ARC TWO: NEW RIVALS

ON ANGEL'S WINGS

Chapter One: Starcrossed

"The moon is beautiful tonight."

Luca Ranieri settled himself more comfortably on the big woollen blanket, gazing up at the dark California sky with a pensive expression. "Don't you think? The sky isn't often as clear as this - or when it is, we don't get the chance to come out and see it."

"True on both counts." His companion drew her jacket more tightly around her shoulders with a shiver. "But it's cold out here by the sea at night."

"Do you want to go back?" Luca cast her a questioning look, but she shook her head.

"No." She responded. "Honestly, I'm not sure I ever want to go back. You and I haven't...well, we've not done anything like this for years. It's kinda nice."

"Maddy..." Luca began, then sighed, shaking his head. "No, you're right. Diablo has got in the way of a lot of the things we used to do. I love the music, but sometimes it's nice to kick back."

"It wasn't quite what I meant." Madeleine frowned, hugging her knees to her chest and resting her chin on them. "Luca, have you spoken to Emily yet?"

"Emily?" Luca looked stricken, then shook his head.

"No. Maddy, you know we're broken up. Right now she has things she wants to deal with and I gotta let her do that. Besides, the last time we fought it was ugly and I don't want Michael to see me upsetting his mother. It's never been like that between us before and we both need a little space and time. Em said she wanted the option to see other people...I think the commitment was starting to freak her out a bit, to be honest. And, well, after everything that happened in Canada..."

He grimaced.

"Her hands have been full with settling Harriet and her father's affairs, and, whatever I think of that, it's not my business to interfere."

"So do you think you and she have a future?" Madeleine asked softly. Luca shrugged his shoulders.

"I've never been more confused about that fact myself." He admitted. He sighed, stretching. "And we didn't come all the way out to some lonely peaceful spot tonight to discuss my love life's traumas, did we? The idea was to relax...you said I needed it and I didn't argue. I didn't expect you to use it to pry information out of me about Emily. That's Stefana's kind of tactic...it isn't yours."

"I know." Madeleine looked guilty. "I'm sorry. I've been worried, that's all. I never saw you fall so much in love with anyone before, and the break-up came as quite a shock to all of us. I wanted to be sure you were, well, you know...all right."

"I know you did, and I appreciate it." Luca grinned. "And you're probably right. I don't think I have ever fallen for anyone so badly as Em. But I'll live. I'm a grown up, so is she. We'll either work it out or we won't. And I wouldn't be talking about it so rationally if I didn't hold out hope that we will...I just have to employ a little more of my patience, that's all. It was worth it the first time. I can do it again."

He pursed his lips, meeting Madeleine's glance and smiling ruefully. "Oh. Well. Mad, when I said I never fell for anyone like Em, I meant..."

"Present company excepted?" Madeleine's lips curled into a wry smile, and she dismissed it with a careless gesture. "Forget it, Luca. We had a college fling. It was...well, it was kinda nice, but this is something different."

Luca looked thoughtful.

"I'm still amazed that you forgave me, you know, for breaking up with you in the way I did." He admitted. Madeleine laughed.
"What else could I do? I was hopelessly in love with you and convinced I couldn't live without you in my life." She teased. "Friends was better than losing you, and your Mom had just kicked your sister out on her own. Much as I hate to admit it, with hindsight Steffi did need you more than I did." She shrugged. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

"Guess so." Luca grinned. He glanced at his watch. "And we should probably be heading back. It's almost midnight, and we are in studio tomorrow."

"I suppose so." Madeleine sighed, moving to gather together the remains of the evening picnic they had shared into the basket. "I wish we had more time for this kind of thing, sometimes. Singing is my world, Luca...but this...this was really nice."

"It was." Luca rolled the blanket up into a ball, tucking it under his arm. "And we'll do it again, if you like, after the next flurry of recording mayhem has calmed down. I did need to get out tonight, so thanks for that. I appreciate it."

"Oh, what are friends for?" Madeleine demanded. "Besides, I think I needed it too. I must have spent four hours going over that same passage this morning, and I'm still not sure I'll get it right when we lay it down tomorrow. Three times in five I hit the right note...the other two I come close, but not close enough. It might be a long session."

