[AnneACK's
 

Controling Influence


by Anneack


This one came about from a mental picture I had of China dressed as Morticia Addams and chasing Jason around the office threatening him with a pair of scissors. From that one scene the story more or less took off and mixed with an idea I had about Control's favorite lady getting herself into mischief once more.

Equalizer and Airwolf are both property of Universal and they own all things from their shows. Kung Fu the legend continues lent me Paul, Kermit, and Blake. Universal Studios owns the copyright on that show as well and those characters.
China Berry couldn't help but think that her taxi ride to work that morning said something about life in New York City. In any other city, except maybe Los Angeles or San Francisco, a woman going to work dressed like Morticia Addams would at least have gotten a second look. Here, you would have thought she was wearing the same stylishly conservative clothes she usually wore to the office.

The looks sent her way as she scuttled down the hall to her office as fast as the form fitting dress would let her, however, were certainly not given merely because she was late, an unheard of event for her, since most days she rode in with her boss, who lived across the hall from her. She had called in to let people know she would not be in until noon. Luckily, things had wrapped up sooner than she expected and she was only an hour late. Although, after an hour with the police, she felt like she had been out the entire morning.

"There you are! I've been here an hour and that is as much of him as I care for, I don't know how you deal with him all day every day," the fortyish woman almost leaped up as China entered. From the harried look on her face, it had not been an easy time for the woman from the secretarial pool. Funny how the women from the pool tended to throw their arms around her in appreciation and gratitude when she returned, as they ran out of the office. She really would need to talk to the old tyrant about that, she chuckled to herself.

"Quite easily, actually," China smiled. Her boss could be a bear and she knew it, but as his growls and snarls were rarely, if ever, directed at her; she didn't take them personally. And she admitted he was a stickler for perfection, as far as his correspondence went and things being filed correctly and quickly, but then so, was she, since it was vital to the office that either one of them be able to find things easily. Not to mention that there was no mercy if a message was miss-communicated or not given him to him as soon as possible; but again, since lives depended on his communications being fast and accurate, it was understandable. All in all they suited one another admirably.

Thanking her fill-in and sending the poor harassed woman on her way, the tall slender mulatto woman began the morning routines. First things first, she poured herself a cup of coffee. "Well, this explains part of the difficulty," she muttered; almost spitting out the lukewarm, putridly weak, colored water.

Shaking her head, she got the strong, high-octane coffee she and her supervisor thrived on, going. Hearing the pastry cart passing, she stepped into the hall and snagged an apple and the last cherry one. Luckily Robert McCall was not here or they would have had to fight it out since it was his favorite as well as her boss's.

Prepared, now, to sweeten the beast as well as satisfy his caffeine craving, she grabbed the folders she knew were pending problems and quietly stepped into her superior's office and laid them on the desk with the Danish and coffee. He took the folder and absentmindedly sipped his coffee, then he opened the folder while nibbling on his Danish. Smiling to see him settled, China slipped out of the inner office and back to her own desk.

"Where is the Anderson report?" Jason Masur yelled as he stormed into the room fifteen minutes later. "You were told yesterday that Mr. Lewis needed it first thing this morning!"

"I made a copy of it for him and left it on his secretary's desk before I left last night," China answered calmly. Jason in a rant was not what she needed first thing in the morning. He liked her about as much as his boss, Marc Lewis did, which was to say, not at all. They had gotten off on the wrong foot with her in the beginning and the relations had not improved with time. Mr. Lewis had yet to forgive her for a certain incident with a coffee urn. Jason's start with her was no better. He had come to ask something of her, and rested his hand on her knee in the process. Coming into the office from his meeting, Control, seeing the offending appendage, had grabbed it and marched Jason through the office to his supervisor where the three had a meeting about proper conduct towards secretaries in general, and his in particular. Sadly, Mr. Masur seemed to think that since her boss handled it that time China was incapable of dealing with him herself. She had, in the six months since that incident, more than proven herself capable of dealing with him. Since their last...discussion... he was still trying to figure out what a ulupong was.

Smiling to herself, she got a pair of pinking shears from her purse, and with Jason still screaming at her about the lost report, headed to the flowers she had brought in a couple of days earlier. Taking wilting heads in hand, she began cutting them off.

"When Mr. Lewis or I ask for something I expect...." Jason stopped, suddenly noticing the unique apparel of the woman in front of him and the collection of flowers on the floor at her feet, and who, still holding the sharp implement, was heading towards him.

"Of, course, Jason, darling, I'll always be happy to do anything you ask of me," she said slinking towards him, scissors ready.

Babbling something about how he was certain he had merely overlooked it and he would go look again, he began backing out the door. Robert McCall, a senior agent reporting to Control, grunted as Jason backed into him.

Snarling at the spy to watch where he was going, the dark haired man stalked past him into the hall and bolted.

"Hello Robert, now that the trash has removed itself, what can I do for you, dahling?" She asked, in her best imitation of an old movie vamp.

The Brit goggled at the sight before him. China always dressed nicely for her job, usually in a skirt and blouse or dress. The creature before him was in a black floor-length gown, had on high heels, and nails that any cat would have envied. Not to mention her hair was straight and down to her mid-back instead of up in a bun or a twist or whatever the fashion was for putting up long hair.

"I'll let him know you're here, Robert," China chuckled at his shock. She always enjoyed teasing Robert, who generally gave as good as he got. She had tried using languages he didn't know in their battles of the wit but he had merely thanked her for the compliment a few days later. Obviously he was either smarter than Jason, or on better terms with the translation department; probably both.

"Bonjour, McCall de Robert est ici pour vous voir," China spoke into the intercom box connecting her to the inner office where Control presided.

The box told her to send him in and she smiled at the senior agent as he went through the door into the inner office.

A moment later the door was reopened and a tall man with a rugged face and light blue eyes stood leaning against the doorway. He raised a bushy eyebrow at her apparel.

"Bonjour patron," she greeted him.

He raised the other eyebrow.

"I was at a costume party last night; I went as a vampire. I had my usual work clothes in the car to change into this morning. Unfortunately, while I was at the party someone stole my car. I spent the night at my friend's so didn't realize it was gone until this morning when I went out to get my clothes. Then I got to start the day by calling the police to report my car and answer all kinds of questions when they got there. That is also why I was late today, sorry about that," she apologized. "As soon as I get things going here, I can go home and change."

"You needn't change on my account," he smiled at her. Every day was new and exciting with China in it, as there was no telling what she would do or say next. He thoroughly enjoyed it. She had only been here about a year, and life without her was unimaginable, now. He had laughed and lived more in the last year than he had since he could not remember when.

"If it weren't for these blasted nails I might try to get through the day, since we're buried alive," she grumbled, muttering under her breath as the long nails caused her to mistype yet again. "Maybe Janice has some nail polish remover in her office?" China thought aloud.

Having assured himself that his secretary was neither deranged nor mentally ill, Control returned to his office and the waiting agent. Robert could be enough of a problem without being asked to wait to the point of being seriously annoyed.

Calling the other secretary, she was informed that yes, Janice did have polish remover, and she could borrow it if she wanted to. China told her she would be right over.

Getting up to leave, the tall woman stopped and thought for a moment. On an off chance, she looked in her bottom desk drawer. Yes there was the bottle right on top with a little bit left, just enough to do the job. Smiling, she set about removing the cursed nails so she could get back to work.

Talon-like nails gone and folder open on her desk, she got to work typing the document for the third time.

"Excuse me!" She growled as three men in dark suits came storming into the room and began rummaging about.

"Internal Security, we were told you wouldn't be in the room," one of the men barked.

"Well, obviously, I'm here, now what is going on?" She snapped, glaring at the trio.

"Are you China Berry?" Another of the men asked, ignoring her question.

"One moment," she answered, eyeing them suspiciously as she got up.

"You'll have to leave the room ma'am," the first one informed her.

"Absolutely not! The only way I will leave this room is if my boss is present," she glared right back. There was no way she was going anywhere with these gorillas.

"China Berry you are under investigation for drug possession and are to leave this room with one of us while your office and personal effects are searched," the second, and evidently senior, of the men growled.

"Fine, just let me tell my boss so he can come and supervise," she agreed.

"There's no need to involve him in this," the original man replied, though he did have the grace to go a bit pale at the idea of Control being brought in. It would seem that Control's reputation extended beyond the field agents' office.

"My job clearly states that I am to let my boss know when I am leaving the front desk of his office unattended," China informed them. That was a rule that these three as security agents knew well, since it was for security reasons that it was in place.

The senior man nodded towards the intercom box on her desk, motioning her to use it.

She smiled her thanks and moved towards the box.

"Ich bentige Sie, hier herauszukommen sofort, es bin dringend!" She said evenly in to the machine in a calm voice.

One of the men grabbed her as another turned off the intercom.

Control burst into the room with Robert behind him, two pairs of blue eyes piercing the intruders.

"Mr. Masur, let her go," Control snarled, advancing on the goon that had hold of China. Evidently the younger man was still upset about the earlier run-in that Robert had mentioned to him. Nor did it seem that the first lesson was enough for him to have learned the consequences of grabbing secretaries.

Instead of obeying, the dark, curly haired man gripped her tighter and brought her around to between him and her boss. He always had been a coward.

China became a rag doll as she dropped all of her weight. Shocked at suddenly supporting his shield, Jason dropped her. Hitting the floor, she scrambled up as modestly as she could in the form-fitting outfit and stood between the two spies.

Seeing the leering look her captor had given the fine set of long legs that she had been forced to show in getting herself up off the floor, Control advanced on him, glaring.

"We're internal security. We were told your secretary was in possession of drugs. We were also told to hold her and search the office," the leader of the three men in their dark suits explained, glaring at Jason Masur, himself.

"That does not explain your manhandling Miss Berry!" Control roared. "There was no reason for that, period!"

"It's not our fault she was resisting," Jason sneered.

The need to protect China was all that prevented Robert and Control from lunging at the man.

"I wasn't resisting; I merely asked what they were doing in here, and then called you to let you know when they insisted that I leave with one of them," she stated evenly between clenched teeth,

"Please excuse Mr. Masur, he has a lot to learn. Control, we need to take your secretary into holding and search your outer office," the senior security man explained, still glaring at Jason. This situation was already getting nasty and would go beyond that unless something was done to defuse it, and fast.

"Robert, go with Miss Berry and her escort. I'll stay here while you search this office," Control instructed, glowering at the unwelcome visitors.

"We were told to isolate her," Jason informed the group, condescendingly.

"On whose orders?" Control snapped.

"Marc Lewis's." Jason smiled; knowing that even Control could not disregard the head of internal security.

"I am not leaving this office alone with you people," China stated, crossing her arms stubbornly.

"Robert stays with her or she does not leave this office," Control told them firmly.

"You're hardly in a position to be telling us what to do, we'll return your toy soon enough," Jason replied insinuatingly.

"Mr. Hall, please escort Miss Berry and Mr. McCall to one of the holding rooms. Don't allow him to enter the room, but have him stay at the door so that he can see to her safety," the senior security man ordered.

At Control's nod, China and Robert left, following the man who had been standing in the corner.

"If you'll leave the room, we can begin searching," the head of the trio commented, motioning Control to return to his office.

"This is my office and it is my secretary who is being investigated! If you are going to search this office you will do it with me here," the master spy informed them menacingly.

"Since we have clearance to search here, there is nothing you can do," The weasel, as Control was mentally calling the young security agent, smiled.

"Go stand in the doorway, you won't technically be in the room, but you can watch everything we do from there," the steel haired senior security man suggested respectfully, ignoring his subordinate.

Glaring at them, Control stood in his doorway as they went through the outer office. He was relieved that it was the older one who took China's desk and personal items. He went about his search quickly and carefully, but thoroughly. When he could, he returned items to their original place, if he could not remember, he at least put them neatly in an out of the way place. Jason, on the other hand, while thorough, was not neat and it would take some time to clean up the mess he was making.

The man at the desk looked up with an expression that was almost sad. "I've found this bag of what appears to be narcotics, sir."

Control nodded as the man placed it in a bag and labeled it. There would be no escaping trouble for China now, and that would almost certainly mean her career. There was no way, however, that those drugs were hers. She would sit and suffer through a headache for half a day before taking a simple aspirin. That left the question of who had put the drugs there, and why.

"I'm sorry sir, but since she had access to your office we have to search in there as well," the senior security man said contritely. Everything he had heard about the master spy had led him to believe that he was an honorable man of high morals and integrity.

Jason smiled, almost salivating at the chance to get into Control's inner sanctum.

"Mr. Masur, please return to our office and start the paperwork on this incident. I'll be with you as soon as I've finished here," the gray haired security man growled, almost shoving the younger man out the door.

Control stood aside as the security man passed him to enter the inner office. As with China's area, the man did a quick, neat, and through job. Having found nothing, the man was passing Control again on the way out "You might want to get an exterminator in there, seems people are accusing you of improper behavior with Miss Berry." The man whispered just loudly enough for Control to hear as he passed by and left the office.

With an expression that would have frozen mercury, the man slammed the door to his office and, picking up his coffee cup, threw it against a wall. The dark liquid made an interesting design on the wall while the ceramic pieces crashed to the floor.

If he was supposed to be intimidated by the bugs in his office, then Marc Lewis was even more incompetent than Control thought he was. Things like this hardly intimidated him, they only annoyed him. And he was not a nice person when he was angry.

Sighing, he began doing the only thing he could do right now for the woman who normally sat out front; he began working. When she could be helped, he was going to be ready, which meant clearing as much as possible off his desk.

"Got a minute?" Came the prep school voice that always sounded just a bit bored by everyone and everything.

If thinking of this kukac, to use one of China's terms, is enough to bring him into my office, I will definitely have to stop thinking of him. Control thought to himself as he glared up at Marc Lewis standing in the doorway. Of all the people he dealt with, this was one man he did not want to be dealing with today. Throttling him for his part in the mess China was in was just too tempting.

"Not really, Marc, I'm wrapping up something and then have some personal business I need to tend to," Control answered curtly, hoping the man would get the idea.

"I won't take much of your time, then; I know how valuable it is," the man answered, voice dripping with sarcasm.

"If you have something to say, say it. If those papers involve me give them to me, otherwise, get out of my office!" Control snarled.

"Always so impatient, Control. You really should work on that, you know." The immaculate, arrogant, model handsome man gave an oily smile.

"You're right, Marc, I should work on that, but as I said, I don't have time today. Not for correcting bad habits and not for playing games with you, so state your business and get out."

"Okay, this is a list of charges you are facing. There will be a full tribunal; you and your lawyer have one week in which to gather your defense. Have a nice day," the Ken doll smirked as he left.

The dark haired man quietly got up and walked to the outer office, then locked the door. As much as he would have liked to, he couldn't sock, shoot, stab, kill, or maim Marc Lewis for life. Screaming and yelling at an empty office would not help. He had already tried throwing something once that day and it had only made a mess against the wall. Returning to his chair, Control turned to face the window and did what he did best. He plotted, he schemed, he devised, and he planned. He made mental lists of who owed him what and who could or would do what for him. In short, he began to regain control.

By noon, China had been arrested and taken to jail; Robert had gone with her and Control was heading out the door to start calling out the cavalry. China was not going down until he had called in every favor owed him. From what he had been told, however, it would not be safe to call anyone from the office or home. There was no reason for someone to want to take China out, so the odds were that the person behind this was either after him or Michael. Michael was not known to be tied to her, so that left only the possibility of enemies of his who might have wanted to hurt her in order to get to him. His enemies though, were numbered in the legions. Involving China, however, was a declaration of war, and Control was more than equal to the task.
Control sighed as he sat on the couch. If the three men following him had been Marcus's best then the man needed to get some kindergarten schooling for his people on how to tail someone. Now that he was at the safe house, or rather boat - his personal safe house of choice was a houseboat he owned, it was time to start making some calls and getting some fur flying, and he knew just where to start.

He began dialing a California area code, but changed his mind, there was one call he had to make before he got California involved. There were times when it paid to have a twin cousin.

"Blaisdell," came a voice that was almost a prefect match of his own.

"Hi Paul, It's John. Listen, I know that this is not a good time to be asking, but could you come to New York for a few days with some of your kids?" Control asked, hoping his cousin could make it. They had switched places a few times when growing up and had pulled it off, and they had also done it some as adults. Paul being here was necessary if he was going to disappear for a few days. The best way to assure that they would not be looking for him was if he was in plain view.

"You're right that with the new baby this isn't the easiest time for me to be gone, at least not for long. How long and which kids did you want me to bring?" Paul asked, fairly certain that the man whom he been raised with was not referring to his preschool or infant daughters.

"Probably not longer than a few days. Someone has bugged my office and home, as well as my secretary's. Any of the kids that you would trust to handle that would be welcome," Control growled, still upset about the situation.

"I've got a couple who would do well for that. Blake and Kermit can handle anything electronic out there," Paul answered after a moment, thinking of two of his oldest friends and most trusted men. They were both between mercenary jobs at the moment and running a very lucrative security-consulting firm. One phone call would bring them running.

"Sounds fine. I really appreciate this," Control said after the two had agreed that Paul would collect the other two and they would be there early the next morning.

Disconnecting from that, he placed a call to California.

"Mr. Briggs please, and tell him its John Smith calling," Control requested of the secretary on the other end of the line, as his next call was connected.

"What trouble is China in now?" Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III was never one for small talk and the only reason this man would call him was if it involved his niece. He had been uneasy when she took a position as his secretary a little over a year earlier, but he knew John would keep her as safe as anyone could. Control also made her happy, resulting in his uneasy nod of approval when the senior spy wanted to court her. Michael knew for a certainly that if Control ever hurt China he would not need to hunt the man down because he would have taken himself out for hurting her.

"She's been arrested for drug possession," Control explained, holding the phone back in anticipation of the explosion he knew was coming.

He was not at all disappointed

"And how exactly did this happen since she doesn't take anything stronger than aspirin?" Came a quiet voice that threatened to start a new ice age. It was far more menacing than the initial shouting had been.

"I have no idea," Control growled in frustration.

"Does this have anything to do with the summons I received today to appear for a tribunal in New York?" Michael asked coldly. He had been wondering what the devil was going on, eventually he knew China or her boss would be calling him to fill in the blanks; and there were a lot of blanks.

The New Yorker groaned; this was not good. Michael had been uneasy about China joining the firm and only reluctantly had he assented to her friendship with Control outside of the office. "At the very least someone is trying to make China look bad with the planted drugs. And while the tribunal charges might be against me, the only reason to bring you in would be if they were planning a smear campaign against China."

There was silence on the other side of the connection.

"Do you have any idea who might be behind this?" Michael asked in a slow deliberate voice. His worst nightmare had been that his niece, who was almost a daughter to him, might be endangered by his enemies. If one of them was responsible for this, they would pay. If one of the other man's enemies were responsible, he would assist all he could in helping him make the people responsible regret having hurt the young woman.

"China doesn't have any enemies, so my guess is that whoever did this is either one of your enemies or one of mine. Probably one of mine," Control explained, sighing. One of his fears in getting emotionally involved with a woman was that someone would use her against him. He had allowed himself the luxury of caring about China, in fact, he suspected he was in love with her, and here she was being used against him.

"But possibly one of my adversaries is behind it, I'll start making some inquires. I appreciate your informing me of this," Michael answered.

"Thank you for your help. It's very possible that her apartment is being bugged as well as her phone so if you could not call her until we get this cleared up I would really appreciate it."

"You won't be able to do anything if the phones are being tapped, especially if it's company sanctioned. Are you having a company man check the apartment for bugs?" Came the response from California.

"No. I'm using an outside source that comes highly recommended," Control answered, pleased that Michael wasn't even asking if he had done it. Nothing like the trust of the trustworthy to bolster the spirits, he thought.

"Tell her I'll call her or have her call me when it's safe," Michael answered.

"Considering that I'm being charged with conduct unbecoming in my relationship with her, I may not be seeing her for a few days, but when I do I'll let her know. Until I know it won't be a danger to her I'm staying away from her. Luckily we have yet to get our schedules coordinated to get out on a date," Control growled. He and China had been trying to get an evening free together for months, but some disaster or another had always come up. He could not believe that he was now as thankful as he had previously been upset by that little fact. She could honestly, under oath, say they had never been romantically involved and she would be telling the truth.

"Wise man, listen, call Darren Randall to represent you in this. He's a good man and you can trust him," Michael suggested.

"Thanks, I was still debating who to call. I don`t make a habit of trusting lawyers."

"Understood, and good luck," Michael responded before breaking off the call, freeing both men to start calling in favors.

Looking at his watch, Control sighed. He only had about an hour before the people who where supposed to be watching him would start to panic, and that would not be a good thing.
"Nice car," China commented, getting into the Jaguar that Robert had pulled up in.

"Thank you. It's one of my indulgences," he answered, pulling into the late afternoon traffic.

"I'm the one that should be thanking you, Robert. I was beginning to think it was going to take the Jaws of Life to extricate me from that place," she growled.

"It was hardly that difficult, I merely talked to some friends who sped it along, is all," Robert assured her.

The car was silent as it worked its way through the traffic.

"Control believes that your apartment is under surveillance as well as being bugged. He wants you to stay inside and incommunicado as much as possible until you are told otherwise. Stay there and wait until you hear from him, and don't say or do anything that you don't want everyone knowing about," Robert relayed the instructions he had been asked to pass on.

"Control and I live in the same building and across the hall from one another! How am I supposed to avoid him?" China snapped.

"Because you have to, he was served with a summons to the tribunal for conduct unbecoming. It would seem that he is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with you, so he can't be seen with you right now," Robert answered, relaying what he had been told in an earlier meeting with his superior. He still couldn't believe that Control was going to be facing a tribunal. Of all the supervisors in the agency, at least Control had his heart in the right place, he honestly cared not only about the people he was sending out but about the people they were helping. All the spy could figure was that Control had bent the rules to help someone once too often and had been caught at it this time; and was now being set up.

"Someone sets me up for charges of drug possession and then has me arrested; and he expects me to sit and wait for someone to come and rescue me from this mess?" She yelled.

"It's in the best possible hands," Robert assured her, knowing that China was not one for sitting by quietly waiting for a knight in shining armor.

"I'm certain it is, I just don't happen to play the damsel in distress well or easily."

"Oh, I'm sure Control is quite aware of that fact," Robert agreed readily. He had heard tales of what China could be like when riled, and was not wanting a demonstration in his car.

"I know you don't like waiting and doing nothing, but right now that is the best thing," Robert continued after a few moments of silence. "Besides, you know what he does to people who do not follow orders."

She snorted. She had indeed seen what Control did to those who disobeyed him. Men who faced bombs, terrorists, assassins, and bloody uprisings without blinking would leave his office with their tails tucked between their legs almost having wet themselves.

"I appreciate the warnings and I'll be careful," she responded as they pulled up in front of the old brownstone where she lived.

Looking up, she saw her boss standing by one of his windows. If he wanted her to go in her hole and wait for him to contact her, she would do just that. She was still not happy about it, but the day was catching up with her suddenly, and right now she was too tired and confused to do anything but obey. Maybe in the morning all of this would make sense or she would wake up and discover it was a bad dream.

Jojo met her at the door whimpering, and the birds were screaming from their cages. The elderly blue Australian Cattle dog settled down once he smelled food in his bowl and water in his dish. The parrots quieted as well, once they had been fed and allowed out of their cages. Evidently the pet walker had failed to come; at least that was a problem easily solved.

As she left the building to relieve her dog, she saw that her boss was still at his window. Passing him once more as she and the elderly dog returned from their walk around the block, she saw that he was still standing watch, but moved off as soon as she approached the steps. He may not have been able to contact her but he was still watching over and guarding her. "Good night, Oyabun," she whispered.

Feeling safer knowing he was standing watch, she could not help giving a wave to the other people she knew to be out there watching her as she closed the drapes for the night.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," China yelled at the pounding door. Well, actually she was yelling at the people pounding on the door but it was way too early for her to think of such distinctions.

Throwing on a robe, she shuffled to the door followed by her brave old canine. "What can I do for you fine people?" She asked curtly.

"You are being served with a summons to appear as a witness in the tribunal of Control for misconduct," one of them said, thrusting papers at her.

Nodding her head in forced acceptance, she slammed the door. What was going on? First she gets set up on drug possession charges and now Control up on charges as well? Robert had told her Control had been served but it had not really hit her until now that it was real. There was no way that the two incidents hitting at once was coincidence. Someone was out for Control and using her to get him; and she was not happy about it

Jojo whined. "Okay, I'll get dressed and take you out," she told the dog while absent-mindedly filling his food bowl.

A second knocking sounded on the door. Glaring, she returned to the door she had slammed shut moments earlier. Flinging it open, she applied her best and sharpest weapon; her tongue.

The man standing in front of the door could best be described as a geeky mouse. He was about six foot and thin, with glasses and a timid kind of look to him. The man behind him, however, was nearly perfect. His eyes were wrong, but past that, he was Control's twin. The one in front looked very confused, but the other was highly amused.

"I'm Dexter Blake. I'm here to do some pest control for you," a first man said nervously, a few moments later when China stopped her tirade long enough for him to get a word in.

"Oyabun sent us. You must be China Berry since we didn't recognize the language you were using." The man behind the mouse said in a quiet voice, while gesturing her to talk to him in the hall.

China blushed a bit. It would seem Control knew these men and had been talking. "I see. Could you give me a few moments to get cleaned up and the dog walked?" She asked a little hesitantly.

"Certainly, it'll give Blake a chance to pull himself together. I think maybe you were scaring him a bit," Control's doppelganger chuckled.

"She wasn't scaring me; I just couldn't understand her," Blake explained, slightly embarrassed at his discombobulation.

