“Are you going to do it?”
“I'm going to do it.” She nodded.
“It’s not a big deal.” He shook his head. “You can just do it.”
“I know that it’s not a big deal. You’ve told me it’s not a big deal about 100 times.”
“What's the problem Erin?” he put his hands on his hips but softened his tone. “We’ve been sparring for months now. You’ve actually kicked my ass a few times.”
“Sparring, yes, stabbing each other, no. There's a massive difference. What if I…?”
“Were you going to say ‘kill you’?” Derek couldn’t help his grin.
“That’s not funny Derek. OK, maybe I can't kill you but I can really hurt you.”
“But the pain…”
“I will heal.” He repeated. “You're gonna see how fast when you do this. Fight stance…now please.”
Erin sighed but she got into fight stance. She could do this; now wasn’t the time to lose her nerve. The sword was lightweight but it was sharp and the handle a bit awkward for her. It surprised Morgan when he saw her skills.
Erin Strauss had been a fencer for most of her life…people didn’t know that about her. This training had been tough, she went home a lot of nights upset and beaten up, but she kept fighting. She was in a whole new world now. This was a world where you stabbed people as part of learning how to survive.
“OK,” she nodded. “We’re doing this.”
“We’re doing it.” Morgan nodded. He bounced on the balls of his feet, clad in Adidas
“On the count of three?”
“We’ll go for one, two, three, and stab. Where are you aiming?”
“I'm aiming for the shoulder area; below the main artery.” Erin replied.
“Yeah cuz I don’t want to bleed to death all over these good hardwood floors.” He said. “I stripped and buffed them myself.”
“I thought I couldn’t kill you.”
“You’d be surprised what you can survive, babe.”
“You are not making me feel any better.” Erin shook her head. Then she took a deep breath. “But I'm ready. OK, I think I'm ready. 1, 2, 3…”
She came at him, thrusting the sword about three inches into his skin. Morgan let out a noise of pain as Erin quickly pulled away. He stumbled back toward the couch, holding the wound as blood gushed through his fingers.
“Oh my god, oh dear God.” Erin dropped the sword and covered her mouth.
“You got this Erin,” he grimaced. “You have control and know exactly what to do. Just do it.”
She came over and sat on the couch beside him. Grabbing the gauze that Morgan already laid out on the coffee table, Erin pressed it onto the wound. She watched his face contort but he made no more sounds.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“Just keep pressing.” Derek spoke through clenched teeth. “Harder, Erin, you have to press a little harder to staunch the flow. I'm made of marble, not glass I promise. You're not hurting me.”
Erin nodded, and pressed the gauze harder. It took maybe ten minutes or so, the time seemed infinite to her, but the bleeding did stop. The gauze was nearly soaked through.
“Should I check the wound?” she asked.
“Give it another five minutes or so. Keep pressing.” Derek put his hand over hers.
She just sat that, holding the gauze to his rock hard shoulder. Erin looked at his face but Morgan looked normal. He breathed in slowly through his nose and out of his mouth. When he glanced at her, she just looked down at his wound.
“I think it’s good.” He said.
“Go ahead, lift the gauze.”
Erin took the gauze away and wasn’t able to hold in her gasp. There was no blood…there wasn’t even a wound. The skin looked just as it did before she stuck the sword in it.
“Oh my God.” Her fingers got close but pulled away before touching.
“Go ahead and touch it.” Morgan said smiling. “I don’t bite. Well I've been none to on occasion but never without permission.”
“You're not funny.” Erin stroked the flawless skin.
“I'm pretty funny.”
“How in the hell…?”
“This is what we do, Erin. This is what our bodies do. Yours can do the same thing.”
“If you think I'm going to let you stab me to prove it you’ve got another thing coming, Mister.”
“It was just a little flesh wound, though I already know you're going to be badass with that sword. Look, the truth is that it usually takes a lot longer than fifteen minutes to heal. I just wanted to show you what was possible. When we’re out there, battling, we’re gonna get scars and we’re gonna get the occasional ass whopping. But our bodies can do amazing things.”
“It doesn’t even look like I nicked you.” Erin touched the skin again. “Not even a scratch.”
“I've got my fair share of battle wounds. I don’t want them when I'm playing.” Derek said.