"You'll hit it. Your range is amazing." Luca told her comfortingly. "That's why we pulled you into this band in the first place, Mad. You sing like noone else I know."

"Well, in college in Connecticut, it might've stood out." Madeleine said ruefully. "But here in Los Angeles it's just another voice in the crowd most days. There are some incredible singers in this neck of the woods, and I'm no instrumental whiz. Takes all my time and energy just to make sure I'm up with the best of them."

"You know, it wouldn't hurt you to take time off sometimes and chill out. Maybe meet someone." Luca pursed his lips. "I know I'm not the greatest advocate for relationships right at the moment, but it's been good for Clay to get it together with Mari, and I'd even dare say that Steffi's social life is taming down now she's off the drugs and clued into her music more."

"I dunno about that. She always seems to be being stalked around by that reporter guy." Madeleine's expression became disapproving. "That's courting publicity and disaster in so many ways I couldn't tell you."

"I'm not sure what I think about Darren, or what she does, for that matter, but if Stef decides to come out and say she likes him, then I guess I'll go with it." Luca spread his hands. "My sister's had enough of a rollercoaster over the past couple of years. But I think, finally, she no longer has Aaron in her system. They're friends, but she doesn't get all moony or crabby when he's been by. She's lost that and I'm glad. She kicked the drugs a lot more easily than she kicked her crush on him, and it really wasn't good for her to dwell on it."

"Do you think she's interested in Darren that way?" Madeleine asked sharply. Luca shrugged.

"Stef's grown up. If she is, it's her business." He replied. "We'll see. He's not pushing drugs and he's not written anything scandalous about us since whatever it was happened at the Drive Through that landed her in the hospital, so I can live with it if she's finally found a guy who can keep up with her. I find it's best not to ask too many questions about Steffi's love life, anyway. The less I know, the better I sleep at night."

"And when she comes asking for help to fix another little accident?" Madeleine folded her arms across her chest. Luca frowned.

"Maddy, I trust Stef. I know it might be crazy, but I do. That's a lesson she's learnt. I made sure she learnt it. She's not sixteen years old any more. She's not in high school and failing Math...and there's not some jerk of a substitute teacher looking for underage students to mess around with. She's not a slut - she doesn't sleep around. Give her a little more credit, huh?"

"I'm sorry." Madeleine sighed. "I know you're right."

"Perhaps you're a little jealous that she's found someone to hang with?" Luca asked gently, putting a friendly arm around her shoulder as they headed back up to his car. Madeleine started.

"Huh?"

"Well, you haven't dated in a long time, Mad. Maybe it's time you did."

"I'm not really into the whole love thing." Madeleine grimaced. She poked her tongue out at him. "Not since you broke my heart, anyway."

"Oh, don't lay the guilt on me." Luca laughed. "It's not gonna work, Maddy. I know you too well."

"Do you?" Madeleine raised an eyebrow. Then she grinned. "Maybe you do. Oh, I don't know, Luca. Love is just so complicated when you're in show business...and there are a zillion problems, a ton of things that can go wrong..."

"I'm glad you're still as optimistic as you used to be." Luca shook his head in amusement. "You work harder than anyone I know when it comes to getting our music down, but you need a social life too, sometimes. We're young yet, Mad. Don't waste all your good years working your butt off...I don't want you to end up lonely."

"Well, it all depends what fate has in mind for me, I suppose." Madeleine pursed her lips. "There is no Mr Right in my life, so I'm not going to worry about him. Sure as hell I'm not thinking of having kids...now or ever...so it probably doesn't matter if I don't meet him till I'm forty."

"Not having kids?" Luca stopped dead, staring at her. "Maddy, are you kidding me? The girl who used to have conversations with her room-mates about what she was gonna call her eldest son?"

Madeleine bit her lip.

"Yeah, well, that was college." She said simply. "And raising a kid in the public eye is not on. I know Topaz and Sirena both do it and that's cool. I admire them for how well they do it. But it's not for me. I've chosen my path."