"I won't be long," she assured them before closing the door and hustling through her morning routine. If living with Michael and then working for Control had taught her anything, it was how to move fast in the morning.

Fifteen minutes later, the tall mulatto woman was out in the hallway with her dog and Control's look-alike while Blake went in her apartment to start playing electronic Orkin man.

"You're not him, so who are you?" She asked, leaning against the wall. Jojo sitting at her feet cautiously stretching his neck forward to sniff at the stranger.

"I'm Paul Blaisdell, his brother. I'm impressed you can tell us apart, only mom and dad usually can," he smiled at her. John had warned him that fooling her would not be possible, but that as long as she was told up front what was going on she would go along with it.

"Your eyes are wrong," she shrugged.

He raised an eyebrow in perfect mimicry of the senior spy.

"It would probably be more accurate to say you don't look at me in the right way, the way that he does," she explained.

"I save those looks for my wife, Annie," Paul told her, beaming. So, his cousin looked at her like Paul looked at Annie? That was definitely something that would need to be looked into. It would be nice if John found someone who made him as happy as Annie made Paul.

"I didn't know he had a twin brother," she offered, changing the subject.

"He doesn't have a twin. Our mothers were twin sisters and when my parents died Mom and Dad adopted me. We're cousins who are by chance, also brothers."

"I wondered where the second boy in the family photos at the farm came from," China answered, nodding her understanding of this unusual situation.

"I didn't realize he had taken you home to meet mom and dad," he answered in shock. John must be serious about her if he took her to meet their parents.

"He took me out there once about a year ago. What are you doing here, anyway?"

"I'm playing him for the next few days while he's staying in a safe house. You're to go about your normal everyday activities and he'll contact you at some point. After today your phone will still be tapped, but your apartment should be clean. You'll still be under surveillance though; so don't go to him, when it's safe he will either come for you or get a message to you. Have you got all that?" He asked, certain that if she was Control's secretary, that she would have gotten it. The man hated repeating himself.

China nodded and collected the dog's leash, prepared to go about her normal activities.

"Why don't I take this fellow out? It'll help establish my cover." Paul asked, reaching a hand out to the dog who greeted him as a new friend now that his mistress had relaxed.

"And you can see how good those guys are at untamed Anatidae pursuits?" China asked, raising an eyebrow herself.

Paul smiled. No wonder his cousin had spoken so highly of this young lady. Not only was she beautiful, but she was smart and witty as well.

"What were you going to do after walking Jojo here?" Paul asked, absently scratching at the dog's ears after remembering what John had called the canine.

"I was going to go and work off some of this ill temper at the stable," China answered.

"Then go and do that. By the time you get back, Blake will be done in there and I'll have the company people hunting up an Anatidae dinner," he assured her.

"Just make certain the goose they catch and cook isn't yours. I have a feeling I could get to liking you a lot." She smiled at him as she left.

Control would kill him if anything happened to China. Between John's being concerned enough to ask him for help and the fact that, his brother evidently did look at her in the right way, Paul suspected that China might very possibly be the right lady for his lonely cousin.
"Hello?" Control responded, picking up his phone.

"Ah, yeah, is this Mr. John Smith?" a nasal voice asked.

"Mr. Randall, Good to hear from you. Can we be ready in one week?" He asked the lawyer.

"Well, one week isn't a lot of time, but I never could pass up a challenge," the man answered with a snorting laugh.

"Good to hear, how soon can we meet and get started on this?" Control asked, relieved to finally be able to do something. Few things frustrated him more than inactivity.

"As soon as you're ready. You can come to the office or I can go to where you are," the lawyer offered.

"Say, in an hour?"

"That would work, where do you want to meet?" Darren Randall asked.

"I have a boat in the Hudson Marina," Control offered.

"I know where that is. I'll see you in an hour then and be ready for a long day, Mr. Smith, because we have a lot of work to do."

"Agreed, in one hour then," Control responded, and gave the slip number before hanging up.

Stretching as he arose, he looked at his watch. Time to check in. he had planned on meeting with China, but that wasn't going to be possible, now. He had at least called Robert and found out that she was out on bail. China was evidently safe, but mad as a wet hen about the whole thing.

He sighed as he looked out over the marina at the harbor. It was bad enough that China was having to deal with being set up on drug charges, but he couldn't even be there for her. Ironically, that was bothering him almost more than the charges against him. His friend was hurting and he couldn't go and comfort her; of even just be there with her. He didn't like this one little bit, and someone would pay dearly for doing this to him.

He picked up the receiver next to him as the phone came to life.

"John, why haven't you done something sensible, like marrying that lovely girl?" Paul asked.

"Believe it or not, the thought has crossed my mind, lately; how's she doing?" Control asked. He wasn't surprised that his cousin liked China. He was fairly certain everyone in his family would like her.

"She's getting by, but not taking very good care of herself. She and Kermit went to play with her horse," Paul informed him. "Are we still setting up the meeting for later this morning?"

"I can't now, I've got my lawyer coming. As soon as I know a time I can meet with her I'll let you know."

"Fair enough, take care," Paul responded, signing off.

"Take care, and take care of her for me," came the answer, the last part whispered.

The dark haired man in the trench coat saw a tall, beautiful woman get into a taxi. She was exactly as Paul described her. Kermit Griffin had certainly had worse jobs than tailing a lovely young lady. Curiouser and curiouser, he thought, peering over his green lenses as another car pulled out to follow her. Shaking his head at the amateurs, Kermit pulled into the traffic a few cars behind. These guys really did need to be excused back to the little kids table if this was the best they could do.

Kermit kept going after he saw the mini parade head down a private driveway that went to a stable. It would seem that China liked equines. As he suspected, there was a second road a bit farther down. After parking in the employee's lot, he reached in back and deposited his suit coat and tie. Looking over, he grabbed a bag of oatmeal cookies from the passenger seat. "Mom always did say breakfast was the most important meal of the day," he said aloud with a grin.

After hiking up to the back entrance to the stable, he caught sight of her again. She had what looked like a black horse on a long leash of some kind and was having the animal go around and around on it in a corral.

Since the other men were evidently content to sit out in their car and wait until she called another taxi to leave, Kermit decided to go over and talk to her. Hopefully he could get her to leave with him before the company men discovered that he was even there.

"Excuse me," he called out, walking up to the fenced ring.

She looked up as she stopped the animal. "Yes?" She responded, moving towards the fence, but not near enough to be in any danger if he had wanted to hurt her.

"You have a pretty horse, there," he commented, trying to make conversation. The horse, which now was looking dark blue instead of black, had wandered over, sniffed at his oatmeal cookies and suddenly took a taste of the one in his hand. Actually it was the one that had been in his hand before he dropped it in surprise.

Startled, the mercenary swore and jumped back, crushing the other cookies as he death gripped on the bag, not wanting to drop it. The horse had evidently liked the first one, since it was making whickering sounds at him and reaching it's head out.

"I'm sorry about that. Cricket loves treats and is very friendly. I'll replace the cookies," she offered, bringing the slightly protesting horse in before she could start begging really badly.

"Not a problem, as long as she doesn't eat me she's welcome to have those," Kermit assured her hastily while moving slowly out of the horse's range.

"She won't, I've put her on a meatless diet," China grinned, as her horse decided to take advantage of the break and munch the nice green grass by the fence.

"My name's Griffin, Oyabun sent me," Kermit said giving her the name Paul had been told would gain her trust; or at least her obedience.

China looked at him in surprise. Control was the only one she used that name for. Evidently her boss needed to see her. Paul had told her Control would get a message to her, so this man must work for one of the two men.

"I don't know if you were aware of this, but two men followed you here. We can't meet him until he says it's clear and that's a least another few hours, but I would like to get out of here before those two come back here looking for you, okay?" Kermit asked the woman silently staring at him.

"Sam!" She called out to a stable hand who was passing the arena. "Could you please go and put Cricket back in her stall? There are some men hanging about the barn that were bothering me and I would rather not deal with them again," China explained as the large man trotted over and took the horse.

"You want me to do anything about them?" He asked gruffly. He didn't like anyone bothering China. She wasn't one of the spoiled and arrogant owners. She knew all of the hands by name and was polite to them, as well as being perfectly capable of handling her own horse and rarely required the staffs assistance.

"No, just put Cricket away for me so I don't have to be troubled with them again."

Nodding, the groom took the animal and headed towards the barn.

China turned to her visitor and saw a flash of something white at the forest edge just past him. It looked like a white dog that was hurt and trying to hide. Kermit had said there was time, and she would be quick, she promised herself as she moved past him, towards the distressed creature. She heard her new friend following her, muttering in confusion.

Glancing into the undergrowth by the trail, she saw a young puppy bearing a resemblance to Petey of the little Rascals. He had evidently been in a fight of some kind recently, from the looks of him. Gently reaching under him, she picked the creature up. It wouldn't take long to take the poor thing to the vet and get him looked at and patched up if he was savable.

"You want to take the dog, fine, but we have got to get going," Kermit hissed from behind her, watching the barn door where the two men watching her were walking out with bright green stains where they had evidently been sprayed by one or another of the horses.

China followed Kermit's gaze and snickered. "I see Cricket's aim is as good as ever."

Gently scooping up the whimpering puppy, she followed the dark haired man as they briskly jogged to his parked rental. As the car sped off, China was almost wishing she could have been able to hear them try and explain her disappearance.

"Where do we take Rocky to?' Kermit asked, looking over at his passengers.

"My vet's on Grant and 138th," she answered, stroking the dog.

Glancing at the pup, he tried to decide if it was worth speeding. The poor thing didn't look like he was going to survive long enough to even be seen by the vet.

Luckily, the vet was close and since there was no one there, China and the puppy were escorted right back.

Seeing a phone in the waiting room, Kermit took advantage of his privacy.

"Hi, it's me," he said on hearing a voice he knew.

"Hi, yourself. How is everything going?" Paul asked.

"Going well. We went to visit Black Beauty and are now at the vet's trying to save a puppy that looks like you did after Cambodia. Any word from your friend?" Kermit asked.

"Ouch, poor thing. I'm afraid there's been a change in plans, so bring her back here," Paul instructed.

Seeing China leaving the back offices a few moments later, Kermit motioned her over. She was not going to like hearing this. "All right, we're on our way back, now."

China stared out the window while Kermit finished up his call. She had heard the news; she just didn't like it.

"So what was the verdict on wonder dog?' Kermit asked as they began merging into traffic after having left the vet's.

"Missy thinks he was probably used as bait in training a fighting dog and got away. He was so badly hurt they probably didn't think he would live so didn't go after him," China snarled, and then began muttering some words under her breath. Some of them Kermit thought he might know but he wasn't certain.

One of them he definitely understood, it was Vietnamese. He had heard some of his captors using it when he had spent a few weeks as a POW. It was usually following one of his escape attempts. He was getting the impression that she didn't like those people very much, but then he didn't like people who tortured animals, either. And having grown up in inner city Chicago, he had seen the results of dog fighting rings more than once. It sickened him then and it still did.

"I thought he looked bad. Does that mean he's not going to make it?" Kermit asked.

"She's going to try her best," China sighed. "She says the fact that he's still alive is a good sign since he evidently hasn't given up on life yet."

"Oh, yeah," Kermit agreed before they both fell silent. He knew how often sheer stubbornness and not being willing to die had pulled him, Paul, and Blake all through what should have been fatal injuries.
"Um, ahoy, I guess," a little man in a bad fitting wrinkled suit called out in a reedy voice as he neared the sailboat.

John Smith did a double take. This was the lawyer Michael had suggested to him? Control knew the man had a good record from having looked it up. Well, he thought, getting up, one should never judge by appearances.

"Mr. Randall, please come aboard," Control invited the lawyer, offering him a hand.

"Thanks, nice place you have here," the man replied, setting down an overflowing briefcase.

"I enjoy it. We'll head out to where we can have some privacy," the host explained.

"We're, uh, we're not going to go very far out, are we?" the man squeaked, following his client in to the stern of the boat.

Control turned and raised an eyebrow. "Agroaphobic?"

"Only when I can't see anything to tell me where I am," the stranger admitted.

"We'll be in sight of land at all times," Control assured him, continuing to the stern and the tiller.

"Oh, that`s a relief," the man sighed.

Control just smiled. He had a thing about heights, himself; so understood where his guest was coming from.

"How bad is it?" the taller man asked as the boat headed out of the harbor.

"The conduct unbecoming charges shouldn't be too hard to disprove since it is mostly circumstantial and hearsay. The sexual harassment will be harder to disprove," the lawyer answered, settling down, now that he was back in his element.

"I can't imagine what I have done to Miss Wilson that she would have seen as harassing," Control commented.

"According to her you have spoken and touched her inappropriately," the lawyer stated.

Control goggled at him. " I have never done anything of the sort!"

"So Michael assures me, he sends greetings, by the way," the visitor replied, searching through his open briefcase for something or other.

Control looked at him.

"I make a habit of checking on the clients I take," the lawyer explained. "Since Michael sent you to me and asked to be remembered to you I assumed you two were friends.

"Yes, we`re friends," Control chuckled. "He's the one that suggested you to me."

"That's probably why he was laughing when I called him to ask about you," the lawyer smiled. He appreciated the irony as well. It was a good thing his client was amused, since he had a feeling that this was not a man to have as an enemy.

"Pretty spot, here," the lawyer commented as they entered a cove and dropped anchor.

"Someone I know owns it," Control answered.

"Nice; okay, let's start with the harassment charges," the lawyer began as the spy came over to join him and look at the documents.

"She's lying, I didn't do or say any of this," Control growled.

"The best defense would be if you could show that you were someplace else at those times and not around her," the lawyer advised.

"I can't, I wasn't with witnesses," he retorted, savage with frustration.

"That's bad," came the nasal response.

"Yes," Control agreed.

"It would be easier if she didn't have these witnesses, then it would be her word against yours and that would be very difficult to prove," the smaller man observed.

"A lot easier," Control replied thoughtfully. It would seem that there were some people that he needed to go talk to.

"But she does have the witnesses, so let's start with the first incident she cites and go from there," the little man suggested.

Nodding his agreement, Control took his copy of the first file and the two men settled in for a long day of sorting through lies and half-truths.
Control's twin was in his cousin's doorway as she came up. Closing the door he joined her in the hall.

"I'm sorry it didn't work out to take you there, today," he offered sympathetically.

"Thanks. This isn't the first time he's had to cancel on me, though," China answered with a slight smile

"I can imagine. Blake's done in your apartment and the bugs are gone. Control left instructions that you were to be given an upgraded security system as well," Paul informed her.

"Okay, is Blake doing that as well?" She asked, curious.

"Blake's taking care of Control's bugs now, so Griffin will be up to handle your security upgrade as soon as he's back from picking up some parts," he told her.

"Should I leave again, or can I be home while he does that?" She asked, sounding weary.

Paul looked at the young woman and could tell the last two days had caught up with her. She didn't look tired so much as she was looking stressed and as if she hadn't been taking care of herself. Of course with the drug charges and then everything with Control, she had probably not been sleeping or eating well at all. He felt badly, but there was not a lot he could do for her.

"You can stay home while he does it, just try and eat something and get some sleep," He suggested.

China nodded, "Salamat."

"I hope that means you're agreeing with me," Paul smiled. John had warned him that China spoke a lot of languages.

"I'll try. Tell Mr. Griffin he can come over whenever he's ready," China responded, giving Paul a last smile of thanks before entering her own apartment.

"Oh, I hope all of you like chicken," she smiled before closing her door.

Paul groaned, something told him she was not planning on resting. If she was going to be making all of them chicken, though, maybe he could at least get her to eat some of it. John would really not like seeing her as pale as she was now and with bags under her eyes.
Banging and clanging echoed as China pulled out pots and pans and various ingredients. Jojo watched from his blanket in the corner. He knew better than to beg or get underfoot but he could catch all the interesting smells from here and if he was patient, she would usually put a little something in his bowl.

As always, the second she had a pot on and heating, someone was at the door. Turning off the heat she went to answer it.

"Tr vo," a perfect copy of her voice called out from the other room.

"Kermit, shut up" she growled at the back room as she opened the door.

"I wasn't aware I was saying anything," the dark haired man at the door stated with a confused look.

"I'm sorry, I was talking to one of my macaws, not you," she apologized, ushering him in.

"You have a macaw named Kermit?" He asked, amused.

"Yes, a Military Macaw. I also have a Scarlet Macaw named Rhett, and an African Gray called Dusty."

"A Military Macaw named Kermit?" Her guest asked, raising an eyebrow

"He's mostly green, hence, his name," she clarified.

"A green Military Macaw named after me, I like it!" The man beamed as he began setting up to install her new security system.

Her voice called out in greeting again.

"That's the second time he's spoken Vietnamese. Did he learn it from you?" Kermit asked in disbelief. He still had nightmares about that place, and an apartment in New York was certainly the last place he expected to be hearing that language.

"He already spoke it when I got him, although I speak it, as well. Since I've had him, he's decided that he likes my voice and mimics it. Sorry about that," she smiled.

"Not a problem," he assured her. "Where did you learn to speak it?"

"Same place I learned a lot of oriental languages, from my mother. She was from a business family on the Solomon Islands. Vietnamese was one of many languages they spoke in their shipping business. Since the war I don't speak Vietnamese really, too many people might take exception to it."

"Oh, yeah," he agreed.

"Since you at least know Vietnamese when you hear it, I take it you were over there?" She asked hesitantly.

"Drafted," Kermit answered, not coldly but in a tone that did not invite further questions or comments on that subject.

"Let me know if you need anything," she told him, getting a wave in answer as they headed to their tasks.

Her guest settled, China returned to her kitchen and the waiting ingredients. Her mother, when stressed, had tended to holler, scream, and pitch a fit. Having seen the result of that in the disintegration of her parent's marriage, China had found other outlets for her energy when she was upset, namely cleaning, cooking and sewing. Since her machine was not set up and her apartment was sparkling, today it was going to be cooking. She had not, however, learned how to eat when agitated, so Control's friends would be eating well tonight, or the mission would be getting another donation to help feed the needy.

"Smells good, what is it?" Kermit asked, hours later as he was finishing up his installation.

"Chicken adobo, Hawaiian ginger banana bread, and veggie manapua. It's also known as dinner, so I hope you guys are hungry."

Lowering his shades a fraction, dark brown eyes peered over the top at her. "You're feeding us?"

"It seems the least I can do; besides I don't have much of an appetite at the moment," she admitted, stirring a sauce of some kind.

"You're not planning on eating any of this?" Kermit goggled. She had been cooking for hours.

"No, like I said, I'm not hungry. I'll get it loaded up and you can take it over, since I assume you and Blake are going to be over there with Paul?" She asked, smiling.

"You know, starving yourself is not going to get this thing over any faster."

"I know, but I really can't eat right now. I would just end up getting sick and that would not be good for any of us," China responded, putting all of the food in containers that were easy to carry and that the food could be served out of.

"Thank you," Kermit said politely as she saw him and the food to the door.

"You're welcome, and thank you to all of you for your help, enjoy the dinner," she answered before closing the door.

Setting the pots and pans to soak, she took the whining Jojo out for his evening constitutional. She could hear the men chattering away as she passed the door; it sounded like they were trying to pick a wine. Good, they evidently were enjoying the meal, or about to.

Wanting to get home and eat, the old dog was quick about his business, so China was home soon. Paul met her in the hallway again, smiling.

"I'm glad you got home so quickly, I was getting hungry over here," Paul informed her by way of greeting.

"The food is there, eat up," she encouraged.

"China, I hate eating alone and you need to eat so why don't you join me? I'll be a perfect gentleman, I promise. The curtains are drawn for the night so the watchers will never know you're over here."

"I thought Kermit and Blake were with you," she answered uncertainly.

"They already had plans for tonight. I really would appreciate the company."

"Paul, I couldn't, really," China begged off for what felt like the millionth time.

"Tell you what, since you provided the food, I'll provide the entertainment," he smiled, fairly certain he was seeing a glint of curiosity in her eye.

"Entertainment?"

"Control stories, all the ones he would never tell and that our parents don't know," the man offered, fairly certain he had her now.

"A very temping offer that I should refuse, but I have got to hear these!" She laughed.

Paul grinned. He had never heard her laugh before and she had a nice one. Hopefully things would work out for her and his cousin and he would hear more of her laughter in the future.

Settling Jojo in her flat with his dinner, she headed over, accompanied by the waiting Paul.

"I see you opted for one of the better bottles," she commented as her host poured her some white wine after seating her. Paul was certainly as well mannered as the senior spook he resembled.

"John won't mind in the least," Paul chuckled like a kid brother who was taking liberties his older brother would take great exception to.

China smirked, wishing once more she had a sibling she could have teased like that. Trevor had never liked her and certainly would not have tolerated teasing. "You mentioned something about entertainment, Paul?"

"Yes I did. There's one story that I only heard about, since my own parents were still alive at that point. It seems that the church had a brand new minister and mom invited the church ladies over for tea with the new minister's wife. So she had dressed John up in his cutest outfit and put him down for a nap, telling him he could play quietly for a bit first but he was not to get dirty and when he woke up to come down. He took his nap and upon waking up left his room, but I guess instead of going into the living room where mom was, he headed out into the yard. So he's out playing in the yard and sees a baby bird on the ground where it had fallen out of its nest. Knowing he was not allowed to go out of the fenced yard, he ran in to get mom as fast as he could so none of the barn cats would get it." Paul began relating his first tale.

China grinned, imagining her boss as a toddler and thinking what a handful he had probably been. If she was ever out on the farm again, she would certainly have to get some more baby Control stories.

"John left on his own can lead to just about anything," China giggled. She didn't know her boss well, but she did know him well enough to know that it was best not to let him get bored. Luckily his job generally ensured that he never was.

"Oh, can't it though! Anyway, he decided to run inside and get mom. So he comes racing into the living room where all of these prim and proper ladies are, stark naked and covered with mud. The women luckily all had children of their own so a three-year-old in mud and skin was nothing new to them. Mom took one look at him in his birthday suit and demanded to know where his clothes were. He told her very matter-of-factly that since she had said for him to not get his nice clothes dirty he had taken them off and carefully placed them to the side of the mud he was making pies in. Mom was furious, but the other women all thought he was the cutest little guy they had ever seen; of course they were not the ones that had a trail of mud through their house." Paul grinned, as his audience chuckled.

"I guess his lack of personal modesty began early," China snickered, remembering some of the tales Robert had told her over working lunches.

Paul snorted. "You're assuming at some point he had some."

Laughing, she conceded the point to her host.

"I'm confused, Paul, your mother was taking care of John when this happened?" She asked, still not totally clear on John and Paul's relationship.

"No that was Aunt Becca, I've called her mom for as long as I can remember, since I was only four when my parents died and she and Uncle Thomas adopted me. I probably should have called her aunt Becca when telling that story," Paul explained.

China nodded her understanding before taking a bite of dinner.

"Well, it's only fair that you get a story for a story," she said, the tone offering to tell a tale.

"Please, I rarely get to hear stories about John as an adult," Paul encouraged her.

"Well, like you, I only heard about this one, I wasn't actually there. It would seem John was in some corner of the globe where he was probably not supposed to be and undoubtedly doing something he was not allowed to do. I think it was Angola, but don't hold me to that."

"Sounds about right for him," he commented, his lean face smiling.

"Anyway, he was at this mercenary or rebel type camp I guess you would call it and he's hot, tired, dirty and desperate for a shower. There was a major raid planned for that afternoon so John, I guess, decided if he died he was going to at least die clean."

"I can relate to that," Paul offered softly, remembering a few times he was certain he was going to die tired, dirty and far from home.

"Evidently, there was a woman there who was a nurse or a doctor or something, Robert didn't tell me exactly what. It seems that John overheard her saying that she was sick to death of the carbolic soap they had there. Wanting to impress this woman, he somehow, I do not want to know how or from whom, he got a bar of lilac scented soap for her. The poor man is headed to take his shower and realizes he has no soap. None of his friends are around for him to ask if they have any, leaving him only one option." China smiled.

"He didn't!" Her host snorted.

It was exactly the sound Control made if she did or said something that struck him funny. She sighed, hoping she would have a chance to amuse her boss again someday.

"Please, go on, my dear brother never tells me these things."

"Well, the raid didn't go as planned since the base got attacked before they could head out on their raid. John had, in fact, just gotten dressed after his shower when they were hit. They were finally able to fend off the attack. Word has it that the wonderful, lilac scented sharpshooter scared them away.

"Oh yeah, I just bet he did scare them," Paul answered, wiping tears from his eyes.

"So, do you have any other stories to tell?" China asked.

"Let me think... there is one, but it's pretty embarrassing," Paul said, turning a slight rose.

"Yes, please, by all means continue."

"John and I bought a car together one summer when we were sixteen. It was old, but we fixed it up and it was nice enough for running around with our friends. It was a very hot day in late summer and we were heading home hot and sweaty from stacking hay at a neighboring farm where we had gotten some work. Passing the pond, we decided since you couldn't really see it from the road unless you were looking, to go for a quick swim and cool off," Paul related, smiling a bit.

"So the two of you at about sixteen were skinny-dipping, please go on, this does sound interesting," China responded.

"Yes, well as you said we were all of sixteen at the time. Our parents happened to come along while we were cooling off, though, and saw where we had pulled the car over. Checking the car, Dad saw that our clothes were in it, including our jeans with the car keys. At that point he decided that we needed a lesson in auto security."

"Sounds like John came by his deviousness honestly," she offered mischievously.

"Yes, he does. So, John and I are splashing around in the pond and hear our car driving off. The first thing to hit us is that we can't go chasing after it in our skin. After that realization, we were extremely thankful that our own property was right across the pond so a short swim and a dash through one of the pastures and we would be home. No one would need to see us as God created us. The cows gave us a few looks as we passed, but they were the only witnesses to our streaking the field, thank goodness.