“You call this play? You can't possibly think this is fun.”
“Don’t you? Some even call it foreplay.”
“Some are clearly nuts.” Erin rolled her eyes.
“There is something about you woman.” He leaned close to her when he said it. It wasn’t possible for them to get much closer on the couch. Erin pulled back a little, slowly moving in again as if pulled by a magnetic force.
“What’s that?” she asked, slightly breathless.
“I'm working on it.” Derek slipped his arm around her waist. He pulled her in until Erin’s breasts pressed on his side. He always loved that feeling. “I'm a hands-on kinda guy though…it'll take much more exploration.”
Erin used the interruption as the perfect excuse to get up from the couch. She walked over and picked up the sword from the floor, taking it into the kitchen to clean off.
“Hey Strauss.” Lindsay walked into the living room.
“I brought Chinese, thought you guys might be hungry after working up a sweat.”
“I am a little hungry. Excuse me for a moment.”
“Sure.” Lindsay nodded and looked at her boss. “For an older broad, she's hot. What's she about, fifty? You know I don’t do blondes but I make exceptions. The gym shorts and tank top are especially cute.”
“I heard they're called camisoles.” Morgan said, putting his shirt back on. He used some medical wipes to get the blood off his hands. “Also, I have a doorbell, Miss Thang.” Morgan said.
“My bad. I know the rules but Clooney wasn’t in the front window. Clooney in the front window equals naked women…Clooney wasn’t in the window.”
“Why am I completely unsurprised that you found a Chinese place open in the middle of the blizzard?” He moved some of the training equipment from the coffee table so Lindsay could put the food and drinks down.
“The blizzard was yesterday. They’re calling this the cleanup effort.”
“Thank you, Weather Girl.” Derek smiled.
“I'm gonna get out of your hair. I just thought it might be a good idea to bring some food by cuz you, Erin, and Clooney were hunkering down. Is she your new roommate?”
“She’s just staying for a while. It’s easier to train this way. Erin is behind…I'm glad she finally came to her senses and wants to work with me. Newbies are always vulnerable. It’s the job of experienced guys like me to get the ready for the new world they're in.”
“Did you tap that yet?” Lindsay asked.
“It’s time to go Linz.” Derek pointed to the door.
“Alright, alright; I got somewhere I need to be anyway. When you do though, I want deets Morgan. I know her type…she's a lioness in bed. I can almost guarantee.”
“See ya later.” He waved with his fingers.
“Bye Morgan. See ya Erin!”
“Goodnight, Lindsay.” She came out of the kitchen with plates and chopsticks. Clooney, who had been sleeping in the corner of the room was now wide awake. Dinnertime was his favorite time. “Thanks for the food.”
She left, not bothering to lock the door behind her. Derek’s front door was rarely locked unless he was away from home or asleep. He’d been in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of DC for over two decades. Everyone around him knew that he was good people but not to be messed with. Morgan liked that reputation just fine.
“She's a strange girl.” Erin put the plates down. Then she went back in the kitchen for the sword. Standing on her tiptoes, she put it back on the sword display above the fireplace. “Stop looking at my ass, Derek.”
“I'm gonna have to respectfully decline. Anyway, I wasn’t looking at your ass. I was looking at your hips. Lindsay’s the best; she's my girl on the street. I never realized how much I needed her until she was smack in the middle of my life.”
“Lindsay is your girl on the street; Penelope Garcia is your baby girl.” Erin sat down on the couch again and started opening takeout cartons. “Which girl am I?”
“You're all woman, Erin Strauss and you know it.” Derek replied. “Do you like spareribs?”
“No I think I'm just going to have dumplings and some of this white rice. What's in this carton?”
“That’s vegetable yat I think.”
“Oh, I'm going to have this instead of rice.” Erin opened the carton and put some on her plate. She didn’t look at Derek when she spoke again. “All woman huh?”
“Yep, I've seen it with my own two eyes.”
“You haven’t seen it all, Morgan.”
“It’s early in the evening. There's still plenty of time.”
“No way.” Erin mumbled, shutting her eyes tighter against the blinding light now filtering into her room. “I might be able to get up but not at anything.”