Luca looked serious.

"I suppose you have a point." He acknowledged. "But I'd like to think I'll have kids someday. Even if I am an aging rocker when I manage it. I did think..." He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. At the moment that's well and truly on ice. But you don't have to date just to have kids, you know. That's not the point."

"Luca, you laid into me once tonight about nagging you over Emily. Now I'm gonna return the favour." Madeleine swiped his arm. "Unlock the car and let's head back, before we both freeze to death out here on the sand, okay?"

"Well, if you say so." Luca shrugged his shoulders, obediently unlocking his vehicle and pulling open the passenger seat. "After you."

"You're supposed to get in the other side, you know." Madeleine told him playfully, as she clambered in. Luca grimaced, shutting the door behind her and heading around the other side, getting into the driver's seat and putting his key in the ignition.
For a while they drove in silence, then,

"Are you mad at me?" Luca shot his companion a sidelong glance. Madeleine shook her head.

"Why would Mad be mad at you?" She asked teasingly. "Because you struck a nerve on her complete inability to find a man who wants to date her? For shame!"

"Don't be stupid." Luca chuckled. "Lots of guys would love to date you. You're smart and funny - when you let yourself be, and that's less and less these days. You need to relax more. But I digress. You're a pretty girl, Maddy, and I'm sure you'd have no trouble getting a date. You shouldn't hide behind your microphone. Let your hair down a bit. Have some fun."

Madeleine pursed her lips, digesting this for a moment. Then she sighed.

"I've never been as forward with people as you are, and I've never had much confidence with the opposite sex." She said at length. "Apart from you, my college dating experience was limited to one other guy who was a complete and total jerk. In four years I had two guys I could actually call proper boyfriends. Sure, the odd date...but they never asked for a follow-up and I never knew how to. Not that I really often wanted to. It's hard to explain it, Luca. College isn't all about socialising...at least, it wasn't for me."

"Stop thinking about college, then. You graduated a long time ago now." Luca scolded. "And you're a big star in these parts. Like I said, live a little. Let your hair down. Play."

Madeleine frowned. She shook her head.

"No...that's just not my way." She said regretfully. "Things can happen when you let your hair down and just 'play'. Besides, I'm just not looking for it at the moment. I'm not in the market."

"Well, maybe you should be."

"Perhaps you should, too, if you and Emily are seeing other people."

"I know. It's just hard to adjust to that idea when she means such a lot to me."

"Yes. Exactly." Madeleine bit her lip, then, "And it's the same way for me, Luca. Always has been."

"I beg your pardon?" Luca took his eyes off the road, eying her in confusion. "What is that meant to mean?"

"Watch the road else we'll die before you can find out." Madeleine scolded.

"Sorry." Luca obediently turned his attention back to the matter at hand. "But what do you mean, it's the same way for you? You haven't dated since college. You as much said so."

"I know." Madeleine agreed, absently twisting her fingers together. "The honest truth is, Luca, I've never really got over you. And see, there it is. In a nutshell."

"What?" Luca stared at her.

"Luca, the road!" Madeleine shrieked, reaching for the steering wheel and managing to divert around a road cone. "This was a really bad conversation to have, wasn't it? Forget it and I'll shut up now. I want to get home alive, thank you!"

"I'm sorry, I'm concentrating." Luca took back control of the wheel. "But dammit, Maddy, you are kidding me?"

"Kidding you? No." Madeleine spread her hands. "You shouldn't have asked and I probably shouldn't have told you, but there it is."

She sighed. "I forgave you for breaking up with me when and how you did because I saw why you did it. I don't even blame Steffi for it, even though her hating me was a big part of it all. I just wasn't ready for our relationship to end when it did, that's all. I never felt like that about anyone before, and I never felt it since. You're my best friend, Luca...you know that. But I'm still in love with you and I always have been."

Luca cursed under his breath.

"I didn't know." He said softly. "I'm sorry, you must feel like I've rubbed the whole Emily thing in your face..."

"No." Madeleine shook her head. "I long since accepted that you didn't feel like that about me, Luca. It was cool. It's still cool. I live with it and I don't mind. You love Emily and she loved you and that's fine. She made you happy and that's a good thing. But you wanted to know why I wasn't in the market for a date. Now you know."

