he's faking.

            "I wasn't born yesterday, you know."

            "Well," he drawled, "there is one tiny thing you could do for me."

            "I knew it," she muttered darkly, "What is it?"

            "I don't know yet.  I'll have to get back to you on that.  After all, there are so many things I could ask for.  I'll have to think it over," He mused thoughtfully.

            Mack looked horrified, "You mean I'd actually owe you a favor?  No!  Hell no!  The next thing I know you'll be asking me to help you bury a body!"

            Two-Face rolled his eyes, "Let's not be overdramatic.  I'd never ask you to help me bury a body Mack.  We tend to just tie bricks around their ankles and shove them off the nearest bridge."  He made a 'tsk' sound, "You really should keep up on these things you know."

            "This is blackmail!"  Mack gestured wildly at her gun, still clutched in his large hand.

            "Blackmail is such an ugly word Mack.  I'm simply convincing you to see my point of view... for your own good naturally."

            "Naturally, " Mack rolled her eyes, and added a firm, "I staunchly refuse to do anything illegal, or morally corrupt.”

            If those are the only stipulations she's going to place on this particular arrangement, then she's in deep shit.

            Fucking great, ain't it.

            "Of course not Mack."

            His voice was just a little too polished for Mack's personal comfort, and so she added, "Nothing, I think is illegal or morally corrupt."

            Does she really think that's an improvement?

            Well, it means that chances are good she'd not gonna strip for us now.

            Harvey sighed. Shame isn't it...  Of course you never had any intention of asking her to strip for us in the first place did you?

            No.  But it was a nice thought.

            So what kind of a favor do you want to ask for.

            I'm not sure.  I think I'll save it for a rainy day.  You never know when we might need a good laugh.  After all, she hasn't said anything about refusing to embarrass herself for our amusement.

            Mack watched his eyes drift off to the side.  A sure sign he was conferring with his other half.  She wrung her hands nervously.  Despite what she'd read in the papers about the two of them being polar opposites in personality, she was pretty damn sure that the two of them plotted together more than they let on.  Maybe not about the illegal stuff, but it wasn't the illegal stuff she needed to worry about.

            She was pretty damn sure that Two-Face was one of those men who loved to torment other people, and unfortunately all of Two-Face's personality traits were turning out to be based from Harvey's less severe personality.  So as long as Two-Face didn't go to far (read illegal or harmful) then Harvey was more than happy to scheme right along with him. 

            Mack sighed.  The last thing she needed was the two of them plotting together about the best way to torment her for their own personal amusement.  She was getting the distinct impression, unfortunately, that it was already too late.

            She was starting to have second and third doubts about this 'favor' thing.  As soon as he was finished talking with himself she was going to have to renegotiate this little arrangement.  She waited rather impatiently for him to finish and for once she was unhappy to see Harvey instead of his counterpart.

            "Here you go Jamie, you can have this back."  Harvey extended one hand and offered her gun to her.           

            Mack ignored the proffered weapon, "Wait a minute, I wasn't done arguing with him yet.  I don't want to owe him a favor.  How am I supposed to resolve this if he's not here."

            Harvey nodded sympathetically, "Yes, that would make it difficult wouldn't it."  He stepped past her and placed her gun underneath the bar on the closest shelf.

            "Hey, take that back!  If you give it back to me, then he'll assume I'm willing to fulfill my end of the bargain."

            "Well that is generally how things work."

            "Then bring him back!  I'm not done discussing this.  God knows what the two of you will ask me to do!"

            Harvey cocked his head to one side.

            This is hilarious.  We should have thought of this ages ago.

            As fucking unnatural as it is to be cooperating with you on any level, I've got to say you’re fucking right.

            What do you say we declare a temporary truce and combine our resources when were dealing with her.  After all, she's so fun to mess with...

            Two-Face mulled this over, As long as it's ONLY when we're dealing with HER.  He chuckled darkly, She's not gonna know what hit her.  He paused and added as an afterthought, You do realize that if we ever actually managed to get along we'd own this town within a few months.

            Harvey shuddered. Christ, we'd be unstoppable.

            Two-Face grumbled, Too fucking bad you're such a boy scout.

            Yeah well, console yourself with the fact that we’re about to embark on a mission to drive our sexy bartender crazy.

            Two-Face snorted, Shit, we'd have to drive her nuts for her to actually consider any sort of personal 'arrangement' with us anyway.

            See we’re ahead already... two birds and one stone.  And people say we’re crazy...

            Harvey turned back to his expectant bartender, "Sorry Jamie.  He's busy at the moment."

            Mack bristled and sputtered, "What do you mean he's busy.  You're not doing anything!"

            "Even crazy people need time to collect their thoughts," he said reproachfully.  "But if it makes you feel any better, he did say you could call him Harv, as long as you called me Harvey."

            He paused and then as an afterthought, "And make sure you don't get the two of us mixed up.  He hates being called Harvey."

            "How the fuck am I supposed to always be able to tell the two of you apart?"  She snorted and added petulantly, "You are aware you look exactly alike."

            "Yes, Jamie," he said testily, "I do own a mirror.  However, since he's letting you call him Harv he's demanded that I refer to you by your first name only.  So if someone looking like us, and we are- if you haven't noticed- quite unmistakable, calls you Mack then chances are good you're talking to Two-Face and not me." 

            Harvey picked up his empty glass from the bar and rattled it suggestively. "Now if you would be so kind as to get me a refill and the name of the author and book title in question, Miss O'Hara..."

            Mack narrowed her eyes and yanked the glass from his hand all the while muttering about certain duplicitous men.  She sobered very suddenly as her mind wandered over the last ten minutes or so. 

            All this sudden switching between personalities was, by all accounts, a little out of character for them.  After all, she might not have known who they were in the first month they'd been here, but looking back she could always tell what sort of mood he was in.  Hell, he was either nice, or he wasn't.  Clearly it was either Harvey or Two-Face, and never once had he ever gone from a bad mood to a good mood. 

            Therefore, Two-Face never turned back into Harvey.  It was always Harvey transitioning into Two-Face.  So why the fuck had she suddenly found herself talking to Two-Face only to have to turn around and deal with Harvey.

            Her eyes narrowed.  Those sorry bastards were deliberately switching around to make it easier to get the better of her.  If Two-Face had really been 'busy' it wouldn't have taken several minutes for Harvey to discern that small fact.  No, it would only have taken a few seconds, but instead he'd had an entire conversation with his other half.  Presumably about purposely bamboozling her for their own benefit.

            They simply didn't want to chance losing a favor from her so Harvey had lied and smoothly side stepped her to get what they wanted.  They were actually ganging up on her!

            Mack huffed.  Well, this was completely against the rules.  Not to mention it was vastly unfair.  How could she win an argument with someone who could switch personalities at random to better suit their needs.  Sure, she had made a joke about them teaming up, but it had been just that.  A joke!  She hadn't really thought they would do it.

            Oh... this was war. 

            Returning to Harvey with the requested items, she watched him place the slip of paper in his wallet, and then reach for his beverage.  He pulled at it, but Mack refused to let go.  She looked up at him and still managed to give the impression of looking down her nose at him.

            "Don't think for a second, I don't know what the two of you are doing."

            Harvey considered briefly, pretending to not know what she was talking about, but quickly decided it'd be more amusing to own up to their underhanded behavior and then watch her realize she couldn't do a damn thing about it. 

            Harvey left one hand on his whiskey and moved the other hand to rest firmly on her waist.  Taking a page out of Two-Face's book he squared his shoulders and leaned in, using his size as an intimidation tool.  Looking suspiciously self-satisfied with himself, he looked her straight in the eye and smoothed his voice into the epitome of male arrogance.  "Well in that case Jamie, we won't have to waste any time coddling an unsuspecting public, or bartender, as the case may be."

            Mack snarled before she could stop herself.  What could she say?  She'd always found that particular tone of voice particularly irritating.  It was the kind of voice that made you think all sorts of naughty things and still made you want to strangle him with his own tie.

            Unfortunately for Harvey, Mack had always been of the tie-strangling variety.  Harvey looked down at her, his facial expression unchanging, "You know Jamie...," there was a short pause as he readied himself to spring backwards, "You're cute when your angry."

            Mack lunged at him, missing his tie by inches.  "You come back here and take your whooping like a man, damnit."  He was to busy laughing to take offense at her comment and she realized rather irritably that the bastard had the foresight to pull his whiskey from her hand when he'd jumped out of the way. 

            Still laughing maniacally to himself he sauntered back down the hallway towards the back room, while Mack stood at the bar swearing sulfurously at his retreating back. 

Chapter Text

 

            Brian stared across the darkened expanse of the Gotham City skyline, binoculars focusing on the gray brick building opposite him.  The Fifth National Bank of Gotham towered above the street, its windows facing the corner of 78th Street and Berkley Avenue.  The intersection played host to a number of nightclubs and restaurants, making it one of the many hubs of Gotham nightlife for the middle class denizens of the city.

            Brian turned back to his laptop and assorted technical equipment, leaning against the chest-high brick ledge behind him.  From his perch atop a large brick building that had been recently converted into several company offices, he wired his way into the bank's computer system.

            Pulling his stocking cap further down over his ears, he tried to ignore the small drizzle of rain that was threatening to become a steady downpour.  His equipment was waterproof so the rain wouldn't cause him any technical difficulties, but it would prove to be uncomfortable as hell.

            Roughly ten minutes later, he was accessing the bank's security cameras and wiping a steady stream of water from his face.

            A terse, "Brian," came over the communication device he wore around his ear, and he answered with a sharp, "What," of his own.

            Mark ignored his surly response and continued, "What's your status?"

            Brian muttered something unflattering about Mark's mother under his breath, "I'm getting fucking soaked, thanks for asking."

            The sound of Kevin's laughter came over the headset, "First the sewers when you ran the wires, and now a rooftop in the pouring rain," Kevin observed.  "This just isn't your week, is it?"

            "Go ahead Train," Brian retorted, using Kevin's nickname, "laugh it up… I know where you sleep."

            Kevin sounded un-phased, "Yeah, well at least you get to blow something up."

            Brian made a small hmph sound.  "Actually, Matt gets to," he paused briefly and then continued thoughtfully, "Well, unless they fuck up, at any rate."

            "I'm sure the boss would understand if you blew them up anyway to make yourself feel better."

            "You think?" Brian voice was hopeful.

            "He might, but I won't, Broderick," Mark cut off their conversation in a very firm voice.

            "Well fuck… take all the fun outta life," Brian sighed melodramatically and turned his attention back to his computer, "Set-up time- no longer than five.  ETA of second crew in 20."

           

0000000000000000000000

 

            Mark tightened his grip on the door rest of the black Cadillac they were currently sporting.  The entire operation had been well planned and he wasn't expecting any complications.  All four of the men accompanying them this evening, including Brian's temporary replacement, had been hand-picked by himself and had in fact worked with them on several different occasions.  Only the best were allowed to work with the boss, after all.

            Regardless of the extensive planning on his part, he was always tightly wound before a job.  Kevin and John were on their way to the 'Four Aces'- the casino directly opposite from the one the Mark and boss were looting.  All of the men working this operation were wired into the same frequency, except the boss- who flat out refused.  He said the little earpieces were 'faggish'.

            Two-Face looked across the backseat of the sedan at Mark, one of the few people he might actually consider 'something' of a friend, and snapped his fingers imperiously.  Mark swiveled his head to the right at the unspoken command.

            "Is Brian in place?"  Two-Face asked, more out of habit than any real concern.

            "Yes, he's ready."

            "And Kevin and John?"

            "Kevin, what's your twenty?" Mark spoke into the headset.

             "Eldorado and Barton- right on schedule."

            "Affirmative," Mark nodded to an expectant Two-Face.

            They were silent for a long minute and then Two-Face turned back to the tense man next to him, "Why did you let Matt Richards lead the bank op?"

            Mark paused and then flipped the toggle switch on his earpiece to mute, "Do you disapprove?"

            "You're hedging, Mark.  I know damn well you didn't want him working for me.  You would have turned him down if I hadn't stepped in and let him go work for Brian."

            "Why did you step in Harv? You don't normally concern yourself with the hired underlings."

            "The men you hire are talented, Mark, but most of them lack a certain ruthlessness that a man in Brian's line of work needs." Two-Face moved his elbow to rest on the window.

            "Brian heads the explosives division- not just the muscle."

            "How many enforcers are we currently sporting, Mark?" Two-Face lifted one eyebrow.

            Mark pursed his lips in irritation, "Ten," came the short reply.

            "Ten enforcers."  Two-Face pretended to mull this over, "We employ over three hundred direct employees inside the city, three times that world over, not to mention the various factions we allow to run ops out of our land?  Land, which is supposed to be policed by us…yes?"

            "Yes boss," Mark sighed.  He knew where the boss was going.  They'd had this conversation many times before and it never really got resolved.

            "Then why is he short almost fifteen heavy hitters?!"  Harv snarled at the man sitting next to him.

            Mark sighed angrily, "If you want me to simply hire any Joe Schmoe of the street capable of smacking people around, I can, Harv."

            "Don't get cute with me Dillinger," he growled, "What I want is a fucking explanation as to why you sent an enforcer to head up an explosives crew when we don't have all that many to fucking spare."

            "Matt has the skills to set explosives."  Mark gestured in irritation, "Besides, I don't trust the little fucker.  That's the problem with the sick fucks who work for Brian.  They're brutal, but half of the ones I think might work out prove to be either unreliable, unhinged, or worst- incapable of following a simple order."

            "You thing he'll go for the cash," Two-Face made it a statement and not a question.

            "I know he'll go for the cash.  I'm heard too many rumors about good ol' Matt bending the rules to suit himself.  I don't make fucking stipulations for the hell of it, you know.  I do actually think them through before I announce them, and I expect them to be followed.  It's bad enough if he's ignoring me, but if he ignores an order that comes from you, then not only do I get my ass kicked, but it makes us look like we can't control our own fucking employees."

             Two-Face gave Mark a long hard look.

             You know he's right.  Richards is a complete tool.

             That doesn't excuse the lack of enforcers in our organization, now does it?!

             Harvey snorted, Enforcers…  You mean those sick bastards who enjoy hurting people.

             Hey!  You got a problem with that?!

            What I have a problem with is you getting shitty with Mark for refusing to hire a bunch of unreliable shit heads.

            We're crooks!  We're supposed to be unreliable!  Besides, you can't fucking tell me there isn't ten or so fucking people in this fucking city who wouldn't be willing to hurt people for money AND follow simple goddamn instructions?!

            Fine, hire another group of butchers.  See if I give a shit.

            I don't recall caring what you fucking thought anyway…

            "I want our ranks boosted by the end of the month," Two-Face sneered across the backseat at Mark and lit a cigarette.

            "I have your permission to go outside the normal 'gene pool?'  Pickin's in Gotham aregetting slim."

            "Cobblepot generally has a few good applicants hanging around- talk to him."

            Mark grimaced, "His placement fees are fucking outrageous!"

            Two-Face rolled his eyes, "Mark, you're fairly intelligent, and I use the term loosely; I'm sure you can find me some fucking muscle somewhere."  He sent Mark a dark look, "just keep it quiet." 

            Mark resisted the urge to shout in frustration.  The man was not listening to him.  He'd already picked over the thugs in this town, and short of stealing men from Tater he was running out of options.  "Then I can go outside…"

            Two-Face flicked his cigarette angrily and waved one arm, "Yes Mark!  You can go ahead and outsource.  By all means… pretend we're a fucking Fortune 500 company.  Fuck, why don't you just put up a website while you're at it."  Two-Face muttered something, no doubt unflattering, under his breath and Mark flipped his com-set off mute.

            Mark massaged one temple and then reached into his trouser pockets.  Pulling out the small bag of aspirin he always carried with him, he swallowed four in quick recession and tried to convince himself that the money was worth putting up with the nut job next to him.

            Seconds later, Two-Face was holding an expectant hand out towards Mark.  Smiling slightly, Mark dumped several painkillers into his boss's outstretched palm.

            "Yeah… I fucking hate you too."  Two-Face replied in a surly voice.  They both sunk back into their respective corners, his comment quickly summing up their respective feelings. 

 

00000000000000000000000

 

            Brian lowered his high-powered binoculars and turned back to his computer.  "C team is in place.  Hold for visual conformation."

            Mark responded with the usual 10-4, and Brian took the next minute or so to connect his own spy cam to his laptop.  When Brian had briefed Matt and his team, he had made it very clear that the money was to be left alone, and the cameras were to be left on a live feed.  There were to be no detours or other time consuming ventures.  This was strictly a get in and get out type of diversion.  Nobody gave a shit if the cops figured out the whole bank situation had been a decoy or not.  All that was important was that Bats and the cops didn't interfere with the casino heist.  Hell, the only reason Brian was on the bloody roof at all was to ensure that happened.

             On the off chance, however, that Matt decided to get grabby, chances were good he'd take out the cameras to erase any evidence of him stealing.  Otherwise, the central headquarters for the Gotham City bank would be able to recover all feeds prior to the explosion.  That information would leak to the media and since the boss read the paper on a daily basis, it wouldn't take long for him to be screaming for blood.

            Brian had placed his own portable camera just outside the vault, hidden on the other side of a heating vent.  The picture wasn't the greatest, but it was good enough to pick out four large men were trying to bust open a vault.  If the fuckers did try some hinky shit, he'd know about it instantly and be able to shoot out the front windows of the bank with his high-powered rifle, causing the alarms to sound.  Then he could leisurely pick the worthless fuckers off one by one as they ran out of the bank.  Leaving him the enjoyable task of actually blowing up the bank. 

            In Brian's opinion, the whole thing was a little involved for his taste.  Sometimes he missed the good old days when things were more chaotic.  There was nothing like knocking over a bank in broad daylight and then spending an hour or two negotiating with the cops to get the blood pumping.  Of course they made more money when they did things this way, but it lacked a certain amount of risk that he'd become accustomed to.

            He smirked.  Of course, Two-Face was occasionally of the same opinion, and was known for randomly stopping on the way home for a quick B and E for shits and giggles.  Secretly Brian suspected that a lot of the boss's enjoyment came more from the fact that unplanned criminal acts drove Mark up the wall, instead of any real desire to commit petty theft.

            Looking back at the computer screen, Brian flipped through the camera views and frowned.  They had to be inside by now so why the fuck weren't they on camera yet?  He narrowed his eyes.  Surely the fuckers weren't really as stupid as he'd thought they were.  Seconds later all images of the bank turned to static.

            "You worthless sons a bitches!" Brian cursed sulfurously and gestured wildly with one hand.

            On the other side of town, all seven other men winced at the sudden angry proclamation ringing in their ears.           

            "You scum-sucking ass clowns!  I'm gonna rip your intestines out through your throats and hang you with em'.  When I get my hands on those cock suckers they are so fucking dead!" 

            Brian paused in mid-rant to stare furiously at the screen.  Three members of his team were busy setting up the usual equipment used for a vault break in, but the fourth was standing off to one side having a heated conversation argument with one of the the other guys, who was presumably Matt.  The short one made a violent gesture towards the vault and turned to walk away, clearly unhappy.  Matt made a threatening gesture with one hand and the other man turned back around to continue arguing.

            "Broderick!  What the fuck is going on!"  Mark voice sounded sharply over the speaker and Brian pulled his attention from the camera to respond.

            "Those useless pieces of shit knocked out the fucking cameras and are currently sauntering about in front of the vault in perfect fucking range of my portable camcorder!"

            Kevin and John sat in their black Accord, just on the other side of Brown Street, and exchanged slightly worried expressions.  "Brian, relax.  You have a back-up plan.  Just shoot the fuckers when they try and leave." 

            Kevin grimaced and the loud exclamation from his cousin, "This shit doesn't happen to the rest of you fuckers, and I'm meaner than the lot of you fucking put together.  This is bullshit!"

            "Look Broderick, we're all in place.  We're just waiting on you, so finish the job so we can go the fuck home and you can go beat the shit outta your worthless employees," Mark added brusquely.

            Brian picked up his rifle, nostrils flaring.  This was the last fucking straw.  He was gonna carve Matt's heart out with a fucking spoon.  "Standby for detonation." Brian's voice turned hard and icy; the undercurrent of malice in it was unmistakable.  He was officially fucking pissed off.  All of his joking and sarcasm might have been amusing, but it was just an act.  Underneath he was as cold blooded as the next crazed murderer, and he couldn't wait to get his hands on Richards.

            Sighting down the scope, he took aim at the front window of the Fifth National Bank of Gotham and fired two shot in quick recession.  He was pleased to see that the window shattered easily and that the men inside the bank were quick to scramble for freedom at the sound of the alarms.           

            He leaned his rifle on the ledge in front of him and waited for the four of them to enter the alley directly south of the bank.  They entered into the darkened street one right after the other with the short stocky man in the lead.  Brian finger hesitated over the trigger as he remembered this one man arguing with the rest, presumably about not disobeying orders.

            Narrowing his eyes, he made a quick decision to spare him.  He could always dispose of him later if it turned out he had been involved in the 'would be' theft, after all.  The two men directly behind him were not so lucky, and received a bullet to the head for their trouble.  The last man, who by shape and size Brian had identified as Matt, merely lost a kneecap. 

            Brian smiled nastily.  He'd swing by and pick Matt and his co-worker up in his BMW.  Then they could have a nice long chat about his learning impairment. 

            The stocky man, whom Brian was beginning to suspect was Rob, a usually loyal and obedient employee, disappeared around the corner and Matt did his best to limp after him. 

            Police sirens were sounding in the distance and Brian disassembled his weapon in record time.  Sliding all evidence of his presence into the bag he brought along, he flattened himself onto the roof of the building and issued a sharp, "Standby for detonation," to Mark and the others.

            The sirens grew louder, and as he heard car doors start to slam shut he pressed his thumb to the detonator, covering his head as he did so.  Brian's final transmission from the roof consisted of a harsh, "Go," that was mostly drowned out by the roar of the explosion and the rumble of large concrete pieces hitting the street below.

 

0000000000000000000000

 

            Mark turned to Two-Face and gave him a sharp nod.  Stepping out of the car, the four of them burst into the casino, guns drawn.

            Several armed guards came running from behind the cash booth yelling different versions of 'freeze'.  They were ignored, and Mark shot two before they were halfway across the room.  Two-Face, on the other hand, holstered one gun and took great pleasure in plowing his fist into one overweight guard.  The man went down, grasping at his nose.  Two-Face noted with relish that the slightly bent angle of the cartilage and the oozing of blood signaled that it was definitely broken.  He kneed the man in the gut for good measure and then shoved him towards Jason to be disposed of.

             

            Two-Face and his trademark smirk scanned the room, noting the looks of terror on the occupants' faces.  His smirk got bigger.  He loved the rush that always accompanied a job.  The accelerated heart rate, the euphoric feeling of power, but most of all- he loved the way it enabled him to shove Harvey all the way to the back.  Harvey had lost the toss tonight, making it a complete Two-Face evening.  Murder and mayhem… pillage and plundering…, and all without the insistent whining of that do-gooder punk in his head.  Harvey had lost, and there wasn't nuthin' he could do 'bout it.

            Unless Two-Face went way out of line and started knocking off 'innocent civilians' for the hell of it, Harvey had sworn to keep his trap shut.  Naturally Two-Face was going out of his way to gloat about it.

            Off to the right some young blonde screamed as, behind him, Jason emptied a round into the third guard.  He gave the woman a slow once over and then leered.  A low-cut dress, nice rack, long legs, and an absolutely stunning diamond choker around her neck- judging by the way she suddenly clutched at it, it was probably real.  Either way… harassing the girl would be amusing.

            He strolled across the room as Mark and Troy headed behind the counter for the cash, leaving Jason behind to watch the floor.  Two-Face shoved her date firmly out of the way, and into a large slot machine of to the side.  He circled the small blonde, predatory and slow, making sure he looked down her dress as he did so.

            "You got a name, princess?" His voice smoothed into a threatening rasp.

            "Megan," came the stammered reply.

            "Why Megan," he drawled, "you look positively scared to death."  He ran a finger up one of her shoulders to her neck, and absently ran a thumb over the diamonds.

            The girl nodded numbly, and then in a small voice, "Please don't take my necklace.  It was a gift."

            He gave her an amused look, "What, from Romeo here?  He doesn't look like he can afford it." Two-Face sneered suddenly, "And if you tell me it was your mother's I'll be forced to kill you to put me out of my misery."

            Megan gaped up at him, "Actually it was from Brad," she motioned vaguely towards the man on her right.

            Two-Face slid his fingers under the metal and pulled until the clasp broke in the back and it fell free from her flesh.  "How fucking touching."  He stepped back from her and pointed one gun at the boyfriend in question.

            "I'll make you a deal princess." He chuckled darkly, "The necklace… or your lover boy?"

            Her boyfriend stilled instantly as he suddenly found himself staring down the barrel of a gun.  There was a short silence and the woman stood there slightly stunned, "Going once… going twice…" Two-Face pulled back the hammer to emphasize his point.

            "No wait," she cried abruptly, "take the damn thing.  Just don't shoot him."

            Two-Face lowered his weapon and glanced at a very relieved Brad.  "Dump the bitch, kid.  Any woman who hesitates to save your life over a fucking chunk of rock doesn't love you."

            The man's eyes widened and he opened his mouth to speak when Two-Face suddenly shrugged, "What the hell.  Let me just save you the trouble." 

            He swiveled his hand until his gun pointed at Megan instead.  Harv hadn't even aimed properly when Brad shouting a slightly panicked, "NO!"

            Two-Face rolled his eyes, "Oh come one!  Don't be a fucking sap.  She's nothing but a dumb skirt.  Don't tell me you actually love the broad?!"  He snorted, "Trust me… I'm doing you a favor."

            The young man shook his head and moved to stand between the woman and the loaded weapon.

            Two-Face looked down at the two of them contemptuously.  "You're fucking pathetic.  Do you think the twit behind you gives a flying fuck if you bleed to death in front of her as long as she gets her cheap trinket back?"

            The man held out two hands in a placating gesture, "She's just scared, that's all."  Beads of sweat were starting to form on his forehead.

            Two-Face scoffed and opened his mouth to respond when a movement off to his right, caught his eye.   The blonde woman was edging slowly out from behind her date, using the distraction as an opportunity to slide into the crowd that had formed behind the three of them.

            His nostrils flared and a low growl sounded in the base of his chest.  "Quite the devoted missus," he sneered, "You're begging for her fucking life and she's trying to run out the back door!"  He thrust the young man in front of him roughly to the side and aimed his gun at the woman's back.

            "I hate two-faced fucking people!"  The roar of his voice was partially drowned out by the loud sound of recessive gunfire.  Still seething at the lack of fucking respect the bitch had for the love-struck jackass who had tried to save her life, he turned around just it time to see Brad reach for the collar of his jacket.

            "You worthless fucking maggot."  Two-Face reached one large hand out and grabbed the man by the lapels of his suit coat.  He pulled his arm back and then sent the man sprawling across the floor with one rough thrust.

            "Well," he fumed, "if that's the way you love birds fucking want it."  He looked disdainfully at the man at his feet and them shot him without hesitation.

            He stared down at the blood started to pool around his feet and clenched one fist furiously.  "What a fucking waste, " he turned to a horrified woman next to him, "Of the bullets that is," he commented callously.

            Turning around he headed back towards his men, who were waiting at the door, cash bags in hand.

 

00000000000000000000

           

            Two-Face leaned back against the leather covering the backseat, as the car headed down Bourbon Street towards the bridge.  Despite the carnage at the casino, their escape had been without complication.  Kevin and John were a few cars behind them and Brian had picked up Matt and the 'spare' without difficulty.  All things considered, the evening had gone smoothly. 

            Harvey, however, did not share his opinion.

            You shot two innocent people out of a whim!

            They fucking deserved it.  Besides, the kid could've walked away scott-free if he'd kept his fucking hands to himself.

            It shouldn't have mattered to begin with.  You didn't even need to go talk to the woman.  Why couldn't you have just stood there and waited for the boys to finish?

            Don't blame this shit on me.  The stupid bitch shouldn't have been such a fucking coward.

            You were threatening them what did you expect?!  People are not playthings for you to amuse yourself with!

            Christ!  You're like a fucking broken record.  EVERYTIME we kill somebody you break into some lame ass sob story about how WRONG it is. 

            That's because it is wrong.  Why can't you see that!?  What is wrong with you!

            Don't make this about me Harvey.  We both know it's about you and your guilty fucking feelings.  Everybody in the WORLD is corrupt in one way or another.  Nobody trusts your precious justice system and half the cops in this city are crooked.  Hell, we OWN some of them.  People take justice into there own hands EVERYDAY!  It's not just me.  YOU are the one who's odd.  I'm just like everybody else.

            I am not the only person in the world with a conscience.  There are still good people in this city; there are still good cops in this city.  I am not the only person around who knows right from wrong!

            People like that are a dying breed, Harvey, and you fucking KNOW it.  Law of the jungle wussy boy- kill or be killed.  Hell, you're lucky I'm here to take care of your worthless ass.  God knows YOU'RE useless.

            Just shut up!  I am not useless.  I'd get by just fine without you.  In fact, I'd love for you to just disappear!

            If you didn't really need me Harvey, then you wouldn't be a slave to that coin now would you?  You'd be able to make decisions on your own.  You'd be able to get rid of me. 

            ....

            So either you DO need me or you secretly enjoy hurting people.  Two-Face laughed maliciously, "You know what your problem is Harvey.

            There was a short, injured silence, and then, ...What...

            You like to pretend that I'm certifiably insane. Then you can go running off to some shrink thinking that we can be 'cured'.  Sure, the fact that there's two of us in one person is crazy, but you refuse to admit that I'm simply an asshole.  I know damn good and well what SOCIETY considers to be right and wrong... I just don't give a fuck.

 

           

000000000000000000000

 

            Mack sniffled and swallowed a couple of Tylenol Cold and Sinus.  She'd thought she was going to survive the allergy season without getting a cold.

            She sneezed, Ah well... almost.  Mack had to admit that her cold was getting better.  It had already been several days since its onset and she was hoping it would be gone by Saturday.

            She curled her feet as far under her pajama pants as possible, and opened the front door.  Reaching down, she grabbed the Thursday morning edition of the Gotham Sun Times, squinting in the early afternoon sun.  Pursing her lips as she closed the door, she had to admit that subjecting her bare feet to thirty degree weather wasn't the best way to get rid of a cold.

            Mack laughed sheepishly.  She'd never claimed to be the sharpest tool in the shed.  Sitting down at the wooden kitchen table she absently unrolled the paper and reached for the sugar bowl.  Spooning several piles of sugar into her coffee she inhaled the aroma and made a small sound of pleasure.

            Pulling out the front page she took a long swig of Folgers as her eyes fell on the main headline and the picture provided.

            Two-Face robs casino - five dead.

            The mouthful of coffee went suddenly flying across the table in a large arc of droplets as she eyed the larger than life picture gracing the front page.  They had chosen a picture that showcased his 'bad side'- mostly likely for dramatic effect.  He was looking over one shoulder at what appeared to be two bodies sprawled on the floor behind him.  The images of the lumps on the floor were grainy and any carnage that might have been present was blurred to the point of being unrecognizable.  Still, they were definitely people, and they weren't going to be getting up.

            Mack swallowed, vaguely shocked by such a disturbing picture, but not surprised that the paper had taken gross advantage of the fact that the camera footage had so conveniently supplied them with a violent picture that wasn't in any way grotesque or gory.

            "Violence sells paper... " she muttered cynically.  "Of course such a grand photo op will most likely please at least one of them." 

            Mack curled her lip in disgust at the whole thing.  The papers were sensationalizing to sell more papers and she knew Harv practically reveled in it.  He was the exact sort of person who needed his ego fed on a regular basis.  She knew he didn't need the money, so why the fuck did he bother continuing to rob.  Either he enjoyed the rush, or he felt the overwhelm urge to occasionally remind the city that his crazy ass was still on the loose.  Both options made her feel ill.  It was one thing to be criminally insane.  At least then she would have excused some of his behavior, but the more she thought about it the less she believed he was incapable of thinking rationally.  Sure, he had two different personalities, and neither one controlled the other except through manipulation or the luck of the coin.  But that didn't mean for a damn second that the individual personalities were incapable of understanding what was acceptable behavior and what wasn't.

            They had been a district attorney.  They knew what society deemed appropriate, and Harv deliberately chose to ignore the social norms.  Sure he was legally nuts, but the fact of the matter was that he just didn't give a shit. 

            Mack rested her elbow on the table and then wearily propped her forehead on her hand.  It hadn't even been a full week, and already she was losing the one illusion she had been clinging to. 

            If he really was insane to the point of not understanding which actions were okay and which were not, then she could always console herself with the hope that he could be cured.  Otherwise, he was simple cruel, and didn't care enough to control himself.

 

0000000000000000

 

           

            Mack stared pensively at the tray in front of her and made a rude comment about Harv's lineage.  She could swear the bastards were swilling the drinks down faster than normal simply to give Harv more opportunities to 'grill' her.  If there ever was a man who couldn't take a hint... it was Harv.  Whether it was simply the lawyer in him or a product of some perverse personality defect, she didn't know.  But either way... it was fucking irritating.  She'd made it clear that she wasn't in the mood to speak to him yet he kept pestering her about this or that.  She had attempted to placate him with the normal fake pleasantries, but every time she did so, it just made him more determined to get a real response from her.

            Didn't he realize, she was purposely avoiding his questions to keep herself from spewing forth any number of the unpleasant comments lolling about in her brain?!  Christ, he'd have a heart attack if he realized she had been this close to calling the cops on him the last two nights. 

            Yes, she was being unsociable.  Yes, she was being curt.  But damnit all to hell, she felt fucking guilty.  Now how do you possibly explain to Harv that you felt guilty over something he did, because if you'd reported him prior to the 'casino incident' then he wouldn't have been able to shoot those people.            

            And, why wouldn't he have been able to?!  Because he'd have been in jail, or Arkham, or where ever it was they sent crazed murderers!

            But NOOOO!  She had to go and keep her bloody mouth shut because she had managed to convince herself that they weren't all that bad.  HA!  She couldn't have done as much damage with a day off from work, an ax, and a mission statement! (props to Get Fuzzy.)

            Hell, it was bad enough that she'd kept her mouth shut, but now she was actually profiting from his murdering ass.  Christ knows that her savings account was quite a bit healthier than it had been before they starting showing up.  So not only was she harboring a felon, but she was openlycondoning his actions by not saying anything.  She was guilty by proxy!

            But would psycho boy Harv understand any of that?  Of course not!  And was there any chance he wanted to listen to her whine about her guilty feelings?  Hell no! 

            So, in as an act of kindness, not to mention self-preservation, she had wisely kept herself from engaging in any real conversation with him.  She was simply too tempted to tell him to take his business and shove it, followed by a, 'please, don't kill me.'

            Things might have gone a little differently if she'd been dealing with Harvey.  After all, it would be much easier to work through this if she could talk to the half of him that felt guilty also.  But once again, good ol' Harv just couldn't seem to fucking cooperate.  Somehow she didn't think walking up to him and telling him to take a hike so she could talk to Harvey would be a good idea.  Hell, it probably healthier to just work with the whole, 'You're a psycho nut job and I want you behind bars so my guilty conscience will stop driving me to drink,' angle.  At least he'd take the first part of that sentence as a compliment.

            Crossing her arms, she slumped down on a near barstool and looked around at the empty bar.  It was after two-thirty on a Friday, and all the regulars had abandoned her roughly half an hour ago.

            Traitors, she snorted.

            With the bar so empty, she didn't really have any excuse to run back to the front whenever he tried to corner her.  It wasn't as though she really had anyone to wait on.  Instead she had informed him that she needed to get the front cleaned up so she could leave the bar at a decent hour.  It had worked for the last forty-five minutes or so.

            Unfortunately the bloody bar was only so big, and as they'd been relatively slow all evening, there wasn't much else she could clean unless she broke down and started scrubbing windows.  Seeing as how he was irritatingly intelligent, he'd see through that facade in a Peloponnesian minute.

            Mack looked desperately around the bar for something else to do but found nothing.  It looked as though she was going to have to pay the piper and just tough it out.  She made a small 'hmmph' noise.  She was tired of toughing it out, and she didn't want to have to pay the piper.  She didn't want to have to pay anyone.  It was about damn time someone starting paying her for a change.

            She rolled her eyes.  Oh wonderful.  First, I'm rolling in guilt and self-pity, and now I'm whining.

            Mack heard one of the floorboards in the hallway creak and tried to be optimistic- maybe they were leaving.  Turning her head towards the hallway, she was horrified to see Harv strolling towards the bar.  He took one look at her relaxing on one of the worn barstools and smirked.  Mack looked the other way and cursed silently.  The son of a bitch had finally caught her sitting down.  He set his glass down on the bar ledge with a thunk and took the seat next to her. 

            She forced a smile and then started to edge off her seat.

            There was definite amusement in his voice when he replied, "Suddenly think of some other imaginary task for yourself to do, Mack?"

            Mack looked at him and feigned shock, "Of course not, I'm simply catching up on some work I've been putting off."

            "Ah... Is that what you call it.  In my day we just referred to it as 'purposely avoiding someone'."  He raised one eyebrow at her sardonically and she had to force herself not to twitch.

            She was not going to crack.  She was not going to discuss this.  She was not...

            Mack looked back at him out of the corner of her eye, secretly hoping he'd disappeared.

            "Yes, Mack.  I'm still sitting here," he favored her with a rather smug look.  "Kind of hard to avoid someone when you can't really kick them out isn't it?  And it's such a small bar to begin with," he mused.

            "Sometimes I really hate you," Mack found herself thinning her lips and saying the first thing that popped to mind before she could censor it.

            He blinked, "Holy shit.  I think that's the first honest thing you've said to me since Wednesday."  He gestured grandly and continued in a wry voice, "Christ, somebody give the woman a bloody medal."

            "What do you want me to say, Harv?"  Mack was positive she sounded as tired as she felt, and found herself slumping back down onto the barstool she had vacated moments before.

            "You might start with explaining your recent decline in attitude."

            Mack drummed her fingers on the table and felt her face forming an, 'Excuse me, but are you really that stupid,' expression.  "Well, gee Harv... it couldn't have had anything to do with the stunning exposé I read over breakfast Thursday morning."

            "And how exactly did that effect you in any way, shape, form, or fashion?"  Harvey turned his head sideways to look at her expectantly.

            "It's possible that you weren't aware about this one minor law, since you have so little experience with the legal system," Mack voice went from sarcastic to down right scathing, "but apparently it's illegal to harbor a felon.  A particular clause made worse when you throw in the small fact that by not reporting you to the police you were free to go 'round shooting people."

            Harv narrowed his eyes and snorted in disgust, "Are you telling me you've avoided me for the last two bloody days because you felt guilty!  Christ woman!  That is so...so..." he flounder briefly, searching for the right phrase.   "It's so chick like," he finished with a wild wave with one hand.

            Mack cocked her head to one side and stared at him in disbelief.  "Why yes, Captain Obvious, I am a chick."  She rolled her eyes and continued to mock him horribly, "Nothing escapes your keen skills of observation, does it?!"

            "Look woman..." he stopped mid sentence as Mack leaned one arm on the bar and proceeded to bat her eyes furiously at him.  "What in god's name are you doing?!" he exclaimed.

            "Well if you're going to accuse me of acting 'chick-like' I thought I'd better play the part," she simpered.

            He stared at her wide eyed, and sputtered for a moment before throwing his hands up in air and exclaiming, "There is just no reasoning with you!"

            She recoiled and lifted one brow, "Oh that's rich!  This from the man who argues with himself about which beverage to order on a nightly basis."

            "That is not the point!"

            "No I believe the point was that you were bamboozled by the very thought of someone feeling even remotely guilty when something bad happens."

            "Hey!  I am not bamboozled."

            "Of course you're not, Harv," she smiled and patted his arm sympathetically.

            He looked at her as if she'd grown another head, "Are you patronizing me!"

            She feigned innocence and retorted, "Who... me?"

            "Now look here, princess," Harv pointed one finger at her.  "Stop dodging the damn issue.  You can't go around being all 'girly' every time I commit some random crime.  I just won't bloody stand for it!"  His tone of voice made it clear he thought the issue was closed.

            "OH!  I see..." Mack nodded her head, eyes wide, "When you explain it like that it all makes perfect sense."  She blinked her eyes and did her damnedest to smile sincerely at him.

            "Damnit Mack, I mean it."

            She threw her hands up in frustration.  He was not getting the point.  "So what am I supposed to do the next time you do something nefarious and, god forbid, someone dies?  How am I supposed to feel about that, huh?  'Cause I still could have turned you in and maybe prevented some of this."

            Mack felt her blood go cold as the wry smirk on his face melted into the beginnings of a cold, unfriendly smile.  The Two-Face she normally interacted with was a calculating, arrogant ass.  He was prone to bouts of irritation, but was suspiciously even-tempered for someone of his character.  He tolerated her sarcastic remarks, and even responded with his own, though he absolutely had to have the last word.  It would have been all too easy to buy into the belief that he was relatively harmless, and had simply accumulated a bad rep from all the negative press he received.  Chances were very good it was a conscious act on his part to further his own secret little plot, whatever it might be.

            She might have actually found herself believing his act, if it hadn't been for his escapade Wednesday night.  His 'cover' had been blown, and from the hard look in his eyes, he knew it too.

            Time seemed to slow considerably as she sat on her barstool and watched all traces of his humanity slip away.  She had only seen him like this one other time, and even then it had been a brief exchange.  The thought of having to face such a malevolent stare for any length of time was enough to make her want to run for the front door.

            Harv smiled wickedly at the fear in her eyes and had the sudden compulsion to suddenly shout 'boo'.

            Damnit, you are supposed to be nice.  Scaring the living daylights out of her does not count!

            Fuck off Harvey.  Did you really think I was going to tiptoe around the broad the entire time we knew her?  I'm sick and tired of handling the wench with kid gloves.  She's a big girl; she'll get over it.

            Are you shitting me?  She looks ready to fucking bolt.  She's never gonna want to get to know us if you are hell bent on being a prick.

            Hey!  If the broad can't handle ME, then she sure as hell can't handle US!  She can either get used to it or not.  Playing nice got us in the door and that is ALL it was SUPPOSED to do.

            This is a bad fucking idea.

            So what!  I'm tired of pretending to be some wussy boy like you.

            You're not this much of a hard ass with the guys.

            That's because the guys already know whom they're dealing with.  They've seen the show; Mack hasn't.

            That because we don't want her to you jackass!

            No, we DIDN'T want her to.  Think Harvey; I know you're not THAT stupid.

            What in the bloody hell are you talking about?  We want to be friendly with the wench.  Something that might be a tad fucking difficult if you ostracize her!           

            Yeah, we do want to be friendly, but if you want the broad to stick around then you'd better make sure she can handle me 'cause I'm not gonna spend all my time kissing her ass just 'cause the broad doesn't have any backbone.  We only had to be nice long enough to get in the door. 

            Why the fuck would she even consider being friends with a guy who looks like he'd just as soon kill her as talk to her.

            That is NOT my problem.  I AM a heartless fucking bastard who would just as soon kill someone as talk to them.  If she can't handle that, then I don't wanna waste my fucking time anyway.

            You are not listening to me!  If you wanna play who's the biggest psycho, fine!   But wait until we're at least sort of friends with her.

            OH!  So you want me to wait until she's gotten used to us being NON-PSYCHOTIC and then you want me to suddenly revert back to acting callous and unfeeling and pull the fucking rug out from under her.  Oh, that's a great idea Harvey, why didn't I think of that?!

            Why can't you just be fucking normal so I can have some fun for once?!

            Two-Face paused, Tell me you didn't REALLY think I'd go along with this little plot of yours forever did you?    You did realize I was gonna go back to being a dick as some point.

            There was a decidedly sulky silence.

            You are such a dumb bastard.

            It's called wishful thinking, asshole.

            Harv refocused his eyes and found Mack staring intently at him.  She jumped suddenly when she realized he was staring back. 

            "Do you really think you could stop me from hurting people, Mack?"  He sat there looking arrogant and callous, with one arm resting on the bar.  "Do you think that throwing me back in jail would solve anything.  I'd only knock off a coupla' guards and break out again."

             He curled one lip up condescendingly, "Are you really so presumptuous as to think you could possibly influence my behavior."           

            Mack had to admit that she was feeling relatively speechless.  She wasn't exactly sure what he had expected him to say, but this wasn't it.  "If that was your attempt at reassuring, well... you suck at it."  Mack dropped her hands listlessly into her lap and looked away for a moment- anything to escape that unnerving stare of his.  There was just no emotion in his face.  His eyes were harsh and his mouth had curved up into a mocking smile.  Hell, his entire person radiated ruthlessness and quite frankly- it was scary as hell.

            There were very few things that Mack was willing to except on blind faith.  In fact, the existence of a higher power and Murphy's Law were pretty much the extent of it.  She had no desire to add their so-called promises to the list.  But here he was, deliberately forcing her to either suck it up and simply adjust, or admit that she just didn't have what it took to handle him.

            Either way, she was still stuck with him.  Of course she was pretty goddamn sure that how she reacted in the next few minutes would have a great deal of impact on how he treated her later on.  Unfortunately she wasn't sure which reaction would yield the results she wanted. 

            If she decided to be a chicken shit, would he go back to the easier going Harv she was used to?  And if he did go back to the nicer, fake version of Harv would it even make a difference considering she knew what he was really like?  Hell, it was likely that if she couldn't hack it he'd simply lose all respect for her and be a shithead, anyway.  She frowned.  Not that it really mattered.  If she turned tail and ran, she'd lose all respect for herself, and that was unacceptable.           

            She raised one well-manicured brow and felt the corners of her mouth tighten.  The urge to smack herself was becoming overwhelming.  She was thirty-six years old and while that didn't necessarily make her an expert at facing down crazy mob bosses she sure as shit wasn't gonna cower before like a 'wet behind the ears' newbie.

            Talk about your deep breaths before the plunge.

            Her head jerked up and she locked eyes with him before she could talk herself out of backing down.  Even so, some of the steel she forced into her gaze faded as she met his inexorable stare.

            She managed to continue their silent staring contest for several minutes before the defiance in her posture started to crumble.  With every passing second her confidence was slowly diminishing and the more it did so, the more his own seemed to grow.  She had a sinking feeling he was one of those sick people who made other people feel bad so that he could feel better.

            Let's see if the broad's got a little spunk shall we?  Two-Face chuckled darkly.

            Don't you fucking dare!

            Why not?  It'll be fun.

            Because it'll freak her the fuck out!

            If she can't deal with our little displays of 'aggression' then she doesn't have what it takes to be with us to begin with.

            This is not the time to find out!

            I don't fucking think so.  Let's get off on the right foot.  Let's see if the broad's got any nerve.

            Please listen to me; you're making a mistake.

            Bullshit!  I know EXACTLY what I'm doing.

            Two-Face ignored Harvey's continued pleas and turned his attention back to the frightened woman in front of him- who was still stubbornly holding her ground.  Harv held her eyes until the corners of her mouth tightened with the effort of not turning away and then he stilled absolutely.

             She blinked and a funny sort of wariness start to creep up her spine.  It was simply unnatural for a person to go that still.  Hell, was he even breathing?

            He snapped his right arm out so suddenly that she would have jerked back in surprise if his hand wasn't moving towards her face, looking for all the world as if he was going to smack her.  Mack inhaled sharply and abandoned all pretense of composure.

            Mack threw out her left forearm in a blocking motion and she uttered an indignant, "You promised!"

            The forceful impact she had been expecting never came and his hand slowed as suddenly as it had moved.  Harv bypassed her still raised arm and wrapped one warm hand around her chin, pulling up as he did so.  He gave her an appraising look and then responded in such an analytical tone that she felt decidedly like an inanimate object being examined for flaws.  "I'd have to threaten you with something incredibly heinous to force you to be sociable, wouldn't I?"

            Mack suppressed a cold chill.  "I really rather you didn't."

            He remained as implacable as always, "Just as long as you realize I could."

            She blinked.  "Well of course I know..." she broke off mid-sentence as the most horrific idea washed over her.  What the hell was the point in moving to hit her and then just stopping?  What kind of a point was he supposed to be making?  Was it some sort of sick test to see if she had any mettle at all?  Did he think it was funny scaring the living daylights out of her?  Exactly what the fuck did he think was going on here?  She sure as hell wasn't gonna sit around and be used for someone's personal amusement, and she sure as fuck did appreciating someone 'almost' hitting her just to see if she'd stand up for herself.  What we have done if she hadn't moved to stop him?  Would have just hit her anyway despite their arrangement?

            The more she thought about it the more irate she got.  Mack jerked her chin out of his hand and fixed him with a furious glare, "Is this some sort of sick game to you?!  Because I don't think it's fucking funny!  What in the hell make you think for even a bloody second it is in any way acceptable for you to fuck with my head like this?"

            Harv leaned back to avoid being smacked in the head by one of the hands she was waving in an effort to emphasize her point.  In the back of his mind, Harvey was busy making the most obnoxious 'crash and burn' noises possible.

            "I wanted to know how much effort it would take too intimidate you into doing what I wanted.  You didn't really think I'd actually consider some sort of compromise if I could simply force you to do what I want, did you?"           

            Mack wrung her hands to keep from reaching for his neck.  Her nostrils flared and she pressed her lips so tightly together that they started to turn white.  Harv half expected her to start making little 'pffft' noises like a small angry cat.  Instead she merely gritted her teeth and clenched her jaw so tight he wouldn't have been surprised if he heard something pop.

            You really know how to talk to women don't you slick?

            I found out what I wanted too didn't I?

            What?  That she wouldn't really let you walk all over her if push came to shove?  Hell, I could have told you that. 

            "Excuse me!  But if you're finished debating about what sort of hell to put me through next, I'd like to finish ranting about your inexcusably unscrupulous behavior!"  Mack poked him in the chest with one nail.

            Harv blinked and then wrapped his hand around the one poking him in the chest.  "You know Mack, why don't we have a seat," he gestured towards the nearest wooden table and slid off his barstool, pulling her with him.  "I think we need to sort a few things out."  He pulled her the short distance, ignoring the resistance he met when she started to drag her feet.

            "I am very displeased with you, Two-Face," she bit out.

            He stopped in mid stride and she was so busy thinking of rude things to call him that she slammed into his side.  "I gave you permission to call me something else and you revert back to that."

            "Yeah, well, Harv is a friendly sort of nick name, and you clearly do not count.  Friends do not treat each other like this."

            "I wasn't aware we were friends Mack?"           

            "Well, excuse me your Majesty.  I must have forgotten my place."

            "That's not what I meant," he growled.

            "Well it's a moot point now isn't it, because I don't want to be friends with you anyway."  Mack tugged on her hand, but he refused to let her go, "will you stop being such a bully and quit manhandling me."

            He narrowed his eyes, "Well I can either bully you or we can be friends.  The choice is yours."

            She gaped up at him, "You can't make someone be friends with you.  Isn't that what your little display," she gestured wildly with her free hand, "was all about?"

            "What on earth would make you want to be friends with me anyway?"

            "I was simply trying to get along with you, but you make it absolutely impossible.  Harvey I get.  Harvey wants to be nice.  He doesn't go out of his way to be a pain in my ass!  But you can't decide if you want to play nice, or threaten me, or be a bully, or be overly sarcastic, or an arrogant lech.  Why on earth can't you simply pick a personality?  I could have sworn there was only supposed to be two of you.  Could the real Two-Face please stand up so I can salvage what's left of my own bloody sanity!"  Mack took a ragged breath and huffed.

            "First off, sanity is over rated.  Secondly, you're talking to him. Thirdly, if you'd get your damn foot off of mine we might actually manage to make it the finally two feet and be able to sit down and discuss this.  Fourthly," he bent down towards her and snarled, "if you continue to speak to me like that I'm gonna have to duct tape your mouth shut."

            Mack allowed him to lead her to the table in question, "How the hell are we supposed to have a discussion if I can't say what I really think?!"

            "You can say what you want Mack, but you don't have to be so fucking insubordinate about it."

            She crossed her arms in the perfect image of negative body language, "That's the first thing we need to discuss.  I am not your subordinate."

            "Fine!  You want to be treated like an equal... then stop being so bloody whiny.  Not to mention all that infuriating bullshit about feeling sorry for yourself."

            "What in the hell are you talking about?!" Mack exclaimed.  "When have I ever openly felt sorry for myself, let alone was whiny?"

            "Really," his eyes widened in mock disbelief, "Then want do you call that little episode where you kept bitching about me shooting a few people.  Christ why don't you go nail yourself to a fucking cross and get it over with Mack."

            "Why you self-righteous bastard!  Just because I feel bad about what happened, doesn't make me a bloody martyr.  Hell, at least I do feel bad, which is more than I can say for you!"           

            "NO!  I don't feel bad.  I'm not ever going to feel bad, and the sooner you get the fuck over it the better off we'll both be!

            "Fine!  The next time you shoot up a casino or something I'll just throw you a bloody party," Mack replied sulkily.

            Harv growled and leaned across the table, "That is the exact sort of thing I'm talking about.  You just have to have the last word.  You can't just leave it alone."

            "And exactly how am I supposed to know when to leave it alone?  I'm not psychic!"

            "That doesn't mean you're stupid, though.  Get some survival instincts, Mack.  Learn how to keep your bloody mouth shut when you've managed to irritate me.  It's not exactly healthy to continue running you're mouth after you've already pissed me off."

            "Alright, fine.  All try to control my sarcastic impulses!  Happy now?"

            "Yes, as a matter of fact I am, princess."

            Mack gave him the evil eye, "Stop making up stupid nicknames for me!  My name is Mack!"

            "NO!  I won't stop.  I like calling you that."

            She gaped at him.  "You cannot expect me to give into every single one of your demands when you can't even agree to one of mine."

            His nostrils flared and he folded his own arm in a mirror image of her.  "You can ask for something else, but I'm not giving up the princess remark.  I like it.  Besides," he added sullenly, "you only gave into one of my demands.  For all you know I have thousands more."

            "Yeah, like that'd surprise me."  Mack slumped in her chair.  "I want you to stop pushing me around for you're own personal amusement.  I," she glowered at him, "don't think it's funny."

            "Define pushing you around," he demanded.

            "You know damn good and well what I mean so stop pretending otherwise."

            "I want set parameters."

            "Only so you can find a loop hole in one of them."

            He smirked, "Why yes Mack, that is why.  What's your point?"

            "The point is Harv," she drawled, "that I don't like it.  It only adds to the feeling that I can't trust you." 

            "Mack, I always fulfill my end of the bargain," His voice oozed faked sincerity.

            "Yeah, and then you simply find a way around the parts you don't like.  I want you to stop feigning ignorance Harv.  You know damn good and well what I mean when I add a clause to one of our deals.  You can't go around ignoring parts of an arrangement simply because it's convenient for you at the time, and just because you can manage to find some tiny ass loophole to excuse your behavior."

            "Why not?" he retorted indignantly, "It's not my fault you can't cover all the bases when you deal with me."

            "I'll never be able to cover all the bases Harv.  I do not have a Harvard education.  I was not D.A.  I am not going to be able to out-maneuver you when it come to contracts so stop taking advantage of that small detail."           

            He sent her a flinty look, "Well which is it then.  Do you want me to stop pushing you around or do you want me to 'play fair'."

            "Why can't I have both?"

            "Well, you can, but then I get something else from you."

            "And what might that be?"  She eyed him warily.

            He looked at her seriously, "I have no intention of frequenting an establishment where the owner is judgmental as hell.  You don't have to like what I do Mack, but that's doesn't mean I want to be fucking preached to."

            "I haven't done that to you once."

            "Not yet you haven't, but I want it out in the open that I'm not gonna put up with it."

            Mack mulled this over.  Unfortunately he was right.  If they were going to get along she was going to have to put her own morals on the back burner when he was around.  She could get indignant after he left.

            "Alright.  You can call me princess," she shuddered, "and I'll promise not to be judgmental if you agree to play fair when we make other arrangements, and to stop pushing me around."

            He held up one hand and smiled viciously.  "I'll play fair when it's about business or something of great importance, but other than that... well... your shit outta luck."

            She started to object but he waved his hand and continued, "I'm not going to stop being me, Mack, so get the fuck over it.  I'll keep my word when we discuss business and the sort of things we're discussing now, but that's it."

            Mack nodded sullenly and he continued, "You need to define pushing you around Mack.  I enjoy pushing people around so you only get to keep me from bullying you in one way, not all of them."

            Her fingernails drummed relentlessly on the table in front of her and she gave him a long, flat stare.  He didn't seem the least bit fazed.  "Fine," she gritted, "I want you to stop using your size to intimidate me.  You're bigger than me, I get it... really.  I don't need you to wave a gun in my face or point out the fact that your hand is twice as big as mine."

            "Mack, I would never wave a gun in your face." He grinned, "I wouldn't need to.  As you so succinctly pointed out... I'm bigger than you."

            "Would you stop it already.  You don't need to threaten me you know!  I have managed to figure out that you're a big, bad gangster."

            "I'm not threatening you Mack.  I'm merely making a point." 

            She gave an exasperated sigh, "would you just agree already."

            "I agree that I won't use my size to intimidate or force you into doing something you don't want to do, or as some sort of personal threat."

            Mack threw her hands up in disgust, "Must you skewer every suggestion I make?!"

            "Mack, I like being a bully.  It's fun.  I'm not about to completely give up something like that when I enjoy yanking your chain so much," he gave her a sinister smile.

            "I just spent the last fifteen minutes hammering out details to our little 'relationship' and I still felt like I got absolutely fucking nowhere.  Are you always this bloody frustrating or is it just me?"  Mack leaned an elbow on the table and rested her head wearily on her hand.

            "It's probably just you.  I tend to terrorize other people.  You really shouldn't bitch so much princess, I really do cut you more slack than other people."

            Mack snarled at the use of that infernal nickname, "Thanks Harv, you're a real peach."

            "Mack, if you ever refer to me like that again, I'll be forced to kill you," he said matter of factly.  Climbing to his feet, he shook his glass expectantly at her, and then turned head back down the hallway.

            "Harv," he stopped and half turned back to her.  She bit her lip and paused, "Would you really have hit me?" Her voice sounded unsure, even to herself, but she had to know.

            There was an uncertainty in her face that raised a tiny protective feeling in him- a feeling he squashed with revulsion and promptly blamed on Harvey.

            "No," he said abruptly, "I promised not to, remember."  Harv started to turn back towards the hallway when she called after him a second time.   He spun back around, issuing an exasperated, "What?!"

            She ignored his aggravated response, "Then what would you have done if I'd just sat there?"

            "Does it matter," he huffed.

            Mack blinked and took in his slightly defensive stature.  "Yes, I think it does."

            He scowled at her and had half a mind to ignore her question, but in the interest of fairness he pulled his infamous coin from his pocket and flipped it into the air.  It came down unblemished side up, and he swore.

            Mack sat primly in her chair, patiently waiting until he was done with his little temper tantrum.  His mouth formed one long grim line, "I'd have bullied you mercilessly, taken gross advantage of you hospitality, and in general made you life a living hell for my own personal amusement.  Because, after all," he added with a sadistic smile, "you wouldn't have had the guts to do a damn thing about it."           

            There was a startled silence and Mack stared at him in utter disbelief.  A long second passed and then in a measured tone, "How is this, "she gestured between the two of them, "any different?" 

            He jerked back and actually looked vaguely offended.  "There's a big difference Mack.  Did you or did you not just have a normal conversation with me?"

            She looked at him through narrow eyes, "That was normal for you?"

            "Would you like me to show you the difference?"  He snarled and took a threatening step towards her.

            She opened her mouth to vehemently deny any interest in whatever demonstration he had planned, but paused at the last second as the strangest urge to say yes came over her.  Every fiber of his being looked ready to spring into action and she had the most perverse desire to see what he was like when he was purposely trying to be 'persuasive'.

            Harv saw the smallest hint of rashness enter her eyes as she debated with herself and gloated silently.

            Looks like Mack likes to walk on the wild side more than she lets on.

            He was sorely tempted to cross the room and take advantage of her uncertainty, all the while making it clear what the difference really was.  Despite how much fun he'd have tormenting her he forced himself to stand still.  He'd let her argue with herself and then later on, after they' left, she'd undoubtedly sit at the bar and try to figure out why she hesitated in the first place.  The more time she spent thinking about them the better, no matter how indirect it was

            Any people say I don't have any fucking restraint.

            You have plenty of restraint, you just rarely choose to exercise it.

            Mack blanched.  What the fuck was she thinking?  She was this close to giving him permission to be as dangerous as he wanted to be. A pained looked flashed across her face and she swallowed convulsively.  Where had thought even come from?            

            It's got to be the stress.           

            She looked up and found him leaning one shoulder casually against the wall.  Harv looked her leisurely up and down and smirked, "Looks like I misjudged you Mack." 

            Mack frowned and looked away.  What could she say?  She had faltered at the worst possible time and she didn't even know why.  "I'll get your drinks," she waved one hand absently and moved past him, towards the bar, without another word.

            He regarded her thoughtfully and then turned to head back to the backroom, a sly smile on his face.

            Mack heard the floorboards creak as he headed towards the back and despite their uneasy truce she couldn't shake the feeling of impending doom settling over her.  She was starting to feel vastly outmaneuvered.

            They seemed to be playing some sort of game that only the two of them knew the rules to, and that the outcome had already been preordained.  Everything he did seemed to be part of some grand scheme to get what he wanted. 

            She was starting to worry that what he wanted had quite a lot to do with her.

Chapter Text

Mark wandered down the winding staircase towards Brian’s office, once again reiterating that it was to damn early to be up, especially for a group of men who worked primarily nights.  Nigel, however, never seemed to be available in the afternoon and per usual Mark had been forced to set his appointment for mid-morning.

Nigel was the owner of a very large investment firm in Gotham’s financial district, and catered only to the incredibly wealthy.  Ever the consummate businessman, Nigel had no qualms in dealing with the less savory characters of Gotham city- if the price was right.

While the boss handled his own investments, it was too much work to keep track of every dollar, all the returns, and the proper taxes due on each account.  For an absolutely outrageous fee, Nigel himself dropped by on a monthly basis to review the books and make sure there wouldn’t be any surprises at the end of the year.

Technically, Two-Face himself didn’t pay any taxes.  But it was necessary for his various aliases to pay taxes on their respective accounts to avoid government scrutiny.

Since their were already paying Nigel to handle their finances, the boss had decided that they might as well get their money’s worth and have him review their ‘under the table’ accounts as well.  The four of them put together detailed reports on their expenses, per their separate divisions, and left it to Nigel to discern profit margins, total expenses and the like.

Nigel was without a doubt worth every penny that they paid him, but his only concern was the money, and making sure the appropriate amounts were in the bank.  The actual business of justifying all their expenses to the boss was Mark’s responsibility.  It was by far his least favorite duty.  The boss was rather particular about his money; the fact that he had loads of it notwithstanding. 

During his monthly review of the boy’s expenses, he had come across a discrepancy in Brian’s report.  Brian had listed Rob Morris as still being a current, full time employee. Rob Morris, however, should by all standards be dead.

Mark crossed the slate floor that covered the entryway to their permanent office building, absently waving at their secretary.  Technically Mark and his co-workers were independent security consultants- at least that’s what they reported on their tax forms every year.   Naturally that was the front they portrayed to the public.  All that the average passerby saw was a small sign advertising a small security firm.  Everyone who worked in the building was an employee of Two-Face, and no one knew better.

Their secretary, Roxy Salvatore, was a small, feisty redhead who had no reservations about telling the occasional walk-in that business was by appointment only.  The few times said person had tried to strong arm their way past the front desk, Roxy had beaned them in the head with her stapler.  The woman had a damn good arm.  By the time the intruder had recovered from the stapler to the head, he found himself toe to toe with an agitated Kevin who demanded to know exactly what the fuck you thought you were doing upsetting his secretary.

Mark secretly suspected that Kevin and Roxy had a relationship on the side, but as long as it didn’t upset business, he wasn’t going to ask.  John, Brian, and Kevin all had offices on the first floor, while Mark’s, Two-Face’s, and a small conference room occupied the second floor.

The building itself was located just north of the fashion district and was just far enough of the beaten path that their less respectable employees could drop in without attracting too much attention, though there was a separate entrance for those individuals.  The four of them did handle the occasional ‘legal’ security contract, though those were few and far between.  Either way, all the niceties had been observed concerning the appearance of their office and the best foot had been put forward in making their ‘front’ seem as above board as possible.

Mark rapped sharply on Brian’s office door and then let himself in to the darkened room.  Brian was not a morning person. 

“What?”  Brian looked up from his laptop and groped blindly for his coffee mug.  The phrase on the mug summed up Brian’s personality perfectly, ‘No I didn’t sell my soul to Satan.  He’s buying it on consignment.’

Mark ignored the surly response and took a seat in the black leather chair in front of the desk.  He glanced briefly around the office, still amazed at the oddity of Brian’s decorating style.  You haven’t seen weird until you’re seen a print of The Three Stooges hanging directly opposite a movie poster for The Godfather, part II. 

“Did you want something or did you just drop by to stare at my décor?”  Brian stood up and crossed the room to refill his mug from the small coffee machine nestled on a corner table.

“Care to part with some of that?”  Mark asked wistfully.  Due to the wealth of the Broderick family, Brian and Kevin had already been accustomed to the finer things in life, before signing on with the boss.  Naturally the two of them always seemed to have a leg up when shopping for the best products money could buy.  Brian’s coffee was flown in directly from Columbia and he wasn’t known for willingly sharing it.

Brian sent Mark a surly look over his shoulder, “Gimme one damn good reason why I should?”

“Because otherwise I’ll drag this out as long as humanly possible just to irritate the shit out of you.”

Brian made a loud hmmph noise, “It’s not good, but it’s a reason.”  He reluctantly poured Mark a cup and strolled across the plush maroon carpet towards his desk.  He slumped down in his large executive chair and looked at Mark expectantly.

