Title: Charred

Author: Cat deLuna

Ratings: 17

Warnings: Violence, descriptions of rape (though not too graphic), and some sex

Disclaimers: This piece is completely original, and any resemblance to real people is a coincidence

Authors Note: This is an ongoing story that I'm working on.  At some moments, I jump ahead in time, and don't tell  you.  Sorry.  Also, I am in no way an expert on the NYPD or NYC; try not to hold it against me.  There may be some discrepancies in the plot; it's all my fault, deal with it.

Feedback E-mail Address: cat.deluna@gmail.com I'd love to hear any/all critiques, even if you don't like it.


Adoption agencies are either the stupidest enterprise we humans have come up with, or the best.  It all depends on who you're married to, and how much money you have.  I personally am not married; I don't honestly believe that my soul mate exists and I'm not willing to settle, and I'm not exactly made of money.  New York City loves its police force, but not enough to pay us good money.  No matter.  My current dilemma is about deciding which adoption agency to go to first.  It's not like it really matters, right?  All my coworkers tell me that I won't find a kid who I can adopt at the first one.  But what do they know?

When I first suggested to myself that I might want to look into having a kid, I ran away from the thought.  How could I, a seasoned detective, think to bring an innocent child into this god-awful world?  The guilt would kill me.  I don't know how parents do it.  Maybe I've just seen too much of the dark side of humanity, but I couldn't bear the pain of knowing that someone who I had given birth to would have to endure such pain.  But the idea of having a kid around kept nagging me, and since I never ignore my nags, I kept thinking about it.  In a rare drunken state after a hard case, I told my partner about the idea, and he suggested that I look into adoption.

So here I am, looking at printouts from the agencies that checked out.  Cop that I am, I ran background checks on all of them.  It's kinda scary how many came up dirty.  So now I had a list of 10 different places to check out.  I had already gone through the process with the State, and now all I had to do was find a place that would help me find a child who needed a home that I could work with.  It all sounded so simple, but my gut told me it would be anything but.  As usual, my instincts proved right.

Chapter 1

After 6 months of paper work, trial periods, and testing, the adoption was final.  Charlotte was now my daughter.  The blonde girl of the tender age of 14 was a bit leery about the whole endeavor, but I suspected her social worker had told her that I was her last chance.  Abandoned by her mother when she was 9, her shy nature had won her no ground with prospective parents.  The adoption rate for children over the age of 7 was horrifyingly low, I had learned, and Char was lucky to have found someone like me.  Or so I'd been told.

We had already had a week long trial period with her living with me, so she was familiar with my apartment and my routine, but both of us wondered what life was going to be like.  For my part, I had talked to my captain about this endeavor at length, and he had agreed to work with me about hours.  My next door neighbor was willing to check in on Char, as she liked to be called, from time to time when I was working late, and she was enrolled at the local school for next year.  It being June and all, it didn't seem like a good idea to put her in for the last few weeks.  She had agreed.  It all seemed so surreal.

I pulled my car into my designated spot and we climbed out.  I led the way to my, our, door in silence, nervous as a teenager on her first date.  I tried to think of something to say, but for once, words failed me.  I held the door open and let Char go in ahead of me.  She stopped in the entryway, and I gently nudged her into the kitchen.  I put my keys on the counter, and offered her something to drink.  She refused, and I saw something like fear in her eyes.

Walking over, I put my arms around her and hugged her tight.  To my surprise she let me hold her, and even leaned in a bit.  It went against everything I knew about her, and I realized then just how freaked out she really was.

"This is gonna work, Char, I promise," I said into her hair, and told myself that it would.  There was no way I was going to turn my back on her now.  In the 5 months since I had first met her, I had spent every moment I could with her; taking her to movies, lunch, dinner, everything I could think of to try and let her know that I was as committed to her as I could be.  I had risked being late three days a week to drive her to school, and I thanked God that my captain was supporting me in this.

I felt Char pull away slightly, and I released her.  Looking her in the eyes, I repeated what I'd said a few moments ago, "This is gonna work out, Char.  We'll fumble our way through it.  I promise."  The look she gave me; the hopelessness in her eyes, broke my heart.  This wasn't going to be as easy as I'd hoped.  But no matter, I'd make it work.  Eventually she would be secure in the knowledge that I wasn't going to abandon her.  I hoped.


The next morning my alarm went off at 5, as usual.  I hit the snooze once, then dragged myself off the sweat soaked sheets.  June in New York was like a month long sauna, with no relief in sight.  I never slept well in summer, it was just too damn hot.  I stumbled to the closet to find clothes; I eventually chose a light cotton blouse and the thinnest pants I could find.  Why I hadn't picked a job that let me wear shorts in the summer was beyond me.

Clothes in hand, I made my way down the hall on tiptoes to the bathroom.  I shuddered slightly as I turned the shower on; I wasn't used to being quiet in the morning, and the knowledge of the sleeping form just a few yards away made every noise ten times louder.  Not waiting for the water to warm up, I climbed in to take an icy shower.  It was the only time that day that I was cool.

After I was dressed I walked to the kitchen to make myself some coffee.  The old machine bubbled and gurgled itself to life just as it had every morning since I'd bought it, but today it sounded louder than a jet engine.  I hoped Char was a deep sleeper.

5 minutes later, coffee in hand, I sat down at the table to listen to the radio.  I never liked reading the paper, and TV news was never reliable.  The radio had a disconnected quality that I liked.  It didn't matter what the announcers were wearing, or how their makeup looked.

At six I stood and walked quietly to Char's room.  I knocked on the door gently, then pushed it open.  The girl was curled in a ball in the center of the bed; her blankets were on the floor.  I smiled slightly at her relaxed expression; she seemed so peaceful in sleep.  I hated to wake her, but had promised that I would before I left.

Walking over, I shook her shoulder slightly.

"Char, wake up kiddo," I said, and she woke with a start.  I helped her sit up, and pushed the hair out of her face.  Her features, so calm before, were now tight with some kind of fear.  I put my arms around her and held her close until the trembling stopped, and she pulled away.

"Hey kiddo, I've got to go to work, okay?" I asked tenderly, wishing that I could stay home with her.  "Will you be okay?"

"Yeah," she muttered, and I didn't need to be a cop to know that she was lying. "Listen, kiddo, I'll be coming home for my lunch break, round noon, and maybe we can go out to get a bite, how does that sound?"  I tried to think of what she might like to do.

"You don’t have to baby me ya know," she said quietly.  I smiled and ruffled her hair.  "Yeah?  Well, maybe I just want to have lunch with you."  She smiled then, and shook her head.

"Now, tell you what.  How bout you go back to sleep and call my cell when you get up, okay?  I left the number by the phone in the kitchen.  There's some food in the fridge, and I thought we could go out this evening to get some stuff that you'd like to have in the house."  She nodded, and I hugged her again before letting her lie back down.

"Try not to drown in sweat," I said as I walked out.  I felt bad about leaving her alone on her first day, but reminded myself again that there was no way I could take the day off.

I let myself out the front door quietly, and drove to work.  Char called around 9 to tell me that she was awake, and I told her that I would be home by twelve thirty to take her out to lunch.  When I asked her where she might like to go she got quiet and noncommittal.  We hung up a few seconds later.

"What's wrong?" my partner, Matt Stinson, asked from his desk across from me.

"Char got all quiet when I asked her where she wanted to go for lunch.  Something about her felt wrong."  When we'd first been paired together he'd often laughed at my gut feelings, but when time after time I'd been right, he learned to respect my instincts.

"So?" he asked, tossing some paper into the trashcan.

"So, I wonder what detail from her past freaks her out by talking about restaurants."

"Maybe she just couldn't decide where to go for lunch," he said, smiling slightly.  Suddenly his teasing was too much.  I trusted him to watch my back on the street, but he had been a pain in my ass for too long.  Lunging up, I came around our desks and grabbed his collar, dragging him up so that his nose was barely an inch from mine.

"Listen, you piece of crap, she lived through nine years of abuse from her drug addicted mother; only to be abandoned to the mercy of the State because her mother, and I use the term loosely, found a new boyfriend who didn’t like kids.  She doesn't have a tough time making decisions about where to eat for lunch; she's scared out of her mind that she's going to be abandoned again!"  I realized that I was yelling at the top of my lungs, and that the entire squad room was staring at me.  Fuming, I dropped Stinson and stormed out of the room.  I could hear footsteps behind me, and I quickened my pace; trying to outrun whoever was behind me.

"Crys, for the love of God, slow down."  It was the captain, a balding man who been my mentor 13 years ago when I was first with homicide before he was promoted to captain.  I stopped but didn’t turn around.

"Look, DeSuiesk, I know you're on edge, what with everything going on, but it's no reason to take it out on your partner," he said, his tone calm but stern.

"Captain," I said, turning around, but he cut me off.

"Go take a walk, calm down, then come back and apologize to Stinson."  He looked me in the eye.  "Being stressed is no excuse to get violent."

Just as suddenly as it had come up, I felt the anger drain out of me, and I suddenly felt limp.  The captain was right, of course, attacking Matt wasn't the way to get back at Char's mother.  I nodded silently to let the captain knew I'd heard him, then headed out to get some fresh air.  Again, using the term loosely.


After a short walk around the corner to get a cold soda, I headed back, mentally preparing myself for an apology.  Not my strongest suit, despite the frightening number of them I'd made.

"Hey," I said, walking up behind Stinson and tapping him on the shoulder.  "I, um, I'm sorry, bout earlier."  I looked at my shoes, embarrassed by what I'd done.

"Hey, don't sweat it.  I shouldn't have said what I did."  I looked up, and we smiled a little.

"You two fight like an old married couple," a sarcastic voice said from across the room.  I grinned wolfishly up at the tall man lounging against his desk.  Meet Bill Arlington; our very own conspiracy theory nut.

"You should know, Billy-boy," I teased, suddenly in a better mood, "You still sleeping on the couch after your last stint?"  We all laughed together, and the entire incident was forgotten.


A little before noon I stood up and announced that I was going home for lunch.  The guys nodded and started making their own plans.  I ducked out as they argued about which deli to go to, and drove home.

As I weaved my way through traffic, I felt a sudden pang of uncertainty.  What business did I have trying to raise a kid?  I had no idea what I was doing; I'd probably screw her up even more.  But before I could dwell on my own distrust I was home; and a minute later, I was walking in my—our—front door to find Char crying on the couch.

She was just sitting there, tears on her face, not making a noise.  I dropped my things by the door and ran over to her.  Her eyes were blank when she looked up to me, and my heart broke for her pain.

"Shh, baby, don’t cry.  I'm here," I murmured, pulling her to me.  She sat stiff, not pulling away, but not letting me comfort her.  At a loss for what to do, I just held her, whispering soft nothings into her hair, and let her cry.  Eventually she relaxed against me.

"Char?  Can you tell me why you were crying?" I asked softly, not releasing her.  I knew that it would be easier for her to speak if she wasn't looking me in the eye.

She shook her head against me, and I could feel her shaking.  I hugged her even tighter.  "It's okay, little one, you're safe.  It's okay.  Shhhh."

We sat like that for almost half an hour before she calmed down enough for me to make lunch.  We ate in silence, and I didn't try to insult her by making small talk.  I thought about her tears, and what she was so afraid of, and realized that she must be afraid of me abandoning her.  Her mother had left her when she was nine; she had no reason to believe that I was sticking around.  I contemplated it as I ate, and tried to come up with a solution.  The only one that came to mind, though, was to reassure her every chance I got  that I was coming home every day.  I tried not to think about what would happen if I had to pull a double shift.

Eventually it was time for me to head back out, and I tried desperately to think of a way to convince her that I was coming home.  It came to me as I hugged her goodbye.

"Hey Char?" I asked her.  She looked up.  "How would you feel about getting a cab downtown when I'm done with work, and we'll meet somewhere for dinner?"  She stared at me for a moment, then nodded.

"Kay, here, I'll give you some money for the cab," I pulled some cash out of my wallet, "And I'll call you when I'm near done and we'll figure out where we want to go, okay?"  She nodded again.  "And Char?"  I waited until she looked up from her shoes.

"Yeah?" she whispered, breaking her near silence.

"You can call me any time.  Even just to chat.  I may not be able to talk right then, but I'll do my best.  I promise."  She nodded, and I reached out to brush the tearstains on her cheeks.

"I'll see you later then, kiddo."  After one last hug, I left.

I drove back to the precinct with a knot in the pit of my stomach.  I couldn't help but wonder how long it would take before Char trusted me to come home, and how my job would get in the way of that.  I love what I do; I'm working my dream job, but being away from Char was hard.  Harder than I'd ever thought it would be.  It scared me a little, the fact that I was getting so attached to a girl I barely knew, but my heart told me that it would be okay.


I called home twice during the day to talk with Char for a bit each time.  She wasn't very vocal, but seemed to be reassured by my calls.  I wished I could do more.

Just before I was going to call her again to talk about our dinner plans, my captain came out of his office and told us that we had a case.  I felt my stomach drop; our evening was going down the toilet as I listened to him outline the case.

"DeSuisk?  A moment?"  The captain beckoned to me, and I followed him to his office silently.  He closed the door behind me, then leaned on his desk.

"If you want out of this case, I'll understand.  I know you need to get home to Char."  I thought about in a moment.  On one hand, I wanted to take the out and get home to the girl who was counting on me, but on the other, I knew I couldn't.  I tried to reason with the part of me that needed to take the case; I told myself that Char needed me more right now, but eventually the need to catch the guy won.

"I appreciate that, Cap, but I can't take the offer."  He looked at me with intense brown eyes, and nodded.

"Why don't you call her and get her down here for the night.  I'm sure she can hang in the crash room until you're done."  I looked up at him from my shoes and wished I could hug him.

"Thanks, Cap."  I hoped he knew just how much his offer meant.

I left his office with higher spirits and went to my desk to call Char.

"Hello?" she answered after three rings.

"Hey kiddo," I said.

"Hey," she said, her voice quivering with anticipation.  I hated myself for ruining our plans.

"Char, I'm going to tell you something, and I want you to listen to everything I say before you react.  Okay?"

"Yeah," she said, voice quiet.

"We just caught a case, and I'm going to need to be here for most of the night, but my captain suggested that you come down and spend the night here.  We've got bunks where you can crash if you want to, or you can hang out at my desk."  I held my breath as she thought about it.


"Yeah, okay."  Her voice had an odd tone, but I couldn't figure out what she was feeling.  I wished I didn't have to do this.

"I'm really sorry about dinner, Char.  I'm sure I'll be able to get away for a little to eat; we can spend some time together then, kay?"  She murmured an affirmative, then confirmed where she should direct the taxi.  I told her that I probably wouldn't be here when she got to the station, but to ask for me anyway.  I'd leave instructions with the front desk to direct her to our squad room, and someone would take care of her.  We hung up after saying goodbye, and I stood to get ready to go.

My partner shot me a curious look, but knew better than to ask me what was going on.  Before we left I spoke with the front desk, and made sure that someone in the squad room would send Char to my desk.

I drove us to the scene; after our first week together Matt realized that I would go insane if he drove; he wasn’t very daring.  It took us fifteen minutes to find the place; an old restaurant that looked like it hadn't been painted in years.  We flashed our badges to the uni on guard by the yellow tape and ducked under.

The first officer on the scene was waiting for us by the body; a blond man who looked to be about twenty-five who was lying in a pool of blood.

"Any ID?" I asked as I squatted by the body; taking a look without touching anything and careful not to disturb the blood pool.

"Yeah, about fifteen of them.  None of 'em look like his," the officer said.  I looked up at him quizzically.  He held up a stack of evidence bags with a different driver's license in each.  I stood and took a look at them.  A few were women, and all of them were obvious forgeries.  Handing them over to Matt, I walked around a little, looking at everything.

A few minutes later the Crime Scene Unit arrived, along with the medical examiner.  He told us that the apparent cause of death was blunt force trauma to the back of the head, which explained the blood, but didn't have much more to add.  We took a few notes, looked at the evidence the CSUs were bagging, then headed back to the station.

It took us more than thirty minutes to get back; what with traffic and all.  By the time we got were in the door it was 7:30.  As soon as we walked in we realized that the air conditioning was out of commission again; it was sweltering in the stationhouse.  I pushed hair out of my face as we walked through the double doors into our squad room and looked around to find Char.

She was sitting at my desk, feet propped up, reading a book.  I smiled; she obviously had no idea that that was my preferred position, especially on late nights like these.  Walking over, I laid a hand on her shoulder.  She jumped a little, then turned and smiled up at me.

"Hey," she said, obviously happy about something.

"Hey yourself, kiddo.  How long've you been waiting?" I asked, putting my notes on the desk.

"I've been here about an hour.  Your captain is really cool."  I looked at her with a  bit of surprise, then shot a glance at his closed door.


"Yeah, he gave me a tour of the station, and lent me this book about criminal law.  Did you know that the habius corpus laws have been around since medieval times?" she asked excitedly.  "Or that the NYPD was modeled after London's police department, and that it's the largest police force in the world?"  I laughed.

"Yes and yes," I said, ruffling her hair.  "Why so interested in the force all of a sudden?"  She shrugged.

"Cause it's cool?" she said, turning back to her book.

"Well, if you ever want to learn more, I'm sure the captain's got a few more books you could take a look at."  As if summoned, the captain stuck his head out and beckoned to Matt and me.

"I've got to go update the captain on our case, kiddo.  Let me know if you need anything."

"What about dinner?" she asked.

"I'll see what I can do.  We usually order take out when we're working late."  She nodded and turned back to her book.  I smiled and headed to the captain's office with my notes.

"So, Cap, you filling my daughter's mind with criminal history for me?" I asked, taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of his desk.

"She wanted something to read.  Who am I to stifle an inquisitive mind?" he asked, spreading his hands in innocence.  I snorted.

"So, tell me about your guy."

"John Doe, had fifteen fake driver's licenses on him; preliminary COD is blunt force trauma to the back of the head.  We'll know more after the ME opens him up."  I gave him the brief overview of our case, knowing from experience that he didn't want the details just yet.

"Well, start with looking into the fake IDs.  Talk with vice to see if they've got anything on him, and run him through all the systems; maybe the feds've got him in their radar."

"Prolly not, Cap'n, the fakes weren't very good.  One look and you'd know they weren't real," Matt said.

"Run him through anyway.  Also, check Missing Persons.  Sounds like he walked outside the law, but maybe not."  He paused and stared at each of us for a moment.  "Let's get to work."  I stood and let Matt walk out before me.

"I'll talk to Vice," I said as we went over to our desks.  Char was still sitting at mine.

"I'll start the search," Matt agreed.

"Hey kiddo, why don't I set you up at a different desk so I can get to work?" I asked Char, looking around for an empty desk for her to read at.

"Sure," she said, standing.  I motioned her over to Bill's deserted desk.  I reminded her gently not to look into any files, and left her to her book.

Returning to my desk I sat down and picked up the phone, dialing the vice squad.  I spoke with a few people before being referred to a detective.

"Detective Bavish," he answered.

"DeSuiesk; Homicide," I said, "I've got a DB who might have shown up on your radar.  Looks like he made fake IDs.  If I send you a pic, do ya think you might be able to finger him?"

"I dunno, how much is it worth to you?" he asked, a smirk in his voice.  I pulled the phone away from my ear and starred at it incredulously.

"Excuse me?" I said into the receiver after a moment.  "What did you say?"


Soon two months had passed, and we had settled into a routine of sorts.  I woke early and went to work; usually leaving a note for Char.  I told her as often as I could that I would be coming home in the evening; not leaving her for some druggy as her mother had.  I called her at home when I could, sometimes using my cell from the car as we sped to a scene.  When I took a lunch break I would come home and we'd eat together.  Sometimes she would catch a taxi to the station and we'd go out with Matt.  She seemed to like coming in with me, and soon the squad had adopted her as their unofficial mascot.  She liked the attention the guys gave her, and opened up a little during our lunches together.  Some days I'd get her up early, and she'd come in with me.  It never even occurred to me to not expose her to my workplace; it seemed as natural as breathing to me to want to spend all the time I could with her.


Some time is was hard; she would relapse into a state of melancholy and wouldn't speak to anyone for days on end.  Those days I would call every hour, even taking the day off to be with her if I could.  I would hold her close, and when she pushed me away I would slip notes under her door.  Eventually she would come out and we would talk.  I promised her over and over again that we were in this for the long haul, and sometimes she even believed it.

It came as a shock when her social worker dropped in one day.  We were sitting at the table playing monopoly, a game Char had taken to with a passion after I first introduced her to it.  She had a natural talent for it; and I almost always wound up with no money and ass deep in debt to her.  It was one of her better days, and I was comfortable teasing her about buying Boardwalk out from under her nose.  We were both laughing when the knock came, and I almost missed it.  Char was the one who looked up and motioned me to the door.  I had told her soon after she moved in that I was paranoid, and that it would take me a while to relax about certain things.  I assured her that I trusted her completely to do the right thing, that it was the rest of the world that worried me.  She seemed to understand, and she accepted it as just another quirk I had.

I stood up and moved to the front door, looking through the peep hole.  I opened the door with a smile when I saw the social worker's familiar face.

"Hey Molly, how's it goin?" I asked cheerfully.  She smiled tightly, and I backed up to let her in.  I had every respect for a woman who could deal with the things she did, but it didn't mean that I liked her any more.  I was as polite as I could be, but it was only for Char's sake.  We walked in, and her beady eyes swept over the room, looking for anything she might deem inappropriate.  Her eyes lit on some files I had brought home on the pretext of looking over them.  The fact was that I had forgotten them as soon as Char had challenged me to a game of monopoly.

Molly walked over to the offending folders and started flipping through them.  I would be cordial as possible, but they were private police files, and my captain would have my ass in a sling if he found out someone without a badge had seen them.

"I'm sorry but you can't look through those.  Their confidential police files."  I walked over and stared the taller woman down.  She relented and set them back on the counter.  I started to breath a sigh of relief, but she wasn't done with me yet.

"Why did you bring them home, if no one is supposed to see them?" she asked, looking me directly in the eye.  I didn't flinch; she didn't scare me.  Well, not that much.

"Because I thought I might get some work done later.  We got distracted by a game of monopoly."  I tried to smile, but her stony glare dimmed the brightness.  I tried to salvage the situation, but I could already feel Char retreating into herself.  I kicked myself for getting into a sparring match with Molly.

"Aren't you worried that Charlotte might get into them?" the social worker asked, moving to the kitchen.  I was careful to keep it well stocked with healthy food; both because I liked it that way, and because Molly was liable to drop in at any time.

"Of course not," I moved to put my arm around Char's shoulders, and was thankful that she understood enough to lean into me a little.  "Char understands that their confidential, and I trust her to not get into them."  I followed her into the kitchen, where she began opening cabinets at random.  My fists clenched involuntarily; I didn't like people prying into my life.  I forced myself to relax, and shared a secret smile with Char.  She grinned back at me; knowing me well enough by now that I didn't like Molly any more than she did.  It sometimes amazed me that most adults didn't think kids could understand these things.

"Everything looks good in here," Molly muttered reluctantly.

"Would you like to take a look through the rest of the house?" I asked, all trace of sarcasm careful edited out of my voice.  I was the picture of compliance.  She looked at me and got a little smile on her face.

"Thank you, but no.  I've got a number of other stops to make; all of them much higher risk than you two."  It was the closest she'd ever come to complimenting my new role as mother.  It was disconcerting.  I had come to expect Molly to be a harsh tyrant that Char and I could laugh about after she left.

Without another word, Molly was at the door, then out in the hallway.  I was truly stunned.  The one thing we could both count on was changing.  Char caught my eye as the door closed and we both burst out laughing a few seconds later.  It felt so good to be happy with my young charge.  I felt a sudden surge of love for the girl child next to me, and I reached out on instinct to hug her.  I pulled her close, and she responded by hugging me tight.

"I love you, kiddo," I murmured into her hair.  She stiffened; I'd never said anything like that to her before.

"Ya," she replied into my shirt, "You're a pretty cool mom."  My heart sang for joy.  It had been hard at first for both of us; trying to figure out how we fit together.  This was the first time she'd ever come close to calling me anything like mother.  I had known at some level that I was doing a good job with her, but it was something else entirely to hear it from her.

"You're an awesome kid, ya know that?" I said, trying to convey some of the emotion I was feeling.  I knew in that moment what unconditional love was; I would give my life in an instant for this tender child; without hesitation, without fear.  I wonder if all mothers feel like this.

"Are we gonna get back to the game?" Char asked from my arms, and I let her go with a kiss on the top of her head.

"I wonder if I should let Molly know that you enjoy kicking my ass so much," I said, teasing.  She laughed and handed me the dice.

"Just for that I'm going to recall all my loans right now," she said, deal breaker to the core.  I groaned and tried to bargain my way out of the threat.  Where was a good defense lawyer when you needed one?


"DeSuiesk, my office for a second?"  The captain beckoned me with a single finger.  One finger meant I wasn't in trouble; two meant that he was pissed, but not at me; and the whole hand, well, that meant you'd really screwed up and he knew it.

"Close the door," he ordered when I walked in.  I wondered if this was going to be about my partner.

"Crys, you've been with me for 13 years now; you're one of my best detectives," he said, taking a seat at his desk.  "As you already know, Stinson has requested a transfer to Narcotics."  I had known about my partner's transfer request, but I didn't realize it might be happening so quickly.  We'd always gotten along fairly well; and I'd be sad to not have him at my back anymore.  "It just came through today.  You're new partner is coming over from Assault.  Her name's Alexandra Wilding.  She's fairly new to the force; I'm hoping you can take her under your wing a bit."  My mind was reeling.  A female partner?  My skill on the street; in the interrogation room, was all based on playing off a male partner.  This would be a huge change; and one that I was less than prepared for.

"You're joking right?" I asked, hoping it was all some ruse set up by the squad to get back at me for something.  The look on the captain's face told me it wasn't.

"Okay," I took a deep breath, "When's she getting here?"  I was going to be stuck with a female partner, I might as well make the best of it.  I loved my job, and there was no way a new partner was going to ruin it for me.  The rest of the squad was still intact, my life wasn't totally up in arms.

"Any moment.  Look, Crys," he started, but whatever he was going to say was lost when someone knocked on the door.

"Come in," the captain said, shooting me a warning look.  I sighed.  This certainly was going to be interesting.