Paul had to wait at this point for his audience to get her breath back from laughing so hard.

"So, there we were, slinking around the side of the barn. This is after we had moved through two pastures, keeping trees and cows in front of us whenever possible. Unfortunately, once we left the side of the barn, there would be no cover." He continued his remembrance.

"Your dad didn't have any blankets or feed bags or anything like that in the barn?" China asked, confused. She had spent her whole life around barns as a rider and even worked in one for a summer and knew what kind of things were in any barn that housed animals.

"Yes, he did have what we needed in the barn. At sixteen, whether it's worse to enter the house and your mother's presence naked or strategically holding a gunnysack, is very debatable," he informed her with mock solemnity.

"Which did you two decide was the lesser of the two evils?" China inquired.

"We were looking quite fashionable as we came in and mom, while laughing hysterically, informed us that while she didn't insist on formality at her table we did have to wear more than a couple of old feed sacks. Dad told us that the car was on the other side of the house and he hoped we had learned something about leaving our keys and our clothes in the car if we were not opting to wear them. I don't think we ever got up those stairs and into our rooms faster," the dark haired man chuckled at the memory from a time long past.

"I can well imagine that, and I bet you never went skinny-dipping again, either," she guessed.

"A gentleman never tells," he answered with a rumbling chuckle that reminded the young woman of her boss.

"True, and I am well aware of what a gentleman John is, after the way we met," China answered.

"Oh? How did you meet?"

"I was working for a company that provided temporary serving help for parties. The woman giving this party had a bit of a reputation with the company as being difficult, at best. I was told to arrive at her house in traditional serving uniform and stiletto heels. That was my first clue that this was not going to be a good assignment. When I arrived with my friend and discovered that all of the women on this assignment were colored, that was a second hint," China told, shaking her head at her innocence back then, that it had not dawned her what a miserable job she was in for.

"That must have been humiliating," Paul sympathized.

"I don't know, I never really thought about it," China responded, looking thoughtful.

"I didn't mean to distract you, go on, please. John was there as a guest I take it?" Paul asked, intrigued.

"Yes he was. I was serving drinks while the guests milled about and chatted before eating. I noticed John standing over in a corner watching the other guests. The hostess also noticed him, and decided that he shouldn't be alone. She already had a reputation for being quite, ah, friendly shall we say."

"I bet John loved having her attention on him," he smirked.

"He was the only man in the room she had not succeeded with, so she was determined to have him," China giggled at the memory.

"I do hope he got away without having to compromise himself," Paul smiled, having every faith in his cousin's ingenuity.

"He got out at the cost of one tux and both of our dignity."

Paul raised an eyebrow.

"I had been walking about in those cursed heels for about two hours while the guests had their drinks and chatted. They had sat down to dinner and I was serving that, as well. I wasn't used to wearing four-inch heels and at this point my ankles were killing me, not to mention my toes. I was walking over with the soup course and I caught my heel on a snag in the carpet," she continued telling her story.

"I have never understood how women wear those things," Paul admitted, shaking his head.

"I don't wear them if I can avoid it at all," China confessed.

Paul smiled. China was smart, witty, charming, and beautiful: perfect for John. He smiled again, thinking about how much his own wife, Annie, would enjoy the other woman.

"Anyway, my heel got snagged and I catapulted forward, pitching the soup I was about to bring to John all over him. Poor guy jumped like a scalded frog. I felt so bad and the only thing I could think of was to get it mopped up as quickly as possible. I grabbed for a napkin and was reaching to mop the soup off him before it burned him and I knocked over his wineglass and soaked his shirt. It was mortifying," she gave a mock groan.

"So, after covering his pants in soup you covered his shirt in wine? That was how you two met?" Paul was aghast. No wonder his brother remembered her, someone who did that would not be forgotten easily.

"He really was very nice about it. John had needed an excuse to get out of there early and I gave him one. He excused himself to get cleaned up and about slammed the bathroom door in the face of the harpy, as John called her, before she could help him clean up. She was so mad about having lost her chance with him and at me for making a mess like that that she fired me on the spot and started in on how much replacing the carpet was going to cost. John overheard her yelling and came to rescue me."

"She blamed you for what was an honest accident?" Paul growled. Yes, hearing her being bawled out and fired for an accident, John would have gone and saved her. Both he and John had learned from the moment they could breathe, to treat women respectfully and in a gentlemanly fashion. One of the few times he could remember Thomas Smith laying a hand on either of them was when in frustration at a project that was not going well, John had muttered a swear word under his breath in his mother's presence. Their dad had heard and, coming over, had smacked his son and informed him that his mother was a lady and a man did not talk that way in her presence. Both boys had been so shocked at their father hitting either of them that they took great pains to watch their language not only in her presence but in the presence of any woman. Actually, neither of them tended to swear often, only with extreme provocation and never around a lady.

"Of course the whole thing was my fault, after all, I was the one that made the mess. It couldn't possibly be her fault for having me in four-inch heels for hours on end. I ended up wrenching my ankle so badly I couldn't walk and she was ordering me off the place. When I had asked if I could stay out of the way somewhere until my ride finished for the night she started in on me again. John came in and seeing the predicament I was in, he told me he would see me home and when I couldn't walk, he scooped me up and carried me out of the house," China continued.

"Your knight in shining armor," Paul replied

"Yes, and he even remembered to feed the damsel in distress; since neither one of us had eaten, he took me to the best restaurant in town."

"John always has had good taste. How long ago was this?" He asked curiously

"That was in seventy, I started working for him in seventy-five." China answered.

"Still a rookie then," Paul commented.

China looked at him, trying to decide if he meant that insultingly or not. Anyone else, there would have been no question in her mind, but Paul really didn't seem to mean it nastily; more a simple statement of fact.

"Yes, I suppose I am a bit of a rookie. Considering that last year I had to kill a man who had taken me hostage in a bank and witnessed another one being killed in a rescue attempt, I would say that I've grown up a lot since I started."

"I'm sorry, I didn't know," Paul offered quietly.

"Apology accepted, and I admit that I am a relative newcomer to his world," she answered, politely remaining vague since she didn't know how much Paul might know about his relative's lifestyle. He seemed to know a lot, but she couldn't be certain.

"You're looking a bit tired, why don't I wash up, since you cooked, and I'll bring the dishes back tomorrow?"

"You know, for the first time since this thing began I feel like I could sleep," China answered, surprised to find that she was sleepy. Looking down she was equally amazed to see an empty plate; it would seem she had eaten that night.

"You're probably just feeling a little less stress," Paul offered.

"Probably, thanks again for the company," she said as Paul saw her to the door.

"You know, Miss Berry, this will all work out," he assured her.

"I know, Mr. Blaisdell," she smiled and left.

From a window, he watched as she passed with Jojo on a final walk and then listened until he heard the locks on her door falling into place. "Don't let this one slip away from you, John," he muttered.
Cautiously, Control entered the dark alley; this was not his normal habitat. In fact, he didn't like dark alleys; especially at night, since they tended to be bad for one's health. However, sometimes you went dangerous places to meet informants, and he had certainly been in stranger places than this to get information.

He stopped just short of the alley. He heard something.

"Give me your wallet," a cracking, reedy voice instructed.

He sighed; the criminal element was getting younger and younger. "I'm not giving you my wallet, son."

"I have a gun, now give me your wallet, man," the voice trembled.

Control turned slowly around to face his adversary. If the kid did have a gun he didn't want to startle him into accidentally firing it.

"I ... I ... I said give the wallet over," the kid sputtered, waving a gun in the man's general direction.

Not saying a word, Control pulled his wallet out and looked straight at the kid; cold, hard blue eyes meeting frightened, uncertain hazel ones.

Shaking, the adolescent stepped forward to take the offering. With lightening speed, Control dropped his wallet on the ground and grabbed the boy. One hand clamped on his shoulder and the other had a viselike grip on the would be shooter's gun wrist.

The pressure finally forced the youngster to drop the weapon. With quick, deft movements the child was felt down for more weapons. Pocketing a switchblade he found, the older man grabbed the boy by the shoulders and glared at him.

"It's your lucky day, son. I have neither the time nor the inclination right now to run you in. Think of this as your get out of jail free chance. Now, I suggest that you go home and forget about a life of crime," he instructed, giving the boy an extra shake for good measure before letting go.

Released, the youngster turned and ran. Maybe flipping burgers or stocking shelves wasn't such a bad way to get money after all. At least he would live to spend it.

Control looked after him and shook his head as he retrieved his wallet from the ground, hopefully the boy had been scared straight.

"You made it!" A thin young man said, grabbing the spy by the arm in his excitement.

"Yes I did," the spy responded, very pointedly removing the other man's hands as they stepped further into the alley.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you," the smaller man gushed.

"Willus, just give me the information," Control instructed. Will was a good kid, but very, very excitable.

"Well, I was going on my morning mail run, like I do every morning, see," the younger man began practically vibrating in his excitement.

Control sighed and leaned against the only clean spot on the building. Obviously it was going to take a while here, but you couldn't really rush Willus or he only got more wound up.

"I was outside his office and heard him and his secretary talkin'. They had given someone some pictures and stuff with you and Miss Berry. They were talking like you two were doing something wrong. I figure that as long as you can still work together if you're friends outside work, that's between the two of you," the office boy stated, shaking his head at the big deal being made of two co-workers being friends. And if they were something more than friends, then that was a personal thing.

Control sighed again, so Marc was the one behind this whole mess. They had actually come in at about the same time. Control, however, had gotten the commendations, and the promotions, and eventually the position that Marc had wanted. They had both started as field agents, but while Control had proven inventive, intelligent and resourceful, and if necessary devious and ruthless, Marc tended to get lost if he didn't have specific instructions on how to deal with something. Needless to say, Marc had been out of field operations fairly quickly.

"Did you hear anything about the difficulties Miss Berry is in?" the spy asked.

"Ms. Wilson was saying that the only way China would get to the trial was in handcuffs and if she did make it she would only look like the slut she was," the informant said. "Those were her words, sir, I would never think of Miss Berry like that."

"I know you wouldn't Will," Control assured the younger man. China liked the young office worker and he worshiped her.

"She's not going to end up in jail is she?" Willus asked uncertainly.

"No, she isn't and I'll do everything possible to see to it that her reputation doesn't get smeared as well," Control responded, glad that his secretary was so popular.

"Let Robert know if you have anything more for me," Control instructed, paying the man his bonus.

"Thank you, sir," the man blinked at the amount, the man was generous as always, but this was over the top even for him; evidently he really wanted that information.

"Oh, how's you grandmother doing?" Control asked as he was leaving.

"Much better, thank you," the youngster gawked at his superior. He had only mentioned his grandmother being sick once and that was weeks ago.

Control nodded that he was glad and left.
"Jojo, would you please be quiet," China mumbled, rolling over.

When the dog did not quiet as told, she glance blearily at the alarm clock that she had not set since she was on suspension until both her own difficulties and Control's were dealt with. Hopefully, in her case that would not require a jail term. Seeing the time, she bolted upright and looked again. No wonder the dog was barking and whining it was almost ten in the morning!

"Hang on there, Tuta, I'll have you out in a jiffy," she said ruffling the old dog's ears as she got up.

Dashing through her morning rituals, the woman tried to remember when the last time was that she had overslept. Actually she wasn't even certain what her alarm sounded like since she usually got up before it went off. It had felt good to sleep soundly, something she had not been able to do since the mess began.

Leashing Jojo, she recollected that yesterday Kermit had been given the task of watching her. Going over to her window and looking out she saw the company men but no one else. That did not, however, mean that they were not there. If yesterday was any indication. Kermit was a pro and would not be seen by the person he was watching unless, like yesterday, he chose to be. Blake struck her as being equally competent.

A warm tongue in her hand and a high-pitched whine brought her back to reality.

"Okay, a quick check in with Paul and we're on our way," she assured the animal as they left the apartment.

Crossing the hall she knocked on the door.

"Hello China, and no I'm afraid he's not back," Paul sympathized as he opened the door and saw a slight deflation in her expression.

"I was kind of hoping he was," she admitted. "I just wanted to thank you for a nice evening yesterday and ask if I could go out on my own now or if I was supposed to wait for Kermit or Blake to go with me?"

"Well, it would be better if you stay in, but I do understand the need to be out and about," he told her, hoping she wouldn't mind. There was nothing as difficult as protecting someone who did not want to be guarded.

"No, I don't mind, but Jojo is desperate to get out so if I could go out for a bit this morning?" China requested.

"Do you two have any particular route or were you just going to see where you ended up?" Paul asked

"Well, believe it or not I'm actually hungry this morning so I was going to go by Sweet Treat Bakery on 103 and Arrow, and get a bagel and then wander central park for a bit while Jojo and I had our treat."

"Okay, just be careful, Blake will be following you as well, once you get to the bakery," he agreed. "Listen, would it be okay if Kermit adjusted something on the security system while you're out? If you would prefer he wait until you're home, he certainly can."

"That's fine, does he need a key?" China offered.

"It's been some years since any lock has slowed Kermit down," Paul chuckled, thinking about his friend's talent for being everywhere he was not supposed to be and hearing things he was not supposed to know.

"Um, one last thing. Do you think it would be all right if I were to go to early mass tomorrow?" China asked, not wanting to be troublesome.

"Certainly, I'll have Kermit go with you," Paul smiled thinking of the mercenary sitting in a church.

"Thank you, I'm kind of surprised Blake isn't the one coming. He looks more the type," she commented.

"Blake is more of a churchgoer than Kermit, but Blake's very angry with God at the moment over his wife, Mary, being killed," the man explained.

"I understand, I remember going through that when my mother died," China answered softly.

"It's never easy losing loved ones," Paul agreed quietly, remembering his own first wife's death. Theirs had not been a strong marriage, but he had still grieved over her loss.

Finally, having lost patience and really needing to go, the old dog pulled his mistress towards the elevator.

Chuckling and waving goodbyes, the two humans parted ways.
An hour and a half later, the walk and treat over, the dog and his mistress returned with her carrying the new puppy. Blake had been kind enough to give her a ride to the vet's to pick the poor thing up. China had nursed sick animals before, so the vet had released the pup to her early.

She paused outside her apartment door, hearing...singing? Unlocking and opening the door, she walked in and stood dumbfounded. Kermit, both Griffin and her parrot were singing. Together. In two-part harmony. And it sounded surprisingly good. She had never heard `It's Not Easy Being Green' done better.

"Bravo!" She applauded when they were done.

Smiling, Kermit got up from the chair where he was fussing with her kitchen radio and bowed. "I got the security system adjusted and noticed that your radio wasn't working very well, so I was just tweaking it a bit."

"Thanks, it'll be nice having it work right for a change."

Kermit didn't blush, but he did smile a bit shyly. He liked China, though she was obviously taken and he had a lady friend at home wearing an engagement ring. Tina didn't often tell him thank you for fixing her things; it was nice to hear. Whoever her man was he was lucky to have her.

"I see Rocky's still with us," he commented seeing that while the Pit Bull type puppy was still alive; he was not looking in the best of health.

"Well, actually, it seems he is a she, so now I need a girl name for Petey," China explained while getting the injured animal settled in on a warm blanket in the corner with newspapers about in case she had an accident.

"Amazon?" Kermit suggested, gathering up the tools he had been using on the now fixed radio.

She chuckled at the playful suggestion, and made a swat at her companion as he passed into the bedroom where his toolbox was.

Responding to a knock, China went to answer the door.

"Ni hao," China said brightly opening the door.

The nice, clean-cut young man facing her, looked a bit lost. " Ma'am? Uh, do you speak, I mean they didn't mention.... This is not going well," he finally groaned.

"Yes, I speak English quite well, thank you. Who are they?" China inquired, not letting him in.

"Sorry, Police ma'am," the man said pulling out a wallet and holing a badge up for her to see.

"Please come in," She smiled, feeling bad that she had flustered the detective.

"Oh, um, thanks," the visitor answered uncertainly as he entered.

"What can I do for you, detective...?" She asked, trying to put him at ease.

"Cool, ma'am, detective Joe Cool. I was looking for Miss China Berry."

She goggled at him; Joe Cool certainly did not fit this nervous and uncertain man. "I'm China Berry, detective; can I assume this is about either my stolen car or the drug charges against me?"

"Yes ma'am, I mean...well," he began, flushing.

"Is this about the car or the drug charges?" Kermit asked, joining them from the other room.

"Oh, sir, uh mister, I didn't know you were married ma'am," the kid sputtered.

"This is Kermit Griffin, a friend of mine, I would like to know the answer to his question," China asked, gently.

"His question? Oh, yeah, it's about the both actually," he smiled, relived to have finally said something nearly intelligent.

"Okay, let start with my stolen car. Have you found it?" China asked, taking a deep breath, this guy was almost in Will's category.

"Sort of...." the detective hesitated.

"That's like being a little bit pregnant either you have found it or you haven't," China informed him.

"We found part of it," the officer told her apologetically.

She sighed, she had liked that car. Michael had given it to her as a graduation present when she had completed her Masters program. Her old but mostly functioning Chevy had needed to be replaced, and on graduation day she had gone out to start her car and instead of a blue sedan there was a white Mercedes convertible like her uncle's. She had driven his a few times and commented on liking the ride, so he had gotten her one of her own, and now someone had not only stolen the vehicle but had chopped it up for parts!

"I'm very sorry, ma'am," Joe said when there was no response from the woman.

"It's all right," she said.

"What about the drug charges?" Kermit asked as amiably as he could. Evidently this kid was a bit bewildered, so scaring him would not get the answers any faster.

"Well, basically, ma'am, we got some fingerprints off the bag. Now there are these patterns called whorls on your fingertips..." The newcomer eagerly began his lecture on fingerprints.

"Detective..."China interrupted after ten minutes of hearing more about fingerprints than she ever really wanted to know.

"Can we assume that you found some unique prints on the bag then, and that they don't match China`s?" Kermit growled.

"Oh, sorry, right. We found some prints on the inside of the bag, we don't know whose they are, but they are not yours," he assured her.

"So I'm not a suspect any more?" She asked, relieved.

"No, the charges have been dropped and you're free to go now, although, if you have a moment, I would like to ask you a few questions?"

"Okay, I already answered a lot of questions but if this is going to help, I'll answer some more," she responded, indicating a chair.

Seeing the intense dark haired man sit next to her, the detective pointedly sat across from them.

"The drugs were found in the bottom drawer of your desk, correct?" He began.

"Yes, they were, and no, I do not know who put them there," China snapped, having answered that a million times by now, it seemed.

"Right, would you have any idea who might have had access to that office?" He asked, ignoring her irritation.

"Security and maintenance both have keys to every office. My boss and I both have keys to the inner and outer office. Other than that, the office is locked at all times. No one could have snuck in there unobserved."

"All right, when was the last time you were in that drawer?" The detective asked, relaxing as he went along.

"A few weeks probably, I don't go in there a lot. It's kind of a stashing place for things I don't have any other place for," she explained.

"So the package might have been in there for a few weeks?" He asked, jotting this down. This was at least something.

"Yes, I suppose it might have been," she answered slowly; to be honest she had never thought of that angle.

"Okay, one last question here, do you know of anyone at all that might try and frame you?" He asked, watching Kermit and China on the couch.

Even though she had answered this question before, as well, China stopped and gave it some thought.

"No, I can't think of anyone who would want to set me up," China sighed at last.

"At this point it's our belief that you are being framed," Detective Cool informed her.

"Sagst du nicht!" China muttered.

Kermit, seeing that China was at the end of her patience, wisely ushered the nice detective towards the door.

"If you remember or think of anything that might help, please call us," Joe instructed her, handling her a card as Kermit almost shoved him out the door.

"Thank you," China whispered, as she tickled the whining Jojo's ears.

"Happy to have been of service," Kermit answered with a flourishing bow.

"Well, at least the charges being dropped solves one problem," she sighed. "I just wish I could figure out who was behind it and why."

"Maybe looking at what, when and how can help you figure out the who and why," he suggested.

"The what is easy enough, whoever it was put drugs in my bottom desk drawer. When is an unknown and how is as well since I work in a secure office in a secure building," China grumbled in response.

"Can you remember the last time you were in that drawer after something?" Kermit asked, helpfully.

"I haven't a clue," she snarled in frustration. Shaking her head, she sighed and said, "I'm sorry Kermit, I didn't mean to take my bad temper out on you, it's just very frustrating to not be able to remember things that could help."

"Not a problem, I know what it is to need answers and not have any," Kermit answered, understanding in his voice. Nothing was more infuriating than possibly having an answer, but not being able to remember what it was that you wanted to remember.

There was a rap on the door that had just been closed. The secretary and the mercenary groaned in two-part harmony.

"Apa" she called out loudly.

"I assume that was an invitation to enter," an older woman in a nun's habit said, entering.

"Hi, Maggie, looks like you have something for me there," China smiled, seeing the load in the woman's arms.

"These clothes were donated to the shelter and will be wonderful with a little repair work done. Who's your friend?" The nun asked, intrigued at seeing a strange man in her friend's apartment.

"Kermit Griffin, Sister Margaret Elizabeth, Maggie this is Kermit Griffin, a friend of mine," China made the introduction as the two shook hands.

"I should be able to get to those in the next few days, is there anything else I can do to help?" China asked, taking the bag and setting it in the half-done spare room where her sewing machine resided. Someday it would get done; she and Control had been working on it almost as long as she had lived here.

"We could use four more stuffed animals I'm afraid," the sister sighed. "And if you can, I don't know enough about sewing to know how difficult this might be, but one of the older girls in the orphanage has been asked to the prom and doesn't have a gown," the sister asked uncertainly. China was her friend and always willing to lend a hand but she was hesitant to ask too much of her.

"Have her come by and we can see about getting her measurements and seeing what kind of dress she would like. Once I know that I'll know how difficult it would be to do from here," the younger woman answered.

"Bless you," Maggie beamed at her former student. "Oh, we found some old things of yours and were wondering if you would mind if we put them in the art fair?"

China snorted derisively. "Nothing I did would be good enough to sell, but if you want to hurt people's eyes by putting them out, then by all means."

"Your stained glass projects were very nice and won't hurt anyone's eyes," Maggie assured her while getting a quick hug and hurrying on her way.

"Animals? Stained glass?" Kermit asked in a confused tone.

"I use to stay in the school late and work on stained glass projects when things were bad at home. Sister Maggie was one of the teachers, so knew about my art hobbies."

"And the animals?" Kermit asked cautiously.

"They run an abuse shelter as well as an orphanage. Each new child in either situation gets a stuffed animal. They evidently have four new ones, so are needing animals for them. The clothes are donations that are missing a button or have some small flaw that I can easily fix and are then used for the needy at the shelter," China explained.

"And you help with all of this?" Kermit asked, amazed. He had a feeling her job did not leave her a lot of free time.

"I help out with things that can be done from home and are not immediate needs," she shrugged. It had never seemed odd to her that she had gotten involved in charity activities that her church operated. She had far more than she needed and she remembered what it was like when she had spent the night cold, hungry and in the rain camped out on her uncle's doorstep waiting for him to get home. Luckily for her the wait had only been a few hours, but it had given her a small taste of what it would be like to be hungry and homeless.

"Well, If I am ever going to be needy I know where to go to do it," Kermit smiled as he prepared to leave.

"Just give me a call and I'll make certain you get help," China chuckled.

"Oh, yeah," Kermit agreed as he headed towards the door. "Listen, this is my answering service number, give me a call if you ever need anything."

"Mahalo," China smiled, while seeing him out.

"Hey, China, glad I caught you! I was wondering if you had any suggestions on where I might be able to go today? The watchers are in need of a little exercise," Paul grinned at her from Control's apartment door.

"Well, there's an art fair one of the local churches is putting on," she suggested and then mentioned a few other things. There was always something going on in New York.

A black streak dashed from behind the mercenary and into the secretary's apartment.

"Isis!" Paul shouted at the cat as he followed her into China's home, looking very embarrassed and chagrined.

China stood aside to let him pass, she hadn't even known Control had a cat. If he was going to have a pet though, an independent one like a cat with attitude was certainly fitting for the man.

The cat had dashed over to the hurt puppy that was just starting to wake, and mewing quietly. Curling up next to the baby, she began tongue bathing him and purring. The youngster instantly stopped her whimpering and curled herself as tightly around the cat as she could. Still purring, Isis rearranged the blankets into her idea of a good nest. She then proceeded to continue licking the puppy that was now attempting to nurse from the cat, who was evidently agreeable, as she was not moving away and was in fact rearranging herself to make things easier for her new baby.

When Paul reached down to get the feline, he was met with a snarling hissing cat and a crying puppy. Evidently they were not willing to be separated.

"I can keep her here for a few days if she is that determined to stay with Kissa," China offered, seeing Paul trying to figure out how to resolve this without getting himself hurt.

"You're certain you wouldn't mind?" He asked, knowing how many animals already resided over here.

"Considering I already have three parrots and two dogs, one cat will not be a great difficulty," she assured him.

"I'll get her things, then," Paul smiled, and suited action to words.

"Have fun exercising your watchers," China chuckled as Paul prepared to leave, having gotten the last of Isis few things over.

"I will. You're staying in today, right?" He asked, wanting to double check she was not going to be out and about without one of the guys following.

"Yep, I have some thinking to do and the church has some sewing it needs done," she answered, feeling the niggle of something in the back of her mind.

"Okay, If you decide to go out, knock on Control's door and one of the guys will be there," Paul instructed her.

Laughing, she gave him a sharp salute. "Sir, yes, sir."

Giving a rumbling chuckle, he saluted her back and left.
China got up slowly, stretching her long limbs as she arose. Sitting next to her on the couch were three bears and two dogs. A trio of cats would be joining them soon. There was something sitting in her brain just out of reach, but for all her thinking as she had made these stuffed friends for the children, it had not come to her. Something told her that it was important that she catch whatever that fluttering bug in the brain was.