Mark ignored him and took a long swig of coffee, savoring the flavor.  The other three of them had been trying to pry the brand name out of him for years now, but Brian refused to part with the information- most likely because he found it funny.   Sometimes Brian’s sense of humor was a tad bit malicious.  One of these days, Mark was gonna make good on his threat and smuggle some of Brian’s stash to the boss. 

Brian might be able to get away with keeping the secret from the rest of them, but no man in his right mind deliberately refused to part with information the boss wanted.

Deciding that he should come to the point before Brian attempted to strangle him, he sat his mug down on the desk. But before he could open his mouth, Brian was chucking a coaster at him.

“Christ, you’re fucking cranky today,” Mark sat his drink on the marble edged coaster and decided to simply come straight to the point, “I was looking over your monthly finance report and for some reason you’ve left Rob Morris on the payroll.  I was under the impression you killed all four of the men who were involved in the bank situation several days prior.”

Brian quirked a brow, “I spoke with him in great detail.  It seems he was unwilling to become involved in their impromptu heist, and his account of the events coincided with what I witnessed on camera.”

Mark snorted, “And you believed him?  Brian, there isn’t a man in the entire company who wouldn’t say that when faced with your interrogation skills.”

“If I thought he had something to do with the mishap at the bank you know damn good and well I’d have killed the bastard.  Believe me, the bastard was telling me the truth.”  He smiled cruelly, “We both know how persuasive I can be.”

Mark gave him a flat stare, “I am perfectly aware of your many talents Broderick, but this explanation isn’t going to be good enough for the boss.”

“Mark, I have a severe shortage of enforcers; I don’t need a shortage of my explosive guys, too.  The man had nothing to do with it and don’t see the point of knocking off a dependable man if I don’t need to.”

“Trust me, I know all about your shortage of muscle.  The boss discussed it with me in great detail… again.  I’ve contacted a guy I know in Bludhaven and he’s supposed to me dropping by sometime tomorrow.  I’ll send him your way when he shows up.”

Mark ran a hand through his blonde hair, “I don’t suppose you still have access to the camera footage you mentioned?

Brian smiled ruefully, “As a matter of fact I do.  A copy of it is still on my hard drive.  I reviewed it several times myself.”

“Route a copy of it to my computer and then arrange for Rob to be picked up.  I want to have a brief chat with him after I talk to Nigel.  If Two-Face brings the situation up later, I need to be able to answer his questions in detail.”

Brian shrugged, “I’ll have somebody pick him up within the hour.  Just don’t be surprised if he’s too nervous to form a complete sentence.  Apparently the hired help is scared of you, boss- especially after what you had me do to the last man who pissed you off.”

Mark shrugged and finished the rest of his coffee, “Hey, if I get my ass beat they get their asses beat.  At least they don’t have to deal with an enraged psychopath.”  Mark slid out of his chair and then grinned at Brian over his shoulder, “though you do have the psychopath part down pretty well.”

Brian favored him with a smirk of his own and then waited until the door shut behind him before turning back to his laptop to finish the game of Tetris Mark had unknowingly interrupted.

 

00000000000000000000000

 

There was a fine line between comfortable and grungy and Mack was pushing it.  An old pair of faded jeans with one knee ripped out encased her lower half and she wore a black tank top with a scoop neckline slightly too high to be fashionable.  Her hair had been thrown into a decades-old ball cap that had long since faded into a pale yellow instead of the bright orange that the underside said it had once been.  Of course the fact that her appearance slightly irritated her backroom occupant had been a nice bonus.  She couldn’t decide if he had turned his nose up at the ripped jeans or the fact that the tank top hadn’t been lower cut.

Mack gave the bar a once over, making sure she kept a close eye on the far corner.  Roush and his buddies had been here for a solid three hours, and she couldn’t help but frown at the collection of beer bottles littering their tables.  The way they were downing their beers was incredibly good for business but Roush and his compadres tended to be a tad rowdy when intoxicated.  Read… bar fight.  Ironically enough, it wasn’t her the patrons usually got lippy with… it was each other.

Roush, for the most part, was a pretty levelheaded guy, but he tended to be a little lax with his flunkies.  Quite honestly, she didn’t know how he managed to keep his gang members under his thumb when they were actively ‘working.’  Either way, ten to one the bastards would end up wrecking at least two of her tables before the night was over.  They were a pretty good groups of guys, in the sense that they paid their tab, but the last time she’d broken up one of their fights she’d ended up with a bloody lip.  This time she was pulling out her trusty broom handle- no more Ms. Nice Girl.

Mack gave one last hard look at their corner, and made sure to memorize the two or three that were already talking smack.  Mostly likely they’d be the ones responsible for any future violence and she wanted to keep close tabs on them.  If worse came to worst, at least she’d know who most deserved a whack upside the head.

She moseyed on down the hallway where her illustrious ‘guests’ were currently involved in- from what she could tell, anyway- ‘quite’ a game of poker.

“You sorry bastard!  How the fuck do you keep winning?!”  Brian cursed and tossed his hand down on the table.  He drained the rest of his bud light and grabbed another cold one out of the bucket Mack had provided.

John racked the large pile of cash towards him and reached for another beer himself. “What can I say, Brian?  Some of us have it, “he looked across the table and smirked at his friend, “and some of us don’t.”

Brian cursed and half lunged across the table in attempt to reach for John’s tie.  John laughed and slid back his chair just out of reach.  Mark sighed, “John, quit baiting the man or I’m not gonna stop him when he finally decided to strangle you with that ridiculous tie you insist on wearing.”

“Hey,” Jon retorted indignantly, “I like this tie.”

“That’s because you have no taste John,” Kevin muttered.  “Why don’t you ask one of your sisters to help you buy your clothes?  At least then you’d match.”

“Well forgive me for not picking out those lame shirt and tie combos that Sears sells.”

“I do not shop at Sears,” Brian placed on hand on his own shirt and tie as if defending its honor.   He sniffed, “Besides… just what is wrong with those pre-matched sets anyway?  At least I do not walk around like some color blind nut job.”

“Brian, you don’t need any help looking like a nut job,” Mark tossed one arm across the back of his chair and retorted dryly.

Mack looked at Harv, who was sitting between Mark and Brian as though this sort of thing was perfectly natural.  She sent him an amused look, and had to smile when he rolled his eyes. Mack cleared her throat and was quickly rewarded with the attention of the other four occupants of the room.

She ignored them all, and placed one hand on the back of John’s chair, “You know John,” she said with faked nonchalance, “I think your tie matches your shirt just wonderfully.”

He blinked and grinned at her widely.  He opened his mouth to respond when Harv cut him off.  “Don’t encourage them,” he paused and then gritted his teeth as if he was about to say something unpleasant, “…please.”

She looked at Harv from the corner of one eye, “Why Harv… you sound like you just said a dirty word.”  Mack looked at him with wide innocent eyes.

“See if I attempt to be polite to you again,” he grumbled into his drink.

“You’d probably be a tad more believable if it didn’t sound so painful for you.”

He glowered at her and she chewed loosely on her lower lip and then responded, “Perhaps I should go back up front?”

He sent her his trademark wicked smirk, “Well that depends Mack.  How lucky are you feeling tonight?”

“I’m not sure,” she gave him a hard look as if trying to decide if he was really irritated or just baiting her.  Her careful inspection only made him smirk harder.  

“Don’t hurt yourself, Mack.  Wouldn’t want you to get a headache from thinking so hard.”

She narrowed her eyes and her tone of voice practically dripped sarcasm, “Well, don’t worry on my account.  After you lot showed up, I went and bought stock in Tylenol.”

“And people say I never do anything to help the economy.”  He sent her a smug look and then shook his glass at her, knowing damn good and well that it infuriated her when he did so.

 “And speaking of my continued support of the small business owner…” He looked at her expectantly, and was rewarded with an exceedingly dirty look. 

“All you have to do is tell me to get you a refill.  You don’t have to shake your glass at me like I’m some sort of serving wench.”  She marched over and reached across him to pull his glass from his hand.

“But Mack,” he drawled, “You are a serving wench.”  His voice smoother into an insulting superior tone, “My serving wench, to be exact.”

She stared down at him, looking for all the world as though she was imagining what it would be like to choke him, “Well, why don’t you just tattoo your name on my ass while you’re at it?”

“Now Mack, let’s not be hasty.  I’m sure I could find some sort of ID bracelet and have my name etched on it instead.”

She sputtered for a moment trying to think of a response that wouldn’t get her knocked into next week.

He mentally congratulated himself on a job well done, and looked up at her expectantly, “Ah… was there something else Mack?”

She clenched her fist around his glass so tightly he half wondered if it would break.  Keeping her mouth firmly shut, so to keep from spewing forth any number of insulting responses, she turned and marched out of the room, muttering all the way about certain duplicitous men.

000000000000000000000

 

            Mack exited the backroom and stomped indignantly towards the front.  She adopted a high whiny voice and proceeded to mock his comment about’ his serving wench’, all the while shaking the glass at an invisible person. 

            “Infuriating bastard,” she muttered half-heartedly.

            Stepping through the swinging door, she dumped his glass in the sink and reached for a clean one.  She looked over towards the left and frowned at the group of men still sitting there.  They were getting rowdier by the minute and she could almost picture the broken pieces of her furniture scattered around the bar.

            Sighing she pulled out her handy dandy broomstick from under the bar and leaned it against one ledge… just in case.  Squinting across the smoky bar, she noticed with some amusement that Roush was seated in close proximity to his belligerent friends.  With any luck he’d end up getting hit by accident.  It would serve him right for letting his loser companions trash her bar.  Still contemplating the possible strategies for keeping the damage to her property at a minimum, she absentmindedly grabbed the closest amber colored bottle and poured a fair amount on top of the ice in Harv’s new glass. 

            Wrapping one hand around the base, she pulled it off the ledge and meandered back down the hallway.   She tapped one finger thoughtfully against her lower lip and wondered if, in the future, she should just start cutting people off before they started getting too rowdy.  It was entirely possible that the money she’d save in furniture would make up for the dent in her liquor sales.

            Of course, it was a moot point considering that the schmucks up front had already had more that enough to start losing all common sense.  She snorted, that’s assuming they had any to begin with.

            If… no… when they started to fight she might be better served to simply try and inflict as much pain as possible in a short amount of time.  Maybe if she kicked enough of them between the legs, they might find that finishing their skirmish outside to be less painful in the long run.

            Mack smirked, not to mention that it would be more fun for me. Leaning across Harv she placed his beverage in front of him, still torn between simply trying to rescue her furniture or actually participate in the up and coming brawl.  Hell, maybe she should just go up front and kick them out now.

            Harv looked up at his bartender, slightly curious about what she could possibly be thinking so hard about.  He took a large swallow of what he had assumed would be whiskey and then promptly choked and sputtered.  That was not whiskey.  He spit it back into the glass, and then reached quickly across the table, grabbed the nearest beer bottle and downed half of it in an attempt to washing the nasty flavor from his mouth.  John looked over at his boss and then looked at the spot where his own beer had just been.

            He opened his mouth to comment, took in the disgruntled look on his employer’s face, and then swiftly decided to keep his mouth shut and just get a new beer. 

            “Mack?” Harv growled, “Why in the fuck did you bring me some spiced cinnamon bullshit?!”

            Mack cocked her head to one side and listened intently to the bar.  Nothing so far, but she should probably be getting back up front just in case.  After all, if she was going to have to participate in this little ‘event’ maybe she should just break out the ol’ baseball bat. She pursed herself and quirked an eyebrow, okay… maybe the baseball bat was a tad harsh.

            Dimly, she heard the insistent voice of a very agitated Harv and jerked out of her reverie to look down at him.

            “Sorry, Harv.  What did you say?”

            He curled his hands as if pretending her neck was between then and snarled, “Are you trying to poison me?!”

            She blinked, clearly surprised, “What on earth are you talking about?”

            He shoved the glass towards her and forced her to either take it or drop it.  She sniffed its contents all the while looking at him like he was much more insane than she had previously thought.

            She paused and then sniffed again.  Odd… it smelled quite a bit like spiced rum.  Mack glanced at him from the corner of one eye only to find that he was still giving her the evil eye.  Taking a cautious sip, she was surprised to find that it was spiced rum.

            She smiled and then took a long drink.  This was just what she needed to help calm her nerves.  She had always liked rum.  Downing another fourth of the glass she remembered Harv and looked at him curiously, “Why are you drinking Captain Morgan’s spiced rum?”

            He gaped at her and then exclaimed, “That’s what I would like to know!”  He waved one hand wildly at her.

            She widened her eyes in disbelief, “Surely you’re not suggesting that I brought you the wrong drink?!”

            “Well since it was you who set the damn thing down in front of me it certainly narrows down the suspects, doesn’t it?!”

            Mack absently took another swig and was about to once again profess her innocence when she heard the unmistakable sound of someone being knocked out of their chair.  She inwardly hoped it was Roush getting knocked on his ass.  Still, she was clearly needed up front.  Quickly sitting the half empty glass back down in front of Harv she muttered a quick, “Uh… here’s your drink,” before scurrying out of the room and back up to the bar.

            Harv stared after her in shock, “Did she just walk out one me!?”  He looked around the table at his equally surprised employees when the suddenly heard a loud crash, followed by a very irritated Mack, “Would you fuckers stop breaking shit!”

            Brian looked back at the other four men indignantly, “Did she just go up there to break up a bar fight?”

            Kevin looked at his cousin, “Sounds like it to me.”

            Brian went from indignant to down right outraged, “And she didn’t invite ME?!

            Harv scowled and then slid his chair back.  Heading for the doorway he tossed several instructions over his shoulder.  “Kevin- block the front entrance.  Nobody leaves.  John- keep Mack out of the way, and make sure no one leaves through the back.  Mark- watch the floor and shoot any fucker who tries anything.  Brian- you’re with me.”

            The five of them cleared the hallway in short ordered and stopped just at the edge of the main floor just in time to watch a very perturbed Mack jab some poor schmuck in the stomach with what looked like a short pool cue, just before she turned around to kick some other punk right between the legs. 

            Brian winced as the same man Mack had hit in the stomach stood back up, only to meet the same fate as the last man, “Damn, that woman is mean.”

            Brain and Harv crossed the floor to intervene when one of the men pulled back to deliver a right hook to one of his opponents and accidentally caught Mack in the jaw with his elbow.

            Mack reeled back, half expecting to hit the floor in a few seconds only to find herself bouncing off a rather firm chest.  A pair of rough hands gripped her upper arms and she looked up in time to catch a glimpse of an angry Harv seconds before she was half tossed into the arms off an awaiting John.

            John pushed her firmly behind him and then backed them both up until they were standing in the middle of the hallway.  “I need you to wait behind the bar Mack, and don’t get involved.”

            She looked at him incredulously, “This is my bar, John.  You don’t really expect me…”

            He glanced over at her, “If you’ve got a problem, Mack, take it up with the boss.”  He pointed on hand out towards the middle of the room.

            Mack turned her head to the direction indicated just in time to see Harv clothesline some blonde guy.  Her eyes widened to the size of saucer plates. “I thought people only did that shit in the movies,” she called to John.

            She saw a grin start to form on his tan face and quickly surveyed the rest of the bar.  Two of her tables were laying in several larges pieces, as were a couple of wooden chairs. 

            Kevin was standing in the middle of the front door, his bulk filling most of the doorframe.  She watched him send several people back to the other side of the room; apparently no one was leaving.  Mark had managed to find one of her sturdier chairs and had placed it against one wall and then climbed on it.  The extra foot or so made him quite a bit taller that the average patron and he had one of his guns out, pointed towards the crowd.  She could only assume he was policing the crowd in case somebody tried to pull a weapon.

            A glint from the middle of the room caught her eye and she looked over to find Brian plowing one of his fists into some poor mans face, wearing what looked suspiciously like brass knuckles.  He reached out one hand and grabbed another opponent at random, his hand grabbing a fist full of hair.  Several blows later he had the mans arm in his hands and was about to pull it sharply back when Harv called out a harsh, “Do not break anything!”

            Brian swore in irritation and promptly shoved his knee into the man’s stomach instead.  The rest of her customers had wisely chosen to give the two of them a wide berth and seconds later, Harv was sending the remains of his last opponent flying several feet across the room and into another one of her tables.

            Mack flinched and watched the wooden slabs splinted under the weight of what looked like a solid two hundred or so pounds.  One of the participants of the fight had managed to sneak past both Harv and Brian and was doing his damnedest to sneak out the back door.  John, however, sent him reeling backwards with a solid jab to the nose followed by an impressively precise upper cut. 

Looks like John has spent a few hours in a boxing ring.  Mack rubbed her own jaw absently and was about to turn away and find an ice pack when a glint of steel caught her eye.

            The blonde man in question, whether he was drunk or simply too desperate to realize the stupidity of his action, had slid his hand into his back pocket and pulled out a crude switchblade.  Mack inhaled sharply, but John appeared less than worried and merely stood silently, an insolent smirk on his face.

            Blondie moved towards him in what was most likely supposed to be a threatening manner but given his stagger, it was more comical than anything.  The man had no sooner pulled back his arm in preparation for a wide swing with his weapon, when the sound of gunfire echoed through the bar and a bullet through the upper arm sent the man spinning to the floor.  The entire bar, with exception to Harv and his men, turned to find Mark with his gun pointed at the bleeding man.  Once assuring that his point had been made, he turned away and went back to scanning the crowd.

            John looked down at the injured man and kicked him solidly in the stomach with his foot, rolling him out of the way in the process.  Mack found herself still staring at the man bleeding at John’s feet, not quite sure of how to respond to someone being shot in her bar.

The entire fight took less time than it than took to make a bag of popcorn, but Mack found the sensation comparable to snapping out of slow motion and plunging headlong into the Twilight Zone.

            Harv finished off the last man standing with his infamous right hook and then straightened his tie so that it was once again impeccably placed.  He fixed the other patrons of the bar with a steely look; his raspy voice echoing eerily throughout the room- full of icy fury and malevolence.  “Which one of you worthless fuckers is responsible for the maggots who interrupted my goddamn poker game and knocking the shit outta my bartender?”

            The silence was deafening.  Harv sneered and then turned to a waiting Brian.  “Beat it outta one of these bitches.”

            He leaned downed and grabbed the nearest injured party by the collar and jerked him roughly up to eye level.  He’d no sooner pulled one fist back than the man he was threatening pointed an accusing finger across the room, “It’s Roush, man.  I swear!”

            Brian deposited the man on the floor unceremoniously and then casually crossed the floor, purposely taking his time to help give the impression of inexorable doom.  The red headed man was doing his best to go unnoticed but the people around him were quick to move out of the way and single him out.

            Brian circled him slowly, one hand casually at his side, and the other holding a gun.  Mack started, she didn’t remember seeing him pull his weapon at all, and she hadn’t looked away since the fight had stopped.  Looking around the room she was startled to see that the other two men had pulled their guns as well.  Kevin had turned to the side and was watching his cousin’s back, while John had his own pointed at the crowd directly behind the boss.  Mark seemed to have retained his own position but seemed to be paying special attention to the men lying at Harv’s feet. 

            It was a tad unnerving to watch the four of them work.  While she knew they worked for Harv and were most likely the men who did most of his dirty work it was still scary, and a tad impressive, how well they worked together.  Perhaps it was a culmination of tonight’s excitement but she found herself giggling softly at the image of the four of them playing commando in a back yard somewhere with Mark shouting the occasional order in some military code like a college quarterback.

            She sobered suddenly as Harv sent her an inquisitive look from the corner of his eye.  He stared across the bar at her for a long moment, deliberately winked, and returned his attention to Brian and the man he was hauling across the floor by his hair. 

            Mack looked around the bar, but no one had seemed to notice his action- or at the very least weren’t showing it if they did.

            Brian halted a few feet in front of his boss and shoved his foot harshly into the back of Roush’s knees so that he crashed to his knees in front of Harv’s feet.  Harv regarded him coldly for a moment and then pulled a worn silver coin from his pocket.

            Harv replaced one hand in his pants pocket and absently flipped the coin through the air with the other.   He swiveled his head to look over at Mack who returned his gaze with wary eyes.   She swallowed and tried to fight the overwhelming feeling in the pit of her stomach.  It was one thing to have him staring at her.  It was quite another to realize that through him she’d just attracted the attention of the entire bar, and that heads were currently swiveling back and forth between the both of them.

            He glanced at her jaw line and the large bruise starting to form there and couldn’t help the snarl forming on his face.

            Don’t tell me that you’re feeling protective towards the broad.

            Fuck you Harvey.  I ain’t feeling so such fucking thing, Two-Face denied vehemently. 

            Then why are you getting so fucking pissed.

            Because we agreed that we wouldn’t let anyone else knock her around, you fuckwit.

            Since when have you been so fucking honorable?

            Harvey, why don’t you shut the fuck up and let me handle this shit?!

            Admit that you disliked watching her get an elbow to the face and I’ll leave you alone.

            Fuck you!  I couldn’t give two shits if she gets bruised up or not.

            Then why are you so angry that there’s a mark on her face.

            Maybe I like looking at her face!

            You feel protective towards her.  Admit it!

            Fuck no I won’t admit it.

            So you don’t care that some cheap hood shoved his elbow into your bartender and marked up your property.  It doesn’t bother you or make you angry at all that she got hurt after you swore to keep her safe.  And you couldn’t give two shits that your woman is now sporting a large purple-red bruise the size of someone’s fist- because naturally, you don’t feel the least bit protective about something that belongs to you in the first place.

            There was a short pause as the two of them fixated on the bruise discoloring the face of the small woman across the bar, and then Harv growled.

            Just for that.  I’m gonna kill the worthless bastard.  After all, we can’t have people thinking we can’t PROTECT our property, now can we.

            Shut up and flip for it.

            Oh no… you said… Harv stopped mid argument and turned back around at the sound of an annoyingly whiny voice.

            He stared down at Roush in disgust who was currently rambling on so quickly that all he could really pick up was a, ‘Please… and not my 

            Remembering the way he had to help Mack up off the floor earlier, he sneered angrily down at the pathetic man in front of him and casually backhanded him. 

            “I don’t fucking remember asking you what you fucking thought.”  He turned to Brian, “Drag his ass to the back.  I’ll deal with him later.” 

            Harv turned to the side and motioned for Kevin to join him.  He jerked his head towards the men on the ground, “Get these fuckers up and make them clean this shit up.”  He spared a quick glance at the wounded man across the bar, “Make sure they clean the blood up.  When they’re finished throw them the fuck out.”

            Kevin nodded, reached down, and effortlessly pulled the closest person to his feet.  It took several minutes for the four men in question to be able to stand without staggering too badly, but soon they were collecting the various pieces of wood that had scattered across the bar.

            Harv joined Mark on the other side of the room and together they knelt at the side of the man with the gun wound.  Harv considered him for a moment and then flipped his coin.  He smirked and showed the man lying on the ground the scarred side, “You’ve got two fucking choices.”  Harv lowered his voice so that only the three of them could hear, “If you make a fucking scene and disturb my fucking bartender, then I’ll guarantee you a slow fucking demise.  Or, you can play along and pretend we’re gonna drop your ass off at the nearest medical unit and you can receive a single bullet through the head for your troubles.”

            The man nodded numbly up at Two-Face, and Mark yanked him to his feet.  “Call a couple of our boys and have them take care of it.” Mark nodded and with some assistance, the injured man stumbled down the hallway, making sure to keep his eyes firmly away from Mack who was staring suspiciously at the three of them from behind the bar. 

            Harv snapped his fingers imperiously and John materialized at his side, “Go keep an eye on Brian.  I want our victim to be relatively unharmed when I get back there.”

            John chuckled derisively, “It might be too late, but I’ll try and salvage the situation.” 

            Harv deposited his coin back in its resting place and gave the bar a quick once over.  Kevin was directing the clean up crew and the rest of the patrons had already rushed the bar for another round over which to discuss tonight’s recent events.

            He pushed aside the swinging door and stepped behind the bar.  Mack had managed to find her ice pack and was currently sitting on an old wooden stool and leaning her back against the far ledge.

            She glanced over and gave him a small half smile, her face half hidden under the large blue pack.  Harv closed the gap between them and reached up for the ice pack she was holding in her left hand.   Mack sat there quietly and allowed him to examine the side of her face, but winced when his thumb grazed the top of her jaw line, just under her ear.

            “Sore?”

            “Obviously,” she retorted dryly.

            He frowned at her and tilted her head towards the light.  “You’re lucky that blow didn’t crack your jaw,” he added clinically.

            She scoffed, “He didn’t hit me that hard.”

            “You didn’t see it, “he muttered. 

            “No, but I felt it.  Clearly my perspective is a tad more first hand, wouldn’t you say?”

            “First hand… yes.  But clearly the blow had rendered you unable to think properly.”

            “And exactly what gave you that impression?”

            “The fact that you’re arguing with me.”  Though he had turned her face away from him to get a better look at the damage, his smirk was evident in his voice.

            “You clothesline one person and you go all smug on me.”

            “Liked that did ya?”

            “The clothesline thing was very impressive, as if you didn’t know,” she added wryly.  “The smug part I could live without.”

            “As a matter of fact I did know, but it’s nice to be appreciated.”

            “Oh wonderful,” Mack exclaimed, “As if your ego wasn’t big enough.”

            Harv chuckled and released her chin.  He handed her ice pack back to her and then fixed her with a stern stare.  “Now, perhaps you might tell me what you were thinking, running off to break up a bar fight without asking for help from the five gangsters sitting in the back?”

            Mack scowled at him, “Well I’m not exactly used to having someone to break these things up, now am I?  It has been just me and this bar for years now, you know.”

            He crossed his arms and continued to stare at her.  “Well what do you want me to say, Harv?  I just didn’t think about it.  Besides, I don’t like asking people for favors in the first place.”

            Harv rubbed his forehead, his voice clear indicating his exasperation.  “It’s not a favor, Mack.  It’s part of our arrangement.  I’m sure you remember the part about us ‘keeping people from fucking with you and your bar’, yes?”

            Mack shifted uncomfortably, “Well… yes.”

            “But,” he prompted.

            “Well I just wasn’t sure if you…” she trailed off, clearly nervous about the direction this conversation was taking.

            “If I what?” he retorted flatly, “meant it?

            “I didn’t say that.”

            “You thought it.”

            Mack managed to look affronted in an attempt to appear innocent.  He narrowed his eyes, clearly not buying it.  “Don’t bother denying it Mack.  I wasn’t born fucking yesterday.”

            Her eyes flickered up to his face, trying to gauge his mood.  He continued to glower at her and she decided that perhaps an apology should be made- to mollify him at the very least.

            “I’m sorry Harv.  I wasn’t trying to be insulting.”

            He snorted.  “Yeah well, guess what,” he retorted sarcastically.

            “All right, I was being rude.  Just let it go, would you?”

            Harv tapped on foot impatiently and sighed irritably.  “And in the future, Mack,” he prompted.

            It was her turn to glower, “I’ll run to the back, screaming in terror while you big strong men ride to the rescue.”

            “I’m detecting a note of sarcasm in your voice,” he said dryly.

            “Well, aren’t we observant,” she replied churlishly.

            Harv waved one hand grandly, “And I suppose you’d rather us sit in the back and cool our heels while you get knocked around and your already flimsy furniture is destroyed for the umpteenth time?”

            Mack couldn’t help it.  She stuck out her lower lip in a semi-balance of a pout, “No, I wouldn’t.  But just because you guys step in doesn’t mean I couldn’t do it myself, you know.”

            He blinked and then shook his head in disbelief, “Are you pouting?”

            “No,” she replied quickly.  A little too quickly in Harv’s opinion.

            “You are!”  He accused her.

            “I am not.” Mack crossed her arms, no longer caring in the slightest that her tone was turning rather surly.

            “Oh!  So I’m just imaging that your lower lip is sticking way out.”

            Mack deliberate turned her head away from him, stalwartly refusing to look at him.

             He paused and replayed the last minute or so of conversation in his head.  He rubbed his chin and regarded the small woman in front of him.  A slow smirk crossed his face as it finally dawned on him why she was being so irritable.

            Harv chuckled, “Ah… did we wound your pride when we insisted that you and your little stick sit on the sidelines from now on.”

            Her head whipped around so quick that Harv was surprised she didn’t get whiplash.  From the fierce scowl that she was sending him, he knew instantly that he’d been right.  “Me and my stick are perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves just fine, thank you very much!”

            “I’m sure you are, Mack.”  He replied in a condescending tone.

            “Well, I do not have to sit her and take this.  Why don’t you and your He-Man attitude just strut on back to your room, wise ass.”

            To her surprise he blinked and then laughed.  Not the usual sinister laugh that tended to raise the hair on the back of her neck, but an honest to god amused, ‘you just said something funny,’ sort of laugh.

            “Mack, you are absolutely priceless.”  Harv composed himself and smiled wryly at her before continuing in a smooth tone.  “I’m sure that you and your little weapon are absolutely terrifying on the battlefield, but you wouldn’t begrudge us egotistical males the opportunity to show off, would you?”

             She crossed her arms and looked at him crossly, her ego still not completely appeased.  “You just had to throw that little in there didn’t you?”

            “Well to me, it is little.”  He rubbed his chin and considered the situation.  “Perhaps a demonstration is in order.”

            Her eyes widened, “What sort of a demonstration.”

            He smirked at her, “hold up your hand, Mack.”

            “Okkaayy,” she responded as she held her hand out in front of her.

            Harv wrapped one hand around her wrist and placed his other hand against hers, palm to palm.  His fingers towered over her own by a solid two inches, and in a moment of spontaneity he folded his fingers down until they were covering the first inch or so of her own.

            Mack looked at this display for a moment and then was force to concede the point.  It was a little stick to him.  Either way, however, she’d never really had any real intention of interfering the next time there was a fight in her bar.  She was simply being obstinate because he’d insulted her prowess… or lack there of.

            Harv stared at the small hand underneath his own he had to admit that between the purple bruise on her cheek, and the sheer size difference between the two of them, it was entirely too easy to view her as being more vulnerable than normal- given the circumstances.

            It wasn’t really an appearance he was comfortable with her sporting, mostly due to the small feeling of protectiveness it raised in him.  Albeit a very small feeling, but it was there all the same, and quite frankly it was irritating as hell.

            He pulled away from, still slightly disgruntled at the unexpected insight he’d just gained.  Maybe taking his frustration out on the punk waiting in the back would make him feel better.

            Mack seemed to be having thoughts along a similar vein as she suddenly piped up with an inquisitive, “What exactly did you do with the guy that Mark shot?”

            Harv shrugged, “He’ll be shoved out of the car at the nearest clinic, why?”

            She squinted at him, not really sure if she believed him or not, “Swear?”

            He frowned down at her, “despite our precedence with you, I don’t usually make promises or swear to anything, Mack.  I dislike being held responsible for the outcome of things that often contain variables that I can’t control.”

            “That’s just a really nice way of telling me that’s not how things are gonna work out, isn’t it?”

            He regarded her seriously for a moment, hands in his pockets, “We both know that you don’t really want to know, Mack, so why don’t you just let it go?”

            Mack worried her lower lip, “What about Roush?”

            “Roush will be returned to you in one piece… mostly,” he added with a devilish grin.

            She sighed and decided that this would be a good time to start trying to accept the fact that she couldn’t control him or his actions.  “I’ll get you guys another round, then.”  Mack slid of her stool and shoved her thawed ice pack back in the cooler to refreeze.  If she wanted to keep her face from swelling up like a balloon, she’d need to keep her jaw iced down for most of the evening.

            Harv watched her go about the business of preparing their drinks and when she was finished the two of them headed back down the hall, making small talk as they went.

 

 

00000000000000000000000

 

 

            Mack stood in front of the meat counter at the local supermarket and stared numbly at the flank steak stacked in front of her.  She was once again having doubts as to whether or not this was a good idea.

            Due to last nights events and the small fact that she really had been rather churlish, she had thought that perhaps the boys might appreciate partaking in her weekly Sunday night dinner.

            Naturally she had bought a larger foreman grill, since the one she owned was meant for only one person, but the more she looked at the pile of steak the more she talked herself out of it.

            In truth it didn’t really have anything to do with the steak or the cost or even the preparation that would be involved.  She just felt a little funny about doing something nice for them.  Which in itself was a tad bit stupid since they’d done something nice for her.  Of course as Harv had so succinctly pointed out, they had agreed to keep her bar from being destroyed in their original bargain.  Still, it would be a nice gesture on her part…and since they were usually slow on Sundays, it would be nice to sit in the back and watch football.  That fact that the Patriots were playing this evening was completely beside the fact… really.           

            Her hand hesitated over the package she was about to grab and she sighed at her own overly analytical behavior.  It was just a few steaks.  It wasn’t like she was proposing marriage, for Christ’s sake.  Besides, what man doesn’t jump at the chance to eat free food- especially when it’s red meat?   Red meat being so manly and all.  She snorted, at the sudden image of Tim Allen doing his Tool Time ‘man’ noise.

            Now that the argument with herself had once again been settled, she could move on the difficult part of deciding exactly how much food was enough for one man. 

            Mack rubbed the back of her neck and was just about to once again declare the whole thing nothing but a huge pain in the ass when Marge, Andy’s wife, walked by with her shopping cart.

            The stocky blonde woman came to a halt and smiled at her, “Hey Mack how ya been?  Heard you had some excitement last night.”

            Mack rolled her eyes, “That’s one way to put it.  What exactly did Andy say, anyway?”

            “Oh, it wasn’t Andy- it was Nadine, Sam’s wife’s friend… she heard all about it from one of the boys at the gas station.”

            Mack looked horrified and buried her head in hands.

            Marge patted her reassuringly on the shoulder, misinterpreting her distress, “Oh don’t you worry, hon.  The people round here no better than to run their mouths to the wrong people.  Besides, people were bound to realize you were friends with a mob man eventually.  Of course he’s not really the one I would have chosen to get mixed up with, but well that’s just me.  I’m sure he has a few redeeming qualities about him.”

            Mack looked at Marge from between her fingers and made a mental note to kill the boys at the local filling station and Nadine.  “No,” she corrected, “he doesn’t.”

            Marge admonished her with a wave of one hand, “Now Mack, he broke up that bar fight for you didn’t he?”

            Mack stared at the woman in front of her, and wondered where all of Marge’s common sense had gone.  Mack spent a fair amount of time with Marge and Andy, occasional sitting for the kids and dropping by for the occasional barbeque.  Normally the woman was incredibly grounded and gave great advice, but here she was advocating the benefits of associating with a member of Gotham’s infamous rouges gallery.

            “Well, yes…but.”

            “But what?”

            “The man is crazy.  He talks to himself and has people murdered for the fun of it.”  Mack stared at Marge in complete consternation.

            “Well, Mack, lots of people talk to themselves.  And all mob people commit random crimes- they’re the mob… it’s what they do.  From the way I hear it, it looks like he’s invested a fair amount time in you and that bar.  I really don’t think he’s going anywhere, so you might try to take the good with the bad.”  Marge smiled apologetically at her and once again patted her on the shoulder.

            “Now why don’t you tell me why you were standing in front of all this steak looking thoroughly confused?”

            Mack blinked, sputtered slightly, and decided that rather like Harv and Harvey, Marge was a force to be reckoned with.  Mack briefly considered making up some random excuse for her behavior, since the minute she told Marge about her grand idea it would most likely be all over the neighbor hood by the end of the day…and here she thought stuff like this only happened in small towns. 

            Still, Marge would be able to help her solve her dilemma about how much food to buy.  Quickly weighing her options she tossed caution to the wind, since it was proving to be way too late for keeping things under wraps.

            “Well I had thought to buy some steak and throw a few extra ones on the grill this evening for the boys since they helped me out yesterday, but I’m still wavering.”

            “Why that is a very nice idea, Mack.  Why on earth would you be second guessing yourself?”

            “I can’t decide if I want to be nice,” she said truthfully.

            Marge sighed, “You are so like your mother.  That woman never could make up her mind on whether she wanted to be a hard ass or be a nice easy going woman.  Now what on earth makes you think that you can’t be both.  Take me for example.  I’m a very accepting, open-minded person, but have you ever seen somebody push me around?”

            “Well no, but…”

            “No you haven’t, ‘cause I’d knock on ‘em on their ass.  I think your problem Mack is that you don’t want to be nice to those boys because of what they do, when you ought to just forget all about it and take advantage of what they’re offering you.  Your bar has been slowly turning into a dump for a while now, and if they’re willing to clean house for you in return for a little peace and quiet than I suggest you let them.  I’m not saying you should look for handouts, ‘cause that’s not your way, but good lord girl use the brains your momma gave you an’ just look the other way.”

            Mack gaped at the woman next to her.  Part of her thought Marge was a few bricks shy of a load.  But then again… the path of least resistance and all that.

            “So how much food am I gonna need?”

            “Oh I’d say two or three apiece per guy and a couple bags of Doritos’s oughtta do it.  After all, you’re just throwing together a quick snack.”

            “Right then,” Mack picked up the appropriate amounts of food and dropped them unceremoniously in her cart.  “Well thanks for the help Marge, I’m rather hopeless when it comes to feeding a group of guys.”

            “C’mon, now, Mack- you used to host your share of the football nights.”

            Mack frowned at the sudden reminder of her ex.  “Yeah, well that was a few years ago, now wasn’t it?”

            “True, true.  I still want to kick the jerk for walking out on you, dear.”

Mack smirked briefly at the thought of Marge mowing down her sleazy ex, then shrugged.  “Rick wanted kids.”  She crossed her arms in front of herself defensively, and leaned one hip against the side of the meat cooler.

            “I still think you could have gone to a specialist and been able to work something out, what with all the new technology they have nowadays.”

            “That tends to get expensive after a while, and quite honestly I wasn’t so fond of the bastard that I wanted to work that hard to have his brat.  Besides it was easier in the long run -for both of us- for him to just find a woman that could have kids with out the assistance of all the new in-vitro technology.”

            Marge snorted, “He could have waited until after he left you.”

            “Well, that’s why he’s a bastard.”

            “Oh don’t worry Mack, he got what was coming to him,” Marge grinned wickedly, “I heard he just married Peg.  That brunette who used to work at the Three Kings Deli.”

            Mack gasped, “NO!  That woman is a shrew!”

            Marge nodded and then they both chuckled viciously, “Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy.”

             After taking a rain check on this week’s barbeque, Mack said her goodbyes and made her way towards the snack aisle to round out her shopping, still laughing at the fate of her ex-boyfriend.

 

 

0000000000000000000

 

 

            Harv was feeling decidedly irritable.  Nigel had made arrangements to drop by yesterday morning and look at their accounts.  He snorted, God knows he probably charged extra because it was a on a Saturday.

            He hated their monthly review of accounts.  It didn’t matter how much money they made, it always seemed like it cost way too much to make that much money.  Yes, he was aware that they were ahead by over twelve million, but how is it that there never seemed to be a way to cut more corners so that he could make more money?

            You are so bloody greedy.

            If I don’t make money, how else am I supposed to keep score?  The person with the most money is supposed to win.  Christ… haven’t you ever played monopoly?

            Yes, I have played monopoly. But you always cheat.  You’re the only man I know you can’t be trusted to be banker because you embezzle.

            There HAS to be a way to lower our budget.  Do we REALLY need to pay our guys THIS much.

            You are so damn cheap.  No!  We can’t pay them less.  Not unless you want people to start quitting.

They can’t quit you jackass, we own them

            How many times to I have to tell you that you don’t own people.            

            Maybe YOU don’t… Harv muttered.  And yes we could pay them less.  We already pay more than almost every organization in town.

            And that’s how we get the best employees.  Because we’re not cheap.  You know, you do this every month.  We are making tons of money.  Stop whining!

            Harv mentally flipped off his other half and continued looking through the file in front of him.  Mark was supposed to be dropping by within the hour to discuss some schmuck who worked for Brian…as if he gave a shit.

He didn’t particular care that he was being unreasonable, and he wasn’t the least be ashamed at being petulant.  It was his money damnit.  Why did everyone feel the need to spend it!

            Because if they didn’t spend it we couldn’t make more!  I know that you’re not really this stupid.

           

            Harv snarled.  Why don’t you just shut the fuck up, I can be shitty about it if I want.

            A sharp knock sounded on the wooden surface of his office door and he grunted a short, “Come in.”

            Mark stuck his head through the door, suddenly rethinking the strategy of bothering his boss, on today of all days.

            “Stop hanging in the goddamn doorway, Mark.  What the fuck do you want?”     

            Mark sighed, then shut the door firmly behind him.  Slumping into the chair in front of the desk, he inwardly called Brian all sorts of foul things and decided that he didn’t care if he had to break into that mans office or not- he was giving some of that coffee to Harv just to be a bastard.

            “There was a development in the bank situation several days ago that I thought you might be interested in.”

            “Is it going to save me money?”

            “Well… no…” Mark replied nervously.

            Harv growled, “So it’s costing me money.”

            Mark cringed, “Well it’s about one of the members of Matt Richard’s crew, he apparently…”

            Two-Face cut him off with a curt, “What is there to discuss?  They deliberately ignored orders, they were killed.” He fixed the man in front of him with a steely gaze.

            “Well one of the team members was unwilling to go along with the impromptu break in.  I reviewed the camera footage myself, and…”

            “OH!  Let me guess.  You didn’t kill him.”  Harv sneered, “Did if ever occur to you that he was lying to avoid his immediate demise?”

            “Of course it did.  But Brian and I both questioned him and we both reviewed the camera footage, and the guy’s telling the truth.”

            Harv glared at Mark and gritted his teeth, “Well, by all means then.  Just eat me out of house and home.”

            Mark sighed.  The boss really was completely unreasonable when he received Nigel’s finished  report of their expenses.  He knew the boss was an intelligent man, and why he couldn’t simple look at their total profits for the month and be happy was beyond him. 

            “Boss, if I kill this guy, I’ll just have to hire someone to replace him.”

            “I am perfectly fucking aware of how my own business works, Dillinger.  Not to mention that…” Harv stopped mid rant.  “You know what.  Just get out!

Harv snarled at Mark.  ”Kill him or don’t kill him, I don’t give a fuck, Just get the fuck out before I kill you just to save myself a solid million and a half a fucking year!”

            Mark needed no encouragement and quickly exited the office, barely dodging the stapler Harv threw.  He shut the door firmly behind him, and wasted no time in stopping by his office to grab his briefcase and keys.  Christ!  What was it with this place and people who threw staplers?!

            He took the stairs two at a time, and stuck his head in Kevin’s office, where the three other guys were having lunch.

            “I’m going to lunch.  Somebody keep an eye on the boss.” 

            John took in Mark’s wide eyed appearance, “I take it everything went well,” he remarked with a smirk.

            “Oh swimmingly, “he retorted sarcastically.  He looked over at Brian who was currently enjoying a large cheeseburger, “You are a dead man Broderick.  This is all your fault.”

            Scowling one last time at the three of them, he headed quickly for the front door, stopping just long enough to have a word with Roxy.  He had almost reached the entryway when an angry Harv stuck his head out of his office and bellowed down the stairs, “You’d better bring me back one of those calzones from Mancino’s, you chicken shit!”

            Harv slammed his office door shut again and the entire building went quiet.  Mark looked over at Tony, the representative from the Solvetti family, and let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding.  “You can wait for me to come back or you can reschedule your appointment, but I’m going to fucking lunch.”

            Tony looked up at Two-Face’s closed office door and then back at Mark.  “You know, I know that you guys make more, but I don’t really think it’s worth it.”

            Mark flinched, “For the love of god, do not talk about money.”

            Tony looked at Mark and raised an eyebrow, “What is there to talk about; he’s got tons.”

            “You don’t want to know.  Let’s just have this meeting over lunch, my treat.”

            Tony shrugged and started to reach for the front door when Harv’s office flew open and he once again stomped out to stare over the railing, down at the lobby.

            “What the fuck are you still doing here?!”  Harv glared down at Mark.  “What part of I’m hungry didn’t you understand.  Last time I checked I was still paying you wasn’t I?”

             Still seething, Harv turned away from Mark and looked down to the right where the other offices were located.  “Brian!  Get your ass up here!”

            Inside Kevin’s office Brian jerked and then cringed.  The other two of them sent him sympathetic looks and started rethinking their plans for staying in for lunch.  Once Harv had assured that Brian was on his way up, he swiveled back around and slammed into his office for the second time.

            Mark turned towards Roxy, “Looks like I’m getting carry out after all.”  Quickly opening the front door he exited the building before Harv could decide to make good on his threat to ‘reduce expenses'.

            Tony trailed after him and climbed into the passengers seat of Mark’s Mercedes.  “I was right.  Your boss is crazy.”  He paused for a second and then looked back at Mark.  “But the money’s is good right?”

            Mark nodded reluctantly and was forced to admit that, “Yes, the money is damn good.  It’d have to be,” he added sullenly.

 

 

Chapter Text

00000000000000000000000000    

            ID – 1. (in psychoanalysis) the part of the psyche functioning in the unconscious that is the source of instinctive energy, impulses, and drives.  It is based on the pleasure principle and has strong tendencies towards self preservation.

            Ego – 2. (in psychoanalysis) the part of the psyche that experiences and maintains conscious contact with reality and tempers the primitive drives of the id and the demands of the superego with the social and physical needs of society.  It represents the rational element of the personality, and develops defense mechanism against anxiety.

            Superego –  (in psychoanalysis) the part of the psyche, functioning mostly in the unconscious that develops when the standards of the parents and of society are incorporated into the ego.  The superego had two parts, the conscience and the ego ideal.  Also known as the structure of the psyche that is governed by one’s moral code.

Mosby's Medical, Nursing, and Allied Health Dictionary (sixth edition).

  000000000000000000000000000

            Harv slumped farther down in the wooden chair, and surveyed the back bar room looking for something to bitch about.  He eyed the mismatched pieces of lumber piled helter skelter along the far wall, the wooden chunks barely discernable as Mack’s broken tables from yesterday evening.  Why the damn things were cluttering up his room he didn’t know.  The wizened mass of lumber would barely be useable as fire wood.  How the woman hoped to make even one recognizable table out of the entire pile was a mystery for the ages. 

            He scowled and then gave voice to his displeasure, “Does she really think she’s gonna be able to put those damn things back together.”

            John looked up from the pool table and considered the pieces of lumber in the corner, “Well she did seem to indicate that she’d done it before.  Besides, there’s probably some wood glue and stuff in the cabinets over there.”

            Harv’s scowled deepened and he regarded the small cabinets nestled in the far corner, just left of the pile of wood.  It was the only thing that had been in the room when they’d started to bring their own furniture in.  “Yeah, well her cabinets are ugly.  She lucky I haven’t yanked them out of the wall yet.”

            “I need those cabinets for storage space, Harv.” Mack’s voice sounded from behind him.  He didn’t seem the least bit phased.

            “That doesn’t mean they’re not ugly,” he reiterated.

            “There just plain wood Harv.  It’s not like they’ve been spray painted a bright yellow, for Christ sake.”

            “It might be an improvement,” he muttered.

            “Is there any particular reason you’re being so grumpy, or is it just my lucky day?”  Mack placed a hand on one hip and lifted an eyebrow.

            He glowered at her over the top of his glass, “Despite popular opinion I am allowed to be shitty whenever I want.  Though I might have been in a better mood if my dinner hadn’t been burnt.”  He snarled at John and fought the urge to throw his glass at him.

            “What did he burn?”

            “My steak.  I don’t know why it’s so hard to cook a steak medium rare, but apparently it’s a skill far beyond those of my employees.  And since I didn’t eat much dinner, I’m currently starving.”

            The four other occupants in the room looked warily at each other and then at their boss.  “Would you like us to go get you something boss.” Kevin offered tentatively.

            “NO!  I don’t want something else.  I wanted steak, but it’s to late now because all the good steak houses are closed, and I refuse to settle for a charred piece of meat from some local diner.”  Harv crossed his arms and stared resolutely ahead at the football game he wasn’t really watching.

            “Really?” Mack couldn’t help the hopeful note that entered her voice.           

Harv crossed his arms, the perfect picture of hostility.  “Yes, Mack… really.  But try not to sound so happy about the fact that I’m currently about to waste away from hunger,” said resentfully.

            Mack blinked at him and then turned resolutely around, leaving him to continue staring at his TV.  As soon as she reached the bar she promptly did a little dance, earning her odd looks from the two or so people that were at the bar.

            In retrospect, it was probably lucky that she had bought extra food this Sunday.  Chances were very good that he might have simply stolen her own food, otherwise.  Mack plugged in her new grill and promptly sliced open a package of steak.

            Minutes later the smell of steak cooking wafted back to Harv and his fellow cohorts in crime.  Mark sniffed the air and, assuming the worst, placed his head in his hands, “He’s gonna kill her, and all for a side of half done cow.”

            John nodded in agreement and the four of them looked over at the boss as covertly as possible. 

            Harv stared stalwartly at the screen trying to control his rising ire.  He would not rise to the occasion.  No stinking woman was gonna get the best of him.  He was just gonna sit here and sulk like any self respecting man would do in this situation.  He’d be damned if he was going walk up front to where that conniving wench was obviously cooking on the infernal grill of hers and actually ask her for food. 

            He rather eat his own fucking tie before actually asking for anything.  Of course it was entire possible that if the enticing smell of grilled food didn’t dissipate soon he might find himself taking her food by force.

            Reduced to stealing steak… what the fuck was the world coming to.

 

00000000000000000000000

 

            Mack assembled the necessary accoutrements and piled them on the counter next to the large foreman grill.  She was feeling quite pleased with herself and began singing along, rather off key, with the small radio tucked under the bar. 

            Waving her fork she swayed absently back and forth to Aerosmith’s ‘Love in an Elevator’.  She finished off the rest of her coke and looked around the bar, moving right into the next song which, ironically enough, just happened to be AC/DC’s ‘Dirty Deeds’.  It was close to one o’clock and except for Carl and one of his retired friends the bar was empty.  Not all that surprising for a Sunday; business really had been slow recently.

            Half-way through the first round of steak she remembered Harv’s comment about medium rare steak and pulled three off the grill before they over cooked.  She paused in mid-fork and promptly pulled off four more.  God knows how surly he’d be if the others got more food than him simply because she didn’t have enough food cooked the way he wanted them.  Sighing she went ahead and made sure the next batch were half raw as well.  Surely he wasn’t the only person who liked his food still mooing.

            Mack patted herself on the back again, momentarily pleased with her own brilliance. 

            This from the woman who almost decided the idea was a complete waste of time.

            Mack frowned at the sarcastic comment from her own subconscious.  Honestly!  She was thirty-six.  Couldn’t she do at least one thing without the evil little voice in her head reminding her that this ‘great’ idea had minutes ago been riddle with doubt.

            Ha!  It didn’t matter what she had almost not done anyway.  In minutes the bastard would be eating out of her hand, and all because he hadn’t had a proper dinner. 

            Way back in the day… as in twenty or so years ago, Mack dimly remembered taking a Psych class in high school.  In her personal opinion Freud had always been a complete and total quack.  However, it was becoming rather obvious that Harv was the honest to god Id of the Two-Face personality.  Thus he could be easily tossed into a truly stereotypical male group- a group where only three things were important- his ego, food, and sex.

            Two of those she could work with.   

            Harvey on the other hand was slightly more complicated.  Apparently the Ego part of their personality had bit the dust and taking all the balance between the two of them with it- not to mention all contact with reality.  That left Harvey to represent the Superego. 

            Since it was obvious that Harv was the dominant personality, it was important that she attempt some sort of civil relations with him.  It looked as thought things might be off to a rousing good start.  Assuming she was right in her brief psychoanalysis and her assumption that the man would be much more docile when fed.                                                                                                             

            She mused this over briefly and decided that her aspirations were a tad high.  Docile might be reaching.  Amenable, however, might be a possibility.  Mack reached for the plate of steak, sighed, and had to admit that perhaps she should be grateful if he was merely ‘less hostile’ than normal.

            Sliding one hand under the plate she’d brought from home, she picked up the plastic bag containing the cutlery, plates, and chips and headed down the hallway.  Mack stopped when she reached the door way and leaned one shoulder against the door frame.  It didn’t take long until she had attracted the attention of the rooms occupants.

            “You know, the Patriots played earlier tonight and I couldn’t help but notice that you have TIVO,” Mack said nonchalantly.  She smirked across the room at Harv, the tone of her voice making it obvious that if he wanted any food he’d be changing the channel.

            Harv stared rather fixedly at the plate in her hand, “Are you bribing me Mack?”

            She chuckled, “A bribe would suggest that I needed you to do me a favor.  Let’s just call this a mutual partnership.”

            He tossed the remote onto the far side of the table towards her.  “Deal, now feed me before it gets cold.”

            Crossing the room she placed the plate in the middle of the table and then blinked as Harv reached out one large hand and appropriated the plate for himself. 

            Mack pulled out the paper plates and forks she’d brought from home and pulled them just out of reach as he made a move towards them with his other hand.  He growled and sent her a threatening look.

            “You are aware, that you will be sharing those, right?”

            He gritted his teeth, “Sharing with whom?” 

            “With everyone else.” Mack shook her head in exasperation

            “Why should I share with them?!  They burnt my bloody dinner.”

            “Because I made more than enough for the six of us.” He didn’t appear to be any closer to relinquishing the plate.  “Besides the longer you argue with me the colder that food is getting.”

            Harv snarled and pushed back towards the middle of the table, but the plate went no farther than two or so inches.  Mack rolled her eyes, “you are unbelievable.”

Dumping the chips on the table, she grabbed a plate and a fork and walked around the table.  He stubbornly refused to budge and she was forced her to lean across him to skewer several cuts of meat for herself.           

            He snapped his teeth at her, barely missing her forearm, and she jerked back before fixing him with a narrowed gaze.  Puling her arm out of her way she dumped the food on her plate and then promptly poked him in the arm with her fork.

            Harv stilled and turned his head towards her only to find her taking the chair next to him.  He regarding her for a second, his expression clearly disbelieving, and just as he started to snarl at her she raised one eyebrow and waved her fork at him.

            “The less done pieces are on the other side of the plate.  Besides, “she added as an afterthought, “you started it.”

            “If you weren’t in the process of feeding me I’d be forced to retaliate.”

            “If I wasn’t feeding you I wouldn’t have dared in the first place.  Now can you make this stupid thing work, please.” She looked up from the remote she was holding and he smirked.

            “Oh!  So now you want my help.  You should have thought about that before you stabbed me with your fork.”

            One corner of her mouth quirked up in irritation and she had just started to turn to ask someone else when the remote was plucked from her hand and she found Harv quickly flipping through the TV guide from earlier that evening.  Programming the required channel he surveyed the sill large pile of steak and scowled across the room.

            “Are you sure we have to feed them?”  He looked over at Mack who was popping open a MGD she brought with her from the bar.

            “Well I did make enough for everyone.  Besides, the five of you did bust a few heads for me the other evening.”  Mack crooked one finger at the men gathered around the pool table before turning back to the screen.  Moments later the pile of food had dwindled greatly.

            The six of them settled into a comfortable mixture of witty repartee, supplied mainly by Brian and John, with the occasional comment from Mark and Kevin.  Mack and Harv were content to sit next to each other, occasionally glancing at the other from the corner of one eye, trying to decide what to make up this situation. 

            Mack couldn’t decide which was more uncomfortable.  The fact that she was eating a late dinner with a man who could still scare the bejezus out of her with a single look, or the fact that sitting down and watching TV with him wasn’t as uncomfortable as it should have been.

            It was the typical, “you make me uncomfortable because I should beuncomfortable… but I’m not’ syndrome.  Generally a sure sign that you were overanalyzing things way too much.  It also tended to suggest that the person in question was someone you should be associating with at all or you wouldn’t be so concerned about it the first place. 

            Harv glanced at the dark headed woman to his right and sipped on the refill she’d just brought them. 

            Say something.

            I don’t WANT to encourage conversation.  I’m not even sure this is a good idea anymore. 

            So let me get this straight.  She just cooked you food, and is currently watching football with you and NOT talking… and you’re having second thoughts.

            Hey, I don’t want the broad to think we’re buddies or something.  ‘Cause we’re not.  I don’t want the woman to start telling me her life story or whatever the fuck it is that chicks talk about.

            First off, I’d be surprised if she talked to you about anything , and secondly we want to be friends with her.

            No, I want her to fuck me.  There’s a big fucking difference there Harvey.

            I hate to break it to you, but Mack ain’t the sort of woman who’s just gonna fall into bed with a man after knowing them less than a month.

            Oh great.  So by the time I get to actually sleep with the wench she’s gonna be thinking were friends and shit.  Christ what if she tries to talk about her, Harv shuddered, her fee…

            He broke off clearly disgusted. 

            Oh you mean her feelings.

            You stop saying that!

            Harvey chuckled derisively.  Your tongue won’t fall out of your head if you say it.

            Just shut up!  I don’t wanna talk about this.  This whole thing is a bad idea.

            Stop being such a chicken shit.  The woman isn’t fucking stupid.  She’d never attempt to talk to you about something like that, and that’s assuming she’s willing to consider us as a prospect anyway.

            I am NOT a chicken shit.

            Yes you are.  You’re scared of a little woman.

            Fuck you Harvey.  I’m not scared of some tiny ass female.

            No of course not…

            Don’t you DARE use that fucking patronizing tone of voice with me goddamn it!

            Then open your fucking mouth and prove it.

            Harv turned to Mack, still fuming, only to find her already looking at him.  “What,” he asked impatiently.  There, he added snidely to his other half, I said something.

            “I was propositioning you actually,” she replied impishly, “but apparently you were otherwise occupied because you didn’t seem to hear me.”

             He blinked and smiled lasciviously at her.  She smirked back at him, “Perhaps that was a poor choice of words.”

            “Most likely, but it was entertaining all the same.”

            “You know I’m usually pretty slow on Sundays…” Mack trailed off and smoothed down the front of her shirt nervously.

            Harv followed the motion of her hands with his eyes, “What’s your point?”

            His voice was less belligerent than usual, but there was still an edge of sharpness that she had to assume would always be there, “Well, I happen to miss watching Sunday night football so I didn’t know if you wanted to do this again next week?”

            Mack went back to watching the game, forcing her voice to be nonchalant and waited for a scornful ‘no’ to come out of his mouth.           

            Harv paused and quickly looked for a down side to this arrangement.  “Are you going to feed me?”

            “Maybe… are you wiling to take turns?”  Mack felt decidedly like she was hammering out the details of a treaty with a foreign country.

            “You aren’t really suggesting that I cook, are you?”  He sounded clearly insulted by such a prospect and Mack quickly backpedaled, still unsure as to why this was important to her anyway.

            “No, Harv.  I can’t really picture you cooking, but I did sort of assume you could order a pizza or something.”

             He appeared slightly mollified.  “Well I suppose I could arrange something, assuming,” he added, “that you actually cook for me instead of getting carry out.”

             “Harv, I hate to break it to you but there’s a limited number of things I can make, and half of them aren’t what you’d bring to a football game.  Somehow I don’t think chicken and noodles are really game night material.”  Mack snorted and reached for her second MGD of the evening.

             Harv blinked and went back to watching the game.  “The stew version with egg noodles?” He replied casually.

             Mack turned to stare at him suspiciously, “Yes… why?”

             “Well if that’s all you know how to make…  Well, I suppose we could look the other way a time or two,” he let a long suffering sigh.

             She narrowed her eyes at his obvious ploy, “How magnanimous of you.”

             “No reason to be sarcastic about it Mack, I was merely being helpful,” he pressed on hand to his chest innocently.

             “Oh!  Well in that case, don’t worry about it Harv.  I’m sure I can think of something else to make,” she smiled sweetly at him.

             His innocent expression faded to a barely contained sulk.  “You know,” she said archly, “if you want chicken and noodles all you have to do is ask.”

             She smirked at him, knowing damn good and well that he’d most likely rather have his own arm cut off then ask for anything.

             By the way he glowered at her she was right, “I’m getting the impression that there’s no way in hell that you’d ever actually ask.”

             “Why don’t you get me another drink,” he growled.  Mack looked sideways at his still full glass and decided that perhaps a change of conversation was in order.

             “So if I’m willing to actually cook do we have a deal?”  She offered him her right hand.

             He grumbled at her, but stuck out his own hand to shake hers.  The two of them turned back to the game and watched the Patriots score another touchdown.  The silence between them was still a tad tense despite the on going noise from behind them and Mack sighed inwardly before tossing on arm across the back of her chair and asking casually, “you’re not one of those sick people who likes mashed potatoes mixed with their chicken and noodles are you?”

            “Does it sound like I’m from the south?”  Harv made a disgusted face and shuddered.

            “I’ll assume that means I can skip the spuds.”  Mack smiled as the air seemed to warm at least ten degrees.  Mark was right, Harv was much more pleasant when he got what he wanted.

 

 

Chapter Text

             Mack grimaced as she glanced over the repair bill the plumber had sent her; a hundred and fifty bucks for a damn leaky pipe.  Next time she’d just stick a damn bucket under the sink.  She leaned one hip against the bar ledge and made a rude noise.

            “What a crock of shit.  That’s a lot of money to waste on a damn butt-crack-showing, pipe-wielding tool shed!  For that kind of money, he oughta look like a Chippendale, but have actual skills!”

            A low voice sounded from behind her and she looked over her shoulder to find Harvey approaching, “What a charming observation,” he noted wryly.

            “Charming or not, it’s bloody well true.”  Her eyes flicked up towards the hat he wore, cocked rakishly to one side, and was forced to admit that with his sleeves rolled up to reveal muscular forearms, he looked devilishly handsome- an observation she instantly resented.

Oh great!  Now I’m ogling a wanted man.

            He leaned over her shoulder to stare down at the piece of paper that was the source for his bartender’s ire.  “I’m assuming you didn’t find his services worth a hundred and fifty?”

            Mack issued a loud hmmph, “for a hundred and fifty I’d have done it my bloody self.”

            Harvey bit back a smile, but couldn’t keep the amusement out of his voice, “Have you ever tried to fix a sink?”

            She turned around and fixed him with a steely gaze at the obvious assumption that she couldn’tfix a sink.  “And I suppose you can, Mr. Dent?”

            Harvey gave off an exasperated sigh and quirked a brow, “I wasn’t always obscenely rich, Jamie.  I have owned a house or two with the occasional leaky pipe.”

            Mack narrowed her eyes and then leaned down, shuffled around in a cabinet to her left, and pulled out a wrench.  Then stood back up and thrust the tool at him, “Here...  dish room, second drain on the left.”

            He blinked and then looked down at the smudged metal handle facing him.  “Jamie,” he said with a smirk, “If you can’t afford that bill, then you definitely can’t afford my services.”

            Mack glowered at him for a moment and then tossed the wrench back into the cabinet below with a thunk.   Turning back to the counter, she shoved the bill back into the appropriate folder with a rough shove. “Did you come up here for a reason, or are just here to annoy me?”  

            Harvey slipped one hand into his pocket and then crossed the small space to stand beside her, one elbow resting against the ledge.  “Good thing I’m got a substantial ego, or I’d be hurt.”

            He waited for the inevitable smart retort, but found he was getting the cold shoulder from the small woman next to him.  Clearly it was time to try a new tactic.  “You know… what you need is a diversion.”

            The devious tone of his voice had her turning her head to face him with slightly wide eyes, “what sort of diversion?”

            He chuckled, “Nothing illegal- but I believe we owe you a poker lesson.”

            “A poker lesson,” she replied skeptically.  “Somehow I don’t think that’s the greatest idea, given my limited patience this evening.”

            “You mean your lack of patience this evening,” he observed.  Harvey ignored the scowl he received and continued, “Relax Jamie, it’s just a game, and I think Harv could be persuaded to front you.”

            “Front me… you want me to play for money?  Are you out of your mind?!”

            “Well actually… yes,” he smirked at the obvious reference to his clinical state.  “For say… “ he paused to confer with his other half, “fifty percent of your winnings.”

            Mack sputtered indignantly, “fifty percent?!  Try twenty!”

            “Thirty five,” Harvey countered.

            She set her jaw and reiterated her previous offer, “Twenty.”

            He blinked at her would-be counter offer and looked down at her with disbelief, “Uh,…I’m not sure you’re familiar with the way this system is supposed to work?”

            “I am perfectly aware of how to bargain.”

            Harvey frowned and discussed this with Harv for a long minute.  “Thirty and not a percent less.”

            “And if I lose?”

            “Then you lose.”

            “I don’t have to pay him back?”

            Harvey grinned widely, “In cash, check, or credit… no.”

            Mack found that statement less than reassuring, “Oh no… I want to be free and clear, after all… this was your idea.  I want…”

            Harvey cut her off in mid-tirade with a wave of his hand, “Yes, you’ll have a clean slate.  I was only teasing you.”

             She met his innocent gaze with a skeptical one of her own as if trying to decide if he was telling the truth.  “Okay,” she replied slowly, “Let me grab a drink and another bucket of beer and I’ll meet you back there.”  Mack nodded towards the back room and then reached for a glass.

            Five minutes later Mack was seated across from Harvey with two cards in her hand, “Ummm… Harvey you gave you only gave me two cards.”

            “Yes, thank you.  I can count,” he responded condescendingly.

She sent him a flat stare, but continued, “I thought poker was five cards?”

            “It can be five cards, but five card stud is mind numbingly boring.  This is Texas hold ‘em; it’s a common poker game.”

            “Does this mean I don’t get to choose a wild card when I deal?”  Mack looked less than pleased with this development, and Harvey sent her a horrified look of his own before resting his head in one hand.

            “Did you really just ask me that?”  He exchanged a long suffering look with the other four men gathered around, “Jamie,” he sighed.  “When was the last time you ever played any version of Poker?”

            Mack bristled and felt the sudden need to defend her honor.  “I told you I didn’t know how to play,” she muttered.  “If you’re just going to insult me, I’m gonna go back up front.”

            Harvey spared her a look from between his fingers and then straightened in his chair, “I’m not trying to be insulting; I’m just slightly alarmed.”

            Her ego somewhat consoled, she drummed one set of nails on the table and leaned back in her chair.  “The last time I played a poker game, it was strip poker with my last boyfriend.”