The door opened, and a tall, dark haired woman walked in.  Her hair was close cropped, just long enough to get in her eyes.  I wondered how she survived on the streets like that.  Her eyes were black as coal; I couldn't make out the pupils.  She was wearing black jeans and a white t-shirt; a gun prominently displayed on her hip.  Walking with a bit of a swagger she approached the captain's desk and stopped.  I wasn't sure if she'd seen me, sitting to one side, or not.

"Alex Wilding, reporting for duty, sir," she said in vaguely accented voice.  The captain stood up and extended a hand to her.  She shook it and remained standing after the captain regained his seat.

"Wilding, I'd like you to meet your new partner, Detective Crys DeSuiesk."  I stepped forward, and stood a little to close to the new woman; trying to get her off center.  I had played with the boys long enough to know how to intimidate a woman, and I felt the undeniable urge to mark my territory for her.  She looked down at me with a small smirk on her face, and extended a hand.  I took it and shook it hard; trying to gauge her muscle.  She didn't seem to want to play the game.  I sighed inside, and smiled at her.

"Welcome to homicide, Detective.  Captain, do you need to talk to her, or shall I give her the tour?" I asked, turning to the man behind the desk.  He seemed amused at my power display and Alex's indifference.

"Go ahead, DeSuisk.  Wilding, I'm sure we'll talk in the future.  Feel free to come to me with any concerns."  He smiled and I led the way out the door.  Walking over to my desk, I felt her black eyes bore holes in my back.

Pointing to Stinson's cleaned out desk, I said, "I guess this'll be yours.  We've got lockers over there," I pointed, "But you'll need to bring your own lock."  I introduced her to the rest of the squad, and was running out of things to say when we got the call for a scene.  We grabbed our jackets and headed out the door.  I drove, and twenty minutes later we were pulling up at the yellow crime scene tape and the responding officers.  We got out of the car and walked over to the uniformed officer standing guard against curious citizens.  I smiled.

"Sergeant Dickson, I didn't know you were still on patrol," I said.  It was an old joke between us.  We had gone through the academy together, and while I had chosen the path of detective he preferred to stay in his squad car and break up bar fights.

"How are ya, Crys?" he asked as we ducked under the tape.  "New partner, I see."  I motioned to Alex.

"Pete, Alex.  Alex, Pete."  They exchanged pleasantries, then we headed into the building.  The ME greeted us at the body; a 15 year old stab victim, he said, ID said he had been attending St. Peter's High.  His name was Charles Sweeting.  I swallowed hard.  Ever since I'd adopted Char the younger vics had hit me harder.

We stayed at the scene for about an hour, and by the time we got back to the station after running by the lab it was almost time for lunch.  We sat down at our desks and Alex started putting the file together.  She looked like she'd be there for a while.

"Hey," I said to get her attention.  She looked up.

"Listen, I'm gonna go out for lunch.  You wanna come?"  I had decided to try to be nice; after all, it wasn't her fault she'd been assigned to me.  And she'd seemed competent enough at the scene.

"Sure, whatever.  Let me just finish this up."  I nodded and stood up to get ready.  A few minutes later we were out the front door.  We ate lunch at a small diner down the street; going over the case until our food was cold.  After we'd paid the check we decided to head over to the lab to get the preliminary results.  I realized as we left that it was after 1 and I hadn't called Char.  Apologizing to Alex, I dialed in the car.

"Hey," she answered, recognizing the number.

"Hey, kiddo.  Sorry I didn't call earlier, I got wrapped up in a case," I said, maneuvering skillfully through traffic.

"It's okay.  How's your day going?" she asked nonchalantly.  I loved it when she was relaxed enough with me to hold a two sided conversation.

"It's been okay.  I've been assigned a new partner."  I glanced over at Alex when I said it, wondering who she thought I was talking to.

"Really?  What's his name?"  Char sounded excited.  She'd never been overly fond of Stinson, and the prospect of meeting someone new on the squad seemed to appeal to her.

"Her name's Alex Wilding," I replied with a bit of emphasis on the female pronoun.

"They paired you with another woman?  That's awesome!  When can I meet her?"  I laughed at her enthusiasm.  It wasn't so long ago that she was reluctant to meet my previous partner.

"Well kiddo, maybe tomorrow you can come in with me.  How does that sound?"  I looked over at Alex again.  She was staring out the window, ignoring our conversation.

"Sounds great!" came the excited reply on the other end, and after saying goodbye we hung up.

Alex looked at me with a quirked eyebrow as I put the phone away.  I smiled and turned my attention back to the road.

"My daughter," I said, trying unsuccessfully to keep the pride out of my voice.

"Oh?" she asked in a strangled voice.  I grinned; most people reacted that way.

"Yeah, I adopted her a few months ago.  Her name's Char."  I looked over to try and gauge my new partner's expression.  She had a strong jaw, and intense black eyes that could see through plate steel.

"So, you got family?" I asked when she didn’t respond to the information about Char.  She looked surprised at the question.

"No, I’m single.  I take it you're married?"  I snorted at the idea.

"No," I said, pulling into the lot.  "Haven't met my mate yet."  She looked like she would've pursued the conversation, but the cool air of the morgue seemed to dampen any wish for conversation.

After waiting for half an hour for the report on the kid, we headed back to the station to talk to the parents.  My stomach was in a knot; there is nothing worse than telling a mother that her child is dead.  It's like watching someone fall into a million pieces right in front of your eyes; like pulling a person's heart out with forceps and no anesthetic; and the only thing that will dull the pain is gone.  I never really understood that feeling; I'd never known just how much one person could love another.  Char had changed that.  I dreaded the interview; the need to ask the hard questions and the ensuing investigation.

With a heavy heart I walked into the squad room with Alex behind me.  I saw the mother sitting near our desks, with her husband behind her.  I took a deep breathe, trying to prepare myself for what was to come, and stepped forward.

"Mr. and Mrs. Sweeting," I started, but couldn't continue when they turned tearstained faces too me.

"Maybe it would be best if we talked in private," Alex said, and motioned us toward an interview room.  I took the few seconds it took to walk over to compose myself; to push images of the body out of my head.

"Please, they said there was news about our son.  Have you found him?" the woman asked, her voice tortured.  I swallowed hard, trying desperately to keep my emotions out of my voice.

"I'm very sorry, Mrs. Sweeting, your son is dead."  Nothing could soften the truth, and I didn't insult them by trying.  But the look in her eyes…it was like cold fire that seemed to drown out everything else.  Her husband reached out slowly and took her hand.  It was like he'd taken away her last defense against the tears.  They streamed down her face; her shoulders shook as she sobbed into her husband's chest.  He looked at us with broken eyes, "How?" he asked simply.

"We believe your son was murdered.  We need to ask you and your wife some questions, but they can wait for a day," Alex said softly.

"No, I want to do everything I can, now," he said, anger in his voice.  I exchanged a look with Alex.  She nodded slightly, and walked over to the couple across the table.

"Mrs. Sweeting, how bout you come with me?  Let me get you something to drink," she said softly, and took the woman from her husband.

"Mr. Sweeting," I started to say when they'd left, "I'm so sorry for your loss."  He shook his head, as if denying my words.

"Let's just, just ask your questions," he said, his voice strained.  He seemed to be holding on by just a thread.

"When did your son go missing?" I asked, pulling a pad of paper and a pen toward me to take notes.

"Two nights ago," he said, looking at his hands.  "He stayed late at school to practice."

"He was involved in sports?" I asked.

"No, he played the trombone.  He was getting better."  I waited until the man had himself under control before continuing.

"When did you know he was missing?"

"He didn't call, and he wasn't at any of his friends' houses.  We checked.  He just, never came home."  He started sobbing, face buried in his hands.  I reached out and squeezed his shoulder.

"Why don't you go out and be with your wife.  We can continue in the morning."  He looked up at me with tear bright eyes and nodded silently.  I walked him out to Alex and his wife.  They embraced, and I assured them that we would call tomorrow.

After they left I turned to my new partner.  Some time during the day we'd created a connection that most people could only dream of with a partner.

"Does it ever…get any easier?" she asked with a  slight tremble in her voice.

"No.  But then, I don't think it should."  I met her black eyes.  She nodded, understanding what I was saying.

"Hey, it's after five, you want to call it a day?  We'll get a fresh start in the morning."  She nodded, but the empty look was still in her eyes.  I patted her shoulder, but didn't know how else to comfort her.  Instead I grabbed the few things I needed to get home, and started to leave.

"You going home?" I asked, turning back to the woman slouched at her desk.  She looked up.

"Naw, I was gonna spend some time looking over the case."

"Whatever."  I wasn't going to concern myself with her health habits, or lack there of.  A part of me felt bad for leaving her alone, but since she obviously didn't want company, there was nothing I could do.

I managed to beat the evening traffic, and made it home early.  Char was in the kitchen, getting things out for dinner.

"Hey kiddo," I said, dropping my things in the living room and walking into the kitchen.

"Hey," she replied.  "How was your day?"  I sighed and went to the fridge.  I stuck my head in and looked around for something to drink.  No alcohol, of course, but I found a bottle of root beer to sooth my hot throat.

"Well?" she asked, and I turned to find her standing over me with a  spatula in one hand, and a demanding look on her face.  It would've been hilarious if I hadn't been so depressed.

"It…I had to tell a couple that their fifteen year old son was murdered."  I usually tried to keep the hard parts of my job away from Char, but today I just needed to vent a little.  "God, she just feel apart…" I took a swig of my root beer, not looking at Char.  She came over and put a hand on my shoulder.

"Any leads?" she asked quietly.  I wondered briefly how she knew what to say, and how she made it sound so…comforting.

"No, we only caught it today.  Didn't even get a chance to interview the parents yet.  Hell of a way for my new partner to get her feet wet, eh?"

"Tell me about her," Char coaxed, sensing that I didn't want to talk about the case.  I shrugged.

"She's tall, black hair and eyes, she's single, can handle herself in the field.  She seems competent, but she over works herself."  I rattled off my observations as I'd been trained.

"You got all that after one day with her?" Char asked incredulously, turning to the stove where a pot of meat sauce bubbled slightly.


"I guess I can't come in tomorrow then?"

"I don't think so, Char," I said with a sigh.  I'd explained to her early on that she couldn't be around if I knew we were going to be interviewing people.  "I'm sorry, I know you wanted to meet Alex."  I was suddenly exhausted, and didn't want to deal with anything else right now.

"When's dinner?"

"Just a few more minutes," Char said, distracted at the stove.

As promised, a few minutes later I helped her dish out the spaghetti for us, and set the plates on the table.  We ate in silence.

"How was your day?" I asked suddenly when I'd finished.

"Okay," she said, wiping her plate with a  piece of bread.

"Just okay?"

"Yeah, I finished a book, watched a movie; you know the usual stuff."

"Well, if you ever get bored, I'm sure we could figure out something for you to do."  She nodded, but didn’t suggest anything.

"You wanna watch a movie with me?" I asked, changing the subject.


"I'll get the kitchen cleaned up, why don't you go pick something out?"  She agreed, and I started to clear off the table.  I had just started to wash them in the sink when the phone rang.

"Char!" I called, my hands covered in soapy water.  "Can you get that?"  The ringing stopped a moment later, so I assumed she'd gotten it.  I wondered who would be calling this late at night.

"It's for you," Char said, holding the phone in one hand.  I twisted around and showed her my soapy hands.

"Who is it?"

"Your new partner."  I raised an eyebrow and turned the water on to rinse my hands off.

"Tell her I'll be just a moment."  Char nodded, and repeated what I'd said into the receiver.  I quickly dried my hands and reached for the phone.


"It's Alex.  Sorry to be calling so late," she started.  I looked at the clock; it was seven.

"It's fine.  What's up?"

"I just read over the ME's report on Sweeting, and thought you might like to know that he was high when he died."  I swore.

"What was he on?" I asked, leaning against the counter.

"LSD.  Report says that there were lethal amounts in his system; if he hadn't been stabbed he'd've ODed."

"Son of a bitch," I muttered, pushing stray strands of hair out of my face.  "The DA'll just love this."

"It gets better," Alex said, and I sighed.


"From the looks of the needle marks on his body, he's been using for a while."

"God damn it!" I shouted and turned to punch the wall.  My knuckles split, but the pain didn't register.

"Crys?" Alex asked from the other end.  I let out a string of curses that would've made a sailor proud.  Char came in from the living room and stared at me.  I tried to contain my anger, but the damage was done.  She looked scared, and before I could do anything she ran to her room and closed the door.

"Damn it," I muttered.

"What's wrong?" Alex asked, sounding worried.

"Nothing," I said.  "Thanks for letting me know; we can deal with it in the morning.  I've got to go."  Without waiting for her to respond I hung up and put the phone down on the counter.

The Sweeting case was about to get interesting, and Char was upset that I'd gotten angry.  Her mother had been an angry drunk, and every time I lost my temper she got scared.  If I didn't do something to repair the damage, she'd be depressed for days, and it wasn't fair to make her do that for something that wasn't her fault.

Leaving the dishes in the sink, I walked slowly to her door and knocked softly.

"Char?"  No answer.  I knew the door was locked, but I tried anyway.

"Please, kiddo, let me in.  I'm not angry at you; Alex told me some bad news about our case and I lost it.  It had nothing to do with you, I promise.  Please let me in to explain."  Still no response.

"Char?"  I heard her shift on her bed, but no footsteps.

"I'm gonna go get some paper; I'll be right back."  With no other way of getting to her, I had found that slipping notes under her door worked.  I found my notebook and a pen, and sat down outside her door.

"I'm back," I told her, and started writing a note.

I'm sorry I yelled; the kid who was murdered was high on acid.  It means that our case is going to get a lot harder, and I don't want to tell his parents that he was doing drugs.  As a kid I'd always wanted someone to tell me the truth about something; so that's what I did with Char.  I folded the paper in half, and stuck it under the door.

"Please read the note," I said, and a few seconds later heard her walk across the room.

I leaned against the opposite wall and waited.  A minute later the paper appeared again.

Why did you yell?

I thought about it for a moment, wondering what she was asking.

Because I was afraid of his mother's reaction, and cause I think that he was probably killed because of the drugs, and it makes me angry that kids are dying for drugs.

It was as close to the truth as I could get.  I pushed the paper back under the door; wishing that I could talk with her; but knowing that she needed space right now.  The note came back.

You scared me.

"I know kiddo; I’m so sorry.  I'm not mad at you.  I'm not really mad any more at all," I said and held my breath.  Slowly the door opened and Char came out.  I could see tears on her face as I held my arms open to her.  She stepped over the threshold and collapsed into my embrace.  I held her close, cradled her against me, and let her cry onto my shoulder.

"You're safe kiddo, you're safe," I murmured into her hair over and over again.  After a while she stopped crying, and a few minutes after that the shakes stopped as well.

"I'm sorry, but you'll have to continue using my shirt for a tissue; I don't see any in the near vicinity," I said with a slight smile.  She laughed a little and sniffed.

"I'm so sorry," I apologized sincerely to her.

"I know," she whispered.  I held her for a moment longer, then let her pull away.  She wiped at her eyes and stood up.

"You still want to watch that movie?" I asked quietly, not sure if she was stable enough yet.

"I guess," she said, still whispering.  I stuck my hand up to her.

"Then give an old woman a hand up, eh?"  She laughed and helped me stand.  I exaggerated a groan, and pretended to hold my back.

"Stop complaining," she said as we walked to the living room.  "It could be a lot worse.  You could have arthritis."  I grinned and threw a pillow at her affectionately.  She caught it easily and lobbed it back to me.

"So, what're we watching?" I asked, settling into the couch.  Her first night with me, Char had claimed the easy chair as her own, and I'd never seen the point in trying to get it back.

"How bout Heartbreak Ridge?" she asked, putting the tape into the VCR.

"I didn't know I still had that," I said, grabbing the remote from the coffee table.  Char sat down without saying anything, and we started the movie.

Two hours later, when the movie was over, and after I'd tucked Char into bed, I sat back on the couch and flipped open a folder I'd brought home.  It was an open homicide investigation; my first case with the unit.  A twenty-two year old woman had been drowned in the Hutchison and left to be half-eaten by carrion birds before we got to her.  We'd never IDed her, or found out who wanted her dead.  It ate at me; the way the birds had eaten at her flesh, and every few months I reread the file; looking for a connection that I'd missed before.  I read through my notes until midnight, then got ready for bed.

I lay awake, staring at the ceiling, until two, when I finally managed into a fitful sleep.  Images of half-eaten corpses filled my dreams; their faces strangely clear.  I had the nightmare every time I read the file; each face belonged to the victim of an unsolved murder.  I twisted in my sleep, and woke with a start on the floor, a sharp pain in my head.

I'd fallen out of bed and hit my forehead on my dresser.  I reached up and felt a slight trickle of blood coming from the gash.  I sighed and walked to the bathroom in the dark.

When the door was closed I flipped the light on; wincing at the sudden brightness.  The cut wasn't as bad as I'd though; I rinsed it off and put a band aid on it.  It wasn't the first time I'd injured myself while sleeping; in fact, it was minor to some of the things I'd done as a kid.

I looked at the small clock on the counter; it's green display said it was almost five.  Time for me to get up.  I turned the light off and walked back to my room to get clothes for the day.

I picked out black slacks and a dark blue blouse, and pulled underwear out of the drawer.  Clothes in hand, I went back to the bathroom and showered.  The band aid on my forehead came off in the hot water, and I let it wash down the drain.  The water was tinted red for a moment, then the blood stopped.  I washed my hair, and was surprised at the sting on my knuckles.  I'd forgotten the split skin.  It hadn't hurt until now, and seemed to be making up for lost time.  My whole hand ached as I dried myself off and got dressed.

My eyes felt gritty with lack of sleep, but I forced myself to go through my routine.  I made coffee and drank a cup before waking Char briefly to tell her that I was leaving.  I gave her a quick hug, and a kiss on the cheek, and closed the door quietly behind me.  Grabbing my keys I walked out the front door.

The hot air on the street hit me like at wet blanket; it was suffocating, reaching it's wet fingers under my shirt and insinuating itself into every opening on my body.  I was sweating in moments.

It took me longer than usual to get to work today; the heat seemed to make the city slow down a little.  I longed for the snow we would have in a few months as I walked in the front doors.

"Parents are here, Crys, let's go."  I blinked at my partner and dropped my few things on my desk, getting ready for a long day.

"Ready."  I followed her to the interview room where the parents were waiting.  They sat, backs to the door, holding hands.  I swallowed hard.

"Mr. and Mrs. Sweeting," I started.  They turned and looked at me with hollow eyes.  "Thank you for coming in to talk to us.  I know how hard this can be."  I sat down across from them.  Alex stood for a moment longer, then pulled out a chair next to me.

"I know you only want to find the man who, who murdered—" Mrs. Sweeting's voice cracked, and I saw tears in her eyes.

"We just want some closure," her husband said, holding her close.

"You said yesterday that he stayed late at school to practice his trombone, is that correct?"


"Do you know if anyone else was there with him?" Alex asked.  They both shook their heads.

"Did you know your son was doing drugs?" I asked gently, wishing there were an easier way to get the information.

"What?" Mrs. Sweeting gasped.  "My son would never do drugs!  I would know."  She broke down crying again.

"I'm very sorry, but we found a lethal dose of LSD in his system."


Another month passed, and Char started school.  We were both a bit leery about the prospect, though for different reasons.  I was thankful that I we lived near a decent public school; Char wouldn't have to take public transportation to get to school, and I wouldn't have to pay tuition to a closer one.  But all the same, the prospect of forcing my shy charge into school seemed cruel and unusual.  In our brief conversations about her past life she had told me horror stories about her childhood and her mother.  I wanted to protect her from as much pain as I could, and only my strong sense of civic duty forced me to acknowledge the fact that she had to go to school.

Char wanted nothing more than to hide under her bed on the first day of school, so I called in and told the captain I needed half the day off.  He agreed with a smile in his voice; he had raised three kids of his own, and told me that he'd inform Alex that I'd be late.

I went into Char's room, deciding that I needed to be as cheerful as possible to get her spirits up, no matter how stupid I thought this endeavor was.

"Hey kiddo, rise and shine," I said, walking in.  Char was a lump under the covers.  I sat down and gently rubbed her back.  She didn't respond.

"Come on kiddo, I know this is hard, but ya gotta get up and do it any way."  My heart broke when I saw tears on her face.  I felt like I was kicking a puppy.

"No, you don't know how hard this is, and I don't have to do it."  I almost laughed at the belligerence in her voice, but managed to keep it in.

"Hey, I've had first day's of school, too.  And yes, you do have to.  For one thing you need to get more of an education than sitting in the homicide squad room is going to give you, and for another, if you don't go, I go to jail.  And I don't think either of us wants that."  I tried to reason with her logical side; the side that knew that the adoption could fall through at any time in the next three months.

"Yeah, but you've never been teased about not having real parents," she muttered into her pillow.  Damn, I'd been hoping she'd miss that little detail.  I had held off on telling her about my past because I didn't want her to think that I'd adopted her to repay the system.

"Yes, they did," I said softly.  My quiet statement made her turn over and look at me.  I silently met her eyes.

"What?" she asked, almost plaintive.  I sighed and dropped my eyes.  I never liked this part, not with anyone.

"My parents were killed when I was three weeks old.  I've been in the system my whole life, Char.  The folk who adopted me never kept is a secret that I wasn't theirs, so I know how hard it is.  They had two other kids, as well, birth children, who made my life hell."  I looked up at her again, and didn't know what I saw in her face.

"Is that why you adopted me?" she asked, her voice even.  I had expected more tears, anger even, but this lack of emotion scared me.

"No," I said emphatically.  "I wanted a child, and I," I stopped, not sure how to say what I knew I wanted to.  "I've never wanted to protect someone, or love someone, as much as I do you, Char.  I couldn't love you more if I had given birth to you."  I reached out to touch her shoulder, and was relieved when she didn't pull away.

"Oh," she said, simply, and I chuckled.

"Oh?  That's all you've got to say?" I said, teasingly.

"Yeah.  I guess I'll have something to ponder in class today," she said nonchalantly, but I picked up on her plan.  I pulled her into a hug, and she wrapped her arms around me.

"Thank you," I whispered into her hair before I released her.

"Yeah, you too," she replied, and I didn't need to ask for what.  I knew.  She was honoured that I trusted her enough to tell her a secret that I kept near to my heart.  No one on the squad except the captain knew that I was adopted, and he only knew because it was in my file.

I got up and left the room to give Char privacy to get dressed.  I sat down in the kitchen and drank a cup of coffee.  When Char had eaten breakfast I walked with her the few blocks to the school, but was careful not to embarrass her too much by coming on campus with her.  Reminding her to be careful, and to call after school, I turned around and started walking home.  When I was sure her back was turned, I faced the school again and made sure she walked the final yards with no mishap.  My heart swelled with pride at her bravery.

I headed home, and changed into something more suitable for work, then went downtown.  Before heading in to the precinct I made a stop at a smallish jewelry shop, and after 15 minutes of browsing bought a small present for Char.  I smiled at the man who wrapped it up, and hummed as I drove to work.

Later that day, as I read through a file for the umpteenth time, trying to find something that would lead us to a killer, my cell phone rang.  I answered it without thinking.

"DeSuiesk."  I said, still absorbed in the file.

"Hey, it's me," Char said from the other end, and I immediately dragged myself out of the murder case.

"Hey kiddo!  How was your first day?" I asked enthusiastically.  Alex's head popped up.  She and Char had bonded from the first moment; they would sometimes spend hours on end playing endless games of Monopoly and talking about everything from the latest Yankees game to global warming.

"It was, it went okay.  I think I might have made a friend," she said, almost shyly.

"Char, that's wonderful!  That's really great, kiddo.  I hope it works out."  I knew I sounded overenthusiastic, so I changed the subject.  "How're your classes?"

"They're okay.  My history teacher is a total spaz, but he's awesome.  And my algebra teacher is totally tight.  She's like, 80, but she's really funny.  So's my drama teacher.  English sucks, it's totally boring, and PE is stupid.  I've got a study hall, then I end with home ec.  Talk about a waste of time.  We're going to learn how to sew; how lame is that?"  I laughed.  It sounded like Char was taking to school like a perfectly normal teenager.

"It sounds wonderful, kiddo.  I'm so glad it's gonna work.  How about homework?"

"I've got like, a ton of things for you to sign, but other than that, nothing."  I could hear the fridge door open and close, and figured she must be making a snack.

"Well, I'll be sure to warm up my writing hand before I come home," I said with a smile.  She laughed.

"I'll probably be home by sixish.  What do you want to do for dinner?" I asked.

"Can we cook?  And invite Alex over."  I grinned at my partner who was hanging on to my every word.

"I'll ask her.  Need me to stop by the store on my way home?"  I had discovered that Char had a natural talent for cooking; and while I myself couldn't make a meal without a microwave to save my soul, I was more than competent to stand out of the way and read a recipe.

"Nope, I think we've got enough of everything.  Six you said?"  I murmured an affirmative, and we hung up a few moments later.

"So?" asked Alex impatiently.

"She loves about half her classes, hates the rest, thinks Home Ec is a waste of time, and she might have a friend."  I positively glowed with motherly pride.

"That's wonderful!"  Alex exclaimed, mimicking me.

"I know.  Oh, and she wants you to come over for dinner.  You'd better," I threatened, "She's cooking, and I don't want to be stuck with leftovers for the rest of the week."  Alex grinned and agreed to come home with me.  We reluctantly went back to work.  After three hours of absolutely no leads, we were about ready to pull out our hair.

"Hey, let's call it a night," I said to my dark haired partner.  "We're not getting anywhere, and I, for one, am getting very hungry.

Alex agreed, and we grabbed our coats.  I patted the pocket to make sure the package was still there, and we drove to my place in our separate cars.

I got home first, and quickly ran up the stairs to our door.  I pulled my keys out, and unlocked it.  I walked in to find Char dancing around the kitchen, music blasting out of the tiny boom box we'd bought soon after she'd moved in.  The kitchen was a disaster, but it smelled wonderful.

Dumping my stuff on the couch, I went over to the CD player and turned the volume down a bit.  Char turned around from the stove, and smiled at me.  I walked over and gave her a huge bear hug.

"I'm so proud of you," I said, then let her get back to the pan on the stove.  Grabbing a bottle of root beer out of the fridge, I leaned on the counter to watch her work her magic.

"So, is Alex coming?" she asked over the sound of sizzling something's and the music.