"Okay, so should I go to the store for more fiber filling, or leave that for a better time and do the mending on the clothes donated?" China asked the apartment.

The only answer was the purring cat that was once more licking the hurt puppy, a contented sigh from Kissa, and a snore from sleeping Jojo. Rhett and Kermit were too busy preening one another to answer, and Dusty was sleeping at the moment.

"Well, since you guys obviously have such strong feelings about this I'll stay in and do the mending," she chuckled to the small zoo that resided with her.

Since her sewing kit was already out, she merely retrieved the bag of mending from the spare room. Settling herself on the couch once more, she reached for the first item, a man's dress shirt missing a button. Swearing long and imaginatively under her breath, she dropped the shirt, and remembered what it was that she had been almost getting all afternoon.
Two months earlier

"Oyabun, you lost a button on your collar, if you have a moment I would be happy to fix it," China offered, seeing him returning from an errand he had chosen not to tell her about.

The senior spy felt his collar and, sure enough, the button was gone. He groaned. He had a meeting to get to with a committee member who was a stickler for appearance and if he looked less than immaculate he would not get what he was after.

"You would be saving my life once more my dear, as Mr. Jansen is not forgiving of sloppy appearances," he smiled.

"No, the head of the committee is not known for that, from what I hear," she chuckled, reaching into her bottom drawer and pulling out a small sewing kit.

"Good thing I was wearing an undershirt today," Control grinned a few moments later as she handed him back his mended shirt.

"Maybe I'll have better luck next time," China responded wagging her eyebrows at him as she turned to leave.

Robert McCall did a double take as he passed the closed office door. He could have sworn he heard Control laughing. To his knowledge Control didn't know how to laugh, at least not unless you meant the harsh, humorless kind.

A yelp and scuffling sounds followed.

"Oh, really, tell me he is not carrying on with that child here!" Robert growled as he reached for the door.

"Did you need something?" Control asked, buttoning his shirt as he entered the outer portion of his office.

Just past the taller man Robert could see the young woman lying on the couch in her boss's inner office.

"Diddling your secretary Control? Isn't that just a bit trite?" Robert growled angrily. The very idea that his supervisor would be taking advantage of that nice sweet young lady was infuriating!

"Robert, if you think for one moment..." Control snarled menacingly while advancing slowly towards his top agent.

"Sir," came a soft voice at the door to the inner office. "You need to get going to that meeting. I'll clear things up with Robert."

"What on earth happened to you?" Robert asked, staring at her after Control had reluctantly left them for his meeting.

"Control lost a button on his shirt and I replaced it. I was returning to my own desk when I slipped and smacked my head on his desk. He had me lie down on his couch until the momentary dizziness passed and my stomach was back where it belonged," China explained, holding the ice bag on her head.

"I am sorry, I saw..." he began

"You saw him leaving his office buttoning his shirt while I was lying on the couch and jumped to the worst possible conclusion. Did it not occur to you to ask what was going on?" She inquired; sounding half-disappointed and half annoyed with him.

"Quite right, I should have asked; though you must admit things did appear somewhat suspicious," Robert answered, properly chastised.

"Yes, however, you are an intelligent man who knows both Control and me well enough to see beyond appearances, if you'd think for half a moment."

McCall looked at her, clearly ashamed. "You have my sincerest apologies, China."

"Robert, while I thank you for your apology to me, I'm not the one you insulted," China responded gently.

Robert was a nice man, and she really did like him, but there were times when the way he talked to Control made her want to scream in frustration. Sometimes she wondered if Robert didn't yell at Control when he in fact wanted to yell at the company and all the things it stood for.

Robert nodded his understanding and left.
Present

"Okay I've got my starting place, now to figure out what direction to go in from there," she mumbled to herself, as dinner bowls were filled and the parrots were returned to their cages.

"Kissa!" China shouted, returning to the main room to see that the puppy had claimed one of the stuffed animals from the couch as her own and was happily chewing on it from the safety of her blanket bed.

"All right, fine, you can keep that one since I admit that I don't have puppy toys here. But don't make a habit of snatching things off the couch like that, I'll get some chewy toys directly," China promised the quivering puppy who was cringing in the corner at her mistress's raised voice.

Crisis averted, both dogs were leashed for an outing. It was a quick trip, since the Pit Bull was still not up to much walking.

As had so often happened the last few days, when she got home there was a tall dark haired, blue eyed man leaning in the doorway across the hall from her own door. This one, however, looked at her differently than the one of the last few days had.

"Exspectata domus," she smiled.

For once in his life, a man who was surprised by almost nothing and able to handle any situation, didn't have a clue what he should say or do. Of all his concerns while he was gone, the one that had been on his mind constantly was if China was all right.

Stepping over to her, he tilted her head up with his hand and looked in her deep chocolate eyes. Those eyes had been haunting him ever since he had left. He had missed her more than he would have thought possible, considering it had only been four days since they last saw one another.

He understood just enough Latin from his high school days to know she had welcomed him home. Smiling at her, he lowered his head just a bit, and pulling her against him, he kissed her. He buried his face in her hair, tasting her on his lips and drinking in the scent that was unique to her. His hands gliding up and down her back assured him that he really was back and she really was in his arms. A distant part of his brain registered the plopping of two leashes hitting the floor just as his embrace and searing kiss was returned with equal fervor.

"Mahal kita," China whispered, leaning breathlessly against the wall. She was, to the best of her knowledge, a puddle of goo on the floor and it was all her boss's fault. The kiss had heated her face and gone to her toes, melting everything its path and leaving her in a puddle. He certainly did have a wonderful way of returning her welcome wishes.

"Could I get a translation on that?" He asked with a rumbling chuckle.

"Kiss me like that again and you can," She offered, giggling in what sounded to her like a fair imitation of a giddy schoolgirl. It was sooo embarrassing!

Smiling, Control very happily complied, much to her delight.

"China?" He asked, as she turned from him after their second and longer, if not as intense, kiss.

When she turned back, the fire in her eyes this time had nothing whatsoever to do with love. He braced himself for a storm.

"Don't leave like that again without warning, I was worried sick!" She growled, smacking him lightly on the arm.

"I'm sorry you were worried," he apologized, pointedly not promising that he would never do it again.

"I think I might have figured something out, so why don't you come over for dinner after you get settled," she offered, satisfied, evidently, with his apology.

"That sound's wonderful," he agreed, eagerly anticipating her news.
"I think I may have a starting point on finding out who set me up!" China blurted to him the second he was in her apartment. The drapes had been drawn against the watchers, so it was safe for them to meet.

"Tell me," Control instructed, taking a seat in the kitchen as China began pulling things out of the refrigerator. While he didn't mind cooking at all and would have been happy to help, he had found out the hard way once that when China was cooking to burn off excess emotion, it was best not to try and help.

"The last time I was in that bottom drawer was the time I fixed that button for you. So, whoever set me up has been in my office since then," she reported.

"Okay, so who would have had access since then?" He asked, loving to see the wheels in her mind turning. He had missed her intelligence and unique way of seeing things while he had been gone.

"As far as I know, no one, but then I remembered that I had been gone for that week visiting Michael."

"Janice filled in for you that week," he informed her. If she was already suspecting Janice, he would not tell what he knew.

"She's my friend; she wouldn't do that!" China snapped, glaring at him. "Who else had access while I was gone?"

"Only one other person had access while you were gone," he answered reasonably.

"Then that must be who it is!" She sighed with relief.

"I promise it was not me, China; I would never do that to you."

"Of course it wasn't you! I never...." She stopped mid-sentence.

Silence reigned as she banged pots and pan about. Control knew better than to interrupt, betrayal by a friend was hard to accept and that was what it looked like had happened. When it hit, it was going to hurt and he would be there for her.

"Where did you get the puppy?" He asked after a few moments.

"At the stable, Kissa was used as a bait dog and abandoned or ran away near there," China answered absently.

"Kissa? The way she's being mothered by Isis she's more of a Kitty," he chuckled.

"Actually you're close, Kissa is Finnish for cat," China answered, chopping up something with more energy than was required for the task.

"What are you making?" He asked, looking over at the counter.

"Satay, and Nasi Lemak," she replied.

"Sounds tasty and certainly looks good."

"Thanks, could you set the table and pick a wine?" She asked.

"Happy to, where might I find wine?"

She pointed to a cabinet behind her.

"You have some very nice bottles here," Control commented.

"Thank you. Living with Michael, I developed a rather discriminating palate, I'm afraid."

"Now I know what to get you for Christmas," he said slowly.

"Pick a bottle, don't stand there drooling over the selection. Now, what are you going to get me?" China asked only half her mind on the beverage.

"A wine rack and a proper cooler for these," he responded easily.

"As long as it doesn't cost me counter space," she growled.

"Understood."

"You really think that Janice was the one who set me up?" China asked a few minutes after they sat down to eat.

"As Arthur Conan Doyle said `When the impossible is eliminated, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,'"

"Would you be as quick to believe this about one of your own trusted friends?" She asked, almost hostile.

"Quicker," Control answered without hesitation.

Putting her utensils down, she stared at him.

"You honestly believe that, say, Robert, would set you up?" She asked, amazed.

"Depending on the circumstances, yes he would."

"Robert is one of your oldest and closest friends, he would never hurt you," she countered, amazed that she was having to defend the Brit.

"My dear, let me assure you, if Robert felt he needed to set me up for some reason, he would do so," Control snorted.

"And Paul?" If Control trusted anyone it would be his brother and cousin.

"I suppose, again, if the situation was dire enough, he might, but it would have to be pretty extreme for him to do that," Control answered, chewing thoughtfully. He had never thought about Paul in those terms.

"There's no one you trust not to ever betray you?" China asked sadly after a few moments silence.

"That depends on what you mean by betray. If Paul or McCall set me up, I would trust that they had a plan to get me out of the situation and that the reason behind it was a very good one. If you set me up I would be looking to see who had used you and why. In none of those cases would I think of it as betrayal."

"I would never set you up!" She growled.

"No, you would never intentionally set me up, but you might be tricked into doing something that would be part of a plan by someone else to set me up," he responded quickly.

"I'm not that stupid or gullible," she snarled.

"You are neither of those things," he agreed. "But you are trusting and innocent, and in some ways rather naive."

China thought about that for a moment while she ate.

"Yes, I suppose I can be that way, but I couldn't live, mistrusting everyone and convinced that any or all of my friends might stab me in the back," she responded finally.

"For that, I am very thankful," Control answered quickly, taking her hand.

"Why, though, why would Janice want to hurt me? She has no reason to do that," China asked, returning to the original question in her mind.

"I don't know, and maybe she isn't behind it, what I'm saying is that she almost certainly knows something about it," Control offered.

"So one way or another, she's involved," China conceded, having accepted the reality.

"It might not be intentional on her part, I certainly hope it's a case of her being a pawn," Control sympathized. "But you also need to be open to the idea that for some reason or another she might have done this."

"I'll be open about it, but I really think she must not have known what was going on, "China agreed.

"That's all I'm asking," he said.

"So, did you get any answers on your problem?" China asked, as they set the now empty dishes in the sink and moved over to the couch.

"I'll only say that after a lot of calls, I now believe that there is someone out there that people are more afraid of then they are of me," Control answered after a moment's thought.

"Stupid people," China smirked.

"Well, I do believe that they may be remembering now why they were afraid of me in the first place," Control chuckled.

"Oh, I would imagine you left more than a few of them dithering," China agreed, knowing all too well the reputation Control had in the intelligence community.

"It would appear the possibility of my promises seems to outweigh the other persons ...threats," he smiled menacingly.

China giggled.

"I wish I could call Janice and ask her about who had access to my desk," she sighed.

"You can't contact anyone from the office while on suspension," Control reminded her.

"I know; I just can't stop thinking about it."

"Maybe I can take your mind off of it?" Control offered, reaching the hand that had been resting on the back of the couch behind her around to massage her neck and shoulder.

"Oh, yeah," she turned slightly while leaning into his hand.

"Do you have any idea how much I missed you?" He whispered in her ear as she leaned back against the hands working her muscles.

"Probably about as much as I missed you, but why don't you show me?"

"My pleasure, and about your earlier comment in the hall," he rumbled, pulling her against him for a hug.

"Yes?" China turned her head to look at him, batting her eyes flirtatiously.

"I love you too," he laughed at her laughing and snuggling against him.

China might have been set up and he might be facing sexual misconduct charges, but for right now, the world could not be better. Tomorrow he would face when it came.
Stretching and yawning once more, China pushed the large birdcage towards the bedroom window. It was going to be a nice sunny day so she might as well let the birds enjoy it. Looking down on the street she saw her employer entering a company limo.

"Good Luck, John," she wished him quietly. The tribunal was starting today and she would be leaving for it herself, soon.

A black limo pulled up and caught her eye as she prepared to turn away. Henry, the driver assigned to Control, had arrived and was waiting on her. Smoothing her dress one more time, she dashed out.

"Morning Miss China, the man smiled, holding open the door and offering his hand to help her in. Ever since that first morning they had met, he had insisted on treating her like the 'real fine lady' he swore that she was. He was also about the only security man Control trusted with China's safety if she was out and about on company business, and China always relaxed a bit more if she knew Control had Henry with him on his errands.

"Morning, Henry, I'm glad they have you driving me today," she smiled, taking the offered hand.

"I wouldn't hear of anyone else taking you, ma'am, and he sure wouldn't be wanting just anyone seeing to you," Henry answered, getting into the car and pulling into traffic.

"Henry? You drive other people besides just Control and me around, right?" China asked hesitantly. She had remembered something Control had once said about the best information sometimes coming from people that no one thought about.

"You're the two I like driving, but I drive whoever needs me that day," he told her.

"Have you ever driven Janice Wilson?"

"Yes, I've driven her, and Miss, I don't like that woman one bit," he growled.

"Why don't you like her? If I may ask?" China had not known anyone to not like Janice. Of course the times Janice had been over to the apartment, Jojo had disliked her from the start and would lay protectively between the two women, guarding his mistress from the other woman.

"Couple of reasons; she's really rude to people she considers beneath her. I've been driving her off and on for five years and have yet to have her say one thing to me outside of orders on where we're going and those are given like I'm some brain damaged child. If we get caught in traffic or end up at the wrong place because of her misdirecting, she yells at me something fierce. But for all the times I get her where she wants and get her there on time I have never heard a word of thanks."

"So you don't like her because she's rude?" China clarified.

The driver got very quiet.

"Henry? Was there something more?"

"Well, that one, she's said some real mean things about you on occasion. I don't mean to cause trouble for anyone, so I haven't said anything," Henry blushed. He never had been easy with that choice, but if it was only office gossip there was no need to spread it.

"It's all right, Henry, no damage done; I was just wondering what you thought of her," China assured him.

"She's sly and kind of oily, if you ask me. Come to think of it, she's been asking some about you two lately," the man commented.

China sighed. Point to Control, Janice did seem to be behind the drugs in her desk. "Thanks, Henry."

"Is she the cause of all this trouble you two have been having?" He asked looking back at her as he parked.

"She might be involved, we aren't certain," China answered absentmindedly as she saw Michael and Marella head into the office building.

"What are they doing here?" She asked.

"That's Mr. Coldsmith-Briggs the third and his assistant Miss Marella Fortier," Henry informed her.

"I know them; I just wonder what they're doing here?" She asked, getting a sinking feeling in her stomach.

"They were brought in as witnesses against Mr. Control."

"No, Henry, they're here as witness against me," she replied coldly and offered her thoughts on the situation as colorfully as she could.

"Ma'am?" Henry asked worriedly. Her last few words had been a language he didn't know but he was certain he did not want them translated.

Before she could answer, China's escort arrived to lead her into the building.

"Pahintulutan ang laro simulan," she mumbled following her guard.

"Repeat that in English!" The guard snapped at her.

"I was merely thanking you for your assistance," the mulatto secretary answered.

The guard glared and shoved her forward, causing her to fall.

"Get up, we haven't got all day," he snapped as she got back on her feet.

"Hey! There's no reason to go manhandling her like that!" Henry barked, stepping away from the car and towards his passenger and her escort.

"You stay out of this, you brought her here and that's all you're paid to do," the guard snapped turning towards driver.

China tried not to laugh at the guard. Unless Henry stepped away from the car, you had not idea just how massive the man was. Her escort had stupidly discounted the soft spoken man because of his polite manners and lack of height. He was now seeing that the southern driver, while a few inches shorter than the potbellied security man, was about fifty pounds heavier and none of it was fat. As the driver came forward, the guard backed slowly away. There was no way he wanted to tangle with this human Mastiff.

"Miss China, are you all right?" Henry asked, once more all southern gentility.

"I'm fine Henry, just a little scraped up," she assured him.

"Don't you be giving her any more trouble," the man known to his family as bear growled to the guard before returning to the car.

Limping slightly, China followed the glaring escort. Once in her seclusion room she could get cleaned up while waiting for them to call her.
Control sat at the defense table waiting for the circus to start. Too bad he was only going to be able to see one ring at a time. At least from his seat as the accused he would be able to hear all the testimonies. Marc Lewis was sitting by the door, so Catherine must have come through and gotten him in as a spectator. The man had probably come here to see him fall. Too bad Control was not the obliging type.

"All rise," A bailiff called out as three judges entered the room. All the people in the room rose.

"Prosecution and defense, are you prepared to start these proceedings?" Christine Straham, the middle and senior judge called out, taking a seat between the two men who were also presiding over the case.

Both attorneys replied in the affirmative.

"Northern Control, how do you plead to the charges of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and conduct unbecoming?" the speaking judge asked.

"Innocent you honor," Control answered confidently.

"In that case, be seated and we'll begin the case," she instructed the room.

"Please call Janice Wilson to the stand," Ellen Maylonas, the frosted blond woman who was prosecuting, requested.

Great, Control thought, evil Ellen, just the prosecutor this case needs.

A dark haired woman about China's age entered and was led to the stand.

"Your name and position?" The bailiff asked.

"Janice Wilson, and I'm secretary to Marc Lewis," she answered.

Watching her sworn in, Control wondered what the reasoning behind these charges was.

"Miss Wilson, what has the defendant done that has led to you making these charges against him?" Ellen asked.

"Suggestive words and looks, touching me... inappropriately," she answered quietly, chewing on her lower lip.

Control raised a bushy eyebrow at the secretary. As far as he knew he had done none of those things. He had treated her with the same courtesy and respect that he treated all women with.

"Can you give me a specific example?" The prosecutor asked.

"He grabbed me once .... and touched me where he had no business touching me," Janice sniffed.

"She would rather I had let her fall?" Control mumbled under his breath.

"You grabbed her to stop her from falling?" his lawyer asked, leaning closer.

"Yes," Control confirmed quietly.

"Are there any other examples of his behavior?" Ellen asked, sweetly.

"He's followed me out to my car a couple of times," Janice answered hesitantly.

The judges whispered conference with one another.

"Let me guess, you were walking her to her car after hours?" Darren Randall, asked his client.

Control nodded.

The wiry little lawyer jotted that down with his other notes.

"So he grabbed you and follows you; does he do anything else?

"He made a lewd comment about my dress once," she answered, glaring at the spy.

"I see, at any other time did he treat you in any way that was demeaning or disrespectful?"

"He yelled at me repeatedly when I have worked for him, using the most foul language," the secretary answered.

"Those were the times you had already mentioned to me?" Darren asked the spook quietly.

"Yes," Control hissed under his breath.

"No more questions, your honors," Ellen stated, sitting down.

"Your witness, Mr. Randall," the middle judge announced.

The small man smiled at his client and arose.

"Miss Wilson, was there a reason that my client grabbed you when he did? I remind you that you are under oath," he asked, in his nasal voice.

"Well, I, suppose that he probably had a reason of some kind," she stammered.

"Do you have any idea what that reason might have been?" He asked.

"He never mentioned any reason for it to me."

Control gave a snort of disgust. She knew very well why he had grabbed her.

"Weren't you in front of a staircase and about to fall?" he asked.

"Objection! Leading the witness!" Ellen snapped.

"Overruled, please answer the question Miss Wilson," the middle judge responded.

"Yes," Janice replied quietly.

Once more the judges whispered in consultation among themselves. The senior judge scowled at the secretary.

"So by grabbing you he prevented you from taking a bad fall," the lawyer stated.

"He grabbed my chest and I didn't like it!" Janice snarled.

"That would be understandable. Is it possible that he was not intentionally groping you, but rather was merely grabbing at whatever part he could reach the easiest?" the defense council asked.

"Yes, I suppose he could have been doing that," she agreed after a moment.

"Were there any incidents other than that of him touching you inappropriately?" Darren asked.

"No," she gulped.

"Um, can you tell about the times he followed you?" the defending lawyer asked.

"It was always after dark and he would follow me out to my car. It scared me a little," she responded timidly.

"How far behind you was he?"

"Not very," she admitted.

Control rolled his eyes. If he had been any closer they would have been wearing the same skin.

"Um, I see, does that mean that he was close enough to keep you in sight, or that he was close enough to open doors?"

The plaintiff sat silent.

"That was not a rhetorical question," the judge reminded her.

"He opened the doors for me," Janice admitted.

"Did he at any time in those trips to your car make any move to threaten or intimidate you?" the defense council inquired. "Did he speak to you at all?"

"No, he didn't do anything that could be thought of as threatening or intimidating," she answered.

"And did he speak to you at all?" the lawyer repeated.

"He asked if he could walk me to my car since it was after hours," Janice confessed.

"We should all get that kind of harassment from the men around here," Christine, the senior judge, muttered under her breath.

Control smirked, having caught the judge's comment. Evidently, even a woman who was thought of as a feminist, liked having a door opened for her occasionally.

"You mentioned that he made a lewd comment about your attire once?" Mr. Randall asked.

"Yes he did, it was very embarrassing and demeaning."

"I would imagine that it was," he answered in his squeaky voice. "What exactly did he say?"

"He said that it looked like I had lost a button," she replied, a bit red.

"Had you lost a button?"

"Yes I had, but he didn't need to say anything about it! I can't imagine that he would have if one of the men working for him had lost a button," she answered indignantly.

Control harrumphed form his seat at the defense table. If someone lost a button and he found it he would return it to them, it didn't really matter if it was a man or a women, did it?

"I see, was he looking at you in an inappropriate way when he said that?" the lawyer asked.

"No, he wasn't," she replied, biting her lower lip.

"I'm just curious, how was he looking at you?" Darren asked.

"He looked me in the eye like he always does when he's speaking to me," she muttered in a tone that was almost resentful.

Control goggled at her. She was upset because he had follow what he had been taught as a boy was good manners in keeping his eyes diverted from her, ah, assets.

"This guy sounds like a real terror," one of the judges muttered under his breath, while rolling his eyes.

"I believe you also mentioned that he yelled at you and used foul language when you were temporarily assigned to him?" Darren asked.

"Yes, It was very upsetting, and I know he doesn't talk to his own secretary that way at all," Janice sniffed indignantly.

"Does your own boss ever yell at you or use less than polite language?" the Defense lawyer asked.

"Occasionally, but not like Control does when he's angry."

"Was Control angry with you the times he was yelling at you?" Mr. Randall asked.

"Yes, he was," Janice admitted.

"Why was he angry?" the lawyer asked.

"I ... um.... well....I didn't give him a message when he came in. I forgot about it and brought it to him as soon as I remembered it."

"So you failed to give him a message. Considering my client's position, is it not possible, even probable, that lives and maybe even entire countries' futures relied upon his having that information as quickly as possible?"

"Yes, it is very possible that a great deal was hanging on that message," she agreed quietly.

"And are you certain that you are the only person that he yells at? Is it not in fact possible that he would yell at anyone in that situation?" The lawyer asked

"Yes, that's possible," she answered hesitantly.

"In fact, Control is known to be, at times, very difficult to work for," Darren commented.

"Yes," Janice once more had to agree; the head of field operations for the Northern Hemisphere did have a bit of a reputation.

The judges were once more whispering among themselves, and glaring at the dark haired secretary.

"No further questions," Darren stated, taking his seat next to Control at the defense table.

"Does either side have any last statement or questions pertaining to these charges?" Christine, the senior judge asked.

Both attorneys answered in the negative. Darren smiled reassuringly at his client, while Ellen glared at hers.

"In that case, Prosecution you may call the rest of your witnesses and I hope they have more to stand on then Miss Wilson," Christine commented, giving the lawyer a penetrating stare.

Ellen smiled haughtily at the defendant. "The next witness I call is Marella Fortier."

The accused worked hard to live up to his name. There was only one reason for her to be here, and that meant that he was not really the one they were after. Marella had no connection with him, but did with his secretary.

A slender woman with similar coloring to China's came to the stand, dressed in pristine white.

"Your name and position please?"

"Marella Fortier, I am Assistant Deputy Director Briggs' personal assistant," she answered.

"Tell me when you first met Deputy Director Briggs?"

"In 1966."

"You were one of a number of girls that he has helped, isn't that so?" The questioning woman asked sweetly.

"Yes," Marella responded.

"Do you know a woman named China Berry?" The prosecutor asked.

"Yes, I do," came the hesitant answer.

"Where and when did you meet her?"

"In 1968, I think, at the Deputy Director's house," Marella answered carefully.

"Were you normally at his house?"

"No, but I was in college and it was vacation week and since I didn't have anywhere else to go he invited me to stay with him. Miss Berry was also there, so we got to know one another," the caramel skinned woman answered with crisp professionalism.

"So, whenever there was a vacation you were at the house?" Ellen insinuated.

"If I wasn't staying with friends, yes I had the option of going to stay with him."