            Brian smirked at her from across the table, “Did you win?”

            She returned his smirk and looked immensely pleased with herself, “yeah, actually- about the time I lost my shirt he seemed to lose his ability to concentrate.”

            “If you’re gonna take your clothes off, we can play whatever version of poker you like.”  Harvey gave her a slow once over and smiled lasciviously at her.

            “I appreciate such a magnanimous offer, Harvey, but I’ll spare you the embarrassment of sitting around in your boxers.”

            “What makes you think I wear boxers?”

            She sent him a cheeky smile, “Well I didn’t think you were the sort who ran around commando.”

            “So you’ve given considerable thought to what I wear under this suit?” 

            “Well, I can’t imagine you wearing briefs since that’s what you used to file.”           

            There was a chorus of groans from the surrounding men at the horrible pun, and Harvey scowled before rolling his eyes and adding a sardonic, “Pick up your cards, woman.”

            Mack spent the next five minutes listening to Harvey break down the game step by step, but the confused look on her face told him it wasn’t sinking in.

            “Jamie, you look a little puzzled. Do you want me to go over this again?”

            Mack sighed and raised one hand as if warding off such a possible suggestion. “No!  Really, um… maybe we should just forget about this.” 

            “Look, if I can get twelve morons to understand the significance of Terry vs. Ohio, than I can teach you to play a card game.”  He reached over, slid one hand under her chair and pulled her around the table so that she was sitting next to him.

            He motioned for John to join then and then slid the cards across the table to him.

             Harvey slid his arm so that it rested on the back of her chair and then leaned over her shoulder.  Mack bit back a sigh as he made it clear she wasn’t leaving until she had mastered the art of manly card games.  It wasn’t that she wasn’t interested, but it was a little unnerving to learn a new skill in front of five people who were already experts at it.

            “I’ll give you a hand until you get your bearings.”  Harvey looked across the table at John and added a short, “start small,” before turning back to the Mack. 

            John tossed in a hundred and Harvey pulled out his own wallet to do the same.  Mack made a strangled noise and couldn’t help but issue a hoarse, “Jesus Christ.”  She blinked and then looked down at the two cards that had just been dealt to her.  Somehow she didn’t think a six and a jack were gonna get Harvey his money back.

            It was just on the tip of her tongue to protest when a low voice sounded next to her ear.  “I told you Harv would front you, so relax.”

            “Harvey, that’s a hundred dollars,” Mack protested.

            “Somehow, I didn’t think my money would make you more uncomfortable than the fact that I’m a wanted man.  Apparently I was wrong.”  Mack blinked at this unexpected insight.  She was forced to concede- at least internally- that being uncomfortable with their money was odd for a woman who was willing to overlook their criminal acts.

            “Hmm… I see your point.  However, I want to state for the record that you’re about to lose a lot of money.” 

            “Duly noted.” 

            John dealt out the next three cards and Mack was pleasantly surprised to find another jack, a six, and an eight looking up at her.

            A low voice sounded just beside her ear and she did her best to keep from shivering at the sensation of Harvey’s breath across her neck, “Don’t do that.”

            “Do what,” she responded softly.

            “Don’t look so pleased with yourself.”  He reached out and covered her hand with one of his own and pulled her hand closer to her body.  “And remember to hold your cards up.  Everyone else on the planet is taller than you.  They’ll be able to see your entire hand if you’re not careful.”

            Mack worried her lip between her teeth and nodded her acquiescence.  Behind her, Harvey sighed and this time Mack did shiver. “Stop that,” she hissed under her breath.

            “Stop what?” he replied, clearly amused.

            She pressed her lips firmly together, refusing to answer his question.  The sorry bastard knew exactly what he was doing.

            Harvey chuckled, but moved his mouth away from her neck and closer to her ear to keep from distracting her.  “Don’t fidget.  And that includes biting your lip.  You don’t want to create any bad habits that your opponent will be able to exploit.”

            “How can you exploit someone for biting their lip?” Mack scorned.

            “Maybe you only do it when you bluff?” Harvey responded smugly. 

            Mack rolled her eyes but did as he suggested.  “I saw that,” he murmured softly.

            “You were supposed to, Mr. Persnickety.”

            “If I were you, I’d take my advice.  I’m not going to be nearly as merciful as John.”

            The pile of cash in the middle of the table went up another hundred each and John turned over a nine.  “What on earth are you talking about?”

            “Jamie, you’re a beginner.  It would be so easy to set you up- not to mention look at your cards since your hand is starting to droop again.”

            Mack huffed and instantly pulled her cards back up.  The bet went up for the fourth and last time as John flipped up another jack.  Mack did her absolute damnedest to maintain a nonchalant demeanor, but John and Harvey made it look so easy.

            “Not bad for a beginner’s poker face,” Harvey observed before offering her his wallet.  “You wanna up the bet?”

            “Umm… No.  I think that’s enough.”

            “Don’t be a chicken,” he teased.

            Mack looked at him from the corner of one eye and made a soft chicken noise.  He laughed and then asked again, “Seriously-do you want to or not?”

            “Would you?” She countered.

            “Yes,” he replied simply.

            “How much?”

             “Depends.  John could have two nines in his hand or a variety of combinations.  That’s why you up the bet,” he explained, “to see how much cash he’s willing to spend.”

            “How do I know he’s not bluffing?”  Mack turned her head to look at her instructor.

            “You don’t.”  Harvey smiled, clearly enjoying himself.

            Mack blinked and then tilted her head to one side and added in a soft voice, “You really miss the intrigue of politics and the courtroom, don’t you, Harvey?”

            The smile slid from his face as he considered the dark haired woman turned towards him.  “I miss the exhilaration of discerning what made people tick,” he replied evasively.

            Mack narrowed her eyes, “You mean you like manipulating people.”

            “Now what would make you think a thing like that?” His tone of voice was full of professed innocence.  She sent him a flat stare, making it clear she wasn’t buying what he was selling.

            He waggled his eyebrows at her and then admitted, “it’s a challenge sometimes to manipulate someone and not alert them to what you’re doing.  Maybe that’s why I like you, Jamie.  You’re…” he paused looking for the right word, “complicated.”

            “Yeah, but I know what the two of you are doing, “she fixed him with a steely gaze, letting him know they weren’t fooling her.           

            He leaned in and grinned wildly, “but you don’t know why.”  His smile eerily resembled the chesire cat from Alice in Wonderland and he nonchalantly tossed another two hundred dollars onto the table.

            “Admit it.  You’d rather be completely in the dark than know what we’re doing and not know why we’re doing it.”           

            “And here I thought you were supposed to be the good guy.”

            “I never claimed to be a good guy; just not a bad one.”

            “So you really are just like every other male on the face of the planet.”

            “Of course not!  I have much more charisma,” he declared, one hand splayed against his chest.

            “Oh, is that what you call it,” she muttered.

            “Do I want to know what you’d call it?” Harvey replied ruefully.

            “Not really.”  Mack sent him a friendly smile and turned her attention to John who had just thrown in his own two hundred.

            Harv quirked a brow at the woman next to him and then frowned, “you’re doing it again.”

            Mack paused and looked up at him; her brows furrowed in confusion.  He looked down pointedly at her mouth and the one lip she was worrying between her teeth.

            “Well, I’m trying to think,” she protested quietly to an exasperated Harvey.

            He sighed, “Clearly I’m fighting a losing battle.”

            Harvey looked across the table at John, “Check.”  John nodded his acquiescence and tossed his cards face-up onto the table.

            Mack looked at Harvey who nodded for her to follow suit.  Glancing down at the cards on the table, Harvey shook his head, “you’ve got to be the luckiest bastard I’ve ever met.”

            “Does this mean I lost?” Mack asked.

            “No you won…by the skin of your teeth,” he added.

            Mack blinked and then looked at the three other men sitting around the table, “Someone please explain.”

             “Your full house,” Kevin supplied, “beats his flush, but John here, while not always winning, never fails to get a damn good hand anyway.”  Kevin sent John a disgruntled look, “I swear he stacks the damn deck sometimes.”

            “Hey!” John protested, “It’s not my fault I’m lucky.”

            “Too bad you don’t get lucky more often,” Brian piped up, “then you might not be such an ass.”  The blonde man chuckled and danced out of reach of an irritated John.

            “Like you got any room to talk, Broderick,” John retorted, his New York accent subtlety asserting itself.

            Brian opened his mouth to respond when a skeptical, yet slightly awed Mack spoke up.  “Broderick,” she lifted on well manicured eyebrow.  “As in Atlanta’s equivalent to Gotham’s Bruce Wayne?”

            “Ohhh…” Brian said in a sing song voice, “so you’ve heard of us.”

            “Brian, the Gotham Sun Times does an expose on your family whenever they come into town to check on business.”

             Across the table Kevin sighed theatrically, “The nuisances of the rich and famous, always being hounded by commoners.”

            Brian pressed one hand to his chest and continued on wistfully, “Poor Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Rourke.  Such genteel souls should not be subjected to the ill-mannered and boorish members the lower class.”

            At this pronouncement, Kevin promptly choked on the swig of beer he’d just taken and Mark thumped him soundly on the back.  “Brian, have you stopped taken your meds again?“ Kevin asked hoarsely.

            “Why Kevin, what on earth could you be suggesting?“ Brian said with wide innocent eyes.

            “My parents?  Genteel?” Kevin snorted, “My dad is a corporate piranha and mum is nothing more that socialite snob.”

            “Now cousin, is that any way to talk about our family.”  Brian adopted a realistic southern accent ripe with disdain.  “You know how trying it is for us back stabbing Sunday Baptists to mingle with the ill-bred members of society- namely everyone but ourselves.”

            Kevin nodded sagely before adopting the same snobbish tone as his cousin, “If only the family could see us now.  Rubbing elbows with the down trodden thugs of a demoralized society ripe with malcontent.”

            Harvey rolled his eyes and glanced at Mark who was currently mumbling, “Here we go again,” under his breath.

             “Willfully depriving our insufferable relatives of our inheritance,” Brian continued.

            “And stalwartly refusing to invest our ill-gotten gains in the family industry to support our own indolent relations,” Kevin injected.

            “Eluding our responsibilities as eldest sons and repudiating to…” Brian countered.

            “Uphold the family honor by spurring the cooperation onto new heights of…”

            “Corruption, self-indulgence, and arrogance.”  Brian finished Kevin’s last sentence and lifted his beer.

            Kevin returned the gesture and grinned wickedly, “May we always be the black sheep…”

            “And the thorn in our family’s side,” Brian added.  The two of them chugged down the rest of their beers and then reached for another from the bucket Mack had so thoughtfully provided.

            “Are the two of you finished yet?” John retorted sarcastically at the two Brodericks.

            Kevin looked at John, attempting to appear innocent, “We were just answering Mack’s question.”

            “It hardly takes a five minute long diatribe to tell her you’re related to a bunch of rich hicks whose family tree most likely doesn’t branch,” Harvey retorted with a scowl.

            Mack blinked, then laughed at the outrageous comment from her tutor before raking in her winnings.  “Do I want to know how the hell you ended up at my bar, instead of at some Ivy League school rubbing elbows with the offspring of the Kennedys?”

            Brian’s lips curled up into an evil sort of smile, “Not really, Mack.”

            “That’s what I thought,” she muttered as she tossed in a hundred to open the next game and then grabbed the two cards Harvey dealt her.

            Harvey looked over her shoulder, noted the eight and the nine she held and then turned to Kevin.  “Set up the chips and collect the money,” he offered him a handful of bills and then swiveled back around to oversee Mack’s progress.

            She sent him a questioning look, but he merely shrugged and continued to offer suggestions.  Mack wasn’t all that surprised to find she lost the next couple of hands, but was pleased to find she’d managed to win at least one more before Harvey put a stop to her one on one poker session with John.

            “Ready to play some real poker?” He asked with a sly smile.

            Mack looked around only to find Mark trading bills for chips at a table to her left.  “You’re joking, right?”

            Harvey’s smile only got wider, “Remember, don’t bite your damn lip, hold your cards up, small blind’s a hundred, big blind is two,  and if you wanna stay in the game you gotta match your opponent’s bid.”

            Mack looked down at the pile of chips Mark sat in front of her before taking his own seat.  She glanced down at the black and blue chips and couldn’t help but think how appropriate the colors were for this particular group of men.  She giggled nervously at her own joke and then sobered abruptly as she noticed the small numbers on their surfaces.

            “Harvey,” she hissed.  “These damn coins are worth a hundred bucks.”

            “Yes,” he replied in a patronizing tone. “I believe I already mentioned the monetary amount we’re using to open.”

            “But there’s at least,” she stopped, counted briefly, and then looked up at him wide-eyed, “there’s three thousand dollars sitting in front of me.”

            “Jamie,” Harvey drawled, “just think of it as Monopoly money.”  He reached one hand out and gently massaged the back of her neck.  “They’re just plastic chips.  Lose them all for all I care, it’s just pocket change, sweetheart.”

            Mack let her head droop down and closed her eyes, “Whatever you say, Harvey,”

            “That’s my girl.” Harvey removed his hand from her neck, much to her dismay, and she pulled her head back up to find the rest of the guys dragging chairs up to the table.

            Mark maneuvered Brian into the seat between him and the boss, while John graced her other side.  Kevin took the empty chair between John and Mark and opened a new deck of cards.  Shuffling the deck with an agility that only comes from years of practice he dealt the first two cards in rapid succession.  Already a hundred down, from the original opener, Mack evaluated her chances of winning with two ten’s.  Deciding she wouldn’t be completely crazy for losing another chip or two, she tossed hers into the middle, and then looked up only to find five pairs of eyes staring at her.

            She blinked and couldn’t help it when her bottom lip found it’s way between her teeth.  It wasn’t really the game that made her nervous, and god knew she was used to having Harvey watch her, but the sudden attention from the rest of the boys was just… creepy.

            Of course, chances were very good they’d all interpret her nervous habit as some sort of ‘tell’ instead of uneasiness at being the source of so much interest.  Deciding quickly to randomly chew on her lip to help throw them off, she glanced around the table as the rest of them all threw in their own chips.

            Halfway into the second game, Mack felt the slightest vibration next to her leg.  She blinked and discreetly looked to her left.  To her surprise, Harvey was ever so slightly tapping his foot, whether it irritation or impatience she wasn’t sure.  Forcing her face to remain neutral she tossed in the required amount of money and paid close attention to Harvey and his bets.  After he’d contributed substantially to the pile of cash in the middle, Mack was starting to believe Harvey was either bluffing outrageously, or he had a damn good hand.

            Mack folded at the turn and nonchalantly watched John, Kevin, and Harvey play out the remaining hand.  Harvey’s hand revealed a full house and he, quite smugly, raked in the hundreds in the middle of the table.  Mack had to give the man credit.  If you were going to have a nervous twitch when you had a good hand- it helped if no one could see it.  Of course since he was sitting so close to her, she could just barely hear the rustle of cloth as he tapped his foot.

Mark dealt the next hand and as always, Brian began the betting with an absurd amount of money.  Reckless didn’t even begin to describe his card playing style.  This was her eighth hand with the five of them and she still felt incredibly cautious.  Not only because it wasn’t her money, but because she had a hard time reading her opponents.

            She had expected a certain amount of smack talk among them- from Brian and John in particular, but John was taking this game very seriously.  Finding himself without his usual verbal sparring partner he quickly turned on the next likely victim- Kevin.

            Kevin glowered at his cousin from across the table and Mack had the sudden sinking suspicion that Mark had purposely set Brian between him and the boss to keep any bloodshed from occurring.  Kevin, it seemed, was a pissy ass loser.  She’d lost track of all the times he’d had to restrain himself from throwing his cards at the winner.

            While volatile hadn’t been an adjective she had previously associated with the tall dark haired man, his attitude was quickly proving her wrong.  And the situation wasn’t helped by his cousin’s verbal insults.

            ”Damn, Kevin, and I thought your aim was bad!” Brian grinned madly at Kevin from across the table, clearly making a reference to the game he’d just lost.

            From the dark look Kevin was sending his cousin, she firmly believed that Brian must have a death wish of some sort.  There was a short pause as Kevin visibly tried to think of a reason not to kill his cousin.  “I’ll remember you said that when you hit me up for a loan, you drunk bastard.”  Kevin gestured towards Brian’s dwindling pile of chips.

            “Oh, I’m wounded,” Brian responded sarcastically.

            Kevin flashed a smirk worthy of Harv himself, “Is that an invitation to break a few of your teeth?”

            “If you think you could manage to land a few before I knock your ass out.”  Brian’s eyes had a rash look in them that had Mack leaning back in her seat on the off chance Brian was crazy to go after his massively built, six foot something cousin.

            “You know,” Mark added wryly from his spot between the two Brodericks, “You boys talk a lot of shit for a couple a bitches who give out after only a mile and a half.”  His tone made it clear he thought the two of them were getting soft. 

            “After only, he says,” Kevin muttered as he tossed his cards to Harvey.

            “It was a dead run, over rocky terrain… in the rain!”  Brian protested loudly as if defending his athletic skill.

            “I can do it.”  Mark retorted blithely.

            “Mark you can run ten miles, flat out, without breaking a goddamn sweat.” John looked down at the two cards Harv had just dealt and then tossed in a rather hefty chunk of cash.

            “That’s not true.  I sweat.” Mark took one look at his own hand and quickly folded.

            There was a brief lull in the conversation while everyone evaluated their hands and Mack turned to Harvey with an impish smile, “So do you take part in these exercise programs?”

            Harvey smiled back at her, thought Mack could see a flash of warning in his eyes, “do I look like I need to?”

            She smirked, leaned over, and patted his stomach his stomach.  Muscle rippled under her hand as he breathed in and out.  Mack gave him an appraising look, “and how, Mr. Dent, do you get those kind of abs without working out?”

            He grinned wolfishly at her, “Good genes?”  He offered.           

            She snorted at the evasion and decided that it would be best if she folded as well.  An eight and a two weren’t gonna be much help against a bunch like this.  To everyone’s surprise, Brian managed to make a comeback and topped all hands with a straight, much to his delight.

            Brian racked in his winnings, and then tipped his chair back on two legs, “What was that about a loan, cuz?”  He shot Kevin a feral grin before counting his pile of chips.

            Mack glanced at Kevin from the corner of one eye and then blinked as he sunk down into his chair so that only the top half of his chest was showing.  She looked sideways at John, who had also noticed this strange behavior, and was trying to keep from laughing out right.  The rest of the table wore expressions close to John’s, except for Brian, who was much too pleased with himself to notice much of anything.

            Half way through his tirade about his ‘imminent victory’ over his friends, Brian’s chair started to wobble dangerously backwards.  He stopped mid rant and waved both hands madly trying to regain his balance.  The gesture proved to be a futile one as Brian lost complete control of his chair and toppled backwards onto the floor with a loud thud, much to the amusement of everyone else.

            Kevin pulled himself upright, his own deep laugh mingling with that of his friends.  Mack looked suspiciously at Kevin, not really able to shake the feeling that he’d somehow caused this.   Brian scrambled to his feet, swearing sulfurously.  He stood at the edge of the table, lips pressed firmly together and fixed his cousin with an evil glare.  Slapping one hand on the table he pointed one finger across the table at Kevin, and did a very believable impression of Daffy Duck as he spluttered, “you’re despicable.” 

            As the laughter over Brian’s ‘mishap’ waned, Mack leaned in and looked pointedly at Brian, “exactly how was all this Kevin’s fault?”

            Brian snorted and sent his cousin another dirty look, “Have you seen how long his fucking legs are?”

            Mack blinked at then looked rather wide-eyed at Kevin, “are you suggesting he managed to kick over your chair, from across the table, just by… what… nudging it with his bloody foot?”

            Kevin smiled piously at Mack, “I maintain that he simply lost his balance.”

            Mack pursed her lips and then slapped one hand onto the two cards Brian had dealt, once he regained his chair.  Sticking her head under the table, her eyes widen as she realized that Kevin’s legs stretched at least half the length of the table. 

            “Christ, how fucking tall are you?”  Mack exclaimed as she sat back up.

            “Six two, give or take an inch.”  Kevin shrugged.

            “Well, at least you people are never boring,” she noted with a shake of her head.

            Several games later, to no one’s surprise, Brian ran out of money, and Mark took the opportunity to back out while he still had some left.  Mark might have had a great poker face, but the man appeared to have absolutely no luck. 

            Mack looked around the table at her opponents and then announced her own departure from the game.  “Giving up so soon, Jamie?  You haven’t lost all my money yet.”  Harvey smiled up at the small woman standing next to him, though he didn’t have to look up very far.

            “Harvey, I’ve been back here for almost twenty minutes.  You’re eating the

 the ice out of your glass.” 

            Harvey paused, ice chip half way to his mouth. “Then you’re merely taking a break.”

            “If you’re still playing when I come back, then I’ll give you another opportunity to take my money,” Mack pushed her chair in and then looked at Kevin from the corner of her eye, “You want a coke?”

            He nodded and Mack turned around to head back to the bar.   Usually Kevin didn’t have more than two or three beers a night, something she attributed to his possible status as designated driver.  Mack frowned as she walked the length of the halfway and had to admit that for a group of guys who looted for a living and spent a fair amount of their time in a bar, they didn’t drink nearly as much as she’d first expected.

            She grinned madly at the sudden though of five drunk mobsters stumbling around and then just as quickly shuddered.  Maybe it was a good thing they exercised a fair amount of self control.

            Mack swung back the wooden door on the end of the bar and stepped behind the wooden counter only to be met with several off color comments about what had taken her so long.  She sighed and smiled good naturedly, deflecting the various innuendos with ease.  She hadn’t expected any less from this crowd, anyway.  It took her at least fifteen minutes to work her way around the room, and then several more placating Jerome, who was convinced that she simply didn’t love him anymore, now that she’d found a new crime boss to entertain.  She didn’t have the heart to point out that being the current leader of his gang didn’t make him a crime boss, even if did he ‘run’ the surrounding seven blocks.  Despite his many flaws, namely arrogance, Mack had to admit that he was easy on the eyes in those black pants and fitted sweater.  It was too bad he didn’t come with a roll of duct tape for his mouth as well.

            “You’re killing me here, Mack.  You know I’ll wither and die without your affection, babe.”  Jerome clutched his chest theatrically, his face scrunched up in an attempt at despair.

            “Jerome, you the only thing you’d wither and die without is a mirror to admire yourself with.”  The dark skinned man was incredibly narcissistic and wasn’t ashamed to admit it.

            He stopped mid rant and considered this, “But I need you to worship me, Mack.”  He grinned at her from the corner of his table, surrounding by his flunkies.

            “Oh well, in that case, I humble beg for forgiveness oh lord of all things macho and wondrous.”  She rolled her eyes at his outrageous behavior, but was secretly relieved that he wasn’t as irritated at being upstaged by Harvey as she’d thought he’d be.

            “In that case,” he preened, “you’re forgiven, doll.”

            “Oh thank you, dahling,” Mack intoned sarcastically as she started to walk away.

            “Hey,” he called across the room, “when you gonna let me take you out and show you a good time?”

            “Jerome,” she called matter-of-factly, “you’re idea of a ‘good time’ is: movie, burger, backseat.”

            “Hey,” he called indignantly, “what’s wrong with that?”

            Mack tossed her hands in the air, clearly giving up on him and this conversation.  “You’re lucky you’re cute Jerome, or I wouldn’t put up with you,” she teased good-naturedly. 

            “Like wise, babe.”  Jerome responded before turning back to his own friends.

            She picked up her tray of drinks from the counter and made her way down the hallway.  Jerome was a nice enough guy, but he simply had to have his ego stroked on a regular basis to be even remotely bearable.  It was annoying, but he tipped well… so what the hell.  Unfortunately him and his big mouth had kept her from her ‘other’ customers a little longer than she would have liked.  Clearly the feeling was mutual.

            “Nice to see you, Jamie.  Thought you might have gotten lost.”  Harvey said, not taken his eyes of the game.

            Enter another man in her life whose ego needed to be soothed on a regular basis.

            “Sorry, Harvey, but I did ignore them for a good twenty minutes.”  She explained in a reasonable tone.

            Harvey turned his head to afford her a slightly hostile look, “what’s your point?”

            She blinked and then set his beverage in front of him, purposely making sure she lightly brushed against him, “I see you’re winning.”  Mack placed one hand on his shoulder, making an attempt to divert his attention from the subject at hand. 

            “For the moment.”  Harvey looked up at her, his entire body language making it clear she wasn’t fooling him for a minute and while he was willing to let her ‘oversight’ slide- he wasn’t happy about it.

            Mack slid back into her chair a moment later and waited for them to finish their hand.  “Movie, burger, backseat… Mack?”  Harvey murmured casually.

            She smiled wildly, “Clearly you’ve never seen Daria on MTV.”

            “Before my time,” he suggested, in an attempt to get back at her for keeping him waiting.

            From the tightening around her eyes, it worked, “are you suggesting I’m old?” She imitated his forced casual tone.

             “No older than I am,” Harvey folded half-way through the game, leaving John and Kevin to duke it out.  Mack narrowed her eyes at the smooth way he’d manage to save his ass.  If she took exception to his answer, she’d insult him by suggesting that he was old. 

            “You think you’re so slick,” she muttered.

            “Babe,” he did a fairly convincing imitation of Jerome arrogant baritone, “I know I’m slick.”

            Mack took one look at the conceited look on his face and laughed.  He smiled back, clearly pleased his attempt to lighten the mood had been successful.

            The sound of a phone ringing filtered through the room, and Mack turned back to the table in time to see Kevin reach blindly for his phone, hanging in the suit coat he’d tossed over his chair.  He flipped it open and then laughed at whatever was being said.  He stood up, tossing his cards on the table in the process.  “I think I’m done contributing to John’s savings account.”  Nodding at John, he promptly crossed the room to engage in a private conversation.

            Kevin received a few odd looks from his cohorts, but Mack chalked the whole thing up to either business, or a woman.  Her money was on the last.  He’d seemed a little too pleased with himself for it to business.  No man’s laugh was that husky unless a woman was somehow involved.

            With everyone but Harvey and John now out of the game, Mack had the sudden revelation that she stood a much better chance of winning without having to worry about three other players.

            Three hands in, her beginner’s luck was holding out, though partially because she was still sitting next to Harvey and his odd foot tapping habit.  That alone had saved her from a huge loss in the cash department.  John had not been so lucky.  By the fifth hand, however, John was slowly but surely reclaiming his poker champion title.

            Mack looked down at the chips in front of her and decided she’d have to give up if she didn’t win again shortly.  She really did want to be able to give Har

Harv his three grand back.  She studied her hand more carefully, her lip between her teeth and barely registered the sound of the chair on her right being pulled out. 

            Mark and Brian took a seat around the table apparently having grown bored with their pool game.  “You’d do better if you were willing to risk more money,” Mark offered from his place on her right side. 

            She looked at him as if he spouted another head, but he was adamant in his advice.  “You stop betting too early,” he continued. “The two of them,” he nodded towards Harvey and John, “bid high ‘cause they know you’ll drop out unless you’ve got a good hand.  When you actually pony up the cash they know to fold.”

            Mack looked cautiously at Mark from the corner of one eye, not quite sure if she wanted to encourage him or not.  Mark as it turned out, needed no encouragement, “Most of poker is skill, but you have to have a little luck as well.  That’s why I always lose,” he added with a self-deprecating smile.

            “You, however, just need the skills.”  He looked over her shoulder at the cards in her hand and then regarded the three cards in the middle of the table.  “You should go for it.”

            “But what if I lose?” She hissed.

            He shrugged his wide shoulders, “then you lose.”

            Mack looked back at the two other players, both of whom were staring expectantly at her.  “Well, it’s only money… right?”  She looked around as if needing a little reassurance.

            “Exactly!”  Brian provided encouragingly.           

            Mack bit her lip nervously but tossed in the necessary four hundred dollars to match John and then raised another four at Mark’s insistence.

            Both Harvey and John matched her bid and then Harvey upped it another five, favoring Mack with a knowing smirk.

            Mack turned back to Mark half ready to accuse him of leading her astray.  He cut off her protest with a firm look.  “Do it Mack,” he said decisively, “you’ve already committed yourself.”

             She balked, but with one last look at his determined face she met the two of them bid for bid.

            “You sure you know what you’re doing, Jamie?”  Harvey turned up the fourth card and forced his face to remain blank.  His tone held the smallest hint of doubt, meant purely to cause her to second-guess herself.

            It worked.  Mack looked down at her hand and would have folded if Mark hadn’t stopped her.  He sent Harvey and John a long considering look, and then turned back to his impromptu partner.  Mack had no idea what he could have possibly seen that would suggest she should go all in, but seconds later he was telling her to.

            “You’re as crazy as he is,” she pointed an accusing finger at Brian.

            Brian opened his mouth to protest but Mark shut him up with a wave of his hand, “trust me.”

            Mack leaned back, and her pursed her lips, “I cannot believe you just said that. Besides, if I lose all this Harv will kill me.”

            “Harv would agree with me.”  Mark countered.

            “Well that’s not true,” Harvey muttered.

            Mark ignored him and looked Mack square in the eye, “Do it.” His voice left no room for argument and she found herself shoving her chips into the middle of the table.

            She swallowed convulsively as she waited for the two of them to either fold or follow suit.

            John afforded Mark a disgruntled look before he cursed and tossed cards face down on the table.  Harvey stared and his own cards for a long minute before he folded as well.

            “You,” Harvey pointed an accusing finger at Mark, “can stop helping her any bloody time.”

            Mack stared open mouthed at the large pile on the table before mechanically pulling it towards her.  “How’d you know?”  She asked Mark.

            “I didn’t,” he replied with a sheepish grin, “I was just hoping your luck was better than mine.”

            Mack looked at him, horrified, and started to sputter.  Mark smirked suddenly and chuckled, “had you going, didn’t I?”

            At this announcement, Mack thumped him firmly on the back of the head.  He didn’t appear to mind but never bothered to inform Mack how he’d known they were both bluffing either.

            Mack took the cards John gave her and then sent Harvey an accusatory glance, “you people are gonna turn my hair gray within the bloody month.”

            “Hey, I didn’t tell you to listen to him.  Though we might need to remind him where his loyalties are supposed to lie.” 

            “Damn Mack, cleaning up tonight aren’t we,” Kevin’s deep baritone sounded from above her.

            Mark turned around in his seat, “business?” he asked the tall man with a raised eyebrow.

            “Personal,” came the evasive reply.             

            “Hmm… you’re not angry, yelling, or in someway pissed off.  Can’t be the ex,” Brian waggled his eyebrows, “must be the current.”  

            Kevin sent Brian a warning glance and took his seat.  “You have a girlfriend, Kevin?” Mack asked curiously.

            “Sort of,” he hedged, “I wouldn’t really say we date or anything.”

            “Oh really,” Harvey looked over the top of his cards, “I’ll have to tell Roxy you said that.  After all, we all know how much you enjoy having your faxes shredded, and having all your calls automatically forwarded when she’s pissed.”

            “You wouldn’t dare,” the big man blanched.

            Harvey continued to stare and for a brief second Mack could see Harv sliding just under the surface, “You’re right, I wouldn’t.”

            “Umm… does this woman work for you?”  Mack leaned back in her chair, disbelief on her face.

            “Our secretary actually,” Mark added.

            “They give you people businesses?” if Mack had been skeptical before, now she was down right incredulous. 

            Harvey regarded the woman on his right and took the opportunity to look at her hand while she was busy being flummoxed, “First off, who’s they, and why would they give me anything?  More importantly, yes, I have a business.  A legal one.”         

            Mack thought about this for a second. “I always wondered how crooks evaded the IRS,” she muttered, more to herself than anyone.  She shook her head and then turned back to Kevin, “so are you dating her or not?”

            Kevin opened his mouth to once again to worm his way out of admitting that they were a couple when John spoke up, “you bought the woman diamond earrings from Tiffany’s!  For god’s sake, admit it: the woman has got you wrapped around her finger tighter than a bow at Christmas.”

            “It was her birthday, I had to buy her something,” Kevin said with a growl.

            Across the table, Mack had one hand pressed to her chest and was desperately trying to remember how to breathe.  “Uh…Jamie,” Harvey reached out one hand and placed it on her shoulder, “are you okay?”

            “You actually bought a woman Tiffany’s.”  He nodded, slightly concerned where she was going with this.

            “It came in a little blue bag, and there was a little blue box inside the bag and it had ribbon and confetti coming out the top of the bag, and it looked just like the ones you see in the movies, and…” Mack trailed off, still stunned by the prospect of man she knew actually buying a woman anything from Tiffany’s.

            Kevin stared at Mack, wide eyed, with his mouth clamped firmly shut.  “You know,” Brian observed, “Roxy had practically the same reaction.”

            “Well of course, you idiot!” Mack proclaimed. “You don’t buy a woman expensive diamond jewelry unless your willing to commit a significant amount of your time to her.  Not dating her, my ass,” she muttered before slinking down in her chair and tossing in a handful of chips.  “Yeah, and ‘De Nile’ is just a river in Egypt,” Mack informed Kevin crossly.

            Mack scowled when John beat her out of another couple hundred and she decided she should simply call it a night while she still had some profit left.

            “Well, you boys can duke it out, but I’m done.”  Mack looked down at the assortment of plastic chunks in front of her, “uh… what do I do with these?”

            “Mark can take care of it,” Harvey waved one hand at his employee imperiously.

            “Do you take care of everything?”  Mack sent Mark a curious look.

            “Of course.  It’s what I’m paid for.”  He scooped up the chips in front of her and headed to a nearby table to make the exchange.

            John smiled wryly across the table at Mack.  “Since everyone seems to be deserting me, I think I’ll call it a night as well.  Besides,” he added with a ruefully look at Harvey, “my luck’s bound to run out sooner or later.”

            “Chicken,” Harvey called as John approached Mark with his many plastic chips.  John made loud chicken noises, but didn’t seem bothered.  It was hard to be pissy when exchanging large sums of cash.

            Harvey sighed, “everyone is deserting me… damn I miss Gordon,” he added wistfully.

            Mack blinked, “who’s Gordon?”

            “Jim Gordon- the commissioner,” Harvey informed her in a slightly affronted tone.

            “Well excuse me, Mr. DA.  Not all of us can rub shoulders with the big shots,” she teased.

            Harvey buffed his nails on the upper part of his shirt, his feet stretched out in front of him, crossed at the ankle.  “I suppose I can’t fault you peonsfor being poorly informed.”  He smiled smugly, and chuckled at the suffering look on her face.

            “I suppose I set myself up for that,” she grimaced.  She paused momentarily and then decided she couldn’t contain her curiosity.   “I assume that you and the ‘commish’ were good friends?”

            “You could say we were close,” he said with a non-committal shrug.  “We used to play cards with a coupla’ guys we knew, after work on Fridays.”  Harvey chuckled and looked away, recalling some distant memory.  “I remember this one time I came stumbling in, three sheets to the wind, around four in the morning.  I was in the dog house for a long while for that one.”

            “You know,” he added ruefully, “there’s nothing worse than chucking all morning while your wife stands over you reminding you that it’s your fault and that lawn had damn well better be mowed this afternoon.”

            Mack had a good long laugh at that particular image.  “You know,” she added with a confused smiled, “I can’t imagine why she’d be so pissed.  The guys gotta have a night out once in a while.”

            Harvey ran one hand over his jaw, trying to not look guilty… and failing.

            “What?” Mack asked, now incredibly curious.  “Awww, c’mon, Harvey…” she implored.

            “In my defense,” he added firmly, “it was an honest mistake.”  “I just forgot.” He informed her with a martyred look, “the way she acted, you’d think I’d bloody well forgotten her birthday.”

            Mack pursed her lips and gave him a long hard look, a suspicion starting to form in the back of her head,  “Oh Harvey,” she gave a long suffering sigh, “tell me you didn’t forget to call.”

            “It was an accident!” He pleaded, hands spread wide, “it wasn’t like I meant to not call.”

            His pleas fell on deaf ears, as Mack was to busy laughing at the idea of Harvey sleeping on the couch for not calling his wife.  Harvey sent her a disgruntled look, though his tone made it clear he was teasing her, “damn women.  Always sticking together.”

            “Oh that is just priceless.”  Mack wiped away a tear forming in the corner of her eye.

            Harvey snorted, “that’s nothing.  I could tell you things about Bruce Wayne that would have you rolling in the aisle.”

            “Oh no, Harvey.  You’re not getting out of this that easily.  I think I want to hear more about your madcap days.”  Mack rested one elbow on the table and then rested her chin in her hand.  Doing her best to appear overly excited, she batted her lashes at him, all the while grinning madly.

            He gave her a sly, conspiring look and then leaned in, “well in that case, Ms. Mackenzie, allow me to tell you about the time me I stole the mascot from Alpha Phi Sigma.”

            Mack furrowed her brows, “were you a Greek?”

            “I’d rather be tarred and feathered than belonging to one of those kiss ass organizations; though I was one of the few jocks who wasn’t,” he added thoughtfully.             

            “Whoah… wait a minute,” she sputtered, “you were a jock?!”

            “Jamie, you’re killing my ego.  First you accuse me of being a frat boy, and now I have no athletic ability.”  He sighed despairingly before continuing with a smile, “I had a football scholarship.”

            She leaned back and looked him over as if re-evaluating him, “what position did you play?”

            “I think it’d be more amusing to make you guess,” he replied tongue in cheek.

            Mack raised one eyebrow, her mouth twitching up on one side- the epitome of sheer mischief, “Hmm… I bet you were the kicker.”           

            Now it was his turn to sputter, “The kicker!  Woman…  I did not get a full ride to Gotham U cause I could punt the bloody ball.”

            Mack chuckled at his outburst, “you should have seen your face.”  Her shoulders still shaking she smirked up at him, “well at least narrow it down to offense, defense, or special teams.”

            “After that kicker remark, I probably shouldn’t, but I’m almost afraid of what you’ll come up with next.  I played offense.”  He drummed one hand on the table, all the while sending her a comical version of the evil eye.

            This time she actually stopped and thought about it, “either a fullback or a running back, I can’t decide.”

            He nodded, appearing vaguely impressed, “running back actually.  I was fast on my feet.”           

            “Now that I’m up to date on the early years of Harvey Dent, I want to know about this,” she waved one hand towards him, “escapade onto frat territory.”

            He puffed out his chest, leaned an elbow on the table, clearly pretending to be overly impressed with himself, “well, I’m not one to brag, but…”           

            Mack said something rude at this comment and then coughed in a bad attempt to disguise it.  He rolled his eyes, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, and continued on in a pompous tone, “it was a dark and stormy night and …”

            The two of them burst out laughing at his blatant and deliberate plagiarism of the infamous line and she found herself placing a friendly hand on top of his own.  Seconds later Harvey’s laughter died of so suddenly that Mack broke off as well and looked up to find a cold look crossing his face.  His gaze seemed to focus on the doorway behind her and she turned around to find a well dressed elderly gentlemen stepping into the room.

            “Tater,” he replied in a forced neutral tone.

            Tater meticulously pulled his fingers free from his leather gloves and raised an eyebrow.  He approached the table, absently tapping his gloves against one thigh.  He stared at Harvey for a long moment and then recognition dawned on his face.  “Harvey,” he replied in the same forced tone of voice.

  He waved off the two bodyguards who flanked his sides before once again addressing Harvey, “is my business partner available.”  It wasn’t quite a question, but not hostile enough to be disrespectful.  Clearly, this man had some practice in dealing with Harvey and his other half.           

            Harvey scowled and turned back to Mack, clearly unhappy with this turn of events but not quite able to brush off the pull of his other personality, “some other time, Jamie.”

            “Harvey?”  Inwardly, Mack winced at the overly concerned tone in her voice, but she couldn’t quite shake the displaced feeling she was having.

            He shrugged apologetically and she watched with morbid curiosity as his other personality emerged.  It was such a drastic transformation that it was as fascinating as it was horrid and she felt very much like a voyeur- witnessing something so personal that it was uncomfortable to watch.  Harvey tensed in his chair and his entire jaw tightened as though he was trying to fight Two-Face but simply wasn’t strong enough.  His eye squeezed shut and the hand under hers clenched and unclenched for a long second, but when he reopened his eyes Harv was staring back at her- wicked smirk and all.

            He slowly looked her up and down, and smirked, “how you doin’?”

            Still shocked by the sudden disruption in what had been a perfectly normal, if not friendly conversation, Mack flushed and responded with a soft, “good… you?”

            He smiled, like a wolf who’d just been delivered his sacrificial lamb and turned over the hand resting under her own, to stroke her palm with his thumb.  “We’ll finish this conversation later, princess.”

            He looked up at Tater and nodded for him to take a seat.  Tater tossed his coat over the nearest chair to reveal an expensive gray suit and sank into his chair, looking much more at ease in Harv’s presence than Harvey’s.

            “Mack,” Harv said in a raspier version of Harvey’s baritone, “this is Tater, one of my business associates.”

            Tater offered his hand across the table and she took it, shaking it firmly, though she had to rise half-way out of her seat to do so.  “Nice to meet you,” she added, still unsure what to make up this situation.

            He inclined his head, and she took a few seconds to really look at him.  Dark hair, with gray sideburns, that to Mack’s disgust made him look distinguished, and an olive complexion that most likely meant he was Italian.

            Great!  The Italian mafia and my own mob boss playing Jekyl and Hyde on me.  They can cue the Twilight Zone music anytime.  ‘Your traveling through another dimension… a dimension not only of sight and sound…’

            Mack pulled herself out of her reverie at the sound of Harv’s derisive chuckle and turned to him, not sure what she missed, and hoping it wasn’t important.

            “Schultz is practically frothing at the mouth over your newest acquisition,” Tater added, his eyes alight with a kind of devilish delight at Schultz’s predicament.

            A sinister smile crossed Harv’s face, “that development was a nice bonus.”  His tone made it clear irritating Schultz hadn’t been his primary reason for occupying this bar, as his hand tightened on her own.

            Mack looked down at her hand, as if trying to reconcile the fact that her hand was still on top of his, and that she hadn’t removed it yet.

            “He’d burst a blood vessel if he knew you were inviting me and Shaughnessy over for poker on Wednesday,” Tater sent the other man a speculative look.

            A dark chuckle sounded from the man at her side, and Harv acknowledge the subtle suggestion, “why don’t you come over on Wednesday.  And bring Solvetti, with you,” he added.  “After all someone has to run back to Shultz and tell him we’re congregating in his precious territory.”

            Harv’s smirk turned slightly suggestive when Mack squeezed his hand tightly.  He looked over at her, clearly intent on saying something inappropriate- until he saw her facial expression. 

            Swallowing hard, Mack forced herself to ask, “Are you purposely gonna yank Shultz’s chain just to see what he does?”

            Tater’s frown deepened at her paranoia. “Schultz isn’t going to do anything, except- with any luck- have a stroke.”

            “He might not bother the two of you, but…” Mack trailed off at the dark look she was receiving from Harv.

            Harv raised one eyebrow and twisted his hand within hers.  Holding her wrist in a warning grip, he rose from his chair.  “Are you suggesting I can’t take care of my own?”  He loomed over her, his body language portraying his resentment at her question.

            Mack looked away; not able to withstand his angry stare for long.  She knew from his reaction that she must have broken some sort of unspoken rule about him needing to appear the alpha male, but was irritated enough with that mentality that she had to force herself to back down.  “I’m sorry, Harv.  I just…”

            “Relax, princess,” he said with a wicked smile, “the only mob boss you need to worry about is me.”   

            She snorted and nervously tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “How reassuring…”

            Harv relaxed at Mack’s withdrawal.  Tugging her out of her chair, he leered at her, “no charge.  Now get me a refill, wench.”  He pulled his glass off the table and shook it at her, all the while thoroughly enjoying the way she had to clamp her mouth shut to keep from saying something abrasive.           

            “Can I bring you anything?” she looked over at Tater.

            “Whatever he takes,” Tater nodded at Harv.

            Mack forced a smile and crossed the floor to speak with the two bodyguards who’d came in with Tater and were now conversing with John and Kevin.           

            “You boys want anything from the bar?”

            Brian smirked up at her, “why Mack, you seem irritated.  Our esteemed leader couldn’t possible have annoyed you so soon in the evening could he?”

            “Brian,” Mack said shortly, “whadda ya want?”

            Brian chuckled and ordered his own beverage as Mack turned towards Tater’s entourage.  She raised one eyebrow expectantly at the two younger men.  Kevin leaned in and introduced Mack to Tony and Jay.  The usual pleasantries were exchanged, though Mack’s responses were chillier than normal.

            Mack walked by Harv’s table on her way out the door, her walk portraying the irritation she didn’t feel she could safely express verbally.  She passed by a young man, entering the room just as she was exiting, and her shoulders noticeably tensed at his comment.

            “Damn, woman, can I get some fries with that shake.”

            Mack spun around, one hand resting on her hip, and snorted at the white suit he was sporting, “and who are you supposed to be, the milkman?

            “I’m your ice cream man, sweet tooth.”

            She rolled her eyes and replied condescendingly, “you got ID, junior?”

            The blond man slid one hand inside his blinding-white suit coat and pulled out his wallet, “Baby, if you wanted my number all you had to do was ask.”

            “I hate to break it to you sweet thang, but I like my men old enough to shave.”

            “Oh, c’mon, Mrs. Robinson, you’re breaking my heart.”

            “You’re not offering me your heart, kiddo,” Mack shot over her shoulder as she, once again, attempted to head back up front.

            “Hey, what about my beer?”

            “Sorry, but this room is reserved for the dangerous and deranged of society, and since you’re more like a wanna-be Backstreet Boy, you clearly don’t qualify.”  Mack leaned one shoulder on the doorjamb.

            To her surprise he actually laughed before turning around to look at Tater, “Hey pops, can I keep her?”

            Mack narrowed her eyes, and made a rude noise, “Can you keep me?  I’m not a puppy, wiseass.”

            Tater rested his head in his hand and sent Harv an apologetic look, “No, you can’t have her.  She’s spoken for,” he grated out.

            Tater’s son opened his mouth to protest when Mack cut him off. “Hey!  You got a name, spud boy?”

            He turned back around to back and then gave her a cheesy smile, “call me Ryan, babe.”

            “Well, Ryan, take your happy ass on over there and stop wasting your bad pick up lines on me.”  Mack pointed imperiously at the table Harv and Tater were occupying.

            Ryan held up both hands in a placating gesture and starting to back up, “Alright, babe, but if you wanted to look at my ass, all you had to do was say so.”  He grinned at the indignant look on her face and turned around.

            “Ohhh, sorry Ryan, but men in bad suits just don’t get me all hot and bothered.”  Mack shrugged apologetically.

            “This suit is Gucci,” he pressed one hand to his suit as if defending its honor.

            “That suit,” she snorted, “looked like it walked straight off of Miami Vice.”  Behind him, Mack could hear the rest of the guys laughing and she took the opportunity to escape before Ryan started another verbal battle.

 

00000000000000000000000

 

            “Couldn’t you have left him in the car,” Harv frowned at Tater as Ryan took a seat at their table.

“I tried, but he finally figured out how to unlock the child proof doors,” Tater said disparagingly.

            Ryan ignored them, “Nice place you got here, Harv.” Ryan snorted and rolled his eyes as he referenced the shabbiness of the other half of the bar.  “Of course you’re not here for the décor, now are you?”  He grinned across the table at Harv and waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

            Harv sent Ryan a stony look, and crossed his arms as if trying to ward off this conversation.  Ryan exchanged conspiring glances with his father and then stood up to go talk Brian, leaving the other two gangsters alone.

            Harv watched him walk away and then settled in to wait for the inevitable interrogation.  Tater sent Harv a side long glance, one arm resting on the cherry surface in front of him.  “Interesting woman,” he offered in a neutral tone.

            Harv responded with a noncommittal shrug and deliberately ignored the inquisitive look coming from the other mobster.

            Tater smiled at the obvious evasion.  “She’s incredibly mouthy,” He grinned, “I think it would actually kill her if you told her to keep her mouth shut.”

            “Most likely her head would explode,” Harv added with a snort. 

            “I am surprised you threw in with her, Harv.  After your interlude with Ivy,” Tater ignored the sudden growl that erupted from Harv’s throat, “I wouldn’t have expected you take up with another independent broad.”             

            “You just had to fucking bring her up didn’t you,” Harv snarled. 

            “After all the bimbos you paraded around after her, I thought I’d never see you with an intelligent woman again,” Tater rolled his eyes.

            “I like my women quiet and obedient.  I don’t need them to think for themselves.  And I never said I was gonna take Mack anywhere.”

            Tater made a small, ‘Mmhmm,’ noise, clearly not believing the man sitting next to him.

            “You are so fucking irritating,” Harv muttered, “She’s just a business partner.”

            Tater laughed at the obvious untruth, “Well, your business partner has a nice ass.”

            Harv smirked, “Why yes, she does.”

            “And naturally you have designs on that ass.”

            “Wouldn’t you?” he asked with a smug look.

            “What makes you think I don’t?”  Tater smiled lecherously.

            Harv sent him a dirty look and responded with a brusque, “Your desire to live to see tomorrow.”

            “A little early to be getting territorial, isn’t it,” one eyebrow went up in mock surprise.

            “I don’t share my toys.” Harv assured him.

            Tater looked at Harv from the corner of his eye, “For someone so territorial you sure are taking your sweet time in seducing our lovely little bartender.”

            “You are such a meddlesome bastard,” Harv growled.  He paused and then added a short, “And she’s my bartender.”

             He sighed and pressed one hand to his chest, “Why Harv, I’m merely interested in what you’ve been doing… like any good friend would.”

            “Translation: I’m a nosy son of a bitch.”

            Tater chuckled, not bothering to deny the accusation.  He opened his mouth to once again pry Harv for information, but stopped when Mack entered the room with a large tray of drinks.

            Mack crossed the floor, making sure to drop off Harv and Tater’s drinks first.  She set the two whiskeys on the table, doing her best to be unobtrusive, but found it impossible when they were staring silently at her.

            Determined not to show any signs of the stress she was feeling, she deliberately smiled and turned away, making her way towards the gathering of the other men across the room.

            “Tough cookie, isn’t she,” Tater wet his throat with a long drink, the ice clinking in his glass.

            “She tries to be,” Harv corrected.  “She wouldn’t last five minutes in a ring with some of the broads I know.”

            “Yeah well, the broads you know are all certifiable,” Tater stated bluntly.

            Harv paused but then had to concede the point, “she’s not a complete fucking wuss,” he amended.

            Harv waited until Mack had already headed back up to the bar before continuing, “this isn’t the only block Schultz recently acquired.  He’s putting men all up and down the back end of your strip”

            “I don’t know what the little shit is trying to accomplish.  Hell, I don’t think he knows what he’s doing.  The bastard’s land has always been next to mine, if he wants to inhabit a worthless strip like this so he can continue to be my neighbor then let him.”  Tater downed another third of his whiskey and muttered something rude in Italian.

            “If he wants to fuck with you that’s your business, but if he fucks with me, I’ll have him removed- permanently.”  Harv met Tater’s eyes over the top of his glass.

            “I don’t need another gang war on my hands, Harv.”  Tater informed him, his mouth tightening at the corners.

            “I’m not gonna sit around and let someone fuck with me just cause it might upset the ’delicate balance’ between our factions.”  Harv tossed one arm over the back of his chair, cigarette hanging loosely in one hand.  “If the punk would have gone before the commission and announced his intentions like he’s supposed to this wouldn’t have happened.  It’s not my fault he tried- badly I might add- to act all covert and shit.”  Harv angrily inhaled a cloud of smoke; his standard smirk replaced with a sneer.

            “Schultz isn’t so far gone that he’s gonna openly insult you, he’ll be slick about it and he won’t give you enough cause to retaliate.”

            “Hey,” Harv replied casually, “people get killed all the time- car accidents, heart attacks, gas leaks that accidentally ignite…”  He trailed off with a sly smirk, clearly amused with himself.

            Tater scowled and finished his whiskey, setting his glass down with a thunk. “Hey,” Harv added in a more serious tone, “you don’t like my solution.  You’re the capo di tutti capi- you go tell him to stop being a whiny little bitch.”

            “Oh!  ’Cause I don’t want the worthless cafone popped as much as everyone else!?  He’s a fucking embarrassment.”  Tater gestured with one hand, his tone revealing his agitation.  “Christ, he’s always on the news and in the papers.  It’s a bloody miracle he hasn’t been pinched yet; he’s nothing but reckless.”

            “What’s Solvetti’s take on this?” Harv shoved his own empty glass to the side.

            Tater huffed, “Solvetti’s playing it close to the chest, like always.  What the fuck do you care anyway, Harv?  You never cared for the politics.”

            “I’m not gonna kiss ass and ask permission to off somebody, but I’m not fucking stupid, Tater.”  Harv expression soured at the very thought of needing approval from another boss to take care of ‘business.’  “If Solvetti will see reason and go on the record that somebody needs to off Schultz before the fucker incriminates us all then I’d prefer to do it the easy way.” 

            “And if not…”  Tater met him stare for stare.

            “Then god help Schultz if he gets in my fucking way.”  Harv smiled nastily and crushed his finished cigarette under his shoe.

            Tater took a long hard look at his associate and knew by the set of his jaw that he’d follow through.  “Call Shaughnessy, Harv.  I’ll see you on Wednesday, at eleven?”

            Harv sent him a sharp nod as Tater stood up and pulled his coat and gloves back on.  “The plans for our casino are ready.  You can send one of the boys around to pick them up.”

            “Just don’t send Mark,” Ryan came up behind his dad and smirked, “Lillian doesn’t have class on Tuesday’s.”

            Harv sent Tater a sidelong glance, “oh really…  Say, how is your daughter these days, Tater?” 

            Tater sent him a glowered at him, “disobedient as always, but thanks for asking.”  He sent Ryan a dirty look over his shoulder, “much like my son.”

            “How is it my fault that the family you had hand picked for me to marry into got busted ‘cause their own brother ratted ‘em out?!”  Ryan exclaimed.

            “It’s not!  But you didn’t have to take up with that damn Irish woman, now did you?!”  Tater shook a finger at his son.

            “You’re lucky they got busted before we were even engaged.  At least Rhiannon’s family hasn’t ever squealed to the feds,” Ryan rolled his eyes and ignored the finger his father was pointing at him.  Harv sat in his chair trying not to laugh at Tater and Ryan, who were busy rehashing an argument they’d had several times over.

            “Never mind the small fact that she’s Shaunehessy daughter!  What is it with my kids and Irish people?!”  Tater tossed his hands in the air and stormed out of the backroom, muttering to himself in Italian.

            Ryan watched his father disappear around the corner and then looked at Mark who was busy trying to make himself as close to as invisible as possible. “So we’ll be seeing you tomorrow then,” he asked with a vicious smirk.

            He scowled at the blonde man in front of him and inwardly consoled himself with the image of holding him down and dying his hair back to its original color.  “Sorry, Ryan,” Mark replied, not sounding sorry at all, “Kevin will be making that trip.”

            “Chicken,” he called, heading for the door before the old man left him there.

            “It’s called a survival instinct.” Mark yelled after him.

            There was short silence as the five of them all exchanged glances.  Mark scowled at the four men grinning at him, “don’t even think about saying it.”

            “But boss,” Brian said looked at his other supervisor, “she’d be so do-able… if she wasn’t Tater’s youngest daughter.”

            “Hey, I haven’t touched her!  Hell, I haven’t even encouraged the woman, damnit!”  Mark crossed his arms defensively, while issuing the men around him threatening looks of his own.

            “Oh woman, is it?” John mused with a conniving look at Brian, “last time I checked she was maybe twenty-four.“  Mark narrowed his eyes, but Brian and John choose to ignore the warning signs of their imminent doom.  “And lets see… you’re how old,” John paused, pretending to think very hard, “thirty-six, thirty-seven…”

            “Robbing the cradle now, are we?”  Brian continued in a mock outraged tone.

            Mark looked over at Harv, who was still occupying their original table, “Well?” He asked.  Harv shrugged ever so slightly and then Mark turned back to John and Brian who were starting to look a little worried.

            “Now Mark…” John started.

            “You are so dead,” Mark muttered before launching himself across the table at the two men across from him.  Brian let an obnoxious warrior cry as he hit the floor next to John, only to have Mark drag him up by his tie.

            “Hey, be careful, I like this tie!”  Brian yelled.  Mark ignored him and sent him reeling back into John, who’d just managed to climb to his feet.  The two of them went sprawling back onto the ground, sending Kevin and Harv into bouts of laughter.

            After several minutes of rolling around on the floor, general swearing and rough housing, Mark finally had mercy on the two of them and went over to join Harv, readjusting his tie as he walked.

            “Feel better?” Kevin inquired.

            “Yeah… I do.”  Mark sighed, stretched his arms and then looked around Harv to the poker money stacked up on the table behind him.  “You want me to take Mack her money, boss?”

            Harv looked over his shoulder at the thin pile up money that Mark had designated, “I’ll do it, just don’t kill anybody while I’m gone.”  He shot John and Brian an amused glance as they hobbled over to the table, before he headed down the hallway towards the bar.

 

00000000000000000000000

 

            Mack leaned over the wooden table and gave the back portion of it a good swipe with her towel.  Armed with her trusty 409, she slowly made her way over the surfaces of each chair and table that had been vacated.  Nothing was worse than accidentally putting a hand in sticky, half-dried beer.

            She stopped at one particularly nasty spot and put a little elbow grease into it.  “Hmm… Mack the cleaning wench.  Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”  Harv approached quietly from behind her, suppressing the urge to reach out and run his hands across her backside.

            Mack kept on scrubbing the table top, “why, you want a job?”

            “Well that depends on what I get to clean.”  Harv walked around the table and stopped in front of her.

            Mack stopped, and looked up at him, blowing a strand of hair out of her face as she did so.  “Don’t suppose you like to wash dishes?”  She asked hopefully.

            He blinked and then laughed.  “Next you’ll be trying to turn me into a bus boy.”             

            “It was worth a shot,” she sighed.  Finished with cleaning the furniture, she grabbed the tray of empty glassware and hauled it off the table, sweat starting to bead between her eyes.  He followed her back to the bar where she sat the tray down with a relieved thunk, and then proceeded to take off her button front.

            Much to her amazement, and his, he managed not to make the standard suggestive remark about stripping and instead, presented her with three hundred dollar bills.  She wiped her damp palms on the back of her jeans and looked up at him.

            “Poker,” he reminded her as he offered her the money.  She looked down at it as if not quite believing someone was really going to give her three hundred bucks, even if she did sort of earn it, but didn’t question her good fortune.

            “Tater and two other of my business partners will be here on Wednesday for poker,” he informed her brusquely.  He watched her stuff the money into a jar by the register and started to leave when she stopped him.           

            “Harv,” she spoke softly, “about this thing with Schultz?”

            He paused, but didn’t turn back around, “what about it?  We settled this already.”

            “It’s all well and good for you not to worry about it, but I’m a small, single female who works alone and lives alone.  I carry a gun, but…” she stopped briefly in mid-sentence as he turned back around, but continued despite the irritated look she was receiving.  “I’ve never shot anybody for god’s sake, I don’t even know if I could shoot somebody.  And I’m allowed to be scared damnit, so stop acting like it’s a personal insult.  Because I am scared.  You can’t be everywhere at once, and what if…”

            Harv cursed, and crossed the distance between them in a few short steps, “Stop it, Mack.”  He placed a hand on either side of her head and forced her to look up at him, “Enough.  You’ll only work yourself into a panic.”

            She blinked and looked away, mentally kicking her own ass for being such a wuss.  There weren’t any guarantees in life, but it would be nice if he’d take her concerns seriously.  If Schultz was pissed he wouldn’t go after Harv directly; he’d do it indirectly and well… accidents happen all the time.  She really didn’t want to be an accident. 

            Mack took a deep breath and tried to pull herself together, but she needed a little more than verbal reassurance to make her feel better.  She required something more substantial than promises to make her feel safe- whether or not it bruised his precious ego was his problem.  Looking up into his inscrutable face, she was forced to believe that no such evidence was forthcoming, and she wasn’t even sure what he could do to displace her fears, anyway. 

            She swallowed convulsively and before she could talk herself out of it she leaned her forehead against his chest and placed her hands on either side of his belt.  As long as she didn’t wrap her arms around him it didn’t count as a hug.  She repeated this to herself several times in hopes that the tiny voice of reason would stop mocking her.

            What the fuck is she doing.

            She’s leaning against you.  What’s the big deal?

            So I’m what?   Just supposed to STAND here?

            No you jackass- wrap your bloody arms around her, you idiot.

            You want me to hug her.

            Are you saying you don’t want to wrap your arms around her?

            That is NOT the same thing!

            Look, Mack’s too tough to actually hug you, because she’ll feel weak.  So, she almost hugs you in hopes that you’ll do it for her and let her off the hook.

            Harv broke off his argument with Harvey as Mack raised her head from his chest and started to back away from him.

            Too late… Harvey murmured.

            Hey, wait a minute…

            Harv reached out and wrapped his arms around her before she could remove her hands from his waist, and pulled her against his chest.  She hesitated briefly, but slid her hands around to rest on his back before resting her head fully against him.  Harv looked down in surprise as the tension drained out of her, momentarily stunned.

            Chicks, he snorted, who knew?

            Mack stayed there, feeling him breathe, for a good long minute- all the while ignoring the part of her that kept reminding her he was a crazed mob boss.  Because, quite frankly, it just wasn’t natural for a crazed mob boss to be this comforting, so clearly her brain had been temporary short-circuited.  Except that it hadn’t and she really was comforted by a crazed mob boss and that just didn’t make any sense at all.

            Deciding that she’d imposed on Harv long enough, and that most likely, his skin was starting to crawl from all the ‘niceness,’ she pulled away and did her damnedest not to blush.           

            “Sorry to impose on you like that.”  Mack turned back to the stack of glasses on her tray and began throwing away the beer bottles scattered among them.

            “If it had been an imposition, I wouldn’t have done it.”  He pulled out a business card from his wallet and slipped it into her back pocket.  Mack jumped and looked over her shoulder at him, “It’s Mark’s,” he said in way of explanation.  “If for some reason, something should happen, call him.  It’s always on.”

            Mack felt slightly speechless, but couldn’t quite explain why, “Um… thanks.”

            “In the future, however, any doubts you might have about this or anything else, should be discussed in private with me.”  His expression left no room for argument and she nodded numbly in response.  “Night, Mack.”

            Mack watched him go back down the hallway and minutes later the five of them trailed out the back door.  She stood at the bar for several minutes collecting herself, and then remembered the card he’s stuck in her back pocket.  Reaching around she pulled out a thin, white business card with black lettering on the front and a cell phone number scrawled in ink on the back.

East Coast Security

Mark Dillinger

745 W Franklin Blvd Gotham City, GO 78574

876-574-7487

876-532-4278

            Mack looked at the card in her hand and finally admitted, whether or not this is what she wanted or not, she was stuck with the two of them and they were stuck with her.

 

Chapter Text

            It was raining, a steady drumming against the roof above that only served to increase Mack’s apprehension.  Harv alone made Mack nervous, but the infamous poker game was less than twenty minutes away and the thought of her bar being filled with Gotham’s Mafioso elite was starting to frazzle her nerves.

            Anticipation… 

            Mack frowned at her subconscious.  Admittedly she was nervous, perhaps even scared, but to think that even a part of her was secretly reveling in this foray into dangerous waters was absurd. 

            Even if there was a littletruth to that statement, Mack mused, absently fingering the glass of water occupying the ledge she was currently leaning against.  A sudden chill ran down the back of her spine and she shivered, head turning to one side to find an imposing Harv suddenly occupying the wall adjacent to her, arms crossed across his chest.

            His eyes ran down her figure, taking in the black dress pants and black tank top sporting a sarcastic, ‘Knowledge is power.  Power corrupts.  Study hard… be evil,’ in red lettering.

            He allowed a smile smirk to run across his lips before addressing the woman staring at him so expectantly.  “Mack.”

            “Harv,” she responded with a nod and a raised brow.  Brown eyes met mismatched ones for a long second before Mack blinked and moved her gaze towards a less threatening part of him.  Unconsciously, her eyes made their way to the black double shoulder rig he was sporting, and for a second she wanted to go back to looking straight into those sinister eyes of his.

            Harv narrowed his eyes appraisingly, before he closed the distance between them, his hands coming to rest on her bare shoulders.  “My associates do not show fear in the face of the enemy.”

            Goosebumps rose on her arms at the soft tone of his voice that failed to hide the threat behind his words.  She forced her eyes to his once more, “Relax,” one hand moving to caress the hollow of her collarbone.  “No one harms what belongs to me,” he paused, a devilish chuckle rising in this throat, “except for me.”

            “I’m going to hold you to that promise, Harv.”  Mack replied before adding,

            “We can discuss your misconceptions on people being possessions later.”

            This time he did smirk, “the misconceptions are yours, Mack, but delude yourself if it comforts you.”

            Her mouth thinned into a flat line before she opened it to form a retort. “You have serious…”

            He interrupted her with a small squeeze to her upper arms.  “Later,” he spoke, his voice going flat.  She blinked, confused at his sudden change in mannerism until she heard the growing murmur of voices and the sound of the back door buzzer floating down the hallway towards them.

            “Just remember whose protecting you from the wolves, Mack.”  Harv added coldly as he turned around and headed down the hallway towards his guests, throwing one last unreadable look over one shoulder at her before disappearing around the corner.

           

8888888888888888888888888

 

            Harv nodded shortly at the tall, thin Italian standing in the doorway of his ‘Rec Room’, “Solvetti.”

            The older man returned the gesture, adding a quick, “Harv,” as he slid his overcoat off his shoulders and tossed it at his nearest lackey.  Harv rolled his eyes at the unconscious arrogance the man displayed and shared a knowing look with Mark, who had placed himself and his three associates strategically around the room. 

            If this had been a set-up, Solvetti would have had one less man able to go for his gun, and since he’d only brought four- including his own son- he was being purposely careless.  Harv took a seat at the table in the far corner, his back to the wall, filing away the subtle suggestion that Solvetti did not find him a threat for later consideration.