"Yup.  She should be here any minute," I said.  Right on que a knock came from the front door.  I answered it to find Alex standing outside.  I ushered her in, and watched as she too hugged Char, then reached in to the fridge for something to drink.  In just a short month she had become a familiar instillation in our home; sometimes spending the entire weekend with us in the small apartment.  It was amazing, really, how quickly my family had grown to include two such wonderful people.  I had a daughter whom I respected and loved more that I'd ever thought possible, and a partner who was on the fast track to becoming my best friend.  Life was very good.

We ate together at the kitchen table, laughing and talking the whole time.  The food was, as always, exceptionally good, and both Alex and I complimented Char often. We were just contemplating a half game of Monopoly when I remembered the box in my coat pocket.  Excusing myself from the table for a moment, I retrieved it and carried it back.

I presented it to Char with a flourish, and she squealed in delight.  She made quick work of the brown wrapping paper, but slowed when she found the box inside.  When she looked up to me for reassurance, I nodded, and watched her face closely as she opened the box and pulled out the silver charm bracelets I'd bought for her.  It's sole charm was a replica of the shoe used in Monopoly.  Her favorite marker.

I could see tears in her eyes as she came around the table to give me a hug.

"Happy first day," I said when I could breath.  She had learned how to give bone crushing hugs from me early on.

"Thank you.  I'll treasure it.  Mom."  She again buried her face in my shoulder, and I sat for second, not responding, as the single syllable sank into my brain.  Then my arms picked themselves up and hugged her back, tightly.  It was one thing to know that this girl child relied on me, and respected me, and even loved me, but quite another to be called mom.  I had never expected it; never let myself hope for Char to call me mom.  I was almost glad when she released me; I was afraid I was going to burst with love if something didn't change soon.

"So, are we gonna play or not?" she asked impishly.  We busied ourselves with the dishes for a bit, then I had a moment of privacy when my partner and my daughter got the game out.  I wiped at my eyes a little, and helped them set the board up with delight.

We played until 10, when I shooed Alex out, saying that we all needed to go to bed.  I helped Char clip the bracelets on her wrist then, and kissed her between the eyes.

Once she was ready for bed, I came and tucked her in.  We embraced, then I went to my own room, and shut the door.  Methodically I cleaned my gun, and set it by my bed.  We had talked at length about it even before the adoption was final; I was big on gun safety, and knew that curiosity kills.  I'd even gone so far as to take her to a shooting range so that she knew everything there was to know about the 9 millimeter Glock.  I brushed my teeth next, and pulled an old t-shirt over my head.  Getting under the blankets, I sighed.  There was nothing I loved more than getting into bed at the end of the day.  As a child, it meant that I had survived another day of being alone, as an adult, it meant that I'd survived another day on the streets.  It was a wonderful feeling; heavy blankets settling over you, and soft sheets under you.  It was the safest place I knew.


We quickly settled into a routine.  I woke Char up every morning before I left, and she called my cell just before she left for school.  I trusted her to get to school on time, and she never let me down.  When she got home in the afternoon, she called me again, and we made plans for dinner.  On the rare occasion that I needed to work late, I called our neighbor, who would look in on Char from time to time.  I think she enjoyed the human contact, though Char reported that she smelled funny, and had only two real teeth.

After she'd been in school for two weeks, I found her another charm; a tiny book.  She had discovered a love of reading this year; one that only a fool would dispel.  I bought her a library card, and she would often ask permission to take a taxi down town to the huge public library with the stone lions guarding its books.  I let her with a twinge of fear, but quelled it when I saw the look in her eyes.  It would do me no good to worry about her every second of the day; and even if I did, that didn't mean she couldn't take care of herself in a big city.

Alex came to dinner almost every night, and often stayed for the weekends as well.  I was surprised at how close we were growing.  I'd never had any really close friends, but her senses of humor and justice were hard not to like.  We would sometimes sit up all night, talking about our lives and our shared job like lifelong buddies.  We made a great team on the job, and at one point the captain had called me into his office to tell me so.  We were doing an outstanding job, he informed me, and he was proud of me for putting my misgivings aside and giving her a chance.  As I thought about it, I'd never really been all that upset about having a female partner, it was just all the change over such a short period of time had thrown me for a bit of a loop.  Alex was a great partner, and I trusted her with my life.  Which was a good thing in our line of work.  I hadn't caught a really bad case in months, but knew that if it came to it, my black eyed partner would have my back no matter what.  It was reassuring.

I fell asleep soon after that thought, and it must have been all the contemplation of Alex that caused my dream that night.

I was sitting in a bar, or maybe it was the squad room, with Alex, and we were talking and drinking.  There was music playing, and she asked me to dance.  Or maybe I asked her.  Then we were on the dance floor; all alone, and she was moving against me, and I felt heat through my whole body.  It was like nothing I'd ever known.  I woke as she moved her hips against my body; gasping for breath, and sweating.  My body was on fire, and I didn't know why.  I decided it was best to just go back to sleep, but I lay on my back for a while before the darkness claimed me again.  In the morning I turned the water in my customary shower as low as I could stand, and let the freezing stream erase the dream from my mind.



Before long it was winter, and Char and I were shopping for a winter coat for her.  She had grown considerably in the last month, and was now a good few inches taller than me.  She had also turned fifteen, two days before Thanksgiving.  We had celebrated her birth with Alex, and I had given her another charm.  This one was the head of a leopard; it's ears perked up and it's eyes were gleaming chips of ruby.  Alex got her New York-Opoly, and swore that she would eventually win a game against the teenager.  Char had grinned and replied, "You'll only win if I let you."

We had invited Alex to spend Thanksgiving with us, but she begged out, saying that she would be in big trouble with her family if she didn't return home for the holidays.  We sighed, and set about planning a feast that would feed us for a month.  Before we ate we each said three things we were thankful for.  My first thought was Char, and when I said so she blushed.  Alex was next, then fairness.  I had contemplated saying something funny, but it didn't seem to fit the mood.

Char was next, and what she said brought tears to my eyes.

"I'm thankful for my new life, for my new mom, and for my friends."  I squeezed her hand, and told her that I was glad she had friends, too.  We sat in silence for a moment, then dug into the food on the groaning table.  We ate ourselves to stuffedness, as Char put it, then diluted our minds with New York-Opoly and chick flicks.  We went to bed contented.

The next day I had to return to work, and Char decided to come with me.  Alex had pointed out to me that it was somewhat odd for a fifteen year old to be so enthralled with the police, but I laughed and told her that Char just liked to spend time with me and the squad.  It was true.  They still treated her like their own.  Not that many people would be in the office today.  I was starting to pay for all the 'sick' leave I'd taken, and had agreed to come in during both big holidays when most other folk were home.  Char understood, and was eager to come in with me.

I worked on paperwork for the most part, and when no call came in for a scene by lunchtime, I told the desk sergeant that I was going home, but to call me if anything came up.  Char and I went out to lunch, then home. We watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit for the hundredth time, and went out to dinner.  All in all, it was a pretty boring day.

Alex was back in town after that, and Char stayed home to work on homework.  She was diving in to her history studies, and I had been delighted to see her grades were all A's.  I wasn't sure how she did it; I'd never been able to maintain much more than a C average, but she always did her homework, and seemed to enjoy school.  She still had bad days, when something reminded her what she referred to as her past life, or when life just got to be too much, but over all she seemed to be a bright, happy teenager.  It was like a miracle to me.

When we first met, she was a closed, reclusive child who needed attention and love so desperately, yet didn't know where or how to get it.  Molly had put us in a room together, and I was afraid she was going to attack me.  I tried at first to treat her like a living victim, but when that didn't work, I made a bold move and started talking to her like a pissed off adult.  It worked.  After she'd calmed down, we'd had a wonderful conversation about politics, and I had known then that I wanted her to be willing to let me adopt her.  When I first learned about her mother, and the abuse she endured, I was ready to go out and kill the woman, but knew that it would solve nothing.  The fact that Char was now calling me Mom was testament to the fact that she had given up on her mother returning, and that she wanted to start again.  I was proud of her for being strong enough to make the changes, and in my frank moments, I was proud of myself for being there for her.  It felt good, to be able to change a person like that.  To help them grow, and change, and all that good stuff.

Alex came over again that evening, and we all hung out together like a family.  It was normal; it was how life was supposed to be, but I couldn't stop thinking about the dream I had had.  I didn't know what to make of it, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stop thinking about the feeling of Alex against my body.  I was acutely aware of her body and mine as we ate dinner; and of how we seemed to complete each other.  It seemed like only yesterday that I was testing her strength with a handshake, and yet we were like yin and yang.  We knew what the other was going to say before she said it, and we were dynamite in the interrogation room.  We played off each other, and I loved it.  Our friendship had grown thanks to Char, who had insisted that I invite my partner over every chance I could.  They were of kindred spirits, and Alex became almost like a father figure to Char.  I was surprised to feel no jealousy towards her; after all, I couldn't do everything.

We finished a game of Monopoly after dinner, then retired to the living room.  Alex sat next to me on the couch, while Char took her chair.  It was where we always sat, but tonight it felt different.  Alex seemed to be sitting closer to me than usual; and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.  I tried to take deep breaths, to calm myself, but my body would not relax.  I didn't understand what was going on, and it scared me.  I turned the TV on, wanting a distraction, and groaned internally when both Alex and Char insisted that I turn it off.  I tried to hold the remote away from them, but Alex leaned over and plucked it from my suddenly limp hand.  She grinned at her easy defeat, and I felt my head swim.  Was I sick?  What was happening to my body?

"Mom?  Are you okay?" Char asked from her chair.  Apparently I wasn't doing as good a job of hiding my condition as I thought I was.

"Yeah, I'm fine kiddo," I said lamely.  Alex reached out to feel my forehead, and I felt almost dizzy at her proximity.

"Char's right, you don’t look so good," she said, but I flinched away from her gentle hand.

"I said, I'm fine," I reiterated, pulling away, aware of the concerned eyes on me.  I tried to smile, "I'm just a bit tired.  I think I'm going to go to bed."  I stood up slowly, trying to hide whatever it was that I was feeling.

"It's Friday, would it be all right if I stayed the night?  Just in case you need anything," Alex asked.  God, I can't be anywhere near you, my brain screamed.  You can't possibly stay the night.

"Yeah, that's fine," my mouth replied.  "Goodnight, Char.  I'll see you in the morning."  I kissed her goodnight, and smiled at her worried look.

"I really am fine," I said as she hugged me, "Just tired is all.  Nothing a little sleep can't take care of."  She smiled back at me as I retreated, and I could here the two of them talking as I prepared for bed.

I was tired, but sleep wouldn't come.  All I could think about was Alex.  Alex in the precinct.  Alex at a scene; her hair falling into her eyes as she examined a body.  Alex playing Monopoly with Char.  Alex, Alex, Alex.  Finally sleep claimed me, but again I dreamed of my partner.

We were alone somewhere, and I was sitting close to her.  Our legs brushed together, and I felt fire rush up my body.  Then we were sitting on my living room sofa, kissing.  I gasped and sat up; wide awake.  My subconscious was not one for subtleties.  While I had been dancing around the fact that I was attracted to this woman, it told me in no uncertain terms that I wanted to be with her.

I had, of course, dated in college, but it was never anything serious.  I had never really thought about sex; I had been taught the basics at school, but it never seemed to appeal to me.  While all the other kids my age were groping in the backseat, I was off watching cop shows and planning the perfect crime.  Or rather, how to crack the perfect crime.  Relationships had never seemed worth it.  Way too much emotional baggage, and for what?  A smelly football player?  Or a pale skinned nerd who didn't know the first thing to do with a girl if he ever got one?  I've always like to be in control of situations, and when I'm not, I either take it, or leave.  It's survival for me.

So as I lay in bed, sweating and thinking about my dreams of Alex, I tried to figure out ways to control the situation.  Obviously I couldn't control my own body, but there were other ways.  Char was attached to Alex, or I'd simply stop inviting her over.  But there was no way I was going to pull away one of Char's supports.  I fell asleep thinking about my problem.  My last thought was to wonder if this was what love is like.  I didn't remember it in the morning, which was probably a good thing.

I woke late, sun was streaming in the window.  I lay under the blankets, not wanting to leave the warm cocoon.  I finally ran out of excuses to stay in bed, and threw the covers off with a flourish.  I shuddered as the cold air brushed my skin, and quickly put a robe on over my sleep shirt.  I pulled my tangled hair back into a ponytail, and slipped into a pair of fuzzy slippers.  I yawned hugely as I opened the door, and shuffled down the hall to the bathroom.  I splashed some cold water on my face to wake me up a bit, and dragged a brush through my hair.  It didn’t help much.

After my short beautification, I followed my nose to the kitchen, where Alex was sitting with a cup of coffee, looking obscenely awake and cheerful.  She smiled at me as I walked over to the coffee pot.

"You look like you didn't get a minute of sleep last night," she said, cheerfully.  I grunted.

"Don't talk to me," I said, and gulped at the hot coffee.  She laughed.  We had quickly established that I was not functional until at least my second cup of coffee, and usually required a hot shower to get my brain working in the morning.  I sat down next to her, and buried myself in the steaming mug.  After it was drained, and another was half gone, I perked up a bit enough to realize that Char was still in bed.  She never slept in.

"Where's Char?" I asked, my voice still husky with sleep.  Alex jerked a bit, then smiled.

"She's still in bed.  We were up pretty late last night, talking and such."  She grinned at me.  I smiled back, and pried myself out of the chair to shuffle to Char's door.  I opened it quietly and poked my head in.  Sure enough, she was curled up under the blankets.  I watched for a second to make sure she was breathing, then quietly retreated.  I could have watched her peaceful rest for the whole day, but that tended to wake her up.

Coming back into the kitchen, I refilled my mug, and sat down with a sigh.  Alex looked up from the paper.

"Problems?" she asked, and I almost shuddered.  Yes, I thought, But nothing I can talk to you about.

"No," I said lamely, trying to think of an excuse.  "You guys kept me up last night."  It wasn't exactly true, though Alex had been the cause of my insomnia.

"Sorry," she said, not looking apologetic at all.  She ran a hand through her short hair, and I stared as she stretched her arms high above her head.  She was still wearing her pjs, a long silk shirt, and matching bottoms.  It amused me that she actually wore silk pajamas, and when I had brought it up with her, she shrugged and told me they were warm.

"So, did you two come up with any plans for today?" I asked, desperately trying to stop staring.  Her body was long and lithe, and she was sitting with her legs stretched out and her arms folded behind her head.  She didn’t respond for a moment.

"Yeah, we had some ideas.  Nothing that involves you, though.  We were planning on doing some Christmas shopping."  I raised an eyebrow.

"Christmas shopping?" I asked for clarification.  She nodded, grinning.

"Alex, it's not even December!" I exclaimed.  "Hell, it's barely past Thanksgiving, and you're going Christmas shopping!"  I was hamming it up a bit.

"Yup," she said, still grinning.  I shook my head, a bemused look on my face.  So my partner was taking my daughter shopping.  I wondered for a second where they'd go, but by the time Char got up, I was resigned to the idea.

"Hey kiddo.  Glad you could join us this morning."  She smiled and brushed hair out of her eyes.

"You're cheerful this morning," she said, grabbing the orange juice from the fridge and pouring herself a glass.

"Well, unlike some of us, I've been up for an hour," I said as she took a seat.  I smiled at her peaceful face.

"So, Alex, have you told her what we're doing today?" Char asked a few moments later.  I groaned.

"Yup.  She needed some convincing, but I won her over."  Alex hugged Char around the shoulders and they both grinned at me.  I shook my head.

"I think I'm being double teamed here," I complained with a smile.  "So, when are you guys going to get out of my hair?"  They traded a look, then Alex said, "As soon as we get dressed."  Char ran to her room, and Alex moved to the living room with a bit more dignity.  I followed her, like a moth drawn to flame.  She smiled at me as she pulled clothes from her bag.

"Ya know," I said, leaning on the doorframe, "You could put some of that stuff in my closet.  It's not like I need the space."  She looked up at me from the floor with an odd look on her face.

"Thanks," she said, and stood up.  I led her into my room, and sat on the bed while she hung her shirts up.  I watched her back muscles move under the silk top, and wondered how they would feel under my hand.  I tried to push the image out of my head, but it wouldn't leave.  I stared as she methodically hung up each t-shirt so that they were all facing the same way.  I smiled a bit as she made sure they were all properly hung, but wiped it off my face as she turned around to face me.

"Mind if I change in here?"  It took me a second to figure out what she was saying, and I blushed when it made it through my brain.  I blushed, and moved quickly out of the room.

Char was waiting none to patiently in the kitchen.  She turned to me as I walked in.

"Hey," I said, and tried to drink out of my empty mug.  She smirked.

"Hey yourself," she said.

"Alex'll be out in a second.  I guess I should give you some cash."  She nodded eagerly, and I laughed.  She was so much a teenager; it amazed me.  I had expected her to be reclusive, and closed; not interested in so-called normal teenaged things, but being in school, with a stable home life seemed to open her up like a relaxed clam.  It was incredible to watch.

I grabbed my wallet from the counter, and pulled out two twenties.

"I hope this is enough, cause it's all I've got.  Tell Alex that I'll pay her back if you wind up spending more."  I handed her the cash, and was surprised when she gave me a peck on the cheek.

"Thanks Mom, you're awesome."  I grinned at her.  "I'd better get a pretty spectacular present," I warned with mock sternness.  She laughed.

A few minutes later Alex came out, and soon after, they left, arm in arm.  I settled down in front of the television, and tried to concentrate on Law and Order.  But Detective Briscoe's heated chase of the suspect couldn't hold my attention for long, and I was soon pacing the apartment like a caged lion.  I felt restless.  I tried to look at a file I'd brought home, but after I had read the same paragraph 5 times and still didn't know what it said, I gave up.  Finally I changed into shorts, and, clipping my cell phone onto the waist band, I left the apartment to go jogging.  I locked the door behind me, and put the keys in a pocket.  I warmed up on the stairs, and by the time the cold November air hit my bare legs, I was already sweating.  I took a left, and started running toward the park.

My breath was ragged at first, but I soon evened it out.  As I stretched my legs out to pound the concrete I blanked my mind; concentrating solely on my body and my breathing.  I felt like I could run forever.

I finally slowed near a vendor selling bottled water, and bought enough to keep be going.  I thanked him, and jogged in place while he gave me change.  I took the bottle and held it in my hands for a while, trying in vain to warm the water.  When it didn't feel quite so freezing, I took small sips so as not to cramp my stomach.

After a short walk, I started running again, slower this time.  I had been out for at least two hours when my phone rang.  I stopped in mid-stride and pulled it off my belt.

"DeSuiesk," I gasped.

"Crys?" I heard Alex ask from the other end.  "It's Alex.  Are you all right?"  I gulped cold air into my starved lungs.

"Yeah," gasp, "I've just been running," gasp.  "What's up?"  I tried to breath more quietly.

"Char and I were thinking of grabbing some lunch; thought you might like to join us."  I looked at my watch.  Sure enough, it was past noon.  My stomach growled, letting me know in no uncertain terms that it wanted food.

"Sure, I'd love to.  Where are you guys?"  She told me, and I looked around to figure out where I was.

"I'm about 20 minutes away.  Where do you want to meet?"  We set a time and place, and I set off running again.  By the time I reached the small restaurant I was out of breath, but relaxed.  I smiled at Char and Alex who had waited for me.

"Hey," I said, sitting down and looking at the menu in front of me.  "How was your shopping?"  I listened with half an ear as Char told me about their expeditions.  We talked about our plans for Christmas; and when lunch came we ate hungrily.  Afterwards, Alex and Char left for yet another store, and I started to walk home.  The cold wind whipped around my bare legs, and before long I was shivering.  It was too late to start running; my legs were stiff and sore, so I endured the cold, and tried to distract myself with thoughts of warm blankets and hot chocolate.  My fingers and toes were numb by the time I reached our apartment building, and I'd received many odd looks for my less than appropriate clothing.  Teeth chattering, I unlocked my front door, and immediately found a blanket to wrap around myself.  Once I'd stopped shivering I started heating milk for hot chocolate, and pulled sweats on  over my shorts.  I let my hair out of it's tie, and pulled a sweater over my head.  Once the milk was warm enough, I added the brown powder, and sat down on the couch to finish warming up.

After I had finished the sweet drink, I curled up on the couch and closed my eyes.  Despite sleeping in, I was tired.  The room faded in and out a couple of times, then I was out.

I woke up slowly; aware first of my warm body, then of the sounds around me.  I sighed at the smell of frying onions, and turned onto my back.  Someone was gently rubbing my feet, and I slowly opened my eyes to find Alex sitting at the other end of the couch; watching the muted television and absentmindedly massaging my feet.  I smiled at her relaxed expression, and almost groaned aloud when she moved her hands to my cramped calf muscles.  She looked up at the noise, and quickly pulled her hands away; blushing.

"Don't stop," I muttered.  Her lips quirked into a small smile, and her hands returned to their gentle ministrations.  I sighed, and let my eyes slide closed again.  I was warm, and relaxed, and there would be good food to eat soon.

"How long did I sleep?" I asked lazily.

"I don't know, but you were lying there, snoring, when we got home around 4.  It's half past six now."  I groaned.  There was no way I was going to get back to a regular sleep schedule by Monday.

Alex moved her hands gently against my legs; pushing into each knot with strong fingers.  I think I dozed off, because the next thing I knew, she was gently shaking me awake, saying that it was time for dinner.  I moaned, and tried to roll over; forgetting that I was on the couch, and fell onto the floor.  Alex, instead of trying to catch me, jumped out of the way, and stood, staring down at me; laughing.  I glared up at her, not amused.  Char came into the living room, looking worried.  When she saw Alex laughing, and me on the floor, trying not to crack a smile, she retreated back to her sanctum to finish getting our meal together.  I hauled myself up off the floor, trying to stay mad at Alex and failing.  The dark haired detective was guffawing without shame, and didn't even have the strength to help me stand.  I glared at her, but the effect was ruined by my smile.

We sat down at the table without further incident.  Dinner was excellent as usual, and I had three servings of the pan seared pork.  I was ravenous after my long run.  After dinner, Alex and Char pulled out the well weathered Monopoly board, and set up the game.  I groaned, not wanting to test my mind against the two pros tonight.  After a few minutes in which I managed to lose most of my money, I excused myself to the bathroom.

I splashed cold water on my face, and stared at my dripping reflection.  My eyes were red, and my face looked harrowed.  I knew for sure that something was about Alex was effecting me, but I didn't understand it at all.  It was like she had infected me; my mind and my body were controlled by her.  It scared me, and excited me at the same time.  I didn't understand it; didn't ask for; but God, I wanted it.  I didn't have words for what I was feeling, but the emotion was there all the same.

I finally left the bathroom, and walked reluctantly back to the kitchen, where Alex and Char were contentedly playing their game.  I retreated quietly, and went into the living room to flip through the channels.

After finding a good Disney cartoon to zone to, I muted the TV and sat back to relax.  It didn't work.  I was now lying with my head where Alex had been sitting a few hours earlier, and the pillows still carried a hint of her scent.  I buried my face in the pillow, and started thinking about life.

I could hear Char and Alex laughing in the other room, and wanted desperately to join them, but every time I was around Alex I lost control of my body, and it scared me.  Finally they tired of the game, and moved into the living room with me.  Alex sat at my feet again, and as we watched a movie together, she started rubbing them.  Her touch sent fire racing through my body, but my muscles were so stiff that I couldn't say no.  I was trembling by the time she released me; and when I looked up at her face from under my lashes I saw a pale pink blush on her cheeks.  I didn’t want to consider what it meant; didn't want to face my feelings and my fears.  Not yet.


The rest of the weekend passed normally, but for my increasingly heated dreams.  I was grateful when Alex finally left on Sunday, claiming she needed to do laundry at her apartment.  Char pulled her homework out, and I sat with her while she worked; reading through a case file.

It was a relief on Monday to return to schedule.  I half dreaded, half looked forward to work.  All because of Alex.  I didn't want to be around her; yet when I couldn't see her, I felt sick.  I needed her in a way I didn't think should be possible.  I was intoxicated by her; and felt myself drawn to her dry humor and dark eyes.  Those eyes!  They could be as hard as diamond; in sighting fear in hardened killers; then at a moments notice, become warm and comforting.  And the way she looked sometimes; like there were fires in the pits of her jet black eyes.

We were called to a scene first thing.  I drove, as usual, and for the first time in the past week, I could focus on something other than Alex.  The 'scene' turned out to be a mass grave of 15 young girls.  The medical examiner was already in the hole, looking over each body.  Some were half decomposed; others looked fresh.  They all looked younger than 10, and whoever had killed them had cut off their hands and knocked out their teeth.  After 13 years on the job, I had developed an iron hard stomach, but the mutilated bodies laid out before me made me want to puke.  I heard Alex mutter something, then run off toward our car.  I watched her for a second, concerned, but the ME caught my attention.

"Detective, I think you need to see this!" he called, waving at me.  I gingerly made my way down the ramp that had been formed, making sure to not disturb the scene too much, and squatted next to Joe.  He was holding up the skirt one of the more recent girl's was wearing.  She had no underpants on, and her entire genital region had been sewn up.

I looked at the ME, aghast.

"Have you ever seen anything like this?" I asked, thinking hard.  He shook his head, and went back to work.

I climbed back out of the pit, breathing hard through my mouth to try and ignore the smell.  It seemed to cling to me; my hair, my skin, my clothes.  I looked around for Alex, and found her standing with the woman who had called 911 after seeing a human hand poking out of the dirt.  I walked over, and stood behind the semi-hysterical woman, trying to catch Alex's eye.  Finally she looked up, and excused herself from the woman.

"Hey," she said, walking over.  She looked pale.

"You okay?" I asked.

"Yeah, I'll be fine.  It was just…all those bodies…"  She trailed off, her eyes looking haunted.  I reached out and gently squeezed her shoulder, offering her silent comfort.

"We need to call sex crimes in on this," I said, all business.  She looked over at me, confused.

"They've been, uh, sewn together."  I gestured to where, not sure how else to say it.  She looked horrified, just as I had, and nodded mutely.  I called it in; and 15 minutes later, two more detectives were on the scene.  I was talking to the captain at the time; and watched as they were briefed by Alex.  She had recovered a bit; but was still pale.

"I want you two to work with this one, too, DeSuiesk.  15 dead girls; that's gonna hit the press hard; we need everyone on this we can get."  Great.  That was going to go over well.  Sex crimes was notorious for handling everything they did in-house; they didn't like interference from anyone else.