A strange look touched her face.

"It was a mistake to try and date again in college, after you." She mused, a touch of bitterness edging her tone. "I made a big mistake and trusted a guy who hurt me in ways I can't even tell you. So I've learnt that lesson. And that's that. I told you - I chose my path. Singing is my world, and so is Diablo. And I'm happy with it, Luca...so don't feel guilty. I don't want that, and that's why I never told you before. Just don't ask me to go out and date like crazy, okay? It's not in me to do it."

Luca sighed.

"Okay." He said at length. "But I am sorry, Mad. You do know that, right?"

"You have nothing to be sorry for." Madeleine shrugged. "And now, let's forget about it. Change the subject and concentrate on the road. We have a busy day tomorrow, and I'd like to be there in one piece!"

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

It was another busy day in Los Angeles.

The slim dark girl leant up against the curtain, gazing absently down at the bustling streets below her. From behind her, strong hands brushed her shoulder, toying idly with her thick black waves of hair and she turned, casting her companion a slight smile.

"Morning." He murmured softly. "I didn't expect you to be up just yet."

"Me either." The girl owned. "But to be honest, I didn't get a whole lot of sleep. I was...well...thinking."

"Thinking?" The man's brows creased in confusion, and he grasped her gently by the hands, pulling her away from the window and over towards the bed. He sat down on the rumpled bedcovers, indicating for her to sit down beside him. "What about, Nancy? Something wrong?"

"No." Nancy Pelligrini shook her head. "Not at all. That's kinda what I was thinking about."

She pinkened, as he slipped his arm around her shoulders. "That it's been so simple. Despite...everything."

"Cryptic, as ever." Her companion looked amused, reaching up to tuck a wisp of dark hair behind her ear. "Care to put that into English for the lay mortal?"

"Oh." Nancy's blush deepened. "I don't know. It's just...us. Here. Like this. As if I was...well...one of the others."

She sighed, leaning up against him as she examined her nails idly for chipped polish. "I guess what I mean is, I've only ever had one really serious relationship, and it took a lot longer than a month or two before I was happy spending time at his apartment. Like...you know. This. And yet with you it seems like...it happened just at the right time. And more, that it's normal I should be here. Like Sadie sleeps over at Alex's, or Syl does with Logan. It's just...weird."

"It's weird that you feel normal about us spending the night together?" Her companion looked amused. "I'm glad we straightened that out."

"Robin!"

"Well, that's what you said." Robin Sheppard eyed his partner affectionately. "Isn't it?"

"Stop teasing me." Nancy scolded. "Just because it felt right doesn't mean I'm completely...well, on safe ground with all of this yet. We're moving fast - faster than I'm used to, and I can't help thinking...wondering...if you're moving faster than you should be, too."

She bit her lip, eying him through lowered lashes. "When we first met you swore blind you weren't in Los Angeles to find a woman. Now we're sleeping together. Don't you think it's...well...sudden?"

"Yes." Robin acknowledged, leaning back on the bed. "In truth, Nance, it was the last thing I was expecting. After burying Sian, I didn't think I'd ever fall for another woman. But if you're worried about Sian intruding between you and I, it's not going to happen. I'd never have taken any steps towards this if I thought my mind was elsewhere."

"I know that." Nancy told him, though her words held a faint note of doubt. "I just don't want you - or us - to speed into something we're neither of us quite prepared for. That's all. I've never felt like this before...I was in love with Dean, but I never felt so completely bowled over and, well, excited about things before. It's a little scary. I want to know that we're doing the right thing before one of us gets hurt."

"Do you think I'd hurt you, Nancy?"

"No. Not on purpose." Nancy sighed. "But I do feel vulnerable. And the more in love with you I get, the more vulnerable I become. I just want to be sure you know what you're doing, that's all. That you really have put past behind you and you are ready to move on."

Robin was silent for a moment, considering, and Nancy eyed him apprehensively as he got to his feet, moving to open the wardrobe door. He flicked idly through his clothes, selecting a pair of jeans and a sweater and tossing them onto the bed.