"Councilor! Keep the questions on subject. I really don't see what Deputy Director Briggs and Miss Fortier's history has to do with the charges against Control. I also suggest that you prove the relevancy of Miss Berry's history being brought in as well," the senior judge warned, icily.

"Thank you for saving me the effort, your honor," Darren mumbled from his seat; relieved to see that they had a judge who would keep the questioning halfway civil.

"Was China Berry another street girl that he helped?" The prosecutor asked, heeding the warning about the previous line of questioning.

"I suppose she was," the dark skinned woman answered.

"You suppose? She was treated differently than the rest of you?"

Marella took a deep breath; she did not like where this was going. "She was not like the rest of us. We were sent to boarding schools and lived there. China lived with him at his home," Marella explained.

"So, unlike the rest of you, China had her permanent home there with him," the lawyer asked.

"Yes, the rest of us might be there for a couple of days or a week here or there but she was the only one who lived there."

"Thank you Miss Fortier," the frosty blond smiled. "No more questions."

"Miss Fortier," Darren said getting up to start his cross-examination. "Did China ever give a reason that she was living with Deputy Director Briggs?"

"She had mentioned that she had lived with him since her parents died, so I assumed that he was a relative or friend of her family," Marella answered after a moment of thinking back through things China had said over the years.

"And that would be different than the other girls he helped?" the lawyer prodded gently.

"Yes, the rest of use were girls that he found on the street and helped out; he didn't have any connections to our families like he did in her case," she confirmed.

"So the family connection alone might explain why she was treated differently," Darren offered.

"It very well might, she always called him Uncle Michael so I assumed that he was a close friend of her parents," the witness responded.

"What kind of relationship did they seem to have when you were there?" the lawyer inquired.

"Parental. She had to let him know where she was at all times and ask permission if she wanted to be out for the evening. She had chores to do and in fact I remember her getting extra chores once when I was there because she had not gotten her regular ones done."

"Thank you Miss Fortier, no more questions," the lawyer dismissed her.

Marella left the stand and the next witness was presented.

Control almost lost control when he saw his lady limping the few steps to the witness stand and saw that her clothes looked less than perfect. It also looked as if her arm was damaged in some way. He half arose from his chair as he glared hard at her guard.

"Control! Take your seat! Miss Berry, you appear to be in need of medical assistance, would you like to be excused until a later time?" The middle judge addressed the witness.

"No, thank you," China answered.

"Yes, she's obviously in pain!" Control said almost at the same time, knowing from the way his secretary was avoiding bumping her arm and walking carefully, as well as her biting on her lip, that the woman was in a world of hurt.

"I was not asking you, Control! Her tongue is not injured and she answered just fine for herself. Are you certain you don't wish medical assistance?" The judge asked again, glaring at the defendant.

"I'll be fine, your Honor, I would just like to get this over with," China answered, smiling her thanks to the judge for her concern.

"May I inquire as to what happened to you?" the judge asked, while both of the other judges turned to give their full attention to the answer.

China blushed a bit in embarrassment. "The guard and I had a bit of a failure to communicate, I`m afraid."

"How so?" Christine asked.

"It seems that he doesn't speak Tagalog, and I guess he didn't appreciate my language lesson as we came in," China confessed.

Control sighed quietly. Of all the times for China to get mouthy, why did she have to pick now?

Judge Straham, as the senior judge, roared for the bailiff to retrieve the guard that had left after delivering the witness. The other judges were growling and muttering under their breath.

"Mr. Blatt! I would like to hear the reason that a woman who was under your care arrived looking like she had gotten into a fight with a revolving door!"

"I'm sorry your honor, she fell on her way in. I offered her medical assistance but she declined." the pot-bellied guard answered, glaring at the witness.

"Gee, I must have gone temporarily deaf," China growled.

"I see, did she trip before or after the language lesson?" the judge snarled.

The guard looked at the judge in confusion.

"Ang tauhan ay a henyo!" China muttered under her breath with venom.

The judge raised an eyebrow.

"Just expressing my amazement at his intelligence," China smiled innocently.

One of the other judges smirked.

"Miss Berry evidently made a comment you didn't understand, I was wondering if she had done that before or after she, ah, tripped," the senior judge asked, bringing the room back to order.

"Before, your honor," the man answered quietly. He was in deep kimchee and he knew it.

"If I understood Miss Berry's earlier comment correctly I would have to say that she was not offered medical treatment. Is that correct Miss Berry?" the judge inquired.

"Yes, your honor, it is," China answered, almost seeing steam coming out of Control's ears, he was so angry.

"Mr. Blatt, this is not the first time that you have used excessive force on a witness but so help me it will be the last! I will not have witnesses slammed, shoved, tripped, mauled or terrorized by you! There is no excuse what-so-ever for your treatment of Miss Berry. If you didn't understand her comment, then you should have either ignored it or asked for a translation, not sent her face first into the sidewalk! Now get out of this courtroom!" the judge almost screamed.

"Yes, your honor," he said evenly, almost making that title a curse as he turned and headed out.

"If at any point you are in need of assistance, please let us know," the judge instructed China before signaling for the case to continue.

The prosecutor began once more by confirming the name and position of the mulatto woman.

Having calmed himself a little, Control winked at the younger woman when no one was watching.

"When did you meet Control?" The blond woman asked.

"In 1970, I was serving at a party he was attending."

"And did he single you out in any way?" The older woman asked.

"Not until after I dumped his soup in his lap and spilled his wine on his shirt. I believe I got his attention at that point," China answered with a straight face.

The next question had to wait for the judges and defense lawyer to quit laughing. Even Northern Control was hiding what some called a smile, behind his hand.

"I see, and in what way did he single you out?" the lawyer asked when peace reigned once more.

"I injured my ankle and he saw to it that I got home," China answered, feeling that it was best not to mention that he had also taken her out to eat.

"You were living in LA at that time with Deputy Director Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III, isn't that correct?"

"Yes, although I don't see what my living arrangements five years ago has to do with my relationship with my supervisor now," China told them, all innocence.

"When did you move in with Mr. Coldmith-Briggs?" The blond woman repeated.

"Objection!" Darren snapped standing up.

"I resent the implication of that question!" China snarled.

Control remained seated only because of the warning look the judge gave him and the fact that Darren had already objected. No sense getting on her bad side, since she was no happier than he was about that question.

"Resent it all you want, just answer it," the prosecutor snapped.

"I am letting the question stand. Miss Berry, answer the question, Miss Maylonas behave yourself," the judge instructed both women.

"The summer of 1966," China replied.

"You lived with Mr. Coldsmith-Briggs for a number of years," the prosecutor continued.

"Yes, he's a family member, and I was living with him while finishing high school and attending UCLA," China answered after a moment.

"A very good school," the lawyer commented absently.

"I had the option of attending Berkley, but Uncle Michael wouldn't hear of me being loose on that campus," China grinned.

"Big surprise there," Control chuckled, imagining the immaculate intelligence officer hovering protectively over his teenage niece.

Christine Straham looked at the witness. China Berry was not the proud, arrogant, haughty woman she had heard of. She was young, but poised and confident, and intelligent. It would seem that her tribunal room was being used to play politics. Happily, that was not a game she played.

"Prosecutor, please stay focused on the issues, I don't believe Miss Berry's education is in question here," Judge Straham commented to the lawyer.

"Yes, your honor. The point I wished to being up, China, is that you have a degree from a notable school and were making a good living at an international company. In fact when you joined the agency, you took a considerable cut in pay. I would like to know why you would do that."

"I did it because I was bored to death sitting in an office and translating business documents. A representative of the agency approached me and I agreed to the interviews, and afterwards to the job," the younger woman answered easily.

"I would imagine having Control would be very exciting," Ellen responded, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

Control goggled at her, Ellen hated him and always had, but this was over the top even for her.

"Objection!" Darren yelled, standing up once more.

"Lady, I did not even know Control worked there when I joined the agency. I signed on as a translator and was told I was not needed there so was offered a position in the secretarial pool. On my first day I was told to report to Marc Lewis. Working for Control was a complete surprise, and he was certainly not the reason that I changed jobs!" China snarled.

"Enough!" The gavel banged. "Councilor I suggest that you remember your manners," the judge snapped, losing all patience.

"I would like to enter these photos as evidence of the relationship between Control and China Berry," Ellen almost glowed with pleasure as she handed the pictures to the bailiff to be given to the judges.

"As you can see the first three show them dinning out together socially. The next two show them together in a social situation. The other three are random photos of them together, but all of these pictures show them in intimate poses," Ellen continued.

China looked sick, but since it was not a question, she could not comment.

He may have resembled a pot about to boil over, but Control winked at her reassuringly as he and Darren looked at the images and began conferring.

"Did you kiss your supervisor at a dinner party last year?" The lawyer asked, turning her attention once more to the witness.

"Yes, we did kiss at a dinner party back then," she answered with a sinking feeling in her stomach from the looks she was getting.

"Do you usually kiss you boss?"

"No, not usually, but I saw someone at the party that I didn't want to have see me and I kissed Control to avoid being seen. It was childish and immature and I apologized to him the second I had done it," she answered, sighing. She really hadn't wanted that little incident to come out.

"Did he return the kiss?" Ellen asked, sweetly.

"Yes, he did."

"Did he give you a reason that he kissed you?"

"No, but then he often doesn't explain his actions to me. I figured that he was merely being polite and was saving me further embarrassment by not making a scene," China shrugged indifferently.

"Were you kissing him to avoid being seen by your ex fiance who was also there?" The lawyer asked.

"Yes, however, it failed miserably since they were not only at our table but seated next to us," China chuckled amusedly.

"Later that year after an incident in a bank you left town for a long weekend with Control. Do you make a habit of going on vacations with him?" Ellen asked.

Seeing that China had not even blinked, the senior judge didn't bother complaining about it.

"I wasn't on vacation with him, I was visiting the parents of my friend Paul. Control was merely nice enough to take me there and bring me home, since I wasn't in any condition to drive," China answered easily.

"Very kind of him," Ellen said dismissively.

"Earlier this year you were seen embracing him tightly, do you have an explanation for that?" The blond continued.

"Yes, I had just received an upsetting phone call and he was comforting me," China answered softly.

Control gave her as reassuring a smile as he could and didn't care who saw, that mess still upset her.

"A death in your family or something?"

"No, my dog walker had sent a substitute that day and she ignored instructions that my larger dog Oso was to be left alone and only to walk the other one. Oso was scared of everything and everybody; she cornered him to get his leash on and he bit her. The walker had to go to the doctor and the doctor called the authorities about my vicious dog. The police then called me and informed me that either he had to pass a temperament test, get a new home or he had to be put down. He could not pass any kind of test, and I didn't know of any place that could take him, so that only left putting him to sleep. I was upset about it and Control hugged me and asked if it would help if he took the dog to the vet's."

"You were in tears over a dog?" The prosecutor sneered.

"Anyone would be over the loss of a pet like that," Darren muttered under his breath.

Control could have slapped that woman. Oso was an open wound for his friend, who totally blamed herself for the whole incident.

"Only a few months ago you were seen lying on his couch while he was leaving his office putting his shirt back on. Any acceptable reason for that I would love to hear!"

Control and his secretary groaned in harmony.

"He had lost the button off his shirt and I offered to sew on back on for him. He accepted and left the shirt on my desk where I repaired it and then I went into his office to return the shirt and tripped, taking a header into the corner of his desk. He had me lie down on his couch while he went to his meeting, telling me to stay there until the dizziness passed," China answered, grinning about it now.

"I'm certain that was all there was to it," the lawyer purred.

China sputtered, and Darren objected loudly as the gravel once more cracked like a whip.

"Miss Maylonas! I have lost count of the number of times I have warned you to watch your insinuations and accusations. You make one more comment like that and I will dismiss this entire case without hearing the rest of it!" The judge hissed menacingly at the lawyer.

"Yes, your honor," Ellen complied.

"I am finished with this witness," Ellen smiled.

"About time," one of the other judges muttered.

"Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, let's start with the photos. I'm going to show them to you and I want you to tell me the story behind them," Mr. Randall instructed, handing her the photos.

China looked at them, some were actually fairly good pictures. If they had been taken in any other situation, she would have been asking for copies.

The first showed her and Control sitting together in a restaurant. They were leaning in towards one another and she was laughing about something while he was smiling at her. "That was a time that he was needing a cover date, and asked me to go along so that he wouldn't stick out. He had asked me what great international disaster would occur if a waiter drooped a platter on Thanksgiving. The answer was the downfall of Turkey, the overthrow of Greece, and the destruction of China. The answer struck me funny and I was laughing."

Every face turned to stare at the senior spy, was it possible that the inhumane iceman had told a joke?

The next was one of them sitting together at an outdoor table. Once more they were leaning towards one another. While neither was laughing, they did both seem amused by something. "We were working late and took a dinner break. We were talking about some, ah, personnel issues," she smiled.

"Gossiping?" Darren asked in his nasal voice.

"That might be another word for it, yes," China chuckled.

Control snorted, he always appreciated China keeping him updated on items in the secretarial grapevine, but he supposed one might call her updates gossiping.

The third was one of them at her desk both grinning from ear to ear, and glowing with excitement. "We ordered in because it was late and we were going to be there all night. If we look unusually happy it's because we had just gotten word that two operatives thought dead were alive and needing a way home." That was the first time she had realized just how human and compassionate her boss was. She knew he worried about her and Robert and other agents that he had come up through the ranks with, but that was the first time she remembered him worried sick about agents he barely knew, simply because they were his.

"A cause for celebration I'm certain," the lawyer smiled.

"As for these other of us together, in the one where we are walking close together and he has an arm around me, we were sharing an umbrella. It went up thirty seconds after this was taken. This one of him scowling and my arm around him was a time when he had found out that three agents were incommunicado with bad intelligence and he was waiting to find out if they were alive or not. I was not being romantic, I was trying to offer him some support," China explained. No need to tell them that it was Robert and two rookies on their first assignment that were caught there. Two of the three agents came out alive and the man who provided the bad report was now a window washer somewhere, she vaguely remembered hearing.

"I'm certain the other three have equally acceptable explanations," Darren encouraged.

"Yes in the one with my reaching up to dab at his face, we had gone across the street to the park for a hot dog as a fast lunch, he had some mustard on his face and I was getting it off for him. His hand was on my back during the second one because there was an ice patch and he didn't want me to fall. The last one where I've got an arm around him, he had the flu and I was helping him to the car and home," China said handing the photos back.

"All those photos of this great romance are really nothing more than evidence of two people being friends," the lawyer summed up.

"Since the prosecution was kind enough to bring it up, what is your relationship with Deputy Director Briggs?" Darren asked, even though he knew the answer.

"He's a family member, I was with him when my mother died and he was made my guardian," she explained.

"So he took over the role of your parent?" Darren inquired.

"Yes, that was why I was living with him," China answered, opting not to go into all of the details about her parents.

"Other than the time mentioned, have you ever kissed your boss?" the lawyer asked.

Control bit the inside of his lip.

"Once, he had been gone with no warning and I was so happy to see him alive and well that I kissed him," she explained nonchalantly.

"Other than the time that you were grieving the eminent death of a beloved pet, have you ever embraced Control?" Darren asked.

"The time I just told about I hugged him as well," she admitted.

"So all displays of affection were done in times of high emotion, but never with love or lust as the prominent emotion," the lawyer said in understanding.

"How was it that you and Control were both gone over a long weekend at the same time after you were used as a bank hostage?" Darren continued.

"I was in shock and he knew about Paul's so he took me out there to recover and visited his own family or friends that lived in the same general area," she responded.

"So basically he saw to your care like he would to any of his other agents?"

"Yes," she answered.

"Thank you," he smiled at her.

The next witness was a tall man in an impeccably cut, pristine white suit. If looks could have killed, the entire room would have been dead. He didn't look too happy with Control, either.

"Your name and..." the woman began.

"Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III, and I am Assistant Deputy Director of Research and Development. I am also wondering why I got dragged here from California for this travesty of justice."

"I would like to know that as well, counselor," the middle judge smiled.

Ellen gave slight nod that she had heard. "Can you confirm that this picture is of you and China Berry and was taken while she was living with you?"

She had the bailiff deliver a picture of Michael in full polo gear, embracing an ecstatic China.

"Yes it is, but I fail to see what that photograph has to do with Northern Control?"

"It is proof of China's personality, her having gone from a relationship with you to the one with Northern Control," the blond explained.

"She's my niece!" Michael snarled.

"I think, councilor, that you finally have bitten off more than you can chew," the judge chuckled.

"Your niece?" The lawyer stuttered.

"Yes, my niece. As you would know if you had done five minutes of research into her background!" The man answered, smiling like Jaws.

"You also would have known if you had listened to your wittiness's answer, since Miss Berry did refer to him as Uncle Michael," the judge on the left smirked.

"And that explains the photo of you both," the woman stumbled.

"I was in a polo match and won, I was hugging her and her friend Toni got it on film," Michael shrugged.

"I see," the lawyer stammered

"This farce of a trial is ending now! I want everybody involved to be brought in here so this case can be settled once and for all," the head judge snapped, sending the bailiff jumping.

Michael was dismissed and joined his aide and niece in front of the judge with Control and his lawyer. The prosecutor stood a little apart but also in front of the bench.

Christine Straham looked down from the judge's bench to her captive audience. "Counselor, you have pressed charges against Control, yet all of your so-called evidence and questioning has been geared to putting Miss Berry on trial. That is not acceptable. Deputy Director Briggs and Miss Fortier, I don't even know what connection you have with this case but I thank you for your willingness to come. You are free to go at your convenience. Northern Control and Miss Berry, to paraphrase a favorite movie, it might not take much imagination to understand this but it takes a little bit of just the right kind. Be grateful that I posses the right kind. All of the evidence against you was circumstantial and rumors. I suggest, however, that in the future you be more careful about displays of affection."

"I assume you have a reason for breaking into chambers?" The judge asked, breaking off her lecture to address the sharply dressed man and the two patrolmen following him.

Control grinned, Robert was right on time. Good help was indispensable and his senior agent was the best help a man could get.

"I am merely assisting the local constabulary in their duties by leading these fine officers to the correct room," Robert responded, moving aside to allow the cops to come forward.

"Ma'am, we need Janice Wilson to come with us," the older officer explained.

"For what reason?" the judge asked them, looking at the first witness in the case.

"She's a suspect in a drug case," the younger cop blurted.

China looked at the woman who had been her first friend in the agency. "So you did set me up, Janice. Why? Why did you try and hurt me?"

"He made me do it!" Janice screamed pointing at Marc Lewis, who was standing by the door that Robert McCall was pointedly blocking.

Taking in the looks on the other people standing around, the cops quickly read their suspect her rights and led her out of the room in cuffs. She might have gotten ripped to shreds or beaten to death otherwise, the way the people in that trial were looking at her.

"Security, place Mr. Lewis in one of the holding rooms until I call for him. The rest of you, I thank you for your time and you may now leave as this case is dismissed," the judge instructed, barely getting the words out as a second person was hauled out of the room in handcuffs.

"Michael, could you see that China gets home safely? I have some business I have to finish here," Control asked the man in the pristine suit.

"I'll see you later," China smiled to her boss as she left. She would like to have hugged him, but as the judge had said, displays of affection would need to be watched now, even innocent ones between friends.
"Come in," Christine responded to the knock on her door.

"Thank you for your help out there," a low and familiar voice rumbled to her.

"You promised me a floorshow to remember if I agreed to let Marc Lewis in to watch you get hung, and you certainly kept your promise, this time."

"Chris, I always try to keep my promises," Control retorted, sitting in the visitor's chair she motioned him towards.

"I know you always tried, but I don't remember a lot of them being kept, at least not the ones to me," she smiled and leaned back. "But that was a long time ago."

"I'm sorry that we never worked out, and I really do appreciate the help you gave me. I had a feeling they would go after China and I didn't want to see her smeared or hurt," he admitted.

"She seems like a nice girl, still has some innocence and decency left. Take good care of her or that won't last long in this world," she snorted.

"I'm doing my best to shield her. If possible I would like to see Marc," Control asked.

"Control, I can't do that! When you asked me to invite him to sit in on that case and asked me to keep an open mind, that was one thing. The first is in my authority and the other is my job, but there is no way I can justify letting you see him," she complained.

"I'm not going to hurt him; I just want to know who was backing him up on this. Marc never flies without a net under him, so somewhere there is someone who is at the very least allowing him to do this and at the most encouraging him. I want to know who!"

"Fine, let's go," she offered getting up.

"Excuse me?" He asked.

"You are not seeing him alone. Since my office is going to be investigating, I can, of course, see him, and if I bring you along, no one will question it. There isn't any other way I can get away with letting you see him that will not raise red flags all over the place."

Glaring at her, he held the door open as they left the office.

"Still Mr. Sunshine himself, I see," she smirked

"With thunderstorms possible, "he retorted.

"I'll let you go in alone but be aware that I will be observing and listening to everything. You say or do even one thing that would hint of him being in danger and I will have you in an adjoining room so fast you won't know what hit you," she smiled.

"Have I ever told you that you're beautiful when you're threatening?" He chuckled.

"Every time you stood me up for a date and I threatened you. But I'm not threatening you, I am merely informing you of the rules that this game is played by."

He smiled at her and entered the locked room as she headed to the observation window.

"Bad day for you, Mr. Lewis," Control remarked amiably, sitting across from the prisoner.

"Not really, this is temporary, I assure you," Marc smiled.

"Take it from someone who invented the game, old son, no one is going to get you out of here," Control informed the younger man.

The prisoner snorted in disbelief.

"Nice try, Control, but I really don't think this anencephalic is capable of being taught the game, now," a cultured voice came from the door.

"I've been called worse, I think," Marc answered with a bored yawn.

"I know he's a bit slow, but I think we can teach him to speak," Control grinned evilly, wondering how Michael had gotten in here.

"You don't start giving him answers and I'll be doing a lot worse that calling you names, pretty boy." The Californian snapped, walking slowly towards the man.

"Michael, we did promise not to touch this guy," Control reminded his companion.

"Maybe you did, I didn't make any deal like that," the man in white answered with a malevolent smile.

"Marc, just tell me who's shielding you on this and we'll leave," Control said in his most reasonable voice.

"I don't need to be shielded by anyone," the ken doll look-alike sneered.

"You never do anything without a net to catch you if you fall, now tell me who your net is!" Control roared.

"Calm down, we do not need a repeat of Zagreb," Michael said, suddenly trying to sooth his niece's boss.

Marc looked at the senior spook for a moment. Everyone had heard about that incident. It was one of the bloodiest messes in the company's history. No one was exactly certain what had happened there, but as near as they could tell, one of the agents had either completely flipped out, killing the rest of the team as well as the group of scientists they were helping, or one of the guys was a double agent. What was known was that it ended with twelve people dead.

"You always said you had nothing to do with that," Marc stammered, looking into four penetrating blue eyes.

"You don't really thing I would admit to having played a role do you?" Control grinned, leaning towards the head of security.

"Going after Miss Berry like that, you already have him angry, just give him what he wants and cut your losses," Michael suggested.

"Right, you guys can't lay a hand on me," Marc crowed, though not quite so confidently as he had been.

A pocketknife whistled past his head, narrowly missing his ear, and stuck in the wall.

"I want," Control began walking around behind the man and retrieving the knife, "To know who put the steel in your backbone."

"She is going to have me out of here before the dust has even had a chance to settle," Marc retorted, more to assure himself, it seemed, than to tell them.

"You just keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better," the man in the white suit smiled coldly.

"Thank you, now that we have what we wanted to know, I wish you luck, because she will not be happy." Control whispered in Marc's ear as he nodded for Michael to precede him out the door.

"Not yet, I'm certain if we put some effort into this he could tell us even more about who is behind this and what is going on," Michael argued.

"Maybe you have a point, and he did smear China in there, so we owe him for that," Control agreed, approaching their victim from the opposite side as Michael.

Seeing two agents of death after him, one on each side, Marc Lewis could not help what followed. But then, in the presence of two dominant males, a lower ranking one will often wet himself to show subservience.

Exchanging a shocked look, the two men left, shaking their heads. It was really uncalled for to continue working on the man after he had already caved in, and they could get the information they needed with what he had given them.

All expression left Marc as he watched the two men leaving the room. She was never going to forgive him if they traced him to her. He reviewed everything he had said but could not see where he had mentioned her. Somehow they must have figured it out, though, so he began going over the interview once more in his mind.
"Henry, home is the other way," China pointed out to the driver.

"Yes ma'am it is, but Miss Marella asked me to take you to the doctor."

"Marella! I do not need a doctor!" China glared at her companion.

"Michael would never forgive me if I didn't take you to one, considering that you're still limping," the other mulatto woman responded.

"Not to mention what Control would do if he found out that I hadn't seen to your getting taken care of, Miss Berry," Henry pitched in.

"The men in my life are entirely too protective," China growled, sitting back.

The other two smirked as the overly protected woman sank into the seat.

"I can't believe you're taking me to the emergency room over a limp," China growled.

"It's not just for the limp, girlfriend. I think you hurt your arm, it's at an odd angle."

"I did not break my arm! See, I can raise them both...." China bit her lip in agony. "You win."

Henry sighed and sped up, Marella looked out the window after seeing to China's comfort as much as was possible. There wasn't much she could do in the back seat of a car.

"Ako gumawa hindi maniwala ito!" The injured woman grumbled.

Henry dropped the two ladies off at the emergency entrance and went to retrieve the men who would be waiting. They would not be happy to hear that China was hurt. Again.

He didn't even have time to get out and open the door before both men had climbed in back.

"Before you say anything, sir, we aren't heading home just yet," Henry informed his passengers. Control was not a man who liked surprises and the one in white didn't look like he would like them, either.

"All right, then, where are we going?" Control asked.