"Their captain has already briefed them," he was saying, "And they're willing to work with y'all.  So play nice."  He hung up, and I walked over to my partner and the two people I could only assume were the other detectives.

"DeSuiesk, homicide," I introduced myself.  "Our captains seem to be in cahoots on this one; want us to work it together."  I stood by Alex, trying not to seem too imposing.

"I'm Cobbler, my partner, Kledowski, Special Victims," the taller of the two detectives made their introductions.  The shorter man was obviously Russian, and more than a bit overweight.

"We're fine with that, but we interview all suspects and any kids," the Russian, Kledowski, said as his partner headed over to the mass grave.

We stayed at the scene for a while longer, then headed over back to the station to start looking for IDs on the girls.

"I don't like those two," Alex said as we drove away.  I agreed, but pointed out to her that we needed to get along, at least for now.  We didn’t talk after that; each lost in our own thoughts.  I couldn't get their faces out of my head; their toothless mouths, and handless arms.  The ME said that it looked like their hands were severed post-mortem, which was a small blessing, but he'd know more after the autopsies.  Which were going to take a while; even with extra help.

We briefed the captain when we got back, then sat down at our computers to search the Missing Persons database for possible matches.  I got 8 of the vics, Alex took the other seven, and we started our search.

After two hours, I had a possible match for only one of my girls; the others had struck out.  Alex had faired a little better with possible matches for 3 of her girls.  We grabbed our coats and headed out to talk to the families.

After the first interview with the parents of my match, we both felt sick.  The girl's name was Melissa Haverin, she was 8 when she was abducted 3 months ago.  Now she was dead.  At least she had a name, though; the others might never be identified.

The next door we knocked on was answered by a 15 year old boy, who's pale face was tear stained.  His little sister had disappeared only a week ago; his mother was in bed he said, but he'd get her.  We waited downstairs while he went to get her; looking around a little.  I found a picture of a small girl on a swing set with her brother pushing her, and held it up to Alex.  She compared it to the picture of the dead girl, and sighed.  It was a match.

"Detectives, my son tells me that you may have found my little Cassandra."  The woman descending the stairs with help from her son was rail thin and sickly.  It was amazing what a missing child could do to a person.  I suddenly thought of what I would do if Char went missing, but emphatically pushed the idea away.

"Mrs. Manson, I'm very sorry, but we believe your daughter is dead," I said as gently as I could once she was seated.  Her son had gone to the kitchen to get her something to drink.  She looked at me with horrified eyes, not wanting to believe what I was telling her; what she knew was true.

I was about to get up, to offer her some sort of comfort, when she screamed.  She fell off her chair, and started pounding the ground, wailing.  There was a crash from the kitchen, and the boy came running out.  He slumped against the couch when he saw his mother.  I could see the knowledge that his sister wasn't coming home painted on his face.

Alex was kneeling by the mother, so I moved to the boy, offering comfort.  He just stared at his mother, then looked at me.

"She's dead, isn't she?" he asked, his voice flat and dull.  I nodded, not sure what to say.  He seemed to stare off into the distance for a moment, then shook his head slightly.

I caught him as he fainted; staggering a bit at his weight.  I gently lay him out, checking that he was breathing, and that his heart was beating.  Alex was helping the mother sit down, but was at my side in a minute; then calling in to the radio a moment later, ordering an ambulance.  Behind us, the mother wailed louder.  I felt overwhelmed.

Finally the bus came, and took the boy, Henry, to the hospital.  The paramedics took his mother, Mary, as well, to treat her for shock.  Alex and I were left outside the house with two more families to visit.

"Might as well get it done with," I said, trying to focus on something.  My stomach was heaving, and I silently ordered it to lay still.

"Yeah," Alex sighed.  I didn't need to look at her to know just how much this was affecting her.

We got into the car, and drove to the next address.  It struck out; the girl who'd gone missing didn't match any of our pictures.  I hadn't been to hopeful; their daughter had been missing for almost a year.

The last house was unremarkable, and we climbed the stairs with heavy hearts.  I pushed the doorbell, and was surprised not to hear anything from inside.  I knocked on the door for good measure.

A woman answered, and watched us intently as Alex introduced us.  She led us inside silently, and motioned for us to sit.  We did, and I explained that I needed for her to look at a disturbing picture to help us in our search for her daughter, was there anyone else home to be with her?  She shook her head, and, still silent, beckoned for the picture.  I reluctantly held it out to her, worried that she too would break down.  Instead she reached a trembling hand out to touch the mutilated face.  Tears coursed down her face, and her lips moved silently.  She pulled her hand away, and covered her face; shoulder shaking in silent sobs.

"Mrs. Kimble, I'm so sorry for your loss," Alex said, her voice gentle.  No response.  "Can we call anyone for you?" she asked.  Mrs. Kimble didn't so much as twitch.  Suddenly it made sense.  The lack of doorbell; the silence; the way she always watched our faces as we talked.

I touched her shoulder, and when she looked up at me, I signed to her:

"Mrs. Kimble, I'm so sorry for your loss," I said aloud as I did it, so that she could read my lips and so that Alex knew what I was saying.

"Angie was my life," she signed back with trembling hands, still crying.  I reached out, and she collapsed into my arms.  I held her gently as she sobbed, releasing her when she pulled away.  I signed a few questions about how her daughter had disappeared, and translated her answers for Alex, who took notes.  We left with a promise to return with any leads.

My hands shook as I opened the car door, for once letting Alex drive.  I didn't trust myself behind the wheel right now.  We drove back to the precinct in silence.  I flexed my hands in my lap, still surprised that I'd remembered so much sign language.  It had been years since I'd last used it.

"I didn't know you could speak sign language," Alex said, as if reading my mind.  I looked up.

"Yeah," I said simply, not wanting to explain.

"Where'd you learn?" she asked, and I felt compelled to answer.

"My, uh, adoptive parents had three other kids.  My younger sister was born with a hearing problem.  I was chosen to be her interpreter.  I started learning when I was 8, right after she was born.  She, um, died, when she was 10.  Same thing that made her deaf deformed her spinal cord; she just stopped working one day."  I bit back tears.  I hadn't thought about Sally in years.  I suddenly flashed on the two of us, running around the backyard, reenacting scenes from our favorite books.  Or rather, my favorite books, she never learned to read.

Alex reached over and grasped my hand, jolting me back to reality.  I looked up into her concerned black eyes and realized that I was crying.

"I'm fine," I lied, and she smiled without humor.  I looked away, out the window at the city as it streamed by; and tried to push everything aside and focus on finding the bastard who killed little girls.

We returned to our desks to find the guys from the SV unit waiting in our captains office.  They didn't look too happy.

"I thought we said that we'd handle any suspects!" the taller guy exploded, trying to get in Alex's face.  She brushed past him, and took his vacated chair.

"Yeah," I said, following her to perch on the captain's desk.  He looked exceptionally uncomfortable.  "Suspects.  My partner and I were following leads as to the girls' identities.  We found a few matches with Missing Persons, and went to talk to the families.  We got three positive IDs."  I handed the file to the captain, turning my back on the other detectives.

"Hey!" said the Russian.  "I thought we were working together on this one.  Let's try to get along, shall we?"  I looked at him, and almost sneered.  Alex stood up just in time to stop me from saying something I'd regret.

"Yes, we're working it together, so why don't you two get it through your skulls that we're trying to help.  You don't want us, take it up with your captain."  Alex's eyes were pitch black and angry.  I was thankful they were turned on someone other than me.

"People, let's try to act civilly, shall we?  Now, we've got 15 dead girls and only three IDs.  Let's get back out there and figure out who the rest of them are.  We find out who they are, we find out who killed them."  The captain finally intervened, and set us all back on track.  Before anyone could comment, my phone rang.  I answered without checking caller ID.


"Hey Mom, it's me," Char said from the other end.  I looked at my watch.  Sure enough, it was time for her to be home.

"Hey kiddo."  I sighed into the phone, the day suddenly seeming too long.

"You okay?" she asked, worried.

"Yeah, I'll be fine.  We just caught a really bad case."  I looked around at the room's occupants.  Alex knew it was Char, as did the captain, but the other two looked confused.

"All right, I'll let you get back to work.  Any idea when you'll be home?" she asked.

"No.  I'll call you later, okay?"

"Sure thing.  You'll catch him, Mom, you always do."  Her blind faith in me brought tears to my eyes.

"Love you, Char," I said, and we hung up.  The two SVU detectives were watching me with interest.

"My daughter," I said, clipping my phone back into its holster.  The Russian looked surprised; and his partner seemed to look at me with new eyes.  It was an unexpected side effect of telling folk that I had a child; they tended to take a better look of me.  It was nice, sometimes, but mostly it unnerved me; made me feel like I was lying.

"Look, we're gonna head over to our squad room, see if we can find any more on the IDs.  You two want to check in with forensics?"  Cobbler seemed to be trying to make amends.  Alex and I nodded, and we all headed out.


After the meeting with the crime scene techie who walked us through the scene, and a short discussion with the overworked ME, we went back to the station, and sat at out desks.  I felt numb; detached.  I couldn't stop staring that the photos from the pit.  The girls' faces seemed to etch themselves into my eyes, and I felt sick.  I swallowed and tried to ignore the urge to vomit, but it was too intense.  Photos scattered as I jerked out of my seat and almost ran to the bathroom.  I made it to the toilet before my breakfast came up.  It, and what seemed like every other meal I'd ever eaten, exited my body noisily, and when my system was void of half-digested food, I dry heaved into the toilet bowl.

A soft hand was on the back of my neck, holding me as I retched.  It steadied my head; helped me remember that not everyone was dead.  Finally my body stopped heaving, and I took great gulps of air.  The hand on my neck moved to my back, comforting, while the other reached around me to flush the toilet.  Then Alex helped me stand, and led me over too the sinks to splash cold water on my face, and rinse my mouth out.  She didn't say a word; simply handed me paper towels to dry myself off with.  I avoided her eyes, not wanting to see disrespect in them.

She held the door for me, and we walked back into the bustling room.  I busied myself picking up the papers that had fallen as I rushed out, but avoided looking at them.  I sat down and put my head in my hands.

"Hey, Crys, it's after six.  Why don't you give Char a call and let her know what's going on?"  I looked up at the quiet suggestion, and berated myself for not thinking of my daughter.  I quickly dialed the phone, trying to compose myself.

"Hello?" she answered.

"Hey Char, it's me," I said.  "Sorry I didn't call before."

"It's okay, I understand.  I guess you'll be staying late, then?"

"Yeah, I'm sorry.  How was school?"  I tried to think of something other than the grueling hours to come.

"It was great.  I got an A on my math test," she gushed.

"That's great honey.  I'm really proud of you."  But, hard as I try, the words just didn't sound real.  "I'm sorry, that sounded really bad.  We're working an awful case; I'm more than a bit distracted."  I rubbed the bridge of my nose, wishing the world would disappear.

"That's okay, I understand.  Hey, Mom?" she started to ask, but just then Cobbler and Kledowski walked in, and I got distracted.

"Yeah?" I replied, reaching out for the file Cobbler was handing me.  I opened it, and started flipping through the pages.

"Is it okay if I spend the night at a friend's house tonight?" Char asked, unaware of what I was looking at.  I barely heard her.  Later, after all this was over, I would be glad that she had a friend close enough to do a sleepover with, but for now I was distracted by 15 dead girls.

"Yeah, sure kiddo.  Just let me know where you'll be.  I'll probably be at the precinct all night, so give me a call if you need anything."  I flipped through the file in my hand, staring at the information in it with blank eyes.

"Thanks Mom!  I'll call you in an hour or so!"  She hung up, and I turned my full attention to the faces staring back at me from glossy paper.  Alex came to stand behind me; reading over my shoulder.

"We've found two other cases similar to ours; no convictions on either one," Cobbler said unnecessarily.  We could see by the notes that there had been no arrests, despite more than 40 deaths all told.  I looked up finally, and met Alex's black eyes.  She looked almost as pissed as I was feeling.

"I think it's time we paid…" I flipped back to find the investigating detectives names, "Tome and Dickson a visit."  The other's agreed, and Alex and I grabbed our coats on the way out.

It was snowing lightly, but the roads were mostly clear.  Cobbler and Kledowski followed close behind me as I maneuvered through traffic to the station house in Manhattan South that was listed as Dickson's current location.  We pulled into the lot, and climbed out.

We looked a bit like an invasion party as we stormed into the station and asked the desk sergeant for Detective Dickson's current desk.  He pointed us down the hall, and we walked briskly to the double doors that announced we were about to enter the Manhattan Special Victims Unit.  Alex and I, in the lead, pushed the doors open dramatically, and we all stopped just inside.  I swept my eyes over the occupants; men and women sitting at desks, or standing by the coffee machine, talking and laughing.  It looked like any squad room.

"Detective Dickson," Cobbler called out from behind me.  I shifted so that he and Kledowski could be seen.

A short, almost petite woman stood up and walked over.

"I'm Clarissa Dickson, how can I help you?" she said, smiling.  Alex grabbed my arm before I could wipe the smirk off of her face.

"We need to talk to you about a case you and your partner, Mike Tome caught a few years back.  20 girls in a mass grave?" I told her, to jog her memory.  Pain crossed her face; not from the mention of the old case, but at the name of her former partner.

"I'm sorry, but you'll have to make do with me.  Mike was killed in the line of duty last year."  She said it like any cop would; as if she thought it should have been her at the other end of the killing blow, yet glad she was still alive.  I didn't have time for her walk down memory lane.  Bluntly, I handed her the old case file, and stood watching her, my arms crossed, as she read the first page.

"Let's find somewhere to talk," she said quietly.  We followed her into a small room, where she shut the door and motioned for us to take seats.  Alex and Kledowski sat, but Cobbler and I chose to stand behind our partners.

Dickson sat down opposite us, and started to tell us about the case.  I listened with half an ear as she ran through the details.  Finally I had had enough.

"Look, Dickson, we've read the file.  We need you to tell us what wasn't in there.  Who did you suspect; what was your gut telling you?" I asked forcefully.  I knew I was grouchy; knew the case was eating at me in a bad way, but the faces kept coming back to me.

"There's nothing else to tell.  We didn't have a suspect, we didn't have any leads.  Most of these girls are still Jane Does."  Her eyes looked sad, but it barely registered.  My temper was getting the better of me, but before I slammed her up against the wall, I walked out of the room with deliberate control.  I tried to calm myself as I made my way outside; and the cold air helped.  I needed…something.  A lead.  Something to do other than chase down facts from old cases.  I paced in front of the building until Alex came out.  I thought for a second that she was alone, but the other two quickly followed; wrapping scarves around their necks.  I started walking toward our cars, not wanting to talk.  They caught up just before I got in, and we stood in the freezing parking lot for a moment, just looking at each other.  Finally, Kledowski broke the silence.

"We should talk to the guys who caught the first case," he started to say, but I slammed the open car door.  I held my hand against the cold metal for a moment, breathing hard.

"This is useless," I said finally, my voice quiet, and laced with anger.  "We're chasing ghosts.  We need a lead."  No one seemed to want to point out to me that we were trying to find leads; they all knew what I was feeling.

"Damn it," I muttered under my breath.  Then louder, "Damn it, damn it damn it!"  Alex laid a reassuring hand on my shoulder, saying, "We're gonna catch this bastard, Crys, I'll bet my pension on it."  I sighed and nodded my head.  I knew I was being baby-ish, giving up so soon in our investigation.

"Why don't we get something to eat, and meet back in about an hour?" Alex suggested, and I was relieved when the two men nodded and moved away.  I looked over at her, and had to resist the urge to brush the hair out of her face.  Seconds later she relieved the temptation by doing it herself.

"So, where do ya want to eat?" she asked as we stood facing each other in the snowy lot.

"It doesn't matter.  Somewhere quiet."  Sadly, quiet in the city usually meant upscale, so we settled for a deserted Japanese restaurant.  It was quiet, but everything on the menu seemed to be deep fried, or sugary.  We settled on sweet and sour chicken, rice and tea, and I ordered a bowl of miso soup to start.  We sat in silence while our food was prepared, not sure what to say.

"Char's sleeping over at a friend's house tonight," I said, the silence getting to be too much.

"That's great," Alex replied.

"Yeah, it's wonderful that she's got a good friend."  It suddenly struck me how much we sounded like two bad actors on a soap, and I started giggling.  Alex quirked an eyebrow, which only made me laugh harder.

"I'm sorry, but we sound like really bad actors," I managed to gasp between bouts of laughter.  "It just seems silly after what we've been doing."  I realized I was slightly hysterical, and took deep breaths to calm myself.  Alex was looking concerned, but just then our food came out, and we busied ourselves with eating.  My cell phone rang as we were finishing; caller ID told me it was an unknown number.

"DeSuiesk," I answered.

"Hey Mom, it's me," Char said.

"Where are ya, kiddo?" I asked, curious about the unidentified number.

"At my friend's house, remember?" she said, mild annoyance in her tone.

"Oh, that's right.  I'm sorry, I totally spaced it."  In fact, I barely remembered telling her it was okay.  I told myself to pay better attention in the future, and smiled up at the waiter as he brought our check over.

"Listen, her mom wants to talk to you to make sure you're cool with things."

"Sure thing, put her on."  A few seconds of static, then I heard the phone picked up.


"Hello, Mrs. DeSuiesk?"  The woman at the other end seemed uncertain of how to say my name.

"It's just Crys," I said, trying to put a smile in my voice.  Only years of experience with witnesses gave me any kind of graciousness with this woman.

"Yes, I'm Mary Hansen, Jean's mother.  I just wanted to make sure you knew that Char was staying over tonight."

"Yes, she told me; it's fine."  I reached for my wallet to help pay for dinner, but Alex waved my offered money aside.

"Also, the girls want to watch an R rated movie, are you okay with that?  Char says it's fine, but I just wanted to double check."

"Yes, that's fine.  What movie?" I asked, curious.

"Erin Brochevich, if you can believe it," Mary Hansen said, sounding a bit put out by the thought.

"It's an excellent movie.  She was an amazing woman; I wish everyone had such a good sense of justice as she did.  It would make my job a whole lot easier."

"Oh, and what exactly is your job?" she asked.  I decided it was only my bad temper that made her sound patronizing.

"I'm a detective, Mrs. Hansen, with the NYPD."  It still filled me with pride to say those words; I had longed to say them for as long as I could remember.

"Oh, well then."  She seemed at a loss for words.  I looked over at Alex, who seemed ready to go.  I needed to wrap up the conversation.

"Listen, Mrs. Hansen, I'm sure you have excellent judgment as to what our girls should and shouldn't be doing; I trust that you won't expose Char to anything horrible.  There's no need to call me unless it's an emergency."

"All right then.  Have a good night, Detective.  Would you like to say goodbye to Char?"

"Yes, if you can drag her away, I'd love to.  Thank you again for watching her."  Another moment of static, then Char picked up the line, giggling.

"What's up, Mom?" she asked, obviously distracted.

"I just wanted to say goodnight, kiddo," I said, smiling.  "You two should get to sleep, you've got school tomorrow.  I'm assuming Mrs. Hansen is taking you?"  I said the woman's name as if it tasted bad, and she giggled.

"Yeah.  Don't worry, I've got all my homework done."  I kicked myself for forgetting something else.

"All right, you seem to be in complete control.  Love you."

"Love you too, Mom," she replied, and we hung up.  I slowly clipped the phone back onto my belt, then looked up at Alex with a new strength.  Talking with Char had that effect on me; it reminded me why I was a cop in the first place.

My dark eyed partner held out a tray with two fortune cookies on it.

"Good fortune," she said as I chose one and cracked it open.   The little slip of paper fell out onto the table.  Picking it up, I read it aloud.

"'You will never know your true potential until you try'" it read.  Alex looked at hers and snorted.

"Good things will come to those who wait," she said.  "Someone really pulled that one out of their ass."  We laughed, and I ate both wafers after Alex told me she didn’t like the crunchy cookie.

I relished our shared laughter as we gathered our coats; it would come in handy for strength in the long hours to come.

I drove us back to the station slowly; not wanting our brief break to end.

Kledowski and Cobbler were waiting for us in the squad room, and it suddenly dawned on me that I still didn't know their first names.  They were smiling.

"Hey, we've got some good news," Kledowski said as we hung our coats up.  "We got the IDs from the other cases.  All of their schools use the same bus company."  It seemed so random; so out of the ordinary, that all I could do was stare for a second.

"Did they teach you guys to cross reference school bus companies in the Academy?" I asked sarcastically, teasing, "Cause I think I missed that class."  We laughed, and I realized the night might not be as long as I had dreaded.

"So, first thing tomorrow, we need to go down and start interviewing employees," Cobbler said.  "And we could use some help."  It was the first sign that we had started to get along. Well, okay, the second, after my crack about the Academy.

"Do you, by any chance, have an employee record?" Alex asked, hopefully.  If they did, we could run the names through our data banks.

"Sadly, these sort of places tend to close well before 9 o'clock," Kledowski said.  I looked up at the clock and saw that it was past 10:30.  It felt later.

"So, what else do we have to do?" I asked, sitting down.  The two men looked at each other, then back to me.

"What, the bus lead wasn't enough?" Cobbler asked.

"Nope," I grinned.  "I need something to do."

"Well, we've got the old case files to go over, as well as the first few autopsy reports.  The ME's finished with the first two bodies."  I sighed.  There were some parts of police work that just weren't fun.

"Let's get started," I said.  We moved the boxes they'd brought over into one of the interview rooms to have more space, then divvied up the legal sized folders among ourselves.  After an hour, I made the first trip back into the main squad room for more coffee, and an hour later, Kledowski made the second.  I stopped paying attention after that; as long as my mug was mostly filled with something that resembled coffee, I was good.

I reached into my box, and groped around for another case file.  It was empty, though, all of my folders were in the 'done' pile.  My note pad was half filled with notes on the old cases.

"I'm done," I said, looking around for the first time.  Cobbler was sleeping on his completed stack, a small line of drool coming out of the corner of his mouth.  His partner gently shook his shoulder to wake him.

"Thank God, I think I've read this paragraph eight times, and I still have no idea what it says," Alex said tiredly, rubbing at face.  My eyes felt red and gritty, and, looking at my watch, I was amazed to see that it was 2 in the morning.

"Let's go home, catch some shut eye, and meet back here at seven," I said, standing.  They nodded, and the two men left without a word.  Alex helped me gather up the dirty mugs and carry them over to the sink.  I contemplated washing them, but decided against it.

"Hey," I said as we put our coats on wearily.  "You wanna come over?  Char's over with a friend, and I…don't want to be alone."  There, I'd said it.  Iron cored, stoic me, asking for company.  Something I'd never let myself want before.  Alex looked up at me with an odd glint in her eyes.

"Yeah, that'd be great," she said, and I wondered what she meant.  All of a sudden, all of my attraction and desires for her came flooding back, and I felt my body heat up to the point where I was surprised I didn't melt the snow around my feet.  I had managed to push it aside during the day, but now….now I remembered why I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before.

As we drove to the apartment, I thought about what might happen tonight; in the privacy of an empty home.  I watched Alex yawn as I parked, and chided myself for thinking those thoughts.  We were both exhausted, and we needed to be back at work early the next morning.

I unlocked the door, and we climbed the stairs wearily.  We finally reached the front door, and I struggled a bit to open it.  Finally the key found it's home, and I turned it to slide the deadbolt back.  I pushed the door open, and nearly fell into the entry hall.  I managed to keep my balance, though, and gently closed the door behind Alex.  We tossed our wet coats on the backs of the kitchen chairs, and went to sit in the living room.

I had explained to Alex the day before she had first come over that I didn't keep any alcohol in the house; Char's mother had been a drunk, and just the smell of it would send her over the edge.  I didn't much mind, except on nights like these, when being drunk seemed to be the only way I could sleep.

We sat together on the couch, one at each end, with our legs stretched out to meet near the middle.  I slumped down, my eyes half closed, and willed my body to relax.  The heat radiating from Alex's long legs seemed to be on a mission to keep me awake, though, and, tired as I was, I couldn't relax.

Finally I stood and smiled at my snoring partner.  She seemed content to sleep where she was, so I covered her gently with a blanket before turning out the lights.

I made my way through the dark to my bedroom, and undressed without turning my bedside lamp on.  I crawled under the blankets with nothing but underwear on, and tried to fall asleep.  It wouldn't come.  Every time I closed my eyes, I saw the toothless faces of the girls.  Their eyes were mournful, as if they knew that I would never catch their killer.  I rolled onto my side, willing my mind to blank itself, for oblivion to take me, for a little bit of peace.  Instead, tears started coursing their way down my cheeks, and I felt a sob bubble it's way up.

I don’t know how long I cried before I fell asleep.  As expected, I had nightmare after nightmare, but never seemed to wake, until my alarm went off at five.  I forced my eyes open as the shrill beeps tore the air, and gasped at the cold air on my skin. Sometime in the night I had thrown the covers off, and the frigid morning air wrapped around my nearly naked body.  Shivering, I got up and pulled slacks and a shirt on.  Socks were next, and I sighed when my toes were at last encased in warm wool.  I padded down the hall, pulling a sweater over my head, and made a quick stop in the bathroom to brush my hair and teeth, before moving into the kitchen to start the coffee.  As the water started to boil, I heard movement from the living room.  I walked in to find Alex stretching under the covers.  She looked up, and pulled the blanket up close to her chin.

"You couldn't turn the heat up a bit?" she asked plaintively.  Unlike me, she looked like she'd gotten a full 8 hours of sleep.  Her hair was ruffled, but she looked well rested.

"Yeah, sure," I said, my voice hoarse.  I went to the thermostat and turned it up a bit.  I turned back to Alex, and shivered when she smiled at me.  Instead of responding, I went back into the kitchen to pour myself a cup of fresh coffee.  I stood at the counter sipping it, until I heard her move in behind me.  She stood behind me, reaching around me to pour herself some coffee.  I trembled at our nearness; from her breath on the back of my neck.  I almost leaned back in to her warmth, but stopped myself.  I thought that she should have moved away by now, but instead she stayed; almost inviting my to lean into her.  My breath hitched, and I felt myself relax into her warmth without meaning to.  My back hit her collar bone, and she shuffled a bit closer to better hold my weight.  I held my breath.  I could feel her breasts pressing into me from behind; could feel each breath she took.  I matched my own breathing to hers, so that we inhaled at the same time.  I thought that I could feel her heartbeat, but it couldn't have been because it was fluttering too fast.  Almost as fast as mine.