            Solvetti took a seat to Harv’s right and gave the room a once over.  “She must be quite a piece of ass to come all the way to the slums to drink.” Solvetti smiled coldly at Harv, “though, I see your lap dog,” he glanced deliberately at Mark, “was able to salvage some semblance of taste and sophistication.”

           “Mark is very efficient.” Harv agreed before turning his gaze to something just to the left of Solvetti, “I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be bound by family obligations and not able to pick employees based on skill.” 

            Solvetti discreetly followed his line of sight to find his own son, Antonio, holding a conversation with Mark.  The corners of his eyes tightened, “Tony’s loyalty does not have to be bought.”

            Harv laughed cynical, “Loyalty to blood relations is not the same as loyalty to the man you chose.”

            “My son would never betray me.”

            “And if Denati had promoted Mark instead of the products of his own inept bloodline,” Harv lips curled into a cruel smile, “he wouldn’t be six feet under right now.”

            Solvetti forced down a snarl at the man across from him.  Denati had been a highly formidable man in his prime.  The fact that he had been cut down by this animal- who had barely received a slap on the wrist for his crimes- was almost more than Solvetti could bear.

            Harv didn’t bother hiding his amusement at Solvetti’s anger.  “If this is the best poker face you can muster, then I think you’re in for a long losing streak tonight.”

            “Arrived in time to head off the bloodshed,” Tater said just loud enough to carry to the table Harv and Solvetti occupied. “As usual,” he added.

            He smiled patronizingly at the two Mob leaders and the palpable tension surrounding them. “Do you have to bait one another constantly?”  Tater replied, this time allowing his irritation to slip through his thin veneer of calm as his slipped his jacket onto the back of the chair.

            “It amuses me.” Solvetti gave a small half shrug before ordering a drink from the serving woman who had approached quietly from his right.

            Tater nodded at Mack before following Solvetti’s order with his own.  Neither man missed the obvious possessiveness in the hand that gripped the woman’s wrist before Harv muttered a soft, “the usual, Mack,” to the petite woman.

            “A woman who knows her place,” Solvetti sent a retreating Mack an appraising glance, “how novel.”

            Harv chuckled at the steel that suddenly infused his bartender, as he watched her shoulders tense then straighten to the point that it had to be painful.  Mack sent a scathing look over her shoulder at the other Italian man whose name she’d yet to learn, but managed to bite back the rude comment she wanted so badly to utter.

            Solvetti raised an eyebrow at the disfigured gangster next to him, “she’s silent, has a fair bit of self-control, and access to a full bar,” he mused, and then dryly observed, “probably the only woman in the entire city who could tolerate you for more than an hour or so.”

            “Or maybe she just gets him drunk until he passes out.”  A wry male voice sounded from behind Tater.

            Harv scowled at the platinum blond, “It’s a wonder I haven’t had you murdered yet, Ryan.”

            Ryan snorted, “You’re not the only person to have made that exact claim, just the first not to be related to me.”  He glared in mock anger at his gray haired father.

            Tater rolled his eyes at his eldest son’s dramatics and made a show of asking god what’d he’d done to earn such a trying child. 

            Ryan snorted at the obvious answer to that question and nodded at Solvetti before spotting Mark and Solvetti’s son, Anthony, at a nearby table.  Making his excuses he went to join in whatever animated discussion the two were having.

            Solvetti turned to Tater one eyebrow raised in disdain. “You should have instilled more obedience in your son - he’s disrespectful.”

            Tater snorted at his childhood friend, “He was raised to replace me, not be my bitch.”

            “God save us,” he muttered in response before sampling the gin Mack had set in front of him.

           

88888888888888888888

 

            Mack stood behind the bar, catching her breath between waiting tables and took a swig of bottled water.  Piling her hair on top of her head she stood in front of a nearby fan, cooling her neck.   If this level of work was going to be the norm every poker night she was going to have to consider hiring an extra person to handle the front of the bar. 

            Glancing at the clock she noted that the last of Harv’s associates was slowly inching past the fashionably late point and she briefly wondered if he was breaking some sort of super secret gangster rule.  Sighing, she let her hair fall back into place only to pile it up in a messy knot.  Leaning down to prepare another round she briefly looked up at the sound of the front door buzzer, only to stop and stare open mouthed at the dreamboat that walked in. 

            Strawberry blonde hair, scruff running across a chiseled jaw, a muscular body encased in khakis, a brown duster, and dirty work boots – Mack forced herself not to continue to stare, but couldn’t help comparing him to a more rugged Toby Keith.

            Two of his companions flanked his sides while the other two trailed behind him, all dressed in a similar fashion.  Perhaps a foreman and his crew, Mack mused.

            The tall man in the duster approached the bar and gave her an appraising look before leaning on arm on the bar ledge.  “You must be Mack.”

            Mack almost swooned at the Irish brogue in the man’s voice, but managed to reply calmly, “What can I do for you boys.”

            “I’m here ta see your boss.”

            “You’re talking to her,” she retorted smartly.                            

            He chuckled darkly before stating, “I dinna mean the owner of the bar, woman.  I’m here to see your boss.”  He offered her one large hand, “Patrick Shaughnessy.”

            Mack hesitated for a brief second before shaking his hand, “Jamie Mackenzie.”

            He blinked and then smiled wildly, “Now what’s a nice Irish girl like you doing mixed up with men like us?”

            Mack narrowed her eyes. There’s no way this is the missing mob guy, she mused inwardly.  He’s way too normal looking, he’s not wearing the standard suit and hell – this guy looks like he WORKS for a living.  “I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean,” Mack replied after a moment’s debate.

            Shaughnessy looked pointedly over his shoulder at a member of his entourage who quickly found a cell phone, and dialed a number from memory.  A short minute and a quiet conversation later, Mark rounded the corner and greeted Shaughnessy with a hearty handshake.

            “What are you doing standing up here?”  Mark nodded towards the bar proper.

            “The lass wasn’t very forthcoming with the location o’ your boss.”  The Irishman nodded towards Mack.

            “Really?”  Mark looked at Mack, face unreadable.

            “Tis’ a good woman you’ve got here.”  Shaughnessy flashed a brilliant smile at Mack and winked.

            She blinked at him momentarily stymied at the sudden realization that this WAS the mob guy before recalling that Tater had mentioned an Irish family the other day.   Recovering herself she returned his grin, “It’s nice to know somebody appreciates me.”

            “I’d appreciate you more if you could see your way inta bringing me and the boys a couple o’ Killian’s.”

            Mack rolled her eyes, “I should have known.  You were only after my booze.”  Mack flashed him a smile before reaching down into a nearby cooler for the requested beverage.

            “Well knowing your boss, asking for anything other than that would probably get me shot, lass.” 

            Mack paused and then smirked, “It’d probably get you shot twice.”  Shaughnessy blinked and then burst out laughing before he and his entourage headed back to where Harv and his other guests were waiting for him.

            After loading one her larger serving trays with alcoholic beverages, Mack sauntered down the hallway to once again brave the group of mobsters occupying her back room.

 

000000000000000000000

 

            Some few hours later, business was starting to slow down and the chips were piled high in the center of Harv’s table.  Smoke was thick in the air and around the boss’s table the flunkies were starting to nurse their beverages.

            “Son of a bitch, you’re worse than he is,” Tater tossed his head in Two-Face’s direction all the while grousing at Solvetti.  Folding his cards his shoved them away in disgust, “Lucky bastard.”

            Smirking Solvetti racked in the stack of chips and tossed his cards at Shaughnessy to deal.  Shuffling the cards around Shaughnessy sent a side long look at Solvetti “Ya know I heard yesterday that one o’ Schultz clubs tis under investigation, again.”

            “Spare me the looks you Irish bastard, despite popular opinion I don’t hold the fuckers’ leash.” Solvetti scowled at Shaughnessy and then scowled down at his cards.  “Why do we even let you deal?  You couldn’t give me a decent hand if I stacked the fucking deck for you.”

            “Ach!  I deal jos’ fine, rich boy…” 

            Two-Face cut him off mid sentence, “Shaughnessy – you fucking suck.”  Harv surveyed his own hand, half tempted to fold now.  “Seriously Solvetti,” Harv added as he waved Mack over for a refill.  “When the fuck is that ass clown gonna get it through his thick skull that ‘Acropolis’ is A) a stupid fucking name for a club and B) being watched by the goddamn fuzz!”

            “Tater, will you please remind these dicks, once again, that I don’t run Schultz’s business, the ‘Acropolis’ included.”  Solvetti shook his glass at Mack in a manner reminiscent of Harv, “Besides, he’s still insulated enough that it wouldn’t affect him.”

            Tater scowled at his childhood his friend, “Doesn’t stop him from being a fucking embarrassment, now does it.”

            Solvetti sighed, one hand rubbing the space between his eyebrows, “so is this what you invited me for – to convince me to knock some sense into him.”

            Two-Face snorted and leaned back to make room for Mack to spread the liquor around, “Solvetti if you asked Schultz to give you a penny for his thoughts you’d get fucking change back.  There’s no sense to knock into him.”

            Even Solvetti laughed maliciously at that remark and Tater and Shaughnessy were practically in tears.  Mack, for her part, did her best not to laugh outright but only managed to hide her amusement as a poorly disguised coughing fit.

            Two-Face patted her familiarly on the ass and smirked up at her sudden indignation, “Try to keep it together Mack.”  She returned his look with an exasperated one of her own before disappearing into the maze of tables surrounding them.

            Once the laughter had died down, Tater turned back to Solvetti, “No one expects you to step in, let alone fix his sorry ass.”  Tater turned to make sure Mack wasn’t nearby and then lowered his voice.  “However, there may come a time when something will need to be done about him.”

            Solvetti narrowed his eyes and replied scathingly, “Don’t you think that’s premature, Luigi?”

            Tater sneered back at him clearly irritated at being called by his first name, “I never said it needed to be done now, Mario, just that you need to accept the reality of the situation.”

            “I’m not deluded you fool.  I’m perfectly aware of what’s going on and when the times comes, I’ll shoot him myself if I have to, but,” Solvetti hissed, “trying to absorb unclaimed territory into his empire, even under the table, is hardly an excuse for a war or an execution of a major crime boss.”

            “But being an idiot ‘tis,” Shaughnessy interrupted, “he brings ta much unwanted attention to us.”

            Solvetti scoffed, “Bullshit, they’re so busy bothering him, not to mention all the other crazies in this town,” Solvetti threw a sidelong glare at Harv, “that they don’t even look twice at us.”

            Two-Face scowled at the veiled insult, the card game completely forgotten, “Removing Nick’s crazy ass and letting someone else take his place would make us all a lot richer.  We all lose money when we have to go around him to other sources.”

            Shaughnessy sent the others a speculative look, “if we’re gonna go through the trouble o’ murderin’ the bastard I’m dinna sure I want him replaced.”

            There was a collective pause as the four men mulled this suggestion over.  Solvetti broke the silence first, “I’d… consider… the possibility.”  There followed a round of nods and one grunt from Harv before they waved over John and three other lackeys to sort and cash out the poker chips.

            “I believe it’s my turn next week.” Tater stood and collected his coat and winnings from one of his men.  “I’ll have Ryan call with the details.”  Gathering his entourage, he nodded at his associates and made his way towards the exit.  Solvetti followed his lead and made his excuses as well, the back door buzzer sounding as he exited the bar.

            Shaughnessy surveyed the room for a brief moment and then sighed.  “I dinna think I need ta tell ya to watch your arse,” he murmured, sending Harv a pointed look.

            “Your concern is touching,” Harv replied sarcastically.

            The Irish man gave Harv a long hard look and then let his façade fall to the wayside, accent included.  “Look Harv, I have no desire to be stuck in this god forsaken city with nothing but snotty ass Italian gangsters so when you start this fight make damn sure that you win, and that it doesn’t get out of hand.  I don’t want a war on my hands – it’s bad for business.”

            Two-Face narrowed his eyes, “You make it seem like a forgone conclusion.”

            “You and I both know it is,” came the adamant reply, “Schultz is going to do something fucking stupid after this little party and when you go for his throat, make sure you don’t leave any evidence.”

            “I’m not exactly new to this game Shaughnessy,” Harv replied contemptuously.  “Fuck, you worry more than a goddamn woman.”

            “And you aren’t as crazy as you try to seem Two-Face.” 

            Harv sent him an evil smirk, “That sounds distinctly like a challenge.”

            “Spare me the bullshit,” Shaughnessy scoffed, “and just try to spare the theatrics this time.”  The silent reference to Denati and Harv’s private war was unmistakable.

            Shaughnessy stood and nodded briefly at Harv before tossing his coat on and heading out the door, his employees following behind him.                   

            Harv’s men exchanged looks and then breathed a sigh of relief that the evening had passed without blood shed.  It was exceedingly rare that there be ANY problems with the bosses gathered, but it was always an unnerving possibility.

            Mark stood and made his way over to sit down next to Harv remaining beer in hand.  Leaning back he tossed one arm over the back and then waited.  Several minutes later he was rewarded with a surly, “What.”.

            “Anything new,” he responded lightly doing his best to be nonchalant.

            Harv turned at stared at Mark, narrowing his eyes, “are you trying to handle me Mark?”

            Mark paused at then smiled ruefully, “well… I’m trying to.”

            There was a snort and then, “apparently the whole fucking world at large is waiting for us to eradicate Schultz from the face of the goddamn universe.”

            “Are we going to?”  Mark asked.

            Two-Face shrugged, “probably.”

            Mark nodded, he’d been expecting as much.  “I’ll see if I can’t think of a few scenarios that might prove workable should the need arise.”

            Harv paused and then sent Mark a threatening look, “are you fucking telling me you don’t already have a few worked out.”

            “It’s possible,” he smirked at his boss, “that I already have a few contingency plans kicking around.”

            Harv grunted and then, “anything already in the works?”

            “I have initiative, not suicidal impulses.”  Mark responded dryly before downing the rest of his beer.

 

8888888888888888888888

 

            Mack looked around the empty back room and quickly assessed the situation.  Beer bottles everywhere, ashtrays overflowing, remnants of god knows what on the floor – yep, she’d be here forever cleaning up.

            Sighing she made her way over to the first table and immediately had heart palpations – there nestled in the mess of booze and trash were four hundred dollar bills.  Blinking she pocketed the cash and quickly made her way around the room only to find the same state of affairs at each table.  Slumping into the chair Harv had vacated just minutes ago she realized that each man must have each left at least a hundred even though the average tab was a fourth of that.  

            Well… turns out crime does pay, Mack smirked at her own personal joke and then shifted slightly to one side.  There was a soft plop noise directly behind her and she turned and looked down to find a black dress hat lying on the floor.

            Reaching down she picked it up and gave it a thorough once over.  Black cloth with a worn front brim, most likely from always being pulled down, complete with a very expensive looking designer label on the inside.  She smiled slightly, running her hands along it, recognizing it as the hat Harv used to wear so often before he had assumed control of her back room.  Most likely it had hung on the back of the chair all night and had been forgotten in the midst of all the hubbub.

            Mack looked briefly around, as if to reassure herself that yes, Harv and his guys were indeed gone, and then promptly tried it on.  She ran back to the mirror hanging behind the bar and turned her head this way and that admiring her reflection.  Pursing her lips she admitted with a sigh that while it was quite nice it was much too big.  But…, she paused, and then promptly stuffed her hair up inside the hat.  Smiling, she reconsidered her appearance.   Perfect…

            Briefly looking at the calendar she realized that Halloween was next Friday.  Slowly at idea began to take place in the back of her mind.  Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to hold onto his hat for an extra day or two.  Smirking she grabbed an empty tray and a trash can and made her way towards the back room, all the while wearing her newest accessory.

 

8888888888888888888

 

             Leon Shultz stared across the table at his uncle and did his damnedest not to balk at what the man was suggesting.  He had come to realize that Nick was acting more and more unstable, and the possible ramifications of what his uncle was suggesting were staggering. 

            The more time he spent with the old man the more he felt that it was time for him to step aside.  He was running this family into the fucking ground, and by the time he kicked the bucket there wouldn’t be enough left for Leon to work with.  It was bad enough that his uncle allowed his personal vendetta to get so out of hand, putting himself always on the outs with Tater- the man who just happened to be the most powerful gangster in the city.           

            He couldn’t remember what the hell Tater’s first name was; he’d gone by the nick name so long.  Hell, he’d been called Tater since before Leon was born.  First names in this city were irrelevant, it was your family affiliation that counted, and Tater had been heading the Giovanni family for the last twenty or so years.  The Giovannis had more money that the Vatican.

            The Schultz family name, however, was starting to lose respect in the circles they traveled in.  Losing respect was a death warrant in this business.  People tended to turn on you when they thought you were on your way out.  His cousin Rosa had married one of Solvetti’s nephew several years back and just the other day he’d heard her husband make a snide remark about ‘those Germans’.

            The very first Shultz had been German, but after a hundred years of marrying nothing but Italians, there wasn’t more than a drop of German left in them.  Ten years ago, no one would have dared to say such a thing about his family- especially in his uncle’s own home.  Ten years ago he could have confronted the worthless bastard without worrying about destroying a desperately needed alliance.

            An alliance that was slowly crumbling beneath them.  Despite the front Solvetti portrayed to the public, he wasn’t so fond of his nephew’s wife to bother supporting a family that was sinking like a rock.  If Solvetti pulled his support they were fucked.

            The vultures were circling the wagon and good ol’ Uncle Nick was about to serve them up to the fucking mob on a silver platter.            

            “Let me get this straight,” Leon glanced suspiciously from side to side, making sure no one else in the restaurant was eavesdropping.  “Two-Face has set up shop in an area we recently assumed control of, which I’ll agree, is a blatant show of disrespect.  So you feel it’s imperative that we retaliate in some way, but we can’t do anything that would implicate us.”

            Nick stabbed a piece of steak with his fork, “That sorry fucking bastard played poker with Tater in the middle of my fucking turf, not two goddamn days ago, and he deliberately invited Solvetti because he knew he’d run back and tell me.  The fuckers are laughing at us!”

            “So what…you wanna ruin a couple of his deals, blow up something he owns…”  Leon leaned back against his chair, not at all comfortable with the direction this conversation was taking.

            “I fucking told you it can’t be obvious.  It has to be subtle.  Something innocuous and simple.  I want it clear that nothing he owns is to be touched, including that bar he frequents.”

            Leon saw the glint in his uncle’s glazed eyes and hoped like hell this wasn’t going where he though it was.

            “The woman, however, is fair game… once she leaves the bar.”

            Leon closed his eyes for a brief second and inwardly cursed his uncle six ways ‘til Sunday.  “Tell me you’re not putting a hit out on her.”

            “No, Two-Face and his lap dog,” Nick sneered at the nick-name he’d given Mark, “would be able to tell instantly that it had been a professional job.  But houses, are broken into all the time, and if she just happens to be there when it happens and gets roughed up a little.  Well… these things happen,” Nick spread his hands and shrugged.

            “Why the woman?  She’s of no consequence to us, and Two-Face couldn’t give a flying fuck what happens to her.  Disrupting her life isn’t gonna affect him at all, unless it would impugn her ability to fetch a beer.”

            “Don’t be fucking stupid!  That bar is a shit hole.  There isn’t a single fucking reason for him to frequent a dump like that.  The fucker could have built his own bar if he wanted to, but instead he takes up residence in a bar where the only plus is the women running it.”

            “Two-Face is one of the most heartless bastards alive.  There ain’t no way he cares about some broad.”

            “I didn’t say he cared about her you idiot.  What matters to him is that she’s his property and nobody touches what’s his.  I have an eyewitness to that bar fight that took place last Friday.  Two-Face couldn’t wait to ride to her fucking rescue.

            "And how are they going to know we were responsible if we keep this shit quiet?  Revenge isn’t any good if the recipient doesn’t know who did it.”

            “It doesn’t matter what the bitch thinks.  Two-Face knows we’re pissed.  He deliberately invited Tater to his bar just to piss me off.  He’ll be expecting some sort of retaliation, but he’s too arrogant to believe we’d ever actually fucking retaliate physically.  It’s the perfect opportunity.  He won’t realize what’s happened until its too late.  And then he’s the one who looks like a worthless son of a bitch because he can’t protect one measly woman.”

            “And what if he takes it personally?”

            “I want the fucker to take it personally!”

            “Two-Face is insane.  He won’t stop to consider political ramification before trying to having us killed.”

            “I’ve been doing this for twenty fucking years, Leon!  I know what the fuck I’m doing.”  Nick sneered at the young man, making it clear his mind was made up.  “Send in one of the muscle outside and get the fuck outta my sight”.

            Leon stood up abruptly, still angry at the actions his uncle had planned.  Turning around he stalked across the floor, relayed the message, and was outside the small restaurant in less than a minute.

            Leon shut the car door with an angry slam, and told the driver to take the scenic route.  Nick was gonna get them all killed.  Christ, it’d be like Denati all over again.  His uncle had lost it.  If the plan did work, then Two-Face would know they were responsible and most likely start his own private war.  If it didn’t work, then the whole thing was a waste of resources that could have gone towards making them more money. 

            He thought back to the situation with Denati several years ago and grimaced.  Two-Face had showed no mercy.  He had wiped the entire family off the map.  He had blow up their business fronts, their safe houses, and even the century old family estate- while the grandchildren were visiting.  Who he couldn’t blow up he had picked off one by one- no doubt the work of Denati’s previous employee, Mark.

Leon had never seen such a complete takeover of someone’s assets before.  Bank accounts had been emptied, vaults had been looted, and Solvetti had even mentioned once that Two-Face had kept Denati’s 1940’s Rolls Royce out of pure spite. 

            Leon sighed and began seriously considering whether or not he could get away with murdering his uncle and simply take over as head of the family sooner rather than later.

 

888888888888888888

 

            Mack munched happily on a slice of pepperoni pizza, courtesy of Harv and company.  She had survived her first ever poker night, which Harv had informed her would be a monthly thing, was currently enjoying her second Sunday night football get together, and was now feeling fairly optimistic about the whole ‘Two-Face hides out at my bar’ scenario – which for her, was something of a first.  Admittedly Schultz was still a concern, but for once sitting next to Harv was more of a reassurance than a threat and she was finding it oddly comforting – disturbing – but comforting.  Mack paused, realized she’d just admitted to finding Harv comforting and quickly shoved that thought in a box somewhere and locked it.

            Still, despite the hell of the last few years or so, and certain disturbing thoughts, tonight all was right with the universe and Mack couldn’t quite help but feel extremely content.  A fact that Harv couldn’t resist prodding her about.

            “What the fuck are you so pleased about, Mack,” Harv asked suspiciously during a commercial break.

            Mack blinked, opened her mouth to respond and then stopped.  What exactly was she going to say… that she was enjoying his company?  Admit that their arrangement was beginning to appeal to her?  Hell, she wasn’t ready to be that honest, with herself, let alone him.  “I don’t know.  I just feel… good, I guess.”

            “You guess…,” he replied skeptically. “What exactly brought this mood swing on?”

            “Mood swing,” Mack sent him a sideways glance. “Is it really so unnatural to see me looking happy?”

            “Yes.” He said adamantly.  “Cynical… yes, argumentative… most definitely, amusing… well, sometimes on purpose and sometimes on accident, but never happy.” 

            “Hey, I’m happy.” Mack frowned and him and his sudden observation and leveled a finger at his chest. “I know happy, and I’m it.”

            “Oh yeah… you look it,” he snorted and then looked pointedly down at the finger she had aimed at him and then at her frown, “the very picture of blissful exuberance.”

            “Hmpf,” Mack crossed her arms, “well I was until you came and bothered me.”

            “My apologies princess,” Harv replied scathingly, “but you still haven’t told me what the fuck you were so happy about,” he prodded once again, completely ignoring her rebuff.

            “Aww, will you look at that,” Mack pointed to the television, “the games back on.  Guess I better go check on my customers up front.”  Mack sent Harv a fake smile clearly not disappointed in the least to have an excuse to leave.  Standing up she grabbed her half eaten slice of pizza and headed back to the bar proper.

            “You can run but you can’t hide,” he murmured darkly at her retreated back.

            “Watch me,” came her muttered reply.

            Women…  Harv muttered subconsciously.

            Do you realize what just happened?  Harvey asked in a stunned voice.

            Mack turned chicken shit and ran off thinking she could avoid me.

            I think she was happy to see us!

            How the fuck do you figure that?!

            Mack was sitting next to us, eating pizza, being happy, content, at peace…For once she wasn’t nervous or constantly being reminded of our criminal connections.  

            Alright smart ass, if she was so fucking thrilled to be in my presence then why did she run off to avoid me.

            Because you kept harassing her - she doesn’t want to admit that she likes being in the presence of depraved murdering psychopaths! 

            Are fucking telling me that she left to avoid telling me she liked my company. 

            Harvey sighed, Harv… what would you do if Mack told you to your face that she was beginning to see the benefits of your professional arrangement, let alone admitted to enjoying your company?

            I’d gloat… openly.   Mock her mercilessly for abandoning her so called morals after only a month.  I’d be the epitome of…

            Harvey snorted and cut in.  And you wonder why she left you sitting here by yourself…

           

888888888888888888

 

            Mack busied herself bussing the two tables that her last customers had just vacated, all the while frowning.

            Stupid Harv…Always has to dig and pick at me until he gets what he wants.  Can’t just leave something alone, no he has to harass, hound, and badger me until he’s satisfied.

            She had absolutely no intention whatsoever of admitting to that egomaniac that she was actually starting to appreciate the benefits of their arrangements, let alone tell him she liked talking to his crazy ass and his better half.  Christ, he’d mock her for eternity simply for caving so easily. 

            Hell, shewas mocking herself for caving so easily.  She paused and then mental backtracked.  Okay… maybe she wasn’t caving so much as reconsidering the pros and cons of the situation.  Yes, she decided, that was much less painful to internalize.  In fact, intelligent, rational people reanalyzed situations all the time.  She was merely reevaluating her relationship with aforementioned mobsters.  Not that they had one… a relationship that is.  In fact… it was probably best to simply avoid that word in the future.  What they had was an association. 

            Say…  the Gangster and Bartender Assoc.  Or Criminals and Waitress in Co – maybe even, The Psycho and Sanity club.

            Mack smiled fondly at that last one and turned around, empty beer bottles in hand, only to almost drop them on the floor.

            “Christ!” She exclaimed, sending Harv an exasperated look, “how long have you been sitting there?” 

            Harv sent her a considering look from the chair he was occupying, “Long enough.”

            Mack rolled her eyes at his cryptic response and started to move past him back to the bar until he quite deliberately stretched his long legs out in front of him, blocking her path back to the bar.

            Mack frowned at him and his lower extremities, and took a quick look around.  Yep, he’d purposely set there so she’d have to either crawl across a table or go through him to get back to the bar.  She mentally cursed Carl for always sitting in the far corner table, “You know… you’re a real piece of work Harv.” 

            “I’m not the one who ran out on a perfectly legitimate conversation.”

            “How exactly, does it count as a legitimate conversation if I don’t want to participate in it any more?”  She retorted, moving forward to try and nudge his feet out of the way.  He didn’t budge. “You know… what would you do if I just stepped over you?”

            “Try it and find out,” he replied, his expression dark and sinister.

            She stood there for a long minute, meeting him stare for stare, and fighting the urge to call his bluff.  He was bullying her again, and they both knew it, except deep down, she knew he wasn’t bluffing at all.  He’d trip her and not feel bad in the slightest when she fell flat on her face – after all he’d warned her.

            Mack swallowed convulsively… was it her or was it getting kind of warm in here?  He kept staring back at her, with those malevolent eyes and his never ending smirk, radiating danger and heat, reminding her exactly who he was but still daring her to do it anyway.

            Mack pulled her eyes from his and stepped back before her own desire to win overwhelmed her good sense.  Shoving the bottles onto the nearest table she slumped into a nearby chair, hands shaking slightly.

            “Thought you were gonna do it for a minute there, Mack.”  His raspy voice seemed to carry a tinge of disappointment, like a predator being denied his prey.

            “So did I,” she agreed, her voice unsteady.

            “Maybe you should just tell me what you’re hiding and spare yourself any more unpleasantness.”  Harv offered reasonably.

            Too reasonably, in Mack opinion, “Nice try, slick.  But it’s my secret and I’m keeping it.”

            “Spare me the bullshit and just admit it Mack,” he demanded.  “You were having a good time with a bunch of wanted men. A group of con men, hit men and thieves – you just don’t want to admit it.  But don’t worry,” he added with a twisted smile, “They tell me the guilt passes.”

            “And what exactly do I have to be guilty about Harv?”  Mack stared at him defiantly.  “The way you tell it, I’m in no way to blame for anything you do, have done, or will do.  All I do is sit here and serve you alcohol; maybe watch a game or two on your T.V.”

            “Sort of wondered when you’d get there, Mack.”  He drawled.  Climbing to his feet he looked her over for a long minute and then added a short, “you done brooding now.”

            “I do not brood,” she responded primly, standing up herself.  “I careful reevaluate situations.”

            He snorted and sent her a disbelieving look, “you always this delusional?”

            “Only since I met you,” Mack muttered as she maneuvered past him towards the bar.

            He reached out and stopped her with a firm hand to her upper arm before she’d made it more that a foot, “Where exactly do you think you’re going, woman?”

            She turned back to him clearly confused, “I’m going to start cleaning up.”

             Harv steered the both of them towards the hallway leading to the back room, “I don’t think so princess.  You can clean up later.  We’re missing the end of the third quarter.”

            “What if I’d rather clean up.”  She inquired curiously as they passed the bar.

            He favored her with a particularly smug look, “Then I’d suggest you carefully reevaluate the situation.”

            “You just couldn’t wait to use that on me, could you,” Mack asked him wryly before stopping quickly at the bar for another beverage run.

            “Couldn’t resist,” he admitted, before following her back down the hallway for more football.  

Chapter Text

On the other side of Gotham City, in a well-to-do part of town, Leon Schultz sat at a large table with Tater on one side and Solvetti on the other.

“You’re positive that your information is correct?” Solvetti sent a hard look at Leon.

Leon favored Solvetti with a distinctly irritated stare. “How many times and in how many different ways do I have to say it, Solvetti?!  Yes, I’m a bloody well positive.  Nick is going after her.”

Tater considered the young man sitting to his right for one long second.  “And what exactly is this information going to cost us?”

Leon smiled and deliberately ignored the question, reaching casually into his suit pocket for a cigarette instead.  He took his time finding and then lighting his cigarette, inhaling and then exhaling a cloud of gray smoke - doing his very best to demonstrate his distinct lack of urgency regarding Mack’s fate.

Finally, Leon spoke, “We all know that Nick has lost the confidence of his employees and his associates through a great many bad choices of late.  Clearly one of these bad choices is his sudden interest in Two-Face and his chosen method of revenge against him.  The minute Nick lays one hand on that broad Harv will have his guts for garters.  And really… where does that leave me and the rest of my organization?”

“Not to mention,” he added with a speculative glance at Tater and Solvetti.  “The money your organizations would lose and the heat we’d all take if there was another mob war in Gotham.”

Tater narrowed his eyes, not missing the emphasis Leon had placed on himself. “I take it you speak for the rest of your organization.” 

Solvetti blinked and then looked Leon over as though reappraising him.  “And that you have a suggestion as to how this unfortunate incident might be averted.”

Leon smiled viciously and leaned back in his chair, preparing for a long night of negotiations.  “It just so happens that I do.”

 

888888888888888888888

 

Mack looked up from the kitchen sink full of dirty dishes to check the time – two hours until she had to be at work.  Mentally, she compiled a list of objectives that she needed to complete before the bar opened for tonight’s Halloween festivities.  She had finished hanging the Halloween decorations last night before leaving, but she still needed to move aside some of the tables to make room for dancing.  She also needed to set up the jukebox to play something other than hard rock so there could actually be something to dance to - something she did as a sort of Halloween gift to her patrons. 

Mack slid another plate into the dish drainer, and then decided the rest could wait until tomorrow.  She needed to put the finishing touches on her costume before heading to work.

Twenty minutes later, Mack was towel-drying her hair in front of her closet.  Dragging a pair of black dress pants down from the shelf, she slid those on, followed quickly by a low cut black tank top.  Tossing the towel onto the bed behind her, she fished around in the back of the closet for a black suit vest.  She tried it on, surveying her appearance in the mirror to her right. 

She frowned and admitted with a sigh that her outfit was a bit boring for a gangster costume.  Her costume was supposed to be a cheesy nod at Harv and his friends, and for that she really needed to start with something pin-striped and work from there.  Another quick search of the closest revealed nothing useful…but a thorough search in the spare bedroom closet revealed a pair of black pants with thin red stripes.  Quickly she swapped pants, and went back to her closet. 

Flipping through her button fronts she pulled out a red one and tossed it on, rolling up the sleeves, before putting the vest back on.  Hmm… better, but still missing a certain over-the-top element.

Mack frowned thoughtfully- then her eyes widened as a brief mental image of Morpheus from Matrix 2 flitted through her mind.  “Oh yes…” she muttered absently, “armbands are a must.”  Digging through her dresser drawers, she found a pair of black thigh highs and snipped the elastic band off the top of each leg with a pair of scissors. 

Armbands in place, she re-evaluated her appearance.  Now if only I had a tie…  She froze briefly, realizing that her dad might have left one in her mother’s bedroom during one of his brief stays at the house, and then promptly argued with herself about whether she’d want to wear anything that jackass had ever owned in the first place.  Eventually, fashion sense triumphed over personal dislike and she headed back to the spare bedroom that had once been her mother’s. 

Fifteen minutes later, she found the basic black tie she was looking for in a plastic container hiding under the bed.  She headed back to her room with the tie in hand and proceeded to try and tie it.  Several lop-sided attempts later, she said to hell with it and settled for the sloppy and loose look.  Tie mostly in place, she resurveyed her appearance and decided that, once she put on Harv’s borrowed hat, she’d more than look the part. 

The only remaining question was whether or not to include the gun.  While she thought it would add authenticity to her outfit, it wasn’t exactly safe to run around with a fully visible firearm strapped to her side in a room full of drunks.   Probably best to just leave it behind this evening, she decided with a wry smile – hell, she had one behind the bar anyway.

Looking down at her watch, she realized she still had over an hour before needing to get to work.  So – her choices were finish the dishes anyway or go to work early and maybe stop at a fast food place on the way in... 

Placing Harv’s hat on her head, she grabbed her belongings off the nearby end table and exited the house, locking the front door behind her.  She stopped briefly to grab the mail from the mailbox hanging by the door, and then crossed the yard to where her blue Honda was parked in the driveway.  Tossing her stuff across the seat, she situated herself in the driver’s seat and inserted the key into the ignition. 

Mack turned the key expectantly and… nothing happened.  She blinked, looked down, and then turned the key again.  No sound but a repetitive clicking noise. 

Mack frowned and then reached down to where the headlights switch was.  Her fingers moved deftly over the controls and found the switch still in the “on” position.  She swore loudly and promptly turned the headlights off, before gathering her stuff up and heading back into the house.

Slamming the front door behind her, she fumed for a short minute at her forgetfulness and then moved on to the more important issue. Like…how she was going to get to work when her car battery was dead from having the headlights on all day.

She could call a tow service to jump her car for her, but that would mean devoting more time to her car than she wanted to at the moment.  It would be easier to call a taxi and worry about the car later.            

Reaching for the phone book, she scanned through the yellow pages and called a local cab company to come pick her up.  Forty-five minutes later and twenty five bucks lighter, she was opening the back door to the bar.  Good thing I was running early today… Mack thought as she dropped off her purse and jacket off at the office before heading up front to the bar. 

Stopping at the bar, she phoned out for pizza before walking across the floor to begin rearranging the tables.  After she was finished, she took several steps back to survey her handiwork.  She’d managed to shunt most of the tables to one side of the room and almost double the space for dancing.  A quick look up reassured her that the pumpkin shaped lights were still hanging appropriately from the ceiling and Mack nodded in approval.  She really liked Halloween.  The bar was always packed and she looked forward to seeing the different costumes her customers would wear.

Behind her, the front door opened and the pizza delivery guy stepped in with her dinner.  They traded cash for pizza, and Mack made her way back to the bar to wait for the festivities to begin.

 

888888888888888888888

 

Harvey sighed irritably as he started up the hallway towards the rest of the bar.  He’d come in roughly ten minutes ago and his bartender still hadn’t made an appearance.  Eventually, he’d given up any pretense at patience and simply decided to see what was keeping her.  Considering that the level of noise was steadily rising the closer he got to the bar, he was forced to concede that it would have been a miracle if she heard him come in at all.   He propped one arm on the edge of the bar and scanned the large crowd for some sign of her, all the while glaring at the jukebox responsible for the pop music he being forced to endure.

The crowd at large was a mesh of colors and costumes and he dimly recalled that tonight was Halloween.  He raised an eyebrow in amusement at one particularly detailed Jedi Knight before finally locating his bartender in the far corner, speaking with a table of angels and demons.  She tossed her head back and laughed at something being said and Harvey took the opportunity to give her a quick once over, curious to see if she’d dressed up for the holiday.

Black pants, he squinted for a second, with pinstripes… vest, tie… His eyes narrowed suspiciously for a second, expensive hat that looks just like the one I’m missing…

There was a brief pause as Harvey digested this information, and then, that wench dressed up like a bloody gangster… she used my own hat to mock me!

He sputtered and turned to his other half for confirmation,  Are you seeing this…!? Tell me you’re seeing this!

IF you’re referring to the latest display of audacity and impudence from our bartender then YES, jackass, I fucking NOTICED.

Harvey grumbled for a brief second before added a grudging, the armbands are a nice touch…

Why the fuck does SHE get armbands… I don’tget armbands, Harv muttered sullenly.

Because we’d look like costumed rejects.

Sort of like her…

Now you’re just being petty, Harvey chided halfheartedly.

Doesn’t mean it’s not fucking true…

Come on, admit it, she doesn’t look half bad.

You are such a fucking loser.  With our money, we could have HAD a mistress by now, and we wouldn’t have had to work even half as hard as we are now.

That woman doesn’t flinch when we look at her.  There’s no disgust in her face when we casually touch her.  Last time I checked you couldn’t BUY that.  Harvey snarled at his other half.

You better hope this is worth it Harvey.  My patience isn’t fucking endless.

Harvey ignored his other half and went back to watching Mack, who was currently making her way around the crowd of people occupying the makeshift dance floor.  The dance floor, he noted with a critical eye, was nothing more than a large space cleared of tables. 

A group of women motioned to her as she walked by, clearly issuing an invitation to join them.  She smiled and waved them off with a halfhearted gesture, which was completely ignored as they gestured again more insistently.

He watched her pause, bite her lip indecisively, and then send a furtive look around the bar as if to make sure no was watching her.  Harvey stepped into the shadows of a nearby corner as she sent an especially hard look down the hallway.

Assuring herself that the coast was clear, she tossed her tray aside with a grin and joined the throng of dancers, amidst the cheers of her friends.  He watched with growing interest, all thought of her costume momentarily forgotten, as her hips swayed side to side as the music segued into another pop song he didn’t recognize.  Several seconds later, he was pulling at the collar of his shirt, feeling heat in his face. 

A dark laugh echoed in his head, Getting a little warm, Harvey?

hink she’s worth the trouble now?!  Harvey shot back.

If she keeps moving like that she might be.

Harvey’s eyes widened, slightly stunned as Mack performed some seductive number that involved dropping to the floor. “I did not know she could move her ass like that.”

There was a short pause and then.  “I’ll show her my fangs…”  Harv growled, pointedly referring to the songs lyrics.

Harvey pointedly ignored his other half and tried to focus on more important things – like remembering how to breathe properly.

Busted,” Harv gloated.

Harvey locked gazes with her across the room and Mack stood there for a short second in complete shock, and then swiftly looked away, a blush spreading across her cheeks.

Oh god, Mack’s inner self pleaded with the powers that be, please tell me I didn’t just pop, drop, and lock it in front of Harvey Dent….  She risked a quick look at him from the corner of her eye.  Nope… still there…    

Mack bit her lip, picked up her tray and made her way towards the bar, furtively sneaking occasional glance at Harvey and the growing smirk on his face.

“Harvey,” she greeted in a controlled sort of voice as she approached.

“Jamie,” he murmured in response, moving slightly to the right so she could slide behind the bar.

She started putting together their usual tray of drinks.  “Sorry for the wait,” she continued, desperate to lead the conversation in a non-dance related direction, “I didn’t hear you come in.” 

“Don’t worry about it,” he responded with a shrug.  “Hell,” he sent her a mischievous smile, “the floor show more than makes up for the wait.” 

Mack sighed and smashed her lips together until they were a thin line.  “You’re blushing, you know,” he added with a satisfied sort of grin.

“I’m never going to live this down, am I?” she sighed good-naturedly, pulling two beers from the cooler in front of her and completing their tray of drinks in the process.

Never,” he replied, deliberately enunciating each syllable.  Feeling that he’d fulfilled the required amount of teasing, Harvey turned the conversation in a more neutral direction. “Interesting choice of music, considering you usually listen to classic rock.”

She favored him with a grateful smile, “Yeah, but it’s kinda hard to dance to classic rock and this is supposed to be a Halloween party.”  Mack stepped into the entry way to the bar, preparing to cart their drinks to the back when Harvey stopped her with a wave of his hand.

“Hold it, woman,” he told her, finally remembering her costume,’ “what exactly do you think you’re wearing?!” 

This time it was her turn to smirk up at him. “It’s Halloween, remember?” she placed one hand on a hip, purposely striking a pose for him.

He fixed her with a steely gaze which she completely ignored, “So whaddaya think?  Not bad, huh!?”  She waggled her eyebrows up at him, clearly pleased with herself.

Harvey took one look at her ridiculous expression and sighed before giving up and laughing helplessly at her “costume.”

She nudged him lightly in the ribs with one elbow, “Come on… admit it, I’m awesome.”  Mack made a small show of buffing her nails on her shirt.

 “Mmm,” he murmured noncommittally, before flicking her hat with one finger, “nice hat, wench… wherever did you get it.” He fixed her with a knowing look.

“Oh, this old thing,” Mack patted her hat innocently. “I just… found it lying around one day.”

“Old thing…” he sputtered in indignation. “Only you,” he added, “would have the stones to incorporate my hat intoa cheesy costume aimed at me.”  He reached out and grabbed the brim of the hat, pulling it down to cover her eyes, “try not to let it get the better of you,” he warned her with a smirk.

She made an exasperated sound, as she re-situated his hat firmly into place, tucking a stray piece of hair back under the brim, “yes well… I do what I can.”

“Then allow me to return the favor, Ms. Mackenzie,” he drawled, reaching forward to pull gently at the tie hanging messily from her neck.

Mack glanced down and scowled at her unruly tie, “yeah well… this tie and I…”

“Are in desperate need of an intervention,” he finished for her, eyeing her tie with amusement.

She glanced down at the lopsided bundle of cloth that was her tie.  “Yes,” she admitted grudgingly, “I suppose I am.”

“Then turn around madam, so I can fix this disaster.” He made a circle motion with one finger and stepped towards her.

“Turn around?” Mack raised an eyebrow in confusion.

“Jamie, I’ve never tied a tie for someone before, I only know how to put one on myself,” he explained patiently. 

“Oh,” she considered this for a moment, “I guess that makes sense.”  Mack shrugged, then turned so that her back was to him

“I’m so glad you approve,” he retorted wryly, before wrapping his arms around her.  He moved to one side, to get a better view of her tie, only to be hit in the head by his own hat. “This has got to go,” he muttered absently.

“Wait…,” Mack tried to issue a quick warning, but he pulled the hat off before she could, and he promptly received a face full of her dark hair in the process.  Harvey took a deep breath and then let out a why me sort of sigh, “Jamie,” he asked in a pained voice, “some help here.”

She giggled at his predicament, her hands moving to corral her hair on one side.  One glance at his exasperated face, and her giggles turned to outright laughter.   “Woman,” he chided.  His half hearted reprimand had little to no effect and she leaned into his chest, shoulders shaking, unable to stop laughing.

He briefly considered saying something more critical, as Harv did NOT like being laughed at.  But the feel of her leaning against him, one hand resting lightly on his arm, squashed any desire he had to end the moment.  Her laughter gradually subsided and she choked out an amused, “Sorry, Harvey but I tried to warn you.”

“Mmm hmm…sure you did,” he said drily, ignoring her professions of innocence.  “You know,” he added as an afterthought, “it’s easy to forget how much hair you have, considering it’s always up,”

She shrugged noncommittally, “It’s just more practical to keep it up out of the way.”  She let her arms hang down next to her sides to allow him room to move, his hands adjusting the length of the tie so that one side was longer than the other.

“Where on earth did you get a tie, anyway?” he inquired curiously.

Despite the innocence of the question, Mack couldn’t stop the way one of her eyes started to twitch and the steel that suddenly infused her spine at the mere suggestion of sharing anything even remotely related to her dad.  UghI should have known.  Nosy bastard…she thought with a scoff.  She knew her sudden irritation towards Harvey was completely undeserved, but she couldn’t help but wish that he’d just bloody well go back to his room and leave her the hell alone. 

Harvey furrowed his eyebrows at the abrupt change in her demeanor.  Ten seconds ago, she was cheerfully letting him drape his arms around him and now she just as cheerfully wanted him to drop dead.  “Jamie,” he prompted expectantly.

“It was my dad’s,” she responded curtly, her tone making it clear she had no desire to talk about her father.  Mack pressed her lips together and practically willed the conversation not to happen.

“Ahhh…” he prompted- all the while waiting to see if she’d offer some sort of explanation.  She didn’t.  “Not particularly close?” he pressed, deliberately keeping his tone neutral.

Mack sighed irritably. “That’d be an understatement,” she huffed before adding a petulant, “not that you’d understand.”  She instinctively went to cross her arms, only to be annoyed when she couldn’t because his arms were in her way.

“No, of course not, because I’m such a well rounded individual,” he replied sarcastically as he looked down at her.

Mack jerked slightly in shock, and then mentally slapped herself for forgetting to whom she was talking. “Yeah well – I won’t pry - if you won’t,” she offered sullenly.

“I’m afraid that puts me at a distinct disadvantage since your sordid past wasn’t made into numerous exposés for mainstream media,” he shot back at her, his hands coming to rest on her hips, the tie momentarily forgotten. 

Mack frowned, feeling slightly backed into a corner.  Technically he was right – a couple hours at the library archives and you could know almost anything about his past you wanted to.  That didn’t mean she wanted to participate in this little interrogation, but she couldn’t bring herself to outright refuse him either. 

She sighed and then offered, “his name is James.”

Harvey mulled this over for a long minute.  “Is that why you hate to be called Jamie, because you’re named after him?” 

“Yes, that’s why I hate my first name,” she replied tersely.  “They were never married so my last name is my mother’s – hence Mack.  With the exception of my parents… and you,” she amended, “no one has called me Jamie since the eighth grade.”

Harvey processed this for a second, and then, “So what’s he do for a living?”

Mack closed her eyes and seriously considered ignoring his question altogether.  After a long moment, when she still hadn’t responded, Harvey prodded her with a soft, “Jamie.”

“He’s a small time crook,” she finally admitted in a strained voice.  “Petty theft, small cons, stuff like that…”

His eyebrows shot up in surprise, “Excuse me?”

Mack laughed softly, but Harvey could hear the bitterness in it, “Not exactly what you were expecting, huh?” 

“No,” he admitted ruefully, “it wasn’t.  You don’t act like someone who was raised by a career criminal.”

“That’s because he didn’t raise me,” she corrected fiercely.  “My mother and the retired police sergeant who used to own this bar did.”

Harv considered this small fact for a second, and then asked incredulously, “Was this a cop bar?”

“Well, it was until Sean sold it to my mother.  The cops left when he did,” Mack shrugged halfheartedly.  “Anyway,” she glanced up at Harvey, “I thought you were gonna fix my tie?”  She forced a small smile and hoped he’d take the not so subtle hint to change the topic. 

He looked at her from the corner of his eye, considering her request before deciding to let her off the hook, “Well I was.” He corrected.  “But I think that this tie,” he pulled it away from her neck, “has had it.”  He sent the black tie flying towards the nearest trash can with a flick of his wrist. 

“What are you doing?”  Her dad’s tie bounced off the bar and into the intended target. 

“You,” he said firmly as he reached up and loosened his tie, “are getting an upgrade.”

What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!  Harv snarled at his other half, clearly assuming he’d lost what was left of his mind.

What’s it look like I’m doing, you jackass?  

It LOOKS like you’re about to give that wench MY tie.             

Hey!  It’s OUR tie, and I’ll bloody well give it to her if I want.

I said what I fucking meant – it’s MY TIE, and you’re sure as fuck not gonna start randomly giving away my shit to the wench whenever she has a bad fucking day!

Are you REALLY this stupid!  Women LIKE IT when MEN are NICE to them.

She’s still got our fucking hat, doesn’t she?  How much nicer do you fucking want?!

So, I’m standing here, with my arms around the woman we want, with an excellent view down her shirt, surrounded by her hair - which smells great, by the way…and YOU want me to STOP being friendly…

Pause… then a slightly less hostile – That excuse is getting pretty worn, shit head.

You realize that wearing our tie would clearly mark her as our property, don’t you?  Half black… half white…  Harvey trailed off.

The prosecution withdrawals its objection…

Harvey smirked at his other half and pulled his tie free from around his shirt collar.           

She gaped up at him in astonishment, “You’re giving me your tie?!”  He nodded down at her and then gently grasped her shoulders and turned her back around so he was behind her.  Flipping up the collar of her shirt, he draped his tie around her neck.

“But...ah…” she stuttered, completely flabbergasted that he would part with something that had always seemed to be such a large part of his identity.  The suit was what separated him from, well… everybody else.

Harvey looked down at her, saw the expression on her face and chuckled, “I’m giving you my tie, Jamie.  Not a piece of my soul.”           

“Yes, thank you, I am aware,” she huffed, more out of annoyance that he could read her so easily than anything else.  “You know,” Mack glanced down as he deftly twisted the tie around in a complex series of loops, “there seem to be a great deal more twist and tucks in this tie than I have ever seen anyone use.” 

“That’s because this is the super secret handshake of ties,” he waggled his eyebrows down at her in a perfect imitation of her from earlier.  She rolled her eyes at his antics and received a muttered, “I saw that,” in response.

“You were supposed to,” she shot back tartly before adding an amused yet skeptical, “The super secret handshake of ties?”

“A full Windsor, to be exact,” he explained.  “It’s a pain in the ass to tie correctly so most men don’t bother.”

“If it’s such a pain in the ass, why do it?” she asked curiously.

He stared at her as if she’d grown an extra head, “Because it looks nicer... obviously.” 

He turned her back around to face him, made a few minor adjustments, flipped her collar down and nodded in approval.  “It looks good on you.”

“The tie,” she teased, “Or the knot?”

“Both,” he handed her his hat and watched her stuff her not inconsiderable amount of hair into it until there were only a few strands hanging out.  These she artfully arranged to frame her face.

“Vanity, Jamie?” He raised an eyebrow in surprise, “from you?”

“Hey,” she protested, one hand attempting to reign in one particularly unruly strand of hair, “In case you hadn’t notice I am a chick.

He favored her with a very male sort of smirk, his voice smoothing into a slightly lower register of his normal baritone, “Why, yes, I have noticed.”

Mack looked up from rearranging her hair just in time to catch the slight up and down motion of his eyes as he snuck an appreciative glance at her.  She stopped, hair momentarily forgotten… did Harvey Dent just ogle me?  Not in the usual teasing, sarcastic, over the top flirting sort of way, but in an honest, ‘just enjoying the scenery,’ sort of way?

His eyes flickered away from hers, but not before she caught the slightest flash of guilt in them.  He did… I caught him staring at me. 

This realization caught her completely off guard and she found herself responding on instinct.  An intelligent, attractive man, that she enjoyed spending time with, had just been caught checking her out…

“Why, Mr. Dent,” she smiled coyly up at him from under the brim of his hat, “are you flirting with me?”

“Why, Ms. Mackenzie,” Harvey’s eyes snapped back to meet hers, his voice turning raspy at the invitation in her voice. “Would you like me to?”

She was momentarily stymied at the frankness of his response, and she wasn’t sure how to answer it.  Common sense was slowly returning and it was screaming at her to say no, but she couldn’t deny that she had very much liked the way he had looked at her.

She bit her lip, a small blush gracing her cheeks, “maybe,” she promised.

He opened his mouth to respond, but whatever he had planned to say was drowned out up by a sudden sharp ringing that seemed to come from his suit jacket.

Harvey dug into the inner pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out a high tech looking cell phone.  Glancing down at the view screen, he swore loud and hard at the number showing there.

Taken aback by the abrupt outburst she placed one hand on his arm, “are you okay?”  He ignored her question, but didn’t pull away. “We’ll finish this conversation later,” he told her with a bitter smile.

“Wait… what?”  Mack furrowed her eyebrows in confusion until she saw Harvey flinch – the corners of his mouth flattening down until they formed the beginnings of a sneer.  Her eyes widened in understanding just as Harvey’s darker personality emerged. 

Raising the phone to his ear Harv snarled a rough, “what?!” at the person on the other end.  A quick one sided conversation began and Mack didn’t bother to hide her curiosity.

“It’s almost three o’clock in the bloody morning, Giovanni, can’t it wait?”  Judging by the affronted expression on Harv’s face, Tater hadn’t been polite in his response.

Harv’s eyes shifted towards the woman next to him. “Because, I WAS in the middle of something,” He explained with a growl.  “Just what the fuck is this about?”

There was a pause and then he snorted, “Why the fuck would I want to listen to anything that ass hat has to say.”

This time the pause was much longer, and Harv absently rubbed at one temple as if trying to ward off a headache. “I know where the fuck it is, Tater,” Harv replied shortly.  “I’ll be there in forty five, and you tell that bastard Leon that this better be good.”

Harv disconnected and then just as quickly dialed another number from memory.  He waited a short second and then barked a short, “pull the Humvee around.  We’re leaving.”

“Sorry princess,” he drawled, shoving the phone back into his jacket pocket. “Duty calls.”  He reached out and grabbed the end of the new tie she was sporting and tugged her a little closer.  “I’ll take a rain check on that maybe.”

Mack’s stomach fluttered at his comment – in the heat of the moment she’d temporarily forgotten that flirting with one of them was an open invitation to the other as well.  It was one thing to admit that she liked Harvey.  Harvey was funny, and intelligent – not to mention his moral compass being a little more in-line with her own.  But he also cared about her, often making a point of asking her opinion about things and how her day had been.  Harv was equally intelligent and had his own brand of dark humor, but he had yet to demonstrate he cared anything at all about her personally.

Still, she couldn’t take back her comment and, if she was honest, all the bickering Harv and her did was probably a form of flirting anyway.  She blinked at that suddenly revelation and had to admit that they were the first man to really challenge her in a long time.  The flirting might not be a good idea, but it might be worthy of consideration.  She gave herself a small mental nod and agreed to stand by her, ‘maybe’.

She met his stare with a considering one of her own, and then pulled the borrowed hat from her head, flicking her hair out of her way with an absent toss of her head as it tumbled around her shoulders.

Mack placed a hand on his shoulder to steady her self as she rose up on her tiptoes to return his hat to its rightful place.She leaned back slightly to appraise her work and then reached up with one hand, tilting his hat rakishly to one side.  She smiled and then slid her eyes back down to his face, only to realize that leaning up to fix his hat had placed her face only inches from his own. 

She studied his face- looking for something, anything that would tell her what he was thinking, but he betrayed nothing, returning her stare with a blank one of his own.  Being this close to him she could easily make out the individual scars running down the ruined side of his face – could easily see from his good side how handsome he’d been before his accident.  How strong did a person have to be to have acid throw in their face and survive?  Wouldn’t the pain and shock alone cause some sort of heart attack in a lesser mortal?

He made it so easy to forget he was human.  She knew he was just another monster hiding in the dark.  He robbed and murdered his way through life, stepping on anyone who ever got it his way.  He was always coldly arrogant, allowing himself none of the usual human emotions- assuming he even had them at all.  She was in the presence of an honest to god psychopath who cared about nothing other than himself.  Yet despite all his efforts to carve the humanity from his soul, it was so easy to stare into his face and see that his scars were the one thing left that proved he was ever human at all.

Perhaps it was that small insight that enabled her to look past all his flaws, but before she was even done thinking it through she was moving.  She slid her hands up to cup either side of his face, and even Harv couldn’t completely hide the disbelief that clouded his eyes as she murmured a soft, “thanks for loaning me your stuff,” and kissed him softly just on either side of his mouth – making damn sure she kissed the ruined side first.

He stood there for a very long minute staring incredulously at the woman before him and then reached up, wrapped his hands around her wrists and deliberately pulled her hands away from his face.  Harv stared down at the wrists he still held in his hands and the moment hung their between them- Harv waiting for her retreat and Mack waiting for his curt dismissal.  Seconds turned to minutes and for just an instant there was a flicker of what could be between them. 

Time snapped and stretched until Mack could barely breathe with the possibilities and Harv watched her face flash through a dozen emotions before she met his still unreadable gaze.  His thumbs brushed softly against the pulse points on the inside of her wrist and he murmured an almost affectionate, “you’re welcome,” before releasing her.

Her hands fell listlessly back to her side and the sounds of the bar came rushing back in a roar of noise.  She had to look around just to make sure she was still Jamie Mackenzie and he was still just the mob boss who drank at her bar.   Harv adjusted his hat so it sat a little more firmly on his head and then turned and left without so much as another word, leaving Mack to stare after him long after he was gone.

 

888888888888888888888

Harv leaned back into the leather lining his seat – completely ignoring his employees except for a quick word with them about their destination.  Ignoring his other half, however, was not proving to be as easy.

I told you so…  Harvey gloated.

Harv deliberately pretended not to hear the openly smug voice and tried like hell to forget the feeling of her hands on his face.

Nice… wasn’t it?

We can’t even feel that side of our face you Jackass… Harv shot back caustically.

Then why are you trying so hard not to think about what it felt like.  Harvey replied smugly.

You know what!  Fuck you Harvey – I don’t have time for this shit.  Come talk to when the broad is willing to touch something more significant that my goddamn face!

Harv swiveled his head around to look at John.  “What do we know about this meeting with Leon?”

John frowned, disliking the answer he was going to have to give his boss.  Having been a member of the mob in one form or fashion since he was fifteen, John had as many, if not more connections, than most mob bosses.  There wasn’t a single person he didn’t know and couldn’t find.  On the off chance he wasn’t in the know, he sure as hell knew half a dozen people who would be. 

All this made him the perfect man to oversee not just their day to day operations, but their intelligence gathering as well.  And yet, he’d called over a two dozen people in the last fifteen minutes and no one could, or would, tell him anything.

“Nothing… I don’t have shit.  Anyone connected with the Schultz’s have gone completely silent.  No one is talking.  Even Leon’s faction has gone dark.”

“Leon has a faction,” Brian snorted in disbelief.  “He wouldn’t know what to do with a faction if it bit him in the ass.  He’s a glorified flunky.”

John scowled at the blonde sitting next to him, “I keep telling you not to underestimate him.  He’s next in line to run the family and he’s gaining support.”

Harv narrowed his eyes, “how much support?”

John shrugged, “if the other bosses back him… maybe enough for a coup.” 

There was around of derisive comments from the men around him at that statement.  “You know what – fuck you guys,” he said half-heartedly.  “What the hell is the point of the briefings I give if you bastards don’t believe a damn thing I say?”

“Oh, come on,” Kevin said from the driver’s seat, “it’s fucking Leon.  You didn’t really expect us to take the little shit seriously.  Hell, a few weeks ago he was running a protection racket in Mack’s shitty neighborhood.”

“And how much of that was him following orders to keep Uncle Nick from getting suspicious?”  John paused and then tried another approach.  “It wouldn’t be any different than the show Brian puts on every time he wants people to think he’s just a…”

John paused as the sound of Billy Joel’s Captain Jack sounded from inside his jacket.  Digging his cell phone out of his pocket he looked at the display screen and frowned.  “It’s the detail in front of Mack’s house.” 

He answered, and carried on a brief conversation with person on the other end before placing the call on speaker phone.  “Tell him what you just told me,” John instructed, holding the phone out so that the Boss could hear.

“We got some activity here.  A black four door sedan kept circling the block and finally parked a couple of blocks down.  Willis is out checking it now, but he should’ve been back by… wait… no, here he comes now.”

There was the sound of window being rolled down, followed by an irritated, “what the fuck man, I...”  He cut off mid sentence with a surprised shout and then they heard nothing but the sound of suppressed gunfire and a strangled gurgle from the man on the phone.

John stared at his phone, waiting for the shooter to disconnect the call, but nothing happened.  He saw Harv make a cutting gesture with his hand and he hung up.

“Either he didn’t notice the phone, wants us to think he didn’t notice it, or he didn’t think it was important, but either way,” he snarled, “get someone over to that house.”

“I can’t!” John protested. “We don’t operate in this area.  The only people who have a chance in hell of getting there inside twenty minutes – is us.

“She might not have twenty fucking minutes!” Harv roared. 

John spread his hands in supplication, “It’s the best I got, boss!”

“Well, do the best of someone fucking better,” Harv snarled.  “Turn around,” he snapped at Kevin, “I want us there, now!”   

Kevin nodded grimly before reaching out and flipping on the red courtesy lights Gotham County allowed their volunteer emergency personnel to use.  He turned away from Kevin to find his other three employees busy trying to find someone closer but he knew as well as they did there wasn’t anyone else.

John was right – this wasn’t their turf and there wasn’t shit he could do about it.  Harv pulled out his own cell phone and waited until he was connected to Tater.

“I’m gonna be late.  Very late,” Harv emphasized with a sneer.  “So why don’t you just tell me what the fuck this meeting is about,” he demanded, a small suspicion starting to form in the back of his mind.

“What’s going on, Harv?”  Tater asked. “You sound pissed as hell.”

“You fucking tell me, Tater – you’re the one sitting around with one of the Schultzs.”

Tater’s voice dropped several degrees, “I am trying to curtail a very bloody mob war that would cut into my profits by at least thirty fucking percent.  Now what the fuck is going on.”

“Some jackass is going after my bartender and if I find out it’s Schultz then god help him and anyone who gets in my way!”  Harv snapped back, lips curling into a sneer.

“I can tell you for a fact that it is Schultz,” Tater confirmed.  “Leon came to Solvetti and me earlier this evening with a proposal to remove his Uncle from power if we helped him broker a deal with you and Shaughnessy.” 

“And you didn’t think to call me,” Harv gritted his teeth, trying to keep from calling his business partner any number of unflattering things.

“First off - he didn’t exactly give me fucking dates, Harv.”  The sarcasm in Tater’s voice was unmistakable.  “Not to mention that I thought you’d be smart enough to put a man on her.  And secondly I did call you – you were supposed to be here five minutes ago.  Even Shaughnessy is already here and that fucker is always late.”

“I did put a man on her, goddamn it!”  Harv insisted. “And if they hadn’t just been assassinated I would have already been there.  You tell that little fucker,” he ground out, “that he’d better pray that she’s alive when I get there!” 

Tater cursed loudly in Italian before adding a succinct, “Fuck you and Leon!  You’re both a pain in my fucking ass.  You call me when you’re done so we can settle this shit.” 

Harv started to say something rude only to find that Tater had already hung on him.  “Fucking asshole,” he swore heatedly, before shoving his phone back into his jacket.

He exchanged a dark look with Mark, who was wisely keeping his mouth shut and his opinions to himself.  Still, it wasn’t hard to read the expression on his face.  They weren’t going to make it in time, and they all knew it.

 

8888888888888888888

Mack heaved a sigh of relief as the taxi cab pulled to a stop in front of her house, grateful that a long night of work was firmly behind her.  It was nice to be home so early for once.  Of course, when she had to go in early to clean up the mess she’d left – she was sure she’d feel differently.  But right now…she’d had a long ass day, having to deal with her car and then that oddly disturbing moment with Harv.  She let the seat belt fall to the wayside with a soft click of the release button and handed the cabbie thirty dollars. 

“Keep the change,” she added, hand searching for and quickly finding the handle for the car door.  She stepped out onto the street, one hand slamming the cab door shut behind her. 

Mack heard the soft grind of the engine as the cab pulled away and she reached down to her waist, pulling her linen coat tighter around her with a quick cinch of the belt, hoping to block out some of the brisk October wind.  She stepped up onto the sidewalk, tossing a dirty look at her broken down car as she passed by, on her way towards the front porch.  Mack’s brows furrowed slightly as she left the soft circle of light the nearby street lamp provided, and slowly entered the darkening area around her house.

That’s odd, I’d have sworn I left the porch light on.

Her steps faltered slightly and she paused - somewhat apprehensive.  What if…?  Mack shook her head, hoping to shake loose her sudden paranoia.  Clearly she had simply forgotten to turn the light on before she left the house that afternoon.  Feeling somewhat foolish for panicking so easily over a simple light, she once again started to make her way across the lawn, this time reaching into her purse for her house keys.

After a small bit of maneuvering, she managed to find the right key and slid it into the lock, shoving the door open with a nudge of her shoulder.  Entering the foyer, she reached absently for the lamp next to the door, flipping it on with a flick of her fingers, before shutting the door with another shoulder nudge.  She tossed her purse onto the nearby end table, her jacket quickly following it.  Mack let out a loud sigh, rolling her neck from side to side, God it was good to be home. 

She stepped forward into the center of the soft lamp light, and then blinked – staring in confusion at the back of her couch and the leather jacket lying across it.  Her brow wrinkled and she cocked her head slightly to one side – why didn’t she remember leaving it there? 

Mack heard a soft rustle from behind her, like clothes brushing clothes, and spun to one side, staring down the hallway apprehensively for a long moment.  She stood there, poised to fight or run at a moment notice, but the moment passed uneventfully and she soon relaxed.   Rolling her eyes at her own behavior she slid the vest off, tossing it onto the nearest flat surface.  She bent down to unlace her shoes and a dark shape moved at the very edge of her vision – her eyes tracking it as it moved slowly across the floor – closing in on her own.