"To the hospital; it seems Miss China broke her arm when that man pushed her," Henry answered heatedly.

"Broke her arm?" "What man pushed her?" Both men fired their questions at once.

"She was leaving the car with her escort and I heard her say something in some language that wasn't English. The guard got angry and shoved her, causing her to fall down on the steps. I would guess that was when she broke her arm," Henry explained.

"Did she know the arm was broken?" Control had heard of people who would break an arm and not know it until they bent their arm wrong. If she had known her arm was injured and had still refused the offer of immediate medical help he was going to discipline her severely. He didn't know what he would do but she would not like it.

"No sir, she found out when she was telling Miss Marella that she was fine. She raised both arms to show her she could and found she couldn't," the driver responded.

The men groaned in two-part harmony. That was their China, all right.

Three and a half hours later, all four were climbing out of the car as Henry held the door. Control had told him they could get a taxi, but he wouldn't hear of it and insisted on waiting. Marella trotted ahead, doing door duty as the two men tried to get the tired and disoriented China inside.

"Just let me lay down somewhere and die," China complained.

"You're not going to die, little China Doll," Control assured her.

Michael frowned at him as they got her up the staircase and into the elevator. Control was calling HIS niece China Doll? He knew that the man was fond of her and wanting to court her, as they said in the old days, but he didn't know it was this serious.

"China, what's the code for your security system?" Her uncle asked.

"Security system?" She replied as though the word was in a language that was unknown to her.

"We can all stay in my apartment, she can sleep in the spare room," her employer informed the group as he invited them into his home.

Control guided the woman, now sporting a cast, into the spare room with Marella behind him. He turned down the bed and headed for the door.

A hand reached out and grabbed him. "Stay."

"China?" He asked. Admittedly they tended to flirt and tease one another, and had gone out any number of times on business dates and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. She had never, however, asked him to stay.

"Don't go away," she repeated.

"Certainly I'll stay if you want me to, sweetheart, is there anything I can do?"

"Read to me, like you did at the farm?" She asked.

"Marella will get you settled while I retrieve some books," he smiled, as the California woman nodded that she would help get China put to bed for the night

"Okay, do you have Alice in Wonderland, because I think I just saw the white rabbit run by," the patient mumbled as she was divested of her shoes.

"Sir, how far down do you want me to go in getting her settled?" Marella asked, uncertainly. She didn't know this man. Michael appeared to trust him, but still....

Turning around, he went to his dresser and pulled out an old t-shirt and a pair of shorts. "Will these work?"

Marella took them and nodded that they would. She just couldn't see this man in a tie-dyed shirt with what looked like oil or grease stains it. It seemed that he only wore it as a work shirt. She blushed slightly as she wondered what Michael wore working around his house.

"Oyabun," China groaned from the bed.

"Do you need help?" He asked her solicitously.

"The rabbit passed by again," She told him.

A rumbling chuckle answered her, "I'll go get the book and the rabbit right now."

Control left, as China was changed into the shirt and shorts and tucked under the covers.

"How is she?" Michael asked from the kitchen when his host left the spare room.

"Fine, she just wants me to read to her for a bit, Rabbit."

"Rabbit?" The Californian inquired.

"You walked past, and China swore that the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland was around," Control grinned.

Michael goggled at him. "No wonder China doesn't let people give her painkillers. I knew it was bad, but not this bad."

"Could you heat some of the chicken broth? It's in the freezer," Control asked, emerging from his room with a handful of books.

"How do you want your steak?" Michael, who was taking kitchen duty, asked as he pulled the broth out of the freezer.

"Cooked is fine," Control answered absentmindedly as he hurried back to his lady.

"Poor man's smitten for life," Michael snorted, going back to preparing the food.

Half an hour, later he took the tray with the soup and a steak in to the convalescent and her attendant.

He almost dropped the food.

Propped up on the bed was Control, reading some nonsense poem about a Jabberwock. China was curled up, snuggling against his side, totally content and at peace. There was nothing improper about the scene, but there was a certain intimacy to it.

Michael sighed, whether she knew it or not, his niece appeared to have made her choice. Well, he supposed that she could do worse. He just hadn't wanted her pulled into this world that he and John lived in. She was so much better than that.

"So, should I be saying `welcome to the family', John?" Michel asked, more churlishly than he intended.

The spook looked at him, Michael was one of the few in the intelligence world who knew his real name, and for him to be using it, the man was serious.

"I`ve been thinking about it, I'll let you know when we decide anything," Control answered.

"Looks to me like you already have," Michael offered.

His host raised one eyebrow thoughtfully, but said nothing.

"Do you really know who was behind this? Marc didn't really tell you much of anything," Archangel asked, changing the subject as he put the tray down.

"He told me that it's a woman who is on the committee and there aren't many who fit that description," Control explained.

"That does narrow the field considerably," Michael agreed.

"Minerva, Hera, and Valkyrie," Control responded, naming the women who sat on the committee.

Michael tried to ignore China snuggling a little closer and Control absentmindedly stroking her hair. It was soothing her and keeping her quiet, but it was also distracting.

"Demeter use to be on the committee but I can't see her doing something like this," Michael commented, turning his head slightly.

Frowning, Control thought, and then moved his hand from China's hair. "Marella?"

"Yes?" She stuck her head in the room.

"Michael and I need to talk for a bit, could you stay with China and try and get her to maybe eat some of the broth?" Control asked.

"Happy to," she agreed, moving over to where her host was sliding away from his lady.

China whimpered a bit but after being assured he was only going into the next room and that Marella was there, she quieted down and even began eating the soup slowly.

"Thank you, " China's uncle muttered, As Control collected the tray with his meal and the men left the spare room, settling to eat at the kitchen table.

"You do have a father's interest in her," Control acknowledged.

"Yes, I do," the man in white admitted.

The senior spy nodded. "Valkyrie wouldn't do this, either."

The Californian raised an eyebrow. "You seem very certain of that."

"She and I understand one another. I take care of my people and leave no messes for her to clean up; as a result we get along," Control explained.

"I don't know her, but was always told that she was arrogant and demanding," Michael answered thoughtfully.

"With someone that leaves dead agents or messy fallout that she has to clean up, yes she would be that way."

"Apollo is guilty of both, as is Zeus," Michael growled.

"Leaving Minerva and Hera," Control sighed. He knew both women and didn't want to deal with either.

"I don't know either woman well, since they operate on the East Coast, but my money would be on Hera," Michael offered.

"Mine, too. Minerva is too smart and devious for something this poorly planned. Not to mention that she and I have formed a kind of mutual non-aggression pact. She doesn't get in my way and I don't make her life difficult," Control answered.

"Hera does nothing that won't gain her something, though, and I don't see what she would gain from this," Michael countered.

"She needs support on the committee, which she can get by changing the current alliances. She can do that and get more power and influence for herself by removing me and putting one of her lackeys in my place."

"I never thought the day would come when I would be glad I was dealing with Zeus, but if this is an example of what she's like without him to keep her in hand..." Michael responded, shuddering.

"Agreed. Listen, you and Marella had best be going if you're going to catch your plane to Los Angeles. I'll let you know what happens here and if we need Zeus brought in on Hera," the spook assured his guest.

Michael agreed and, nodding his thanks, he collected his assistant and went.

Peering into his guestroom, Control saw that China was sleeping peacefully. Looking at the remains of his impromptu dinner party he decided to clean it up in the morning.
Remaining perfectly still, Control opened his eyes. Someone was moving around in his apartment.

Pulling the gun from his bedside table drawer, he padded softly towards the door. He eased the bedroom door open a crack and peered through, he returned the gun to the drawer, sighed, and stepped through.

"China, is there a reason you are doing dishes at," he glanced at the kitchen clock, "two-thirty in the morning?"

"They were dirty and needed washing, I'm sorry I woke you, I was trying to be quiet," she apologized.

"I tend to be a light sleeper: it keeps me alive," he replied, yawning.

"Yes, I guess you would be," China answered brightly as she awkwardly grabbed the pots and pans off the stove.

"You still haven't told me why it is that you are doing KP in my kitchen at this hour," he reminded her.

"Phase two, it should wear off in a few hours and then I'll be back to normal," she sighed.

He raised both eyebrows at her.

"At first, pain medications make me really tired and kind of loopy, as well as physically ill; then, after I've gotten through that part, I wake up in hyper speed mode and can't settle down for four or five hours."

Closing his eyes and sighing, he landed heavily in a chair. China loose in his apartment on hyper speed was not something he needed at this hour of the morning. Ah, well, he could always sleep tomorrow night.

"I'm sorry, I'll finish up here and then I'll head over to my apartment if you disengage your security system so I can go," she offered shamefacedly.

"China, you don't have to leave, but you should put your cast back in that sling," he told her, emphasizing the last point.

Blushing, she put her broken arm back in the sling.

"Here, since you're cleaning my kitchen in a cast, I'll wash and you dry," he suggested, coming over to her and handing her a towel.

"Sounds fair enough," she smiled.

"I'm really sorry that you got put on trial like that," he offered after a few moment's silence.

"It's not your fault, you didn't ask for them to do that to me, and technically you were the one on trial," China reassured him, wiping the pot he had washed.

"No, but I should have known about this before it got this far, and it couldn't have happened if I hadn't been so careless," he growled, rinsing a pan.

"You're absolutely right. You are hereby declared guilty of being human," she replied a bit harshly.

"I'm fairly certain if we took a vote there would not be unanimous agreement about my being human," he snorted.

"And they would be wrong, I've seen how human you can be," she smiled at him. "In fact, there were some days when you seemed to be the only really human person in the agency. You have a job that is heartless and thankless, and yet you do it with as much honor, integrity, and compassion as possible."

He goggled at her.

"I didn't know you thought so highly of me," he smiled.

"I meant it the other day when I said I loved you, and I don't love men that I don't first admire and respect," she informed him.

"I see painkillers are also truth serums in your case," he chuckled, while pulling her against him for a hug.

"The situation just never seemed right to say anything. I figured when the time was right we would talk," she shrugged.

"So your Uncle Michael was right, we learned to love one another without ever actually going out on a single date," Control snorted.

"But we've gone on lots of dates together. How often have we eaten dinner together? Or gone to some social function as a couple? You've been to my apartment, and not always in the function as my landlord. You've introduced me to your brother and your parents. You've met Michael, who's almost all of my immediate family. I would say we are at the very least courting friendship with one another, and after the hall incident I would say that we are maybe even courting a romantic relationship."

China held her breath. She had not really meant to say all of that. He would probably either agree with her, which she would very much like, or run away screaming.

"China Doll, I'm years older than you, so tell me why you are so much wiser than I am?" He chuckled.

"Because I'm a woman?" She asked, smiling broadly.

He stared at her, and then they both found themselves erupting into laughter.

"So, oh wise one, any ideas on where we go from here?" He asked.

"According to my, in most ways, very wise mother, we should go slowly and build our friendship, letting the rest come if and when it does. However, I can safely say, I think, that it is a case of when, not if," she smiled.

"A good plan," he agreed. Any plan that included both of them and was long term was a good one in his opinion.

"The dogs!" she jumped up, remembering that her pets had not gotten out.

"I let them out before I went to bed," he assured her.

"How did you get the code for my security system?" she asked.

"I called Paul and told him that as your landlord I needed to have access to your apartment at times," he explained.

China nodded, that made sense. "Thanks for taking care of them for me."

"After everything you do for me, it was the least I could do," he smiled.

"I don't do any more for you than you do for me, so we're even, there," she responded as they gave the kitchen a final wipe.

"I'll get out of your hair now if you'll let me out," she offered once more, blushing slightly that he had seen her like this.

Control leaned against the counter, admiring his guest. The slight color looked very pretty on her.

"You're hardly safe to let loose on the world in this condition. Do you need physical outlets or will mental do?" He asked

"Either one will do, just as long as it burns off lots of energy," China sighed. She really did hate it when she got like this.

"Okay, do you know how to play poker?"

"Uncle Michael taught Marella and me one weekend when we were both at the house and it was raining," she smiled. It was a pleasant memory.

"Pinochle?" The host asked.

"Not really. Any game that involves bidding is really not my area. Math was not my strong suit," she winced, remembering some of the evenings she and her uncle had spent plowing through her homework. Math was one of his areas, but patience had never been his best virtue. "Maybe I just need a different teacher?" She suggested.

Smiling, he got out a deck of cards and sat opposite her at the kitchen table. Something told him that his lady love could become quite good at cards once she got past believing she wasn't good at them.
"Good morning," Control called from the living room, where he was having his morning coffee.

His secretary and temporary houseguest mumbled what sounded to him like a return of the salutation.

"You seem to be feeling better," he offered.

"The only thing that hurts now is the arm, and I can handle that," she answered with a yawn, landing on the couch across from the easy chair he was sitting in.

"What do you do if the pain gets bad enough that you can't handle it by will power alone?" he asked, setting the paper down and watching her.

"I take some aspirin. If it's really bad I can take codeine but that tends to leave me tired and open to nightmares," she answered in a tone that, while not curt, did inform him that she had no desire to continue that line of discussion.

"Did you have any plans for the day?" he asked, complying with her wishes.

"Not really, maybe playing with Cricket a bit, but that might get hard with one arm if the fireworks get started early. She is almost bomb proof but I would rather not try and control her one handed if someone tosses a firecracker our way," China explained.

He nodded; this was the fourth of July and a big deal was planned in honor of the country being two hundred years old. Undoubtedly there would be some kids who would think it funny to scare a horse, and at least China was smart enough to realize that and know she would be at a disadvantage.

"I've been thinking that this might be a good day to try and get your spare room finished," he offered.

"All right, if you want to. I take it then that you aren't celebrating the bicentennial natal day of our country?" she asked.

"I loved fireworks and things that went bang right up until I went to Korea. I haven't cared for them since; I can handle them, I just don't like them."

"I don't think I would either, if I had served in a war," she answered.

"Okay, breakfast, the dogs, and then the room?" he offered, changing the subject.

"Dogs, I'll make you breakfast and we can work on the room," she countered.

"Agreed," he smiled as he rose and they headed out.

In the end, he took the dogs while she showered and got dressed.

Kissa was almost up to around the block now, as long as you didn't ask her to go fast. Like Oso had been, she was scared by almost everything, but true to her Pit Bull ancestors, she didn't try and run away. She went to investigate. This took time since she did not believe in moving on until the threat had been found and identified.

When he returned, China was wearing her own shorts and a t-shirt. They weren't the short shorts and midriff baring t-shirts that were so popular, but still very becoming on the modest young woman. She and the birds were doing a duet of some island song while she was beating eggs. Seeing her baby was back, Isis ran over and began sniffing and tongue bathing every inch of the puppy. Sighing happily, Kissa accepted it.

A Carpenters' tape was playing in the background, while he fed the animals and helped himself to some of the coffee she had made.

China poured the egg goop in a pan and set it in the oven.

It would be a half an hour before the dish was done, so they sat in the living room drinking coffee and reading the paper. There was a hostage situation in the Middle East that looked bad, but as far as he could tell, for once the company had nothing at stake. It was merely another case of the Arabs and Israelis failing to agree with one another.

This was the first time he had thought of reading the morning paper as a social function. He was immensely enjoying himself. They would sit quietly and read and if one of them hit on something interesting or funny, they would read it aloud. It ended up continuing through breakfast since they had not finished their discussions.

China felt bad that because of her arm she was not able to help move the furniture out, but there was very little in there so it didn't take him long.

They fell into an easy partnership. Control didn't want her on the ladder, so he took the top half while she did the bottom. It also saved him from having to get on knees that no long liked the bending and unbending as much as they once had.

Too bad the animals decided to help.

The current topic was the hostage situation; they both agreed that it was probably not going to have a good end. This was also the first time a nation's leader had publicly supported acts of terrorism. Neither one of them had a good feeling about that.

Kissa had evidently tired of being babied by her mother cat and had enticed the older dog, Jojo into a game of tag.

The puppy dashed into the room and under the ladder. Jojo was right behind her, but being almost totally blind, didn't see the ladder before crashing into it, upsetting the paint, the ladder and the human on the ladder.

There was no time to react except to throw himself clear of the ladder as it toppled. He automatically tried going in a direction away from the living beings. Unfortunately, that meant he crashed into the wall he had been painting. His shoulder broke through the wall far too easily as he crashed to the floor, somehow landing on his feet. While China caught the shaking Jojo, the terrified Kissa, convinced she would be beaten if caught, dashed out the door, as Control looked at China in shock.

He stared through the hole he had made and gasped. China looked at him worriedly and stood up to approach him. Both dogs were instantly forgotten.

The plastering was old, but not nearly as old as the rest of the building. It appeared that part of the room had been sealed off for some unknown reason. The old gypsum board broke easily as he widened the hole. He shook his head in amazement.

"What is it? What's in there?" He could hear China bouncing with excitement.

"Get me a flashlight, would you?" He asked.

He could hear her dashing off to get one. Reaching his hand out, he ran it over the leather bindings. His nose tickled at the dust his breaking in caused, and he sneezed.

"Bless you," came a response, along with a flashlight being handed through the hole.

"Bless you, too, he answered while running the flashlight beam around the room. It was incredible.

Using the light, he scanned the titles. Since he owned the building, technically the treasure was his. These were in China's apartment, though, so he would let her have them. Maybe if he begged her, she would let him borrow some of these someday.

"John?" she called out uncertainly.

He smiled, it was the first time she had ever used his name in private. He liked how it sounded coming from her.

Finding a volume that would do, he answered her:

"She walks in beauty, like the night Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that's best of dark and bright Meet in her aspect and her eyes:"

"John," she called again, less hesitantly this time.

He worked his way out of the hole and back to the spare room.

"You have a treasure chest," he informed his hostess, holding out the copy of Lord Byron open to the poem he had been reading, while taking the damp cloth she offered and wiping the dust off.

"This was in there?" she gasped. It was a first edition with leather binding. She could see a little wear on the book; enough to know that the volume had not sat prettily on a shelf, but rather had been read and reread and loved.

"Books. Lots and lots of books. There's also a Cherry wood roll top desk in there. Not to mention toys and knick-knacks."

She goggled at him "Why would anyone seal that stuff up?" She exclaimed.

"I have no idea, maybe looking at the papers in the desk will tell us," he suggested.

"Okay I'll clean up the paint supplies for another day, and you work on getting the wall down?"

He nodded. No sense painting now, but they would want to later, so best not to ruin the paint.

Smiling, China came up and, wrapping her one good arm around him, whispered in his ear, "Thank you for the poem, John."

He pulled her tighter and held her against him.

He had always made certain that no relationship lasted so long that he could not walk away, at least not since Susan. He never committed himself to any woman since her, either. How had she done it? How had this barely grown woman gotten past his defenses and stolen his heart?

With her smile when the world was cold, and her laughter when all was despair. Her humor that brightened his dark world. Her unquestioning acceptance of who and what he was. Her ability to hear the silence and simply be in it. And mostly, her unshakable, unending, everlasting love.

He had no idea what he had ever done to deserve having this woman in his arms, but he would do his best to be worthy of the trust that was being placed in him to care for her.

China put the paint in the closet where it was being stored, while Control returned the ladder to the utility room in the basement and came back with a pry bar.

With the animals safely confined in the bedroom and China waiting eagerly on the side, he began work on the wall.

After an hour, only the frame of the wall was left upright. Standing on the side and watching , China could not help but laugh. He was totally covered in fine white dust and looked like a ghost.

Smiling menacingly at the laughing hyena in front of him, Control slowly came towards her. Yelping, China began backing out of the room and away from the predator. He merely followed her, still smiling like a shark. Laughing, she kept staying just out of his reach. When she tried to bolt, he would merely step there first. Too late, China realized that he had been very efficiently herding her into a corner.

Reaching a hand out, he began tickling her. Squealing and laughing uncontrollably, China tried to defend herself from the onslaught. She had no idea her boss could be like this, though there was a sparkle in his eye that always made her wonder.

She brought her arm up to fend him off, and the game ended. Instantly.

"I'm so sorry I totally forgot about the cast!" she almost wailed.

She crouched down next to where he was sitting on the floor against the cabinet in the kitchen. Taking his chin gently in her hand she turned his un-protesting face towards her. His eye was coloring already.

"I'm sorry," she repeated apologetically. She really didn't want the day to end on this note.

He started chuckling, and then laughing. "Robert is never going to believe me about this!"

Seeing that he was not angry, China joined him, imagining the Brit's expression when Control revealed how the eye had been blackened.

"Other than the eye, are you all right?" she asked, looking him over.

"Fine, just a bit sore," he assured her. "Since I'm a mess already, how about I get all this cleaned up? I'll haul the chunks of wall down to the garbage and then vacuum up the dust," he offered.

She offered her good arm and helped him up. "I can do the vacuuming."

"Not with your cast," he insisted.

"I will not die from getting a little dust in my cast," she snorted.

"China, that stuff is like fine glass. If you get it in your cast, it will itch like mad and you will never get it out," he informed her stubbornly.

Grumbling, she acquiesced.

Getting one of the larger pieces of the wall, he hauled it to the elevator. Once there, he dropped it with a thud. He had forgotten how heavy this stuff was. With a lot of effort, he finally got it out to the dumpster. Taking a deep breath, he picked it up and began working to toss it over the side into the container. He was trying not to think about how many more trips like this he was going to be making.

"Here, let me help," a voice came as a second set of hands took the other side of the slab and they easily tossed it in.

"Thanks," the spy responded, looking at a large, brutish man with dark, gentle eyes. Just beyond him, Control saw an old car with a woman and two small children. The back seat was crammed with what looked to be about everything these people owned.

"It looks like maybe you have some work ahead of you," the younger man said softly.

"A lot of it, I took a wall down and forgot how heavy that stuff is," Control admitted.

"Name's Sam Weston; I'd be glad to give you a hand if you'd like some help," the man offered.

He smiled at the younger man. He liked that the man who was obviously in need, since his family was living out of their car, had offered to help, instead of asking him for handouts.

"I'm John Smith, and you have a deal as long as you let me pay you for the help; collect your family and come on in," Control instructed.

The man looked at him uncomprehendingly.

"Your wife and kids will be more comfortable inside, and they can have a meal while we work," he explained.

"Thank you," the man answered, not meeting Control's eyes.

At Sam's gesture the woman and kids ran over to him.

"Trudy, This is Mr. Smith; I'm going to help him haul the remains of a wall down and you and the kids are going to go inside where it's cooler and have something to eat," he explained.

"Bless you," the woman smiled at him.

The children were too scared to say anything, but they shyly smiled at him as well.

The family trooped in after their benefactor.

In front of China's door, Control could hear the vacuum running. He got hold of his urge to throttle her, after all, he was bringing in guests.

"Ma'am, I was wondering if you might be interested in a cleaning job?" Control asked Trudy.

"Sure, I would be glad to clean, I take it your wife is needing some help?" she asked, a little uncertain.

"She's a tenant, actually, and she's got a broken arm and I don't want the dust getting in the cast," he explained.

"I'd be glad to do the cleaning," she smiled. With both of them making a little, they could maybe get to Portland in reasonably good shape. Since it would mean having gas and food, and if they were very, very careful, perhaps a little left over.

Control knocked on her door and the machine died as his secretary answered the door.

"China, this is Sam and Trudy Weston. Sam is going to help me haul the rubble down and Trudy is going to do the cleaning. I thought their family might be more comfortable up here while we work." He turned to the family, "Sam, Trudy, girls, this is my friend China Berry, she's the one with the wall down."

"Come on in, I'm glad John was able to get some help. We just finished eating, ourselves, so why don't I get you something while you wait?" she offered, sending Control a slight glare.

The woman and her children gratefully followed their hostess to the kitchen. The egg, cheese, and ham bake was popped back into the oven to reheat. The two girls sat silently at the table drinking their juice.

"Could you girls do me a favor?" China asked.

They hesitated, and then nodded.

"I was making some stuffed animals and I made too many, do you think you could take two of them for me?" she asked.

The little faces beamed at her, after their mother nodded approval.

China went in the hall closet and picked up the basket she was planning to return to the nuns. She would replace the two animals later.

Shyly they each picked a doggy when presented with the basket.

"Thank you so much. I haven't seen the girls smile since this nightmare began," Trudy gushed, looking at the floor.

"I'm glad to give them a smile," China answered.

After being assured that the children were gentle, Kissa was allowed out of the bedroom. China watched as the girls and puppy were laughing and yipping playfully while their mother joined the men in cleaning the mess.

By early afternoon the remains of the wall were in the dumpster and the dust had been cleaned. The children and the puppy were happily worn out.

The adults had stopped for a meal break while the children were reading in the bedroom.

"I appreciate the help; I was not looking forward to getting that pile down on my own," Control admitted ruefully.

"I'm glad for the work. In fact if you want the frame down as well, I can do that. I'm a licensed contractor so I know how to do it right," he offered.

"That would be great," China smiled. She doubted Control knew how to do that, or had the time.

"Do you have any particular plans?" Control asked.

"My family is in Portland, so we're going to go and see if the job situation is any better there," Trudy explained.

Control didn't need to be a super secret agent to see that the idea did not appeal to Sam.

"So you don't want to stay in the area?" he asked.

"We would like to but there isn't any work to be found," Trudy explained.

"I need an on-site maintenance and handyman for the building. The job is yours if you're interested. I have a unit free so you could do the work in exchange for rent. I'm also looking for someone to come in once a week and clean, if you might be interested in that, Trudy," Control offered. Normally, he would have run a check on someone renting one of his units, but he was trusting his instincts on this one.

"I could use that, myself," China agreed.

"That would be great," the guests replied almost in unison. They could not believe their luck. Sam's pension after his back injury on a work site had always been enough for food and other basics but not for rent; and the cost of childcare was more than she could make. With this arrangement, Sam would be working full time from home and able to get odd jobs in the area, probably, so no childcare would be needed and Trudy could work as well. They would be able to make ends meet again.