I don't know how long we stood like that, neither daring to speak, before my phone rang.

"Shit," I spat out between my teeth as she moved aside so that I could run back into my room to find the damn thing.  I got to it just before it rolled over to voice mail, and flipped it open without looking at it.

"DeSuiesk," I snapped.

"It's Mark Cobbler.  You need to get in here, fast.  We just got a new ID."  I tried to calm my breathing.

"Who?" I asked, sitting down.

"You're not going to believe this.  Senator Kelly's daughter."  I gasped.  Richard Kelly was an up and coming politician who was hinting at running for presidency in a few years.

"Which case?" I asked, stunned.

"Ours.  She was reported missing in LA, that's why we didn't know.  It was only luck that I saw her picture on the television this morning."

"Okay, I'll be there in 20 minutes.  I'll call Alex, too."  We hung up, and I walked slowly back into the kitchen.  Alex was sitting at the table, long legs stretched out in front of her; sipping coffee.  She looked up when I came in.

"We got an ID on another of our girls.  Senator Kelly's daughter."

"Shit," she said.  Our already high-profile case was about to get even bigger.

"Cobbler wants us in now; my guess is he and Kledowski are going to inform the Senator, and wants us to start working the bus company."  It wasn't exactly fair, but I didn't care.  TV face time was hardly a concern.

Alex went to my room to throw some clothes on as I tidied up the kitchen.  We grabbed our coats, and were out the door five minutes after Cobbler had called.  I thought back to the way our bodies had been melded together; the way Alex's ragged breathing had felt on my neck.  Today was certainly going to be interesting.

It was barely six when we got to the station; Cobbler and Kledowski were already in the squad room.  As expected, they wanted us to hit the bus company early, while they went to talk to the senator.

We grabbed Kledowski's notes on the company, and the address for the garage, and headed out.  It took us almost an hour to get across town, what with morning traffic and all, and by the time we got there, half the busses had already pulled out.

I flashed my badge at the front desk, and we were escorted to the manager's office.  He received us flamboyantly, and when we told him why we were there, he agreed to help in any way he could.

We asked for and got the employee records, and asked him some questions about his crew.  Nothing seemed to stick out; but then, nothing ever does until you start sweating the guy in the interrogation room.

We stopped for coffee and a quick bite on the way back, then sat down to start going over the list.  First we ran the names through the various databanks, but didn't get any concerning hits.  A few DUIs, some robbery charges, nothing big, nothing to turn heads.  DMV was next; everyone was up to date with the proper licenses and such.  It looked like we had struck out.

Alex leaned back in her chair, rubbing her neck.  I let my eyes wonder lazily up her long body until they came to rest on her face.  Her hair was pushed back, her eyes were closed.  She looked tired; drawn.  I tried to tear my gaze away, but found myself captivated by her; drawn to her.  Black eyes opened, and she looked back at me searchingly.  I trembled in my seat, feeling as though she were looking right into my very soul.  I finally managed to look away; my face was burning, and my body felt like it was on fire.  I shifted uncomfortably.

"I guess we'd better start tracking these guys down and talking to them," Alex said.  I looked up from my lap.  She was right, though I didn’t want to go out just now.  Instead, I wanted to be transported back to this morning; to the kitchen when I'd leaned back into her, and feel her heat again.  I shuddered.  God, what was I doing?  I tried to think about something else; the case, the other detectives we were working with, the picture of Char on my desk, anything, but it all came back to Alex.

We left a few minutes later; Alex calling Cobbler to let them know where we were going as we walked out.  It was snowing again, and the drive back to the garage was tedious.  Thankfully the city streets were used enough to keep them mostly clear of snow; but I knew from experience just how tricky ice could be.

We finally reached our destination, and the manager set us up with two rooms to talk to each driver and maintenance worker.  I would have preferred to do the interviews with Alex, but knew that it would go much quicker this way.  I asked the appropriate questions, but only put half my mind on the task.  A couple of the guys recognized the pictures I showed them, but nobody stood out.  Not until the last guy.

Kyle Mason was an average man in every sense of the word.  Five foot nine, brown hair, brown eyes, white, pasty skin.  He had been a bus driver for 10 years, but again, nothing stood out on his record.  He had no previous convictions, had graduated high school but hadn't attended college; your average, lower middle class guy.  As soon as he walked into the room, alarm bells went off in my head.  He jarred my senses; something about this guy was wrong.

But all of his answers seemed normal; he was even a bit sadder about the deaths than most of the others.  He set my teeth on edge.  I found myself needing to control myself with a tight fist; he made me want to punch him for no reason.  Just his voice seem off; it was high pitched and whiney.  I was thankful when the interview was over so that I could breath some air that hadn't been mixed with his.  If this wasn't our guy, I would eat my gun.  My gut had never been wrong before.

I met Alex in the hall, and we left the building before comparing notes.  I let her go first, then told her about Mason.

"Something about him was just wrong," I said emphatically.  "He made my hair stand on end."  Alex grinned at the image, and I shook my head.  "I want to know more about this guy."

Cobbler and Kledowski were waiting for us, chatting with our captain and another man I didn't recognize.  We walked in and hung our coats up, then joined the group of men at our desks.

"DeSuiesk, Wilding, Captain Reed from the SVU.  He and his detectives are over here to assess whether or not you two need to be on the case."  I looked at the balding man with distaste.  His eyes were beady, and for all the good things I'd heard about him, I took an immediate distaste to him.

"Captain," I said, addressing both with one title, "We've seen the case this far with Cobbler and Kledowski, we want to continue with it."  I looked to Alex for confirmation, and she nodded.  "In fact, we just found a guy who may turn into a lead."  I turned and found a picture of Mason to tape on our large board.  As I did, I told the other men what I thought of him.

"Meet Kyle Mason, career bus driver.  Dropped out of college at 19, no priors, has been driving various routes for 10 years."  I turned to face the men and their unconvinced stares.

"Something wasn't right about this guy.  It's like he's trying to hard to fade into the crowd.  I'm sure he's our guy.”  Early on in my career I'd developed quite a reputation for calling the guy before any evidence hit the table.  People told me that I was ahead of the game; that I was in danger of braking the law with my private charges, but when time and again my gut was right, people stopped tell in me I was cracked.  My captain knew it, but Reed seemed amused by my accusations.

"Did your gut also tell you what he ate for breakfast, Detective?" he asked mockingly.  I ignored the question, and continued with the profile.

"Manson did recognize pictures of all the girls I showed him, but couldn't give any names.  He seem slightly intrigued by them, though."  It hadn't struck me until just then, how he had touched each head with a caress.

"I'm sure he's our guy," I said again, trying to get my point across.

"Well, I don't see why you two are needed on this case, but as long as your captain clears it, I have no objection to your continuing services.  I'm sure my detectives will inform me if there's any problem."  With that, he bustled out the door.  I raised an eyebrow, and Cobbler shook his head.

"Talk about a pompous ass," he said, and the tension in the room dissipated.

"So, you think this is our guy, huh?" Kledowski said, walking over and looking at his DMV photo.  "Well, I think it's time to start digging."

So we did.  We found every record of the guy that we could find; every shred of information about him.  Over the next two days we talked to his coworkers, his neighbors, his mother.  Alex and I spent six hours meticulously going through his school records, trying to find some record of some misdeed.  But the guy was squeaky clean.  Finally we went over to Sienna College and pulled his short record there.

"Here's something interesting," Alex murmured, reading in the car as I drove back to the station.  "He didn't drop out, he was expelled.  For, get this, suspected molestation of a child.  I wonder why that's not in the database?" she mused, looking through the rest of the file.  "We've got enough to bring him in for question, wouldn't you say?" she said when I didn't respond.

"Mm-hmm," I replied, trying to get her out of my head.  I couldn't stop thinking of the way her body felt behind me, Tuesday morning, or about the fact that she had been sleeping on the couch for the entire week.  Char loved it

I was glad that the guys we were working with understood that I couldn't work late most days.  I was somewhat worried that I wasn't spending enough time with Char, but she assured me that not only did she understand, but that it was fine.  I was too tired most nights to talk with her much, but since she seemed happy, I didn't stress it too much.  This wasn't the first case that I'd had since the adoption that had harried me; it was just the first that I'd been so totally tied up in.  The faces haunted my dreams; enough to make me wish for the much more  innocent thoughts of Alex.  Despite our concentration on the case, I still felt drawn to her, addicted to her in a way that I couldn't even begin to understand.  It still scared me, but the fear seemed dulled by my near constant exhaustion.

By Friday morning, I was sure that I wasn't going to last much longer at this no-sleep, hard working, caffeine driven pace.  I needed some down time.

The captain hadn't let us bring Mason in, saying that we needed something else.  I was to tired to fight.  When he saw my lack of reaction, he sent me home early on Friday, telling me to get some rest, and that he didn’t want to see my until noon on Saturday.  I did as I was told, only mildly reluctantly, and went home.  I barely made it in the door before falling into an exhausted sleep on the couch, my face buried in one of Alex's t-shirts.  I inhaled her scent as I drifted off, and it followed me into my dreams.

I woke three hours later when Char came home.  She was surprised to see me; and a little worried.  I reassured her that I was merely tired, and staggered into my room to sleep some more.  I brought the t-shirt with me, and snuggled it close.  I could hear Char moving around in the kitchen, but fell back to sleep without another thought.

I woke up, groggy, and looked at the alarm clock near my face.  It's red display said it was past eight.  My dark room said night time, and I could hear voices coming from the other end of the apartment.  I wanted to go back to sleep, but knew it wouldn't be possible.  With a slight groan I moved off the bed; my back stiff from sleeping curled in a tight ball.

I shuffled down the hall slowly, letting my eyes adjust to the bright light.  I came into the living room rubbing my eyes sleepily, and saw Alex and Char playing Monopoly on the ground.

"Hey sleepyhead," Alex said, smiling up at me.  I looked at her blearily, then smiled back.

"We weren't sure how long you were going to sleep, so I saved you some dinner.  Want me to reheat it for you?" Char asked, starting to get up.

"No, thanks," I said, waving her back to their game.  "Surprising as it may seem, I can actually operate a microwave."  They laughed, and I went into the kitchen.  I found the food, and heated it up, pouring myself some orange juice as the microwave hummed.  When it was hot, I grabbed a fork and went back into the living room.  I ate on the couch; watching Alex and Char haggle over the price of property on the board.  Alex's back was to me, and if she scooted back just a bit, she'd be leaning against my legs.  I found myself wishing she would do just that.  Of course she didn't, so I leaned forward over her shoulder to look at the board.

"Doesn't it say right there how much Marvin Gardens costs?" I asked, pointing at the black lettering at the bottom of the square.  Char gave me a withering look.

"Where's the fun in that?" she asked.  "You've got to factor in inflation, and the cost of living."  She sounded amused that I wouldn't know such an obvious fact of the game.

"Isn't that what buying houses and such are for?" I asked, still leaned forward, nearly touching Alex's back.

"Yes, but the cost of the property is subject to change at any time," Char informed me, and Alex tilted her head back to grin at me.  Her face was dizzyingly close to mine, and I felt myself fall into the black pools of her eyes.  I couldn't breath; couldn't figure out what I was seeing on her face.  My eyes slid to her lips; red and full, less than an inch away from my own.

"You're turn," Char said triumphantly, handing the dice over the Alex and breaking our spell.  I sat back on the couch, and tried to taste the food I was forking into my mouth.

"This is really good, Char," I said, finally figuring out how to access the information my taste buds were sending my tongue.  She smiled up at me shyly.

"Thanks."  Then, to my utter amazement, Alex leaned back ever so slightly, and scooted away from the board a bit; resting her long back against my shins.  I held my breath as she settled into her new position, and resisted the urge to sink my hands into her thick dark hair.  It didn't help when she leaned her head back against my knees.  I put my plate down on the small coffee table, afraid I would drop it, and tried to calm my racing heart.  I realized the mistake of putting the food down as my hands started wandering toward the tall woman's shoulders.  Without asking permission from my screaming brain, my fingers started kneading into Alex's shoulders; finding each knot and working it lose.  She groaned, and I could feel my body's fire at the sound.  Char grinned at Alex's closed eyes, and gently nudged her knee for her to roll the dice.  She leaned forward a bit, away from my legs to take her turn, and I let my hands wander lower on her back.  She groaned again, and I lost myself in her taut muscles.  I realized absentmindedly that she wasn't wearing a bra, but it didn't really penetrate into my brain.  I'm sure that if it had, I would have something stupid.

Char resigned herself to the fact that us adults were a bit distracted from her favorite game, and let Alex duck out until tomorrow night.  She pushed the board away, and climbed into her favorite chair, reaching for the remote.  Alex stayed on the ground, letting me push and pull at every knot in her back.  I was barely aware of the television, or even of the room around me.  Alex consumed me; I forgot about the rest of the world for a while and simply let myself drown in her.

Eventually my fingers started cramping, and I stopped the massaged.  Alex sighed, and leaned back on my legs once again.  My hands would not be idle, however, and I found myself with a mop of dark brown hair twined around my finger.  I played with it; brushing it to one side and then another, until she was limp at my feet.  I let my fingers 'accidentally' brush against her ears once or twice, and felt a rush at the quiet sound she made.  I could hardly believe what was happening; that I was touching this stunning woman like this.  Not so much that I was touching her, but that I was letting myself be attracted to her.  Was letting myself flirt with her, if you could call it that.

I looked over at Char, who was watching me with an amused look on her face.  I hadn't talked to her about my feelings, and suddenly I wondered just how much she knew about me.  I wondered if she knew what I was thinking about.  She winked at me, and turned back to the TV.  I mused on what the wink might mean, and yawned.  I may have slept for half the day, but I was still tired.  Alex too seemed weary, and a few minutes later when the show ended, we decided to go to bed.

I reluctantly let go of Alex's head, and stood to give her a hand.  Her palm was sweaty and hot against mine as I pulled her to her feet, and I felt electrocuted by it.  I dropped it as soon as she was upright, not trusting myself all of a sudden.  I bade Char goodnight; kissing her on the forehead, and hugging her tight.

"Thanks for being so understanding, kiddo.  I know things haven't been easy this last week, and I promise they'll get back to normal soon."  She nodded, and went off to seek her bed.  I was left standing with my partner, who was stretching her arms toward the ceiling.  Her shirt rode up, and I could see her flat, tanned stomach.  I wanted desperately to touch it, but held my already offensive hands in check.  She grinned at me as I blushed, and returned to a more normal position.  I mumbled a goodnight, and headed for my room.

I pulled my rumpled pants off and threw them in the hamper.  I replaced them quickly with thin NYPD sweats, and had taken my shirt and bra off when I felt the other presence in the room.

I turned, t-shirt half on my bare torso, to see Alex lounging on my doorframe.  I froze for a second at the look in her eyes, then quickly pulled the shirt over my head.  I had never noticed how its many holes left me so exposed.

"I just wanted to thank you for the massage," she said, her voice slightly husky.  I nodded, not trusting my voice.  I wanted to run away, hard and fast, but stood rooted to the spot.

"Crys?  Are you okay?"  Her concern broke through my fear, and suddenly I realized that I wasn't all right.  The last week had been horribly hard, and added to that were my growing feelings for my partner.  I was ashamed to feel tears fall down my face, and I turned around to hide them.

Alex was there in a heartbeat, long arms wrapped around me, turning me around and offering a strong shoulder to cry onto.  Without hesitation, without realizing exactly what I was doing, I started sobbing into the soft fabric that covered her, letting everything I was feeling out in great, shuddering sobs.  She held me, murmuring soft nothings into my head, and making me feel safe enough to open my heart a bit.

I cried for the girls who had died, for their families, for my sister, who I had never properly mourned, and who had changed me in ways I didn't understand, and finally for myself and the tangle of emotions and attractions I was feeling toward my partner.

Alex let me cry, and when I was done, she pushed me away only so much to let us walk over to the bed and sit down.  She found my box of tissues and handed me a couple.  I took them and blew my nose gently.  She wrapped both arms around me, and cuddled me close.  I leaned onto her chest, breathing evenly now.

"Feel better?" she asked finally, breaking our comfortable silence.

"Yeah, actually," I replied truthfully.  I was too tired think suddenly, and felt myself slump into her even more.  She sensed the change, and moved so that I could lie down.  She pulled the blankets up close under my chin, and sat by the bed, holding my hand gently.  I could feel my eyes slide close, but when she started to move away, I tightened my hold.

"Please, stay," I murmured, fighting sleep for a few moments longer.  I felt her breath catch, then her hand slid away.  I thought she left, but moments after the lights were turned off, I felt her slide in next to me.  I had no thought but of comfort and something to dispel the loneness as I curled against her.  I sighed as her arm encircled me, and drifted off to sleep listening to her heartbeat.


I woke in the morning to the smell of my very private fantasy; the one I barely let myself have.  Alex was curled in a fetal position in front of me; her body fitting perfectly with mine.  Sometime in the night we had changed places so that her back was to mine.  My arm was thrown across her waist, and I gently drew her even close, letting myself dream of what it would fee like to –

My thoughts were cut short by the tall detective turning in her sleep, and her black eyes opening into the morning night.  She blinked up at me with sleep blurred eyes, and smiled.

"G'morning," she said.  I felt her body stretch out against mine, and thought that I might very well explode on the spot.  The warmth of her body and the coldness of the air outside were the only things that kept me in place, but I felt the need to move.  As soon as she was done stretching, I did the same, trying to roll some of the kinks out of my shoulders.

"Turn over," she ordered, sounding entirely too awake for this time of day.

"What?" I asked, confused.

"Just roll over onto your stomach," she said patiently.  I complied, and a moan escaped my lips as her strong hands dug into my back, releasing the tension.  My eyes slid closed as her hands worked magic on the knots back there, and I was barely aware of her tsk-tsking about my pent up tension.  Part of my brain tried to come up with a witty response, but it was lost as her hands moved lower; rubbing my lower back.  I was drowning in desire by the time she stopped; I let it sweep me along, no longer caring where it took me.

I wanted to moan when I felt her get off the bed, and I shivered at the sudden loss of warmth.  I closed my eyes, relishing in the lack of tension in my back, and listened to her at my closet.

I was about to drift off again when she threw my robe at me.

"Get up," she said, a smile in her voice.

"Ngh," I groaned into the pillow, trying to curl up under the covers.  I knew I had to get up, but part of me wanted to savor the last bit of warmth forever.  I pulled her pillow to me unconsciously, and buried my face in it.

"Much as I'd love to stay here with you all day," she said, her voice tender and teasing, "It's nine thirty, and we need to be at work at noon."  I peaked to look at the clock, not daring to think about what she had just said.

"Come on Crys, get up.  I'll got start the coffee."  I heard her leave and close the door behind her.  I threw the covers off, and gasped at the cold air.  Quickly, I pulled the robe on, and grabbed some decent clothes.  I ran quickly to the bathroom, noting that Char's door was open, and that she wasn't inside.

After a quick shower, I dressed and went in search of the promised coffee.  Alex and Char were sitting at the table, talking.  I saw the nearly full pot on the counter and made a beeline for it, trying to avoid Alex's black gaze.  How could one person make me feel so safe one moment, and so damn scared the next? I wondered as I poured my liquid caffeine into my favorite mug.  Instead of sitting in the vacant chair next to Alex, I chose to lean against the counter.  Try as I might, though, all I could look at was my dark partner.  The way her hair was standing up; the way her eyes seemed to be willing me to make a move; the way nipples pressed against the fabric of her shirt.

Whoa!  Where the hell did that come from?!  I inhaled sharply, forgetting that I was about to take a sip of coffee.  The scalding liquid went down the wrong pipe, so to speak, and I wound up coughing.  I tried to glare at a laughing Alex, but the effect was lost as I couldn't breathe.  Even Char was giggling by the time I caught my breath, and I tried to send mental daggers to both of them.

"It's not funny," I complained, pouring myself more coffee to calm my nerves.

"What, your coffee was too hot to drink, so you thought you'd try inhaling it for your caffeine buzz?" Alex said, chuckling.  Char whooped.

"You are both so dead," I threatened, but my evil eyes were being ruined by a small smile that twitched my lips.  Finally I broke down and joined in with their laughter.

We finally settled down, and I took the offered chair next to Alex, but resisted to urge to lean into her from the side. God, I just wanted to melt into her, feel her warmth and my fire combined.  I made the mistake of looking her in the eyes, and I felt myself fade into her; felt my body, my soul, drawn to her.  I couldn't look away.  I couldn't breath.

"You two have really got to talk," Char said, amused.  Alex finally released my eyes, and I looked over at my daughter.

"What?" I said, trying to sound in control.  All I managed was strangled.

"You heard me, you two really need to talk."  Alex's eyebrows joined mine at our respective hairlines.  Char didn't miss a beat.

"Look, it's obvious that you like each other, which is really cool, but you need to do something!  You're acting like a pair of lovesick teenagers, and I can see those every day."  I blinked.  So this was what it was like to be read like an open book.  No one had ever been able to read me like that; I was always the one who said the forbidden things.

"Would you rather I go to my room?" Char asked, seemingly enjoying our discomfort.  "Or should I just go out for a walk."  She started to move away from the table.  I didn't know what would happen if she left, so I pulled her back.

"Oh no, you're not going anywhere," I said, my hand on her wrist.  She sat down, grinning.

"Actually, maybe you should go out for a quick walk, Char," Alex said, smiling slightly.

"What is this, a conspiracy?" I yelped, releasing Char.  Her grin widened.  Glancing at the clock, she stood and grabbed her coat.

"I'll be back by eleven," she said, pulling a hat on.  "Have a good time!"  She walked out of the room, and a few seconds later I heard the front door open and close.  This was really happening.

I tried to distract myself; I grabbed her breakfast dishes and Alex's empty coffee mug and carried them over to the sink.  I started to run the water to wash them, but a hand on my wrist stopped my reach for the sponge.  I stood stock still, trembling.

"Maybe she's right, maybe we should talk," Alex whispered, sending shivers down my spine.  I could feel her warmth radiating out from her body; felt it, and wanted it in a way I couldn't understand.  I stared at the water streaming out of the faucet, and slowly moved to turn it off.  I turned to face her, and looked up.  Her eyes caught mine, and I gasped.  Her hand moved from my wrist to my hand, and I caught it; twining our fingers together.  I took the slightest step forward and our bodies met.  I was on fire; everywhere her body met mine, I tingled and sang.  I never noticed until then how much taller she was; my head barely reached her collar bone.  My breath came in short gasps as her hand moved to rest on my back, right in the middle.  My head tilted back, and I melted into the black pools of her eyes.  I felt her bend down, ever so slightly, and knew she was about to kiss me.  Kiss me.  Kiss me.

A jarring noise made me jerk, and Alex's head snapped up.  Her cell phone was ringing from her bag on the living room floor.  Reluctantly she moved away, releasing my hand last.  I wanted to follow her, but seemed rooted to the spot.  I could still feel her breath one me; her phantom hands on my back.

"Wilding," I heard her say, and finally my muscles remembered how to move.  I grabbed my coffee and walked silently into the living room.  Alex looked up as I walked in, the phone still at her ear.  I sat down and watched her.

"Damn it!" she said, and I tensed.  Something had gone bad at work.

"That piece of scum!"  A short pause.  "Yeah, I'll call DeSuiesk.  We should be there in no more than," she looked at her watch, "Half an hour."  She listened for a second more, then hung up.  I stood, hesitantly reaching for her hand.  My body seemed to be disconnected from my brain.  Our fingers met, and she pulled me close.  I nestled into her; letting her strong arms engulf me and hold me.

"They went out to pick up Mason," she said softly into my hair.  "He's gone."  I could feel how tense she was; how mad she was.  Not knowing what else to do, I gently pulled her head down to my shoulder, and wrapped my arms around her, holding her tight.

"We're gonna get him," I said.  "I know we will."  She let me hold her for a while, then took a deep breath and pulled away.  I wanted to keep her close, but knew we had work to do.

"We need to, uh, get in and help them start the search," she said, not looking at me.  I knew how she felt.  Any more time with her in close proximity and I knew we'd never get in to the station.  I glanced at my watch.  It was ten thirty.

"Listen, you'd better get in.  I'll stay here 'til Char gets back, then come in.  Okay?"  Finally, something I could control.

She agreed, and left soon after.  I grabbed her wrist just before she walked out, and pulled her into a tight embrace.  She returned the pressure, and it took all my strength to keep myself from kissing her.

After she was gone, I sat down in the kitchen to wait for Char.  Soon I was up pacing, though, my mind locked on the case.  I knew Mason was our guy.  My gut told me that he was a cold-blooded killer, but I still didn't have enough evidence to arrest him.  Maybe Cobbler and Kledowski did.

Finally Char came though the door.  I went out to meet her.  Her cheeks were flushed from the cold, and her eyes sparkled.

"Where's Alex?" she asked, almost teasing.  I took a deep breath.

"We got called in; apparently our suspect has gone AWOL," I said.

"Oh," she replied, slowly pulling off her coat.  "Look, I'm –" she started to say, but I cut her off.

"We, uh, talked, a little, before the call came in, and, well, thank you, for pushing."  I looked at her face, and smiled back at her.

"Yeah, you're welcome.  Look, I think it's really neat that you guys like each other," she said, blushing slightly from the praise.

"Yeah," I said, and coughed slightly.  "I'm really sorry, Char, but I've got to go in.  We're gonna need all the help we can get if we're gonna find this guy."  She nodded.  I grabbed my keys and phone, and made my way to the door.

Before I left, I pulled her into a hug, kissing the top of her head.  "You did real good, saying what you did.  Thank you."  Before she could respond, I left.

I drove quickly to the station, not caring that the streets were icy.  I got there in the middle of the meeting.

The captain stood with his arms folded, watching Kledowski talk about Mason; Cobbler lounged in a chair.  Finally I let my eyes rest on Alex, who was sitting in my chair, her long body stretched out.  I resisted the urge to think about how close we had been this morning, and walked over.  They looked up as I put my stuff down, but Kledowski continued talking.  I smiled briefly at Alex, and leaned against my desk to listen.

"Once we pulled his juvie records we got a warrant to arrest him.  He had two convictions of molestation," Kledowski filled in for me.  "We went to pick him up, but found that he'd never showed up for work.  His house was deserted, and his mother hasn't seen him in a week."  When it was clear that he was finished, we all turned to the captain.