She stared for a long second before her brain allowed her to make the connection between the two, and she straightened up, terror flooding the back of her throat and she tasted fear. 

Someone is in my house…

Mack felt the blood drain from her face and she spun around, only to be met with the back of someone’s hand.  Her lip split under the blow and blood welled in her mouth as she staggered backwards towards the kitchen, groping blindly for the gun usually worn at her back.            

Where is it?!  Full blown panic gripped her as she realized she hadn’t worn it today.  A male voice mocked her from somewhere up ahead, “looking for this?” 

            Mack managed to focus her eyes enough to see the shape of a man leaning casually against the doorway leading into the kitchen, dangling her gun from one finger.  When she didn’t respond to his jibe, he chuckled. “Scrambled your brains a little, didn’t I?” 

He stepped forward into the kitchen and she reared back, stumbling blindly over one of her own kitchen chairs in the process.  She heard him tut-tut at her clumsiness, “Careful now. We wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself, now would we…” he paused, and then called her deliberately by name, “Jamie.”

She stared openly at him, her shock overriding her fear for a brief moment, “how do you know my name,” she demanded.

He pretended as if she hadn’t spoke, entering the kitchen and circled around her until she had moved up against the kitchen sink in an attempt to maintain her distance.  “When Schultz told me his plan to get revenge on Two-Face through his newest woman, I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard,” he scoffed,  “as if he’d care if someone knifed his latest whore. “

They circled each other again and Mack felt blood trickled down her chin and fall onto the linoleum under her feet.  “But then I went to your bar – kinda odd that a man that rich drinks at shit hole like yours, when he could afford to have a hundred just like it built.”

“I swear to you… I’m just his bartender,” Mack protested, hands raised in supplication.

“Doesn’t matter,” he shrugged eloquently, “job’s a job.  Besides,” he added. “Even if you’re not...” He narrowed his eyes and stared at the tie hanging around her neck, “I bet he already considers you his.”

“Still,” he offered – voice suddenly reasonable.  “There’s no reason to be uncivilized about this.  Sure, I’m supposed to make you suffer and murder you in the most unpleasant way I can think of, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be fair about this.” 

“Tell you what…” he continued. “I’ll let you pick anything in this entire kitchen to use as a weapon.”

Mack jerked her head in surprise – not sure if he was just fucking with her or not.

“What can I say?” he lowered his voice slightly, as if telling her a secret, “I like to play with my victims first.”

She swallowed, hard.  “You’re crazy,” she breathed, just before grabbing a butcher’s knife out of the dish drainer next to her.

He frowned at her and the knife and then sighed, “You know that’s just disappointing.  I don’t know why women always go for the knife first.  None of you have the heart to use one properly - you’re all too terrified of getting cut.”  He moved forward, movements becoming much faster than before.  “Just once,” he frowned, “I’d like to meet a woman who grabbed a bloody frying pan.”

No sooner had the words left his mouth than he was on her, dodging the swing she’d aimed at his midsection and grabbing her wrist- twisting it until she dropped the knife into his outstretched hand.  Mack stumbled away from him as he used the knife he’d just taken from her to slice a long shallow cut into her stomach.

She cried out in pain and barely had time to block his next stroke with her forearm, trying to ignore the ease at which the knife sliced into her skin.  She pulled back her right arm and punched him as hard as she could in the jaw, watched his head snap back, but he never faltered, only grinned wildly at her as if he was enjoying the struggle.  Mack saw the knife flash again and knew she couldn’t take another slice from the blade and reached up to grab his wrist with her hand, stopping him just long enough to step into his space and knee him as hard as humanly possible in the balls. 

He doubled over in pain and she spun around to run – making it into the living room before he reached out and pulled her back by the hair.  She flew backwards –watched the kitchen door frame fly by her just in time to reach out and dig her nails into it.  Her shoulder muscles burned at the sudden jerk but she managed to stop the backward momentum and regain her balance long enough to kick out hard with one foot.  Her heel connected with something soft and she heard her assailant grunt with pain.  The grip on her hair lessened for one brief second and then his hand was gripping her throat and she was spinning through the air. 

The living room ceiling fell away from her and she landed hard on her wooden coffee table, the wood cracking and then collapsing under the force.  The air rushed out of her lungs leaving her only with pain and a strangled sort of scream building at the back of her throat.

He advanced on her, one hand rubbing his stomach, where her steel toed boots had landed.  She tried to get up, arms and legs scrambling for foot holds, but her body betrayed her and she feel back to the ground.

“You’re a tough bitch, aren’t you,” he remarked conversationally, one hand loosely holding her kitchen knife.  She watched the blood -her blood- drip off the end onto the carpet underneath.  “I can see why he wants you,” he continued, completely un-phased by her repeated attempts to stand.  “It’s not often you find a woman who’s tough enough for a mob boss- let alone one hard enough for Two-Face.”

He knelt at her side, one knee resting lightly on her chest, as he placed the knife against her throat.  “It’s a goddamn shame, really.  Waste of a good woman, if you ask me.”  He didn’t even seem to feel the hands digging into his wrist, “Still – I suppose I’m doing you a favor, he’s not exactly…”

His next words were lost in the sound of her front door breaking away from the frame and the roar of her name.  She watched as Harv crossed the room faster that should have been possible and then his gun was pressing into the temple of her assailant.

“You so much as nick her throat and I will torture you for days – until you are begging me for fucking death,” Mack saw the rage in his eyes, heard it in his voice, and watched his face twist into a nameless fury that even she wanted to shrink from. 

The knife at her throat never even wavered, “you will anyway,” came the ice cold response.  “So why shouldn’t I just end her miserable life and let you watch her die?” 

Harv narrowed his eyes until they were nothing more than slits, “because I fucking recognize you, Peterson.”  His voice hardened until it was sharp enough to cut, “tell me… how’s your wife these days?”  The threat hung there between the two of them and Mack felt the pressure ease slightly on her throat.

“You wouldn’t dare,” her attacker hissed in outrage.

Harv lowered his face until it was inches from his, “try me...” he hissed back.  “I will personally carve her into tiny fucking pieces while you watch!

Peterson snarled in fury, and for one brief second Mack felt the pressure against her neck increase and thought he’d murder her just to spite him, but then, “Swear to me on that worthless goddamn coin you carry that you won’t harm my family… if I let her go.”

He nodded curtly, “my word – their safety… for hers.

She felt the knife waver for one very long moment and then he slowly released her, dropping the knife with a thud next to her head.  The blade had no sooner left his hand than Harv had grabbed him by the shirtfront and tossed him bodily into the nearest wall, his head smacking into the wall with a sickening crack.  Peterson slumped into a heap at the base of the wall and didn’t get back up.       

Mack stared at the man lying motionless on her carpet and felt nothing at all.   No relief, no panic… no pain… Dimly she heard a voice above her mention “shock,” but she couldn’t seem to remember the meaning of the word.  Moonlight glinted off silver and she dropped her head to the side, eyes landing on the blade next to her head.  A tiny puddle of blood was starting to pool around the tip, she blinked… there was something about that blood.  Something important she needed to remember…

A fraction of a second… and then images flooded her brain: intruder, knife, pain, blood, death, Harv.  She gasped for air, and a strangled sob escaped past her lips as she was forced to accept her very real brush with death. 

It was suddenly imperative she move away from the blade, and she scrambled awkwardly onto her side.  She reached blindly out with her hands, desperate to leverage herself onto her knees and then her feet.  Pain slammed into her as she placed too much strain on the injured arm and she cried out, dropping harshly onto her good arm – her knees unable to find purchase in the pile of splintered wood underneath her.  Mack swore - her voice broken and small sounding in the small living room.

Did that sound just come from my woman?  Harv’s voice carried a hint of disbelief.

She’s bruised and bleeding on the floor, what did you expect? Harvey asked.  She’s not invincible…

Harv grunted and then gritted his teeth – this is exactly why I don’t loan people my things.  They always come back broken.

Mack tried to take a deep breath and ignore the pain in her arm, but it felt like she’d just run a marathon.  She knew she was either going to have to try again to stand or crawl across the ruins of her table towards the nearest wall and hope to use it for leverage.  Unfortunately she didn’t think her wounded pride could survive another blow- so crawling was definitely out.  She steeled herself for the difficulty ahead and was just about to push up when a pair of strong arms were sliding underneath her from the side, lifting her into the air.

She hissed in pain at the sudden motion, and looked up to see a stone-faced Harv staring back at her.  He carried her into the kitchen without a word and then slowly lowered her to her feet.  Mack stumbled briefly against him before regaining her balance, turning to find Mark behind her, kitchen chair on standby.

No sooner than her feet touched floor then Harv’s hands were running over her searching for and finding her injuries.  His fingers grazed her abdomen and she winced, “do you mind?!” She hissed at him, smacking at his hands, “that fucking hurts.”

He completely ignored her and from behind her she heard Mark ask, “how deep?”  She turned her head stiffly to the side, surprised at the concern in his voice.

She squawked as Harv pulled her shirt and tank top up above her belly button and she tried to circumvent him by pulling it back down. “Excuse me! But what the fuck are you doing,” she demanded angrily. 

The glare he sent her was enough to freeze her mid motion.  “I have seen men die from gut wounds, Mack.  It’s not pleasant.”  He paused letting the threat hang there, and then added, “Now hold the fuck still,” he added with a growl. 

His intimidation had the desired effect and Mack found she suddenly didn’t mind the poking and prodding as much as she thought.  He stared at the slash across her stomach for a long second and then moved up to her injured arm.  She waited for some sort of diagnosis, but none appeared to be forthcoming, “Well…” she prompted him indignantly, “am I gonna die or what?”

He sent her a withering glance, “Obviously not.”

She started to say something rude in response when she was distracted by Kevin carrying a large duffel bag into the kitchen.  She watched with narrowed eyes as he came to a halt next to her and then dropped the bag on the floor.

Her eyes grew wide and she flung her hands out wildly, narrowly missing Harv’s head by inches.  “Whoa – what the fuck is in that, cause if you think this is gonna be one of those survival things where you stitch me back together then I am prepared to shoot your ass.”

There was a short pause and then a collective sound of various snorts and snickers from the men around her.  “It’s not funny!” She protested loudly. 

Harv rolled his eyes and her, “you watch entirely too much TV.”  She huffed at him in irritation and then muttered, “yeah, ‘cause you’ve never sewn yourself back together…”

Harv pulled the tie free from her neck and reached for the buttons on her shirt, flicking them open with a flip of his fingers. “It tickled,” he admitted with a smirk.

It was her turn to roll her eyes and then she glanced down at his handy work. “Are you undressing me,” she asked in disbelief.

“If I don’t see skin, it doesn’t count,” he corrected, “now take this off so I can see your arm.”  He pulled her shirt open to show the tank top she wore underneath and shoved it back to her shoulders before pausing for a quick second.  “This is gonna hurt,” he warned her with a scowl.

She furrowed her brows in confusion, “what are talking about?”           

“Judging by your reaction to all this,” he nodded to her and then to the wreck that was her house, “you still running on a shit ton of adrenaline.  Which is why you – A,” he held up one finger, “aren’t panicking – yet.”  He stopped and held up another finger, “and – B, haven’t yet realized how injured you are – your body isn’t letting you feel the pain.  It’s a defense mechanism...”

Trust me…” she interrupted him with a ruefully smile, “I hurt.”

Over the top of her head he shared a knowing look with Mark.  He had tried to warn her, but clearly she was going to have to learn the hard way that being thrown into a table hard enough to break it not only seriously bruised the muscles in your back, but broke ribs as well. 

She started to pull her shirt free when he stopped her with a short, “allow me.”  It would best to do this quickly – like ripping off a band-aid but infinitely more painful.  He nodded sharply to Mark who yanked her shirt free with one quick tug.

If the chair hadn’t been behind her Mack was quite certain she would have collapsed to the floor.  She gasped for breath, pain radiating from everywhere – stomach, arm, back, chest… even breathing was painful.  Harv glanced at John who was standing by with a roll of gauze he’d obtained from the duffel bag, “hurry,” he ordered sharply, stepping aside to make room for his employee.

Mack bit back a sob as the bandage wound around her mid-section, “I don’t…” she trailed off and tried again, “why?”  She dug her nails into the seat of her chair and fought to have enough breath to speak, “Why does it hurt to breathe…”

            John glanced up at his patient, “first – and most importantly – the adrenaline that was helping you defend yourself is wearing off.  Meaning, your mind is no longer protecting you from danger.  It’s decided you’re safe enough to start accepting what happened to you.  It’s perfectly normal,” he reassured her calmly.

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “that means that every injury you received ago is now making itself known.  You already knew about your arm and your stomach.  You saw those happen to you so they’re more real.”  John taped off the bandage around her stomach and moved on to her arm.  He frowned when he saw how deep it was.  He could patch her up but she’d need stitches soon to stop the bleeding.

“Your other injuries are painful enough, that if felt, would severely limit your movement so they were suppressed to provide you with the greatest chance for survival.” He finished were her arm and grabbed an ACE wrap out of the nearby bag, and knelt in front of her, tone becoming more serious. 

“You were thrown into a table hard enough that it broke underneath you, Mack.  Not only are your shoulders and entire back bruised all to shit, but you most likely broke a rib or two.  Between the two – it’s going to hurt to breath for a while, not to mention move.  You don’t realize you much you depend on your back muscles for movement, until you’ve pulled a few of them,” he added with a sympathetic smile.

“What we need to do is wrap your chest with this,” he held up the elastic bandage so she could see it.  “It’s going to be tighter than is comfortable, but it’s necessary to keep things from moving around – namely your ribs.”

Mack gaped at him.  Not only was it more words than she’d ever heard any of them say at one time, but the sheer volume of information in that five minute speech was overwhelming.

“I think you broke her brain.”  Mack turned her head painful to the side and stared in surprise as Brian re-entered the kitchen.  When had everyone moved away from her? She didn’t remember them leaving.  A quick look into the living room found Mark and Harv in the living room conversing quietly about god knows what while Kevin consulted with someone on the phone.  And who the hell was that…  Mack stared openly as two men she’d never seen before entered through the front door.

“Who…,” she stared at the unknown men in her living room, starting to feel more than a little out of depth, “are they… and when…”  She trailed off, the situation completely spiraling out of her control.           

Brian looked over his shoulder, “about time,” he muttered.  “You’d think,” he sent John a suffering look, “that when I said, hurry, the bastards would actually get here quickly.”

John nodded knowingly, “Tell me about it, I’m still waiting for those fuckers at Intel to call me back.  Seriously… how long does it really fucking take to beat…” John paused and sent a side-long glance at Mack, as if remembering where he was.  “I mean collectinformation from a few informants.”

Brian scoffed at the incompetence of their employees before turning to face the men approaching him, “Took you fucking long enough,” he snarled in a fitting imitation of Harv. “Fucking ass hats…”

The two lesser employees shared a mutual look of trepidation in the face of Brian’s anger and muttered a quick, “our apologies, Mr. Broderick.  It won’t happen again.”

He sneered at the obviousness of that lie and then smirked over his shoulder at the shocked and disbelieving cry from Mack, “Mister…Broderick?!”

Mack snorted at the very idea of Brian being in charge of anything, let alone another group of people.  She looked down at an amused John, and said as much.

There was an indignant, “Hey,” from Brian at this remark, which Mack promptly ignored.  Turning back to the trio standing in the door she leaned her head back to look around Brian to the two men cowering before him, “you have my sympathies,” she said with a smirk.

Brian let out a put-upon sigh and called out a petulant, “Boss…, Mack is undermining my authority.”

She could just barely make out a snort and a muttered, “well, there’s a shock,” from Harv.

At her feet John tried to hide his snicker behind a mangled cough, but failed to fool Brian who sent him a decidedly shirty look and mumbled something rude under his breath.

Mack rolled her eyes as the two of them starting to trade insults with one another and instead turned to issue a friendly, “it’s nice to meet you,” at the two new guys.  There was a stunned silence from them as they gaped at her, trading uncertain glances with one another for a long second until, Brian barked out a rather threatening, “Well…”

No sooner had he spoken than they responded with a disturbingly respectful, “Ms. Mackenzie,” in response.

She stared at them, obviously confused by their standoffish behavior, “you can call me Mack.”  She assured them, eyes flickering between them and the scowl Brian was giving them.

Brian advanced on the two of them, issuing a very convincing, “do it and die,” before shoving them both into the living room.

Mack blinked and watched them until they were out of view. “What the fuck was that about,” she muttered.

John reached out to start the ACE wrap around her chest and Mack winced as he pulled it tightly into place.  “They’re just flunkies,” he explained, “nobodies…  They don’t get to address you so casually, Mack.  In fact most of the people you meet in the next few days won’t dare to either.”

She stared at him and then, “that is the stupidest thing, I’ve ever heard.”

He shrugged, “doesn’t matter.  For all intents and purposes they’ll treat you like the boss’s woman, and to treat you with anything less than complete deference would be an insult to him.”  John secured the wrap around her with a metal clip and then stood up, a small smirk on his face.  “I don’t think I need to tell you what happens to people who insult the boss.”

“But, I’m not…” Mack started to protest but one look at the knowing look in his eyes cut her short.

“Keep telling yourself that, Mack,” he drawled.  Mack frowned at him, but couldn’t think of a single protest that wouldn’t sound weak – even to her ears.  John smiled down at her, knowing his point had been made, and picked up the duffel bag before going into the living room to join his co-workers.

 

8888888888888888888888

Harv looked around Mack’s living room, frowning as his eyes took in the spray of blood that marred the wall around the kitchen entrance.  Her beige carpet was also ruined, drops of blood, or in some cases, patches of it spread out from around the wreckage of her coffee table.  A ceramic lamp lay broken on the floor – knocked off in the struggle, and one of her end tables was turned over, one of the legs snapped in half. 

Put of more of fight than she let on, didn’t she… the pride was apparent in Harvey’s voice.

He was seconds from slitting her throat when we came in, Harv reminded him.

And if she hadn’t fought so hard she would have been dead when we came in.

…It COULD have been worse… Harv offered grudgingly.

He looked up to see John exiting the kitchen and raised one eyebrow expectantly, “Well…”

He tossed the duffel bag down next to the front door and turned to Harv, “she needs stitches for the cut on her arm and maybe for her stomach, not to mention that several of her ribs are most likely broken.  At this point,” he continued frankly, “it’s only sheer will power that’s keeping her from having a nervous breakdown in front of us.”

Harv nodded, not surprised by the assessment, “take her to the clinic to see Taylor and then put her in my penthouse in uptown.  Do not,” he fixed John with a steely gaze, “leave her alone.”

“Understood,” came the short reply, “Troy and Jason should be here any minute.”

Brian approached from the right and nodded at the unconscious form of Peterson being carted away, “he’s being taken to the warehouse district.  You want me to start without you?”

“Have someone warm him up for me,” he ordered with a cold smile.  “You, Kevin, and Mark are coming with me.”  He turned back to John, “when you’re done with her,” his added, mouth curling into an angry snarl, “find me Nick Schultz.”

“Wait a minute,” Mark objected, “I thought you were meeting with Leon to avoid something like this.”

“That depends,” he snarled at Mark, “on what they say.”  Mark frowned at his boss, but knew better than to protest further.  From his corner of the living room, Kevin finished his phone call and stepped over to speak with his associates.

“That was my contact at the Hottinger Group,” Kevin informed his boss with a grim look.  “Nick Schultz just transferred a massive sum of money to a brand new offshore account in the Virgin Islands.” 

Harv narrowed his eye and swore loudly, “he knows.” 

“Oh well… great… just fucking great…” Mark threw up his hands in frustration.  “If he’s figured out that Leon is gunning for him than there’s no way to know what he’ll do.  It’s a complete cluster fuck!”

Mark gestured wildly at John, “This is exactly why Leon is nothing but flunky material.  Mack could have come up with a better plan than that ass hat.”

Harv opened his mouth to respond with the sound of a car pulling into the driveway had them all moving for their guns.  There was a tense silence until the car doors opened, and out stepped the men John had been waiting on.

“We need to move,” Harv shouldered past Brian and headed into the kitchen to find Mack stiffly pulling her button front back on.  She turned around at the sound of her name and managed a small tired smile at the sight of him. 

She pulled his tie off the kitchen table from where he’d tossed it earlier, and held it out towards him, “I don’t know how,” she admitted. “But by some miracle, I managed to only bleed on the black part.”

He pulled the tie from her hand and then promptly slid it back over her head to hang loosely from her neck.

She held up a hand to protest, “I appreciate the loaner, but…”

He cut her off with a curt, “I don’t have time to argue with you, Mack.  Wear the goddamn tie.”

Mack blinked up at him in shock, she didn’t think she’d ever heard him this serious.  “What the hell is going on, Harv?”

He reached out and grabbed her good arm, ushering her through the living room and down the hallway, coming to a halt in front of the first bedroom.  “You have two minutes to pack an overnight bag and then you’re leaving.”

She opened her mouth to speak and he added a short, “one minute and fifty-five seconds.”

“Good lord,” she breathed, “you’re serious.”  Mack blinked, and then moved down the hallway to the last bedroom, Harv following close behind.  Once inside she paused, brain starting to overload with everything that had happened to her.  He saw her start to falter and snapped his fingers in her face to bring her back to the present.

“A bag Mack… you need a bag,” he prompted.

She nodded vaguely and stumbled over to the closet and rummaged around on the top shelf, before pulling down a small gym bag that read Gotham City General Hospital.  Mack stared at it for a moment before he prompted her again and she started to shove clothes in it.  Forcing herself to stay focused on the task at hand with a great deal of effort. 

“Times up,” he reached out and grabbed the bag, zipped it up, and then handing it back to her.

“But… I’m not done,” she protested as he pulled her back down the hallway.  “I still need something to sleep in.”

“I’ll loan you a shirt,” he drawled, clearly unconcerned.

Mack scowled at him, “cute… Harv… real cute…” They re-entered the living room, halting before two more men Mack had never seen before.  He fixed the pair of them with a deadly glare before issuing a callous, “she so much as breaks a nail while in your care and you die.” 

Once assured his point had been made he turned away, side stepping an utterly floored Mack.  She stared after him, momentarily rendered speechless by the blistering threat he had just issued on her behalf.  Mack sent a sidelong glance at her would be bodyguards, only to find them staring back at her – eyes flickering though a continuous cycle of: Harv, Mack , Tie… Harv, Mack, Tie… 

“Was that really necessary?!”  Mack stared indignantly at his back, voice pitched a tad higher than normal. 

His shoulders tensed visibly, and off to the side she saw the two unknowns blanch and take an instinctive step backwards.  Harv looked over his shoulder at her, eyes glinting dangerously before turning to face her, “are you questioning me?” 

Mack searched his face and found none of the tolerance that he normal afforded her.  “You… no…” she clarified carefully, “merely your word choice.” 

He narrowed his eyes at her verbal maneuvering and then sent her a wicked smile that made the hair of the back of her neck stand up.  “You’re right, Mack,” he agreed, turning to the two flunkies who were watching their exchange with varying degrees of awe. “She gets hurt, you die… horribly,” he amended with a smirk. 

“Oh, you’re just freaking hilarious…” she muttered at him, rolling her eyes. 

He looked pointedly at her feet, “that ice you’re on…” he warned, “it’s getting a little thin…” 

She sent him a scowl of her own, “it’s bad enough that the last two wouldn’t even speak to me; but did you really have to make it so that the two I’m stuck with wouldn’t even look at me?!” 

Yes,” he replied tersely before adding an irritated, “now if there’s nothing else…”  His tone made it clear that it would be in her best interest to keep quiet. 

“As a matter of fact there is…” Mack lifted her chin defiantly, and ignoring the threat in his eyes, closed the short distance between the two of them.  Then, matching him stare for stare, she offered a very sincere, “thank you… for saving my life.” 

Harv went very still, eyes searching her face for some sort of deception, but found none.  He frowned, as for the second time that evening he issued a gruff, “you’re welcome,” to the petite woman before him.  Their uneasy truce held for another few seconds and then Harv was steering Mack over to John.  John then ushered her out the front door to the waiting car. 

She watched her house disappear from view, wondering for the umpteenth time since he’d met them – just what the hell she’d gotten herself into. 

Chapter Text

*** Thanks to Ryan Reynolds who inspired a shirtless Harv, and to Liev Schreiber who will always be my Harvey Dent/Two-Face.***

8888888888888888888888888 

            Mack leaned into the soft leather that lined the car, forehead pressed against the cool glass of the window.  A drop of rain slid down the window, and she watched as one turned into two or three- and then a steady of drizzle of rain was falling from the sky to land with little plops on the car.

            Her mouth curved into a sad smile.  If she couldn’t cry for herself, at least the sky could.  She looked to her right at the dark-haired man next to her.  John seemed to feel her eyes on him and turned his head slightly to meet her gaze.  He cocked one eyebrow in question and waited…

            She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out.  There were no words… no possible way to verbalize the million different things she was thinking, let alone feeling.  She shrugged halfheartedly at him and then turned back to her window, watching the rain fall against the glass.

            “Mack?”  John called quietly.  “If you have questions…”  The offer seemed to hang between them for a long moment.

            “Do you know why he saved me?”  Mack tried to hide the uncertainty in her voice, but from the look on his face she knew she’d failed.

            He sighed, not entirely surprised, but still not sure how best to answer.  “If he was anyone else the answer would be obvious, but it’s Harv, so…” he shrugged, “you’ll have to ask him.”

            John watched her shoulders slump before adding, “I do know that he never hesitated.  No one receives his full attention the way that you do.”

            Mack considered this and then admitted, “he scares me.” 

            “He should,” John reminded her before continuing in a slightly more conversational tone.  “You know, I’ve been with him for over eight years – longer than anyone else.  And I have never seen him treat a woman the way he treats you.”

            Mack turned to face him, face intent, “and how does he treat me?”

“Like an exception.  You get away with things no one else would.”  John paused, trying to find an appropriate example.  “Do you remember back at the house?”

            Mack interrupted with a scowl. “How could I forget.”

            “How your bodyguards backed away when Harv turned on you?” John continued as if she hadn’t spoken.   “They were trying to get out of the way.  Harv would have shot anyone else for questioning him.”

            He waved off her denial, “I’m seem him do worse, for less.  But you…” he snorted.  “You get witty banter and an armed escort.  An armed escort,” he added, “led by his third in command.”

            Mack eyes widened, “wait… what?”

            John sent her a sly smile, “you didn’t really think we were his flunkies, did you?”

            “Well… um…,” Mack stammered slightly, before offering an unconvincing “no.”

            He sent a mock glare at her. “I think I’ve just been insulted,” he teased.

            She raised an eyebrow, “perhaps you should explain so I don’t offend anyone else.  Assuming,” she mused, “that you can.”

            “I suppose,” he shrugged. “It couldn’t hurt to tell you what every criminal in the city already knows.”

            She watched him mull the idea over for a second.  “There’s a chain of command inside Harv’s organization and the four of us are at the top.  The men you joke around with on an almost nightly basis run one of the largest crime organizations in the city.”

            Her eyebrows shot up in shock.  “But he treats you like…” she hesitated, not wanting to knowingly offend him.

            “Like his flunkies,” John finished for her.  “He’s Harv,” he admitted ruefully, “everyone is his flunky.  For instance… from the way the boss acts you’d never know that your bodyguards are actually pretty high up in the food chain.” 

            Mack snuck a quick glance at the two men occupying the front of the car.  “Troy’s the one driving,” John pointed out with a gesture, “and Jason is the one with the Bieber haircut,”  

            Jason sighed melodramatically.  “You know,” he muttered to no one in particular, “I had this haircut long before that little punk was famous.”

            “Don’t worry…” Troy assured him, “you look just as gay now as you did back then.”  Jason scowled at the man next to him, his response lost in a sudden roar of thunder.

            She smiled, the banter reminding her of Brian and John, “so they’re not flunkies?” she clarified, turning back to her escort.

            “Not really, no.  If I’ve assigned a couple of nobodies to guard you Harv would have been displeased.”

           

            “Isn’t he always,” she muttered before remembering something he’d said earlier.  “So…” Mack pursed her lips, “when you say you’re third, what does that mean?” 

            He drummed one hand absently against the arm rest. “That ranking system is primarily a way for other families to know whether they’re being slighted or not.  The more important the family the higher up the liaison will be.”

            Mack frowned.  The implication was clear- his presence alone indicated how significant she was to his boss.  She filed that little tidbit away for later consideration.

            “So who’s after you in this little ranking system, Brian?”

            He blanched slightly at that suggestion, “Definitely not.  Brian has been my best friend since I was fifteen but he’s too bat shit crazy to be set loose without supervision.”

            She opened her mouth to argue the point, but after thinking it over for a second had to nod in agreement, “It stops with Kevin, then?” 

            “No,” he disagreed, “Brian’s just last in line.  At least that way the rest of us won’t have to be here to answer to him if -God forbid- the worst should happen.”  He smiled wickedly up at he men in the front seat, “feel bad for you schmucks, though.”

            Her eyes widened slightly, “wait a minute… so this ranking system is actually some fucked up line of succession?!”

            John deliberately ignored her question, leaning around her to stare out her window, “Oh, look… we’re here.”           

            Mack scowled at the obvious evasion, “I’ll take that as a yes,” she muttered.

            “Take it however, you want, Mack.  But I didn’t say that.”  He opened the car door and stepped out into the rain – effectively ending their conversation.  To her utter shock, her own door opened and outside it stood Troy, waiting with an open umbrella in one hand and a gun in the other.  “Ms. Mackenzie,” he prompted, one corner of his mouth twitching in amusement at the look of surprise on her face. 

            “Come on, Mack!”  She heard John whine from somewhere to the left, “I’m getting rained on here…”

            “Oh!  Right, sorry,” she apologized, clambering out of the car.  The three of them ushered her into the building, stopping inside the foyer to shake the excess rain from their jackets. 

            “Not used to the five star treatment, are ya?”  Jason asked from behind her. 

            “That’s an understatement,” Mack agreed, stepping to the side so he could move past her.  He shadowed her, step for step, and when she came to a halt she found him still standing behind her, his large frame completely overshadowing her own.

            She met his impassive stare with an exasperated one of her own, “Just tell me which way you’re going so I can get out the way.”

            Mack watched his blank face develop into confusion and from behind her she heard John say, “The entire entrance is nothing but glass.  If you don’t want him covering your back, you’re going to have to move away from the window.”

            She scrunched up her face, not quite sure what he was getting at, “you are making absolutely no sense.”

            “I’m sure if you think about it, it’ll come to you.  Now…” John gestured grandly with one arm, “after you.”

            Mack made a point of flipping him off as she stalked by him, not missing the wide smirk he sent her in response.  As she neared the waiting room doors, his meaning sank in.  The tie around her neck flew outwards in a wide arc as she spun about to fix John with an accusing stare.

            “Absolutely not,” she gasped before leveling a finger at him, eyes narrowing to small slits.  “I will be twice damned before I let someone take a bullet in the back for me!”

            “What exactly do you think bodyguards are for?!”

            She gaped at him. “I don’t know… deterrence, maybe?!”

            “Someone tried to murder you, Mack.  Did you really think they,” he jerked a thumb at the two men next to him, “were just gonna stand around hoping that their presence would keep you safe.”

            “I don’t care,” snapped, “my life is not worth more than theirs.”

            “Yes it is.”  He told her, mouth forming a grim line.

            “I can’t believe you just said that!” Mack stared up at him, eyes wide.

            John met her stare for stare, his eyes slowly hardening.  A long tense moment passed, and when he spoke again his voice had an edge to it she hadn’t heard before. “We’ve known each other for a while now, right?”  His tone made it clear the question was rhetorical. “And in that time have I ever given you a reason to think I wasn’t a reasonable man?” 

            She shook her head no, not entirely sure she trusted herself to speak in the face of a suddenly not friendly John.  “And yet here you are, asking me to disobey a direct order from my boss simply to satisfy your morality?”

            This time she opened her mouth to respond, but he didn’t even slow down. “I like you Mack,” he admitted, voice taking on slightly less hostile tone. “And I think we’ll all agree that you’re a very nice person, but if you think,” he added harshly, “that I won’t hog tie and drag you through that door - and everywhere else we go tonight – just to keep you safe… then you have seriously underestimated me.  I would rather explain to Harv why you hate me rather than explain to him why I’m bringing back your dead, lifeless corpse.”

            He scowled at her for another second or two and then, like a switch was being thrown, became the same affable John he’d always been.  “Completely your choice though…” he trailed off, small smile gracing his face.

She gawked at him, completely floored at the sudden appearance of his mob ‘persona’ and absently wondered which version of John was the real one. “Well I see why you’re third,” she muttered, before turning around and headed resolutely towards the clinic door.

            There was a soft chuckle from behind her, and then John was reaching out and opening the door for her, “you really forget who we are sometimes, don’t you?”

            Mack didn’t even hesitate before responding with a firm, “yes.  Hell,” she waved one hand at him, “you and Brian sit around all night being wise asses.  You don’t act like mob guys.  Or you don’t until it’s time for you to be one, apparently.” 

John nudged her gently with one arm. “You’ll get used to it,” he assured her with a shark-like grin.

She flipped him off again, and this time he laughed before sauntering off to speak with the front desk.

 

888888888888888888888 

           

            Two-Face shook the excess rain from his coat, as he stepped through the back door of Solvetti’s ‘gentlemen’s club’.  He headed purposefully for the stairs, staff and made men scrambling aside after one look at the dark expression on his face.  He sent a curt order over his shoulder for his entourage to ‘wait here’, and then took the stairs two at a time up to the second floor.

            Harv slammed open the door to the V.I.P lounge and sneered at the four bosses sitting around the centermost table.  He nodded abruptly at Tater before turning a hostile look toward Leon Schultz.  “A word in private, Schultz,” he snarled, barely able to reign in his desire to do something sudden and violent.

            Leon spent a second or two pretending to consider the request, before standing up to follow Harv towards a small alcove to the left of the bar. 

            “You…want MY support,” he reminded Leon with a harsh glare – making it clear if he didn’t get what he wanted then Leon wouldn’t be either.

I want total control of the area between 38th and Raymond Street,” Harv rattled off a set of coordinates and pulled a rolled up map from his jacket, shoving it into Leon’s chest with one hand.

And,” he added, “I want a twenty-five percent discount on anything I have shipped into the docks you control.”

            Leon narrowed his eyes but said nothing, unrolling the map Harv had handed him.  He wasn’t surprised to see that the area marked off was the neighborhood Mack lived and worked in.  “You want this shitty ass neighborhood, you can have it,” he agreed.  “But twenty-five percent is outrageous,” Leon replied coldly.  “Try eight.”

            Harv scoffed, “eight percent isn’t even worth the effort it would take to move my accounts from Shaughnessy to you.  Eighteen,” he countered.

            One of Leon’s eyebrows quirked up, “all your accounts,” he clarified.  If Two-Face was willing to do all his shipping through him it might be worth it to give him a temporary discount before hiking his rates back up.

            “If it saves me money… maybe,” he snarled, making it clear he was only doing business with him because it was practical, and not because he wanted to.

            “Twelve percent, but for six months, only,” the younger man asserted, “after which, we’ll renegotiate.”

            Harv narrowed his eyes, “sixteen and a half – for eight.”

            “Like hell,” Leon snorted, “fourteen for five.”

            “Fifteen – for six.”

            Shultz’s glare was downright arctic, but after a long moment of consideration, “agreed.”

            Harv nodded curtly, and then glared at his newest business partner.  “You have forty-eight hours to get rid of Nick Shultz or ALL deals are off,” he bared his teeth at Leon.  “Call me when you have him – I want to see the body.” 

            Two-Face turned and strode back to the other bosses, “It’s done,” he nodded curtly.  Tater, Solvetti, and Shaughnessy turned to Leon for confirmation.

            Once Leon nodded, Shaughnessy stretched, winding his hands back behind his head.  “Well this has been a very profitable evening.  Of course,” he smirked at Two-Face and Tater, “you might not be feeling the same way after you get my new dock quotes.”

            Tater considered this for a moment and then whirled on Leon with an angry snarl, “You sorry bastard, you gave him the east docks he’s been after for so long, haven’t you?!”

            “Most of them,” Leon hedged, with a small smile.

            “And how much is this going to cost me, you thieving bastard,” Tater groused at Shaughnessy.  “Your smuggling rates are already fucking outrageous.”

            The Irishman shrugged, sending the other man a smug look. “Well,” he drawled, “taking into account the delicate nature of the merchandise, and…”

            Tater cursed violently in Italian, effectively cutting him off, “maybe I’ll just start doing business with Shultz.  Assuming,” he fixed Leon with a flinty look, “you still have any docks left.”

            “Actually between Solvetti, and my newest account,” he nodded in Harv’s direction.  “I think my hands are full… for the moment.”

            “Wait… what!”  Shaughnessy jerked up, sending Harv an offended look.  “You fucking traitor,” he accused, “you do business with me.

            “Your rates are fucking outrageous,” Harv told him, agreeing with Tater before fixing the other mobsters with a harsh stare. “And maybe next time this shit happens, we’ll simply kill the bastards and split their property between the four of us.  Which I believe,” he told Leon, eyes full of devilish delight, “was the original idea to begin with.” 

            “Forty-eight hours,” he warned Shultz, before turning and stalking out of the room, leaving Leon to worry about the reliability of his new alliances.

                       

88888888888888888

 

Mack sat in the waiting room trying to pretend that she wasn’t being stared at.  All around her, eyes flickered to her.  They tried to be discreet, but it was hard not to notice a room full of patients and staff all intent on dissecting her with their eyes.  She didn’t know which was worst.  The way people’s eyes widened when they saw the tie she wore or the wide berth they gave her because of the hulking bodyguards looming over her.  Mack huffed, she wished she never put on his stupid tie or met Harv’s stupid bodyguards. 

She looked over at John who was busy negotiating with one of the clinic’s doctors and then snorted – flirting would have been closer to the truth.  Mack watched the female doctor laugh at something he said and she felt the urge to chuck something heavy at them both.  She slumped down slightly in her seat, and quickly regretted it when she felt a sharp jab of pain in her back.  If possible, her mood soured even more…

John turned away from his would-be conquest long enough to motion her over, and Mack slowly climbed to her feet.  She knew it was completely irrational to be irritated at him for successfully flirting their way to the front of the line, but it had been a long day.

“This is Doctor Lauren Taylor,” John motioned toward the brunette wearing the white lab coat and then turned towards Mack, introducing her by her full name.

“Call me Mack,” she insisted.

The doctor smiled wryly, “I prefer Taylor.  Though I find,” she added with a mock glare at John, “that I am frequently ignored.”

“What I coincidence… I have a similar problem myself,” Mack confessed dryly, the two women warming slightly to each other after discovering this common ground.

“John indicated there was some urgency to your situation, so we’ve agreed to bump you to the front of the line.  If you’ll follow me, we’ll go ahead and get started.”  Taylor turned and led Mack down the hallway, John and her bodyguards following silently. 

They passed a small nurse’s station, empty except for a thin older woman, whose lab coat read, Dr. Leslie Thompkins.  Taylor paused at the desk, “Leslie, could you keep an eye on the front desk for me, I’m stepping in with a patient.”           

Dr. Thompkins looked up with a kind smile that seemed to freeze on her face at the sight of Mack.   Her eyes ghosted over the bruises and dried blood that covered Mack, her eyes narrowing in on the black and white tie hanging loosely from her neck.  She glanced back at Taylor, “of course, Taylor.” 

“And if you need any help…”  She nodded politely to her co-worker, but her eyes bored into Mack’s face as she tried to communicate with her through a single glance.  “Please, don’t hesitate to ask.” 

Mack blinked in confusion- then closed her eyes to hide her humiliation as she realized what Dr. Thompkins and most people were going to think.  As if this day couldn’t get any more humiliating… now people think I let a known psychopath use me as his punching bag.

Taylor responded with the appropriate pleasantries, and turned to lead them towards a nearby exam room.  She opened the door for Mack, and then turned to the men. “You can wait out here,” Taylor waved a hand down the hallway.

At a signal from John, Troy & Jason moved to flank the exam room door. “My orders were quite clear- she is not to be left alone.”  John steeled himself for the inevitable argument, and didn’t even blink when Taylor objected.

“I don’t give a damn about what Harv wants.” She scowled up at him, “my patient has the right…”

It’s fine!” Mack cut the two of them off with an angry look, disgust evident in her voice. “Clearly I’m not going to be allowed to retain any dignity whatsoever this evening, so let’s just get this over with.”

John opened his mouth to apologize and Mack waved him off.  “Spare me,” she groused, before sending him a downright hostile glare, “but if you look I will shoot you.”

He grabbed a nearby stool and turned his back to her, eyes fixed firmly on the door.  “If I look, they’ll kill me.”

The doctor threw her hands up in the air in defeat before directing her to the examination table.  Mack tolerated the poking and prodding from the doctor, answering her questions as best she could.

“Well,” Taylor stepped back from her patient, “I’m afraid you’ll need stitches to your arm and your stomach.  Plus an x-ray of your ribs.  At least one is broken and several are probably cracked.”

Mack paled, “stitches?  Are you sure?”  Mack half pleaded with the doctor. 

“Don’t worry,” Taylor attempted to reassure her, “it’s not as bad as it sounds.  Let me step out for my assistant and we’ll get started.”

Mack watched her exit the room and then turned to look at John who was still staring at the door, and searched for something to say.  Hell, anything was better than sitting here dreading the inevitable needle and thread.  “You seem to know the people here pretty well…” 

“Trying not to think about your stitches isn’t going to make it go away, you know.” 

She narrowed her eyes and made a face at his back, “would it kill you to simply humor me for a minute or two?!”

“It doesn’t really hurt – they numb the site with lidocaine gel before they stick you with the local.”

“Really?”  Mack asked, clearly relieved.

“Really.” 

There was a pause and then, “so you seem to know the people here pretty well.”

He sighed… loudly, and made a ‘why me’ gesture at the ceiling before explaining.  “Most of the criminal underworld comes here for treatment.  We have an unspoken agreement to donate heavily to their facility if they hold off on reporting us to the police until we’ve already left the building.”

“Wait a minute?  Am I going to have to explain my break-in to the police!?”  There was a slight hint of panic in her voice, and she racked her brain for a suitable explanation that wouldn’t get her arrested.

“Relax, I’ve already arranged for the cops to look the other way.  There will be no police report, and later tonight someone will come back for your medical records.”

Mack let out a sigh she didn’t know she’d been holding, suddenly very grateful for her mob connections.  She couldn’t remember the last time someone had bothered to look out for her, let alone go to the trouble of taking care of her.  Belatedly, she realized that Harv and Harvey had been doing just that for some time.  She felt her heart strings tug a little, and found herself wishing he was here.  That observation set her head and her heart to arguing the minute she’d thought it. 

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if she just invited him over for breakfast once in a while.  It’s not like she’d be dating him, she mused – tentatively feeling out the idea.  Liar… her subconscious supplied nastily.  Well… she hedged, maybe it would be dating but it might work out okay.

Reason reared its ugly head with a dry it’d be an unmitigated disaster. 

 Doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be an enjoyable disaster.  Mack felt one corner of her mouth start to twitch into a small smile.

He’s criminally insane!   A murdering psychopath! 

Her smile grew a little wider as she nibbled absently on one nail.  He’s kinda cute though, isn’t he?

Mack could almost imagine her subconscious gritting its teeth.  There is no reasoning with you when you’re like this!

He has some redeeming qualities, Mack offered.

His nice ass isn’t one of them.

Well that’s clearly matter of opinion. She muttered at her brain.  Besides, the man just saved my life – if that doesn’t get him some brownie points then what does?   Her thought were interrupted by a soft knock at the door as Doctor Taylor entered the room, nurse and a large tray of supplies in tow.  Mack stared with trepidation at the large tray before sending the doctor a surly nod, turning to stare resolutely at the floral wallpaper as they started to patch her up.

 

888888888888888888888888

 

            Leslie Thompkins looked up from the paperwork scattered across her desk to exchange a cordial goodnight with Dr. Taylor, watching as the other woman turned off the clinic lights on her way towards the exit.

            She leaned back in the worn leather desk chair and stretched, smiling self-deprecatingly at the sound of popping from her joints.  Apparently old age didn’t just bring wisdom, but the beginnings of arthritis as well.  Standing up, Leslie made her way down the hallway, checking to make sure the building was locked up and all the employees had left for the night before heading to the rows of chart behind the nurse’s station.

            The gray haired woman scanned the rows, stopping when she reached the section containing the M’s.  Flipping through the medical charts it didn’t take her long to find the file belonging to Jamie Mackenzie.  She pulled it out and quickly flipped through it, noting the stitches, the x-ray’s, and the bruises – her mouth slowly turning into a thin grim line.  No woman deserved to be at the mercy of a madman like Two-Face, and there had been no mistaking the tie she wore– hanging there like a noose around her neck. 

            If she wanted to help that poor woman, then she needed to act fast.  She’d been running the clinic for over twenty years and she knew how the mob men in this city worked.  In the morning, there would be no trace that Jamie Mackenzie had ever visited her clinic – the files would be gone, and any computer records would be erased as well.  It would be as if she’d never existed, which was exactly what Leslie feared would happen to the woman as well.   She had a very small window of opportunity in which to photocopy the records and put them into the right hands -the only hands- that could possibly help.

            Pulling the paperwork free from the metal clips, she slid the stack of records into the copy machine and headed back to her office to activate the hidden ‘panic’ button Bruce had installed so many years ago.  It wasn’t often she needed to contact him directly, but she felt this situation needed immediate attention – if nothing else than for the safety of that poor girl.

            Once the button had been activated, Leslie removed her copies from the machine and placed the originals back in there place.  She stopped to grab a cup of coffee from the break room before settling in to wait for the Dark Knight.

 

8888888888888888888

           

            Mack’s hair hung down around her in wet limp strands as she sat, hugging herself, on the floor of the shower.  Her lower lip trembled as her sobs slowed until she was merely weeping, tears sliding down her cheeks to mingle with the water beneath her.  She’d climbed into the shower to scrub the blood off her, to help soothe her aching muscles, but one single tear had turned too many and then she was bawling, crying her heart out on the floor of Harv’s shower.           

            She sniffled… knew she was feeling sorry for herself and not caring in the slightest.  She’d been beaten, dragged across town, stared at, poked by needles, and dragged back out again to a ridiculously expensive penthouse that only showcased how much better he lived.  Him… god she didn’t even want to think his name.  He was simultaneously both the bane of her existence and her salvation. 

            She was so tired.  So utterly exhausted… mentally… physically…  She felt weak and vulnerable, and she hated it.  But, she was so goddamn tired of fighting so hard just to scrape by.  Just once she wanted to be able to depend on someone, just one person who wouldn’t walk out on her.  But why did it have to be him?!

            Her lip trembled again, tears leaking out as she found herself, for the first time since meeting him, unable to lie to herself.  She was simply didn’t have the energy to continue pretending she didn’t like him.  That she didn’t want him.  That man- she shuddered as she remembered her attacker- he’d been right.  They’d wanted her all along, and now…  Mack closed her eyes as if trying to ward off her next thought.

            God help me… but they have me…

            She sat there, letting the water wash over her, no longer sure what she was supposed to say to them.  How the fuck do you tell a crazy, schizophrenic mob boss that you’d like to take them up on their unspoken offer of… what…

            What were they offering her?  A relationship, dates, just sex…  Did they even know?  Had they even thought that far ahead?  She snorted and scowled, “probably not,” she muttered to herself. 

            She leaned her head against the cool tile of the shower and noticed for the first time that the water was getting cold… fast.  Mack climbed carefully to her feet and managed to rinse off one more time before shutting the water off with a shivering hand.

            Fuck it… She gave a mental shrug and dismissed her current train of thought as best she could.  Didn’t she have enough to deal with without throwing some messed up, would be, emotional entanglement into the mix?  The two of them had stuck around this long so they could damn well wait a little longer. 

            Mack dried off and then pulled on a tank top and a pair of loose, black dress pants.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was the closest to loungewear she’d brought with her.  She shivered as her wet hair hit the back of her neck and she hurriedly pulled a brush through it before braiding it.   Wet hair now loosely contained, she turned and studied herself in the mirror.  Her eyes raked over her many bruises, many now turning a lovely shade of blue or purple- though several remained a sickly yellowish green.

            She turned and slumped against the sink counter, no longer wanting to look at the depressing figure in the mirror.  Mack wrapped her arms around herself in a valiant attempt to ward off the chill and stared at the bathroom door, trying to decide if she was brave enough to leave her hiding spot and face the world again.

            At the edge of her vision, Mack notice a spot of blue and turned to see a large bathrobe hanging next to the door.  She crossed the cold floor of the large bathroom and reached out to finger the material with a tentative hand. 

            It’s hiscame the sharp mental warning from her subconscious.  He’s very possessive, or did you forget?!

            Mack hesitated, pausing mid-reach.  She couldn’t deny that Harv was very territorial.  She already had possession of his tie and for a short while, his hat.  Now she was in his penthouse and about to take his robe – not her best plan.  Another cold chill went down her spine as she reached out and grabbed a sleeve before she could stop herself.  It was a soft terry cloth material, and– she fisted her hand in the material to feel the thickness.  Soft and warm… Mack smiled for the first time since she’d left work and pulled it off the wall.  Maybe she’d just look at it… 

            Once free from the wall, it was easy to see why the robe was so thick.  The outside of the robe might have been a dark blue but the inside was a light gray.  From the stitching it was easy to see it was reversible and she had to smile at the way they managed to find everything in more than one color.  She held the robe up to her, not surprised to see that not only did it cover her feet, but was a good several inches past her toes as well. 

            Mack pressed her face to the material and sighed contently into its warmth.  Maybe if she asked nicely he’d tell her where he bought it.  She took a deep breath and froze.  It smelled just like him, like soap and detergent and something indefinably male.  His scent triggered a feeling… a memory at the back of her mind, but it kept slipping away.

She took another ragged breath, but still couldn’t quite place that something at the edge of her subconscious.  Frowning in frustration she closed her eyes, buried her face in his robe and suddenly… she was back at her house, in his arms – surrounded by him, as he carried her to safety. 

            Mack stood there, feeling more than a little stunned, as she realized that his robe and the smell of him on it made her feel safe.  She knew there was not one, not two, but three armed men within twenty feet of her, and still she’d locked the bathroom door.  Kept staring at it in fear, kept waiting for Peterson to come through it…  Unable to stop jumping at every noise she heard.

            But the mere reminder of Harvey… of Harv… had sent relief coursing through her for the first time since her attack.  Her lower lip trembled, and then with shaking fingers she pulled the robe over her small frame, tying it tightly around her waist.  He could hate her for stealing his robe all he wanted.  It was a small price to pay for her peace of mind.  She stood there in the bathroom, breathing in the smell of him, for longer than she cared to admit.

            When she finally felt somewhat composed, she gathered up her things and exited the master bath, crossing through Harv’s bedroom, feet sinking into the plush carpet as she walked.  John had suggested she use Harv’s bathroom for the spa tub it contained, and she’d nodded numbly at the time, willing to agree to anything if it meant she could have some bloody privacy.  But once inside, she’d found herself unable to do much more than turn on the shower and sink to the floor of the tub.  Mack smiled slightly.  Maybe tomorrow she’d borrow it for the spa features.

             She shut his bedroom door behind her and made her way past the hallway bathroom before entering the room John had given her.  She tossed her stuff on the bed and felt the first rumblings of hunger.

            Her feet led her back out into the living space and she paused, finally collected enough to appreciate her surroundings.  The living room was to the right and contained several L-shaped leather couches and a massive flat screen TV.  The fireplace was lined in what was most likely marble, and the sliding glass doors lead out to a patio that not only had a massive swimming pool but also a panoramic view of the city.   Or at least it did – until John closed the blinds with the press of a button.

            She shot him a dirty look. “We’re the tallest building in any direction for at least a mile.”

            “If you can see buildings from here that are taller than you, then you shouldn’t be standing in front of an open window.”

            Mack scowled at his paranoia but had long since given up on arguing with him.  He heard her stomach growl and looked pointedly from her to the kitchen, “there’s soup and cold cuts in the fridge.”

            She murmured her thanks, and stepped into the kitchen, a marble counter top island the only thing separating it from the rest of the living space.  Mack did her best not to drool on the stainless steel appliances as she reheated a bowl of soup and pulled a sandwich from a serving tray in the fridge.  Upon closer inspection, she saw that the soup and sandwich containers had a restaurant logo on the side.

            “Who did you find that was open this late?”  Mack turned away from the microwave to look at John, who was returning to his seat the at the kitchen table.

            “You mean this early,” he nodded at the clock on the wall, the hands telling her it was almost five-thirty in the morning.  “They were already there, getting ready to open for breakfast, we just convinced him to provide us with leftovers from last night.”

            She snorted and then muttered, “you guys sure do a lot of convincing, don’t you?”

            He shrugged at her, “there are worse things than just convincing people.”

            Carrying her food to the table, she sat down across from John, opening her beer with a practiced flip of her thumb.  “You know,” John drawled, his own beer sitting half empty in front of him, “I said Harv wouldn’t care if you used his bathtub.  I can’t say the same for other things.” 

            Mack looked up from her soup and found him eyeing the bathrobe she wore.  “Yeah, I kind of figured that,” she smiled in thanks but made no move to remove it.  He blinked as she went back to eating her food, recognizing her response as the brush off it was.

            Once finished with her food, she carried her dishes to the sink, grabbing another beer for her and John on the way back.  She sat his refill down in front of him, “is Harv coming back here tonight?”

            “Yes, but I couldn’t tell you when,” John offered her a sympathetic smile.  One look at the dark circles under her eyes and he could tell she was exhausted.  He noted the stiffness in her posture and thought about offering her the pain meds again but decided against it.  She’d already made it quite clear she wanted to be firmly in control of all her mental facilities when she talked to his boss, and honestly– he couldn’t blame her.  Getting information out of Two-Face was hard enough without handicapping yourself with a strong narcotic.

            She nodded tiredly and made her way towards the living room.  The couches had been arranged on either side of a rather large recliner that had the best view of both the TV and the door.   Knowing that she was already pressing her luck wearing his robe, she deliberately bypassed Harv’s chair for the couch closest to the door.  Mack sunk into the surprisingly soft black leather and arranged the robe so it easily covered her feet and settled in to wait for her mob boss to return.

 

8888888888888888888

 

            Harv buttoned his overcoat so that it covered most of the blood soaking his suit and headed straight for the door of the penthouse, not even looking at the man guarding the door.  He paused for the necessary retina scan and then opened the door, stepping inside, followed closely by Kevin, Mark, and Brian. 

            He made his way over to John who looked at his boss and the state of his clothes, “anyone I know?”

            “Just had a few words with Peterson,” was the sinister response.  He gave the room a cursory glance, pausing at the pale face of his bartender, mostly hidden underneath a length of blue fabric.  She was curled tightly against the arm of the couch, one foot dangling off the edge of the cushion. 

            Who the hell sleeps that well after almost being murdered?

            They probably drugged her you genius, came the sarcastic response.

He nodded at her sleeping form before directing an expectant, “well,” towards John.  John gave him a brief run down of the night’s events, and Harv turned away with an abrupt nod.  Kicking off his bloody shoes he shoved them into a large trash bag Brian had procured from under the sink.  He had just started to unbutton his coat, when a sleepy voice called his name from the living room.

            He looked over his shoulder to find Mack propping her self against the arm rest, one tired hand shoving her hair away from her face.   He narrowed his eyes as the robe she wore fell open enough for him to see the bruises at her neck.  Chances were very high that by now she was nothing but bruises and he suddenly wished he hadn’t lost his temper and killed Peterson as quickly as he had.   

Mack watched his expression darken and instantly assumed the worst, hands clutching protectively at the robe she wore.  Her gesture did not go unnoticed and Harv’s eyes flickered downward to the robe she was wearing, and the distraction she had just provided him.

 Once his attention had been properly focused, it took him only seconds to recognize the garment.  “Is that mine,” he growled, knowing full well it was.  He stalked across the carpet to stand before her with a frown.

            “If it bothers you, then no,” she said with a small smile.  “I found it in my room.”

            He gritted his teeth at the woman before him, “and if I don’t mind?”

            “Then it’s yours,” she told him, her smile turning into a grin, “and thanks for letting me borrow it.”

            Harv’s eyes narrowed until they were mere slits, “are you deliberately being flip with me. “

            “Just saying hello,” she offered, her smile started to wilt.

            The look he sent her clearly suggested she needed her head examined, and he made a point of telling her so.  He was halfway into his suggestion that they take her back to the clinic for a CAT scan when Mack realized that there was quite a bit more color on his suit than normal.

            She immediately gave him a thorough once over, realizing that the red she was seeing was blood.  His coat seemed to cover most of it, but she could clearly see spatters of it around his collar and his pants. 

             Mack was off the couch and reaching for him before he was even finished speaking.  She cut him off with a choked, “Jesus Christ!  Are you okay?!”  She started to pull his coat open but he brushed her hands aside, staring at her as if she’d just down something vaguely obscene. 

“Are you worried about me?”  Harv snarled, obviously finding the word alone to be something offensive.

            “Of course I’m worried!”  Mack all but yelled at him, just as confused by his reaction as he was by hers. “You’re fucking covered in blood!”

            “It’s not mine,” he informed her coldly.

            She froze, blinking up at him, clearly not sure how to respond.  Mack had been so scared he was hurt that it had never occurred to her the blood wasn’t his.  Her mouth opened and closed several times before she finally said the only thing that made any sense, “anyone I know?”

            Behind him there was a snort, as Brian suppressed a laugh.  Harv sent the four of them a death glare before turning back to Mack.  He considered ignoring her, but if she didn’t want to know she shouldn’t have asked.  “It’s Peterson’s.”

            Mack blanched, the name alone enough to send little ripples of fear down her spine.  “Is he dead,” she asked, her face an odd mix of apprehension and anger.

            He nodded in the affirmative, “yes – he’s dead.”

            She fixed him with a steely gaze, needing desperately to know that he was never going to come back and finish the job.  “Are you sure,” she demanded harshly.

            Harv bared his teeth at her, quickly losing his patience.  He pulled his coat to the side so she could see the large blood stain soaking the front of his suit, “Since I personally gutted him with your kitchen knife, yes,” he snarled, “I’m fucking sure.”

            If possible, she paled even further.  A man was dead, brutally murdered by her would be suitor, simply because he’d dared to attack her.  Despite those disturbing facts, she wasn’t entirely sure she cared.  Peterson had almost killed her; would have most certainly stabbed her to death if Harv hadn’t interfered.  Her hands shook but she managed to swallow down the panic building inside her, sinking back down onto the couch with a soft thump.  As horrifying as it was… as Harv was… maybe now she wouldn’t have nightmares about him coming back to slaughter her.  She nodded woodenly at him in response, not sure she trusted her voice yet.

            He saw the raw emotion on her face and knew she’d be so busy trying to rationalize what she’d just learned that she’d be less likely to lie to him.  Harv stared at her hands and the way they seemed to unconsciously clutch at his robe, and decided not to waste a good opportunity.  “Why are you wearing my robe?” he asked quietly.

            Mack stared down at her hands, knew in the back of her mind that he was taking advantage of the situation – probing when her defenses were down.  She sighed, not sure it was a secret worth fighting to keep anyway.  “It made me feel safe.”

            “It’s a bathrobe,” he reminded her, disbelief evident in his voice.

            “It’s yours,” she clarified with a shrug.               

            Harv’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly at her confession.   “People everywhere cringe in fear at the mention of my name, but you feel safe.” 

            She heard the disdain in his voice and ignored it, “well, maybe you shouldn’t have saved my life, then.  It tends to send the wrong signal.”  Mack stared up at him, practically daring him to contradict her.  He studied the defiant tilt of her chin and the firm set of her jaw, all of it offset by the way her hands continued to shake ever so slightly.

            He crouched down in front of her so that they were at eye level, his coat brushing the carpet, “are you trying to pick a fight with me?!”

            She knew better than to underestimate him when his voice got that soft, and she started to chew on her lower lip, wincing when it pulled on the injured side of her mouth.  “I just need something in my life to be normal right now.  And we…”

            “Always argue,” he finished for her.  He snorted, rolling his eyes at her logic. “Now I know you hit your head,” he muttered as he stood back up, stripping off his coat.  He marched back across the carpet to shove it in the garbage bag, quickly followed by the rest of his clothes until he was standing there in just dress pants.  His watch and ring were tossed into a bowl filled with bleach, and his shoulder rig and guns were exchanged for another semi-automatic Mark pulled from a nearby kitchen cabinet.

            Mack blinked at that particular revelation and glanced at the end tables around her, wondering if they too contained weapons.  At the sound of metal sliding against metal, she whipped her head up in time to see Harv checking the magazine before sliding it back into place, chambering a round into the slide without practiced ease.

            Once assured his gun was loaded, he turned his back on his associates, grabbing a beer from the fridge before moving towards the hallway.  With his attention now focused elsewhere, Mack took the opportunity to admire the absolutely wonderful view he provided.  She wasn’t sure which was better, his well-defined upper arms or the muscles rippling across his back, but he could be shirtless anytime he wanted to be.

            Harv tensed, unable to shake the feeling he was being watched.  Throwing a quick look over one shoulder, he moved just in time to catch Mack ogling him.  He smirked at her and she blushed and looked away, suddenly very interested in the surrounding décor.  Smiling smugly to himself, he continued down the hallway to take a badly needed shower.

 

88888888888888

 

            He was nothing more than shadow – a large, noiseless presence that filled the office, threatening to overwhelm the small space.  Leslie turned around as darkness spilled around her, a warm smile lighting her face, “Bruce, so good to see you.”

            Batman eased out of the shadows, just enough to be seen.  His scowl softened as he nodded to the small woman in front of him, “Leslie.”

            “Thank you for coming on such short notice.  I think I’ve found something that will interest you.”  She reached for the file on her desk and handed it to him, waiting patiently as he flipped through it, watching as his eyes narrowed the further he read.

            “Did you notify the police,” his gravelly voice echoed eerily in the small room.

            “Of course,” she told him, her smile becoming strained.  “They were here so quickly that you’d think they’d been waiting from my call.  And since they asked very few questions, well,” she shrugged with faked nonchalance.  “I’d bet my entire year’s salary that they never intended to file that report in the first place.” 

             He pulled an x-ray from the file and held it up to the light, “there’s distinct fracturing to the left sixth rib.”  Batman angled the film down and noted incomplete fractures to the four and fifth left ribs as well.

            Leslie folded her arms, taking a small sip of coffee before adding a clinical, “She also required numerous stitches to what appeared to be knife wounds.  Not to mention the bruising to her torso and upper extremities.” 

            One black clad hand reached to the back of the file, pulling out several color photos.  He flipped through them, noting the size of the cuts and bruises, scowl returning in full force when he saw the reason Leslie had called him.  There in the corner of one photo, lying just to the side of the examining table was a black and white tie.

            His gaze snapped up to meet her own, “was he here?” he demanded sharply.

            “No,” Leslie denied with a shake of her head.  “That tie was hanging around her neck.”

            “A replica,” he countered, staring down at the photo.

            “She had two bodyguards and a personal escort who refused to leave her alone – not even for the exam.”

            “Anyone you recognized?”

            “The bodyguards?  No.  But the other man has been dating Dr. Taylor for months.  His name is John Westphal.”

            Leslie watched his mouth settle into a grim line the second she named the man.  “You know him, don’t you?”

            “John Westphal has been working for Two-Face for years and been a member of the mob since he was sixteen.  He runs Two-Face’s entire operation on the ground and is the best there is in information brokering.” Batman shoved the photos back in the file with tightly controlled movements. 

            “Why would Two-Face send someone that important to guard a woman he’d just finished beating around?”

            “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.”  He slid the file into some invisible hiding place in his cape.  “If any of them come around again, signal me immediately.” 

            She glanced down at the small device on her desk.  “Of course,” she agreed, looking back up, only to find herself talking to an empty room.  Leslie sighed and then muttered a wry, “if I had a nickel...,” before turning back to the paperwork littering her desk.

 

8888888888888888

 

            Harv stood in front of his closest, absently running a towel through his damp hair, all the while trying to ignore his overly pleased other half.

            I told you it would work, Harvey all but crowed at his other half.

            So you’ve been saying… for the last TWENTY fucking minutes, Harv growled, his patience starting to wear thin.

            I was right and you were wrong, Harvey chanted in a sing-song at him, gloating openly.

            I never said it wouldn’t work, you worthless fucker.  I SAID I was tired of waiting – which I STILL am!

            You didn’t want to be nice.  You didn’t want to be friendly, he reminded him.  If it weren’t for me – you wouldn’t even be close to having her.   

            Fine!  You think you’re so fucking irresistible- let’s see you put your money where your mouth is.   Harv grabbed a pair of blank pants and t-shirt from the closet and roughly shoved them on, his movements betraying his irritation.  Whoever gets her first has fucking bragging rights!

            Harvey didn’t even hesitate, Agreed – now define ‘gets her.’

            First kiss, he clarified and then added a lecherous, for starters

            That SHE initiates, Harvey amended.

            Fine, Harv sneered.

            Fine. 

            Harv snarled, muttering all the while about what a fucking loser Harvey was.

            I heard that, shit head.

            Well I’d hope so, since you’re in my fucking head.

            You’re going fucking down.  I hope you enjoy second place.  Harvey taunted.

            If you’re my competition, it’ll be over by Sunday.

            You?! Kick my ass? Pack a lunch and bring a ladder.

            Save your breath, Harvey. You'll need it to blow up YOUR date.

            That makes no sense, seeing as how my date is your date too, asshole!

            Their verbal sparring match continued down the hallway and on into the kitchen where their employees sat around the kitchen table, playing an impromptu poker game as Mack looked on.  He stopped at the kitchen counter to pull on his now disinfected watch and ring – slinging his cleaned shoulder rig into place as well.                                                                                         

            Harv grabbed another beer from the fridge and went to join them, sliding into the open seat next to Mack.  She glanced up at him, and then stared covertly in appreciation of the fitted black shirt he wore.  He leaned back in his chair, and she blinked before staring openly at the slogan on his shirt.           