"Miss Berry?" a small voice interrupted the adults.

"Yes?" She responded, kneeling down to get on the child's level.

"How did you hurt your arm?"

"I fell down and landed on it," China answered.

"Was that when Mr. Smith hurt his eye?"

"No, honey, that happened this morning when I forgot I had the cast on," the mulatto woman admitted.

"Oh, it was an accident," the other girl piped in.

"Yes, it was, I don't hit people, but I was horsing around with Mr. Smith and whacked him by accident," she chuckled.

They all got a laugh over that.

The men quickly finished the task, and the Weston's got the key to their new apartment in a much nicer neighborhood than their old one. A few calls and their friends who were storing their furniture were on the way to bring it over.

"Thank you both," Trudy gushed.

"We're glad to help," China assured her as the family headed downstairs.
"Can you see out of that eye at all?" China inquired when Control rejoined her after seeing his new renters to their home.

"Not really, you big brute."

"I'll be right back," she said going into the bedroom and returning, carrying a tube of ointment and scolding the puppy for unrolling all of the toilet paper. Again.

"One moment while I get this on," she told him, applying some cream to his bruise. "There, now just put this ice pack over it and you'll be set."

"Thanks," he muttered, applying the pack.

"Not a problem, since I was the one that gave you the black eye," she snorted, leading him over to the couch.

Glancing down at the tube she had used, she bit her lip to not laugh out loud. This was not the tube she had meant to grab; at the very least it would ensure that he didn't get hemorrhoids on his face. Well, nothing to do now but wait and see. Nothing bad should happen, but it probably wouldn't do any good either.

"I would rather be in the new room," he informed her eagerly. He really wanted a good look at the things on those shelves.

She chuckled; of course he would rather be there. If her boss had one weakness, it was curiosity. He simply could not stand to not know. It was, however, a weakness that had served him well.

"Here, I had Sam move an easy chair into the den. I'll grab some wine," she offered, bypassing the couch and leading him to a reclining chair in the newly enlarged room. Once he was in it, she got an extra pillow and fluffed it up for him.

"Sounds wonderful," he responded, almost purring like a cat. It was something new to be fussed over like this; he could definitely get used to it. The wine would be worth the short wait; he knew from having seen her selection that there was not a bad bottle to be found.

China returned momentarily with some cheese and wine. It would seem they were going to be having a picnic.

He was comfortably reclining in the chair with the ice over his eye, and his wine and cheese at his elbow a few moments later.

"Hummel figurines and the real porcelain Storybook Dolls, and lots of books, almost all of them first editions," she told him.

"China? What books are they?" he asked after several minutes of silence.

"Sorry, Temporary overload. There's a complete set of Charles Dickens and the OZ books. A complete set of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and all of the Anne of Green Gables books. Also complete Washington Irving, Sir Walter Scott, and James Fennimore Cooper."

"Someone who loved classical literature, then," Control smiled. His own tastes tended to run that way as well.

"Oh, yeah, and Shakespeare folios," she sighed happily.

"Anything more modern that might tell us when the room was sealed off?" he asked.

"Some of the early hard-boiled detectives are here, but none of the sets is complete, so I would guess that maybe the early to mid-thirties," she answered. "There's also complete Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Jules Vern, H. G. Wells, and Jack London. I think I'm in heaven," China continued.

"I do hope that you plan on making this a lending library," Control hinted, sipping his wine.

"I suppose it isn't really mine. It belongs to whoever had this apartment back when this was sealed," she told him, wistfully.

"I'll check the records and see who owned it in the thirties," he promised her.

"Looks like some great poets as well. Edgar Allen Poe, Robert W. Service, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson; Lord Byron, as you discovered." She read off the names of the poets represented.

"Here's one called Water Babies, and the Complete Grimm's fairy tales," she continued. "Funny that the Grimm's one was not with the other children's books."

"Maybe it's the original versions of the stories. They had to edit the stories for children," he reminded her.

She leafed through it. "Nice stories still, but definitely not the versions we tell children."

"Any other children's tales?"

"Little Black Sambo, Uncle Remus stories, complete Hans Christian Anderson, Louisa May Alcott. Most of the classics again," she commented.

"Does the desk have anything that might tell us what happened?" he asked.

"Someone was in the middle of a letter dated March 18th 1935 and stopped. He was evidently signing off as his wife would be home soon. He stopped before signing off though, so I would guess maybe he was writing this and got news she was not going to be home again," China guessed.

"And was so overcome with grief that he sealed the room and its memories off," he said in agreement with his secretary's assumption.

"It's the only thing that would seem to make sense," she agreed. "I would imagine it would be nice to love someone that much."

"Yes, I think it would," he agreed, smiling at her. He had found someone that he did love that much, but did she love him that much? Or, like Susan, whom he had loved as well, would she eventually get sick of his world and leave him alone?

"Any more hints from the desk?" he asked.

"No, the desk is clear, other than that," she sighed. It would have been interesting to know what had happened.

"When I find out who the owners were, maybe that will help clear up some of the mystery," he offered, hearing her disappointment.

China came over and perched on the arm of the chair he was in. " That was really nice what you did for the Weston's."

"Everyone needs a hand sometimes, I was just glad I could help out," he smiled up at her, pulling her towards him.

She slid over and got situated in his lap.

"Is your eye any better?" she asked, running a finger lightly down his face.

"A lot, whatever that was you used is really good."

"Yes, it did! I had no idea it would work!" She responded in amazement, checking his eye and noticing the swelling and discoloring were both down.

"What did you use?"

"I accidentally grabbed the Preparation H but it seems that it worked," she chuckled.

He laughed. "I never thought of using that for bruises."

"I didn't either until I had already put it on," she confessed, joining him in the merriment.

"Any suggestions on what to read?" she asked, still laughing with him about the mistake.

"How about that Water Babies book you mentioned, I haven't read that one," he suggested.

"Good choice, I haven't read it, either."

Taking it from the shelf, she settled into his lap once more, the curse of a room only having one chair, she grinned to herself.

"Once upon a time there was a little chimney-sweep, and his name was Tom. That is a short name, and you have heard it before, so you will not have much trouble in remembering it. He lived in a great town in the North country, where there were plenty of chimneys to sweep..." she began, taking a sip of her wine.
"You're back!" A tall blond Amazon greeted the master spy in the hall as he came to his office. She saw a faint bruise on one of his eyes, but knew better than to ask.

"Valkyrie, what a pleasant surprise," he smiled slightly. He and the Norse woman might not always have agreed but they did understand and respect one another.

"Not really, I'm here on business," she sighed.

Like him, she viewed her job as a necessary evil. As long as there were spies playing games, there would be a need for someone to clean up their messes.

"Someone finally decided that I needed to be cleaned up?" he asked, arching an eyebrow at her as he went to open his office.

"Don't even joke about that," she snapped.

He smiled as he tried to insert his key in the door to his office. It wasn't working.

He raised an eyebrow at his companion, as he began picking the lock. It had been a long time since a lock had slowed him down much.

"Loki has taken over your job and your office," she informed him.

Control did something he had never done at work before. He laughed.

"How bad is it?" He sighed, as the lock gave and he ushered the woman into his reclaimed office.

"He's why I got called in," she admitted.

"One of Hera's pets isn't he?" Control asked after a moment.

"Yes he is, why?" The blond asked.

"I have reason to believe Hera set me up, but I couldn't imagine why," he informed her.

"In order to put her puppet in your place and get more power."

"Pure amateur carelessness," the senior intelligence man uttered as they entered the unlocked inner office.

"Her or him?" she asked, following him in and seating herself in one of the guest chairs.

"Yes," he smiled predatorily, as he began looking at the files in the desk drawers he had opened.

She smiled back. Now that the master was back at the helm, maybe her services would not be needed after all.

"Talk to me," he requested as he leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers under his chin.

"Four of the hostages in Uganda are our agents," she answered succinctly. Like the man in front of her, she did not like to waste time with small talk.

"Sir?" came a timid mousy, voice.

"Come in," he called out

A plain woman of medium height and dishwater-blond hair entered. He remembered her as a very junior recruit. She was what was called a chameleon since she was almost impossible to describe and very few people really remembered what she looked like after she was gone. He knew China had been helping her with her language studies a bit, but she had always been afraid of the senior spook.

"Let me help you with that, Lucy," he offered, seeing that she was carrying two coffees and two pastries.

"I...I... I didn't know that you knew my name," the girl stammered.

"You would be amazed at the things he remembers," the older woman snorted.

"China speaks highly of you and I go out of my way to remember the people who catch her attention," he explained.

"The ones on the right are yours and the ones on the left for Miss Valkyrie," the youngster mentioned as she blushed from the praise.

"Thank you," he smiled. It was hard to believe that this child was only a few years younger than China.

"I was happy to do it, China always says that you can't really get working until you've had your coffee, and since she wasn't here I just thought that I would.... Not that I would presume to ...," she began babbling in panic.

Stifling a laugh, the blond women accepted her share of the younger woman's load.

"You've done nothing presumptuous at all, I was merely surprised is all," he assured Lucy.

Blushing, Lucy smiled again at each and, mumbling something about paperwork, dashed out.

"Nice girl," the Norse woman commented.

"Yes, she is, and usually a lot more confidant than that," Control smiled, taking a sip of the coffee. It was just the way he liked it, dark and strong enough to get up and walk on its own. He also noted that the pastry was his favorite kind that China got for him most mornings. It would seem that he had actually been missed by a few people, at least.

"GET OUT OF MY OFFICE!" a blond haired, blue-eyed man who looked like Adolph Hitler's ideal Aryan soldier bellowed as he came in.

Control gave a half smile and raised one bushy eyebrow. If Loki wanted to make an impression on him, he would need to do better than that. Rebecca Smith bellowed louder than that calling her husband and boys in from the barn. His uncle, the general, would have had this guy positively dithering.

"Your office?" the woman asked. She couldn't wait to see this pup put in his place.

"Yes, my office. I'm the head of field operations," the newcomer snarled. "What happened to your eye?"

"Not any more. You were temporarily filling in for me, but I wasn't fired or removed so the job and the responsibility are still mine," Control answered with a low growl, ignoring the question. "In fact," he continued, "We were about to discuss the hostage fiasco in Uganda."

"What about it?" the younger man asked.

"Four of those men are my agents!" Control roared. "And I want to know what have we done to gain their release?"

"Nothing," Loki snapped back.

"Explain that to me. Explain why four innocent men are about to be killed and we are doing nothing to assist them?" Control bellowed.

"It has been decided that this is an Israeli and Palestinian issue and we should not get involved," the woman offered quietly.

"We have people in danger; that makes us already involved!" he snarled though gritted teeth.

"And whose fault is that? You were the one who decided that Nazi we found should be returned to Israel to stand trial! If you hadn't sent those four to escort that guy to Israel then they wouldn't have been on that plane heading home," the blond man shot back, smiling sadistically.

"He's not the one who's leaving them out to dry, though, I believe you are the one that's putting politics before lives!" The woman pointed out coldly.

"We can't afford to take sides in what is basically a family squabble," the younger man reiterated boredly.

"Sir?" came a male voice at the door.

"Yes?" Control called out.

"I came to inform you that we have the results back on the Entebbe Raid sir," the messenger said.

"And?" Control asked.

"Henry Mathews and Sam Gray are dead, sir. David Miller and John Calbot are awaiting instructions," the man said quietly.

"Tell them to come home and bring the bodies of the other two," Control answered almost too quietly to be heard.

The blonde woman sat silently. Control was believed by many to be heartless, but she knew him to be a big-hearted, caring man. He would regret to inform those men's families himself, and it would not be in a cold call or telegram. Before she had known better, she had once accused him of not seeing agents as people but only as pawns. He had proceeded to rattle off the names of every agent he had ever lost. She had never forgotten that.

"Can I assume this meeting is over?" Loki asked, yawning.

Saying nothing, Control merely walked around his desk, grabbed the former golden boy by the scruff of his neck whirled him around and propelled him out the door.

"Go home, friend, mourn your losses, and slay the dragons tomorrow. Even the white knight needs a day to grieve the righteous dead," Valkyrie instructed him.

Control looked at her, she had never referred to him as a friend before. At best he had thought of them as allies against a common enemy.

"You know each of your agents by name, the living and the dead. I have seen you angry at the senseless wasting of lives and mourning for the passing of those that work for you. Anyone who cares that much for his people is a friend of mine," she told him as she stood up to leave.

"Oh, did you know that agents ask to be assigned to you? Word is that if you can't get them out alive then it wasn't possible to get out," she continued, looking back at him from the door before going through it.

Sighing, Control perused the papers on his desk. Seeing nothing urgent, he left. There were some families he needed to see today.
"Could I see Janice Wilson, please?" China asked the guard.

"Sign on the form," the bored guard instructed.

She complied and was led back.

"Come to gloat?" Janice sneered, entering the room.

"Why would I do that?" China asked, confused. Did Janice really think she would gloat over someone in trouble?

Ignoring the question, Janice snorted and sat down.

"I really only came to ask one question," China explained, hesitantly. Maybe this had not been a good idea; but she really wanted to know.

"What?" Janice rebuffed.

"Why? Why would you do something like that to me? I never did anything to you," China asked.

"Because you are," Janice snapped.

"I am what?" China asked, honestly wanting to understand.

"You're you; privileged, wealthy, beautiful, the best of everything. You don't even know what you have you have so much," the dark chestnut haired woman growled.

"You set me up on drug charges and put me through that tribunal because you think I'm some spoiled little rich girl?" China goggled. This made no sense.

"The tribunal wasn't my idea, that was Marc's idea," Janice clarified.

China looked up at Janice's reference to her boss by his first name. She used her boss's first name at home as well, or had begun to as a slip and he seemed to like it so she had continued. But that was completely different, unless Mr. Lewis and Janice... China groaned to herself.

"It may have been his idea, but you're the only one in the company that knows about that picture in my bedroom of Michael and me," China announced. "So at the very least, you helped."

"Messed up your perfect life, did I?" Janice mocked.

"Perfect life?" She repeated. Her life was anything but perfect; it wasn't bad but it was not perfection, either.

"Everything you have and you still aren't satisfied," Janice shook her head.

"I admit that other than being confused by a friend's betrayal, I'm fairly happy with my life," China answered. "But I still don't understand what you're talking about."

"I'm talking about your horses and UCLA education. I'm talking about your being able to take a job at lower pay simply because you like it more and never having to think about the money you lost. And your walking in barely qualified as a secretary and getting the best position with the best boss..."

"Hold on there, you wanted to work for Control?" China interrupted. Very few of the secretaries wanted to work for him full time. He had a reputation as a fair boss, but a very demanding one.

"I'm talking about how life shines on you and everything you do. You never have to face consequences for the things you do!" Janice shouted, as if the mulatto woman had not said a thing.

China was quiet for a moment, thinking about what the other woman had said. It had been rare that her actions had had bad consequences for her to face, but when they did, her parents and then her uncle had taught her to take it in stride as the natural result of her decisions and learn from them. Life, however, had not been golden!

"I assure you life has not shined on me!" China snapped.

"Really? You've never had to decide between living in a safe neighborhood or living in one you can afford. You drove a Mercedes that your uncle bought for you, and I bet he`ll replace it since it was stolen. And you certainly won't turn it down because you can't afford the insurance on it. Car repairs are no trouble because you merely have Henry and your boss pick you up at the garage and return when the car is done. No loaners or having to figure out an alternate way to get to work for you."

China listened in silence. So far, everything Janice was saying was true. She did come from a wealthy family; she was able to work where she liked, even when it meant a pay cut. Michael had left her a message saying he wanted to replace her stolen Mercedes with another one, and she could certainly afford the insurance on it. Safe housing was always affordable to her and car repairs were easy to arrange.

"You have never gone to the store and bought only what you absolutely had to have because you didn't have money for anything extra. You've never had student loans come due and no way to make payments. You haven't wanted a pet and couldn't have one because of the cost. You've never had a boss use you and leave you..."

"Like Mr. Lewis did to you?" China inquired, softly. If that was what was behind this, at least she could understand that. Love could lead to just about anything. "It won't make this any easier, but at least understand that you are not the first woman he has done that to."

"Shut Up! You don't know the first thing about it," Janice screamed.

"You're wrong, I do understand what it is to love someone and have them abandon you and betray you," China sympathized.

If looks could have killed, Janice would have at the very least made China a darned sick woman

"I wasn't even sixteen when my mother died and my father disappeared; probably after killing her. My fiance decided to spend the night before our wedding with the maid of honor. We won't go into my grandparents who hated my mother and resent that I even exist. I think those qualify me as knowing something about being left alone. There's a couple of cops that I can still can't convince that I did NOT kill my mother myself!" China yelled, finally losing her temper.

"As for having the golden life, think again! I had two parents who could not be in the same room together without a fight breaking out. I was the only black kid in my school, and definitely the only one in my neighborhood. And Control is the first time a man that I loved has loved me back. Unless, of course, you care to count the men that said they loved me and pretended to, in order to get a little closer to my money and my family's," the dark haired women continued.

Janice made no answer.

The bi-racial woman sat looked at her one time friend. The friend that had for fun decided to have a costume party in the middle of summer. The friend who house she had been stay at when her car was stolen. The friend who knew she would be late to work because she was talking to the police that morning. The friend who knew about the only picture that she had of her and her uncle together. The friend who had betrayed her.

Slowly, China got up.

"Sampai jumpa," she whispered, and left.
Control felt old. He always felt old and depressed when he visited the homes of people he had never met to inform them that their child or sibling or spouse was not coming home. A few times it had even been children he was informing. This time it was a young wife with two small kids and a middle aged set of parents. They had been remarkably kind about it, considering that he could not really tell them anything except that their loved one had died in the service of his country and they could be proud of him. He was not going to reveal that had the upper powers not been playing politics, perhaps the men could have been saved.

As he began unlocking his door, he looked over at China's. Maybe she would lend him one of the books? A good book and a stiff drink sounded wonderful. Or at least sounded like a recipe that might result in him feeling human again.

He knocked on her door, and heard a voice telling him to come in.

"China Doll?" He called, petting the animals that greeted him.

"Yes?" She responded from the newly enlarged spare-room-turned-den.

"You should have the door locked and know who it is before you tell someone to come in," he chided her gently.

"All right," she agreed listlessly.

This was not like her. Entering the room, he got a look at her. She was in shorts and a tank top, curled up in the overstuffed chair, staring out the window. He could only see her profile, but it looked as if she had been crying.

"What's wrong, sweetheart?" he asked, going over to her.

"Just thinking," she answered, in a voice that was too dead for his liking.

"About what?"

"Some things Janice said," she sniffed. Crying always made her nose run.

"Did you go and see her today?" He asked uncertainly. He hadn't thought it a good idea, but knew that she really wanted to go.

China nodded.

"Did you find out what you wanted to know?"

"Kind of. I found out that someone that I thought was my friend resents the fact of my existence. I just wanted to know why she would do something like that," she explained.

"Something like that very rarely has a why," he told her, sitting in the easy chair that had been brought in since yesterday.

"So I discovered," she agreed with a derisive chuckle.

"China, let it go," he advised.

"But she was right, I have had it fairly easy," she admitted. "My life certainly has not been perfect, but I have had every advantage and opportunity imaginable."

"Have you ever wasted those advantages?" He asked her, knowing the answer.

"Not that I know of," She replied after a thoughtful moment.

"Have you ever had an opportunity to help someone less fortunate than yourself, or to do a good deed and not taken it?"

"Never, " she answered, somewhat heatedly. He knew her well enough to know that answer.

"Have you ever looked down on someone or thought them beneath you because they came from a poor or middle-class family?" He continued asking.

"Of course not! If I worked that way I would not have started dating a farm boy," she retorted.

"I might be a farm boy, but thanks to some very wise investing I am fairly well off, so that doesn't count," he teased her; knowing that she had not meant the comment derisively.

"The farm certainly does count! I loved it out there!" She said in mock shock.

"Good, then you would be willing to spend Thanksgiving out there?" He asked. He had been wanting to invite her.

"I think I can probably clear my social calendar," she answered, smiling. It would seem she was going to be meeting the rest of the family.

"I also get your point with the questions. I may have had all the advantages, but I don't need to be ashamed of them because I don't waste them or think myself better than people who have not had them," she continued, moving over to the chair where he was.

"Exactly," he answered, reaching over and pulling her in for a hug from her perch on the chair arm.

Having gotten pulled into the best seat in the house, her boss's lap, the young woman decided to stay there for a bit. He certainly didn't seem to mind.

"I still can't believe that I never saw the way she really feels about me," China admitted, moving to what her companion had a hunch was the real reason for the tears.

"I can. You treat people honestly and sincerely and tend to assume others are the same way. It would never occur to you to mistrust a friend."

"Unlike you," she answered, resting against her friend.

"Keep trusting people, China; it's a lot less lonely than the alternative," he advised.

"I bet it hurts less," she retorted.

"You would lose that bet," he told her morosely. He could count one hand and have a few digits left over the number of true friends he had. And even those he could never trust as China trusted her friends. He had lost that ability shortly after being approached by an intelligence officer while in the military about what kind of plans he might have for the rest of his life.

"I don't think I could distrust everyone even I wanted to, it's not exactly in my nature," she responded, nestling against him. Control had often seemed lonely to her, but this was the first time he had admitted to it.

"Thank God," he responded, meaning it.

"Have you eaten yet?" He asked her, noting the time.

"No, I had just gotten the dogs in from their walk when you came by. I'm not really hungry, though," she answered.

He looked critically at the woman in his lap. Skipping meals was not something China could do easily, since her high metabolism ensured that she never put on weight, but lost it very easily. She was still looking haggard from the meals she had missed while he was gone.

"You're too thin to skip meals. Where's you favorite Chinese place and I'll order in," he instructed.

"I happen to like real Chinese food and Chinatown doesn't deliver out here," she explained, with mostly feigned indignation.

"Okay, then tell me the name and number of your favorite place to order in and I'll call in dinner for us," he instructed.

"John, I am not hungry!" She snapped.

"China, please, you don't have to eat a lot, but just have something," he implored her.

"You mean you don't like my Twiggy look?" she playfully pouted.

"No, I prefer women who look healthy," he replied seriously.

"Dixie's Soul Food," she answered.

He raised an eyebrow. "Thank you, I'll call dinner in."

Getting up, he gently moved his hostess from his lap to the chair and went to use the phone.

Shaking his head, he returned a few moments later. He picked her up and slid beneath her, pulling her back down into his lap. "I called and gave them your name and address, but then the phone was handed to someone else. I repeated your name and someone named Mama said she was going to be right over. Since I didn't get a chance to say what we wanted, this should be interesting,"

China groaned. "She would have to be working tonight. Hope you're hungry, because Mama doesn't believe in small meals and fattening me up is her special hobby."

"You're a regular client?" he asked, surprised. China loved to cook, so ordering out a lot seemed unusual, but then she did work long hours, so maybe that was why.

"Truth is that I technically own part of the restaurant. Mama wanted to start a restaurant but had no capital, so my mother gave it to her as a business investment. So mom owned it and Mama ran it on the understanding that once Mama had paid back the loan, the place was hers. When mom died, I inherited her share in it," China explained.

"So Mama and your mother were friends as well as business partners?" he asked.

"Exactly, and Mama has two goals in life..."

A loud banging on the door interrupted her.

"I'll get it," he offered.

"This should be interesting," China snorted, getting up and following.

As she entered the living room/kitchen area, Control opened the door and was blown aside as a short, heavy woman bustled in.

"Land sakes, girl, don't you ever feed this man?" The woman exclaimed, looking at Control as she settled packages and bags down.

"She is in no way responsible for my care and feeding," Control growled. "You're Mama, I presume?"

"John Smith, Mary Dubois, Mama this is my friend John Smith," China jumped in, making the introductions.

"Folks call me Mama, young man, and you can, too," the older woman instructed. Looking at him critically, there was no way any man was going to put China through what her mother had gone through. And since China's own mother was not around to see to that, Mama would do it.

"I've cooked a few meals for him and he is not that skinny!" China defended herself.

"Well you need to cook more; I can practically count his ribs!" the older woman scolded. "And what on this earth have you been doing to yourself?"

"I've been under some stress and you know I can't eat when I'm upset," China explained.

"Well, tonight you're eatin'," the woman harrumphed.

"Mama, we can't possibly eat all of that," China complained as fried chicken and barbecued ribs came out to be placed on a table already overflowing from the plump woman's offerings.

Fried catfish, black-eyed peas, and collards with meat were already on the table. And not all of the bags were empty.

"You can't?" Mama asked, eyeing Control dubiously. "Who says?"

"Mama! John has nothing to do with my being this thin. I've just had a hard couple of weeks," the younger woman explained.

"Actually, I called you hoping to entice her to eat. I agree that she's far too thin," he smiled.

When the candied yams and gumbo came out, he began looking a bit dubious himself at eating all of this.

"Nice to see you have some sense and appreciate that a woman needs to have some substance to her," Mama nodded approval at the man. Maybe, just maybe, he was good enough for her China; at least the man wasn't expecting the girl to starve herself to fit society's idea of the ideal woman.

"I've never cared for the ultra thin fashion model type and China seemed a bit lean, so feeding her did seem in order."

"Finally, a man who knows how to treat you, girl," Mama told China while smiling back at him.

"Don't start, Mama. I have no intentions of marrying any time soon," China growled at the other woman.

"Well, you best be starting sometime child, or you ain't never gonna get around to it," the plump little woman declared.

"I'm doing just fine on my own," China insisted

"Don't look like you're on your own to me, girl."

"I'm only visiting, I assure you," Control hastily added. He did not want this formidable woman getting the wrong idea.