"We need to make a list of places he could be hiding, then get out there and find him.  Take as many units as you need, but let's not be too conspicuous."  He looked at us.  "Let's get to work people."  With sighs, we did.  Alex let me have my desk back, and we started going through our notes.  Cobbler and Kledowski went into our conference room, and worked there.  Anything that needed to be run through the computers, they brought back to us.

After an hour's work, we had a short list of possible places he could be hiding.  We split it between us, and headed out.  I drove quickly; not quite being dangerous, but fast enough to make Alex give me a look.  I tried to ignore her, but the slight smile on her lips was very distracting.

The first two places had nothing, but the third was more promising.  It was an old garage; where the busses used to be stored.  We pulled up, and noticed the padlock on the gate had been cut.  We got out warily.  My senses were all screaming danger, so I pulled my gun out.  Alex noticed, and did the same.  We edged through the narrow opening that the open gate provided, and made our way silently to the front door.  It was closed, but when I tried the knob, it opened with a scream of rusty hinges.  I winced, and walked in with my gun pulled.  I looked around, and noticed blood drops on the floor.  I pointed them out to Alex, who nodded.  Her face was tight, and I realized she must be scared.  I could feel adrenaline pumping though my veins, and wondered if she could feel the same buzz.  I walked forward slowly, letting my gun lead, and I felt her behind me.

We walked down the hall, following the blood, but hesitated at the end.  To my left was another hall, to my right, a closed door.  The blood led us to the door, but I pointed down the hall to remind Alex to keep one eye behind her.  She nodded.

I walked silently to the door and reached out slowly to grasp the handle.  Taking a deep breath, I pushed it open quickly.  It banged against the wall and bounced back, but I was already far enough in that it bumped my shoulder.  I swept the room with my gaze, and seeing no movement, walked in.  Alex was behind me, her gun covering my left side.

We were in the garage, the empty concrete made our footsteps echo painfully.  I looked to the ground to find our trail again, and quickly saw that the blood led to the other side and another door.  I walked over, my eyes never resting in one place for more than a moment.  I approached the door and was about to open it when something made my hair stand on end.  I whirled around, remembering to lower my gun, and pushed Alex out of my way.  She looked confused, but silently followed my lead.  Trying to find the source of my feeling, I sniffed the air.

There!  A faint scent of human musk drifted under my nose.  There was someone in the room.  I stilled my breathing, and listened hard for any noise.  Alex's breathing was loud, but I couldn't take the time to shush her.  Finally I heard it; ragged breathing in the far corner.  I motioned to my partner to let her know where I was going, and started forward.

We made our way across the open floor silently, knowing that we were in the greatest danger out in the open.  Finally we were near the corner.  It had a number of large cardboard boxes stacked haphazardly near it.  I edged around one, then another.  At last I saw him.

Kyle Mason, sitting with a .22 pistol in his hand.  He looked up as I approached, and started to raise his gun.  Before he had the chance to do anything, Alex was behind him, grabbing his hand.  I kept my gun trained on him as she unarmed him, then helped her cuff him.

"Kyle Mason, you are under arrest for the murder of Angela Kimble and Cassandra Manson, among many others.  You have the right to remain silent; you have the right to an attorney.  If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you."  After he had been properly Mirandized, and had told us that he understood his rights, I stepped away a little to call in our location and ask for backup.  When I had conformation that three units were on their way, I turned to him.

"Where's the kid you kidnapped?" I asked, hoping that my tone was severe enough.

"What kid?" he asked, and by his smile I knew he was playing something.

"Look, either I can go search for her, and tell the DA that you were uncooperative, or you can tell me exactly where she is, and I'll inform Senator Kelly that he won't be allowed to confront his daughter's killer, no matter how many strings he pulls.  Your choice.  Either way, we're gonna find her."  Alex jerked his cuffed hands up a little, making him wince.

"Sorry, bitch, you'll have to find her yourself.  You should hurry, she lost a lot of blood."  I sneered at him, then looked up at Alex.  She nodded slightly, letting me know that she had him.

Retracing our earlier steps, I found the blood trail again, and followed it through the door warily.  I had my hand on my gun, but didn't draw it.  The crimson drops led me to another door and an office behind it.  I could hear whimpers now, and scanned the nearly empty room quickly.  The only place I couldn't see was behind an old desk, apparently deemed to bulky to move.  I walked over to it slowly, and peered under.  Sure enough, a young girl cowered under it.  Her left leg had a nasty gash in it; nothing fatal, but bad enough.

"My name is Crystal, I'm a police officer.  I'm going to get you out of here, but it may hurt a bit.  What's your name, honey?"  I crouched down as I talked to her in a gentle voice, and reached in to her.  She held her arms out to me without hesitation, but cried out when her leg got jarred.  I struggled for a moment, until at last I had her safe in my arms.  She clung to me, and for a second I let her.

"It's okay now, you're safe.  You're safe, little one.  You're gonna be okay."  I could feel her tears seep into my shirt.

"What's your name, honey?" I asked as I made my way out the door.

"Sophie," she mumbled.

"That's a pretty name," I said, trying to put a smile in my voice.  "I'm going to take you outside where my friends are waiting," I told her as we walked out.  I was careful to stay as far away from Mason as I could.  I didn't think anything would happen, but you could never be too careful.

I made my way back through the building, and was finally outside.  I could hear sirens in the distance, but a look at Sophie's face told me that she needed medical attention fast.

I set her down on a bare patch of concrete, then wrapped her in my jacket.  It was freezing out, but I could manage.  I took my first good look at her wound.  It seemed to have missed most everything important, but from the look of it she had lost a lot of blood.  It still bled sluggishly, so I pushed down on it with one hand while searching for something to bind it with.  Nothing was at hand.

I looked up to her face and saw fresh tear marks on her cheeks.  Reaching over with my unbloodied hand, I stroked her hair.

"You're being very brave, Sophie, and I promise you'll be home soon.  You just need to hang in there for a little bit longer.  My friends will be here very soon, and they'll take really good care of you."  She nodded slightly, her big brown eyes scared.

At last the ambulance and three squad cars arrived.  Sophie was lifted from the ground by two EMTs who took her quickly back to the bus.  I looked blankly at my blood covered hand, then ran back in with the uniforms to get Mason out of there.

We found Alex and the cuffed man near where I had left them.  Alex handed him off to the unis with a sigh of relief, then turn to me.  Already crime scene techies were swarming the building, and I wished for a moment of privacy to give my partner a hug.  I settled for walking out with her.

As we stood by our car, waiting for Cobbler and Kledowski to arrive, I felt the adrenaline drain from my body.  I was suddenly lightheaded, and nauseated.  I knew the symptoms, and knew that I simply needed to sit for a bit until it passed, so I pulled the car door open and slumped into the seat with my legs out the door.  Alex looked at me, concerned.

"I'm fine," I said, a bit breathless.  "Just the adrenaline leaving my body."  She nodded, and reached in to squeeze my shoulder.  Our proximity and her warm body did nothing to help my dizziness.

After a few more minutes it passed, and the SVU detectives arrived a few minutes later.  I stood to greet them.

"Good work," Cobbler said, and I grinned.

"Yeah, to all of us.  I guess we'll leave the rest to you two," I said, still smiling.  Alex gave me an odd look.

"Give us a call if he doesn't check out," she said as I walked over to the driver's seat.  The guys looked annoyed.

"Look, you can't just leave.  We've got interviews to do, and paperwork.  You can't bugger out yet!" Cobbler exclaimed.  I opened the door, then turned to him.

"You guys said at the beginning that you wanted us out of your way with the suspects, and that it was your case.  So actually, we don't have to do your paperwork, or stick around to interview with you.  It's been nice working with you boys; let us know if you ever need help again."  With that I got into the car and started the engine.  Alex gave a cheery little wave to the stunned men, and got in after me.  We chuckled a bit as we drove away, still not quite believing that it was all over.  Usually we'd have to interview the suspect, and do all the paperwork, but not this time.  As the arresting officer, I would have to testify in court; but it wasn't our case.  It felt good; we'd worked hard and it paid off.

I reached over and put my hand on Alex's knee.  "Good work pardoner."  She grinned and covered my hand with hers.

"Yeah, you too.  You were awesome back there with those guys."  I grinned, and hoped it wouldn't come back to bite me on the ass.

"Listen, after we brief the captain, how bout I take us out to lunch?"  I glanced at her face for a second, and saw a bemused smile on her lips.

"I'd love that, Crys," she said.

By the time we got back to the station it was after one.  We went in and told the captain what had gone down.  He seemed amused at my antics to get out of paperwork, and sent us home for a long weekend.  In fact, he informed us in no uncertain terms that he didn't want to see either of us until Tuesday noon at the earliest.  We grinned and accepted with grace.

"So, where'd ya want to go for lunch?" I asked as we headed out.

"Back to your place?"  She grinned down at me impishly.

"Char's still there," I said, thinking aloud.  I had wanted some time alone with her, but would settle if that's what she wanted.

"I know.  I thought we could beg on her better nature to let of have some time to 'talk'."  I smiled at her tone.

"Sounds fine.  I'll give her a call on our way over."  We got into our cars, and I dialed as I pulled out.

"Hello?" she answered.

"Hey Char, it's me," I said.

"What's up?"

"We caught him," I said, grinning again.

"That's great, Mom!  Is Alex coming over to celebrate?" she gushed.

"Yeah, she is.  I take it that's okay with you?"

"Of course!"  I was pretty sure Alex was always welcome as far as Char was concerned, but I wanted to make sure.

"All right, we'll be there in fifteen minutes."  She promised to have something for us to eat when we got there, and we hung up.

When I got home, Char was waiting none to patiently for us.  I laughed as she gave me a huge hug, then bounded back to the kitchen to make sure lunch was ready.  I took a deep breath; inhaling the familiar scent of home.  Char was making sandwiches for us, and the smell of melted cheese was making my mouth water.  Walking into the kitchen, I watched her cut the sandwiches expertly, and thought about how far she had come in the five months since I'd brought her home.  She looked up at me and grinned.

I was jerked out of my reverie by a knock on the front door.  As I walked out to the door, it dawned on me that I should make Alex a key.  She was here often enough.

"Hey," I said as I opened the door.  "Lunch's ready."  She walked in almost hesitantly, and reached out to me.  I felt her hand on mine; felt the heat in my body.  She pulled me close and hugged me with strong arms.  I let her hold me for a moment, then dragged myself away.  I wanted nothing more than to simply melt into her, but knew that if we didn't go into the kitchen soon, Char would come looking, and I really didn't want her to walk in on us.

"Later," I whispered to her, and led her to the table.  Char had set two places.  I stared at them for a moment, then turned as she walked over with two sandwiches.

"I've already eaten," she said, setting the plates on the table.  "I was thinking I'd go out to library, if that's okay."  I looked at her for a moment, feeling love swell up inside me.

"Char," I started to say, but stopped as I had no idea how to express myself.  Instead of speaking, I pulled her into a hug.  "I love you, kiddo.  You're the best."  She nodded against me, then pulled away.

"So, can I have some money for a cab?" she asked.  I laughed and pulled some cash out of my pocket and handed it to her.  She turned and gave Alex a hug, then went to her room to get a coat.

"Hey, congrats on finding your guy," Char said as she opened the door to leave.  She walked out before I could say anything.

I looked over to Alex; into her deep black eyes.  I trembled at her look, and felt a sudden pang of fear.  What was I getting myself into?

Instead of going to her as I wanted to, I walked over to the table and sat down.

"I don't know about you, but I'm ravenous," I said, and took a bite of my sandwich.  Alex walked over and sat down across from me.  She looked hurt at my sudden change of heart, but I had to fight the fear in me before I could accept what she was offering.  Or offer anything myself.

"This's good," I mumbled through a mouthful of grilled cheese with roast beef.  Alex hadn't touched hers.

"Crys," she said slowly.  "Please look at me."  I knew that her eyes would be my undoing, and I was afraid of losing control of myself.  But she had said please.

Against my better judgment, I raised my eyes to meet hers.  If I had been standing, it would have brought me to my knees.  I felt myself tremble, felt the heat in my body rise, all from one look.

Without breaking our connection, Alex stood and walked the few steps to me.  Her hand caught mine, forgotten on the table, and I let her gently pull me to my feet.  I could feel her body's warmth; it felt like it would melt me down to my essence.  Her eyes were pools of black fire as they looked into my soul.  I couldn't breath; couldn't do anything but let my body react.

Slowly, ever so slowly, she lowered her head to mine.  Her lips met mine, and I think I moaned into her mouth.  Her lips were soft, warm.  I felt her mouth open against mine, and felt my tongue push into the warmth.

I explored her mouth with my tongue; feeling her tongue, her teeth; then nearly collapsed when she did the same to me.  My heart felt like it would explode, and my body was near combusting.  The kiss lasted a lifetime.

Eventually, though, it ended, though I don't know who pulled away first.  I felt for the first time her strong arms around me, and how good it felt to hold her body against mine.  Her hips pressed against my stomach, and I could feel her breasts near mine.  She was soft and strong, and I was so afraid of her warmth.  Afraid that I wouldn't be able to control myself when I was near her; afraid that I might one day lose her.

She held me as I shook.  How could one person make me feel so safe and so afraid at the same time? I asked myself again, leaning in to her.

"Please, tell me what you're afraid of, Crys," she said quietly into my hair.  I whimpered, not wanting to voice my thoughts for fear they would come true.

"Please, let me in," she said, wearing at my defenses.

"I, I need to sit down."  Maybe if I was out of her heat I could think straight; figure out a way to tell her what I was feeling.  She led me by one hand to the living room and sat me on the couch.  She sat next to me, still holding my hand, but no longer quite so close.

"Better?" she asked with a small smile.  I smiled to return in, and nodded.

"I, I don't, I'm not really good at this," I finally managed to say.

"I know, Crys, but…please try.  For me."  For her.  Now it wasn't a matter of whether I could or not; there was no longer a way out of it.  For her, I would do anything.

"I'm afraid," I whispered, not looking at her.

"Of what?" she asked quietly.  Of you, I wanted to say, but knew it wasn't true.  I was afraid of myself, and of losing her.

"I'm, I'm scared that I'm going to lose—"  My throat clogged with unwanted tears, and I couldn’t finish.

"Lose what, Crys?  Please, tell me."  Her voice was plaintive.

"You," I said simply.  When she didn't respond I looked up.  Her eyes were soft as I melted into them.  She reached out and kissed me gently.

"You're not going to lose me," she said against my lips, and I felt myself drown in her.  "I promise."  I wasn't sure I believed her, but her words helped me push the fear away, for now at least.

I deepened the kiss, and scooted over to her.  She wrapped long arms around me; pulling me closer.  I could feel her heat again; feel it wrap around me as we breathed together.  It was like nothing I had ever known.

We sat on the couch, wrapped in each other's warmth for a moment, then I tilted my head back to look at her again.  She smiled, and bent her head to mine.  Our kiss was long and heated.  My body seemed to be acting on it's own; I pressed against Alex as I hard as I could.  I felt my hands circle around her; one going to the back of her neck, the other to her back.  She moaned as I tangled my fingers into her silky hair, and pulled me even closer.  My eyes slid shut when her hand slid under my shirt; warm skin meeting with a spark.  I couldn't breath; didn't want to breathe.  My entire world consisted of this woman in my arms, kissing me, holding me.

My body was on fire; it was alive in a way I didn't think it could be, and in the small part of my brain that was still functioning, I never wanted it to end.

"God, Crys," Alex murmured, smiling as she pulled away slightly.  I looked into her eyes, not sure what I was searching for, but knowing it when I found it.  She leaned forward, and whispered into my ear, "You're beautiful."  I gasped as her breath brushed past my skin, and smiled.  Her lips closed for a moment on the curve of my ear, and I forgot how to breath.  She moved down my ear, nipping gently with her lips, and continued down my neck.  I tilted my head back, letting her kiss my throat with a gentleness that made my heart race.  I was breathing in shuddering gasps by the time she found my lips again; my eyes had long since slid shut from the sensations racing through my body.  She gently brushed a hand down my side, barely grazing my shirt, but sending shivers through me all the same.

I finally managed to open my eyes, and found her smiling down at me, a mesmerized expression on her face.  I lifted my head ever so slightly, and captured her mouth gently with mine.  I watched as her black eyes melted to pools of liquid warmth, then slide shut.  I deepened the kiss, and gasped when her lips opened to me.  My reality was lost when she pushes her tongue into my mouth; I didn't remember how to think.  My entire world was Alex.  Alex, Alex, Alex.  Dark hair in my fingers, warm hands on my side, burning skin under t-shirt and eyes like black pools of fire looking down at me.

"God, Crys," she finally  managed to gasp.  "You're amazing."  I couldn't help the giggle that escaped my lips.  Her eyebrows twitched, which only made me laugh harder.

"Why are you laughing at me?" she asked with mock anger.

"Because you're so damn cute!" I said, astounding myself



"Hey beautiful," Alex said from behind me, walking in to the kitchen in her PJs.  "Good morning."

"What's so good about it?" I grumbled, not really in the mood for her light teasing.

"Oh, perhaps what we did last night?"  She didn't seem to pick up on my crankiness.

"You kept me up until after two, Alex.  How does that make this morning any better?"  I still hadn't turned around to look at her; my attention was completely on the coffee pot, which had almost produced enough to drink.

"Oh, you're such a grumpess," Alex said, but I could hear a smile in her voice.  I allowed a small smile to spread across my lips, but didn’t let her see it.

"You've known that for a while, Alex," I said, my smile betraying my voice.

"Mmmm," was her only reply.  I reached out for my coffee mug and winced as over-used muscles pinched.  I pulled the coffee pot out and poured myself a cup.  I couldn't wait for the caffeine to help me wake up.  I didn't really want to be grumpy in the morning, but what could one expect when we'd been up 'til all hours?

"Sounds like you need a massage," Alex said, moving up behind me and running her hands across my shoulders.  I flashed on how we had first broken the ice, as it were, how she had moved up behind me and allowed me to melt in to her.  Now I melted again, and moaned when her strong fingers started a gentle massage.


"Hey, how about this one?" Alex asked, pointing at a small gold crown with tiny diamonds set at the peaks.  I looked at her, stunned.

"Please tell me you're not serious," I said.  She laughed.

"Of course not, silly."  My heart skipped a beat at the joyous sound of her joking.  She looked up when I didn't respond, and I melted into her eyes.  She smiled, then reached over and took my hand.  It felt wonderful, this just being together.  We were shopping for a charm for Char to celebrate her one semester mark.  I had told Char that we would be home by dinner, and had left her enough money for a cab to go to the library.  Alex and I had driven downtown, parked the car, and had been wandering around ever since.  We window shopped a bit, but had gone into this shop to look at the advertised charms.

"Oooh, I like this one!" I exclaimed, looking at a small gold flower.  It had five petals, each with a different stone set at the base.

"Ooh yeah, me too," Alex said, leaning close to me to see it.  I inhaled deeply; breathing in her scent and memorizing it.  She smiled as my hand moved up her arm and shivered slightly when my fingers brushed her side.

"You should get it for her," she said quietly.  I looked up for a clerk to help me; a man caught my eye and walked over.

"Can I help you?" he asked politely.  Alex moved away from me slightly.  I missed the closeness, but knew it was for the best.

"Yes, I'd like to look at this charm here."  I pointed to the flower.

"Of course."  He pulled a key ring off of his belt and slid the appropriate key into the slot.  The door slid open silently and he pulled the tray out for me too look at.  I picked the tiny charm up and held it to the light for examination.

"It's gold?" I asked the clerk.

"Yes, of course."  I smiled slightly.

"And how much is it?"  He looked at the tray again.

"40 dollars."  I whistled quietly.

"It's set with emerald, ruby, sapphire, diamond and amethyst.  The gold is 24 karat."  I raised an eyebrow and looked at Alex.  She shrugged.

"Oh, you're a lot of help," I griped.  Then, to the clerk, "I'll get it."

"Would you like to come up to the desk and I'll ring you up?"  He motioned us to the front desk.  We walked behind him, our arms touching, admiring the jewelry.  A few minutes later, box in hand, we walked back out onto the frozen street together.

"I think it's going to snow soon," Alex said, pulling on her gloves.  I wrapped my scarf around my neck tighter and zipped up my coat.

"You may be right."  Dark clouds threatened, and the frigid air felt almost damp.  "Definitely tonight."  We walked down the street together, close to one another but not holding hands, enjoying the brisk pace of the city.

We were just contemplating stopping for a cup of something hot when we heard two shots fired.  I whirled around, pulling my Glock out and looking for the source at the same time.  Alex was at my back, searching as well.  There.  People were spilling out of a store 50 yards up the street from us.

"Alex!" I said, and pointed to the store.  She nodded and pulled her cell phone out to call in our position.  We walked up the street quickly, guns pointed to the ground so as to not accidentally harm a civilian.  When the crowd got two thick to move safely I pulled my badge out of my pocket and flashed it.

"Police, coming through.  Move aside!"  Some of them responded, but most simply milled around even more.  From behind me I could hear Alex give our badge numbers and position.

"Shots fired.  I repeat, shots fired!  Requesting back up ASAP."  The crowd suddenly opened up where a man was lying on the ground, blood pooled on the sidewalk by his head.  I knelt by him, gun still out, and pressed two fingers to his throat, feeling for a pulse.

"He's dead," I told Alex, and stood again.  Guns held up we headed to the door.  Standard procedure stated that an officer should not enter a hostile situation without back.  But I had backup.  I was backup, too, if you wanted to think about it that way.  I met Alex's eyes for a moment, and nodded when she did.

I stepped forward and pushed the wooden door open slowly.  I scanned the room for danger quickly, then stepped in slowly, turning to my right.  Alex, at my back, turned to the left at the same moment.  We moved together like gears on a well-greased machine.  I knew where she would be and she knew which way I would turn and when.  I still saw no threat so turned back to Alex, who shook her head.

I pointed to the back of the large room where a small alcove could hide a person.  Alex nodded and let me lead the way back.  I stepped forward boldly, blood pounding in my ears.  I could feel the adrenaline pump into my veins, but kept tight control of my body.  Shaking hands could be deadly right now.

There was nothing in the alcove but a door.  I met Alex's deep black eyes once more and held up my left hand with three fingers raised.

"On three," I mouthed.  She nodded minutely, one eye on the door, one on me.  I folded one finger down.  Then the next.  Then, just as I was about to step back to kick the door in a gun fired from behind it.

Pain.  My vision blurred for a moment, then cleared.  It took me a moment to realize what had happened.  A bullet had grazed my left arm; the gash ran from my wrist to my elbow.  I stumbled back, grateful for Alex's helping hand, and we retreated from the back door.  But before either of us had a chance to do anything else, two masked men were holding assault rifles to our heads.

"Don't move," the first one said.  I sat stock still as blood ran down my arm.  The second one stepped forward and beckoned for our guns.  I held mine out, training making me do it properly, grip first, and was relieved when Alex did the same.

"Looks like we caught ourselves some cops," the first one said.  His partner remained silent.  "I'm gonna get started.  You keep an eye on these two."  Again, the second one mealy nodded.  The first one grinned and walked off.

I took my first look around the store and took in the merchandise.  Computers of every shape and size lined the tables and shelves.  I looked for and found security cameras, and wondered if they could see us.  Looking back at Alex, I found her in a staring contest with our guard.  Her black eyes were diamond hard and I was worried the guy was getting pissed at her.

I elbowed her as gently as I could, and when she turned to meet my eyes I shook my head minutely.  A distant part of me wanted to fall into her eyes, but I pushed it even further away.  If I wanted either of us to survive today, I needed my entire head in the game.

I tried to twist around to look behind me, to get more of a sense of the room and to see where the other man was, and gasped in pain when my arm pinched.  Alex looked at me in concern.  She started to lean toward me and received a slap for her troubles.  She yelped at the pain, and a red mark appeared on her face a few moments later.

"If I don't bind up her arm soon, she's gonna lose a lot more blood, and you really don't want a dead cop on your hands," Alex said reasonably, her voice belying the emotions that fired her eyes.  I felt something warm inside that she was there with me, willing to take punishment to help me.  The guy looked over at his partner, who apparently gave permission for Alex to help me, because she rolled to her knees and crawled over to my other side.

"Take off your coat," she said quietly, "And your scarf."  I did as she said, wincing as I slid the long winter coat off of my arms.  The gash wasn't as bad as it looked, but I had lost a bit of blood.  I'd need medical attention soon, but I wasn't going to die as Alex had said.

"I'm going to have to use our scarves to bind it," she said, still quiet, as she unwrapped the long green wool from her neck.  She folded it in half long ways, then shortened it 'til it was the length of my arm.  She tied it to my arm with my own scarf, making sure it was tight enough to stay on, but lose enough to let my blood circulate.  When she was done she gently caressed my cheek, her fingers gone almost before they'd touched me, and sat back down, this time to my left.  I appreciated her covering my weaker side.

"All right, put them with the others," the first man said from behind us.  I twisted around, my shoulder against Alex's, and looked the guy in the eye.

"Our people are outside by now.  They know we're in here, and they're going to assume we're alive until they know otherwise.  If you want to get out of here, we're your chance."

"Shut up, bitch," he said and jerked me up from behind.  I bit back a scream as he twisted my arms behind my back and cuffed me.  Alex was receiving the same treatment from the other guy.  I stumbled as we were pushed toward the back room, but managed to keep my feet until we were shoved into the room.

"Jesus," I whispered, looking around from where I had landed on my knees.  Ten civilians were bound and gagged on the floor.  8 men, 1 woman and one boy who looked like he was about 15.  Char's age.  I suddenly flashed on the charm in my pocket, but forced it from my mind.  I couldn't think about Char right now.

A man was standing in the back of the room with another automatic rifle, watching us.

"Keep an eye on these two.  They're cops."  He nodded and smiled slightly.  The people near me looked up with hope in their eyes.  I wished I could do more, but all I did was nod my head.  Yes, we were cops.  Damn it!

We were allowed to move around as we pleased, so I moved instinctively toward the boy, who looked terrified.  Alex followed, but stopped a bit short by a man who had a gash on his forehead.  As I sat by the boy and tried to think of something to say, it suddenly dawned on me how clichéd this entire thing was.  It felt almost surreal, like we were in a movie or something.  Only, if we were in a movie both of us would know 15 different martial arts and could disarm these guys with our feet.  I shook my head to try and clear it.