            Your death is inevitable, but your suffering is optional.

            He quirked one eyebrow and grinned maliciously, “worried, Princess?”

            She scowled at him, and he smirked back – knowing she disliked the nickname and using it on purpose anyway.  “Merely calculating my odds,” she countered with a tired frown.

            He gave her an appraising look and then, “eighty/twenty.”

            “For which one,” she demanded indignantly.

            “Well that’s why they call it playing the odds,” he told her, all the while looking innately pleased with himself.

            She sputtered at him, and then gave him a hard look as if trying to decide if he was telling her the truth or not.  “Are you fucking with me?”

            “Not feeling so safe anymore,” he taunted, making it clear he had no intention of giving her a straight answer.

            Mack sent him a dirty look, “bully.”

            Harv flicked a couple hundred dollar bills at Kevin and demanded they deal him in.  “Eighty/twenty and dropping,” he muttered at her.

             Kevin deposited a large pile of poker chips in front of him and Mack leaned over to glance at the cards Harv had just been dealt.  He growled at her and she held up her hands in supplication. 

“I was just going to offer you my expert opinion.”  Mack smiled innocently up at him.

            He sent her a vicious grin, “when I want help losing, I’ll let you know.”

            She folded her arms and huffed up at him, “I’m not that bad.”

            The skeptical look on his face said otherwise.  “You do wonders for my ego, Harv,” she muttered dryly. 

            The smirk he sent her was not comforting, “anytime, Mack.”

            “Not that I don’t appreciate the hospitality,” she drawled, the small smile on her face telling him she wasn’t really upset.  “But how long am I going to have to stay here?”

            “Forty-eight hours,” he told her tersely. 

            Mack sent a side-long glance at the mob boss next to her.  She hadn’t been expecting such a brusque response to what should have been seen as a simple question.  Still, the time frame itself could have been worse, she surmised with a mental sigh before telling him, “I suppose the bodyguards will be useful as bouncers, at least.”

            For the briefest of seconds Harv’s associates tensed as if preparing for a fight, and just as quickly it was gone.  If Harv’s response hadn’t already made her suspicious she probably wouldn’t have noticed it at all.  

            “Bar’s closed, Mack,” he told her in the same tone of voice as before.  “Consider yourself on vacation.”

            She bristled and suddenly knew why everyone had gotten so tense.  “I have a business to run, Harv.  I can’t bloody well close up shop just because I got between two bosses having a dog fight.”  Mack tried to keep her tone neutral and even, but when she saw Brian wince she knew she’d failed.

            “Sorry that saving your life is such an inconvenience to you,” he ground out, fixing her with such a dark look that every man in the room instinctively leaned back.

            She sputtered up at him indignantly, “You know damn well that’s not what I meant!”  Mack fixed him with a serious look and added an appeasing, “And of course I appreciate what you’re doing for me!  But you gave me bodyguards…”

            “Which won’t stop someone from blowing up the bar while you’re in it,” He told her bluntly.

            She blanched visibly, but refused to back down, “I could save the same for this apartment.”

            “This building is full of my men and their families.  They take security very seriously.   And,” he added with a snarl, “blowing up a building of this size takes a lot more effort and skill than your shitty old bar.” 

            “I… I don’t believe this.  If you really think things are that serious then what the hell is gonna stop Nick Shultz from trying again next bloody week.”

            “I never mentioned Nick Schultz,” he reached out, lightning quick, hand closing around her uninjured wrist.

            She ignored him, continuing on despite the warning in his tightening grip, “Peter…” she stumbled over his name, still very much afraid of the dead man.  “That man was very clear about who he worked for." 

            Harv gave up all pretense of patience and turned fully around to stare at her, all traces of tolerance gone.  “The situation is being dealt with.” His tone brooked no argument, biting off each word to emphasize his point.  “Either you trust me to keep you safe, or you don’t,” he told her harshly, “but the details are none of your business.”            

            “I trust you with my life,” she told him, surprising them both to find that she meant it.  “But it’s my life Harv, and it is my business.”

            She’s right, you know, Harvey interjected with a sigh.  Besides, she’ll be more cooperative if she understands what’s really at stake.

            She’s being a pushy fucking bitch, Harv growled back.

            Yes, he agreed, but that’s because she doesn’t understand.  Tell her!

            Tell her WHAT exactly?!  Deals were made, shit was handled – end of fucking story.

            That’s exactly my point.  She doesn’t know that.  You saved her life, stitched her up, and then… what exactly…  You toss her back out there to fend for herself?!  Is she stuck in this gilded cage forever?!  Is she dead the minute you turn your back?!

             Schultz is a dead man walking and you fucking know it!  The minute he’s out of the picture shit will calm the fuck down and I’ll lengthen her fucking leash.

            Then tell her the truth, he insisted.

                       

             Harv considered the request for what seemed like forever, and when he finally spoke his voice was bone chillingly cold.  “I gave Leon Schultz forty-eight hours to remove his uncle from power in exchange for your life.”

            Her breath caught in her throat and for once she was speechless.  She had prepared herself for his dismissal, his anger, even his violence.  But this was unprecedented.  Mack had never expected him to relent.

            “Will the other bosses be angry?” she asked warily.

            “It’s been arranged,” he replied vaguely. 

            She considered this for a very long moment, and in the end was able to draw only one conclusion.  “That sounds like a lot of hassle for only one woman,” she told him with an almost predatory gleam in her eye.

            “That’s what I said,” he told her with a wicked smirk.  “So try not to be so fucking ungrateful.”

            Mack narrowed her eyes at his evasion.  “And what if Leon can’t get the job done,” she wanted to know.

            Harv sighed irritably at the woman in front of him, and knew she’d ask him questions forever if he let her.  “There’s only one thing you need to fucking remember.”  He released her wrist and slid his hand up and around her neck, fingers grabbing just enough of her hair to be uncomfortable.  She tried to look away from his inexorable stare, but he held her there with an ever tightening grip, “I will burn this whole fucking city to the ground if I have to, but no one gets to kill you but me.”  He held her eyes until he was sure his point had been made and then he released her.

            He turned back to his poker game, tossing several poker chips into the middle of the table, effectively dismissing her.  Mack swallowed, hard, and looked up to see if anyone else was as disturbed as she felt.  Brian was busy insulting Kevin, and Mark was trying to play poker and make a suspiciously hushed phone call at the same time. 

Business as usual, she muttered internally. 

John caught her eye as she looked around the table, sending her a smug sort of ‘I told you so’ look before tossing her the bottle of pain pills he’d been trying to get her to take all evening.

            She fumbled the bottle for a second before managing to actually grab it, and decided she’d had all the Harv she really could handle for one evening.  She scooted her chair back and went to the sink for a glass of water before heading down the hallway to her room.

            Harv turned around, watching her until he was sure she was gone, and then tossed his cards onto the table with a flick of his wrist.  Now that she was gone they could finally get down to business and maybe he could actually get some fucking sleep some time today.  “Where the fuck are we on finding Nick Schultz,” he demanded without preamble. 

            John ran one tired hand across his eyes and loosened his tie.  “Every intel person I have is out looking for him, now.  Every airport, dock, bus station and bridge out of town is being watched, and all of our factions are hunting down Nick’s cronies.  When we find them, we send them over to Brian.” 

            Brian’s smile was downright menacing.  “We’ve managed to collect some very useful information from his men, including the location of several safe-houses we didn’t know about.  We’re watching those, hoping Nick will use one of them.”

            Mark finished his call, sliding the cell back into his jacket pocket while looking at Harv.  “Our strike teams are on stand-by.  The minute we have eyes on him, they’ll be ready to go.”

            They all turned to Kevin, who motioned Troy over to cash out his poker chips.  “We’ve compiled a list of aliases Nick uses and we’re cross referencing them for anything we can use to track him down.  We’ve also hacked into the city-wide traffic camera system and are monitoring all his known associates and family.”

            Harv looked at his employees, “his exit window is closing fast.  He’s got to be fucking desperate.”  With his mob connections quickly drying up, Schultz was running out of options- and exits.  It was possible someone could be harboring him, but it was unlikely considering the fallout if caught.

He narrowed his eyes, knowing there was only one group of people left for him to run to.  Only a handful of people in the city who weren’t afraid of the mob – and he knew exactly where to find them.

            He dug out his phone, hit a series of numbers and then waited.  Seconds later… “Cobblepot,” he said, in an almost civil tone he reserved only for other members of the Rogue’s gallery.  “It’s Harv.”

            “Harv,” Oswald practically crowed. “What impeccable timing you have.  We were just speaking of you.”

            “Who’s we,” Harv asked suspiciously.

            “Oh, you know,” came the deliberately flippant reply, “the usual crowd.”

            Harv heard Jack’s tell-tale laugh in the background and glowered at the phone.  “Sorry I missed it,” he muttered, his tone making it clear he wasn’t sorry in the slightest.

            “Your misanthropic tendencies are starting to show, my bifurcated friend.  Trouble in paradise, perhaps?”  Cobblepot didn’t even bother to hide his curiosity.

            “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he responded flatly.

            “The entire city is all aflutter, my fine fellow. Why, it’s almost worthy of Shakespeare,” Cobblepot mused, before going in for the proverbial kill.  “Romeo willing to risk a mob war to save his Juliet.”

            Harv ground his teeth together so hard that he thought for a second he’d chipped a tooth.  “How many times have a told you not to eat Pam’s brownies,” he shot back, trying to hide his irritation under a thin veneer of sarcasm.

            Oswald clucked reprovingly at him, “No need to cry fowl.  Come, come, tell me all about your little dove.”

            Harv tried to count to ten, but was growling into the phone before he got to four.  “I fucking hate you people.  This is why I don’t ever come by.”

            This time Cobblepot laughed– an odd quacking sound that grated on his nerves almost as badly as Jack’s cackle did.  “As delightful as this conversation has been, you called for a reason, did you not?”

            Harv seethed at him before grating out an irritable, “I want you and the others to keep an eye out for Nick Schultz.  The ‘Berg is the last place that bastard could run to and I want him – dead or alive.”

            His associate cooed in delight, “how positively chivalrous of you, hunting down the cad responsible for harming your lady love– or lady luck as the case may be.”  Oswald stopped mocking him just long enough to ask the all important question, “how much…

            “Five hundred thousand alive and half that if he’s dead.”  Harv though about it for a quick second and then added with a sneer, “and he’d better be recognizable.”

            Cobblepot ho-hummed in response, “paltry sums at best, but I’ll pass it along.”

            “It’s a half-million dollars for two seconds worth of work,” Harv groused.

            “Can you put a price on love?”

            Harv ignored him, “I want it made very clear that this offer is only for one of us.

            “Of course, of course,” he assured him, “you love birds have fun…”

            He snarled something unintelligible at Cobblepot who responded with another quacking laugh before Harv promptly hung up on him.  The other five men in the room watched quietly as their boss spent the next several minutes ranting about his fellow rogues before he turned to fix them with a steely gaze.  “Go the fuck home,” he barked. 

            Mark opened his mouth to question the wisdom of leaving him alone, but one look at his boss’s face and he quickly followed his friends out the door.

            Once outside, Mark nodded to John and Brian, “stay in the apartment below.  Call me the minute you know anything.  Kevin and I will be staying near the office.” 

            He sent them all a severe look followed by, “your asses better be ready to work by three today.  I want this shit wrapped up fast, so start cracking the whip.”  Brian opened his mouth to object and Mark cut him off with a steely, “No excuses, Broderick!  I don’t give a shit how much sleep you do or don’t get – get it fucking done!”

            Mark tossed a look over his shoulder at Troy and Jason, “find someone with the necessary clearance to relieve you and then be back here by five.  I want two men on her at all times.”

            Ignoring the grumbling from Brian, the four of them made there way to the elevator, hoping to get some much needed sleep.         

           

Chapter Text

*Author’s note:

If you are unfamiliar with No Man’s Land, you should pick up the series.  It has a lot of Two-Face in it including the best picture of Harv I’ve ever found (volume two, pgs 174-175) 

Enjoy!* 

88888888888888888888888888888888888888           

Mack awoke to the sound of rain pattering against her window, the thunderstorm from last night hounding her much like the events of yesterday.  The last twelve hours had felt surreal at the time, as she fluttered from one situation to another: her attack, the clinic, the penthouse, Harv and his bloodied clothing. 

Reality couldn’t be avoided forever, however, and she was starting to notice just how tired and uncomfortable she was.  She hurt everywhere and her mind was dwelling on the fact that, until she’d meet Harvey Dent/Two-Face, not one person had tried to murder her.

She groaned, glancing at the clock on the bedside table.  Somehow, two in the afternoon felt way too early to be up after getting the shit kicked out of you the night before. 

Burying her head back in her pillow, she tried to go back to sleep, but failed – afflicted by the age-old curse of tired, but unable to go back to sleep.  Why the fuck had she ever agreed to do business with a wanted criminal to begin with?  The sigh she issued sounded heavy and suffering even to her ears. 

What was with her and the pity parties recently?  Ohhhh… that was right.  She’d been almost murdered, and then saved by a wanted and known sociopath who she was sort of planning on dating eventually.  She briefly wondered if the world would allow her to hide under the covers for the rest of the weekend.

She frowned.  The world might allow it, she surmised, but Harvey and his meaner counterpart would definitely not.  Shoving aside the covers aside with a grumpy ‘harumph,’ she swung her feet over the side of the bed. 

Mack then sat for several moments, trying to ignore the throbbing in her torso and gather the courage to face the day.  Reaching out for the bottle sitting on the nightstand, she quickly swallowed several aspirin before grabbing for her hairbrush.

Five minutes later she was cursing Peterson, Harv, and her stupid broken ribs, but at least her hair didn’t look like it had lost a fight with a blender.  Heading towards the bedroom door, she slowly made her way to the bathroom across the hallway.  Once the necessities had been addressed Mack approached the marble counter housing the sink, and paused to douse her face in cold water.  She shivered afterwards, hands fumbling with the towel in her hurry to dry her face. 

Shoving the towel back where she’d found it she looked up, caught a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror, and snarled.  Apparently any attempts at vanity on her part were going to be useless.  Well, useless unless you considered the worsening ring of blue and purple bruises on her neck to be a fashion statement, and she didn’t.

And yes, while her lower lip was no longer swollen like a balloon, it was still split at the corner, with remnants of dried blood on it.  Yeah- that was a good look.  Grabbing back the towel, she ran it under the faucet and tried to rinse the blood from her lip, succeeding only in making her mouth ache.

Cursing, she tossed the towel back at the nearby rack and then scowled at it when it fell to the floor.  She muttered a grumpy, “fuck it,” before sulking back to her room to find something to wear that might manage to make her almost presentable.

A quick toss of her overnight bag revealed faded jeans that were old enough to have lost their stiffness, and the standard socks and under things.  Sadly, her luck in the clothing department stopped there.  Either she was stuck with a black, long sleeved shirt, or a pale yellow polo.  Neither hid her bruises or made her look even the slightest bit attractive.  Not that she’d be gracing the cover of Cosmo on a good day, but this was stuff she wore when laying around the house, not while visiting a mob boss in his million dollar penthouse.

The black shirt was serviceable, but the polo was light enough in color to be feminine and almost… cute.  Mack shuddered and pulled on the black shirt.  She didn’t do cute.  At least not in public, anyway. 

Opening the bedroom door, she headed to the kitchen, secretly praying that there would be some coffee.

She rounded the corner only to find the penthouse’s owner, leaning impatiently against the kitchen counter with his back to her.  While she couldn’t see around him, it was obvious from the coffee smell starting to waft through the room that he was after the same thing she was.

Mack took a long second to appreciate the very nice blue and gray suit he wore, eyes lingering on the vest and the double gun rig he was sporting.   God, but she was a sucker for the suit and vest look.  It was just so…so… gangster.  She narrowed her eyes at his back – bastard probably wore the damn thing on purpose just to spite her.  Nothing like hanging out with guys in expensive suits to make you feel like a poor country relation.

Treading on silent feet she moved towards him, feet sinking into the carpet until she finally reached the stone work inlaid through out the kitchen.

“Sneaking up behind me is a very bad idea, Mack.” 

She jumped at the sudden sound of his voice and then winced as her injured ribs protested.  “How did you know I was there?”

He sent her a disbelieving stare over his shoulder. “I’m a criminal.  It’s my job to know.”

“That,” she informed him, with a huff, “is not an answer.”

Harv looked down at the woman leaning on the counter next to him.  “Coffee,” he prompted, offering the now full coffee pot to her.

Mack frowned at the obvious brush off and simply stared at him expectantly, still waiting for an answer.  He stared back at her, sipping his own coffee, not intimidated in the least. 

“Mmm…” Harv made an exaggerated noise of enjoyment and took another swig.

Her stared turned into a scowl, but her desire for information was finally overridden by her desire for caffeine.  “Fine,” she relented, “give me a damn mug.”

“Top shelf,” he told her with a smirk, moving just enough so she could open the cabinet door and not him in the head with it.  Mack stared up at the cabinet, unsurprised to find that the mugs were just out of reach.  The look she sent him was downright arctic.

“If you need help…” he offered with a gleam in his eye, “just ask.”

“I’d rather drink drain cleaner.”

He sent a speculative towards the cabinet under the sink, but said nothing.  A soft rustle interrupted their battle of wills as some unknown flunky slid the day’s newspaper under the apartment door.

Harv deserted her, crossing the kitchen to grab the paper, and Mack looked down at his unprotected coffee cup.  Her heartbeat sped up exponentially as she actually contemplated stealing his coffee.  She knew she only had seconds until he returned, but she also knew she’d have to ask him for help if she didn’t take his.  Glancing around confirmed there was no foot stool for her to stand on, and climbing on the counter to grab a mug would be completely undignified- and in her state, too damn painful.

“Fuck it,” she muttered before reaching out one shaking hand and grabbing his coffee.  A quick sip confirmed what she’d already suspected.  He liked it black.  Spinning around, she picked up the bowl of sugar next to the coffee pot and tipped a generous amount into his mug.

The sound of crumpling paper and a low growl from Harv told her in no uncertain terms he’d arrived in time to see what she’d done to his perfectly good cup of joe.  Swallowing hard, she wrapped her hand around the mug and sipped what was now her coffee, forcing herself to exude a level of nonchalance she did not feel.

She felt a warm heat at her back and then a very disgruntled voice sounded at her ear, “you just ruined my coffee.”

“Mugs are on the top shelf,” she told him saucily.

The voice at her ear turned downright dangerous, “your little act would be more convincing if your hands weren’t shaking so badly.”

Mack looked down and then swore.

“Are you afraid of me, Mack?”  His hands came to rest on either side of the counter, his arms effectively caging her.

She snorted at the obviousness of that question.  “I’d be a goddamn fool not to be.”

“That’s not at answer,” he quipped, mocking her earlier statement.

Mack narrowed her eyes.  Two could play that game.  “Coffee,” Mack mocked right back, offering him his own coffee mug and echoing his previous offer.

His hands clenched ever so slightly on top of the granite counter.  “Careful, Mackenzie,” he hissed in warning, the ruined side of his mouth close enough that he brushed the shell of her ear.  She shuddered at the contact, but it wasn’t in fear.

He tensed and she knew, even as he started to withdraw, that he’d misread her reaction and mistook it for either disgust or discomfort.  Her hand flew out to rest on his own, stopping him before he moved away.

Harv allowed her to keep him anchored, waiting for her response.  “Of course I’m afraid of you, Harv,” she told him with a hint of scorn.  His arm brushed against the stitches in her own and she flinched at the reminder, “Whether by your hand or someone else’s, you will be the death of me.” 

“I’ve managed to keep you alive so far, haven’t I?” a hint of reproach in his voice.

She issued a scathing, “No one’s luck last forever, Harv,” not quite ready to forgive him for the mess he’d gotten her into.

He spun her around by the elbow to face him, the beginnings of contempt seeping into his eyes.  “I never took you for a coward before, Mack.”

The look she sent him would have frozen hell over.  A coward?  Her?  Did this jackass know how hard he was to deal with in the first place, let alone all his so-called friends?   “I just got my ass handed to me for knowing you, and yet I’m still standing here with you, aren’t I?!” 

She leveled a finger at him, seizing onto the anger that had been simmering under the surface for the last day and a half and latched onto any excuse to wield it.  “Hell, I have welcomed you and your questionable associates into my bar.  I have handled you,” Mack starting ticking points off with her free hand, “your threats, and your other half with more composure and poise that anyone could have expected and more.”

“So don’t you dare call me a coward!”  Harv glanced down at the finger trying to drill a hole through him and considered forcibly removing it. 

“And don’t even get me started on the giant target that just got painted on my back, and how much bigger it’s going to get once the entire mob world realizes I’m not just your bartender!”

Harv quickly dismissed the nail digging in to his chest, eyes returning to her face with renewed interest.  Mack threw her hands up in the air, narrowly avoiding his head.  “Oh, NOW you start listening to me!!”

Now,” he told her heatedly, his own temper swirling just under the surface, “I’m actually interested.”

She speechless for a short moment before incredulity gave way to full blown resentment, “Christ, I fucking hate you!”

The infuriated look he sent her should have been enough to scare her into shutting her mouth. “You seemed to like me just fine when I was saving your sorry ass last night.”

He backed her into kitchen counter and she winced from the jolt, but refused to back down.  He could save her all he wanted, but the fact remained that until he came along no one had ever tried to murder her.  “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have needed saving in the first place,” she shot back.

“You and your worthless fucking bar would have been out of business in less than three months trying to pay off Schultz and you fucking know it.”  The rebuke in his voice was sharp enough it almost drew blood.  “I stood between you and them long before the shit hit the fucking fan.”

She scoffed and tried to push him out of her way. “The only reason you intervened at all is because you wanted something from me in return, so don’t fucking pretend you were doing me a favor.  It was just good business.”

He refused to move, and reached up to grab her chin as he reminded her of one very important fact. “A business arrangement you agreed to and benefitted from for weeks.  You knew the risks when you picked me over Shultz so don’t take your shitty attitude out on me.”

Mack all but snarled at him, recognizing their argument for the stalemate it was.  They could argue circles around each other but the result would be the same.  She knew it was his fault she’d been targeted, and she also knew she’d agreed to their deal in the first place.  Of course that didn’t make her feel a damn bit better, but it certainly made continuing this conversation pointless.

“Yeah, I did agree to do business with you,” she admitted.  “But don’t pretend,” she added acidly, “that your presence wasn’t the catalyst for what happened to me, either.” 

“I won’t play dumb if you don’t Princess,” he snarled right back.

She moved past him, forced to all but shove him out of the way when he refused to budge.  God, but she wanted to break something.

Inhaling a deep shuddering breath, she attempted to regain some sort of center and instantly regretted it, as a stab of pain shot through her.  Mack grabbed reflexively at her side and wished her aspirin would hurry the hell up and kick in.           

Her gesture did not go unnoticed by the mob moss behind her.  There was a brief but intense argument with his other half until finally he gritted his teeth and grated out a terse, “that would hurt less if it was wrapped properly.”             

“Yeah – well, that’s harder to do than it looks,” Mack told him, surprised that he cared enough to even notice.

“Why didn’t you ask for help?” Harv shot back reproachfully.

“You wouldn’t even get me a coffee mug, and you think I’m gonna ask for your medical advice?!” She asked, not even bothering to hide her skepticism.

“No,” he corrected, “I told you all you had to do was ask.

There was a frosty silence.

He looked at her tense frame and overly defiant stance and sneered.  “You really would rather drink drain cleaner, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course not,” she scoffed. “But you’ll excuse me if I don’t run to you every time some shit goes slightly sideways.”

“No – you wait until you’re not only in deep water, but over your head and drowning before the thought even occurs to you.”

Mack moved to deny it, but he talked over her.  “You didn’t tell me Schultz was threatening you.”

“I didn’t even know you,” she objected.

He ignored her, “You tried to break up a bar fight by yourself!”

“Which I’ve done a hundred times,” she defended.

“Justify it all you want,” his voice derisive, “but you won’t even ask for help getting off your living room floor after having your ass beat.”

“I don’t need your help to pick myself up,” Mack denied vehemently.

He curled one lip up condescendingly, “no you’d rather bleed out in the middle of your broken coffee table.”

She pinned him with an icy glare. “I raised myself in the back room of that bar, buried my mother alone at 29, and lived through No Man’s Land. I am not some damsel in mother fucking distress that needs to be rescued!” 

“Then why did you almost die last night, Princess?” He hissed from between clenched teeth.

She started to refute him, desperately wracking her brain under his steely gaze.

“Finally run out of excuses?” he asked maliciously with a cold and unfriendly smile.

The guarded and angry look she sent him didn’t quite hide the quiet desperation in her eyes.  “Why the fuck do you even care?”  Mack demanded. “Why the hell do you give a damn about me anyway?”

He started to deny it.  To tell her he didn’t give a damn, because he didn’t care, not in anyway that she’d understand.  But, as much as he hated it, as much as he tried to deny it and blame it on Harvey, it tugged at him just a little, the way she was looking at him… cornered, desperate, and alone.

“Maybe you should care less about what I say and more about what I do for you!”  The rebuke in that statement was as loud as any shout could have been, and she felt it just as keenly.

“Sometimes what you say is just as important, Harv.”

“If you want wussy shit like that,” he fixed her with an intense stare, “go harass Harvey.”

She blinked and then her eyes widened slightly; in the aftermath of all that happened she’d temporarily forgotten about his other half.  How could she have forgotten Harvey?  What Harv couldn’t give her, Harvey probably could – why the hell hadn’t she remembered that?!  He was her one and only hope for any sort of normalcy and here she was trying to talk to Mr. Emotionally Constipated when she had an almost normal man to talk to.  Or she would – as soon as he showed up.

Mack looked back at him, only to find him staring at her expectantly.  She nodded at him, feeling better than she had since this whole ordeal had begun. 

“Fine,” she agreed curtly.

“Fine,” he all but growled at her, finally seeing a time and place where he could actually sit down and read his paper.  He started to turn away from her and she stopped him with a hesitant, “Ah, Harv.”

To be honest she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted his help anymore than he wanted to give it to her, but her chest really was starting to hurt.  “I don’t suppose you really would,” she paused almost choking on her next words, “help me rewrap this thing?”  She pulled up the corner of her shirt so he could see the ace wrap beneath the black cotton.

This time he did growl at her, “Now you want my help?!”  Harv took a deep breath, as if trying to maintain his thin grasp on his temper.  “If I do, then we’re done with this conversation.  You’re done giving me grief about this shit – all of it!” His tone brooked no argument and she found herself nodding in agreement simply out of a returning sense of self-preservation. 

She followed him to the nearby kitchen table and waited until he was seated before sliding into the space between his knees.

Harv lifted her shirt up and inspected her work with a critical eye, not the least surprised to find it entirely too loose.  He sent her a pointed look and Mack soon found herself in charge of holding her shirt out of his way, as he slowly unwound the wrapping from her torso.  It took less than a minute for her injured arm and back muscles to start burning from the prolonged effort of holding her arm at an angle for so long.

She stopped him with one hand, not sure how she was going to tell an already irritated Harv that she needed a break one minute into a five to ten minute procedure.   Sighing, she could see only one real choice, and then sent a surreptitious look at the front door.  “I hope your friends know how to knock.”

His eyes widened as she carefully pulled her shirt up and over her head and then dropped it in his lap.  It had been a long time since a man had seen her even partially undressed, and she suddenly wished that her bra was a little more than simple black cotton.

“Sorry,” she said, a faint blush gracing her cheeks, “but it hurts to hold my arms up like that.”

Mack glanced down at him, not the least surprised to find him staring rather intently at her now exposed chest.  He looked up to meet her eyes, and from the look of heat in his own, he didn’t give a damn what her bra was made out of.

“If there’s anything else you want to take off,” he told her with a sly smirk, “don’t let me stop you.” 

Her blush got a little bigger, “Could you…?”

“Hurry up,” he teased, his own mood considerably improved.

“If you don’t mind,” she drawled with a small smile.

Despite the fact that he did very much mind, his hands slid back around her waist, and this time she felt the warmth in them as they ghosted across her skin.  He finished pulling the wrap from around her, until he was looking at nothing but bare skin. 

The ace wrap was tossed carelessly onto the table next to him and his eyes narrowed as his realized the extent of the injuries hidden beneath her shirt.  Careful fingers traced the bruises along her rib cage, before hovering over the line of stitches in her abdomen.  Stitches that stretched nearly the width of her stomach before spreading out into a bruise so dark it was almost black.  He pulled her to him, arms sliding around her as he leaned around to find that her back was mottled with blue and purple splotches, spreading outward, forming mocking, disfigured wings along her skin.

Mack inhaled sharply, his hands too soft and careful for a man like Harv, and yet she watched as his fingers continued to slide cautiously down the ragged stitches in her arm, the sheer intimacy of his touch leaving her completely bereft of thought.  She stared down at him, not entirely sure she was even in the presence of Harv anymore. 

“Harv?”  She questioned quietly, not quite able to believe these were the hands that had only yesterday murdered Peterson.

He looked up at her and the utter ferocity radiating from him had her instinctively stepping back out of fear.  Harv stopped her, hands gripping her hips firmly to keep her in place. 

“This was not supposed to happen,” he ground out between clenched teeth, hands starting to tighten over her jeans.

She reached out a tentative hand and laid it on his shoulder, “I know that.”

“Really,” he sneered, “because you weren’t nearly so understanding five minutes ago when you were blaming me for this,” he waved one hand at her multiple injuries.  “At least now I know why you were so fucking pissed.”

“You knew I was hurt, you checked me over yourself.”

“I knew you were injured,” he clarified.  “If I’d known it was this severe,” his voice turned harsh and deadly, “I would have kept him alive for days.”

She cut him off mid sentence, with a horrified, “I really don’t want know how you would have made him suffer, Harv.”

“He deserved everything he got,” he insisted fiercely.

“Well that’s comforting, really,” she made a face at him, “but most of it’ll heal so let it go.”

 “It’ll take weeks for those bruises to fade,” he told her scathingly, “and those knife wounds will leave you with scars for the rest of your life.” 

“Well it’s a good thing I’m not overly vain,” she replied briskly, “so unless you suddenly don’t want me anymore because of a few stitches, why don’t you let it go.”

Managing to shock Harv into silence was something Mack was fairly certain never happened, and she was pleased to say she’d been one of the few to do so.  On the down side, he was now looking at her like she was a first class idiot.  His hands traveled slowly down her hips, closer to a caress than she would have thought possible.  Her breath caught in her throat as his fingers missed the curve of her buttocks by less than an inch.

“Do I need to convince you, Mackenzie,” he rumbled, his eyes undressing her even as his hands slide back up to ghost over the curve of her back, his touch raising goose bumps on her arms.

“Maybe,” she conceded, trying hard to ignore the breathy quality her voice had taken on.

If she’d been thinking more clearly she might have been offended by the satisfied smirk he was sending her way, but his hands seemed to have the unique ability to short-circuit her brain.  It was intoxicating to have a man this powerful touching her this carefully and she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted him to stop.  If it hadn’t been for the irritated look that suddenly crossed his face, she probably wouldn’t have realized someone was knocking at the front door.

Harv called out a sharp, “wait,” but when he turned his attention back to her he knew the moment was lost, despite the small, coy smile she sent him.  He sighed irritably, but reached out to grab the ace wrap and finish what he’d started.

Once he was sure the wrap was secure, he offered her shirt to her, albeit reluctantly, and climbed to his feet.   “Thanks,” she told him, as she slipped it on, a slight blush still gracing her cheeks.  “You know,” she quipped, “I think I’m done with those ‘maybes’.” 

This time it was Mack who reached out to slide her hands up and around his neck, pulling him down to meet her upturned mouth.  She pressed her mouth softly against his and then his hands were sliding back around her waist and pulling her into his arms.  His mouth slanted over her own and all the perceived gentleness on his part vanished as she was caught up in the tidal wave that was Harv finally getting what he wanted.

Mack clung to him, her belief that being weak in the knees happened only in romance novels now completely shattered.  Dimly, she registered a twinge of pain at the side of her mouth, but found it distinctly unimportant until Harv pulled away from her.  She blinked up at him, confused, until he ran one finger over her lower lip.  Mack winced as the twinge in her lip turned to a dull ache.  He pulled his hand away and showed her the blood from her now slightly re-split lip.

One small hand pressed against her lip, she pulled out of his embrace, trying to collect her thoughts.  He said nothing, merely staring down at her with an overly pleased look on his face.           

Another knock sounded at the door, softer this time, but followed by an unsure Mark asking, “Boss?”

“You’d better let them in before they think something happened,” she muttered, trying not to move her mouth much.

His self-satisfied grin turned into a smirk and she seemed to know what he was thinking before he could say something.  “Before they think something bad has happened,” she clarified with an exasperated sigh.  She turned away from him, heading down the hallway towards the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

Once she was gone, he turned to the front door and issued a sharp, “Come in,” before headed to the kitchen to have his first cup of coffee of the day, all the while gloating openly at his other half.

 

888888888888888888888888

 

Mack clutched one hand over her rapidly beating heart and slumped against the inside of the bathroom door.  She swallowed convulsively and licked her lips, trying to gather her thoughts, only to find that the taste of him still lingered on her skin.

She inhaled a sharp shuddering breath, and felt her cheeks warm at the very real reminder of him and the way he’d touched her.

Who knew a man with scars like that could kiss so damn well.  Her head fell back to rest against the door and she slid slowly down to rest of the cool tile floor.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the black hand towel from earlier lying just within reach and reached out to grab it with a small smile. 

Good thing I have shitty aim, huh?  Dabbing at the blood on her lip she stretched out her legs in front of her and thanked the powers that be she had an excuse to hide in the bathroom.               

Hiding in the bathroom, she thought with a soft humorless chuckle.  What am I, in high school?

She tested her lip with a gentle tap of her finger, and then tossed the towel to the side, no longer needing it.

Her head lolled to one side and she stared for a long second at the wall paper, dimly aware that she hadn’t really pegged Harv for a paisley sort of person. 

You’re stalling…

I wondered when you’d show up, Mack grumbled sullenly, as reason reared its ugly head.  She sighed then, noting that it was beginning to be something of a habit.

You do realize youjust sealed your fate by kissing the mob boss in the front room?

Yeah, she admitted, I guess I did.

Climbing to her feet she placed her hands firmly on the counter and stared at herself in the mirror, “Guess I really am a mob boss’s woman,” she told her reflection.

The face staring back at her looked almost pained. “Looks like I’m more like my mother, than I thought,” she added in whispered horror.  “At least I had the good sense to pick a man I could depend on,” she amended spitefully.           

Now more than ever she could list a half dozen ways he’d saved her ass, and there were few traits Mack valued more than dependability.  He was irritatingly intelligent, funny in his own sarcastic way, and surprisingly honest for a crime boss – and that was just Harv’s good traits.  Harvey had that and more. 

Of course, she added with a frown, they were also arrogant, egotistical, and self-entitled, and wanted for god knew how many criminal acts.  Not to mention, she added with a frown, the smug look he’d given her after she’d kissed him.  Sorry bastard was probably out there right now thinking he was irresistible, especially since she’d made the first real move.

She mulled this over for a second and couldn’t help but take exception to that smug, overly pleased smile of his.

That’s all right, she thought with a smirk of her own.  He won’t be so smug when he realizes a kiss is all he’ll be getting until he actually starts to date me.

 

88888888888888888888888888

 

Mark and his co-workers stared at their boss with a suffering sort of acceptance.  As if being stuck in the hallway for ten minutes hadn’t been bad enough; now they were being completely ignored while their boss talked to himself.  Taking seats around the table they waited quietly, but not patiently, for the boss to finish, all the while staring apprehensively at the file folder resting in front of Kevin.

Guess you’re not as irresistible as you thought you were.  Harv gloated at his other half.

This is just some fucked up version of Stockholm syndrome.  It’ll pass.

 I didn’t kidnap her you jackass!

She’s indebted to you for saving her life, Harvey protested.  It’s called throwing someone a bone.

Didn’t seem like pity to me when she had her tongue in my mouth.

The ensuing silence was cold enough to rival Mr. Freeze.  I fucking hate you.  Keep your hands off my woman.

Well, your woman just kissed me first.

She’s drugged out of her mind on pain meds!  She’s confused!

Confused about why she every wanted you in the first place maybe…

She talks to me!  She flirts with me!  I’m nice to her.  All she does is argue with you!

I’m sure you’ll be great friends, Harv reassured him.

Harvey sputtered, seething.

Kiss Mack, piss you off… what a great way to start the day.

Chalking the morning down as a win for himself, Harv ignored the continuing protests from Harvey and turned to face his employees who had long since given up on trying to catch his attention.

“Well,” he demanded, taking his seat at the head of the table.

Kevin slid the folder across the table to his boss.  “There’s been a development,” he said, expression grave.

Harv lifted an eyebrow in question, but said nothing, merely flipping the file open.  Several grainy black and white photos lay inside, and from the poor quality it was most likely either from security cameras or the city’s traffic system.  He turned one to the side and then paused, instantly recognizing the man in the picture, even in grainy form.

From the time stamp in the lower corner, it seemed Tattoo had been in Gotham City since very early this morning.  Considering he had been Black Mask’s right hand man for years, it was very likely his boss was either already in Gotham or on his way.

“Where was this taken?” he asked, already prepared for the answer he knew was coming.

“The far west side of Otisburg,” Kevin responded.  “We think he drove into Somerset and crossed by boat, docking by The Hill.”

Harv cursed and flipped through the rest of the folder, finding more pictures of Tattoo and his entourage.  “Finding Black Mask’s men in the middle of Schultz’s territory during a coup,” he sneered.  “That’s hardly a coincidence.”

“There’s blood in the water, and he knows it,” Brian commented, shedding his façade and being serious for once.  “The question is whether he’s going to help Nick or just take advantage of the chaos to get a foothold in Gotham again.”  

“Either way,” Kevin shook his head, “Leon would have been lucky just to fend off Nick and his supporters long enough to cement his own power base.  He can’t take on Black Mask at the same time too.  Hell,” he scoffed, “they’ll eat him alive and then turn on each other.”

“No,” John disagreed, “this is premature.  The smarter play would be to let them fight it out and then take on the victor before he can manage to regroup.  If Mask isn’t careful Nick and Leon will form a temporary truce to deal with him.”

“He can’t,” Harv waved a hand, dismissing their conjecture.  “We gave Leon a window.  If he can’t close the deal and get rid of Nick by Sunday then he risks the other families backing out on him, regardless of any land dispute I had.”

“It still would have served Black Mask better to wait and let them kill each other before swooping in and taking out the winner,” Mark pointed out with a frown.

“Except that Blockbuster just got sent back to Blackgate,” Brian reminded them.  “Mask has a limited window of opportunity himself.  He’s been trying to get back into Gotham since it was rebuilt, but he can’t establish himself here if he’s always fighting off Blockbuster in Bludhaven.”

“He has to strike now,” Kevin agreed, “while he still can.”

“But what’s he here for?” Mark started.  “What’s his plan?  Does he want to use Nick as a source of information or is he here to bite off parts of Schultz territory while they’re too busy to notice?”

“Makes more sense just to take out Leon and Nick and just absorb their territory and men,” Harv told them.  “Make a few abject lessons out of a couple people and you’ve got a ready made mob.”

There was a tense silence at that thought.  “The first thing he’ll do when he’s finished with Schultz is come right after us,” Mark sent a pointed look at his boss.  “The two of you were at each other’s throats before No Man’s Land and have been ever since.”

“Not to mention, that he’s obsessed with the idea of ruling Gotham’s underworld.”  John rolled his eyes at the man’s sheer stupidity.  “Hell, he can’t even play nice with the other rogues in this town and they’re all bug nuts crazy.”

Harv bared his teeth at him for the crack on Gotham’s rogues’ gallery and John has the good sense to make his apologies, “Sorry boss,” he capitulated, “but really – who tries to pick a fight with the rogues in this town?”

He does have a point you know, Harvey commented wryly. 

No shit Sherlock…

There was a pause and then, we can’t let Black Mask back into the city.  He’s bad for business.

Harv raised an eyebrow at that, concerned about our illegal activities, wussy boy?

Concerned about my peace of mind, he corrected.  I like things the way they are.  Our body count hasn’t been this low in years.  You two hate each other. If Mask does wrest control away from Schultz we’re next on his list. 

Maybe I’m getting bored, Harv told him with a cold smirk.

That’s not funny, Harvey hissed.  Last time the two of you nearly tore the entire city apart trying to murder one another.

I should have tried harder then,Harv snarled, ‘cause now the bastard is trying to weasel his way back into my city.

Harvey said nothing, not wanting to advocate murder, but tempted to agree. 

Their internal dialogue was swiftly interrupted by a soft female voice behind them.  “What if Blockbuster wasn’t in prison?”

All five of them swiveled around to find Mack leaning casually against the kitchen counter, having forgotten about her presence in the apartment during their debate.  She had the good grace to blush at having been caught eavesdropping on what could have easily been a private or potentially dangerous conversation and tried to ignore the not so pleasant stares she was receiving.

Finally Harv ground out an irritated, “What the fuck are you rambling on about?”

“Blockbuster,” she clarified, trying not to wilt in the face of Harv’s glare. “What would happen if he wasn’t in prison?”

For the second time today, Mack found herself being stared at like she was a complete moron, and she was pretty sure Brian had just rolled his eyes at her. “Then we wouldn’t even be having this conversation because Black Mask would still be in fucking Bludhaven fending off his rival,” Harv told her in the most patronizing voice he could manage.

She gritted her teeth at him and managed a terse, “that was sort of my point,” before falling silent.  The hush that fell over the room was almost deafening as what she said slowly started to sink in.

“Did you just suggest I break a known felon out of prison as a distraction so Leon Shultz can solidify his power base?”  Harv clarified with an incredulous look.

Mack gaped at him, “Of course not,” she retorted, clearly horrified.  “I was just…” she floundered then, as she realized that was exactly what she’d just done.  “I just…. It was more of a…a… theory,” she finished-  her excuse sounded lame even to her own ears. 

 The men at the table exchanged conspiring looks, and if the gleam in their eyes was any indication, the idea had merit.  “Why don’t you come have a seat, Mack,” Harv offered with a wicked smirk, all the while pulling out the empty chair on his left side.

Her lips mashed together until they were one thin line and she stared at the empty chair like it was a rattle snake.  “You are a horrible influence on me¸” she told him with a huff.  “I am going,” she floundered again as she realized that, thanks to the open floor plan, there really wasn’t anywhere else to go. 

“Where am I allowed to go?”  She finally asked him in exasperation.

“Nowhere,” he reminded her with a smirk.

His smirk widened at the displeased look she sent him, “Fortunately for you, I can’t plan a prison break out from my penthouse.”  Harv climbed to his feet and crossed the floor to where she stood.  “You do know what will happen to you, if you tell anyone what we’re planning, right?”

"I’m hurt you don’t trust me,” she told him dryly.

“Just making sure you don’t accidentally throw a wrench in your plan,” he corrected, beyond pleased at her newly discovered talent for crime.

“Bite me,” she shot back with a glower.

Harv’s resulting smile was just a hair shy of depraved.  “Don’t tempt me, Princess,” he warned before added a more serious, “and don’t do anything stupid in my absence.”

With that last remark he turned away from her, grabbing his jacket from his chair and sliding it on.  His low remarks to his employees were nothing more than murmurs to her ears and she stared resolutely at the still covered windows, things she wanted to say getting caught in her throat before she could give them voice. 

She heard the sound of sliding chairs and knew they were preparing to leave.  The front door opened and she felt her stomach flip-flop before it plummeted, as fear rose to settle in its place.  Mack stood there staring at the wall, torn by the desire to say something before she lost the chance to.  Somehow, just in the last few minutes, she had been firmly regulated to being the woman who waits for her man to come home alive and in one piece.  It took her less than a split second to realize she hated it.

“Harv,” she called, positive he could hear the hint of fear in her voice.  She decided she hated that, too.  “Be careful,” she added quietly.

Mack waited for the inevitable shutting of the door, but heard nothing and eventually gave in to the urge to turn around to see what was keeping them.  As soon as she made eye contact with him, Harv rolled his eyes at her and her concern.

 She bristled at the dismissal.  “Well fine,” she told him indignantly, “go ahead and get shot.  See if I give a damn.”

The smug smirk on his face told her she wasn’t fooling anyone.  Narrowing her eyes at him, she once again purposely turned her back on him, completely unaware that her previous bodyguards had returned.  Harv turned towards Troy and issued a short, “get her whatever she wants,” before exiting the apartment with his entourage. 

“Asshole,” she muttered into what she thought was an empty apartment.

The sound of a poorly disguised chuckled had her whipping around to find the kitchen table not as empty as she expected.

“Troy,” she nodded stiffly in greeting.

“Ma’am,” he responded, stifling a grin at the horrified look on her face.

“Mack,” she insisted, “call me Mack.”

“You know I can’t do that Ms. Mackenzie,” he told her with a polite smile.

She frowned, but knew a losing battle when she saw one.  “You know, I’ve never had a bodyguard before,” she admitted.  “What exactly do you do?”

“I sit here and I,” he paused as if looking for the right word, “dissuade anyone from harming you.”

“You mean you shoot anyone who tries to get to me,” she translated for him.

“I’m authorized to use whatever force deemed necessary, yes.”

“Don’t you ever get bored?” Mack made a face, making it clear that she found it boring.

He blinked not entirely sure what to say to that.  Of course sitting around all day watching over the boss’s woman was boring, but if she repeated that to the wrong person he wasn’t sure he’d live to regret it. 

To his horror, Mack grabbed her coffee and actually sat down at the table with him.  What exactly did she think she was she doing? 

It wasn’t hard to miss the guarded look he sent her.  “I’m breaking some sort of unwritten rule, aren’t I?”  She asked him, with a weary sort of half smile.

He was half tempted to brush her off, but there had been real concern for his boss in her voice earlier.  None of his previous woman could have made such a claim, at least not beyond their concern for his wallet.  Maybe this time the boss had found someone who wasn’t a shallow, conniving bitch… maybe.

“It’s unusual for a woman of your position to chat with the hired help,” he explained.

Mack had the distinct impression he was carefully choosing his words to avoid incriminating himself.  “Is that their preference or yours?”  She asked him pointedly.

Troy blanched slightly at the corned she’d backed him into, and tried to find a response that couldn’t be deliberately misinterpreted, wondering if he’d made a mistake in talking with her at all.

“Forget it,” she told him, willing to let him off the hook if he’d just stop looking at her like that.  “I’m just a little out of my depth here.  I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable.”

Deliberately she changed the subject, unaware that she’d just earned herself a great deal of good will with her gesture.  “I don’t suppose you know a restaurant around here that delivers do you?”

A folder full of menus was in her hands in record time.

 

888888888888888888888888

 

Blackgate Penitentiary rose from the churning waters of the Atlantic Ocean, searchlights combing the waters and the rocky crags it sat upon in regular intervals.  Out in the darkness a powerboat idled, its navigation lights off, as its occupants studied the prison with infrared binoculars.

Harv scanned the top of the prison, noting the rotation of the guards and the timing of the searchlights, coordinating with Mark who was observing the opposite side of the island in his own boat.

For once he’d agreed to wear the ear piece, unable to justify leaving it off, given the seriousness of the operation.  Despite his penchant for attention, this was one time he could do without it.  The last thing he needed when Gotham’s mobs were in such disarray was to wind up back in Arkham, leaving his own territory unprotected.  It was for that reason and no other that he had agreed to not only wear the ear piece but cover his face like the rest of his team.  Batman would figure out it was him eventually, the sorry bastard always did, but by then things would have stabilized and any jeopardy his own holdings may have been in would have already passed.           

“You ready?”  Harv asked John who was manning the wheel of the boat, and Brian who was fiddling with the rocket launcher at his feet.

“Ready and raring,” Brian responded in excitement. 

John scowled at his overly gleeful friend.  Brian had been giddy for hours over the prospect of using a rocket launcher.  “Ready,” he told his boss, one hand over the throttle and the other on the steering wheel.

“Mark,” Harv half asked, half demanded into the tactical headset he wore.

There was a short pause as, on the other side of the island, Mark turned to his four man team.  One man would stay with the boat while he and two others, already dressed in cold water wetsuits and scuba gear, would swim for the island.

Mark strapped the plastic wrapped C-4 securely around his torso and then reached for his M4 assault rifle.  “We’re ready,” he told his boss.  “Give us a fifteen minute head start to get in place and then start firing.”

“Once we start you’ll only have eleven minutes before air support arrives.  You have to be in and out in nine.”  Harv pulled back the black sweater he wore to look at his watch.  Two thirty in the morning, right on schedule.

“As long as the sharks don’t give us any problems,” Mark glanced back to make sure his associates had grabbed spear guns as well as assault rifles.  “We’ll meet you in Bludhaven.  Dark in sixty seconds.”

Mark took off his headset and tossed it into the boat.  “Be at the north dock in exactly twenty-four minutes,” he told the driver before slipping into the water after his men.

Harv noted the time and started counting.  Thirteen minutes later he nodded to John, “move us into position.”

They moved forward, the boat fighting the current of The Rip until they were as close to the front of the prison as they could get without bottoming out the boat.  In forty-five seconds the spot lights would see them.  Harv double checked his watch – thirty seconds left.

“Acquire your target,” he told Brian.  Reaching for the sniper rifle on the seat next to him, he propped it up across the back of the seat.  The way the boat was moving his aim was sure to be off, but it would certainly give the fuckers something to think about.

Thirty seconds later, the prison personnel were too busy worrying about the new hole in their front door and Harv’s suppressive fire, to even consider a sneak attack from behind.

 

8888888888888888888888

 

            Mark and his two man team rose from the water, discarded the unused spear guns and oxygen tanks, and scrambled up the jagged rocks towards the walls of Blackgate.  Smoke was already rising from the other side of the prison and Mark stopped long enough to check his watch.  Seven minutes left.  Yanking the C-4 from his chest he slapped it strategically across the wall nearest Blockbuster’s cell level, while one of his team members went behind him placing the detonators.

            Scrambling back toward the rocks, they crouched down for cover and then a large blast sounded from behind them.  When the smoke cleared a man-sized hole had been made in the prison wall.  Swinging his assault rifle around, Mark took point, finding the corridor empty except for two guards who were smart enough to realize that stun batons were not a match for machine guns. 

            His two teammates stepped forward to subdue them and they were unceremoniously knocked out and shoved of to the side.  Guns at the ready they continued down the hallway until they reached the prison holding cell they were looking for, all the while ignoring the shouted requests from other inmates.  Within seconds three very small pieces of C-4 had been placed at the hinges of the door.

            “Step back,” he barked at the large man inside.  Blockbuster stared back at him, with a growing smile and did as he was told.  The explosive detonated and the teammate on his left yelled a terse, “three minutes.”

            Blockbuster shoved the door to one side, the collar that suppressed his meta powers still in place around his neck.  “Go!” Mark yelled at him, starting to feel a sense of urgency at their dwindling timeline.

            The raced towards the hole at the back of the prison, guns up as they covered their escape.  They could just hear the roar of the motor approaching as they descended towards the water’s edge.  Tossing their gear into the boat they climbed inside, and then helped pull the large super villain into the boat behind them.  The boat sank down several inches into the water at the added weight and Mark was glad they had chosen to take the more powerful of the boats.

            The moment they had secured themselves in the boat, they were flying across the water, relying on radar and a pre-planned escape route to keep them from hitting anything.

            Reaching down for the headset he had discarded earlier, Mark slid it into place. “We’ve got him,” he yelled over the wind whipping by him, straining to hear a response from his partners.

            Harv half turned and nodded at John, who whipped the boat around towards the open ocean and gunned the throttle.  The sudden motion nearly threw Brian overboard, who stopped just shy of taking a swim thanks to the harness strapped around him.  “Hey, watch it asshole,” came the indignant shout.

            “Then pay more attention you lunatic,” John shouted back.

            “I was having fun,” he protested.

            “Shut up! Both of you!”  Harv discarded his rifle and scanned the skies with his binoculars.  He could make out several police choppers headed their way, but they were too far out to catch up to them.  Didn’t mean Batman wasn’t closer though.  He scanned the surrounding area but the infrared detected nothing.                       

            “Get us the hell out of here,” he told John.  Harv settled back into his seat, but didn’t stop patrolling the skies until they were almost to the rendezvous point.

 

888888888888888888888888

 

            The two boats docked just inside the narrows of Bludhaven and Harv stepped onto the dock, pulling off his mask to face the other crime boss. 

Blockbuster’s eyes widened in surprised, “you?  What do you want?”  He asked suspiciously, very much aware he was surrounded by Two-Face and his armed men without the aid of his superpowers.

            “I want you to go back to Bludhaven.”

            “And what waits for me there?”  Blockbuster demanded apprehensively.

            “A very distracted Black Mask,” he told him with a grim smile.

            Blockbuster analyzed the cryptic response, eyes flickering side to side.  “Ah yes.  I had heard politics in your city,” he drawled, clearly alluding to the infighting between the Schultz’s, “were getting murky.”

            He considered the unspoken request, not truly wanting to help a future competitor, as he himself had designs on Gotham City.  Still, the idea of Black Mask getting a foothold in Gotham before he did made his blood boil.

            “Perhaps it is time I expanded again,” he agreed.

            Harv nodded and then tossed him a pre-paid cell phone which he caught easily.  Turning back to the boats he and his cohorts headed back towards Gotham, leaving Blockbuster to find his own way home.

 

88888888888888888

 

            Mack stared at the TV, not really watching the movie playing, but grateful for the background noise.  It was awkward being in a house with a bodyguard who wouldn’t speak more than a few sentences to you and the silence had been getting awkward.  She glanced over at the morning paper, the recent breakout at Blackgate having made the front page.  It’d been almost twenty four hours since she’d last seen Harv or any version of him, but if he’d been caught surely the news would have reported it by now.

            She had tried to read the e-book she’d found in his entertainment center but found it hard to concentrate as she continually found herself thinking about the two of them, or more specifically, Harvey.  Mack had spent so much time with Harv in recent days, and in such large doses, that she was seriously starting to miss his other half.  She desperately missed him, and the longer she sat there the more she realized it.           

            Sighing, she went back to picking absently at the pasta sitting in front of her, half tempted to ask someone to go find her some dessert.  She contemplated it for a second but just as quickly dismissed the idea.  The food situation was awkward enough with adding an unnecessary trip to the whole ordeal. 

            After supplying her with an overwhelming number of restaurants to pick from- almost all ridiculously upscale- she had tried to offer her credit card for payment.  Her guards had stared at her then, clearly horrified at the suggestion, both of them falling over each other to assure her it wouldn’t be necessary.

            Uncomfortable was putting it mildly.

            Despite her insistence that it was necessary, she had lost yet another argument and all her food for the last day or so had been embarrassingly free.  She felt like some sort of freeloader, or worse a kept woman, and she hated it.  The last thing she wanted to do was re-live the experience over the sudden desire for pie.

            She glanced at her current guard, and fought off a scowl.  Troy and Jason had deserted her sometime last night, no doubt to get some sleep, and had left her with thing one and thing two.  Sighing, she admitted that she was being uncharitable.  Yes, they practically screamed hired muscle, but it was their obvious discomfort with her attempts to interact that irritated her the most.  And she’d thought Troy had been bad.  Hell, at least he responded with more than one word answers.

            Her restlessness must have been more obvious than she thought since Larry, her newest bodyguard, had actually managed to work up the nerve to speak to her.  “Ms. Mackenzie, if there’s anything you need...?”

            “No, thank you,” she responded to the prompt with a forced smile. 

           

            How about a personality, her subconscious offered sarcastically.

            Mack fought off a smirk, earning her another of many odd looks, and prayed that someone would rescue her from this purgatory. 

            Minutes turned to hours and with no one around to provide her with some sort of update, she finally succumbed to desperation and started to read the front page again.  Prisoner escapes with aid from unknown suspect.

            The unknown suspect portion had her raising an eyebrow.  Harv really did strike her as something of an attention whore, and she couldn’t see him willing avoiding the limelight.  Still, perhaps caution was best when breaking someone out of state prison, she conceded with a half hearted shrug.  The part regarding casualties had surprised her, too-specifically, the part where there hadn’t been any. 

            The article had pointed out with great flair that some sort of projectile had been used during the attack, but most of the damage had been structural.  Sure, several prison employees had varying degrees of burns and contusions from the flying debris, but given Harv’s track record it was a definite improvement.

            Of course, the paper had also pointed out that the frontal assault was merely a diversion for the tactical assault team that had snuck in the back with the use of plastic explosives.  Divide and conquer – how oddly appropriate, she mused. 

            As responsible as she felt, and she was most assuredly feeling some guilt over the whole affair, it was still impressive to realize he’d successfully assaulted a prison with less than twelve hours notice.

            Terrifying, she amended, but impressive.

            A soft knock on the front door, followed by the sudden inward swing, kept her from further introspection.  She was equal parts thrilled and apprehensive to see her mob boss stepping across the threshold and wasn’t entirely sure which emotion she wanted to act on.

            “Jamie,” Harvey nodded to her in greeting, pushing the door shut with one gloved hand.

            Mack froze, her fork clattering to the table as it fell from her fingers.  “Harvey?” She breathed almost reverently, not entirely sure she trusted her own ears.  He saw the beginning of hope flash across her face, and shared a confused look with the bodyguard sitting off to the side.           

            “Yes,” he drawled; one eye brow quirking upwards at her odd behavior.

             A mixture of shock and awe held her in her place for a long second and then she was shoving free of her chair and closing the distance between them as fast as she could without actually running into his arms. 

            Harvey had a split second to brace himself before she barreled into him, arms wrapping tightly around him, as she buried her face in the crook of his neck.  He returned her hug, one leather clad hand resting against her hair as he turned a menacing glare towards her bodyguard.  Harvey was just about to ask them what the fuck they’d done to his woman when Mack lifted her head to tell him how much she’d missed him.

            He froze, not entirely sure he’d heard her correctly, “what?”

            A small smile ghosted across her lips, “I missed you Harvey.”

            His arms tightened around her and Larry, feeling the sudden urge to leave, slipped around them, moving towards the front door.  Harvey waited until he heard the door close behind him and then grasped her face lightly between his gloved hands.  “It’s nice to be missed,” he told her, before returning the sentiment.

            She said a silent prayer to the powers that be, for finally blessing her with the one person whose presence she desperately needed.

            Mack leaned into him, rising up on her tip toes to brush her mouth lightly against his own.  “I think you should kiss me,” she whispered against his lips.

            “Do you?”  He teased her with a grin.

            “Harvey!”  She admonished him with a smile.  He chuckled softly, hands pulling her hair free from its confines before threading his fingers through it.  Leaning down he met her halfway as he finally kissed her.  Mack’s brain promptly turned to mush and for the second time in two days her knees threatened to stop supporting her.    

            In reality she should have expected fate to intervene at some point, what with her being such a firm believer in Murphy’s Law.  A knock sounded on the door, and she tensed in irritation.  They’d had him all bloody day, couldn’t she get even five minutes alone with him?! 

            As if reading her mind, he pulled away long enough to issue a reassuring, “they’ll go away eventually…” before continuing to kiss her senseless.

            The cell phone in his breast pocket started to ring and this time Mack pulled away as he fumbled for the phone.  She was just close enough to see that it was Mark calling, and she wouldn’t be at all surprised to find him standing outside the door as well.

            Five minutes, she fumed.  Was that so much to ask?  Crossing the carpet she flung the door open, one hand leaning against the frame.  It was a toss up between what was more surprising.  That it was Mack standing in the door looking irritated, or that the boys were actually half tempted to take a step back in the face of her ire.

            “What do you want?”  She demanded with a glare, blocking the doorway in her non-threatening yellow polo with green butterfly socks peeking out from under her faded jeans.

            Brian, being of unsound mind and significantly less self preservation than the average man, noted with amusement her mussed hair and the ruffled tie of the mob boss standing some distance behind her.  “Why?  Are we interrupting something?”  He waggled his eyebrows at her for effect.           

            The look she sent him would have sent the devil himself scurrying for cover.  “Not that it’s any of your business Mister Broderick,” she started, face composed in an excellent imitation of one of their poker faces, “but I was attempting to have a serious conversation with…” 

            From the amused looks she was facing, she knew there was a snowball’s chance in hell of them buying that one, but the disbelieving snort coming from behind her did NOT help. 

            She turned her head around, horror movie slow, and fixed Harvey with an un-friendly stare.  “Something to add, Mr. Dent,” she prompted, making it clear that any further comment on his part would be at his own peril.

            He managed to choke down the laugh building at the back of his throat but couldn’t quite force the smirk from his face.  “No, not at all, carry on,” the told her with barely suppressed mirth.

            She sniffed disdainfully and then turned an expectant look back on the rest of his partners in crime.  “Well,” she prompted them, crossing her arms and resisting the urge to tap her foot.

            Off to the side, Brian was doing his damnedest not to laugh at the sitcom-esque situation unraveling in front of him, and was failing miserably.

            Mark looked rather pointedly at her feet before fixing her with a rarely seen grin that rivaled Harvey’s.  “Nice socks,” he told her casually.

            That was too much for Brian, who burst out laughing, leaning against the wall for support.

            Mack narrowed her eyes, but knew a losing battle when she saw one.  “Want me to buy you a pair,” she offered tongue in cheek, before stepping aside so they could pass.

            “Maybe,” he told her.  “We could use them as a gag for Brian.”

            “What an excellent idea,” she agreed, before making an overly exaggerated attempt to shut the door on the still laughing Broderick.  He pushed passed her with a mock glare before joining his comrades standing around the living room. 

            "What exactly IS so important?” Harvey demanded with a steely gaze, not overly thrilled about the interruption either.

            “They’ve found Nick,” John told his boss without preamble.

             There was a sudden silence as this announcement and Mack couldn’t help but feel relief that this ordeal was about to come to a close, even if it did mean Nick was about to be swimming with the fishes.  Harvey nodded in acknowledgement before ordering them to go wait by the car.  “I’ll be there in a minute,” he told them as they filed back out the door.

             “Will you be coming back?”  Mack asked.

             “I’ll do my best,” he told her.  “Either way you should be able to go soon.”

             She nodded in relief but said nothing.  The silence seemed to grow around them until it filled up with all the things that still needed to be settled between them the three of them.  Harvey looked at her, seeing the multitude of unanswered questions resting just under the surface and added a quiet, “We’ll discuss this later.”

             Turning around he headed out the front door, an exasperated, ‘be careful’ rushing after him as he closed the door. 

 

Chapter Text

There is a panther stalks me down:
  One day I'll have my death of him…

Pursuit: Sylvia Plath

888888888888888888888888888 

Commissioner Gordon watched the skies, more out of habit than any real expectation of seeing him coming.  Cold November wind gusted around him, his coat rustling in the wind as he waited at the top of police headquarters.

From the corner of his eye, he could just make out the massive form of Harvey Bullock, manning the bat signal with a half finished cup of coffee in his left hand.  Bullock’s dislike of Gotham’s vigilante population was well known, and if his scowl was any indication, his opinion hadn’t changed.

Moments later Batman stepped from the shadows, his cape billowing out behind him as he crossed the rooftop to stand beside Gordon.  The two of them stood there silently for a long moment, the bright lights of the city stretched out before them, the distance buffering the traffic noise until it was nothing but a barely noticeable buzz.  

Gordon frowned, unable to enjoy the peace the rooftops offered.  This had been his city too long for him to fall victim to its deceptions.  There was no distance great enough that could have disguised the desperation and ferocity that rode the air tonight.

“We sent tactical teams into the Bowery to collect the ‘presents’ you left us.”  Gordon broke the silence, smiling slightly at the memory of so many gang members tied up and hanging from the broken street lights.

“We’ve left the teams in place and set up temporary command posts.  With their numbers diminished, we’re confident we can keep the order.”

Batman nodded in agreement.  He had spent the entirety of last night in the Bowery, cowing the gangs back in line, and giving Gordon the reprieve he needed to assess the situation and assemble the necessary manpower to keep the peace.  Now that the police had the situation in-hand, he could turn his attention to other matters, and the list was growing.

“Any leads on the breakout at Blackgate?”

Gordon shook his head.  “What little camera footage we have is useless.  The perps all wore masks and what little evidence we were able to recover was clean.”

“Bludhaven P.D. thinks it was Blockbuster’s men,” Bullock inserted into their conversation before slugging down another mouthful of coffee.  “But their organized crime division sees only what’s convenient and…”

“What they’re told to see…” Nightwing glided out from the shadows, finishing Bullock sentence with a snort of derision.  The two cops turned sharply to the side, surprise quickly crossing their faces before disappearing.  Batman remained stoic and unflappable as always, offering a terse greeting to his long time student and first son, “Nightwing.”

“Batman,” he returned, his expression a mirror image of his mentor’s.  The men formed a loose semi-circle, accommodating the appearance of the other crime fighter.

“Bludhaven’s police department has no intention of investigating the incident at Blackgate.  They’ve kicked it over to Gotham, hiding behind their lack of jurisdiction.”   Nightwing glanced over to Gordon, “They’re planning to notify you in the morning.”

“Fucking cowards,” Bullock grunted, not at all surprised.  Bludhaven’s police had a reputation for corruption that rivaled even Gotham’s. 

“One of the Bludhaven dock cameras managed to pick up an ID from an incoming boat on the night of the breakout.  It tracks back to a dummy corporation called Quinarius.” Nightwing shared a knowing look with Batman who then turned to Gordon.

“Quinarius is a shell corporation Two-Face once used.”

“Until he realized naming things after coins and the word two was a great way to get caught,” Nightwing added dryly, despite his reservations.  What could have been so important that he would have risked returning to old habits?

Gordon blinked at this revelation, and then mentally added the term to the list of obscure information he’d have to Google later.