"If China ever gets herself going maybe you wouldn't be," the woman snorted, pulling out a sweet potato pie.

"Mama, I'll get married when I'm good and ready to get married," the younger woman growled.

"Lets hope there's still some men around when you get ready," Mama snorted.

"I really am dong fine," China assured the restaurateur with a warm smile. Mama might be pushy and bossy at times, but it was only out of a desire for the happiness of the people she loved.

"You say so, child. I'll send Billy by for these dishes later," Mama smiled, hugging her unofficial adopted daughter.

"Hurt her and I'll show you what black power really means," the woman informed her host as she headed for the door.

He merely raised an eyebrow. "I'll keep that in mind; assuming that I survived what Michael and China herself would do to me after I got done with myself."

"I knew you were a smart boy," Mama smiled, waddling out the door.

"Thank you, this is exactly what I was needing, actually," China chuckled as Control closed and relocked the door.

"A kitchen full of food?" he smiled.

"No, a reminder that I am really and truly loved," she smiled and, moving close to him, pecked him on the cheek.

"I would have been happy to remind you," he responded with a look that shows how much he cherished the woman at his side.

"I'm certain," she chuckled, getting out plates and silverware while Control poured them some wine.

"Tell you what, why don't we eat and then I'll spend the rest of the night telling you just how loved you are?" he offered.

"I suppose I can handle that if you insist," she giggled. She really hated it when she did that, and it always seemed to happen around him.

"John," China mumbled contentedly a few hours later as they cuddled on the couch, reading and sipping wine. Having finished Water Babies, they were starting on the first of the Tarzan books. They both had a love for the adventure movies, it seemed.

"Humm?" he inquired, looking up from his reading aloud, since it was his chapter to read.

"Stay here?" China asked, cuddling even closer.

"China, if you are inviting me to spend the night with you, I'm flattered and touched, but the answer is no," he replied after a moment's regret. It was the right thing to do, but that didn't make it any easier. And if it were anyone but China asking, he had to admit he would probably be saying yes. But one or two nights of pleasure would not be worth the destruction it would cause in what they were building.

"I really don't want to be alone, tonight," she told him, her head resting against his chest.

"I know, China Doll, and that's why I have to say no. You've had a hard day that was preceded by a hard two weeks. It wouldn't be right for me to accept an offer made in a moment of weakness. I'll stay here with you until you fall asleep, but I am not going to spend the night," he explained firmly.

"I really would like you to stay," she repeated.

"I love you too much to risk what we have by spending the night with you when all you really want is someone to hold you, not use you."

The tribunal, and the week leading up to it as well as the discovery that her friend had betrayed her, had finally caught up to the woman. She sat shaking in his arms, and then sobbing. He held her against him, stroking her back and her hair, rocking back and forth while she cried.

Sleep eventually came and claimed the young woman. Seeing that she was asleep, he carried her into the bedroom and laid her gently down on the bed. Then, turning to give her one last look, he locked up her apartment and returned to his own. Tonight at least, he thought, chivalry isn't dead.
"What are you doing here?" the already middle-aged and getting older fast red-head asked, standing in her office door.

"I thought we could talk for a minute before the work day began, Hera," the dark haired man in her chair responded in a voice that could have come directly from the ice age.

"What would we possibly have to talk about, Control?" the woman howled.

"You set me up and used someone that I care about to do it," he snarled.

"Really?" She sneered, "I don't remember doing anything to you."

"You really should have picked someone with more backbone than Marc Lewis," he said, shaking his head in dismay.

"I heard about his little stunt. What makes you think I had anything to do with it?" She asked.

"Because we had a little chat after the tribunal, during which he told me about your involvement," Control smiled like a cat with a cornered mouse to play with.

"Supposing you're right, what do you want from me?" she asked, trying, and failing miserably, to school her expression.

"Before we get into that, I suggest you remember what the committee does to failed grabs for power."

Hera paled. The committee would not really see anything wrong in making a grab for power and influence, most of them considered that part of the game. They would rip apart, however, anyone that grabbed for it and failed. The only chance she had was if no one ever knew of this.

"I see I have your attention. I want Marc Lewis exiled somewhere where no more lives will be destroyed by his using security personnel as his private Gestapo," Control began.

"Done," the woman agreed readily. If all this cost her was the dismissal and exile of a man she was finished with anyway, then it was a cheap failure. But, somehow, she suspected that Northern Control was going to demand more than that of her.

"Loki is to be out of my office and out of my sight," he snarled.

"I heard about yesterday's incident. He really was out of line," she conceded as though he was referring to her dog having made a mess in his yard.

"I also want it understood that you owe me several favors," he continued.

"Which you will call in, of course," she smiled.

"When I need something badly enough, yes, I will," he smiled back.

Speechless, she merely nodded her acquiesce. She really had no other choice.

"I'm glad we understand one another," he said, getting out of the chair and making way for her as he left the office.

Passing Jason Masur in a hallway, he smiled at the man. "Congratulation on your promotion to head of security; make certain and greet Minerva for me when next you two chat."

Jason paled momentarily and slightly stammered a reply but kept on going. Whatever the reason Minerva had in falsifying the golden boy's file so he got the position, Control was certain it would be far better planned and executed than Hera's.

"Here are your messages, sir, " China smiled at him as he entered his office.

"You're on medical leave through the end of the week," he chided.

"I was getting bored sitting at home," she admitted.

"Welcome back," he smiled. He really did miss her when she wasn't there.

"About last night," she bit her lip.

"Nothing happened last night," he reminded her.

"I know, thank you for that," she smiled.

"Anything that would have ended with you not respecting yourself or me was unacceptable," he assured her.

"I heard about yesterday. I'm sorry," she said softly. "You didn't need to come home to my petty carrying on last night."

"It wasn't petty to you, so it wasn't to me," he smiled softly, brushing her face with his hand.

"Ako ibigin ka," she whispered, leaning into his hand.
Thanksgiving:

"Ready, China Doll?" Control asked as he turned the car off.

"Ready," she smiled, getting a quick kiss. They might not get to do much of this when the festivities started.

As they got out of the car, a loud, and very familiar bark sounded from the barn. Turning, she saw a huge tawny mutt standing at the barn door and wagging his tail at her before responding to a whistle and heading back inside with the other animals.

"John, was that Oso?" She asked in disbelief.

"They said that it was acceptable for him to get a new home, and I thought of my parents. I didn't want to tell you anything in case it didn't work out and he had to be put down," he explained.

"Thank You," she whispered, filled with emotion. She had never forgiven herself what had happened to the poor abused dog she taken in three years earlier. Now, thanks to this wonderful man, the large dog was safe and sound on a farm and evidently thriving.

She turned and kissed him, and had it returned. His arm still around her, they started for the house.

"Uncle John!" a small blonde girl ran at her uncle, squealing as her grandmother opened the door for the new arrivals.

"Carolyn!" he called, scooping her up for a hug.

"Welcome home, John," Rebecca Smith greeted her oldest son, claiming a hug from the arm that wasn't holding up a squirming niece.

"Thanks, mom," he smiled.

"Hello, China," Rebecca greeted the younger woman and hugged her.

"Hello, Becca," she smiled, hugging the woman back.

"Nice to see you again, China," Paul greeted her as he reclaimed his daughter from his brother.

"Nice to see you too, Paul," she smiled.

"I didn't know you two had meet," Mrs. Smith said, surprised.

"I was in New York for a few days on business and staying with John. I didn't say anything because there wasn't time for me to drop by and visit," Paul explained.

"Becca, where did you get the stained glass picture hanging on your window?" China asked, hesitantly, staring at the image of a soaring eagle.

"I got it from Paul for my birthday. Isn't it lovely?"

"Yes it's very nice," China agreed, glaring at Paul.

"He got me one as well, but it's a knight in shining armor," Control smiled.

China groaned. Maggie must have told Paul somehow that she had made those two pictures.

"Honey, are you okay?" the graying woman asked.

"I'm fine, just surprised," she choked.

Paul winked at her, and China burst out laughing.

Control raised an eyebrow.

"Inside joke," China chuckled.

"Should I be jealous?" a petite blond wearing dark glasses with a baby on her hip asked from the kitchen doorway.

China goggled for a moment; it had never occurred to her that Paul's wife might be blind; unless there was another reason for the glasses. But then, there were people like her grandparents who would not be able to imagine a man like John with a black woman.

"Not at all. You must be Paul`s wife."

With practiced ease, Paul maneuvered his bride until she was facing the new guest. "This is my wife, Annie, and that's Kelly she's holding, and Carolyn is the one that assaulted her uncle as he came in," He introduced his family to the woman whom he suspected more than ever would be joining the family. Her easy acceptance of Annie's lack of sight was a blessing; he hadn't thought it would be a problem.

"When's Uncle Frank going to be here?" Carolyn asked

"Right now, honey," came a rumbling voice from behind them as a man who looked to be John and Frank many years in the future came in.

"Hi, Uncle Frank," the two men and Annie, almost in three part harmony, greeted the newcomer.

"Sir, I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, China Berry, China, this is my uncle, General Frank Savage," Control introduced the older version of himself.

"Nice to meet you, Miss Berry," he smiled.

"China, please; and it's nice to meet you as well, General," she smiled, offering a hand that was shaken.

"Make it Frank," he told her, happy that his oldest nephew had found a woman that he was bringing home to meet the family.

"How did you get here, Uncle Frank? I didn't see a car drive up." Carolyn asked, running over to get a hug from her great uncle.

"I didn't drive in, I flew in, in the Cessna," he told her, scooping her up for a hug.

"Can I go for a ride in it?" she asked brightly.

"Maybe we can sometime this weekend, if your parents say it's okay," he told her.

"Dinner is getting cold, I suggest we all eat it while it's still hot," Rebecca hinted, happy to have her family all home for the holiday.

"China, do you think you could teach me how to make Chicken Adobo? Paul is still talking about that meal you made," Annie asked, grinning, while her husband blushed.

"Sure Annie, I would love to," China offered as the trio headed in, each parent carrying a child.

"Listen, mom, do you still have the ring grandma gave me?" Control asked softly as they followed the general and Thomas Smith in for the meal.

"I had a feeling you might be wanting it," she smiled, slipping a ring into his hand.

"There's a bull here named Ferdinand, he's really nice. It's a good thing he doesn't live in Spain though or they might make him fight. Did you know that there are bull fights in Spain?" Carolyn asked the nice lady that she didn't know.

"Yes I knew, In fact I went to the bull fights when I was visiting Spain, once," China smiled.

"I wouldn't be surprised to find out that you had fought the bulls," Control smirked, cutting up some of the meat for his niece who was next to him.

China blushed. "No, I didn't fight them."

"Please tell me that you didn't run with them," Control goggled; then wondered why it should surprise him that she had participated in the running of the bulls.

"No I didn't run with them. I'm happy to say that I was just fast enough to be in front of them at all times."

"I didn't think women were allowed to participate in the running of the bulls," the General commented after a moment of table-wide silence.

"I can't see a simple thing like that stopping you, China," Paul chortled.

"I'm amazed your uncle let you do something that dangerous," Control snickered, imagining the look on her uncle's face when he found out. "Or does he even know that you did that?"

"He knows. I was there with some friends from college and we decided to watch the running of the bulls. Then a few of us decided that participation would be even better. Since, as Paul said, women are not allowed to join in, I borrowed some clothes from one of the guys. The bulls chased us all the way to the stadium where we watched the fights with me cheering the bulls on the entire time," China answered, taking some of the potatoes and passing the bowl.

"How did Michael find out?" Control asked pointedly.

"I didn't know it, but he was in Pamplona at the same time I was. And knowing my love for excitement he figured I would try and run with the bulls. I didn't know he was even there until I was about to have a run-in with a very unhappy bovine and he yanked me out of the way. Thankfully, I was just grazed. I have an interesting scar to remember it by and my ears have still not stopped ringing from the talking to I got about endangering myself like that," China admitted.

"Was Michael all right as well?" John asked.

"Yes, he had a pulled muscle and, like me, got clipped, but neither of us was hurt badly," China confessed, still wincing a bit at the memory of her uncle getting hurt protecting her from herself.

"I hope you picked some safer hobbies after that," Thomas snorted.

"I promised Uncle Michael I wouldn't run with the bulls any more and would be more careful after that," she smiled.

"Do I dare ask what hobby you picked up to replace that one?" Control asked with a chuckle.

"Sky diving," she answered.

Annie about choked on the bite she had taken as she started laughing. She liked this spirited and adventurous young woman, no wonder Paul and John were so taken with her.

"I never saw a reason to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, "the General informed her, shaking his head.

"Funny, that's exactly what John said when he found out about that hobby of mine," China grinned.

"That's because he's a sensible man who doesn't have a death wish," the general answered with a smile.

"Actually, I've settled down considerably since those days," China assured them.

"A fact for which I'm immensely grateful," Control hastily added.

"Working for you is all the excitement I need," China responded with an exaggerated sigh.

"Oh, I can imagine that is very true," Paul chortled.

"There was something that I wanted to ask you about, Becca," China smiled.

Control, having a hunch where this was going, was not smiling.

"Yes, dear?" The matriarch asked.

"I have always imagined that John must have been a handful as a child," China began.

Three adults rolled their eyes as one.

Paul guffawed.

"Don't laugh too hard Paul, you were at least as much of a challenge as your brother was," Thomas said with the barest hint of a smile.

"Well, I know one military base that probably still remembers those two," Frank smiled.

His nephews groaned.

"I don't think I heard about this one, Uncle Frank," Annie said excitedly. She and Paul had only been married a couple of years and she loved hearing tales about his childhood.

"Well, Becca said the boys were due for a vacation of some kind and getting a bit squirrelly, they were about twelve, then. I hadn't seen them in a long time so I said they should come and visit me, how much trouble could it be to entertain two boys, and I had leave coming and there was lots to do in California." Frank relayed, shaking his head at such foolish thinking.

Both mothers and Thomas snorted their opinion on that reasoning. Paul and John were both wisely remaining silent. China was trying to hold in her laughter; she might not know a lot about kids, but she did know that two pre-adolescent boys could get into plenty of trouble together. Especially when one of them was her boss.

"Anyway, I was checking on some last minute things and told the boys to wait in my office for me. Well, about half an hour later I'm talking things over with one of my men and I got a phone call. Seems there were two boys sitting on the floor in a classified area facing the business end of a rifle and asking for me," Frank almost smiled at the memory.

Paul and John were very engrossed in their plates, while their parents and ladies laughed hysterically at the image of the boys sitting on the floor asking for their uncle.

"We weren't really given much choice about calling you," Paul admitted, "Otherwise we might not have, since the gun at least would have been quick and painless and anything you thought up to punish us wouldn't have been either of those."

"Actually he took it a lot better than we figured he would," John commented. "We thought we would not be seeing the outside of the house for the entire week we were with him. As it was, he came and hauled us out by our ears, then, as he didn't have a paddle, he had us go out and find and cut some switches for him."

"You mean the great switch hunter of Ohio didn't get them himself?" Rebecca smirked.

"I figured it was time to let another generation have the pleasure," Frank chuckled. Leave it to a sister to remember how many times their father had had him going after switches.

"Anyway, I had both of them in my office standing at attention while I finished up a few phone calls and some paperwork. I looked up from one call just in time to see them both going down in a faint," the general chuckled.

"Forgot to warn them about locking their knees?" Thomas asked, having gotten the warning about that himself, when he first joined the Army.

"Yes," came the answer in duet.

"I let you both sit down for the rest of the time after that, and I did inform you then that locking you knees can cause a person to faint," the general added.

"Yeah, you seemed a little less angry after we fainted, but at least once the switching was administered, the entire thing was forgotten about," John chuckled a bit at the memory

"Speak for yourself, I wasn't sitting for three days after that," Paul admitted with a mock scowl.

The general protested that he had hardly given them that hard of a switching, while the others laughed over a second cup of coffee.

"Why don't I see to the chores tonight, dad?" Control offered, getting up from the meal.

"If you're certain, son," Thomas agreed.

"I am, you don't get nights off too often, so let me give you this one, okay?" the younger man asked.

"Since you insist, I'll accept it gratefully," the patriarch acquiesced.

"Why don't I give you a hand," Paul offered, rising and following his twin who was not a twin.

"Everything all right?" Paul asked, entering the barn behind John.

"Yeah, I've just been thinking about Susan a lot lately."

"She was a beautiful woman, and one well worth thinking about," Paul acknowledged. He had not known her well, but had liked what he knew of her.

"Yes, she was, she certainly deserved better than dying because some idiot got behind the wheel of a car after drinking too much," Control snarled, tossing some hay with more energy than it really required.

"No one deserves to die like that," Paul agreed.

"I can't stop thinking about that last week we had together. Watching the bulls run, seeing the bullfights, attending the Jai Alai matches, nights spent watching the fireworks and dancing and listing to the music. We spent the entire week in Pamplona."

"Sounds like you had a nice week," Paul commented.

"It was the most incredible week of my life," the other man sighed.

"Since it was your last week together, I assume something happened?"

"I was ready to walk away from it all and then got a call to help deal with some situations in Germany. For the first time I was going to say no; I was going to stay with her and maybe even go to matador school. She found out about the call, though, and left before I had a chance to stop her," Control explained.

"You never had a chance to see or talk to her again?" Paul asked, sitting on a bale.

"We talked on the phone the next day, she said that she couldn't take living with the uncertainty any more. I tried to tell her that I was leaving it all behind, but she wouldn't believe me. She said that I couldn't walk away from it, and she couldn't live with it," he sighed.

"John, is it just possible that she was right?" Paul asked hesitantly.

"Excuse me?" Control growled.

"Maybe you weren't really ready to walk away from it all. You said you were thinking of leaving it all behind, and yet here you are deeper in it than ever," Paul observed.

"There wasn't a reason to leave it after she left," Control answered.

"Do you remember the first day of school?" Paul asked after a moment of thought, watching his brother.

"Which year?" the spook answered, not certain where Paul was going.

"First grade, first day of school ever," Paul clarified.

"That was a long time ago," John snorted.

"Ricky Tomlinson," the mercenary prompted.

Control snorted. "That piece of excrement? Yeah, I remember him."

"Remember getting into a fight with him the first day of school?" Paul asked.

"I remember us both getting sent home early because we had gotten into a fight," Control answered, almost smiling.

"I got involved backing you up. Do you remember why you got involved?" Paul asked.

"He was picking on the girls and made one of them cry," John responded.

"Even back then you could not ignore someone in need," Paul gave a rumbling chuckle.

"You weren't any better!" Control shot back, grinning.

"That's probably why we do what we do for a living," Paul chuckled.

"So you think Susan was right and there is no way I can leave this life?" Control raised an eyebrow.

"I think you can leave it when you're ready to, I just question if you are really ready to," Paul shrugged.

"And Susan was right to leave?" Control asked.

"I didn't say that, only that she might have been right about your not being ready to leave," Paul corrected him.

"She might have at that," Control agreed.

"Guys?" came a decidedly feminine voice from the barn door.

"Sorry, honey, didn't mean to abandon you for so long," John smiled over at his lady.

"I was fine, it was just that you two had been out here so long, I was getting a bit worried," she explained.

Paul smiled, "John was just telling me about Susan."

"Susan?" China asked, not jealous, but definitely interested in this competitor. She had never imagined that she was the first woman in his life; she only wanted to be the last.

"I'll get you for this, Paul," John whispered under his breath. "Yes, Susan, my late girl friend."

"I'm so sorry; I didn't know," China said sympathetically, moving over to join the men.

"Susan Roberts, I meet her in a hospital after I had gotten hurt, she was a nurse," the spy explained.

"The same incident that resulted in the scars on your back?" she asked hesitantly.

"Yes, she was one of the nurses taking care of me during recovery," he confirmed.

Paul smiled slightly, leaving the other two and seeing to the chores his brother had forgotten about.

"You must have loved her very much," China offered, knowing that contrary to what people thought, Control was a man of great emotion.

"Yes, I did, even after she ran away from me," he answered quietly, not certain how China would react to that part of the story.

She merely came closer and reaching up, embraced her friend. She didn't know what to say so she skipped words and let her actions speak.

"Spies are hard men to be involved with, Saiai," she whispered to him as he held her tightly, drinking in her love and acceptance of who and what he was.

"I would have at least liked to have had the chance to tell her I was sorry for everything my job had put us and her through; and to tell her goodbye....maybe one last chance to tell her I loved her," he said, still holding his love. She was so very, very different from Susan and yet in some ways how very like the green eyed, dark haired southern beauty he had loved.

"So how about you tell us about Susan while we finish up in here before dad comes looking to see what kind of damage we've done this time?" Paul offered.

"I actually heard her before I saw her. I woke up in a hospital bed after I figured that I was never going to wake up again. The first thing I heard was this wonderfully soothing, melodic voice singing to me. I figured it was the angelic choir welcoming me, or hell trying to fool me," Control began.

Paul snorted, having been in that position, himself.

"It would have been heaven, trust me," China chuckled.

"Then this sweet as molasses southern drawl asked me if I would like some water," he sighed, remembering it like it was yesterday. "When I opened my eyes, there was an angel with raven hair and big, emerald eyes. She had the gentlest hands in the world and if her patient wasn't obeying, the sharpest tongue imaginable."

"Why do I have a hunch you were not her most compliant patient?" China asked, her eyes sparkling.

"I can almost promise he was not," Paul snorted, smiling.

"I wasn't, but a few lashings from her tongue taught me to behave myself," Control chuckled, remembering the only woman who came close to China in using words as weapons.

"She had just moved to the big city and was totally alone, there. She was lonely, so instead of going home evenings, she would come in and talk to me. We became friends and stayed together after I got out of the hospital. Life seemed so perfect, I was doing a job that made a difference and that I was good at, and I had a wonderful, intelligent, loving woman at home," he continued.

"But she had a harder and harder time with each mission that took you away and each time you left unexpectedly without warning and every time you came home in pieces," China offered.

"Yeah, I just didn't see it until it was too late," Control answered, " And by the time I got home to do anything about it, she was dead in a drunk driving accident."

"Were you able to go to her funeral at least?" China asked.

"No, I wasn't able to go. I was stuck in Germany and by the time I got home she had been dead for several months," he answered quietly.

"Did you do anything to give yourself some peace about her?" Paul asked.

"I took another assignment almost immediately; there didn't seem to be much to stay here for," Control admitted.

"So you never let yourself grieve?" China asked.

"Over a woman who left me?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Over the death of a woman you loved," Paul countered.

"The passing of someone you cared about," China added.

"I never thought about it that way," Control admitted.

"You boys planning on being out there all night?" came a bellow from the house.

"Coming, Dad!" sounded back in three part harmony.

WHACK. A snowball hit Paul in the chest. SPLAT. Its mate whitewashed Control. A low rumbling laugh and a high pitched giggle sounded from the side of the house.

"I do hope they realize this means war," Paul chuckled, scooping up his own ammunition.

The senior spy just smiled predatorily as he made some snow into a ball. He had no intention of being unarmed in the coming battle.

China quietly dropped behind the two men and began arming herself.

"Daddy!" a squeal came as the first battle was joined.

Her partner in crime remained silent due to a face full of snow.

Paul had been missed entirely while his partner got a hit in the leg. China was un-hit, having hidden behind her defenders.

"John!" came a call came from behind. Turning to respond, he got nailed in the face as a laughing woman dashed off into the night.

"She's going down!" John smirked as he dashed after her.

A second volley found Paul nailed in the arm. Sounds of an outraged woman landing in a snow bank were heard to the right. The general escaped that round unscathed.

"Hey!" came a rumbling chuckle. "Miss Berry!" came a shrill laugh.

Two other rumbling laughs were heard in response to the first sounds.

"All of you come in and get dry, now!" A female voice called from the farmhouse. Annie was the one person guaranteed to be safe in snowball fight.

A truce was called as all of the warriors came inside. With Paul damper than the others due to his daughter's last shot of a snowball down his back. Luckily, her uncle John had the reflexes to catch the dropped giggler.

Leaving his wet outer things in the hall with the rest of the dripping coats and boots, John stepped into the kitchen as signaled by his mother. Collecting mugs and pot, the man headed to the den where he could hear voices and the crackling of a fire. In the doorway, he looked at the familial group and smiled. Carolyn was sitting on the General's lap and hearing about the little engine that could with all the right sound effects. Paul and Thomas were setting up a hot game of chess. Annie was nursing Kelly while the ladies talked and giggled about what sounded like the men in their lives. It was good to be home, and even better that China was part of it. Susan hurt, but he was ready to take a chance again, and the slim tri-racial woman was the perfect start to that.

Smiling, he handed out the mugs of hot cocoa. Ending next to China, where he sat down, putting an arm easily around her. Smiling at her paramour she snuggled a little closer against him. Glancing over, he caught his parents' knowing smiles, as well as his brother's wink. John Smith merely smiled back, and hugged his lady a little tighter.
Translations:

ulupong = Snake

Bonjour, McCall de Robert est ici pour vous voir = Hello Robert McCall is here to see you

Bonjour patron = Hello boss

Ich bentige Sie, hier herauszukommen sofort, es bin dringend! = I need you to come out here immediately, It is urgent!

Kukac = Maggot

Oyabun = boss

Salamat = Thank you

Tr vo = come in

tuta = puppy

Ni hao = hello

Sagst du nicht! = You don't say!

Apa = come in

Mahalo = Thank you

Exspectata domus = Welcome home

Mahal kita = I love you

Pahintulutan ang laro simulan = Let the games begin

Ang tauhan ay a henyo! = The man is a genius!

Ako gumawa hindi maniwala ito! = I do not believe this!

Sampai jumpa = Goodbye

Ako ibigin ka = I love you

Saiai = Beloved

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