She rolled over, making sure the blankets covered her naked form. There was no need to be modest in front of Morgan…he saw it all last night. Erin tried; she tried to just eat dinner but the chemicals were all over the air. When Morgan asked her to sample a rib, it was her downfall.
She took his fingers into her mouth and sucked the barbecue sauce off. He pushed her back onto the couch, kissing her hard. Erin didn’t even have a chance to think about what was happening. That was probably for the best since she’d spent most of her life talking herself out of making big personal leaps. It was time to do something different, even for just a moment. She wasn’t the same woman she used to be and didn’t have to live that way.
Morgan didn’t lie when he said he was made of marble. Erin was in awe of his body. She wanted to touch him everywhere. It surprised her that he was just as fascinated with hers. She was sure he got around but he gave her attention like she was the queen of his universe. They kissed, touched, stroked, and played; driving each other to the brink with their hands and lips.
“Fuck me Derek.” She grinned as she stroked his face. The clothes were off and the game was on.
“I want you to fuck me. You think you can handle it?”
He sat up on the couch, pulling Erin into his lap. When she sank onto his erection he couldn’t help but groan. Derek held her close, kissing her collarbone and breasts as his hands splayed across the smooth expanse of her back. She had amazing skin…the combined fragrance of her perfume and sweat was a turn on.
“Oh God,” she shifted her weight to feel him deeper. “Goddamn.”
Derek was the biggest man she’d ever been with. He was long, thick, and strong. The way his balls slapped against her sensitive skin made Erin quiver. She gripped his shoulders tighter, leaning back to give his lips more access to her skin.
“Mmm, fuck me.” She whispered in his ear, riding harder as she took the lobe between her lips.
“Say it again.” He thrust up and loved the way she whimpered.
“Do that again.”
“You're sexy as hell when you're demanding. Own it woman…I love that shit.”
The romp on the couch left them both breathless and spent. It didn’t leave them sated. Derek wrapped her up in his arms, carrying Erin up to the large bedroom she slept in on the second floor.
“Hold me down,” she said, opening herself to him as he lay her on the bed. Derek hovered over her. His breath was hot on her sweaty skin. “I want to feel your power everywhere…not just between my thighs.”
Derek held her wrists down on the mattress. He was a strong man but he’d known Erin Strauss for six months now. She was a hell of a strong woman. “You like it a little rough?” his voice was cheeky as he slid inside her.
“Mmm yeah,” she smiled, pushing against the weight of him.
“Damn you feel so fuckin good.” He murmured into the crook of her neck as he thrust deeper.
Her thighs quivered; Erin wrapped her legs tighter around him. There was a certain freedom she felt in being held down. That wasn’t something she just did with any man. With no words between them, at least not during the act anyway, Erin knew she could trust Morgan.
“Don’t stop!” her back arched off the mattress, her wrists still pinned. “Derek!”
He pulled her wrists together, holding them with one hand. With the other Derek stroked her clit. The noise she made, primal pleasure, nearly made him come. It didn’t take long for Erin to fall…she was ready and Derek was good at what he did. When he let her wrists go, she wrapped her arms around him just as her legs were. He thrust his way to a powerful orgasm that made them both cry out as he filled her.
“This is probably the part where I should mention that I'm on the pill.” Erin said as they clung to each other in the dark room. “Just in case you were worried or anything.”
“Woman,” Derek kissed her mouth. “You are something else.”
“I made you breakfast.” Derek put the tray in front of her on the bed.
“I'm touched.” Erin smiled.
“It’s not much; I took the fruit from a plastic carton. The chamomile tea came from a teabag but it’s a good bag because Penelope never lets me buy cheap tea. Eat up because we have an important errand to run. I think they’ve plowed enough snow for us to get where we’re going.”
“So we’re good, Morgan?” she asked as he walked to the door.
“We’re all good.” He replied, turning to look at her.
“I just mean that there won't be anything awkward or tense because of what happened last night?”
“You in love with me, Strauss?”
“Surely not.” She shook her head and meant it.
“Then we’re good.” He smiled. “You’ve got a lot of life ahead of you and you need to enjoy every moment. I know you enjoyed last night.”
“It was OK.” Erin ate her melon.
“Mmm hmm. Meet me downstairs in 45 minutes.”