“You’re saying Two-Face busted Blockbuster out of prison?!  What the hell for?”  Bullock asked, not even trying to hide his disbelief and disdain.

“Maybe he lost the coin toss,” Nightwing muttered in response.

“Either way,” came the quiet response from the Dark Knight.  “He hasn’t been seen since that casino incident.  It’s unlike him to be this quiet.”

“He could have been planning this for weeks; waiting for the Schultz family to implode before making his move.  Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t give them the nudge they needed to finally throw down.”  Bullock finished his coffee and reached into his pocket for his ever present cigars.

“The timing is very convenient,” Gordon agreed.  “But Two-Face has nothing to gain by breaking out Blockbuster.”

“Except that Black Mask was moving into Gotham in the wake of unrest happening in Schultz territory,” Nightwing added with a grim look.

“Trying to edge into territory that Two-Face wanted,” Bullock surmised from behind his cloud of smoke.

“Maybe,” Batman hedged, refusing to speculate further.

Gordon’s eye flickered to the Dark Knight, years of friendship picking up the slight doubt in his voice.  “You think he had other reasons; a partnership with the new Schultz leader perhaps?”

“No.  Two-Face doesn’t share power.” He nodded at Gordon before preparing a jump line.  “I’ll see what I can find,” he added before disappearing into the shadows of the nearby buildings.

Several jump lines later, Batman landed in a crouch on the top of Wayne Tower and reached for the ear piece in his cowl.

“Oracle?”

“I’m here,” came the slightly static reply from Barbara Gordon.

“Have you found anything on the girl?”

Woman would be more accurate,” she corrected dryly, “and yes.  I have what you asked for.”

“Good, I’ll pick it up shortly.”  A figure formed out the shadows of the building, and Nightwing crossed the roof to join him.

“Batman out,” he told Oracle, cutting the transmission without waiting for her farewell. 

“Which girl would that be?” Nightwing asked without preamble, not ashamed in the least to have been eavesdropping.  “Is this the same woman the rumors are about?”  Dick ignored the unfriendly stare he was receiving, having become almost completely immune to them over the years.

“Don’t you have a city to patrol,” Batman sent a pointed look at the direction of Bludhaven.  His body language made it clear he didn’t appreciate his meddling.

“It’s barely dark.  I think I can spare another twenty minutes.  Besides, if Two-Face did have something to do with Blockbuster’s release,” Nightwing’s expression hardened, “I’d like a word with him.  I spent a great deal of time hunting him down only to have him back on the streets in less than a week.”

“It won’t be long until Black Mask is out looking for revenge as well.  He’s going to retaliate.”

The younger man nodded in agreement before trying to casually shift the conversation back towards the woman Batman had been discussing.  “You think this woman had something to do with recent events?”

“I think if I find her,” Batman clarified with a grim look, “I’ll find Two-Face.”

“Any leads?”

“Some,” he relied curtly, turning away in hopes of dissuading further interference.

“Your city just imploded and took my city down with it,” Nightwing reminded him.  “I have a right to be concerned.”

“You want to prevent another breakout?  Then work the Blackgate case.  I’ll deal with Two-Face myself.”  Batman pressed a series of buttons on his utility belt and within seconds, the faint roar of the Batmobile could be heard approaching.  A quick leap from the ledge and he was gone, dropping into the car with practiced ease.

Nightwing watched him leave and thought several uncharitable things about his former partner before reaching out to Oracle through his own comm link.  “Hey Babs…,” he cajoled his longtime girlfriend.

“Don’t even think about putting me in the middle of this,” she told him firmly.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he protested in the most innocent voice he could muster.  “I’m just looking for a little information.”

She muttered something he couldn’t quite make out, but judging from her tone, it wasn’t flattering.  He ignored her and continued as if she hadn’t said anything. “You may have heard the rumors that the fallout between the Schultz’s was caused by a woman.”

This time Barbara snorted audibly.  She was the Oracle for Christ’s sake, of course she’d heard.  It was her job.  “I’m just looking for a little intel on said woman,” Dick continued, pretending to be injured by her assumptions.

“Because this information is so imperative to Bludhaven’s safety…” she drawled, unconvinced as she felt, more than heard, Batman enter the clock tower.

“Exactly,” he agreed, ignoring her doubting tone.  “If this woman is the cause for all these problems, problems that have already affected not one, but two super villains in MY city, then who knows what other trouble she could cause!”

There was a considering sort of silence and then she capitulated with a sigh before adding a warning.  “That’s pretty thin you know.  He’s not going to appreciate you sticking your nose into his business.”

“Never stopped him, did it?” 

There was just enough irritation in his voice to justify bringing up the rocky past between Bruce and his son.  “I thought you two were over this little feud,” she added in a more serious tone. 

“We are,” he told her simply, and she could almost picture him in her head, shrugging.   “But despite what he thinks, there are times when even Bruce needs a little help.  And dealing with a breakout, a mob war, and Two-Face might just be one of them.”

“Give me an hour,” she told him, unable to deny that sometime the boss needed help, even if he didn’t ever ask for it.

“Want me to bring some of that Chinese you like?” he offered, knowing she was going to catch hell from the big man for helping him out.

“Sure,” she agreed with a smile, before adding a teasing, “though I’m not sure your reputation will survive the indignity of ordering kung-pao chicken in spandex.”

“Hey!” He exclaimed, pretending to be offended, “You know I like the General Tso’s better.”

Barb rolled her eyes at him before issuing an exasperated good-bye.  She temporarily muted her comm link and turned to face the looming shadow that was Bruce Wayne. 

She arched an eyebrow, but said nothing, practically daring him to contradict her before sliding him the file he had asked for.

“I don’t appreciate the interference,” he glowered, having heard most of her conversation with Dick.

“He’s right,” Barb defended calmly.  “What was it you always told us?”  She paused for effect before quoting his own rule at him, “Never underestimate the enemy.”

“I never rush headlong into situations without being prepared.  Something the two of you never learned.”

She frowned, but couldn’t deny he was right.  Even now in his mid forties he was still the best, always had some unseen edge that even Nightwing couldn’t quite match.

“He’s your son, Bruce,” she reminded him simply.  “I realize the two of you butt heads more often than not, but he still cares.  So try not to alienate him again.  I can’t take another eight years of the two of you not speaking to one another…”  She paused and then went in for the kill.  “Neither can Alfred,” she added softly.

He narrowed his eyes at her and the way she was so skillfully using his father figure against him. “That was below the belt,” he added coldly.

“Don’t blame me,” she shrugged, “you’re the one who taught me to play dirty.”

He said nothing further, merely stepped into the shadows and disappeared.  Barbara waited until he was gone and then turned to print a second file on Jamie Mackenzie for Nightwing

 

88888888888888888888888888

 

Mack glanced again at clock on the wall, and finally gave up any pretense of watching the sitcom on television.  Climbing to her feet, she crossed the carpet and pulled back the heavy curtain hanging over the sliding glass door.  The sun was slowly setting in the west and darkness was now gliding across the rooftops, approaching in thick inky waves. 

From behind her, she heard Troy sigh, and then a pleading, “Ms. Mackenzie, please don’t stand in front of the windows.”

“I though the threat had passed,” she countered, closing the curtain anyway to placate him.

“I’d prefer not to take any chances.”

“Well, I’d prefer not to be here forever,” she muttered quietly before raising her voice. “How much longer is this supposed to take?”

“I’m sure the boss will call as soon as it’s safe.”

“That’s what the other guy said,” she muttered again, “and that was over an hour ago.”  Mack had tried to get her last bodyguard to call Mark, and maybe hurry things along, but he’d flat out refused in the most horrified voice she’d ever heard.  She had hoped she’d have better luck once her bodyguards had changed shift, but Troy’s response had been remarkably similar to Larry’s. 

Her eyes dropped down to her overnight bag and the purse sitting near the front door and she wondered if she was brave enough to call him herself.  Mack absently considered the prospect, sending a covert glance at Troy as if hoping to somehow glean some sort of advice from a mere glance. 

No advice from her bodyguard or divine assistance presented itself and she let the thought fall to the wayside.  It was probably bad form to call and ask your rescuers to hurry up and finish the rescuing.  Probably it would seem ungrateful - incredibly tempting- but ungrateful.  

Slumping back down against the couch she reached for the remote and resumed flipping channels, knowing the likelihood of a decent distraction was slim, but hoping all the same.  She had just settled in when the sound of ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man echoed faintly from across the room.

Mack recognized her newly selected ring tone, and quickly scrambled off the couch and across the room, risking a glance at Troy who was watching her with one quirked eyebrow.  He said nothing and when Mack looked down at the screen she didn’t recognize the number.

“Hello,” she answered cautiously.

There was no introduction, only a clipped, “It’s me.”

Mack blinked, fairly certain she recognized his voice, but not entirely sure which personality she was talking to, “Harv?”

“Who else would it be,” he shot back in a mix of suspicious and derision.

“Other than you,” she clarified, “only Harvey.”  Technically speaking, it wasn’t entirely true, but she didn’t feel like explaining the concept of friends to a man like Harv. 

He made a disgruntled, hmph, noise at the mention of his other half before letting the issue drop.  “You’re free to go as long as your guards are with you.”

She started to protest, loudly, but he cut her off.  “It’s not a request,” he growled.

Mack frowned down at the phone, “I don’t appreciate the ultimatum.”

“Any number of people would like to hurt you just to piss me off.  You can deal with them.  Or you can deal with me.  Your choice.”

“… so that’s it, huh?” She questioned defiantly.  “Two days ago I was your bartender and now I have a permanent armed escort with unknown enemies lurking in every corner.  What exactly does that make me?”

Mine.”

“Cute Harv… real cute.  I’m being serious here,” she huffed, no longer happy with the ambiguous nature of their relationship.

“So I am.  Let me know when you’re done tip toeing around the obvious.”

“Fine,” she huffed, irritated at his verbal maneuvering. The sorry bastard clearly wasn’t going to come out and say anything, meaning she’d have to.  “If you expect me to risk my life just being with you then the least you can do is offer to be with me exclusively.”

“You learn that you’re a potential target for revenge and you decide you want to date me?”

“Well, as you so subtly pointed out,” she drawled sarcastically, “We’re headed there anyway.  The least you can do is make it official.  It’s not like you objected to kissing me the other day.”

You kissed me,” he clarified smugly.

“That’s not the point,” she bit back, trying to control her exasperation.

“And what is your point,” he demanded.

“The point,” she ground out, “is that you don’t seem like the type who likes to share, and neither am I.”

“You so much as look at another man,” he sneered, “and I will rip out his throat with my bare hands.”

“If you even think about cheating on me,” she retorted, “I’ll shoot you.”

“Don’t threaten me, Princess.”

“That wasn’t a threat, Harv,” she promised ominously.  “Now do we have a deal or not?”

He snorted, not impressed in the slight by her violent suggestion, and then smirked adding an arrogant, “I knew you couldn’t resist me.”

Mack rolled her eyes, “you are so full of yourself.”

“I’m not the one who propositioned me,” he pointed out conceitedly.

“And if you’re not interested…” she drawled, tempting to rescind her offer just because he was being a jerk.

He didn’t find her response as amusing as she did.  “Don’t play coy with me, woman.”

“Then stop pretending you’re not interested,” she demanded archly.

“Fine, I’ll grant your request,” he agreed smoothly.

A little too smoothly, she thought.  “I hear a ‘but’ coming,” she injected with a mutter.

“But,” he clarified, “I expect you to play the part.”

“What do you mean play the part?  I’m not playing at anything.”

“I’m a very powerful mob boss in this city,” he reminded her seriously.  “When we’re in public you need to reflect that.”

“Okay, now I’m offended,” she bit out.  “Exactly what is wrong me with way I am?”

“You don’t look like my pampered, well-kept mistress,” he told her bluntly.

She paused, and then, “I take it back,” she amended.  “I’m not offended.”  

“Don’t worry Mack,” Harv reassured her in a sinister voice.  “I’m sure if we wrap enough diamonds around that neck of yours, you’ll fit right it. “

“We’ll see,” she hedged, trying not to imagine those diamonds he spoke of as the noose they sounded like. “And for the record – I am not your mistress.”

“Doesn’t matter.  They’ll think you are.”

“It matters to me, and it should matter to you.  Unless you’d prefer that I was only with you for your money and power.” 

“I have a lot money and power.  My time and attention is a great deal more valuable to me.  So don’t pretend your company is cheap.”

“First off, stop comparing me to all the whores you apparently know.  Secondly, I’m not asking for your time because it comes with biggest price tag.  Surprising as it may seem, I actually enjoy your company most of the time.  You know – when you’re not being an ass.”

“Watch it, Princess,” he growled at her insult.  “I’m not that fond of you.”

“You seemed pretty fond of me yesterday when my shirt was off,” she fired back.

“Of course I was.  Your shirt was off,” he reminded her pointedly.

“So you’re saying that your tolerance of me is directly proportional to how much clothing I have on.”

“Definitely works in your favor.”

“Why, am I not surprised,” she drawled.

In the background she could just make out the sound of someone telling Harv they’d arrived.  “Go home, Mack,” Harv told her seriously before warning her, “and don’t cause me any more trouble tonight.”

The line suddenly went dead, and she realized he’d just hung up on her.  In light of her new status, the abrupt disconnect didn’t seem to bother her as much as it probably should have.  She turned around to find Troy already waiting for her.  If he was surprised by the conversation he’d just overheard, he didn’t show it.

“Jason got a call from Mr. Dillinger.  Whenever you’re ready to go, we’ll take you home.”

She nodded at him, reaching for her purse and then rolling her eyes at him when he wouldn’t let her carry the overnight bag as well.  “How exactly does this bodyguard stuff work?” she asked, not entirely sure what to expect now that they were leaving the apartment.  “What if I want to go to Wal-Mart?  Are you just going to hang out while I try to decide what sort of lunchmeat I want from the deli this week?”

“I recommend the Sara Lee roast beef,” he told her with a small smile before opening the door.

“Ha. Ha. Ha,” she drawled, following him out into the hallway.  “I’m being serious.  Can you imagine the sort of looks I’m going to get being followed around by a couple of guys in suits?”

Mack tossed a look behind her to see Jason taking up the position at her back.  “Yeah, ‘cause this little procession isn’t going to garner any attention,” she finished with a mutter.

They smiled, but said nothing.  If she knew the sort of looks they got for looking like stalkers she wouldn’t be so quick to complain about her situation.

“Hey, what if you guys just stopped wearing suits.  I mean, you do own a pair of jeans, right?  Then you’d fit right in.  You think Harv would go for that?” she asked hopefully.

They both looked at her, but their expressions said it all.  He’d consent when hell froze over.  Mack sighed.  It had been worth a shot.

 

888888888888888888888888888

           

 

The black four door sedan pulled into the alley way behind Uncle Ben’s Emerald Chopstix, and Troy and Jason both turned to stare skeptically at Mack.  They had cut across two lanes of traffic and performed an illegal U-turn for this?

 “What?!” She exclaimed defensively.  “It sounded good.  Besides, it’s the best Chinese restaurant in town.  Everyone,” she told them emphatically, “knows that!”

“Uncle Ben’s?”  Jason questioned.

“Well he does sell rice,” Troy quipped sarcastically.

She hmphed at them and started to climb out of the car, “you just don’t know what you’re missing”

“Besides a bad case of food poisoning,” Jason muttered under his breath.

Mack pointedly ignored him and headed towards the back entrance they insisted she used.  As soon as they found that the door was locked, she was prepared to scoff and roll her eyes knowingly.  As if being the woman of some mob guy instantly gave you inside access to every facility in Gotham.   Yeah… she snorted, rrriiigghht.

To her surprise, the door opened just as she was reaching for it and for one brief moment she was floored by their innate mob ability.  Then a tall and well muscled superhero almost ran her over.  Nightwing reached out with one leather clad hand to help stabilize the woman he’d accidently knocked into and tried to sound friendly as he apologized.  By the shocked look on her face, he hadn’t gotten through to her.

“Ma’am,” he prompted, “are you okay?”

She tore her eyes away from the large blue symbol covering her chest and looked up into his masked face, trying to wrap her mind around meeting one of Gotham’s notorious vigilantes.  First Two-Face and now this, what was it about her that attracted crazy people?

“Yes, I’m fine, thank you.” She paused for a quick second before good manners took over, “You?” she offered hesitantly.

The corner of his mouth twitched ever so slightly at her confused concern for him.  “I’m survived worse,” he assured her.  His eyes flickered towards the muscle looming behind her and his good mood faded. 

“If they’re bothering you…” Nightwing let it hang in the air between them, not so subtly shifting in front of her to make it easier to protect the girl.

She glanced around him, both touched and irritated that once again, everyone felt the need to protect her.   “No,” she told him firmly, “they’re with me.”

“Really,” he drawled, and despite his mask, she was positive he was raising an eyebrow at her. 

“Yes. really.”  He seemed unconvinced, and she added an amused, “scout’s honor.”

His lips twitched in amusement, and he shifted so that he could get a better look at her and yet still monitor the hired guns.  The bruises on her neck and face were definitely fresh, but there hadn’t been any fear in her eyes at the mention of her escort.  Still, there was something about her that was making his gut instinct do somersaults.  She didn’t look like the sort of woman who usually had bodyguards.

“Well if you change your mind,” he drawled, “let me know.”  He stuck out his right hand, and introduced himself, “I’m Nightwing.”

If her previous response was any indication she would be too polite to refuse the gesture and he watched her closely for signs of subterfuge.  Her smile grew as she slid her own hand into his to shake it. 

Mack opened her mouth to respond when Troy interrupted.  “Ma’am,” he intoned, putting a fair amount of warning in that one word.  She glanced at him and was met with a small shake of his head.  She wasn’t entirely sure why, but the message was clear.  They didn’t want him to know who she was.

She turned back to Nightwing, not entirely sure what to say when he added a conversational, “You’re going to make me search for you, aren’t you?”  He sighed then, deliberately being overdramatic.  “I’m very persistent you know.  Why don’t you save us both the trouble and just tell me who you are.”

“I would,” she told him, trying for the same lightheartedness he had achieved, despite her growing trepidation, “but I should probably listen to my advisors.”

He shrugged, a surprisingly graceful gesture for such a muscular man, “Be seeing you later then,” he half told her, half warned before stepping into a shadowy corner and disappeared silently into thin air.

“How…?”  Mack turned to her entourage, hoping they could provide some sort of insight into vigilante disappearing acts but they had become oddly silent.  They ushered her into the Chinese restaurant and then the arguments started.

“I don’t want to get take out,” she protested, throwing a mutinous look at her bodyguards and their suggestion.  “I’ve been cooped up in that apartment ALL weekend long.  I want to eat it here!”

Troy and Jason sent a discerning look at the dimly lit restaurant front and the rickety table and chairs scattered around.  It was no wonder she liked it here, Jason thought uncharitably, it looked almost identical to her bar.

“This location is no longer secure,” Troy stressed. 

“Secure from what?  Him,” Mack asked sarcastically, clearly referencing her run in with Nightwing, “he’s a superhero for Christ’s sake.  He’s hardly going to murder me.”

“He’s already declared an interest in you, and now you want to hang around the last place he saw you.  Hell, why don’t you make it super easy on him,” Troy added, his usually composure starting to slip, “and pay with a credit card?”

“Okay –first of all.  Who cares if he knows who I am?  I’m nobody.  I don’t know anything useful.  Secondly,” Mack ticked on another finger, “I am eating my food where I want to eat it.  I don’t give a damn who drops by.”

They watched as she tensed, preparing to argue to the last breath for her right to eat Chinese in the run down shack they were standing in, and recognized it for the losing battle it was.  “Fine,” he told her shortly, “but no credit cards.  The last thing we need is him tracking your purchases.”

“I don’t have any cash,” she protested.

There was a race to see who could supply her with the necessary ten bucks the quickest.  Jason won and then had to all but force her to take the money.  “It’s ten bucks,” growled and she started to wonder why one superhero had her bodyguards so uptight.  “Take it and order your food.  The sooner you eat the sooner we can leave.”

Mack rolled her eyes at their paranoia, and turned to the attendant behind the counter who was watching their melodrama with raised eyebrows.  She ordered her food and turned back to her bodyguards just in time to here the tale end of their conversation.

“You call him,” Jason insisted.

“Me?!” Troy protested, “why me?”

“Because he likes you better, that’s why.”

Troy snorted, “that is the biggest bunch of shit, I’ve ever heard.”

“You know damn good and well that you were his favorite NCO.”

“That was five years ago you jackass!”

“And he still liked you enough to look for you after you discharged and offer you a job.”

Their conversation turned into a private staring contest and then Troy capitulated, “I hate you,” he muttered before reaching for his cell-phone.  “And you were a shitty L.T.,” he added spiteful.

Jason didn’t seem the least offended by this remark, flashing a grin at his counterpart before following Mack to a nearby table.

“What was all that about,” she asked, curiosity getting the better of her.

“Anytime you have a run in with a superhero it has to be called in.”

Her eyes flickered to Troy who was busy glaring at Jason.  “I take it the phone call is going to be unpleasant.”

“No one likes to get bad news,” he quipped at her as Troy finally connected to Mark.

“Hey, Top,” Troy greeted his boss, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Top,” she mouthed at Jason, confused by the nickname.

“We were in the Marines together,” he said by way of explanation.

“Still confused,” she muttered before continuing to openly eavesdrop.

On the other side of town Mark frowned at his phone and then groaned, “Ah hell.  If you’re playing up the war buddies shit this quick, it can’t be good.  She’s not bleeding is she?”  Mark stalwartly ignored the looks he was now receiving from his cohorts, including a hard stare from the boss.

“No,” Troy reassured him, “she’s fine.”

“But,” Mark groused at the phone.

“She sort of ran into Nightwing…literally.”

Mark swore loudly, “Are you kidding me with this shit?!  She hasn’t even been gone an hour and he already knows where she lives!”

Troy swallowed, and the ensuing silence spoke for itself.  “I told you,” Mark growled menacingly, “to take her home.”

Mack watched Troy fidget with the collar of his shirt, and then, “she wanted Chinese,” he defended.

Chinese!  This whole incident is because she wanted CHINESE!”  Another bout of cursing and then, “I am up to my eyebrows in shit, thanks to the city wide incident we instigated, for her, and she wants fucking Chinese!”

Troy held the phone away from him like it was a life snake, and even Mack and Jason could hear the loud rant echoing from the speaker.

“Look, boss,” he started to placate, “he doesn’t know anything useful.  They spent less than two minutes together.”

“He knows she likes Chinese,” Mark muttered spitefully all the while continuing to ignore the growing irritation radiating off Harv.

 Mark pinched the bridge of his nose and felt that now was a very good time for damage control.  “Fine, he saw her.  He doesn’t know who she is, yes?”

Troy responded in the affirmative and Mark continued his rationalizing, “All he knows is that some chick with bodyguards likes Chinese food.  You did your best to make sure he didn’t follow you right?”

Silence reigned once more, and Mark felt the beginnings of a migraine forming.  “Tell me,” he ground out, “you’re not still there.”

In a final, last ditch attempt to save his own ass Troy did the only thing he could think of.  “She wouldn’t leave.  We tried to convince her to get take out, but she refused.”

Mack gasped at him, and threw a packet of soy sauce in his general direction.  “Why you scum sucking traitor!”

He ignored her, easily dodging the condiment, not looking sorry in the least.  “Every man for himself,” Jason murmured, moving aside so the restaurant attendant could deliver her food.

Mark counted to ten, trying to keep from another outburst and then snarled at Brian whose kept suggesting that he find his ‘happy place.’ 

“Put her on the phone,” he demanded mere moments later, through clenched teeth.

Troy blinked, not expecting that response and then held the phone out to her, glad to be rid of it.

“Who is it,” she asked, suspiciously into the receiver.

“It’s Mark,” he replied in a pleasant voice that was most definitely forced.  “Ms. Mackenzie,” he began, and right away Mack got the distinct impression she was in trouble- it was the same feeling she got when her mother used to use her middle name.

“I realize the last few days have been trying for you,” he continued, and she got the distinct impression he was really speaking about himself.  “But, if you could please not loiter in a restaurant that vigilantes now realize you frequent it might slow the development of my impending ulcer!”

Mack glanced at the phone and suddenly understood why Troy had been so wary.  Mark did an excellent Denis Leary impression when upset.  She was both impressed and intimidated.  Of course, neither was going to keep her from living life the way she had before meeting Two-Face.  The bodyguards may have been required to obey orders, but she wasn’t going to hide in her house for the rest of her life.

“I’m sorry to hear about your health problems, Mark.  Perhaps Dr. Taylor could suggest something.”  Probably, she mused, it wasn’t wise to bait Harv’s most trusted employee.  Probably he was going to tattle on her to the real boss, but until then she didn’t technically have to listen to him.

“I’m touched by your concern,” he murmured, his tone making it clear she could take a flying leap.  “I was also under the impression that our boss,” he stressed, reminding her that she answered to Harv just as much as he did now, “also told you to go home.”

Mack narrowed her eyes, and tried to think of a way to weasel out of this.  After all, her hard fought Chinese food was getting cold.  “He did,” she admitted, “but he never said I had to go straighthome.  He’s my date, not my dad,” she reminded him.

“I’m sure he’d love to hear you justify that bit of verbal maneuvering.”  She scowled, recognizing the implied threat of Harv when she heard it.  “After all, I’m sure a lawyer as skilled as he is would love to know how you found such a large loophole.”

At that remark, Harv gave up all pretense of patience and outright demanded the phone from his employee. 

“You’re a right bastard, you know that,” she fumed at Mark, not realizing the phone had switched hands.

“Not off to a promising start, Mack,” Harv growled menacing at her.

Mack winced, easily recognizing his brand of threatening from their earlier conversation, “Sorry, Harv.  I thought you were Mark.”

“I thought I told you to go home.”

Is there an echo in here, she thought uncharitably before trying for a convincing, “Sorry, I thought it was more of a suggestion.”

His resulting snarl was all the evidence she needed to know her attempt at repentance had failed.  “I suggest you do what I told you to in the first place.”

“And if I refuse,” she challenged, growing tired of having her every moment policed.  “Will you have them drag me there by the hair?”

“Do I need to?”

“I shouldn’t have to change my plans just because I ran into a superhero.  It’s not like he tried to shoot me.”

“That sidekick,” sneered, “is going to figure out who you are, and then it won’t be him you’re dealing with, but the Bat.”

“So what?  Do you actually think I’d betray you or something?” 

“Since you brought it up, would you?”

“No,” she growled indignantly, “but thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“Then how exactly do you explain your sudden desire for Chinese coinciding with Nightwing’s?”

She gaped at the phone, unable to believe her ears.  “I can’t believe you.  You think I set this up on purpose?  What the hell would be the point – nothing happened.”

“That’s not a no.”

“Fuck you, Harv,” she retorted, her temper getting the better of her.  “I didn’t know the son of a bitch would be here.  Now if that’s all, my food is getting cold.’

 All trace of tolerance disappeared from his voice and she knew had pushed him too far.  “I’d wring your scrawny neck for this if I thought it’d make a fucking difference, but you treat your own survival like a fucking afterthought.  So the next time you see a flying rodent you listen to your guards, or I’ll burn your precious restaurant and everyone in it, to the ground.”

Mack blanched and then swallowed the burning resentment she was felt towards him and his overbearing attitude.  She knew, without a doubt, he’d follow through on his threat if she goaded him any further, and then there really would be blood on her hands.

“Yes, Harv,” she bit out, forcing her voice into a neutral tone she didn’t feel.  “I guess I’ll get it to go.”

“Why bother,” he accused.  “The damage is done.  Go ahead in move in for all I care,” he snarled before hanging up on her.

“Sorry son of a bitch,” she snarled back at the empty line.  Troy saw the dangerous glint in her eye and reached for his phone before she could do something violent do it.

Huffing at him, she shoved it in his general direction and then proceeded to mutter all sorts of unpleasant things about their boss between bites of dinner.

 

88888888888888888888888888

 

Across town Mark’s phone was not so lucky, and it hit the wall of the conference room with a dull thud.  It landed a few feet from where John sat, and he discreetly sent Mark a thumb’s up.  It had taken several periods of trial and error but it seemed they finally found a brand of cell phone that was more resilient than the others.

I’m going to wring her scrawny neck!

For what?!  Eating out? came Harvey’s incredulous reply.

I told her to go HOME!  How does she confuse going home with going to fucking dinner?!

You’re her boyfriend, not her father!

I am NOT her boyfriend, Harv shuddered at the term, she’s MY woman.  She’s dating ME!

Harvey rolled his eyes at his other half.  That’s weak, even for you. He murmured. 

Fuck you, Harvey.  I didn’t ask your goddamn opinion.  Not that it explains her obvious inability to follow the simplest order.

She’s not your employee, either.  She’s dating you!  Christ, he exclaimed, is the concept REALLY that hard to grasp.

I don’t give a shit what her title is, mine is MOB BOSS!

Harvey gritted his teeth.  Could you cut her some slack for once?! 

Really!  Harv demanded, she just coincidentally ran into Nightwing on her way home, and I’m just supposed to ‘cut her some slack’.

You can’t seriously think she set that up!

You want me to just sit here twiddling my fucking thumbs and just hope the fucking skirt isn’t betraying us!?

If she wanted to turn us in she would have done it ages ago!  Why the hell would she wait so long if her master plan was to stab us in the back?

Because until now she didn’t know enough to be dangerous!

What are you talking about?  She still doesn’t you half-wit.

So she’s biding her time, waiting for us to drop our guard, Harv explained slowly, as though Harvey was a small, idiot child.

Because you were planning on including her in all your high level plans for world domination, is that it?!  Harvey drawled, sarcasm dripping from his voice.

Laugh all you want you little fucker, but that woman is in a position to see us at our most vulnerable.  Or are you forgetting that we both plan to FUCK her!

And her dastardly plan is to what?  Tip the Bat off now that eventually he might be able to catch us with our pants down?!  Yeah – gggrreeeaatttt plan. Well deduced, genius!

Fine, smart ass, Harv snarled.  We’ll do it your way and do nothing.  ‘Cause I know how much you LOVE the idea of being sent back to Arkham.

Harvey paled and then shuddered at the mere idea of being pumped full of antipsychotics again.  Not only did the drugs give him the shakes but the withdrawal symptoms were fucking hell.  Harv never allowed him to gradually reduce the dosage, which meant weeks of horrific side effects from going cold turkey.

And the therapy sessions are so much more fun without me aren’t they? Harv taunted.  We all now how much you LOVE feeling guilty.

Fuck you, Harvey retorted, but his heart wasn’t quite in it.  As much as he hated the bastard, he was right.  The drugs inevitably quieted his other half, and while the peace and quiet in his head was heaven, the resulting emotional onslaught without him was not.

Just because I hate that fucking nut house, does not mean Jamie is guilty by association.  She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

You hope… Harv told him with a mocking sneer.

Fine! Harvey all but yelled, unable to take the continued harassment from his other half.  What the fuck do you suggest we do then?  We are not executing the Bat protocol over something so simple.

Harvey glowered at his other half, hoping he didn’t actually plan to bring her in for questioning.  It was a procedure they’d initiated last year that had managed to drop their Bat related security leaks by thirty five percent.  The questioning, however, tended to be a little violent, and while they could tone it down for her, the initial search process alone was quite invasive.

We don’t need to, you idiot.  A small team can check for tracking devices and we can question the bodyguards later.  What I want to know is what she’ll tell the Bat. 

And you think bringing her in and intimidating her is the best way to ensure her future loyalty, Harvey demanded sarcastically.

No, Harv clarified with a sneer, I want to hear the conversation for myself.

Harvey was officially confused.  How the fuck do you plan to hear a conversation that hasn’t even taken place…  It suddenly hit him, mid thought, what his other half was considering.  No!  Absolutely not!  She’ll never forgive us if we bug her.

Bat protocol it is then, Harv said darkly, happy to blackmail his other half into doing what he wanted.  When the Bat makes contact we’ll treat her like we would John or Kevin and have her brought to us.  You know how persuasive I can be, he threatened.

You wouldn’t dare lay a hand on her, Harvey snarled in anger.

Wouldn’t I?!  Harv sneered back, letting it hang there between the two of them.  Not that I’d have to.  A few well placed threats and she’d tell me what ever I wanted to know.

You’re a fucking asshole and I hate you.

So what’s it gonna be, wussy boy? Harv taunted him again, already knowing he’d won.

She might not ever forgive us for this, you know that, right? Harvey asked him seriously.

And you think she’d rather be threatened within an inch of her life, Harv snorted in disbelief.

Yes, Harvey told him with a glare, I do.  She expects violence and intimidation from you, not subterfuge.  But if she’s not convincing enough you’ll kill her just to be safe.

If she’s conspiring with the Bat, I will no matter what you say.

Fine, Harvey spat out, not liking the idea, but not willing to risk her life on the subjectivity of Harv’s interrogation skills.  But not her house, he demanded, allow her at least that much privacy.

I’m not going to risk missing a conversation as important as this is over your wussy boy tendencies.

And I’m not willing to risk ostracizing my girlfriend over your paranoid delusions!

If you’re wrong about this, and he shows up at her house, I’ll have her brought in anyway, Harv warned.

I’ll risk it, Harvey responded coldly, now flip the goddamn coin.

 

888888888888888888888888888

 

By the time Mack had finished her dinner, she’d managed to mostly cool off, though she still couldn’t quite get over what an asshole she was now dating.  Jason saw her eye twitch ever so slightly, and hoped he wasn’t in the path of destruction when she finally exploded.

He’d married a woman of similar temperament and she was a holy terror when she lost her cool.  Personally, he thought it was unhealthy to bottle up so much anger all the time, but he’d learn not to express that small belief to the missus.  Somehow, he didn’t thing it’d be well received in this situation, either.  Not that he could blame her in this case.  The boss wasn’t really the sort of person you could vent small frustrations to.  Even if, assuming Troy’s intel was right, she was now the official woman in his boss’s life. 

Jason saw her prepare to stand up and stopped her with a quick, “we should probably tell you that there’s a security team waiting for us in back.”

“Excuse me,” she questioned, one eyebrow raised threateningly, and once again Jason was reminded of his neurotic and sometimes dangerous spouse.

“It’s something we call the Bat protocol,” he explained.  “Whenever we meet a superhero we have to be cleared by the security team.  The Bat family is known for placing tracking and listening devices on the willing and unwilling, without detection.”

“There’s also,” Troy added, “an interrogation portion that may or may not apply to you.”

Her gaze narrowed, and it seemed a frown was becoming a permanent look for her.  “And who usually conducts these ‘interrogations,’” she asked.

“For us,” Jason clarified, “Brian.  For you, it’s hard to say.  Usually the boss questions the upper echelons himself.”

She considered this new information for a second and then thanked them for the heads up.  The last thing she needed was more surprises, and she did appreciate the advance notice, even if her mood had re-taken a turn for the worse.  As for the interrogations, well, if that bit did apply to her, she’d have several choice things to say about that.

They stood up to flank her as she rose from her seat, and she soon exited the back door to the not unexpected company of more of Harv’s men.

A dark haired man she was unfamiliar with approached her, and despite the sour looks on her bodyguard’s faces they did nothing to stop him.

“Roush,” Jason intoned coolly, not nearly as impressed with the man as Roush was with himself.  The only response he received was a sharp nod, and then Roush turned his attention to the women standing between them.

“Ms. Mackenzie,” he began, his face contorted into what she suspected was supposed to be a smile, “Mr. Broderick apologizes for not meeting you in person, but he was unavoidably detained.”

He spoke as if the words were unfamiliar to him and Mack got the sinking suspicion that Brian had made him memorize it word for word.  Assuming, she mused, it hadn’t been Kevin.  After all, Brian wasn’t the only Broderick.

“Which Broderick,” she asked, jumping in as he paused – probably to remember the rest of his memorized speech.  “Kevin or Brian?”

He blinked at her, the slightest hint of irritation sliding behind his eyes at the interruption, before he hid it with that same painfully fake and unused smile of his.  “I answer directly to Brian,” he told her, and she couldn’t help but think he was bragging about his elevated status.  Of course, it was entirely possible he though she was name dropping with her little interruption, so maybe it was understandable.

She nodded, not feeling that his statement needed any sort of response, and he continued his act of civility, adding a carefully polite, “If you’ll just step forward we’ll rid you of any devices you may not have known you were carrying.”

“And how exactly, do you do that?” Mack questioned, wanting to know what she was in for before stepping forward for anything.

This time it was anger that briefly crossed his face, and she started to realize that this wasn’t a man who was used to being questioned.  “It’s a simple procedure,” he assured her.  Or he tried to.  There was something very not reassuring about his entire person, and she’d bet her best bottle of scotch that he was also the man who conducted the ‘interrogations’ Troy and Jason had mentioned.

“I’m sure it is,” she agreed, a hint of steel creepy into her voice, “but why don’t you humor me and explain it anyway.”

Any pretense of good humor on his part vanished in the face of her continued obstinance.  Be polite, Broderick had said.  Don’t offend her, Broderick had said.  He snorted in contempt.  Fucking boss was going soft.  She should have been hauled in like the rest of them.  What the fuck was he supposed to do, anyway, whip out a power point presentation just to appease the broad.   He didn’t take this sort of nonsense from his own wife, why the hell did he have to take it from some flavor of the week?

Troy and Jason exchanged equal looks of trepidation at the growing irritation radiating from Roush.  He wasn’t exactly known for his patience.  In fact they’d been surprised to see him at all.  He might have been Brian’s head enforcer but the man was well known for his brutality and quick temper.  Not really the sort of man who tolerated dissent, and if Mack was feeling froggy enough to tell the boss himself to fuck off, then there was no telling what she’d say to Roush.  Jason suddenly had to smother a smile as a thought crossed his mind, “one dash of angry mob enforcer, a pinch of woman pushed too far, mix well for an explosive situation…”

“It’s just like going through airport security,” Troy quipped from behind her, hoping that a little reassurance would help diffuse the situation.

She ‘hmphed’ in response to his insight but grudgingly stepped forward, trusting her bodyguards despite her reservations.  Roush, however, was not so easily appeased.  He might not be allowed to lay so much as a hand on her but if she insisted on wasting his time with her questions and bullshit then he could damn well return the favor.

He dismissed her then, without so much as a word, and turned to the car next to them, popping the trunk with a flick of his keys.   Mack watched as Roush took his sweet ass time digging through what appeared to be a perfectly organized trunk, all the while her patience thinned to dangerously low levels.

Finally he resurfaced with a simple plastic wand, confirming Jason’s airport security comparison.  He ran the device quickly over his arm to ensure it worked and then stared down at her with ice cold eyes before directing her to, “assume the position.”

She narrowed her eyes in response, recognizing a pissing contest when she saw one.  “While I’m touched by your assumption that I know what that is,” she drawled acerbically, “I’m afraid you’ll have to demonstrate.”

“Feet apart and arms out,” he directed with a blank stare, denying her the satisfaction of getting a rise out of him.

Chin up and jaw clenched, she did as she was told, not nearly as good at hiding her emotions as the men around her.  Roush began his security sweep, and it quickly became clear that she’d find no fault with his professionalism, despite the way he deliberately invaded her personal space and the ridiculously thorough nature of his search.

It wasn’t until he was behind her, looming over her, that the beeping started.  She felt him pull something from underneath her collar and then his voice sounded from just over her shoulder, rich with a quiet sort of glee. “Anything else you want to tell me about, Ms. Mackenzie,” he drawled, his eye glinting with a perverted sense of pride at having found the enemies equipment on her coat.

“Excuse me?!” she retorted icily, turning to stare down her nose at him despite her short stature.

“Care to explain this,” he prompted again, his speech slowing as if speaking to a small, idiot child.

His contempt for her was the last straw and Mack’s patience finally snapped like a rubber band.

She’d been hidden away all goddamn weekend- which was nothing more than a trumped up kidnapping,  and now that she was finally free her evening was being ruined by overly paranoid, overly suspicious, overly hostile mob men who had the audacity to question her loyalty.

Well, they could all go fuck themselves.  The only person she answered to was on the other side of town and she was sure as hell not gonna cower in front of one of his stupid flunkies on a power trip.  Pulling herself up to her full five foot four inches, she sent the scumbag in front of her a steely glare, and made damn sure her look alone conveyed her utter disdain for him.

If Harv wanted her to represent in public, then she was gonna represent the shit out of his mob – starting right the fuck now.

“I don’t answer,” she told him contemptuously, “to you.  I answer to your boss’s boss, which places me firmly above your pay grade.”

She closed the small distance between them, and made damn sure she looked him dead in the eye before stepping in to his personal space.  “So be a good little flunky and just do your job.”

Troy stared in barely disguised shock at the woman in front of him, no longer recognizing her from the usually pleasant woman he’d spent all weekend with.  Either she was starting to crack under the stress or she was the best damn actress he’d ever seen.  Probably, it was a combination of both, but either way, he was tempted to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and enjoy the show. 

Roush was not nearly so amused.  He stared down at the petite woman in front of her and instantly thought of a hundred ways to put her firmly back in her place.  He didn’t give a damn who she fucked, this chit wasn’t going to stand here and order him around.  No sooner had his hand twitched in her general direction and she was leveling him with an icy glare than could have been copied straight from Harv’s play book.

“You lay so much as one finger on me,” she told him in a deadly quiet voice that still managed to reach every ear in the parking lot.  “And I’ll make sure it’s permanently removed.”  It was a completely empty threat on her part.  That she’d even think of asking Harv to remove someone’s finger made her recently eaten dinner burn the back of her throat.  Roush, however, didn’t know her well enough to know that.

He froze mid motion as the threat hung there between them, and then to her amazement, he stepped back, not willing to risk a digit and most likely his life, just to prove a point.  “You won’t always be his favorite,” he warned her.

“No,” she agreed coolly, working double time to make sure the relief she felt didn’t show on her face.  She wasn’t sure what he’d have done if he’d called her bluff.  “But if you threaten me again, you won’t live long enough to see me disgraced.”

If looks could kill, she was positive she’d be six feet under right now, and it was only the sheer adrenaline of the moment that kept her from faltering.  He sneered at her before tossing the tracker to the ground and smashing it under his booted heel with more force than necessary.  Still seething at the mouthy bitch in front of him, he released her to Larry and his accomplice before his own temper could get the better of him.  She wouldn’t always be the boss’s favorite pet, and Two-Face would make her suffer far more than he ever could.  With that thought warming his heart, Roush turned to Troy and Jason, summoning them with an imperious nod of his head.

Mack faltered then, her own mob façade stating to slip as she remembered that Troy and Jason would have to face their own interrogation. “What about the two of you,” Mack asked Troy.

“It seems we have an appointment with Mr. Broderick,” Jason drawled, not the least bit surprised that he’d want a word with them about Nightwing.

She thought briefly about protesting, but knew it wouldn’t accomplish anything other than causing an unnecessary scene.  It was entirely possible it might even make them look guilty of something.

Turning her back on them, she headed for Larry, who was patiently standing next to an open car door, waiting for her.  Once she’d been assured that her bags had been retrieved she climbed inside, no longer able to put off returning home.

Chapter Text

So great was the extremity of her pain and anguish,

that she did not only sigh but roar.

-Matthew Henry-

88888888888888888888888888888

As the car pulled away from the restaurant parking lot, Mack allowed her façade to fall to wayside, not entirely sure she even recognized the women back there.  Had she really just threatened a mob man?  She briefly replayed the events of the last ten minutes and came to the firm conclusion that, yes, she had- and rather convincingly at that.

What in the holy hell was happening to her?  First, she suggests breaking a man out of prison, then she tells Two-Face to fuck off, and now she was threatening mob men with finger amputation.  A shiver of fear ran down her spine, and she tried not to hyperventilate.  She’d spent a mere weekend with Harv and his mob and already she was having difficulty recognizing herself.  Was this what dating a mob man did to you?

In what was becoming a frequent exercise; she pushed her fear to the side and tried to control her emotions.  Looking back on the previous situation, this was something she should have done to begin with.  She should have known better than to push Harv like that, and she shouldn’t have let Roush push her buttons either.  But it had been a long weekend, and she’d let her temper get the better of her.

She was also rationalizing, and Mack knew it.  Just another thing she was doing more off since meeting Harv.  No matter how she twisted and turned the events in her mind, the only way to keep from going mad was to rationalize things.

If she’d had a mirror present she was positive she’d see fear in her face.  Scared that her behavior was mere foreshadowing of what lay in store for her.  Was she already ‘acting the part.’ as Harv had called it?  Would she soon be able to flip it on and off like John, so practiced at pretending to be something that she’d actually become it?!

Mack swallowed convulsively, and promised herself she’d never let it be more than an act.  Like playing dressing up in your mother’s clothes, she’d let him drape expensive jewelry around her neck and be a good little Barbie, but she couldn’t let it become a part of her.  She didn’t think she’d be able to live with herself if she did.

She clung desperately to the hope that once she was no longer surrounded by him and his expensive life style that it would be easier to retain her identity.  She’d be home soon and there should be some comfort in that.  Not that her house was quite the haven it had once been.  Stopping to eat Chinese had been nothing but a stall tactic on her part.  It was just one more way to delay facing the old homestead, and the place where she was almost murdered.

Her hands clenched convulsively in her lap.  Glancing out the window, she recognized the gas station on the corner and knew she’d soon have to face the phantoms that haunted her at home.

She wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.  The last time she’d left her house it had been in shambles, with pieces of broken furniture and her blood spattered across the living room floor.  Mack half expected the blood stains to have been removed, just another perk from dating a powerful crime boss.  As for the rest, she’d wasn’t sure, and no matter what the state of her house was, she knew that her bar was in complete disarray and most likely starting to smell.  It had occurred to her more than once since her attack that if she’d stayed to clean up her bar, Harv would have had more than enough time to beat her home.

If Harv had found Peterson first then she wasn’t entirely sure she’d even be in her current situation.  She contemplated this for a long moment and then pushed the thought away.  It wasn’t going to do her any good to wallow in regret.  Hell, wallowing in self-pity was bad enough.  Raising her voice, she politely requested they turn the radio on, and then her thought were disrupting by the smooth guitar of Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Ah… that was better.  God, but she needed to stop thinking.  She felt perilously close to the breaking point, and she wasn’t sure what she’d do when she finally snapped. Probably something reckless and stupid…

The car pulled into her driveway and she felt just a hair closer to the cliff’s edge than she had been only moments ago.  She’d been trying to put off this moment, but it seemed fate was conspiring against her and now she had nowhere else to run.

Larry’s partner, Todd, exited the vehicle and proceeded to go inside the house, presumably to ensure it was safe.  He returned moments later and then Larry was ushering her quickly inside, only to make her wait by the front door while he re-checked the interior himself.

He returned shortly, giving her the all clear before heading towards the back of the house, disappearing from view.  Mack waited for a long moment; listening for some indication of what he was doing and then gave up.  Cutting quickly through the kitchen, she turned the corner and found him standing next to her backdoor, looking eerily like a guard at Buckingham Palace.

Mack stared at him, waiting for him to go away, but he just stood there like a statue.  “Not to be rude, Larry,” she started, his eyes flickering to her as she raised a placating hand, “but how long until you…”  Mack trailed off, not entirely sure how to tell him to get lost without being really rude.

Sadly, he wasn’t going to come to her rescue and get the hint.  He just stood there, looking confused, as if he wasn’t sure what point she was trying to make.  Mack sighed and tried again.  “Look, I really appreciate the way you guys have been looking out for me, but I thought once I returned home my bodyguards would just sort of hang out in the car or something.”

He blinked and then it seemed to dawn on him that she wanted him to leave.  “Of course, Ma’am,” he started, “I apologize for the miscommunication.”

Before she could so much as utter another word, he unlocked the back door and stepped outside, before once again taking up his sentry post next to the door.  Only this time he was standing outside, in the cold, where it might even rain.  Mack narrowed her eyes and then swore loudly.

“Oh for the love of god,” she muttered a moment later, reopening the backdoor and ordering him back inside.

“Larry, what exactly were you told to do, because I think maybe my expectations and reality are starting to clash.”

For the first time since she’d known him, he seemed to actually look at her, and not through her.  She sincerely hoped that he was just the sort of person who took a while to warm up, and that maybe they were about to interact like real humans, and not continue to be the robotic bodyguard she’d dealt with this weekend.

“Mr. Dillinger was quite specific that someone watches the front and back of the house at all times, and that you were not to go anywhere unaccompanied.”

She pursed her lips at this, not sure why she’d expected otherwise, but disappointed all the same.  Mack briefly surveyed the small space they were standing in.  To her left was the small alcove that contained her washer and dryer, and to her right was a small folding table nestled behind the backdoor.

“Alright,” she told him, an idea forming in the back of her mind.  “Help me move this,” she asked, pointing to the folding table.

He blinked at the odd request, but once witnessing her struggle with table, quickly picked it up and deposited it easily into the kitchen space she designated.  Grabbing the closest kitchen chair she dragged it to the now empty space next to the back door, presenting it to him with a wave of her hand.

“Have a seat,” she told him, before cutting through the bathrooms double entrance, to the hallway that lay beyond.  She made it into her bedroom and shut the door before slumping against it.  One hand went to the bridge of her nose and she sucked in a deep breath, trying desperately to accept that she was never going to be alone ever again.

Mack was a solitary person by nature.  She hadn’t shared her space with another human being in years, and now she was sharing it with men who couldn’t even be classified as friends.

Sure, she surmised, she could be big bitch and make the poor man stand outside all night long.  Which, she thought uncharitably, was probably what Harv and cohorts were counting on anyway – her good manners.  Instead of ordering them to loiter in her living room, like they did at the penthouse, he’d just count on her inability to be mean to his employees, and it was working – the fucker.

Mack sunk down onto the end of her bed, her shoulders slumping forward.  How the fuck had it come to this?  She was trapped, a prisoner in her own home, hiding in her room like a four year old.  She looked down at her hands, and for the first time, wondered if she should try to make a run for it - away from Gotham and away from Harv.

Even if, by some miracle, she could get away from the mob and stay hidden from them, could she turn her back on her entire life, and what distant family she had?

Maybe…  She could probably get a job waiting tables and a cheap apartment.  It couldn’t be any harder than what she was already doing, working seven days a week.

Mack glanced around her room, the only home she’d ever known, and felt embarrassed with herself for even thinking about leaving.  Since when had she turned into a quitter?  Was she really going to let a bunch of crazies run her out of her own town?

For once, she couldn’t quite summon up the energy to be outraged by the traitorous thoughts.  Deep down inside, her soul was tired of the struggle.  Maybe she clung too heavily to the past, using it as an excuse to stay just because it was comfortable.

Was the familiar struggle of her everyday life a good reason to stay, a good reason to agree to a hostile and potentially doomed relationship?  Maybe there was no shame in taking the easy path for once.  No one could possible blame her for throwing in the towel.

It was something she could have done years ago and maybe she should have, after her mother died.  Though, admitting it sure as hell made her stubborn struggle for survival in Gotham a lot less noble.  She huffed then, a strangled sound somewhere between a sob and a snort.  Who the fuck was she kidding?  It had never been noble.  She’d just been too pigheaded to move on.  It had stopped being noble and started being stupid long ago.

Why the hell hadn’t she seen it before now?  When had she become so good at lying to herself?  Here she was, entangled in an unwinnable situation, with a man whose very presence in her life made her doubt and question everything about it.  Who she was, what she wanted…

All these years she’d thought she was being a rebel, sticking it out and making it work when anyone else would have given up.  Now she wondered if it was merely an excuse, something to hide behind while she hid from life she could have had.

Maybe she wasn’t as brave or tough as she’d thought she was.  Which choice was the brave one?  Leaving? Staying?  Did it even matter?

Which person did she want to be?  The woman who was strong enough to stay, or the woman who was brave enough to leave?

 

88888888888888888888888888888 

 

Nightwing entered the watchtower through a small window, sliding in the far side of the topmost floor with practiced ease.  He allowed the plastic bag he carried to rattle slightly, alerting Barbara to his presence before depositing it on the small round table set aside for meals.

“Hey Babs,” he called, bending down to greet her with an affectionate kiss.  She smiled up at him and returned his kiss before handing him the file he’d requested earlier.

“Did you remember the extra sauce this time?” she asked, turning her wheelchair towards him with a quick flick of her wrists.

He grimaced in response and took the file from her, before she could hold it for ransom.  “Dick,” she protested, “you didn’t?!”

He sent her a wild, unrepentant grin before announcing, “No, I didn’t, but I had you fooled.”

She narrowed her eyes at him before playfully swatting him on the arm.  He chuckled at her and took his seat at the table.  “Did he give you any trouble?” he asked, hoping that Bruce hadn’t given her too much grief over his sudden involvement.

“Nothing I couldn’t handle,” she shrugged, reaching into the bag to divide their dinner.  Locating his General Tso’s chicken, she waved the aluminum foil container at him with one hand, digging for a set of plastic silverware with the other.

Moments passed and she was still holding his dinner.  “Dick,” she prompted before looking up to find him staring in surprise at the folder she’d given him, “what’s wrong?”

“I just saw her,” he told her, “at Uncle Ben’s not thirty minutes ago.”  He leapt to his feet, securing the file in some unknown pocket, heading toward the nearby window.

Barb sent a wistful look at her dinner, but reached for the button on her comm set all the same, “I’ll have him meet you there.”

Nightwing nodded in agreement before hurling himself out the window he had only moments ago entered through.  Barb watched him launch his jump line mid-fall, pushing aside the familiar pang of jealously as he flew off into the night.

 

888888888888888888888888

 

Mack stared at the wall of her bedroom, long past the point of being able to cry for herself.  She wondered what exactly that said about her situation that she was too emotional broken and exhausted to mourn for the life Harv had rather effective killed.  Of course after her very brutal and very recent analysis of said life, it turns out it wasn’t much of a loss after all.  Fuck, maybe he’d done her some sort of messed up favor by shaking her out of the perpetual holding pattern she’d been living.

Staring up at her ceiling she came to the realization that she could, in fact, leave.  Mack didn’t doubt for a second that she could manage to sneak out, grab enough cash from the bar’s safe to get started, and leave Gotham before they could catch up with her.  She’d have to be careful not to leave a paper trail, but she knew there were people who would pay her ‘under the table’ for work and places that wouldn’t care if she used a fake name as long as she paid the rent on time.

Not that it sounded like much of a life, having to live off the radar forever.  And she knew Harv well enough that it would haveto be forever.  He was definitely the sort of man who carried a grudge.

None of which changed the fact that she could do it, if she needed to.  There was something very comforting in knowing she could leave;that if things got too rough or too dangerous, she was willing to walk away.

Could doesn’t always mean should though, and while she desperately wished things could be different, she wasn’t ready to walk away from Gotham and the two of them just yet.

Was she tired of the two of them and the toll they took on her and her life? Yes.  Was she ready to leave him high and dry, and not look back? No.   So, she’d stay – for now.  Not because he wanted her to, or because she was too afraid to leave, but because just this once she was going to do something she wanted to.  Not out of some sense of duty or pride or habit, but because she wanted to.

She rolled carefully to a sitting position, mindful of her injuries, before climbing off her bed.  Mack was tired of being miserable, and she was sure as shit tired of being stuck with nothing to listen to but her own thoughts.

She reentered the hallway, and headed for the living room, feeling only the slightest twinge of fear shiver down her spine.   Apparently there were bonuses to being emotionally numb, and temporarily not fearing the place you were almost murdered was one of them.

Mack paused at the edge of the living room, finally prepared to face her demons and any remnants of her attack, and forced herself to really look at the living room. The blood stains were indeed gone, along with what appeared to be most of her original furniture.  The coffee table which had broken her fall Friday night had been replaced with a close replica of her own, along with her couch, end tables, and curtains.

The replacement of her coffee table made sense, and it was possible an end table had been broken in the struggle, but as for the rest she could only surmise that it had been bloodstained.  Truthfully, she wasn’t entirely sure what she thought about losing some of her furniture.  She’d made a lot of memories with her mother in this house, and now everything seemed like a cheap imitation of the original.  She frowned, feeling like an impostor in her own home.

The walls were far too clean; years’ worth of scuff marks and smudges had been erased with a new coat of paint.  Even the carpet, while the same shade of brown, was too plush and new to have been more than a few days old.  Mack stepped into the kitchen, and found it to be much the same: new paint, new carpet, even a new block of knives decorating the counter where her old ones had been.

That last observation was enough to stop her in her tracks, even in her current apathetic state.  She stared at the block of knives, and was suddenly, irrationally angry.  Mack snatched the block of knives off the counter and stalked towards the backdoor, wasting no time in breezing by a very surprised Larry before throwing open the door, and chucking the knives into the large trash can sitting on the backyard patio.

Turning sharply on one heel she slammed the door shut, and then headed back towards the kitchen, completely ignoring the wide eyed look Larry sent after her.  She moved like a women possessed, her body moving before her brain could even register that she had entered the living room, and grabbed the closest end table.

Chest heaving, she dragged it towards the back door, completely ignoring the pain in her back, and with a quick flip of her wrist, once again wrenched the back door open and shoved the end table out the door and into the backyard.  She heard the resulting thunk as it scraped against the concrete patio, and the intense feeling of accomplishment she felt afterwards was worth any momentary discomfort.  Feeling empowered for the first time in what seemed like forever, she returned to the living room for the other end table and gave it the same treatment as the first.

The coffee table was marginally more difficult, but it too met the same fate as the other furniture, and Mack felt insanely gratified as she chucked the stupid thing out the door only to have a leg break off as it landed.

The living room curtains and two lamps she didn’t recognize were added to the growing pile in her backyard, until the only thing left in her living room was the couch and entertainment center.  If she could have maneuvered the couch out the back door by herself it would have gone too, but instead she settled for covering it with a large quilt.  The entertainment center she was grudgingly forced to accept.  It was either that or go without radio or TV.  Mack settled for turning on and turning up her favorite Rolling Stones album before stalwartly ignoring that particular corner of the room.

Feeling incredibly pleased with her work, she grabbed a beer and took a seat on the couch, staring at her faded blinds in the dark.

It was spiteful, she knew, but she didn’t really give a damn.  Mack wasn’t sure it was normal to go from depressed and distraught, to angry in less than ten seconds, but something about seeing her living look so alien had been more than she could take. She felt pushed entirely too far, and god help the next son of a bitch who wanted to upset what remained of her apple cart.

 

88888888888888888888888

 

Nightwing crouched on top of a nearby building, staring down at Uncle Ben’s, waiting for Batman to complete his investigation.  He’d finished his own some time ago, but clearly some things never changed, and expecting Batman to trust the work of others was one of them.

Eventually Batman joined him and they watched what little camera footage they had available for a second time. The street front camera view had been useless to them.  The inside footage was another story.  Her bodyguards had been careful not to face the camera while speaking, but Jamie hadn’t been as cautious, and inadvertently provided her side of a phone conversation with someone.  Even without audio, it was easy to read her lips, and that one conversation was the most illuminating bit of intel they’d had all weekend.

Nightwing radioed Oracle, and filled her in on what they’d learned.  When he was finished there was a thoughtful silence, as the trio digested this new bit of information.

“Let’s start with what we know,” Barb said quietly, a small creak echoing across the radio as she leaned back in her chair.  “Two days ago, on Halloween, Leon Schultz moved against his Uncle Nick in a coup attempt.  A coup that was sanctioned by all the other major crime families: Solvetti, Giovanni, Shaughnessy, and Two-Face.”

“With the Schultz’s distracted by internal affairs, the gangs in the Bowery started jumping territory, leading to a gang war.  Black Mask, taking full advantage of the ensuing chaos sent his men into Gotham in the early hours Saturday morning.  By Saturday night Batman had quelled the gang riots and Two-Face broke Blockbuster out of Blackgate prison,” Barb finished, opening up the line to her fellow crime fighters.

“With Blockbuster back in Bludhaven, Black Mask had to pull his men out of Gotham to protect his own territory back home,” Nightwing supplied.

Batman narrowed his eyes as a thought started to form in the back of his mind.  “With Black Mask out of the way, Leon Schultz is able to search for his Uncle unopposed.”

“But how did Two-Face benefit from helping Blockbuster?” Barb questioned.

“He’s always hated Black Mask,” Nightwing reminded her, “maybe Leon just benefited from a little old fashioned revenge on Two-Face’s part.”

“Maybe,” Batman replied, before changing topics.  “What role did the girl play?”

“She was seen with Two-Face’s men on Friday night and presumably those were his men with her on Sunday evening,” Barb clarified.

“Leslie thought she was Two-Face’s victim,” Dick offered, pulling out the photos from the clinic, “but the video clearly shows her referring to Harv as her ‘date.’  What if Leslie’s assumptions were wrong, what if he was helping her?”

“That doesn’t necessarily make her a willing a participant,” Barb countered, “or tell us why he’d value her safety to begin with.”

“Or tell us who attacked her,” Batman muttered, mind racing as he tried to fit the pieces together.  “Pull up a map of Gotham gang territories,” Bruce told Barb, a suspicion starting to form.  “Where on the map does Jamie Mackenzie’s house and bar fall inside the boundaries?”

Barb did as he requested. “There’s no clear oversight from the large crime families in her area.  Most likely it wouldn’t produce enough revenue to be worth the effort.  But there are a few low level operators in the area.” Barb added, rattling off a short list of names.

Batman noted them, and then nodded at Nightwing before disappearing from the rooftop.  The list of names had been short, but there was one that had stood out.  He’d dealt with Jerome before, and knew that with the right pressure he’d tell him whatever he wanted to know.

It took Bruce less than forty-five minutes to find him holed up in a grungy apartment building, and eight seconds to disarm and knock out his friends.

Jerome, for his part, accepted this intrusion with little surprise, and more than a little attitude.  “Figured I’d be seeing one of you,” he sighed, exhaling a cloud of smoke.

Batman narrowed his eyes, moving forward in the darkened apartment with a growl, “enlighten me.”

“It’s about Mack, isn’t it,” Jerome clarified.  “You wanna know about Mack,” he smirked, “and her new boyfriend.”

“Go on,” Batman prompted, fingering a batarang as a subtle reminder.

Jerome’s eye flickered towards the motion, and his smirk dimmed and then disappeared altogether.  “Look, I’ll tell you what you want know, but you gotta bust us for something,” Jerome gestured to himself and his friends.  “Drugs, guns, anything...,   but Two-Face can’t know that I talked to you.  You gotta make it look like you were just cleaning up the streets or something, or I’m not saying shit.”

“Agreed,” Batman nodded before adding a dark, “now talk.”

“Dudes started coming into her place a couple months ago,” he started, voice hushed, eyes darting from side to side as if checking to make sure no one else if listening.

“I recognized a couple of ‘em right away, ‘cause Westphal and Broderick they don’t work for anybody but Two-Face.  Then about a month later they start bringing their boss in, but he’s careful not to show his face, and Mack, she doesn’t even know until the Schultz’s show up working some protection racket.”

Jerome paused to inhale another lung full of smoke before rushing on, “So Leon Schultz shows up looking for protection money, and Two-Face reveals himself in time to throw them out and be the hero.  Somehow Mack and Two-Face come to some sort of agreement ‘cause he starts hiding out in the back room of the bar with no one the wiser.”

“What kind of an agreement?”

“I don’t know, and I didn’t ask, but if it bothered her she didn’t let it show.  Hell, I even heard he broke up a bar fight for her.”

“And Shultz?”

Jerome snorted, “took exception to Two-Face poaching territory he wanted, and put out a hit on Mack for revenge.  Two-Face saved the girl and Leon got the coup he wanted.  She must be one hell of a piece of ass to go to all that trouble,” he mused.  “Now make this takedown look good.  I don’t wanna get shot ‘cause you couldn’t make this look real.”

“Trust me, it’ll look plenty real,” Batman assured with a decidedly unpleasant smile, before reaching for an increasingly worried Jerome.

 

88888888888888888888888888

 

The back door to the bar slammed shut behind her and Mack scowled at Jason’s retreating back as she watched Troy head for the front.  She followed after him, her boots coming to a sudden and skidding halt as the massive mess that was her bar came into view.

Her hands clenched and then unclenched before she let a large sigh.  This is what she got for running out early and not cleaning up after herself.  A big fat mess and the shit kicked out of her.  Yes, she decided, this was quite simply an epic fucking fail on her part.

Fuck,” she exclaimed loudly to the empty space.  She surveyed her kingdom, derelict as it was, and then headed for the jukebox, temporarily settling for the pop and R&B mix still programmed for Halloween.  That bit of business addressed, she dug around behind the bar and found a small bottle of Tylenol, taking two as a preventative measure before turning a critical eye back to the bar.

“Ah well,” she muttered, doing her best to accept the inevitable clean up that was about to take place.  At least the place hadn’t started to smell yet. She’d clean up tonight and be ready to reopen tomorrow.  Since Tuesday was a slower day of the week, she should be able to slowly ease back into the routine.

Pulling out a dish pan out from behind the bar, she started shoving everything into it. Twenty minutes later, she was stacking glasses in the sink and sorting bottles into the recycling bin, while her injuries subtly reminded her not to stack so many glasses on her tray at the same time.  She bent over the sink behind the bar and set the dishware into the water to soak off the grime and nodded resolutely to herself.

With a few minor adjustments, she would be able to return to her normal routine without taxing her injuries overly much.  Well, that and few bottle of pain relievers.

Once her bar was free of Halloween decorations and debris on the tables, she was pleased to see that the place was started to look as good as new – or as good as it always did.  And somehow it made her aches and pain completely worth it.  She dimly wondered if Harv and Harvey ever felt this good after putting it an hour or so of simple labor- then just as quickly assumed they staffed out any real labor to their subordinates.

“Don’t even know what they’re missing,” she muttered to herself.  Now that she had wrestled her bar into some semblance of cleanliness, she took the time to switch the jukebox back to the rock she preferred.  Once she was finished, she made sure the jukebox was turned up to loud, and then headed into the walk in cooler to grab what she needed to restock the smaller coolers behind the bar.

Batman stared after her, motionless in his hiding place, while both her and her bodyguard remained oblivious to his presence. The stitches to her arm were still present as was some bruising at her shoulders and throat.  Regardless, she was moving quite freely for someone with her injuries - no doubt thanks to the Tylenol he’d seen her swallow.