I sat back on my heels, trying to move my arm to a more comfortable place, and felt my hand brush against my cell phone.  I forced myself to not react.  Instead I shuffled back to Alex under the pretext of helping her with the injured guy, or at least that was what I was going to tell the guy if he asked.  He seemed more interested in staring at the wall.  Stupid.

I shuffled as close to her as I could get, and pushed the phone against her hands.  It was in it's holster on my left hip, which meant that I couldn't get it out, but if Alex could….  She took the hint and slowly lifted it out of the clip and slid it to my right hand.  I held my breath as I flipped it open and tried desperately to remember the button layout.

As silently as I could I pressed the buttons that I hoped would take me to the text messaging screen.  I slowly put in the captain's cell phone number, then hit enter, then started to write my message, thankful that I'd taken the time to memorize the keypad so that I could write without seeing the screen.

911.  alex and i r captive.  1317 ave. b.  10 hostages.  back room.

I hit send and prayed that I'd gotten everything right.  I closed the phone and opened it again to get back to the home screen, and turned the volume down with the buttons on the side so that it wouldn't beep if he sent a reply.  I just hoped he got it.

"What are you doing there, behind your back?" the guard asked, seeing my hand moving.  I tried to keep my face neutral as I replied.

"Just trying to get the cuffs to move down my arm a bit."  I sent a silent prayer up that he wouldn't come over.  But whichever deity was on prayer duty today wasn't listening to me, and the guy started to walk over.  I couldn't help but cringe away from him as he reached behind me and snatched the phone from me.

"What the hell were you doing?" he asked, flipping it open.

"I was about to call for help," I said, hoping he would believe me.  Apparently he did, and doled out the fitting punishment.

He lashed forward with a fist and hit me on the cheek.  I reeled at the hit, but didn't cry out.  I had to clench my teeth, but I wouldn't give him the satisfaction.  He seemed happy to leave it at that, and went back to his station by the wall with my phone.

"We've got to do something," Alex whispered to me when I'd shuffled back to her.

"Yeah," I whispered back, my lips unmoving.  The cuffs weren't coming off any time soon, and I couldn't make my brain think of anything else.  The paralysis of my thoughts scared me, which didn't help matters any.

"If you pretend to do something again, I can get up quick enough to kick him.  He's stupid enough to drop the gun, and I've got keys for the cuffs in my pocket."  Trust Alex to carry a spare set of handcuff keys with her.  I thought about the plan, of how many ways it could go wrong, but all I said was yes.

A few minutes later I started wriggling my arms around in the cuffs.  I tried to make it look like I was fiddling with the cuffs.  Soon the guy was over by me again, bending over with the gun on his back.  Alex stood in one smooth motion and kicked at his knee.  He collapsed onto one of the civilians on the floor, moaning.  I stood as well, albeit  abet more clumsily, and helped Alex fish her keys out.  We managed to get her cuffs undone, but I pushed her away before she could do mine.  It was more important that she restrain the guy first.  She knelt on his back and pulled his arms roughly behind his back and slapped her cuffs on him.  He grunted as she did it, and tried to roll over.  She pushed her knee in deeper and he settled down.  When she was done she got off of him and came over to me and took they keys from my hand to unlock me.

I winced as she unlocked my injured arm, and resisted the urge to simply fall into her arms.  As much as I wanted to collapse, this wasn't the time, nor the place.  She handed the key back to me and picked up the gun.  I moved amongst the people on the ground; unlocking the cuffs and motioning for them to be silent.  One man had tears on his face, but he kept his sobs muffled well enough that I couldn't hear them.  I touched him on the shoulder as I passed, but couldn't offer more comfort.

When I was done I walked to Alex's side once again and looked up into her eyes for a moment.  She looked afraid but determined.  I wished I had a weapon.

"Open the door very slowly and let me take a peak around," she said, hefting the rifle so that she could look around the main room from behind it's sights.  I nodded and stepped around her so that I could hold the door handle and not get in her line of fire.  I nodded deliberately and turned the knob ever so slowly.

No response from outside.

I started to push the door away from me.  Alex stepped forward slightly and pushed the barrel through the gap ahead of her.  I reminded myself to breath as she turned slightly and surveyed the room.  I desperately wanted to know what she was seeing, but kept myself still.

Finally she pulled back and I closed the door silently.  She lowered the rifle slightly and took a deep breath.

"The first guy is standing by the far wall, his back to us.  He was working on something, but I don't know how long he'll stay that way.  His gun's on the floor.  The second guy is standing by the door with his gun in his hand."  If we were both armed it would be easy.  We needed a plan, and we needed it fast.

I suddenly had an idea.  If I was right, it would work great.  If not…  I turned and walked back to our former captor who was now moaning on the floor.  I patted him down and found the sidearm on his belt.  I pulled it out carefully and checked it.  Full clip, chambered round.  Safety off.  I flicked the latch and held it carefully by my side as I made my way to the huddled mass of civilians.

"My name is Crystal DeSuiesk.  I'm with the NYPD."  I laid the gun gently on the floor and showed them my badge.  "My partner and I are going to try to get us out of here, but we need you all to be absolutely silent.  No noise whatsoever.  Do you understand?"  They nodded.  "Good."  I picked the gun up and walked back to Alex.  There was no time to call our backup; we needed to move now before the two men outside moved around.

"I'll take the first man, by the back wall," I said.  Alex nodded.

"Deep breath," she said.  I grinned.  Now that I had something to do I was feeling a bit better.  My arm still hurt like hell, but I felt a bit more in control.

"On three?" I said, and raised my left hand to open the door.  She nodded.

"One.  Two.  Three."  Hand grasped cold metal, turned painfully and shoved.  Alex was first, rifle raised.  I followed her quickly and raised my gun to aim at the black clad back I could see by the far wall.

"Police!  Drop your weapons!  Put your hands where we can see them!"  I shouted.  The two men jumped and instinctively raised their hands.  We crept forward.  My guy stood stock still but for the trembling in his raised arms.  I gently picked the gun up in my left hand and put it on the table behind me where he couldn't get to it, then kept my borrowed pistol trained on him until Alex could come over to help me cuff him.  Once they were both restrained, I put the pistol in my belt and grabbed my guy's arm.

"Come on, let's get out of here," I said to Alex.  I stepped forward ahead of her and started to open the door.

"Carefully," Alex said quietly from behind me.  I pushed the door open slowly and stepped out with the guy ahead of me.

"Put your hands where we can see them!" a voice shouted from behind a car.  I stopped and raised my left hand as far as I could.

"We're NYPD detectives.  I'm Crystal DeSuiesk, homicide."  I rattled off my badge number and our district, then waited while Alex did the same.

"We've got two perps out here, and another inside along with ten civilians.  Would someone please relieve us of these two dirt bags so that we can go back in?" I asked, my impatience getting the better of training.

The tone got the job done.  Seconds later a SWAT team was swarming us, taking the two guys away and putting different cuffs on them, then carting them away for transport.

"Thank you.  We're going back in."  I started to turn when the captain came running out from behind the parked cars.

"DeSuiesk, Wilding, what the hell do you think you're doing?" he nearly screamed at us.  I looked at Alex with a mildly raised eyebrow.

"Going back in, Captain.  We know the layout of the store and where the perp is.  We'll have backup."  I gestured to the SWAT team on standby for our lead.

"Crys, you're injured.  You're not going anywhere near that store any time soon.  I looked down at the hasty bandage and sighed.

"It's nothing Cap, and I need to go back in there.  The bastards took our side arms, and I need to get mine back."  It was a desperate attempt; I knew he was right.

"Then I'm sure Alex will be happy to find them for you.  You're going to go and let the EMTs look at your arm."

"Captain," I started to say, but he cut me off.

"No arguing.  Wilding will be out in a few, and then you two can give your reports."  I stared at him.

"Crys, maybe you should go.  You're looking pale," Alex trailed off at my look.

"I don't need to be babied," I spat out and stomped away.  If they didn't want my help, fine, I'd get out of their hair and go do my own thing.  A small part of my head murmured something about the shooting pain in my arm, but I ignored it.  Instead, I found the SWAT command post and watched over the sergeant's shoulder as he directed the movements.  I tried not to think about the flashes of Alex I caught every so often, and instead focused on figuring out what the three guys wanted.

Ten minutes later the team brought out the civilians and the last remaining perp.  The civilians were carted away to the hospital, while the perps were readied for transport.  Slightly amazed that I hadn't been ordered to a bus for treatment yet, I stayed on the scene, avoiding people I knew, seeing how long I could hold out before being found.

I wandered into the store again, looking around for clues as to what the three guys had been looking for and keeping an eye out for my partner.  I wanted to avoid her at all costs.

The computers they had been working on were still on the display table.  I slipped a pair of latex gloves on and started riffling through the wires they had exposed.  Nothing.  The anger started to dissipate as I became distracted by the puzzle presented before me.  The computer was still on, but I knew better than to mess with it before computer crimes got to it.  Instead I followed the wires they had connected.

Bending down, I traced the long cable to the wall where it eventually snaked around and connected to the wall.  Not much help there, but now I knew that they'd had an internet connection.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" a voice said from above me.  I turned on my knees to look up at Alex with a mildly guilty look on my face.

"Investigating.  What the hell are you doing?"  My vehement tone took us both by surprise.  The anger came flooding back, and I stood quickly, ready to give her a piece of my mind.  The room spun and suddenly I was looking up at the ceiling from my reclining position in Alex's arms.

"I'm fine," I said, struggling.

"Relax, Crys, I've got you," Alex said in reply, her voice low and calming.

"I can walk," I said.  She nodded and helped me stand up straight.  I took one shaky step forward, then another.  She kept her arm around my waist, but let me move on my own.

By the time we reached the front door, I was regretting my earlier statement of fitness.  I wasn't fine, in fact, I could barely keep upright.

Alex seemed to sense my predicament, and tightened her grip on me.  I leaned in to her and concentrated on walking forward.  I saw people running toward us, but felt my partner shake her head at their offered assistance.  Good.  I didn't want to be humiliated on top of everything else.

Finally we reached the bus, and I let her help me up.  I felt a bit better sitting down, and didn't struggle too much as the EMT cut away at the now blood-soaked scarves.  I would have kept watching, but Alex turned my head away.

I met her black eyes and saw something like fear in them.  Fear for me.

"I really am fine," I said quietly.  She chuckled.

"If this is your idea of fine, I don't want to know what you'd think 'injured' meant!"

"It's just a flesh wound.  I only got dizzy cause I lost blood."

"I know," she said simply, and reached over to brush some hair out of my eyes.  I wanted to kiss her right then, but stopped myself from leaning forward.  From the look on her face, she wanted the same thing.

The moment was lost, though, when I felt a searing pain go up my arm.

"Son of a bitch!" I yelled, needing release.  I looked down at my arm.  The woman who was working on it was pulling long strings of wool out of the wound and laying them on a tray.  Each time she did pulled it felt like someone was pulling my veins out.

"God damn it," I hissed through my teeth as she pulled again.  Alex reached over and took my hand, squeezing it hard.

"Breathe, Crys," she said quietly.  I gasped again as another thread was pulled out.

"Okay, I think that's all.  You're never going to wear that sweater again, but you'll heal nicely.  I took a peak as she started to wash it off with hydrogen peroxide.

"Thanks."  I gasped again as the cold liquid hit open flesh.  "I think."  She laughed a little, then got out gauze and dressings.

"I'm going to bind you up and recommend that you go home.  As long as you keep your fluids up and get some rest, you should be fine."  She started to dress the wound.  "You should change this in four hours, I'll give you some extras, and come in for a check up in three days."  I nodded.

At last she was done and we were allowed to leave.  I thanked her and took the extra bandages she handed me.  Alex hovered over me as I hopped down, and steadied me when I started to wobble.

"Let's go tell the captain what's going on, then I'm taking you home."  I nodded, to tired to argue.  I hated being injured.  My entire arm was aching, and my head felt wishy-washy.

"On second thought, let's sit you down, first."  I nodded again, mute, and sat when she told me too.  A few minutes, or maybe it as a few hours later, she returned and helped me get into a car.  I lazily watched the city roar past as Alex drove us home.

I don't know how she got me up the stairs, but we were finally at the front door and she was unlocking it.  Char was there, and the small part of my brain that was functioning saw fear in her eyes.

"Mom?" she whispered, reaching for me hesitantly.  I tried to smile.

"I'll be fine, kiddo.  It's really not that bad."  I thought that might be comforting.  The room started to spin, and I felt warm arms keep me upright.  Alex's voice drifted to me from a long ways away.  It sounded like she was asking Char for help to get me to bed.  I tried to protest, saying that I didn't need any help, but I'm not sure if they heard.

They laid me out on my bed, careful of my throbbing arm, and started to leave.  I reached out with my right hand and caught Char's.

"I'll be fine, kiddo, I promise," I said, my speech slightly slurred.  She sat squeezed my hand.

"I love you, Mom," she said.  There was something else, but I lost it as the blackness claimed me.


I woke to a dark room and pain.  My left arm ached and my head felt like it was filled with cotton.  My mouth was sticky and dry.  Ugh.  I tried to go back to sleep, but what my body wanted was water, not sleep.  It didn’t seem to care that the room was at about the freezing temperature for water.  I sighed and gently tossed the covers off, missing Alex's weight next to mine.

The floor was, if possible, colder than the air.  I was shivering by the time I found my robe and slippers.  My feet welcomed the fuzzy warmth, but my arm didn't want to fit into the sleeve.  I decided not to worry about it, or about who had undressed me.  Probably Alex, and it's not like she hasn't seen me naked before.

I shuffled down the hall quietly, but paused when I saw a light on in the living room.  Char's door was closes, and it felt like it was late, but I hadn't actually looked at the clock.  Quietly I moved forward again, and came into the living room to find Alex asleep on the couch, a book open on her chest.  It looked like she had fallen asleep while reading.

Smiling, I walked past her quietly and went into the kitchen for water.  I grabbed a glass from the cabinet, filled it from the tap and drained it.  My mouth felt slightly better, so I did it again.  This time I took sips and swirled the water around, then spat it out, taking the nasty taste with it.

"Crys?" a sleepy voice asked from behind me.  I turned around to see Alex, her tousled hair backlit.

"Hey," I said quietly.  She reached up and rubbed at her eyes.

"How're you feeling?"

"Weak, but okay."  She took a hesitant step forward.  I set the glass down and met her in the middle of the room.  Her arms folded around me gently, holding me close but careful to not jar my arm.  My head rested just below hers, and I let a sigh of contentment out as she kissed the top of my head.

We stood like that for a minute before she gently pulled away.

"Crys?  Why are you crying?"  I sniffed and tried to stop the wetness streaming down my face.

"What's wrong?" she asked, her face concerned.

"No one's ever…" I trailed off.

"What Crys?"

"No one's ever…held me like this.  Wanted to protect me like you do."

"Oh baby," she whispered, and pulled me close.  I let myself fall into her, let myself melt into her and be warmed by our closeness.

"Let's go sit down," Alex said quietly against my head.  I nodded and let her lead me into the living room.  She sat against the arm of the couch, and I settled between her legs so that I could lean against her chest.  She pulled a blanket over my legs, always careful of my arm, then settled back.  I sighed at her warmth.

"How's Char?" I asked sleepily.

"She's a bit shaken up, but I think she'll be okay.  She sat with you for a few hours."  I smiled at the thought of my daughter sitting by my bed.  "She went to bed a few hours ago, and last time I checked on her, she was sleeping soundly."

"What time is it?"

"About three, I think."  I shook my head slightly, smiling.

"You gave us quite a scare," Alex said quietly.

"I'm sorry.  I…"  I stopped, not sure what to say.  Or of how to say it.


"I don't like being injured.  Of being weak."  Was that it?

"Was that why you got mad at the captain?" she asked, still quiet.  She didn't move, didn't make me look at her.  For that, I was grateful.

"I, I think so."  She hugged me closer.

"Thanks for telling me."  I smiled and snuggled closer.

We lay like that for the rest of the night.  I dozed off eventually, despite the ache in my arm, while Alex watched over me with her black, black eyes.


I woke in the morning to find Alex asleep under me, and Char sitting in her chair, reading.

I tried to move, to sit up, but stopped when Alex grumbled in her sleep.  Char looked up at the noise and smiled at me.  I smiled back, and tried again to move.  More sleepy protest.

I looked up at Char, who was giggling like a maniac.  I mock-grimaced, which only made her laugh harder.  Finally I gave up, and lay back against Alex.  Char shook her head.  I smiled at her.

I settled back, trying to think of a way to get up without waking her up.  None came to mind.  I shifted, turning slightly, careful of my arm, and caught Char's eye.  She raised an eyebrow.  I winked at her, then reached up and kissed Alex gently on the mouth.  I could hear Char giggling behind me.

Black eyes opened slowly and looked up to meet mine.  I melted into her as she kissed me back, then pulled away.

"If you wanted to move, you could've just woken me up," she said with a smile.

"Oh, but this was so much more fun.  Wouldn't you agree Char?"

"Oh yeah, way more fun.  But please, don't let me keep you two from waking up together."  She started to get up.

"Don't go," Alex said, smiling up at me with a twinkle in her eye.  "Crys was just getting up to get me something to drink."

"Twit," I said, smiling.  "You want something to drink, you can get it yourself."

"But you see, that's one of the advantages of being on the bottom.  If I get up, then you have to too, so it makes more sense for only one of us to move."  She had an impish smile on her face.

"I don't think it works like that."  But I couldn't think of an argument to use.  "Fine, I'll get you some water."  I started to move, but before I could stand she grabbed the back of my neck and brought my mouth back to her own.

"Thank you," she whispered after a deep kiss.  When I had my breath back, I stood and walked to the kitchen.

"Water okay?" I called, getting a glass down awkwardly.

"Sure."  I had to set the glass in the sink to turn the faucet on, so it was wet by the time I carried it back.


"Alex, could you give me a hand with this?" I said, fiddling with my bra strap.  She walked over and did it up for me with a smile.

"Nervous?" she asked, buttoning up her shirt.  I shrugged in to mine and grimaced as the overly-starched fabric scratched me.

"No, I just haven't gotten this gussied up in a long time."  Still smiling, Alex came over and did up my buttons for me.  When she reached the top she folded the collar down and leaned in to kiss me.  I felt my body melt into her as her strong arms came around to hold me.

"You look great," she whispered against my lips.  I shivered, but before I could respond, she pulled away.  I sighed, but knew it was for the best.  I really didn't want to be buzzing for the entire ceremony.

I reached for my jacket and carefully put it one, trying my best not to disturb the many ribbons and pins.  Alex was waiting for my help; I held the long blue coat behind her as she slid her arms in.  We grabbed our hats and tucked them under our arms, then headed for the door.  I reached for the handle just as Alex did; our hands brushed, and I felt the familiar electricity rush through my body at the contact.  Alex's breath hitched for a moment, and I resisted the urge to lean over and kiss her.  Instead, I pulled my hand back, and after a soul-searching look, Alex pulled the door open for me.  I stepped out into the hall, and walked down to the kitchen.

Char was sitting at the table, reading a book.  She looked up as we walked in and grinned.

"Well, don't you two look like poster children for the NYPD?" she asked sarcastically.  I grimaced.

"Why do they make the collars so tight?" I asked, tugging at the white fabric around my neck.  Alex swatted my hand away.

"To torture you, love.  Stop tugging."  I couldn't keep the smile from twitching my lips.

"We ready?" I asked, wanting to get this over with.

"Yup," Char said.  "Let me just grab my camera."  She ran out of the kitchen to her room.

"Oh no!" I yelled after her.  "No pictures!"  She came back a moment later with her brand new digital camera.

"Why did I let you buy that thing?" I moaned.

"Because you love me," was her pert reply.  I grinned.  Not too long ago, those words would have been frozen on her lips.  I pulled her into a hug, not caring about what it might do to my uniform, and whispered into her hair, "That I do, kiddo, that I do."  She hugged me back for a minute, then pulled away.

"Come on, we're gonna be late!"  I smiled and shook my head at Alex, then grabbed my keys and followed Char out the front door.  Alex locked up behind me, then followed my daughter and me down the stairs.  We all piled into my car, and drove to One Police Plaza for the annual awards ceremony.  Every year the brass publicly recognized a number of cops for exceptional work.  Sadly, everyone was required to go.  In full dress uniform.

We got there with plenty of time to spare, so made our way over to a vendor selling hot dogs and other such 'police-y' things.  I bought Char a dog, but passed on anything for myself.  Coffee would've been nice, but I didn't want to spend the entire ceremony need to go to the bathroom.  Alex bought a bottle of apple juice and a glazed donut.  Char sat on the steps to eat; Alex and I, confined by our uniforms, stood by her and tried to look like we weren't as uncomfortable as we were.  I wished I could hold her hand, or give her a hug, but knew that we would both lose our jobs if I did.  Her look said she wanted the same thing.  I sighed.

Finally it was time to go inside.  I helped Char find a seat with a good view while Alex went to find the rest of our squad.  I told Char that we were required to sit with the rest of the squad, but that we'd reconnect after the ceremony.  She seemed a bit put out at not being able to sit with us, but told me that she'd be sure to take lots of pictures.  I grimaced, but ruffled her hair affectionately, then turned to find Alex.

She was sitting in the fifth row, hat on the chair next to her, saving it for me.

"Is this seat taken?" I asked, approaching her.  She looked up and smiled.

"Yup.  For my partner."  I smiled back at her, trying desperately to keep the fire in my body to myself, and sat next to her.  We sat in companionable silence until the Commissioner stepped up onto the low stage and walked to the podium.  He tapped on the microphone for silence, and asked everyone to take their seats.  After a few minutes of shuffling, the wall of blue uniforms was seated, and the civilians in the back had quieted down.  The only noise in the room was the unmistakable click of news cameras, and the newscasters talking quietly into their on mikes.  After a pointed stare from the Commissioner, that stopped too.

"We are here today to honour and recognize some of our best officers for their bravery and valor," he started.  I shifted uncomfortably in my seat; this was going to be a long ceremony.

"First, I would like to call Sergeant Michael Hawkins to the front."  The crowd cheered as a tall man walked to the front.  I clapped with the rest of the force, but my heart wasn't in it.

I think it's important that we recognize officers who show bravery and valor in the field, especially when they deserve it, but the ceremonies always took forever, and I had things to do.  My mind wandered to the case we were working on.  It should have been an open and closed homicide, we had a confession and all the evidence was in line, but something about the perp wasn't right.  She had confessed too easily; didn't seem to have any passion about it at all, whereas the murder itself had been filled with hatred.  The guy had been brutally beaten to death with a tire iron and left in a bloody pulp in his bed.  We had everything we needed to convict her except for a motive and I didn't want to move forward until I'd figured that out.

I pulled myself back to the Commissioner in time to hear him read the list of names of officers who had received accommodations in the past year.  The list was long enough, and after each name everyone had to clap.  I grimaced when someone whistled when my name was called; I really didn't want to be recognized.  Alex punched me on the arm and whispered in my ear, "Smile for the cameras."  I resolved to short sheet her sometime very soon.  Though how I was going to do that without doing it to myself, I didn't know just yet, I would find away.

"Next, I'd like to bring special attention to two partners who have shown exceptional bravery and valor in the field.  These two detectives have worked tirelessly to bring society's most despicable criminals to justice, with no thought of their own lives or personal safety.  They were pulled into a violent hostage situation two months ago and not only dissolved the situation with no loss of life, but did it without backup and while one was injured."  This wasn't happening.  "In recognition, they are being awarded the Medal of Honour."  This couldn't be happening.

"Alexandra Wilding and Crystal DeSuiesk, front and center."  This really wasn't happening.  I stood on shaky legs and walked to the stage with Alex.  We stopped by the podium and turned to face the audience.  In an attempt to distract myself from the blush spreading across my face, I sought out Char's face in the crowd. Why hadn't we been told?  Finally I found her, snapping pictures like a pro, and grinning from ear to ear.  I smiled back to her, and waved slightly at her.  Her grin widened, if possible, and she waved back.

"I am proud to present both of you with this esteemed Medal; I hope you will wear it with the pride it is due.  You are both examples to the department and to the people we serve."  He stepped forward and lifted a box from the podium.  Alex was first; he pinned the gaudy medal to her coat as she beamed with pride.  The audience cheered.  He presented her with the diploma-like papers, and shook her hand.  Then he was back at the stand, picking up another box and walking back to me.  He gently pinned another medal to my chest.  I wondered briefly if he'd ever practiced doing that so that he didn't stick the person, but pushed the thought away as he handed me the paper and shook my hand.  The crowd was cheering again.

The other medal recipients stepped forward from the back of the stage where they had been ordered to wait, and we all saluted the Commissioner, and then our fellow officers in the audience.  I was still slightly numb, but pushed it aside as we were dismissed.

Char came running up to me, grinning from ear to ear.  She wrapped her arms around me and squeezed.  I laughed and hugged her back.  I could hear the reporters and the audience from a distance, but in that moment, all that mattered was the girl child in my arms.  My Char.

"You're amazing, Mom," she whispered to me.  I grinned.

"I love you, kiddo."  At last she pulled away, but kept an arm around me.  I looked over to Alex and saw her grinning.  I wanted to hug her, to tell her how proud I was of her; of myself, but knew I couldn't.  Instead I satisfied myself with shaking her hand, and whispering a quick, "Later," to her under the noise of the yelling audience.

"Detectives, do you have anything to say about your Medals?" a reporter said from behind me.  Alex and I turned, my arm still around Char.

"We are honoured to be recognized for our actions, but we are even happier to know that ten people are home with their families tonight," I said diplomatically.  It was true of course, but it was also half scripted.

"Could you tell us exactly what you did to receive the medals?" another reported asked.  We were suddenly the center of attention; every camera in the room seemed to be pointed at us.  Alex seemed a bit stunned, so I answered again.

"We were pulled into a hostage situation one afternoon last winter, where we disarmed three burglars and restrained them.  I was injured when one of the men shot at us.  The burglars had ten other hostages who we freed with no other casualty."  Bright lights flashed in my face as our picture was snapped over and over again.

"Who's the girl at your side, Detective?"  a voice asked.  I looked around and caught the reporter's eye.

"This is my daughter, Charlotte."  They snapped more pictures, then started to disperse.  When we were at last alone, I turned to Alex.

"If I don't get something to drink soon I think I may well faint."  She grinned and hugged me around the shoulders, careful to keep her body from touching mine too much.  I wanted to melt into her, but held myself away.