“Is there any particular reason you're being so vague?”
“Yes.” Derek nodded and grinned.
“Get out Morgan.”
He turned down a long dirt driveway. At the end was a huge house. Erin saw a man on the porch smoking a cigarette. There were a bunch of dogs running around as well. They were different breeds but all had one thing in common…they were large.
“I've never been overly fond of dogs.” Erin said.
“You're OK with Clooney.” Morgan glanced at the Rottweiler relaxing in the backseat. “Most are apprehensive about his breed and he smells their apprehension like pie. The dog loves pie.”
“Clooney is one dog; that’s a lot of dogs.”
“Are you afraid?” he looked at her.
“No, I just prefer to be in a canine-free zone.”
“Well we won't be here long Strauss, I promise. C'mon.”
She nodded, opening the truck door. She opened the back door and Clooney bounded out. He rushed toward the other dogs as if they were all old friends. Morgan clapped his leather gloves together, smiled at the man on the porch, and held out his arms.
“Jungle Love!” he exclaimed.
“High Life!” the man smiled. “You getting older, brother? Are those crow’s feet I see?”
“Shut the hell up.” Derek rushed up the steps, nearly tackled the man, and then lifted him off the ground. They laughed like younger men. “You gaining weight, bitch?” Morgan put him down and gave his stomach a gentle poke.
“That’s muscle, runt. If you ever get some you'll know what it feels like.” He pretended to punch Morgan and they danced around like boxers. “Is this she?”
“This is she. Erin Strauss, meet Roy Woodbridge.”
“It’s nice to meet you.” Erin took off her glove and shook his hand. “This is lovely property you have.”
“Thanks. I need space for my operation.”
“What is it exactly that you do?”
She didn’t even want to ask. Erin was in another world now. Seven months in and she was still struggling with everything in front of her. She might live forever; that wasn’t enough time to learn it all. Erin figured everyone in this world had to be new once. Now was her turn.
“I raise dogs.” Roy replied. “Today you're going to pick your new companion.”
“I'm sorry what?” she looked at Morgan. “Derek, I don’t like dogs.”
“I understand that, and I empathize. But every immortal has a dog. Yes, we love them like pets but the truth is that they protect us from harm. Clooney’s sweet and awesome but he’ll rip someone’s face off if they come at me wrong.”
“How will I know which dog is right for me?” she asked.
“They’ll know you.” Roy said. “Trust me, it’s gonna be like second nature as soon as you two find each other. Have a seat on the step…I promise you that it won't be long. Can I get you a cup of coffee or something?”
“Coffee would be good.” Erin pulled her peacoat down a little further, sitting on the top step. She put her gloves back on.
“I know how she takes it.” Morgan said. “I’ll help.”
“You can just say you're going with him to talk about me, Morgan.”
He laughed a bit and followed Roy into the house. Erin sat and watched the dogs. She recognized a pitbull, black lab, and another Rottweiler that wasn’t Clooney. If all immortals had dogs then how many of them had she passed on the streets, any given day of her life? Chevy Chase was full of furry, faithful companions.
Erin let out a sound of surprise and fear when she was tackled from the side. She had no idea what kind of dog he was. He was big and brown; his fur short and slightly coarse. His teeth were sharp but he wasn’t trying to bite her. The dog was more of a gregarious licker. Erin tried to fend off the attack.
“OK, OK, I get it dog.” She held up her hands. “It’s nice to meet you too, really, I promise. Slow down before you lick my skin off. Derek! Hey, can I get some help out here?”
The two men returned to the porch. Roy’s laugh was deep and delightful. He pulled the dog gently by the collar as he handed Erin a coffee mug. The dog barked happily.
“I think you just met your dog.” He said.
“He might be too jumpy for me.” Erin replied. “I'm just a novice.”
“Who is this little guy?” Derek asked, petting the dog’s large head.
“Little?” she raised an eyebrow.
“This is Mudgie.” Roy said, letting the dog’s collar go. He sat politely and didn’t make another go at Erin. “My kid named him cuz he liked to play in the mud when he was a puppy.”
“Where are Lisa and the kids?” Morgan looked around the vast property.