She was listed as the sole owner/operator and if the muscles in her shoulders and upper arms were any indication she was used to manual labor, perhaps even possessing a higher pain tolerance than he’d first believed.  Her emotional state seemed to be stable, though the tension in her frame and her occasional muttering suggested a great deal of stress.

He could see no signs of fear from her, and she hadn’t given the two men shadowing her a second look, not even when they’d entered the bar.  Batman considered this and had to admit the evidence supported the recent rumors.  Two-Face had been protecting her, and was continuing to do so.  She might even know where he was hiding.  Batman waited until she left the front of the bar unattended and then quickly incapacitated her bodyguard.  He made sure to hide the unconscious form where she wouldn’t see it, before also silencing the second bodyguard waiting in the car. Returning to the shadows of the bar, he waited for her to emerge from the walk in cooler, and then pulled the jukebox cord from the electric socket with a sharp tug.

Mack whirled around at the sudden silence, half expecting to see Troy standing there and then felt her heart skip a beat, as she came face to face with the Dark Knight instead.

Even across the room he oozed power, and she stepped out from behind the bar, not wanting to be boxed in if he should approach her.  He did, gliding forward on deathly silent steps, his cape encasing him, looking every bit the grim reaper he was rumored to be.  He fixed her with a blank stare, nothing but white slits for eyes; his very presence seeping through the bar like a dark cloud.

Mack said nothing, too numb from recent events to feel much of anything besides annoyance.  Thought, a small part of her did have to admit that Nightwing and his aura of intimidation didn’t have shit on this guy.  This guy was the Optimus Prime of scary vigilantes.  If recent events hadn’t left her in a perpetual state of irritation, she might have been impressed.

“What do you want?”  Mack asked bluntly, not the least bit interested in drawing their meeting out.

Batman ceased all motion at her question, a feat that Mack half believed was supernatural in its effect.  Even his cape was motionless, as if he merely willed the space around him to do his bidding.

She raised a brow at him and had to admit that, nowshe was impressed.  Seriously, Harv could take lessons from this guy.

“Two-Face.  Where is he,” His gravelly voice echoing eerily in the empty bar.

Mack scowled at him, and his obvious disinterest in her.  Here she was, days out from almost being murdered, and months out from having harbored a known psychopath, and his only concern was said psychopath?!  “I’m fine, by the way,” she added pointedly.  “Harv’s nice enough not to beat me, but thanks for your concern.”

Somewhere on the other side of town Harv’s surveillance team was scrambling to patch the feed through to their boss. They succeeded just in time for Harv to catch the back end of Mack’s less than pleased response.

“So you admit to knowing him,” he confirmed.

Somewhere in the back of her mind a small voice suggested she not incriminate herself further and she promptly ignored it.  “The entire criminal underworld knows that I know him,” her voice turned downright sarcastic.  “Excuse me for assuming you were in the loop.”

“Is this a joke to you?” He growled in response.  “Two-Face is dangerous.  He needs to be behind bars.”

“A joke?!” she exclaimed indignantly.  “Do I look amused,” she shot back, gesturing to her many injuries.  “I am very aware just how dangerous he is.”

“Then tell me where he is,” Batman demanded harshly.

“I don’t know where he is,” she shot back, nonplussed.

What little she could see of his expression, betrayed nothing.  “And if you did,” he countered.

“If I knew, and told you.  He’d kill me.  Horribly,” she insisted, remembering a blood covered Harv admitting to killing Peterson.

Batman heard the conviction in her words, and saw a hint of fear cross her face despite the brave face she was putting on.  She believed what she was saying, which in his opinion was a good sign.  It she wasn’t harboring any delusions, he might be able to reason with her.

“Then you know that you can’t trust him.  He’ll turn on you eventually,” he promised with a scowl.

“And what exactly,” she drawled scathingly, “do you suggest I do, turn him in?!  Arkham is a revolving door for super villains, and the minute he escaped he’d kill me.”  Mack fixed him with a steely gaze, practically daring him to contradict her.

“So you’re going to ignore the bodies that pile up at his feet while enjoying his protection?”

Her eyes flickered away from his, but not before he caught the sliver of guilt that crossed them.  “What about my life?” she countered, shoving her guilt down and burying it.  “Or aren’t you concerned about my cold, dead body lying at his feet?!” 

“So your level of loyalty is tied directly to your safety,” he summarized shrewdly and with more than a little contempt.

Mack opened her mouth to agree, that yes, she’d drop him like yesterday’s news if she wasn’t terrified of him, but stopped because it wasn’t quite true.  “He saved my life,” she admitted.

“He’s the only reason it was endangered in the first place,” he countered.

“I’ve already had this argument with myself, and with him,” she admitted with a scowl.  “You’ll forgive me I don’t feel like re-hashing it with you.”

“Living through one argument doesn’t mean you’ll survive the next one.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” she exclaimed, losing her patience with constantly explaining herself.  “It doesn’t matter how many ways you remind me he’s a murdering psychopath.  I already know!

“Christ,” she swore, “you think I asked for this!  It’s not like I put up a sign asking for crazy people to drop by for a drink, and I sure as shit didn’t ask to be used as leverage in some sort of giant pissing match between Harv and Schultz.”

“Nor,” she added, her voice moving into a rant-worthy octave, “did I ask for all this fucking unwanted attention from you, and the rogue’s gallery, and the rest of the criminal fucking underworld!”

“You think I don’t know the shit I’m in?!  Trust me,” she yelled, “I know.”

“Then help me,” he demanded.  “Tell me what you know, where’s he been, and I’ll help you get out of the city.”

She stared at him, and snorted in derision, “do you think I haven’t already thought about it?  The perfect way to ditch my bodyguards.  The perfect way to leave this city in my rearview window, before Harv even realized I was gone.  Because I have.  In detail,” she admitted.

“But if I do decide to leave.  It’ll be on my terms, my way.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to leave with you, and give him an extra reason to hunt me down.”

“You aren’t the first woman to think she was in control,” he warned her.  “A very young, very naïve Arkham psychiatrist once thought the same things about the Joker, and now she shares a cell next to him.”

Mack felt the blood drain from her face, as the man in front of her compared her to Harley Quinn, “Fuck you,” she snarled.  “I am nothing like her.”

“Where I stand, I don’t see the difference.  You’re still harboring a felon, and looking the other way while he kills innocent people.”

“And I suppose we’ll just overlook the fact that she goes on crime sprees with him, and that she’s just as crazy as he is,” she defended, refusing to concede even his small point.

“Give it a few months.  That’s all it took for the Joker to scramble her brains like eggs.”  She fumed at him, but for once, didn’t have a witty retort.  “Or did you really think she started that way?”

“Or maybe he doesn’t even trust you enough to make you his hench girl.”  She nearly throttled him for the condescension in his voice, but her sarcastic response died on her lips as she watched him pull a small electronic device from a crevice under the ledge of her bar.

“Say hello,” he told her, more than aware that with this one move he’d planted enough doubt to splinter what loyalty she did feel for Two-Face.

“No,” she breathed in disbelief; betrayal in her eyes. “Harvey wouldn’t do that to me.”

Harvey died in that courtroom,” he told her in a low voice that sounded a lot like pity.

“That’s not true,” she denied, voice laced with desperation. “I’ve seen him.”

“Two-Face is a sociopath,” he reminded her. “He puts on acts like you put on clothes.”

She knew what he was saying was probably true.  Harv was a sociopath, but she knew what she’d seen.  Harvey was real.  He had to be.  “No,” she denied, ignoring what was now unmistakably pity on his face.  “Just get out.”

She grabbed the electronic bugging device from his hand, and then flung one hand wildly at him.  “Get out!” she demanded a second time, trying to ignore the defeated sound in her own voice, “Just get out.”

He considered her for a long second, and decided that he’d done more than enough to plant the seeds of doubt in her.  The next time he approached her, she’d be ready to talk.  He placed a small bat shaped device on the ledge of the bar, along with a small note, and was gone.

Mack stared after him for a long second before turning her attention to the tiny listening device clutched in her hand.  “He’s gone,” she whispered quietly into her palm.

There was no response, and she instantly felt stupid for thinking there would be some omniscient voice that would answer from thin air.  She stared at it for what felt like forever, but in reality was only a few seconds.  Finally, she worked up the nerve to ask the one question she both knew and feared the answer to.

“Harv?” she whispered again, pouring her grief, guilt, and depth of betrayal into a one word plea that she desperately hoped would go unanswered.

There was a blessedly long pause, and for one glorious moment, hope bloomed in her chest.  It only hurt all the more when what little hope she had was crushed under the sound of Harv’s ringtone filling the small bar.  The techs never were sure whether it was a sob or mangled scream that ended her transmission.

Mack’s chest heaved as she stomped her foot once, then twice on the small device.  She ignored Harv’s phone call, throwing her phone against the wall in a fit of anger.  It continued to ring from where it lay on the floor, and she turned her back on it, growing angrier by the second.

She gave the note Batman left her a cursory glance, and then went back and read it once more.

This is a panic button that only I will hear.  Cool it to less than 30°F and it will remain undetected.

Mack stared down at the traitorous device, more than aware that being in possession of something like this would be an instant death sentence.  Still, his visit had done its job, and she now doubted Harv just enough to hold onto it – just in case.

Decision made, she went to the cooler door, bat-shaped metal held daintily between two fingers.  Once inside she went to the freezer farthest from the door, the one she kept her high end, high proof liquors in.  It was also the one she used the least, and was the best candidate for hiding her dirty little secret.  She shoved the device into the farthest crevice, and covered it with several heavy boxes, making sure she scuffed up the entire cooler so no one could tell anything in particular has been recently moved.

She closed the lid to the freezer and then exited the cooler.  Subconsciously she knew that she should be scared by her actions just now.   She had just betrayed a dangerous and powerful mob boss – one of Gotham’s infamous rogue’s gallery.  While she knew she hadn’t personally betrayed him, she also knew Harv wouldn’t see it like that.  He thought the only insurance she needed was him.  Now she saw that wasn’t necessarily true.  So she’d keep her dirty little secret and hope like hell it didn’t get her killed.  Though at the rate she was going, the small bat signal would be the least of her worries.

Two superhero visits in as many days, was probably something of record, and judging by the electronic bug she’d destroyed, and the countless others that were no doubt hidden around her bar, Harv didn’t actually trust her.

Turns out it only took a single visit from a superhero dressed like a bat to make her doubt him in return. Of course for all she knew, those stupid bugs had been there all along.  They could be in her house for fuck’s sake!  The slow boil of rage that had started in her belly inched ever higher at that thought.

Well, she’d just see about this. 

She had just retrieved her now cracked phone, when the back door opened and Brian crossed the threshold, followed by two men she didn’t recognize.

“Ms. Mackenzie,” he offered politely.

That one remark was more than enough to set off all sorts of little red flags.  Brian never called her anything but Mack, and he never spoke to her in such a serious manner.  It also meant that she wouldn’t have to worry about calling Harv on the phone.  Chances were good she’d be seeing him very shortly.  There was no other reason that made sense, unless Brian was here to kill her.

“Mr. Broderick,” she responded, trying for the same polite tone, but only succeeded in sounding just shy of openly hostile.

He sized her up in one quick look, able to read the barely restrained anger in the tenseness of her shoulder, and the way her nails seemed to dig into her palms.  This was really not a good idea, he realized.  They were going to kill each other.  He made a mental note to not to let her in the office armed.

“Are you here to kill me?” she asked, her voice disturbingly calm, for such a question.

To his credit Brian looked vaguely scandalized.  “No,” he replied firmly – very firmly.  “The boss would like to see you,” he reassured her.

When her only response was a brief nod, he went ahead and asked for her gun just in case.  You never could tell what a truly paranoid person would do, and it was best to head off any possibility of bloodshed from her side before they continued.  Of course this did nothing to help her anxiety levels and for a brief moment he almost felt bad unleashing her on his boss.

Once he had escorted her to the car, they proceeded through an alarming number of security check points, not unlike the route she’d encountered after meeting Nightwing.  Finally, after a number of car switching and back tracking that only served to further irritate an already angry Mack, they arrived at an underground parking structure in a neighborhood that just barely qualified as a ‘nicer part of Gotham.’

She was ushered down a long and twisting concrete walkway, while just above her she could hear the steady traffic of Gotham’s nightlight.  They passed several exits and entrances, but finally stopped before an elevator. Brian turned a small key and they headed for the eleventh floor, exiting into a long hallway that lead past several offices to a spacious lobby where a red haired woman was manning the front desk.  She glanced at Mack, not bothering to hide her curiosity.

“Is he free, Roxy?” Brian asked, not bothering to clarify who the he in question was.

“Go on up,” she told him with a nod.

Brian ushered Mack up a nearby staircase, and then down another hallway, stopping before what was clearly labeled as a ‘board room.’  She snorted at the sheer ridiculousness of a wanted man having a board room, and shoved the door open, not bothering to knock.

Behind her Brian winced, and he sent a warning look at John, Mark, and Kevin who were scattered in various chairs across the room.  This was not going to be pretty.

“I believe this belongs to you,” she all but sneered at Harv, before tossing the crushed remains of his listening device onto the large table that took up one half of the room.

He spared her an irritated glance from the desk chair he currently occupied, “Are your hands broken,” he bit back, referencing her inability to knock.

“Don’t you dare lecture me on manners, when you clearly don’t have any,” she seethed, anger barely contained.  “I want those things removed from my bar,” Mack snarled at him, doing a fitting impression of Harv when he was angry.

“Or what?!” he challenged, baring his teeth at her- knowing full well that all the real power in this little relationship was firmly in his court.

The entire room watched in morbid fascination as her face slid through several different stages of anger.  She finally settled firmly on violently hostile, as her left eye started to twitch.

“Or what,” she hissed dangerously, nails digging into her palms as her fists clenched at her side.  “Or what?!” she repeated increasing in volume, as all the anger Mack had been repressing suddenly coalesced.  Her self-control shattered with an almost audible snap, sending her into a rage thatcould only be referred to as temporary insanity.

“I’ll show you or what,” she screeched, taking a sadistic pleasure at the shock on his face as the object nearest to her went flying across the room, and shattered only inches from his head.

From her left, Brian uttered a stunned, “Holy shit,” before practically diving out of the way to join his co-workers on the far side of the room.

“I trusted you,” she screeched, as Harv dodged a particularly expensive bottle of brandy.

“I did everything you asked,” Mack shouted, brandishing a stapler before she sent in flying after the brandy.  “I gave you everything you wanted, and it still wasn’t enough.”

“I can’t believe,” the three hole punch broke apart midair and showered both Harv and the floor with little bits of white paper, “for even a second that I thought you were worth staying in this shitty city!”

She groped at the next shelf wildly for another projectile, and in the few seconds it took her to grab a hefty binder Harv had already leaped the width of the table to grab her from her behind.

Any other day, any other time, Mack might have accepted his manhandling, but today, for just once, she wanted to hurt him like he’d hurt her.  She moved before she was fully conscious of it, her head snapping back towards Harv’s own.  Only his highly honed reflexes saved him from a broken nose, as she narrowly missed her target.  His arms loosened around her waist just enough that she was able to shove back against him using the table in front of her for leverage.  They both stumbled backwards, but she was able to pull away and scramble in the direction he’d just come from so that once again the table was between them.

The look Harv sent her promised a very painful death in the near future.  “You wanna play princess,” he growled, a predatory look crossing his face.  “Fine.  Let’s play.”

He moved and she reacted as a small shiver of fear managed to worm its way through her haze of rage.  Mack grabbed the large table, easily five foot wide and seventy pounds, and lifted it, doing her damnedest to flip the table on him, but willing to settle for turning it on its side.  Any hopes she had of buying herself some time to maneuver died as she heard the thump of a shoe meeting the table side, and watched in awe as he vaulted over her five foot tall barricade one handed before the table even had a chance to fall.

Harv sent her a dark look as he shed his outer jacket, and started to casually roll up his sleeves.  “Your move,” he drawled through a disturbingly unpleasant smile, adding a mocking, “honey,” as he slowly stalked towards her.

“Fuck you, sweetie,” she retorted with a fake smile of her own, fully aware after his little acrobatic stunt that not only was she completely out-classed, but that he was deliberately toying with her.

“Is this it?” he asked, once again mocking her, “Is this the best you can do.  This wasn’t even worth getting up for.”  He smirked sadistically at the sudden flush in her cheeks as her anger came flaring back, once again overriding her good sense.

He was baiting her, and somewhere deep down she knew it, but she just didn’t have the ability to stop responding to it- and all the while he was slowly, irrevocably advancing on her.

“Is this some sort of a game for you?!” she accused.  “What gives you the right to fuck with my life?!”

“Because I own you,” he told her savagely.  Harv met her eyes and the hunger in them turned her stomach to knots, “and because your anger is almost as sweet as your fear, and you’ve just given me both.”

Mack turned white in response, and his answering chuckle was as disturbing as his answer.  She reached for a chair and shoved it at him, before turning and making a dash for the nearest side door.  She wouldn’t last more than a second if she let him reach her, and she desperately needed to put some distance between them.

She made it less than two feet before his hand twisted in her hair and pulled her back.  Mack hissed in pain, and her elbow quickly found his midsection.  He didn’t make so much as a sound, but he released her, shoving her forward and to one side just enough that she stumbled and had to spin back towards him to avoid falling on her ass.

Some sick sort of sixth sense told her it was coming before she ever saw it, and Mack raised both her arms to protect her face.  Her entire right arm went numb from the impact and her eyes widened in absolute fury as she realized he’d just tried to back hand her.  Her left fist swung out in retaliation, a move he easily side step, as he used her own momentum to send her sprawling to the floor between him and the door she’d first entered.

Mack managed to roll out of it, and came to her feet fighting and furious, “don’t you dare try to bitch slap me, you bastard.  If you’re gonna hit me then do it like a man.”

She barely even saw him move, catching only the vicious gleam in his eye and a sinister and ominous sounding, “if you insist.”  Mack felt the hand on the back of her neck and she was barely able to get her arms between his knee and her midsection as he pushed her into the hit.

Pain exploded in her abdomen, and she slumped to the floor with a ragged wheeze, perfectly aware that the bastard had deliberately aimed for the stitched up slash in her stomach.

When he spoke his voice was closer than she’d expected, and she spared him a hateful glance to find him crouching down next to her.  “You really wanna keep doing this,” he asked her in that dangerously soft voice of his, “because I’m not even trying, yet.”

The bastard has just kneed her in the one place he knew she was weakest, and was seriously enjoying fucking her up.  If he thought this was over then he only had one oar in the water.  She’d land a hit on him or die trying, which she had to admit might not be far off.  “Try this,” she muttered, grabbing a nearby desk phone that had been knocked over and swinging it at him.

He managed to avoid most of it, but she felt the most sadistic sense of pleasure as she watched the very corner of it glance off his perfectly chiseled fucking jaw.  Harv snarled at her, no longer even slightly amused.  They stared at each other for a second that seemed to span forever, her with a self-satisfied smirk and him with his coldly angry eyes, before he reached out and pulled her up by the shirt, hand wrapping around her throat.

Panicked bloomed in her, as she realized that she’d finally taken things too far.  She dug her hands into his arm, hoping to loosen his grip, but he ignored her.  “Let’s have a talk, Mackenzie,” he sneered, before dragging her by the throat into the nearby room she previously tried to escape into. 

Mack scrambled to keep up with his long strides, and every time she fell behind his unrelenting grip on her throat only further constricted her airway.  If she hadn’t been so preoccupied trying to breath she would realized that they were entering his private office.  Dimly she heard a door slam shut, but the one behind her remained open.  Her eyes widened as she realized that his employees had left the board room.  They’d just left her alone with him- with a murderous Two-Face.

Her back meet the hard surface of a nearby wall and his grip loosened just enough that she could speak.  Her eyes flickered to his face, afraid of what she’d find there.  The cold look in his eyes all but froze her solid, and her hands stilled, coming to rest on the arm holding her to the wall.

“Are you finished?” he asked.

“I don’t know.  Am I?”  She was scrambling to form a scowl, refusing to cower in front of him even when asking if he was going to kill her.

“Oh, I think you are,” he told her darkly, his hand constricting until it was again painful to breath.

You’re not serious. Harvey scoffed.

Fuck yes I am.  I’ve had enough.  No broad is worth this.

Are fucking kidding me?  That was one of the sexiest things I’ve seen in a long time.

I don’t find being hit in the face with a telephone sexy.

You’re a horrible liar.  Violence turns you on and you know it.  Look at her, completely at your mercy and still fighting.  If that’s not hot, I don’t know what is.

Harv was silent for a long second, unable to contradict his other half.

Not to mention that she looks like she’d just been well fucked.  Harvey murmured quietly, echoing one last observation before falling silent, knowing he’d already won the argument.  It’s a good look, don’t you think…

Harv sneered derisively at the poorly disguised attempt at manipulation, but found his eyes wandering over her of their own volition.  His gaze flickered over her mussed hair, flushed cheeks, and slightly parted lips, then down to her chest heaving with the effort to breath, and couldn’t deny the observation.  The hand around her throat stilled, and she felt something shift between them.  Their eyes met and the heat in his wasn’t just anger anymore.  He shifted until his other arm was boxing her in, and for one tense second it seemed he was torn between killing her and kissing her.  Under any other circumstance she might have been confused, but she supposed to a man like Harv, who probably got off on fear and violence, it wasn’t a hard transition for him to make.

He left his hand around her throat, but unclenched it so she could breathe freely, enjoying the view of her chest as she took several deep shuddering breaths.  She sent him a dirty look, still furious with him, but suddenly very aware of how close he was.

She was so angry at him and no amount of throwing things or hitting him had eased it at all.  She wanted to make him pay.  Wanted to make him bleed.  To bring him to his knees the way he always brought her to hers.

“I really hate you,” she swore vehemently.

“I know,” he admitted, and from the look on his face it only made it sweeter for him.

Mack clenched her teeth and slid her hands around the leather straps of his gun holster.  She didn’t care what it took she was going to make this bastard submit one way or another.

In the next second his mouth was inches from hers, “never,” he bit out through bared teeth, and it was only then she realized she’d spoken out loud.

Fuck you,” she breathed angrily, before yanking him to her and kissing him hard enough to challenge his dominance.  He responded in kind, hand fisting painfully in her hair as he forced her to give into the pace he set.

She hissed, more out of fury than pain and bit his tongue in retribution.  Harv pulled back long enough to snarl at her before sliding his hands under her thighs and hoisting her up, deliberately jostling her so that her back hit the wall again with more force than necessary. 

Their battle of wills lasted until his hand found her breast, and she couldn’t hide the gasp that told him she was enjoying his attentions more than she wanted to admit.  He smirked at her in undisguised triumph, completely ignoring the hand that yanked at his hair, “that sounded like a concession.”

Never,” she bit out through bared teeth in a perfect replica of his previous retort.

He leaned in, mouth finding the shell of her ear, “liar,” he growled, voice dropping an octave into the sexiest bedroom voice she’d ever heard.   He heard her breath hitch, and he turned his attention to her neck, his mouth finding the sweet spot that made her back arch.  She could feel his smirk against her skin as a breathy moan passed her lips, and she pulled away, managing to slide one hand between their bodies and cup him through his slacks.   He hissed and jerked into her hand, and she couldn’t help but taunt him with a low, “whose conceding now.”

His face was a sudden mix of anger and need, and she swallowed in fear even as she felt her abdomen tighten and heat rush through her veins.  Harv narrowed his eyes, watching her pupils dilate, even as he pulled her hands away from him, and slammed them into the wall above her.

She gasped, rocking her hips against his, and then he knew, “you like it,” he growled, leaning into her, “you like it when I’m violent.”  His hand tightened around her wrists, and she swore as he slid the other under her shirt and rubbed him thumb across her nipple.  He released her long enough to pull the shirt roughly from her smaller frame, and then he forced her hands back against the wall.  His mouth slid down towards her breast, his teeth nipping at her even as his tongue soothed her skin.  He took her nipple into his mouth and all her hard fought self-control vanished under his ministrations.  She cried out softly, his name crossing her lips, and when he rocked his hips into hers she tugged desperately to free her hands.

Harv refused her unspoken request, tightening his grip on her until she was sure he’d leave bruises, and then reached down to slowly unfastened her pants.  He held her gaze as he slid his hand easily between her clothes and skin until his fingers slipped between her already slick folds.  Mack inhaled sharply as his fingers slid lightly against her clit and then moaned as they circled her opening before slowly sliding his fingers inside her.

Her cries echoed through the room, as his fingers slid in and out of her wet heat, teasing her slowly towards orgasm.  She moaned desperately, even as he denied her the rough friction she needed to reach completion.  Using the handhold on her wrist she shifted her weight until she was able to arch into his thrusting fingers, her head lolling back at the sudden stab of white hot pleasure.

His dick hardened at the sight of her pleasuring herself, and he watched her inhibitions melt away under his touch, watched her eyes widened in surprise as the white hot heat he was creating threatened to overwhelm her.  Mack bit her lip, trying desperately to deny him the sound of her crying his name, but he refused to let her, using his mouth to part her own.  “Scream for me,” he ordered against her lips, his voice soft and dark.

She resisted him, shuddering and gasping for air until he brushed his thumb across the nub between her lips.  Mack sobbed as the stab of pleasure broke what little restrain and pride she still had, the strangled please that crossed her lips only the first of many.  Harv worked her bundle of nerves with this thumb, relishing every plea in his name as the woman underneath him trembled, rocking her hips into his hand as she pleasured herself on his fingers.

“Cum for me, baby,” he coaxed, his voice sounding almost tender.  Her eyes flew open in shock at the endearment, and he repeated it, the sudden influx of heat it roused in her enough to push her over the precipice.  He watched her cum, crying his name and clutching at his hands still wrapped around her wrists.

Slowly the lust filled fog cleared, and Mack realized the precarious position she was in, depending on his strength entirely to keep her from hitting the floor.  He saw the hint of fear in her eyes and ignored it, sliding his hand free from between her legs before securing her legs around his waist and slowly licking the taste of her from one finger.

If her face hadn’t already been flushed from her previous exertions she was positive she’d have blushed at his display, despite the flare of need it stirred within her.  She couldn’t help but wonder exactly how good he was with his tongue, and what she’d have to promise him to find out.  Mack moved to reach for him, and found that she was still his captive.  He made no more to release her, and she used what leverage she had to slowly rock her hips against his own, feeling the hard length of him.

He mimicked her movement, and she made sure she was looking at him, when she murmured a quiet, “you right,” she admitted.  “I do like it when you’re violent.  Now fuck me.”

His control broke with an almost audible snap, and he pulled his hands from her long enough to carry her across the office to his desk.  Harv shoved the contents to one side before unzipping his pants with a flick of his wrist.  His cock sprung free and then he was ripping her pants down around her ankles and pushing her down against the desk.  Harv wrapped one hand into her hair to hold her in place and then he sunk his dick slowly into her tight, wet sheath.

She clutched at the desk as he slid inside her, her back bowing as she sobbed in pleasure at the intrusion.  His length filled and stretched her, his dick so much sweeter than his hands had been.  Above her he groaned, deep and guttural as she clenched around him, losing himself in the feel of her wet pussy.  His hips moved, and then there was nothing but heat and a burning desperation for him. Mack had no defense for the intensity he was building in her, unable to stop the litany of cries, don’t stop, please don’t stop

Harv swore violently as the woman underneath him gave in, clutching at the desk and moaning him name in an utterly intoxicating mix of reverence and need.  His hand dug into her hip and he pulled her into each thrust, her pussy milking him with every plunge.  He swore, losing himself in the feel of her and the way she begged him to fuck her. 

He pulled on the fistful of hair in his hands, and she bit her lip to keep from screaming as she contracted around him.  Her nails dug into the desk, and oh god… she was so close, so close… 

His raspy voice sounded above her ear and it was all she could do not to fly apart. “Cum for me,” he demanded harshly, gritting his teeth to keep from cumming before her.

His breathing turned ragged as she shuddered underneath him, her broken cries making his dick throb.  He whispered his demand again and then let out a strangled groan as she convulsed around him.  He called her name with a low warning growl, as need overtook him and his hips slammed into her with increasing force.  Underneath him Mack muffled her screams against the desk before cumming around him hard and fast, sobbing his name. Harv swore violently at the wet heat tightening around him and then shuddered as his cock jerked, burying himself inside her as he came.

 

888888888888888888888888

 

Harv slumped down next to the desk, and Mack quickly followed him, unable to maintain her position on the edge of desk without his support.  He managed to locate his cigarettes in the pants lying nearby, and then silence reigned supreme, broken only by the sound of his sharp inhale and exhale.

“Give me one,” Mack demanded after a minute, and he huffed in irritation before tossing his cigarettes and lighter at her.  Mack didn’t normally enjoying smoking, but there was something relaxing about having something else to do.  Anything to keep her from dwelling on her traitorous thoughts about how bloody good he was at, well… apparently everything.  Arrogant ass, she added for good measure.

“Don’t suppose you have anything to drink in this office?” she asked, breaking their self-imposed silence once more.

“Well I did.  But someone smashed it,” he replied acerbically.

She paused and then offered him a grudging, “sorry about your office.”

“Like hell you are,” he accused, sending a glare her direction.

Mack turned to look at him, and then turned away, worried that her uncontrollable smirk would appear disingenuous.

“Don’t think for a second I don’t see that,” he growled.

This time her apology was more contrite, but they both knew she was only apologizing for not really being sorry.

“Forget it,” he replied after a moment, shrugging casually.  Too casually if you asked her; he wasn’t exactly known for being overly forgiving.  Mack looked at him suspiciously, wondering what he was trying to pull.

Now that he had her undivided attention he went in for the kill, practically oozing smugness.  “It’s not every day the great Jamie Mackenzie begs me for anything.”

He took great delight in watching her blush and sputter in denial, his smirk turning down right wicked.

“You are such an ass,” she accused, shooting him a venomous look.  “And that did not happen,” she argued, jabbing a finger in his direction.

His wicked smirk turned downright evil, “whatever helps you sleep at night, princess.”

“Well it certainly won’t be you, after a comment like that,” she muttered under her breath.

He went quiet again, but it was the dangerous kind of quiet, and she wondered briefly if he’d heard her.  Mack risked a glance at him from the corner of her eye, and was momentarily floored that someone could put that much heat, possessiveness, and pure unadulterated predatory intent in one look.  Oh yeah.  He’d heard her.  Harv held her gaze for a long second and then ground out his cigarette on the side of his desk before moving purposely towards her.

Her eyes narrowed at him as he managed to convey a sense of stalking her, even crawling across two feet of carpet.  “Hey,” she protested indignantly, nudging him back with one foot, “you stay on your side of the desk.”

In retrospect, she should never have offered him a limb to hold hostage.  He wrapped one hand around her ankle, and before she knew what was happening she found herself sitting in his lap.  “That sounds like a challenge, Mack,” he drawled, hands coming to rest on her hips.

The ringing of his phone interrupted what Mack was beginning to recognize as something of a moment, and was almost disappointed when he displaced her to dig around for it.  He glanced down at the display screen and made a face.  Glancing back at her he gestured towards the far corner.  “There’s a bathroom back there if you need it.”

With that he dismissed her, pulling on his pants and returning the missed call.  She blinked, almost shocked as he pulled every scrap of almost human behavior back inside, and became the Harv she’d come to know so well, speaking into the phone with the same shitty attitude he’d always had.  Mack hadn’t even realized he’d been treating her differently at all, until now, and just like that he really did own her.  She wanted to see that Harv again, and she be damned if she wasn’t going to.

She climbed to her feet, grabbed for what clothes were in reach, and headed for the bathroom he’d pointed out.  Mack addressed the necessities, and then slumped down on the top of the toilet.  Slowly the adrenaline and endorphins started to wear off, only to be replaced by a creeping pain in practically every part of her body.  Probably it hadn’t been wise to have sudden death match with Harv, let alone right after having one with Peterson.

She paused as the reality of that settled in.  I just... I threw a table at Harvey Dent, Two-Face.  A soft giggle burst past her lips seemingly of its own free will, and her hand flew to her mouth as if trying to deny the insane sounding noise she’d just made.

It wasn’t funny, and she knew it.  She’d hit him with a telephone, and it was a miracle he hadn’t strangled her, literally.  She giggled again despite her attempts to hold it back, one hand pressed firmly to her lips.  Dimly she was aware she was hyperventilating, and then a slick wetness was sliding down her cheeks and pooling in the crevices between her fingers.  With horror she realized she was crying and laughing at the same time, and she couldn’t seem to stop.

She knew her situation was beyond ridiculous, and it took her multiple attempts before she was able to slow her respirations and regain control.  Dragging herself to her feet, she splashed cold water on her face, avoiding her reflection in the mirror.  Once she was sure her eyes weren’t unusually red, she re-entered the office, not expecting it to be occupied by anyone but the two of them.

She blinked to find both Harv and Mark look her way before resuming their conversation.  Mack ignored them right back, finally realizing that she was standing in what was most likely his office, and that between the two of them it’d been completely decimated.  The entire contents of his desk were scattered across the floor, including what looked like a rather expensive computer.  Files were strewn every which way, the carpet littered with the oddest assortment of maps, blue prints, tax forms, and stock portfolios that she’d ever seen.  Odder still was that it was all seemed rather generic.  It wasn’t anything that didn’t seem benign or basic public information, and after further consideration, she realized that he wouldn’t be the sort of person to leave a paper trail.  Thought she did briefly wonder where he would keep his records.  She doubted even Harv could keep everything in his head.  Mack quickly moved away from that train of thought.  She did not want to know.

Finally she located her over shirt, buried under a pile of hard back reference books, and she smiled softly as she realized they were his old law textbooks.  Then, out of the corner of her eye she spotted a lone paperback with The Relic blazoned across the top of it.  Mack set the text on the desk, and reached for the novel instead noting the dog eared page half-way through the book.  Her smile widened as she found proof that he’d taken her advice and was reading what she knew to be an excellent series.

“Enjoying yourself, Mack…” Harv glowered at her back, not missing for an instant the nauseating smile on her face, or the source of it.  Fucking Harvey, he groused.  At least she managed to look appropriately chastised, even if she was fighting back a smirk.  He snarled at her for good measure, and her smirk disappeared completely as she promptly put the book down.  Harv narrowed his eyes, but apparently decided she been appropriately cowed because he turned back to Mark.

Dick, she thought uncharitably before stepping around the pile at her feet and headed towards his boardroom hoping to find her purse somewhere in the wreckage.  She was really starting to need that aspirin.  If anything the board room was in worse shape that his office and she was both simultaneously horrified and impressed that she’d caused most of that damage herself.  Mack took a closer look at table, noticing for the first time that the base was almost solid wood, which explained why she couldn’t flip it over.  The base of it was far too heavy to tip over without a great deal more force than she’d applied.  She remembered the way he scaled it and approached for a closer look, just barely able to make out the edge of a toe print in the middle of the hardwood.

“Jesus,” she muttered.  He would have had to launch himself at it with enough force to propel his body far enough up, and have the upper body strength to flip his body weight over the top.  It was an impressive feat considering he’d done it completely on the fly.

Her stomach cramped then, reminding her not only to find her aspirin, but also the way he kneed her in the stomach.  She sneered at the memory before finally locating her purse and dumping several tablets into her hand.  If she didn’t think he’d throw the “don’t provoke Harv” clause in her face she’d be more than happy to remind him of his “don’t hit Mack” clause.  Glowering, she stepped into the hallway and headed down the stairs to find something to drink.

Three pair of eyes stared at her as she descended, and she nodded at John, Brian, and Kevin who were gathered around the empty receptionist desk.

They stared at her in silence for a second and then John spoke, a little bit of respect edging into his voice.  “That was some ballsy shit, Mack.”

She snorted at the compliment, fighting off a blush.  “I think the work you’re looking for is insane.”

He didn’t deny it, “still… not bad.  Of course,” he added with a rueful shrug, “we thought he’d killed you.”

“I figured as much,” she replied, before scowling at them, “especially the way you abandoned me like rats jumping off a sinking ship.”

“Hey, not even my crazy ass would volunteer to stick around to see how he acts after he realizes he’d just murdered you,” Brian told her bluntly.

Mack didn’t bother staying angry at them. They might protect her from an outside threat, but none of them were going to save her from Harv himself.  Mack started to nod in agreement, and then she blinked in confusion.  “Wait.  You left the building?”

“Everybody but Mark,” Kevin corrected.  “We just got back maybe ten minutes ago.”

“Yeah, but what if something happens,” Mack asked, “and Mark’s the only one here?”

“Then I pity the poor bastards who try to take out the other boss,” Kevin told her solemnly.  She stared up at him, curiosity peaked, but Brian interrupted her train of thought.

“Soooo,” Brian drawled unable to keep from teasing her.  “How did you keep him from killing you?” The sly look he sent her was all the proof she needed that her already suspected what had happened, and now he was just pushing her buttons.

She sent him a flat stare, “trust me, it’s nothing that would ever save your ass.”

He waggled his eyebrows at her, “that’s what I thought.”

Mack narrowed her eyes, but let it go, knowing there was no use in denying it.  Instead she deliberately changed the subject, turning her attention to the needed beverage.  “You got anything to drink in this joint?” she asked the blonde, “or do I need to find a Starbucks?”

She wasn’t entirely sure what she’d said that caused such a change in tone, but suddenly John was practically oozing devilish glee, and Brian was looking at her like she was the anti-Christ.

“You want coffee,” John clarified, before turning to Brian with an evil smirk, and unnecessarily repeated her request, “Mack wants some coffee,”

“I heard her the first time,” Brian growled at his best friend, quickly losing his jokester front in light of the sudden threat to his secret stash.

“Well far be for us to deny the boss’s woman anything her little heart desires,” John responded, oozing fake sincerity.

Mack received the distinct impression that she was witnessing some sort of old argument, and John had finally found the trump card he needed to one up his friend.

“Then go get some, John,” he retorted, uttering his friends name with a hostility that took her by surprise.

John’s smirk only darkened as he sensed weakness, “she didn’t ask me, Brian.”

“You can’t make me,” Brian glared, resorting to childish denials as he sensed the trap closing in on him.

“Oh but I can,” John reminded him with sadistic glee, “I outrank you.”

Brian snarled something incomprehensible before diving at his friend.  John only laughed, a disturbingly eerie chuckle reminiscent of Harv’s own, before Kevin stepped between them, his six foot three frame towering over his much shorter cousin.

“You’re taking his side?!” he demanded, appalled at his cousin’s sudden betrayal.

Kevin glowered down at him, before smiling nastily, “payback’s a bitch, isn’t it.”

“I’ll get you for this,” Brian swore at his friends, though Mack noted that neither of them seemed concerned in the slightest.  He whirled around, and Mack estimation of John and Kevin went up several notches, as she took an instinctive step back at the murderous glint in his eyes.  If they weren’t scared of this, she’d hate to see what did scare them.

“Brian,” Kevin chided with a frown.

He flipped off the tall man, but reverted to the faux friendly he mask he wore with practiced ease.  “Sorry, Mack,” he told her with a wink.

“Jesus,” she breathed, “You’re all crazy.”

“I’m not the one who threw a stapler at Two-Face,” he pointed out, stalking off to presumably make her coffee.

Behind her, she heard Kevin remark to John, “I swear, what is it with women and staplers?  Do you think it’s the weight of it, or is it more of an act of convenience?”

“Fuck if I know.  Maybe it’s in their genes,” John speculated.

Kevin nodded and then, “of course, I don’t think Roxy would ever throw a table at me, but then Mack’s always been a little special.”

At this point, Mack knew they were deliberately poking at her, and she sent the two of them a wry look, “bite me.”

They grinned at her, clearly amused, and she smiled back, not nearly as irritated as she was pretending to be.  “So what’s up with the coffee?  I really wasn’t trying to start a fight.”

John explained about Brian’s incredibly awesome coffee, informing her with a scowl that he refused to tell any of them the brand name, and until now they couldn’t think of a way to make him ‘fess up.

“Why didn’t you just sneak some to Harv?” she asked, somewhat confused, “if it’s that good, I’m sure Brian would tell him.”

“Because that would be admitting we couldn’t get it out of him ourselves,” John explained.

Mack nodded thoughtfully, respecting if not necessarily understanding their private little war.  Brian returned then, sulking down the hall and presenting her with a mug that read, ‘Non-Flammable? Challenge accepted’.  She laughed, and took the offered mug, sipping it carefully.

They nodded knowingly at her hum of pleasure. “Oh that is fucking awesome.  Where on earth do you get this?”

Brian mashed his lips together and promptly ignored her, refusing to talk. “Wow,” she murmured, to John and Kevin, “he really is hardcore about this, isn’t he?”

They nodded in agreement, until Mark interrupted their commiserating by calling for her.  “Boss wants you,” he called out, meeting her halfway down the stairs as she headed up, tossing back her aspirin as she went.

He glanced at the mug in her hand and instantly recognized it. “Is that Brian’scoffee?”  he asked incredulously.  She nodded, and Mark looked around her to send John an impressed look, “well played.”

John bowed mockingly, and Mack shook her head at the bickering that erupted once again between Brian and John as she headed upstairs to see Harv.

 

88888888888888888

 

Harv stood at his office window, staring out into darkness, motionless except for the repetitive flipping of his coin in one hand.  He ignored her entrance, but she didn’t believe for a second that he didn’t know she was there.  Someone, mostly likely Mark, had brought in a second chair from the conference room and placed it in front of his desk.  She ignored it, preferring to stand until she knew what was going on.  Whatever comfortableness they had once established was gone now, replaced by the dark mood that seemed to hang over him.

It’s not her fault she doesn’t know any better.  Harvey reminded his other half, who had finally gotten around to addressing Mack’s conversation with Batman.

That doesn’t change the fact that she’s just confirmed every suspicion the Bat could have had.

We talked about this, Harvey gritted in annoyance.  Multiple times!  You knew there would be a learning curve.

Do you not fucking understand the position we’re in!  We can’t afford any mistakes, Harv swore.  Even your dumb ass should be able to realize that!

She’s not stupid, you jackass!  Tell her what she did wrong and how to fix it, and there won’t be any more problems! This is why we assigned Roxy to bring her up to speed in the first place.

That won’t undo the damage she’s already done, you stupid fucker!  Harvsneered.

You are being completely unreasonable!  Harvey fumed.  It’s like arguing with a fucking child.

Fuck you Harvey.  Harv shot back before tuning out his other half’s continued protests.

Mack stood there long enough in the silence that when he spoke it startled her, and when she looked up at him he was far closer than she expected.  He loomed over her, overshadowing her smaller frame with his own, and when he looked at her she could almost see the monster underneath.  “If you lie to me right now,” he told her in that soft voice that always seemed to promise violence no matter how quietly he spoke, “I will make you suffer.  Do you understand?”

She nodded, mouth thinning out in irritation, but fully aware that he wasn’t above hurting her if the justification was there.

“Sit,” he demanded, pointing at the chair Mack had been trying to avoid.

For a split second she thought about ignoring him, but something in the way he looked at her told her that now wasn’t the time.  “This is about Batman, isn’t it?”

He didn’t even need to dignify her question with a response, it was obvious just from the black look that crossed his face that it was.

“We both know you heard everything I said.  What more could you possibly want from me,” she half asked, half demanded.

He reached behind him and grabbed a stapled report from his desk, holding it up for her.  “Your opinion of me is heartwarming,” he said flatly.

“Jesus Christ,” she exclaimed, gesturing wildly at him, “you have a transcript.”

He stared at her intently, and then, “any particular reason you admitted to knowing me, or were you just trying to make his job easier.”

Mack stared at him in disbelief.  Everyone knew that she knew him. “Are you fucking kidding me?  If our association is supposed to be a secret it’s the worst kept secret I’ve ever seen.”

“So you went ahead and confirmed it for him,” he replied scathingly, “how sweet.”

“Well, excuse me for not being a better liar,” Mack bit out between clenched teeth.

“Is this a joke to you,” he hissed.  “Batman got more information out of you in three minutes that he probably did all fucking weekend!”

He didn’t miss the indignant look that crossed her face, and ignored it, not in the mood to hear her excuses or denials.

“You singlehandedly confirmed that I: regularly drink at your bar, protect you, saved your life, and that my interest in you was the catalyst for the Schultz coup,” she stared at him, wide eyed, as he worked himself into a rant that was quickly escalating into a flat out roar.

“Followed by an absolutely stunning admission of weakness in which you admit you thinking about running away from me on a regular fucking basis.  And then,” she winced as he finally reached full volume, which for Harv, was pretty fucking loud considering how close he was, “you have the alarming stupidity to admit to arguing with me and walking away from it unharmed.

By the time he finished, he was practically seething and she had flattened her head back against the chair in an unconscious effort to put as much distance between them as she could.  It didn’t help.  He leaned in until their faces were inches apart, “do you know that last time I put so much effort into keeping someone alive?” For once in her life, Mack kept her mouth shut at what seemed very much like a rhetorical question.

“Do you!?”  He demanded furiously.

She licked her lips nervously.  Apparently it wasn’t quite as rhetorical as she thought.  “Ne… Never,” she offered hesitantly, not sure if she was more afraid of being wrong than she was being right.

“That’s right Mack.  Never,” he hissed, angry both at and with his only weak link, and how much easier she’d made it for his biggest threat to box him into a corner.  “Do you really think all that effort is going to go unnoticed,” he demanded again.

“Probably not,” she admitted nervously.

“No,” he agreed mockingly, “probably not.  So you probably didn’t need to point out such shining examples of my fucking leniency and the huge red flag it raises considering no one else receives it.”

“Harv,” his eyes narrowed to slits at the sound of her using his moniker, not at all in the mood to allow her even the slightest bit of familiarity.   She swallowed uncomfortable, fairly sure that she had interpreted his response correctly, but not entirely sure what else to call him.

Mack settled on simply not using his name at all.  “I’m sorry.  Truly,” she told him sincerely.  “I was angry, and I didn’t think.”  Truthfully it never would have occurred to her to censor herself in the first place, but somehow she didn’t think he wanted to hear that.

“One of these days your temper is going to get you into trouble that you can’t get out of.  And the next time you see someone who clearly wants to see me in jail or dead, don’t fucking say anything,” he finished with a sneer, hearing what she didn’t say just as loudly as what she did.

He gave her one last flinty look and then backed out of her personal space.  She didn’t find the way he leaned on the desk in front of her, arms crossed, and guns showing to be much more comforting.   “Now tell me about this plan of yours to leave me,” he asked, staring down at her in what seemed to be perpetual anger.

She blinked at the abrupt switch in topics and then, “Seriously?!” she protested, “I was angry, and put on the spot by a nut job in a bat costume.  I don’t have some secret plot to run off,” she finished with a scoff.

She never saw where he pulled the knife from, but one second it was in his hand and the next it was embedded inch deep in the top of his desk.  “Lie to me again, and see what happens,” he dared her.

Mack stared at him in disbelief.  He had threatened her on a very regular basis, but never had he ever pulled a weapon on her, even if it was just on display.  She was starting to think she might have seriously misjudged the situation.

He raised the transcript once more as if it was further evidence of some sort of imagined slight and betrayal.  Though if she could recall even half of what she said those slights weren’t really all that imagined.  She had said several unflattering things about him, and she supposed threatening to ditch him was particular insulting to a man this egotistical.  “You have a big mouth, Mack, and you meant Every. Fucking. Word."

Okay. Now she was uncomfortable.  He watched her shift in her seat, and waited.  The silence would get to her eventually and he knew it.  It did.  “I don’t know what you want me to say, Harv,” she told him with a weary sigh.  “You are a scary, dangerous, and ruthless man, who happens to be incredibly bad for my health, and who I am hopeless attracted to.  Any woman in their right mind would think about leaving.  And yet,” she added with a self-deprecating smile, “here I am.  Still here,” she scowled, “putting up with you.”

“Not to mention,” she added before he could regain control of the conversation, “that while I understand why the whole Batman thing is important to you, it’s pretty shitty for you to sit here and rake me over the coals for thinking about leaving you, when less than an hour ago, you were seconds away from strangling me.  And don’t even get me started on the surveillance equipment you hid in my bar without telling me,” she added, forcing her voice to remain quiet and even, “so don’t you dare give me shit about my trust issues.”

His silence was almost as deafening as the way he’d yelled at her.  She tried to ignore him, but failed miserably, settling instead for crossing her arms, subconsciously mirroring his own posture.

Wow… she’s got you there.

Taking her side again – there’s a shock.

Harvey froze, and then, Jesus, are your feelings hurt? he asked in disbelief.

No, Harv snarled, but it’s still a shitty thank you for everything I’ve done for her.

So you’re angry that she’s not, what… Harvey scoffed, falling all over herself to thank you for blessing her with your mere presence?!  You are aware that we’ve upset her life in a rather large way, right?

She’s not the only one at risk here you jackass!  You and your fucking sentiment have opened a pandora’s box of shit.  We didn’t have one single exploitable weakness until you fixated on HER!

Don’t you blame this shit all on me!  I’m not the one who just had some fucked up epiphany in which you decided fucking Mack was almost as good as torturing some poor bastard just to listen to him beg.

That doesn’t mean I’M gonna fall apart and cry if she croaks.

This from the man who just openly admitted to your obvious leniency towards the woman, something you continue to extended despite never once offering it to any of our other women. Just admit it.  You like her.  You can’t help it. And it pisses you off.

Then maybe I should go ahead and kill her now before my so called attachment can cause me any more problems!Harv threatened, fuming at the mere idea that he was going soft.

The silence inside his head was deafening, and in that silence he considered his suggestion, waiting for a protest from Harvey that never came.

Mack watched Harv’s jaw clench and for one second she thought she imagined his hand twitch ever so slightly towards the gun hanging on his left side.

I’ll do it you sorry son of a bitch, he sneered, baiting his other half, hell you can watch her bleed out right here.

He could do it, would do it if he had to, and still Harvey said nothing.  No argument, no protest, nothing, and Harv froze at the sudden realization that he didn’t actually want to kill her.  That he wouldn’t enjoy it.  That all along he’d been counting on Harvey’s worthless fucking protests so he’d have an excuse not to off her.

Disbelief followed denial, and then fury bloomed deep within, his nerves fraying to the point of being unbearable, and he was suddenly, intensely, fucking furious.

Mack almost fell out of her chair as the man in front of her went from stock still to so angry she could feel it coming off him in waves, in less than a second.  The look he suddenly sent her held an intensity that bordered on hatred.  For the second time today she was well and truly afraid of him, but instead of reaching for her he turned his back on her, hands digging into the hardwood of his desk hard enough that his knuckles went white.  Whatever restrain he seemed to be looking for escaped him, and unlike Mack’s previous attempt to flip his boardroom table, he managed to send his solid oak desk flying as it landed several feet away.

She took one look at him and ran, clambering out of her chair and like some child afraid of the monster under her bed, slid into the nearest corner.  She tried to make herself as small as possible, taking what shelter she could behind the nearest bookshelf; far too afraid of being noticed to go for the door.

He wasn’t even faintly appeased at the sudden destruction.  Not this time.  Not for this.  Harv didn’t even hesitate before pulling his gun free from the holster and emptying the clip into the desk, chest heaving in an anger that was only now slightly abating.  He recalled every horrible thing he’d ever done, flipping through memories of blood, death, and screams as if trying to reassure himself that he remained unchanged.  Slowly his heart rate slowed, as he held tightly to the knowledge that he still loved being a cruel, sadistic bastard.

Mack was simple a necessary evil, he continued to rationalize.  Like Tater and Mark, just less disposable.  If the day came when he truly needed to kill her, he would.  Until then he’d enjoy tormenting the ever loving shit out of her.  And Harvey… well Harvey could go fuck himself.  Nothing had changed, he’d just rearranged his priorities a little.  His every need, want, and desire remained firmly his number one concern.  She’d just managed to wedge herself under that.  Dead last really, considering he’d never had any priorities other than himself to begin with.

Cracking his neck, he reloaded and re-holstered his gun, feeling marginally better, only to turn around and find that Mack was no longer in her chair.  He found her hunkered down next to a corner bookshelf, terrified and clutching an half empty mug like it was her lifeline.

“Next time you might try leaving the room,” he quipped snidely, staring down at her.

“I was afraid you’d see me,” she told him in a shaking voice, not quite able to fully voice her fear.  The unspoken concern that he would have shot her hung in the air.

Harv didn’t bother to correct her assumption.  Just because he’d come to the realization that she’d most likely have to actively betray him before he seriously harmed her, didn’t mean she needed to know.  After all, a little fear was good for her, and it meant he could still threaten her within an inch of her life.  Maybe she’d actually learn to think before antagonizing him now.  He surprised her by offering her a hand up, the fact that he shook it impatiently at her notwithstanding.

The silence between them was thick and heavy, and then, “are we just gonna pretend the desk thing never happened,” she asked timidly.

He sneered down at her, wondering how he managed to not kill her before now, “I have you literally backed into a corner, and your first thought it to ask me about a desk I just emptied a clip into.”

“Good point,” she agreed. “Let’s forget I mentioned it,” Mack added before trying to squeeze around him.

Frankly, she would have been more surprised if he hadn’t stopped her.  “No, you’re right,” he smiled viciously down at her, maneuvering himself until she was completely surrounded by him on all sides, “we need to finish our conversation.  Allow me to educate you,” he snarled, dismissing all her previous comments and excuses about wanting to leave and focused on the only one that mattered to him.  “If you leave me, or even try to, I will find you, drag you back, and you’ll wish you had even half the freedoms I currently allow compared to the sheer hell I will put you through.”

Mack swallowed, not doubting his sincerity in the slightest, though she wasn’t entirely sure how that particular statement was in anyway related to the desk.  But, at this point there was no way in hell she was going to make the same mistake twice and ask again.  Instead she simply nodded, and he bit out a sharp, “Good.”

“As for the personal shit you said about Harvey and me…” he let it hang there, and then his dangerously quiet voice had returned.  “I’m gonna do you a favor and forget I ever heard you say that.  And you are never to open your mouth to anyone about us ever again.”

Of all the things he’d been angry about, that was the one that seemed oddest to her, and her confusion showed on her face.  She wasn’t surprised he’d been offended by the unflattering things she’d said about him, but why the fuck would he care about Harvey, when they clearly couldn’t stand each other?

There were times when Harv wished Mack was either a lot smarter, or a lot dumber, and this was most definitely one of them.  He could almost see the questions swimming in her eyes disappear as she started adding things together and coming up with the right answers.  “Stop,” he hissed at her.

“Stop what,” she hissed back, “I didn’t say anything.”

“Stop thinking about it,” Harv ordered with a snarl.

“What …”

He cut her off abruptly, shaking her once to make sure he had her undivided attention.  “Do not push me on this.  You keep your opinions about Harvey, about me – to your fucking self.”

Fine,” she agreed with a glare, before taking the opportunity to change the subject to something she wanted to talk about. “Now how about you explain the bugs you had placed in my bar, and then,” Mack sent him a flinty look, “you can tell me if there are any in my house.”

“You are unfuckingbelievable,” he muttered darkly.  How could one woman unknowingly push his every button like a fucking maestro, and yet still be at risk of dissecting their psyche well enough that he had to warn her off.  Fuck, knowing her she was probably being deliberately obtuse.

Mack ignored him, refusing to let him dodge the question, “are they in my house or not?!”

“No,” he ground out harshly, “there aren’t any in your house.”

She stared up at him, desperately wanting to believe him, but not quite able to in light of recent events.  “Let’s say I believe you.”

He didn’t even need to speak, the low growl was more than enough to let her know she was on thin ice, “what about my bar?  I want those things gone, Harv,” she told him seriously.

“Why should I?” he demanded.

“Because it’s a severe invasion of my privacy,” she retorted, trying to control her temper and failing. 

“Fine, let’s say I have them removed.  What do I get?”  He watched her flounder for some response that wouldn’t escalate their already strained conversation, and felt extremely vindicated when she failed to find one.

“You usually have something already in mind when you ask me that.  So why don’t you just tell me what you want,” she seethed.  Mack tried to cross her arms in irritation, but given how close he was, didn’t have the room.  Her scowled darkened as she realized the only other place she could put her hands besides at her sides, was on him.  It was probably petty, but she let her hands fall back to the side, and then slid them behind her so she wouldn’t even be tempted to touch him.

The sudden gleam in his eyes more than told her that somewhere along the line she’d miscalculated, but by the time she figured it out he’d already moved to secure both of her wrists behind her using only one of his hands.  “Didn’t really think that through did you,” he taunted, his chest pressing against her own.

There wasn’t any she could do short of kneeing him somewhere sensitive to get him to release her so she settled for just ignoring him.  “And you didn’t answer the question.” 

He didn’t seem to mind the return to the subject as much as she though he would, but then he quite literally had the upper hand so why would he.  “If I remove my surveillance equipment…”

“And promise not to put it back, in my bar or my home, without telling me,” she interrupted more than familiar with him and his loopholes.

Harv clenched his teeth in annoyance, but agreed, “Fine.  Then you will accept the consequences and responsibilities of your new position graciously,” he stressed with a glower, “and without complaint.”

“What consequences and responsibilities?” she asked suspiciously.

He dismissed her question as unimportant.  She wanted her privacy a lot more that he needed her cooperation, “Going once…”

She sputtered up at him, “Hey wait a minute…”

He spoke over her, with a firm, “Going twice.”

“Harv,” she started to protest, but he cut her off with a sinister smile.  “If you’re not interested I could always have surveillance added to your house.”

She blanched, “that’s blackmail.”

Harv tightened his grip on her wrists, subtly reminding her who she was talking to.  “Fine,” she fumed, “I agree.  You remove that crap from my property and agree not to put it back, and I’ll take whatever the fuck you’re talking about,” she sent him and his secretive attitude a dirty look, “with as much grace and patience as humanly possible. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“Good, now let go of my hands so we can shake on it,” she told him succinctly; though secretly she held out little hope he’d fall for that.

From the rather disbelieving look he sent her, he wasn’t going to.  “Nice try, princess,” he drawled sinisterly before ducking his head down to catch her lips with his own. 

For a long moment it seemed he was going to take it farther than a simple kiss, but with a self-control that she didn’t think he had, he pulled back and released her.

She’d be a liar if she said she wasn’t a little disappointed  not to be getting a repeat performance, but thought she’d hid it well until she caught his arrogant, smug smirk, “Business first, ” he reminded her, deliberately putting a hint of reproach in his voice just to irritate her.

It worked.  Her eyes narrowed at his self-satisfied tone, and she instantly starting planning her revenge.  After all, he was the one who started it!  Mack waited until he’d stepped back enough to let her through, and then prepared to spring away after issuing a snappy, “do you hear me complaining?”

The second it took her comment to register was just enough time for her to move out of his reach, and from the glint in his eye he wasn’t going to let her comment slide any more that had willing to let his, “You’re playing a dangerous game, Princess.”

Mack snorted from her position between him and the doorway.  “Aren’t I always,” she admitted, edging backwards towards the door.

That predatory glint was back in his eyes, and that was all the warning she needed.  He was quick, and if she’d tried to exit through the door he would have easily caught up with her, but she wasn’t where he thought she be, having dodged left at the last minute.   Harv spun back around with a curse, but he’d reacted too late and she used his momentum to shove him back against the door frame.  She was up on her tiptoes, and reaching for his shirt collar just in time to catch the slight surprise that slid across his face.  Mack pressed her mouth to his with a grin, and slid her other hand around him to hook over the door jam, ensuring that he wouldn’t have an easy time turning the tables on her.

She felt his responding growl before she heard it, as one arm went to her back, holding her in place while his other hand wound its way through her hair.  He kissed her back, allowing her a moment to think she was actually in control, and then Mack was glaring at him, as he pulled hard enough on her hair to essentially bend her backwards over his arm.  Or, as much as he could, considering the death grip she still had on the door.  Not that she’d be able to maintain it for long if he kept pressing, and she swore that if he didn’t stop grabbing her by the hair she was gonna chop it all off.  “Oh, you’re gonna pay for that,” he promised her with a wicked smile.

She didn’t care.  It’d been fucking worth it, and she said so. He responded by spinning them to the right, effectively removing her leverage on the door and reversing their positions at the same time, “you’re paying for that too,” he added fiercely.

“Maybe I should get you a pen and paper, ‘cause that list is only gonna get bigger,” she promised him archly.

He curled one lip up condescendingly.  “You might want to find out the costs of those debts before you accrue more,” he shot back.

“I’ll take my chances,” she countered, openly defying him just because she could.

One corner of his mouth twitched upward ever so slightly, as if he was fighting back a smirk, “clearly,” he drawled. 

She blinked and then laughed at the irony of her comment.  He released her moments later, and she went back to look for the coffee mug she discarded earlier.  She found it sitting in the corner of the room, and she picked it up, taking a sip.

“What’s in the cup,” he rumbled from behind her.

“It’s what’s left of my coffee,” she told him, turning around.

He grunted in response and then took the cup from her, draining the remains in one quick chug, completely ignoring her protests.  It was surprisingly good coffee considering it was luke warm.  If it had been hot it would have been great.

“Where’d you get this?” he demanded to know.

“Maybe you should have thought about that before you drank it all,” she muttered in irritation.   He said nothing, letting his glare do the talking for him.

She frowned, but only dared to deny him for so long.  “It’s Brian’s,” she clarified, “apparently he’s been tormenting your employees by refusing to tell them where they can get it.”

“So he’s had this for a while,” Harv pressed her for details.  She shrugged, not really knowing and he scowled at how spectacularly unhelpful she was.

He made an irritated ‘hmph’ noise and headed for the stairs, grabbing his jacket on the way.  Mack shouldered her purse and trailed after him, curious to see how this little escapade would finish.  His employees were still congregated in the lobby, and they all turned at the sound of footsteps on the stairs.  “Explain this,” he commanded, shaking the empty cup at them.

Mack had never seen the four of them react to Harv when the threat of violence loomed, and she was a little surprised how quickly they fell over themselves to answer his questions.  She would have pushed back, held out to the last second, and still wouldn’t have told him until he’d backed her into a corner. His four best employees instantly reacted like they were already in the corner.

He must have felt the weight of her stare because he half turned to look at her.  “Hope you’re taking notes, princess,” referencing his employees behavior with a mere nod of his head.

The look she sent him was a mix of disdain and disbelief, and summed up what she thought of that statement.  Once again she thought she saw hunger flash across his eyes, and it finally dawned on her that, to a certain extent, he liked her disobedience, if only so he could try and break her later.   The sadistic smirk he sent her, as the light went on in her eyes, was hardly a comfort.

He turned back to Brian whose was currently in mid explanation.  “Spare me the bullshit and have some on my desk by tomorrow,” he ordered, throwing the mug at him not caring in the least if he caught it or not.  He strode past them, leaned over the receptionist desk and located a small box setting on the surface, before turning to look up at her.

Harv snapped his finger imperiously in her direction, then made a decidedly infuriating come hither motion with his fingers.  She was tempted to ignore him, but reconsidered after seeing the dangerous look in his eye.  Apparently he’d taken all the attitude he was going to take for one day, and so she headed down the stairs, spine ramrod straight in irritation. 

Three sets of car keys came out of the box and went into his pocket, and then he was handing her the box.  No sooner had it touched her hands than he was letting go.  She barely managed to keep from dropping it, and when she looked up he was already halfway down the hallway.

“Sometime today,” he called impatiently.

She glowered at his back before heading towards the elevator where he waited for her.  Mack climbed into the elevator car with him and then waited for an explanation.  He said nothing, pressing the button for the basement.

“Where are we going,” she finally asked in exasperation.

He looked at her and then looked pointedly at the button lit up on the elevator control panel.  “Fine,” she corrected, “why are we going to the basement.”

“You should be less concerned with what we’re doing, and more concerned with keeping your promise,” he reminded her pointedly as they arrived at the basement and started the long walk towards the garage.

“You’re completely insufferable,” she told him conversationally.

“And you’re not off to a promising start,” Harv countered, before he muttered a considering, “maybe I should add video to that audio surveillance.

Behind him, she made a rude face at his back, biting back a retort before he really did decide to follow through on his threat.

They came to a stop before several black cars of varying styles and he pointed to the first three.  “Pick one: Bentley, Jag, or Maserati.”

Mack eyes flickered between him and the cars several times, “are you serious?!”

He refused to even dignify that with a response, merely staring at her, until she felt pressured enough to give in.  “Fine.  That one,” she agreed, picking one at random.

Pulling the keys to the Maserati out of his pocket he started to unlock the doors, and then seemed to have second thoughts as he narrowed his eyes at her.  “Can you even drive a stick?” he asked suspiciously.

“Sure.”

He seemed marginally relieved until she shrugged and added a muttered, “sort of.”

Harv scowled and immediately the keys went back in his pocket as he dug out the Bentley set instead; it was the only automatic transmission he had on hand.

“Hey,” she protested, “what if I wanted the…” she paused to stare at the car she’d first picked.  “Which one is this,” she asked pointedly. 

“I’m not letting you destroy the transmission in my Maserati,” he ground out.  “You’re taking the Bentley,” he said ordered, unlocking the doors with a quick press of a button.

She smiled crookedly at him, not caring in the least what sort of car it was, simply pleased to have gotten under his skin.

“Get in,” he demanded, opening the driver’s side door and climbing in.

“If it’s mine, shouldn’t I get to drive,” she grumbled at him.

He shut the door on her request, making his feelings on the matter very clear.  She heard the engine rumble to life, and she quickly scrambled into the passenger’s seat, not putting it past him to leave her there.

Mack put the box at her feet and fastened her seatbelt.  She stared at the all leather interior, and then glanced at the console.  She blinked, and then stared a little harder.  Seriously, how many buttons did one car need?  Hell, she just wanted to turn the radio on.  After a moment she managed to locate what was probably the right button and pressed it, pleased when it worked and a local radio station echoed through the car.

He glanced at her, and then rolled his eyes at how easily pleased she was.  Mack waited for him to complain about her station of choice, but he must have found it bearable, because he said nothing.  She was half tem