"I can see where you're coming from." He acknowledged at length, as the quiet threatened to become overwhelming. "You feel like you split up with Dean months ago, and that it was a dead relationship when you did. That now you've found you have feelings for me, you've nothing else holding you back. But you don't know if you're competing with a ghost or not for my affections...and I guess I can see the logic in that. I mean, Sian was my wife, and I was with her a long time. Defining any new relationship was going to always be a challenge and I didn't think I'd ever find one to define."

He paused, resting his gaze on her as a slight smile touched his lips.

"But then, you're not like most chicks I've met." He added. "You're nothing like her...not even a little bit. And I don't think of her when we're together, Nancy. I swear I don't. You've made me happy again...in a way I didn't think was even possible. You have to remember, Sian died almost four years ago now. Just because I kept myself in denial and mourning for most of that time doesn't make it any less true. I was holding on to a memory, not something real. Now I've come to terms with that, I've moved on. When I put it like that, does it seem quite so hurried?"

"No...I suppose it doesn't." Nancy stretched out on her stomach, resting her chin in her hands. "I'll be honest with you, too. Since I first fell for you, I've had more music coming out of me than I've ever had before. I've written love songs since Jewel started, but I've never meant the words I write for them. Often I've struggled to phrase things right, and more than once I've gotten Sadie to write them for me. But now, they're just coming...like it's the easiest thing in the world. My music only flows like that when I'm happy - and you make me happy. I just want to know I'm not going to lose you. That you are, you know, committed. I don't do flings...or experimental relationships. I need someone I can trust in."

"Well, considering the fact you spent the night here, Nancy, I'd like to think you trust in me." Robin cupped her chin in his hands, bending to kiss her gently on the lips. "But on the off chance that it's not enough, there is something else I wanted to talk to you about."

"Oh?" Nancy looked startled. "What kind of thing?"

"My Mom turns fifty soon." Robin said matter-of-factly, sinking down onto the bed and twisting his hand into her grip. "And my sister has written me to ask if I've some free time to come home and celebrate. I've not been to Carrowville at all since I came to set up home in Los Angeles, so it's a challenge to go back there and see what's changed. But I'm game to do it - for my Mom. She stuck by me through a lot of stuff, as you know, and she's a damn fine woman. I won't disappoint her."

"But...?" Nancy looked confused. "So you're going home...what's the point?"

"The point is that Mary Jane didn't just invite me." Robin said softly. "She asked you as well."

"Me?" Nancy's eyes became big. "She knows about me?"

"Yes." Robin looked rueful. "More than a little bit, actually. I have a tendency to wax lyrical about something when I like it."

"Oh God." Nancy buried her face in her hands. "What in hell did you tell them about me, that makes her want me to come to this little shindig?"

"That I was in love with you." Robin said simply. "And that I was pretty sure it wasn't just a passing fancy...that I hadn't just been wooed by a city chick and lost my senses. You're special - you understand music on my level, and that's rare. I told Mary Jane all those things, and she told me to bring you to Carrowville. She wants to meet you - the girl who's pulled her brother out of his dour sulks, as she put it. Do you think I'd ask you to come with me to my Mom's party if I wasn't in this for the long haul?"

"I guess not." Nancy admitted, though she looked troubled. "And I appreciate the gesture. But I don't know any of your family...and I don't know how I'd do in Carrowville. I'm not really a small town girl and they all knew Sian. Won't they be weirded out if you come home with a strange chick on your arm?"

"No...Mary Jane will have told them to expect it." Robin said calmly. "Apparently my mother is thrilled. She thinks it's about time her son got his head straight, or something to that effect. I think she's quite keen to meet the girl who's done it, too. You have to realise what you've achieved, Nancy. It's no mean feat."

Nancy sighed.

"Do I get a choice in this?" She asked. "Not to offend your family, Rob, or you...but I'm not really a people person. Taking me into a foreign environment as an ambassador for big city women...I'm not sure it's wise. And besides, we're sleeping together - but we're not married. Won't they all, like, wig out about that?"