“They're visiting with her mom in Fort Worth for a couple of weeks. I'm glad she missed this blizzard but the kids were disappointed.”
“What kind of dog is he?” Erin asked.
She was nowhere near a dog expert but he didn’t look familiar to her. She knew a poodle, bulldog, or German shepherd when she saw one. Maybe Mudgie was just a mutt.
“He's a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Mudgie here is a hunting dog. Ducks are his favorite things to chase. He can be a bit gregarious, as you’ve already seen, but he’s trained up well. If you become his master, he will obey. And he only loves all over you cuz that’s what dogs do.”
“So I have no choice, with this dog thing?”
“Not if you wanna live.” Roy said. “How do you expect to sleep at night with no one there to watch over you? Some will just as soon cut off your head for a trophy. I'm sorry, I didn’t mean to be graphic.”
“It’s alright.” Erin said. “I've been in the FBI for almost half of my life. I've seen a lot of bad things. I guess in time I’ll see worse huh?”
“I hope not.” Morgan shook his head. “You don’t have to live in fear of your life or the next battle Erin. You just have to be ready if the trouble comes. Its preventative training. Half the time Mudgie is going to be doing harder work than you.”
She looked at the dog. He looked so damn happy, so ready to go home and start a new life with her. Erin sighed. She had no choice. At least she could make the best of this.
“Well, I guess Mudgie is gonna be my new best friend.” She smiled.
“Good choice.” Roy smiled too. “Go on Mudge, give Erin some love.”
The dog pounced again. Morgan couldn’t help but laugh at Erin’s discomfort. But she was trying; she petted the dog’s head. He barked and licked her face.
“He’ll be ready in three weeks.” Roy said.
“You'll stay with me until then Erin.” Derek said.
“OK.” She nodded. “What's going to be happening in the next three weeks?”
“Super training. Mudgie is a good dog but I just want to make sure he’s ready for the big dance. This will be his first home.”
“Dogs have more than one home?” Erin asked.
“Sure. These aren’t normal dogs, Erin. They live for a long, long time. Mudge here is still a puppy but he’s going to be by your side for eternity if you're lucky.”
She nodded, shaking Roy’s hand once more before she and Morgan headed back to the truck. He whistled for Clooney, calling his name. The Rottweiler burst through the pack of other dogs. He ran behind his master. Erin opened the door for him and he jumped into the truck. She got in too and soon they were backing up, U-turning, and driving down the dirt road.
“I'm trying.” She said.
“You're doing fine.” Morgan said.
“How do you even do this? How do you get past the first year? I have to relearn everything I thought I knew. There are two worlds now and I have to live in them both.”
“You just keep living Erin. You’ve already done forty-nine good ones so you just keep living. There is a network of people out there who will help you.”
“I have a family.” She said. “How do I even begin to explain this to my mother…to my children? Oh God, I'm going to outlive my children.”
“You don’t know that.” Morgan shook his head. Now wasn’t the time to tell her that immortality could travel through bloodlines. It wasn’t always so and he didn’t want her getting her hopes up.
“Oh right, someone can come and cut my head off tomorrow. How could I possibly forget about that?”
“Erin, stop it.” He took one hand off the steering wheel and put it on top of hers. “You know that I know what you're going through. I'm always here to talk about anything on your mind. Even if you think it’s weird, I assure you that I've heard it all. As you grow up, so to speak, you're going to meet more people like you and just in this world. You're going to have a network and friends who have similar experiences.
“You're going to lose some people that you love. You're going to gain more people. Life can be very long. Someday you're going to know the right way to tell your family what you are. Some will understand and some will freak out. Just stick with the people who have your back and you'll get through it.”
Erin sighed, leaning back in the chair. It wasn’t going to be easy but she needed to stop thinking about it right now. There were other things that took precedence. She was going to visit her family in New York soon. Erin had to decide if she would return to the FBI after her leave of absence ended. She loved her career and didn’t want to lose it just because a few things had changed.
The time was coming for her to go home to Chevy Chase. She couldn’t stay in Derek Morgan’s guest room for the rest of a long life. She’d have to stand on her own two feet. She’d have to start life all over again. Maybe having Mudgie wasn’t such a bad idea because the prospect of doing all of this alone was terrifying.