"What exactly do you think Carrowville is like, Nance?" Robin looked amused. "Yeah, there are folk who'll whisper and talk about it, sure enough. But just because it's a small town and people all know each other and go to the same church each week, it doesn't mean that everyone's going to call down the devil on us because we're not married. My mother didn't marry my father till my sister was born - and she's close friends with the Mayor, so that should tell you something."

"Oh." Nancy looked sheepish. "Sorry."

"You don't have to be sorry." Robin grinned. "Just say you'll come with me. I'd like to show you my hometown, anyhow...I've seen yours, after all. Besides, it might be nice to go somewhere where people don't know you. I know y'all are big business across the States, but in some ways Carrowville is quiet. I don't know whether anyone would even make the link between you and Jewel there. They'd just take you on board as Nancy."

Nancy was silent for a moment.

"I still think this is a bad idea." She said at length. "You don't have to prove you love me by dragging me across the country to meet your family. It's not about that."

"No, I know. But I'd like it if you came...and so would they."

Nancy sighed.

"Fine." She said resignedly. "I'll talk to Mom. See if we've any time to spare. But I warn you - if she says no, it's no. Jewel are busy people...and even if we are going out, you're not her favourite person all of the time."

"I know, and I'll accept that." Robin kissed her on the cheek. "Thanks, Nance."

He grinned.

"Now, you should probably get dressed." He teased. "Because you told me you were in studio at half nine this morning and it's almost ten past now."

"What?" Nancy's eyes opened wide and she turned to glance at the clock, uttering a curse when she saw he was right. "Damn it! I had hoped to be back before the others were up and realised I didn't come home last night...I don't want to take twenty questions from Syl!"

"Aw, Nance, you shouldn't be embarrassed." Robin wrapped his arms around her waist. "You're more than old enough to have an adult relationship, and don't let Syl make you think you shouldn't. Just because she likes to play the barbie doll airhead doesn't mean she has the right to tease you about your life."

"It's not that." Nancy shook her head. "She just has as much of a bee in her bonnet about you as Mom does, and, well, I'm starting to think I like a quiet life."

She sighed, getting to her feet. "All right. I'm going to take a quick shower, get dressed and then get to work as soon as I can. If I'm going to speak to Mom about this trip, well, I'm gonna have to catch her in a good mood!"
 

Prologue: Flashback: University of Connecticut, Winter 2009
Chapter One: Starcrossed
Chapter Two: Tante Regine
Chapter Three: Flashback: University of Connecticut: Winter 2011
Chapter Four: The Poem
Chapter Five: A Shock
Chapter Six: Nancy Confesses
Chapter Seven: Flashback: Break Up
Chapter Eight: Blackmail
Chapter Nine: Conflict
Chapter Ten: Flashback: Assanti Meddles
Chapter Eleven: Pay Off 
Chapter Twelve: Stefana Gambles
Chapter Thirteen: University of Connecticut: Finals Week
Chapter Fourteen: Cracks
Chapter Fifteen: A Tiny Piece Of Truth
Chapter Sixteen: Flashback: Forever Changed
Chapter Seventeen: Secrets Will Out

Chapter Eighteen: Fall Out

Chapter Nineteen: Flashback: A New Life

Chapter Twenty: Darren Admits

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE NOTE
The copyright for the original Jem characters featured in this and other stories by me belongs entirely to Hasbro and their interpretations to Christy Marx and the other writers of the Sunbow Jem series. Their future selves are based on concepts that are entirely my own and are not to be repeated elsewhere without due permission.
All other characters, including their likenesses, are copyrighted to myself as webmistress of Jewel's World from 2001 to the present day and are not to be reproduced elsewhere without permission.
The Teenangel Outsiders, Jesta, Flame, Ryan Montgomery and the future interpretations of Aja, Danse and certain of the other original characters are all or in part the concept of Gemma Dawn whose teenangel outsider fiction world is twinned with Jewel's World. You can visit her site at www.teenangeloutsiders.com!
All events in the stories on this site are based on original ideas and are not rooted in any existing Jem fiction nor in any real life event or person.