"So, kiddo," I said to Char as we made our way to the snack bar, "Looks like you're gonna have your face all over the papers tomorrow.  How does it feel to be famous at such a young age?"  She laughed and pulled a cookie off of a platter.

"Almost as good as it must feel to be a Medal of Honour recipient."  I grimaced again.

"Oh, smile, Crys.  You're honoured and you know it."  I pursed my lips and shook my head.

"Yeah, okay, but I didn't do it for a medal, and I just don't want people to think I did something to get my name in the papers."

"No one thinks like that, Crys.  And the people who might don't matter."  I shook my head then whirled around when someone tapped my shoulder.

"Detective DeSuiesk, could I ask you a few questions."  The woman who was asking was dressed in killer heels, short skirt and a top with too many buttons undone.  Her hair was pulled up in a severe knot at the back of her head, and she looked like she had a nasty headache.  I raised an eyebrow slightly, but nodded.

"Maybe we could step over here?"  It was almost a question.  I looked over at Alex to see her receiving the same treatment from a much more comfortably dressed man.

"I'll be right over here, Char," I said to my daughter, pointing after the reporter.  She nodded, smiling.

"Okay, what do you want to know?" I asked, trying to keep a level head.  The crowd was making me cranky, and the incessant questions weren't helping.

"I see you're a mother," she said, pulling out a small recorder and turning it on.  I watched her press the buttons with efficient force before answering.

"Yes.  I adopted my daughter, Charlotte, a year ago."  She nodded.

"What's it like balancing your job and home life?"

"It's not always easy, but Char's responsible, so I feel comfortable leaving her home alone if I need to work late."

"But what about the dangers of your job?  What happens to her if you're injured or killed?"  I wondered if she knew how much that question hurt.  Or about how much I'd thought about just that.

"Since the adoption, I've tried to keep myself out of as much danger as I can.  When I can't avoid a situation, I trust that my training and my partner will help keep me alive to come home each night."  It didn't quite answer her question, but that was as much as she was gonna get.

"What about the robbery you walked in on?  Did you think about your daughter going in to that situation?"  Why all the questions about Char?

"My partner was helping me find a present for Char when we heard shots fired from inside a computer store.  We called in our position, and as we were both armed, we entered the situation.  Thankfully we were able to dissolve it with minimal injuries."  Again, not quite a complete answer, but I didn't much feel like being a good interviewee today.

"You yourself were injured, were you not?"

"Yes.  A bullet grazed my left arm early on.  My partner was allowed to bind my arm, so the damage was minimal.  I didn’t even need stitches."  She nodded and stopped the recorder.

"Thank you, Detective.  Would you mind if I asked your daughter a few questions?"  My eyebrows went up.  Talk to Char?

"I suppose I don't have a problem with that, as long as she's willing.  Char?"  I beckoned her over.

"This reporter would like to interview you, if you're okay with that."  She looked at me like I was insane.

"Are you serious?  That'd be awesome!"  I chuckled.

"Okay, go for it.  I'll be over by the food."  She nodded and sat down with the reporter.

"Oh, to be young and innocent enough to want to do an interview again," the captain said from my side.  I turned away from watching Char to look at him with a bemused smile on my face.

"You knew, didn't you?" I asked him, sure of the answer.

"Our ADA should worry about his position if you keep coming up with these soul-searching questions," he replied dryly.  "Of course I knew; who do you think put in the initial recommendation?"

"Why didn't you tell us?"

"Because I knew you'd balk and wouldn't attend, and I didn't think Alex could keep something like this from you."  I shook my head.

"You deserve it, Detective.  You did an exceptional job, and you were injured."

"Don't remind me," I mumbled, stretching out my left arm unconsciously.  It still ached a bit, but was mostly healed.

"You should take a day off, to celebrate.  Alex too."  He shot me a look, and I wondered once again just how much he knew about our relationship.  I shrugged off the questions as Alex came back.

"Why's Char talking to a reporter?" she asked, reaching past me to snatch a bunch of grapes off of the table.

"Apparently my home life is on display.  That lady who wanted to interview me was asking me all about her.  Captain," I said, turning back to him.  But he'd gone, disappeared into the crowd.

"What was that about?" Alex wondered, popping a grape into her mouth.  I watched her lips close around the purple flesh, and stared as she chewed as swallowed.

"Crys?"  I shook myself, trying to get the sensation of those lips on my body out of my head.

"Sorry.  He wants us to take a day off."

"But we're working on a case!" she exclaimed.

"That's what I was about to say to him when he disappeared.  Apparently he thinks it's closed."

"She did confess, you know."

"I was there, remember?" I said, still testy.  It must by PMS.  "It just doesn't fit.  She had no motive to kill him, and someone with no motive doesn't use a tire iron."

"Hey DeSuiesk, congrats!" a vaguely familiar face called.  I waved to him and thanked him, then turned back to Alex, who looked concerned.

"Let's take that day the captain offered, and not think about the case for a bit, then when we come back, we'll go back and re-interview some people and see what we can find."

"Yeah, sure."  I was about to say more when Char approached.

"Hey kiddo.  How'd it go with the reporter?" I asked her, holding my arm out to give her a hug.  She leaned in to me wearily.

"It was fine.  She wanted to know about school, and what I thought of you getting the medal, and what it's like to be adopted and stuff like that."

"Sounds like a reporter."  She laughed a bit, and started coughing.

"Can we go soon?" she asked when she was done.  "I don't feel so good."  I looked at her and realized that she was really pale.

"Yeah, of course.  You don't look so good."  She smiled weakly.

"Thanks, Mom, that makes me feel just great."  She coughed again.

"Alex," I started to say.

"I'll let the captain know, then meet you out by the car."  I nodded and led Char out.  It was slow going, every other person wanted to congratulate me on my service.  I finally plastered a smile on my face and tried to look like I was enjoying myself.  Char smiled too, but coughed every time she opened her mouth.

Finally we were outside.  We walked slowly to the car, and I opened all the windows so that Char could have some fresh air to breath.  Fresh being a relative term.

"What's goin on, kiddo?" I asked her finally, worried.

"I think I've got a cold," she said, and coughed again.

"Poor you."  She hadn't been sick since the adoption, and suddenly all of the fatal illnesses that involved coughing filled my head.  A cold.  It was just a cold, I told myself over and over, but by the time Alex came out I'd worked myself into a mild panic.  I pushed it aside, though, and drove us home with competent hands.

"Come on, let's get you to bed," I said to Char when I'd parked outside our building.  She nodded and followed me up the stairs, Alex behind her.  I unlocked the door and let her in, then followed her to her room.

"Can I get you anything?" I asked her as she sat down on her bed and started to pull her shoes off.

"No," she whispered, trying not to cough.  "I just want to sleep."  I nodded.

"We'll be out in the living room if you need anything.  Don't hesitate to call."  She nodded and lay down.

"Hey, congrats on your medal," she said as she plumped her pillow under her head.  I reached over and ruffled her hair gently.

"Thanks, kiddo."  I pulled her blankets and tucked her in tenderly.  "Sleep," I told her quietly, then turned to leave.  I closed the door gently behind me, then walked to my room where Alex was undressing.

"She's got a cold," I said, incredulously as I pulled my jacket of gently.

"Kids get colds," Alex said, pulling off her shirt.

"She's never been sick before.  What if-" I started to wonder out loud, but Alex cut me off.

"Shh," she said, wrapping her arms around me tenderly.  "She's gonna be fine."  I nodded against her bare chest, but didn’t relax.

"But what if she's not?" I asked quietly against the warm skin.

"Then we'll deal with that if it comes to it.  For now, we're going to plan on how to celebrate our new medals."  I chuckled as she began to unbutton my shirt slowly.

"My daughter is sick and you're trying to seduce me?" I asked, smiling.

"Oh no, I've already done that.  Now I'm going to dress you in something much more…appetizing than your uniform, and sit down to watch a movie with you."  I laughed again, then inhaled sharply as her fingers brushed against my now-bare sides.

"Alex," I moaned.

"Don't worry, I'll be nice."  She grinned.  "God, I'm so in love with you."  I smiled and let her shuck my shirt off.

"What did I do to deserve someone like you?" I wondered for the umpteenth time, and sat on the bed to take my shoes off.  I kicked the black loafers off and stood in time to catch the t-shirt Alex tossed at me.

"I think I'm the one who's supposed to be asking that," she said, watching with rapt attention as I slipped the worn fabric over my head.  It was only then that I realized that she was wearing one of my NYPD shirts.

"Shirt thief," I said with a smile as I pulled my pants off.  I walked to the closet half naked to hang them up, well aware that she was watching my every move with her deep black eyes, then pulled on a pair of sweats.

"Yeah?  What're you gonna do about it?" she asked.

"I dunno.  Steal one back?"  She chuckled, then pulled me to her for a long kiss.

"I thought you said something about a movie," I said when I could breath again.

"Yeah, we could do that."

"Then let's."  I pulled her quietly down the hall into the living room, where we tumbled to the couch together.  Giggling, I stood.

"What do you want to watch?" I asked, going over to the racks of DVDs.  Alex stood and came up behind me, her hands going to my hips as she rested her chin on my shoulder.

"I dunno.  What do you want to watch?"  I sighed and ran my fingers along the movies.

"How about Mr. and Mrs. Smith?" I asked, pulling it off the shelf.

"You just want to see Angelina Jolie in ripped clothes," Alex said accusingly as I stepped back to put the disc in.

"Yeah.  You don't?"  She thought about it for a minute, then smirked.

"Yeah, but I'd rather watch you."  I smiled and blushed, then turned the TV on to the appropriate channel.  We settled back on the couch, her against the armrest, me between her legs, leaning on her, as usual.  I picked up the remote and hit play.

Soon the screen was filled with the familiar faces of Jolie and  Brad Pitt, and we were both laughing at their dysfunctional marriage.

"Do you think we'll ever need therapy?" Alex asked me suddenly, her chin moving against my head.

"You mean couples' therapy?" I asked for clarification, my heart beating in double time.

"Yeah.  I know we'll both need therapy of other sorts eventually."  She seemed to be smiling, which only made me even more uncomfortable.

"I, uh, I don't know.  What do you think?" I said to try and get the focus off of myself.  There were just some things I didn’t want to think about; being in couples' therapy with Alex was definitely one of them.

"I think that if we need it, we'll do it," she said flatly.  I wasn't used to thinking about our relationship in that kind of long term, but now that it occurred to me, we were pretty much living together and spending the majority of our time together.  What if some day it stopped working?  What if someday we didn't fit together quite as well.  What if?  What if?  My breathing hitched and Alex noticed something was wrong.

"Crys?" she asked, sounding worried.  I tried to push my fears away, but they didn't want to stay hidden any longer.  Alex sat up behind me and shifted to try and see my face.

"Crys, baby, what's wrong?  Look at me."  That I would not do.  I didn't want her see the fear plastered across my face.

"Please?"  Damn her and damn that word.  As usual her gentle tone pulled my head around reluctantly and I met her eyes.

"What's going on?  Please let me in," she pleaded, holding my hand gently.  The movie was still playing, distracting me.  As much as I wanted to disappear into the floor right now I knew that I needed to concentrate, so I used the remote to mute the TV.

"I don't," I started, but didn't know how to say how I was feeling without saying it outright.  "I'm afraid," I finally mumbled, looking at our joined hands.

"That's apparent by the look on your face," Alex said dryly.  I tried to smile but  my face didn't seem to want to contort into the expression.

"What are you afraid of?" she asked gently, hands still, but her body language screamed support and love.  It was almost too much.

"You," I said, reiterating my answer from all those months ago when she'd first asked me that question.

"Why me?"  Her voice was quiet but the subtext was blaringly obvious.  She thought that she'd done something to make me afraid of her.

"No, not you, of myself, of what we're doing," I said, quickly, almost tripping over my own tongue in my haste to dispel her fears.

"Of us?" she asked, tone wounded.  I looked up at her eyes, afraid but knowing that I had to.  To protect her from my insecurities and fears.

"No, I-" Didn't know how to say it, but I had to.  "This may not make much sense, but I'm gonna say it anyway, okay?" I said, thinking that she would understand.  She nodded, eyes fearful.

"I'm happy with you.  I love…being with you, being in love with you, and feeling your closeness all the time," I started hesitantly, but the words began pouring out, as if a dam had been broken.  "But it scares me, how much I care for you.  I've never wanted to protect someone, or love someone, or...anything for another person like this before.  I don't really know what to do with it, and that scares me.  I do know that I don't ever want to lose you, and even that scares me."  I chuckled slightly.  "I guess I'm just a scaredy-cat, huh?"  I wasn't really amused, but needed an outlet for the nervous energy that was building up.

"No, I don't think you're a scaredy-cat at all.  You're facing your fears, and isn't that your definition of bravery?"  She wasn’t playing fair, using my own words against me like that.  "I…I'm just gonna say what comes to mind, okay?" she asked for my permission with her eyes as well.  I nodded, trying not to break eye contact.

"What I'm going to tell you, I've never told anyone else," she said slowly, and dropped her eyes.  A knot formed in the pit of my stomach.

"I have…felt like this before.  Been in love, I suppose."  She stopped and stared at our joined hands as if one of them didn't belong to her.  She twitched her fingers, as if to draw away, but I hung on for dear life.

"We were together for a year before…before she…"  Again she stopped, looking around the room as if for reassurance of something.  I sensed that she needed my comfort or permission to go on, so I squeezed her hand gently.

"She committed suicide," Alex said quietly, her voice harsh with tears.  "Because of our love."  I gasped quietly and tried to pull her too me to hug her.  She resisted for a moment, then collapsed into my arms.

"I don't want to kill you too, Crys," she said quietly against my shoulder.  I could feel a warm wetness from her eyes.

"Oh baby," I said, tears in my own eyes at her pain.  "She didn't kill herself because of your love."  I had no idea who she was talking about, or of the circumstances of the woman's death, but knew Alex needed to hear that.  And because of that certainty, it became truth in my head.

"No?" she asked skeptically, tensing.  "Then why did she say so in her note?"  She pulled away from my suddenly numb arms and reached into her back pocket for her wallet.  Pulling it out she took a worn, folded piece of paper from one of the card pockets and handed it to me.

I unfolded it with trembling hands.

"Alex," I said before I finished unfolding it.  "Do you…" 'Really want me to read this' was how I wanted to finish, but her hand on my cheek stopped me.

"Yes," she said quietly, tenderly.  "You have to understand."  I nodded and swallowed, then opened the paper.

"Oh god," I said quietly when I had finished reading the smudged lines.  "Oh baby," I reached out, not hesitating, not thinking, to touch Alex's face, her tears.  She collapsed into me slowly, as if consciously allowing each muscle to relax individually.  At last she lay in the circle of my arms and sobbed.

I crooned to her as she cried, trying to let her know that she was safe with me, that I would love her no matter what, that I would protect her no matter what.  My heart broke with each shuddering breath she took.

At last she quieted, but stayed curled against me, letting me stroke her hair softly.

"How long have you been carrying this?" I asked, holding the note but referring to the pain, the misery.

"Since my freshman year of college," Alex replied softly.

"And you never told anyone?" I asked incredulously.

"No one knew we were in love…and I just…didn't want to tell anyone why she'd died.  The police report says there was never a note recovered."  I didn't know what to say.  Surely Alex knew by now that she hadn't killed herself for the love, but because of the world and it's prejudices.

"Tell me about her?" I finally asked, thinking that if I knew more about this unnamed woman I could figure out why she had killed herself so that I could tell Alex.  Because my wonderful partner obviously still thought she was to blame.

"Her, her name was Amanda," she started in a shaky voice.  "She had these amazing blue eyes, and she was really tall.  Taller than me."  Her voice steadied out and took on a dreamy quality that I found almost threatening.  As if this dead woman could threaten me.  I pushed the emotions away for later consideration.

"She used to bring me flowers, just regular flowers that she'd pick on her way over.  She'd stand in the doorway, smiling at me, holding a bunch of daffodils or poppies or something.  We used to laugh about it because she loved flowers but couldn't keep a plant alive for anything."  She chuckled slightly, obviously in another world; another lifetime.  I held her as she continued to tell me about her first lover; about all her cute little habits and her beautiful hair.  I held her and held myself in check, telling myself over and over again that Alex needed me right now, that I didn't need to be jealous right now.

"I'm sorry, I'm rambling."  I jerked my thoughts back to Alex and her apology.

"That's okay," I said quietly, gently stroking her hair, trying to remind myself that I was with her right now and Amanda wasn't.  "You need someone to talk to."  The words sounded more bitter than I'd intended, and Alex twisted in my arms to look at my face.

"You're jealous," she said, sounding surprised.  She reached out and touched my face tenderly.  "Crys?"

"Yeah?"  Yes, okay, I was a bit jealous of this other woman who still held Alex's heart.  But I had to push that aside for her, didn’t I?

"Please don't be jealous," she said, staring into my face.  I couldn't bring myself to meet her eyes.  "Please?"
            "I'm…" I trailed off, not sure what I was feeling.  "I guess I am a bit jealous…but it's not, I'm not…"  Again, I stopped in mid sentence, not sure how to go on.  I wanted to tell her that


I watched out the window as Alex drove down the almost quaint residential avenue.  Char was in the backseat, zoned out to her CD player.  I was nervous, and didn't know why.

"Hey," Alex said softly, reaching out to take my hand.  "It's gonna be fine."  I looked up into her eyes for a moment before she had to turn away to watch the road.  I looked back out my window, watched the trees and houses go by.

"I know, but I'm nervous."  There, I'd said it.

"Don't worry, you're gonna love my folks."  I still didn't know how I'd been convinced to accompany Alex home for Christmas dinner, but I was starting to regret it.  I'd tell her to turn the car around and let me out, but Char was excited about being with a family for the holidays.  Last year we'd just spent it with Alex, and since I wasn't communicating with my parents…

"Yeah, but are they going to love me?" I asked, not looking at Alex.

"Look, they've known for a long time that I'm gay," she said.  "They don't have any problems with it."  Lucky her.  Ugh, why was I in such a bad mood all of a sudden?

"Yeah, but you've never brought anyone home before now," I said, trying to justify my anxiousness.

"They want to meet you, and you and Char needed somewhere to spend the holidays.  Everything's gonna be fine, Crys, I promise.  If anyone starts badmouthing you, I'll beat the shit out of 'em."  I tried to keep a straight face, I really did, but her smile was infectious, and when we pulled up in front of a house a few moments later, I was grinning.

"We're here," Alex said unnecessarily.

"Finally," Char said, pulling her head phones off.  I twisted in my seat to look at her.

"I thought you liked long car rides," I said.

"Yeah, but it's different when you're going somewhere for Christmas.  Then the best part is arriving."  I shook my head and laughed.

"You're wonderful, Char," I said, unbuckling my seat belt.  She blushed slightly and climbed out.  I was about to open my door when Alex, who'd gotten out when we'd first arrived, came around and pulled it open for me.  I was about to protest when I saw her and Char grinning.

"You two set me up," I groused as I got out.  "It's not fair."

"Life ain't fair, Sweetheart.  Get used to it."  I laughed and caught Alex's hand.  She leaned in and returned my brief kiss.

"If you two are done with the PDAs, can we go inside?  It's freezing."  Just to annoy Char, I deepened our kiss and put my hands on Alex's hips.  She smiled into me, then gently pulled away.

"Much as I'd love to stand here with you all day," she said slowly, "Char's right, it's cold.  And we have an audience."  I looked up where she was pointing and saw a face pressed to the window.  I blushed, but Alex waved at the young girl, who returned before pulling away.

"Oh, this is gonna be fun," I muttered as we walked to the front door.  I wanted to hold Alex's hand, but, after seeing Char's lonely face, to walk with her instead.  I wrapped one arm around her shoulders, and lifted my bag to my other shoulder.  She leaned in to me slightly, obviously as nervous as I was.

"Alexandra," a plump woman cried, pulling the door open before we could ring the bell.  "Get over here right this minute!"  Alex complied with a grin and ran to the older woman to receive a giant hug.  Char and I hung back, not quite certain what to do with this obvious affection.

"Aunt Maria, I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Crystal, and her daughter, Char," Alex said, beckoning us forward.

"Crys, Char, my mother's sister, Maria."  I was about to stick out my hand when the woman reached out and pulled Char in to another giant hug.  I watched as my daughter's back went stiff, then slowly relaxed as she realized that it was safe.  It never ceased to amaze me how much she'd changed in the past years.

I received the same treatment from Maria, who told us in no uncertain terms to call her Aunt Maria and that if we didn't, there would be hell to pay.  Once we'd been properly hugged, we were drawn in to the warm house and greeted with a myriad of other people.

Alex mingled with them as though she'd never left; laughing and hugging anyone within reach.  Again, Char and I tried to hang back, but were pulled in with warm smiles and rib crushing hugs.  I, to my embarrassment and joy, was introduced as Alex's girlfriend, and Char as my daughter.  English was mixed fluently with Spanish, and we, while welcomed with smiles, we were inadvertently left out.  We were offered food and drink, but declined, saying that we'd had plenty in the car.

"Crys," Alex said to me quietly once everyone had settled down a bit.  "Will you come with me a moment?"  I turned to face her, seeing her searching eyes, and her nervousness.  I was about to say yes when I saw how Char was sitting; her back ramrod straight, hands folded neatly in her lap.

"Not yet, Alex.  I want to stay with Char," I told her.  She nodded and left.  I thought she was mad at me, but knew that she understood my dedication to the girl I'd adopted.

"I don't know about you," I whispered, scooting closer to Char on the loveseat we were sharing, "But this is a bit overwhelming."  I'd learned over the past year or so, that Char was a lot more willing to relax if she thought the person she was talking to could relate to her.

She nodded at my statement but didn't look at me, which was when I noticed how she was watching the other kids, Alex's nieces and nephews, play with each other.  She'd never had any siblings, I knew, which was a mixed blessing at best, but had always loved interacting with her peers.

"Go play with them," I urged, prodding her with my finger.  "I'm sure they'd love to meet you."  But she shook her head, obviously shy and worried about the bilingual kids who had yet to pay any attention to her.  Okay, time for plan B.

"Hey, Alex said that dinner won't be for another few hours.  You want to come with me to raid the kitchen?"  She perked up a bit and looked at me with a slight smile.

"You don't have to stay with me, you know," she said.  "I'm sure you and Alex could find something to do."

"Yeah, but I'd much rather spend the time with you than break every one of her mother's rules," I said, smiling.  "And there'll be plenty of time for that later."  I had long gotten past the point of trying to hide my sex life from my daughter.  She was intelligent and almost frighteningly educated on the topic, and had, at one point, even offered to give me pointers.  I'd blushed three shades of red and told her that that was the last thing I needed to be thinking about in bed.

"If you say so," she said.

"So, I was thinking," I told her slowly, pushing the thoughts of Alex from my head.  "If I got up and went to the bathroom…a few minutes later you could meet me in the kitchen and we could search for food.  How does that sound?"  She giggled at my conspiratorial tone, but nodded.  I gave her a quick hug, told her to meet me in the hall in a minute, and headed for the 'bathroom'.

I closed the door and stared at my reflection for 30 seconds, then quietly slipped out.  Char was waiting, just as planned, and we sneaked to the kitchen together.  Our plan was spoiled, however, when we pushed the door open and found Aunt Maria and another woman standing over the stove.  They were talking in Spanish and smiling, and cooking something that smelled delicious.

They looked up as we walked in, and, still smiling, beckoned us forward.

"You two must be starving," Aunt Maria said.  "Shame on that girl for not offering you something to eat."  I was pretty sure that she was talking about Alex, but didn't want to assume anything.  Not with this family.

"Come in, come in," the other woman, who appeared to be a carbon copy of Aunt Maria said.  "I'll fix you up something in no time."  I was still uncertain as to who she was, but had a suspicion that she was Alex's mother.

"I'm Rosa," she said, her head in the fridge.  "Alexandra is my daughter."  I couldn't help the blush that had started to creep across my face.  "And you two must be Crystal and Char."  Why had Alex given her family my full name, but let Char go by her nickname?  She knew how much I hated my name.  It was something to talk about later.

"Yes, um," I said, uncertain of how to respond.  "It's, uh, nice to meet you," I finally managed to get out past the blockage in my throat.

"Oh, stop looking like I'm going to bite your head off," Rosa said as she started to make a sandwich.  "I'm perfectly fine with my daughter being a lesbian, as long as she's happy.  And from all accounts, she seems more than happy with you."  I blushed again and cursed my fair skin for letting it show.  "I'm glad to finally meet you."  I opened my mouth to say something, then shut it again when I realized I had no idea how to respond.

"Don't worry, I really am happy for her," she said, handing me a plate.  "Although why she couldn't find a nice Mexican girl, I'll never know."  She said something else in Spanish that made Maria laugh, and Char blush.

"You know Spanish?" I asked her, slightly surprised.

"Yeah, Alex has been teaching me some stuff for a while," she said, standing.  I wondered briefly why my girlfriend had declined to include me in those lessons.

"Can I help you?" Char asked, stopping a few feet away from Rosa, an odd look on her face.

"Of course," she said, but watched with an appraising eye as Char made the sandwich to her own exacting standards.  I, for my part, dug in to the snack that Alex's mother had set before me.

"This is good," I said, my mouth full.

"Don't talk with your mouth full," Rosa said, but softened the reprimand with a smile.  "And don't sound so surprised."  I blushed again, but swallowed before I said anything more.

"I'm sorry, I didn't-"

"Ay, you're worse than Carlos's girls," she said, shaking a spatula at me.  "Stop being so nervous."  I wondered for a moment how anyone could be calm with kitchen utensils were being waived at them, but kept the thought to myself.

"Yes ma'am," I said, which drew a laugh from Maria and what might have been a blush from Rosa.

"She's got you, Hermana mia," Maria said, swatting the other woman with a towel.

"Ah, I see you've met my mother," Alex said, walking in with a grin on her face.  "Hola, Mama."

"Hola, mija," Rosa said, and gave Alex a peck on the cheek, which she returned.

"I see you've already started to feed her."

"She and her girl came in here for food!" Rosa exclaimed.  "What was I supposed to do, turn them away?"  Alex laughed, a bright sound that made my insides melt and my heart swell with love.

"No, Mama, I'm just teasing you."  Rosa turned back to the stove, grumbling in Spanish.  Alex, still grinning, came and took a seat next to me.

"Hey, beautiful," she said, taking a bite of my sandwich.

"Hey yourself," I replied, and stole the last bite out of her hand.

"You got a moment?" she asked again, looking at me.  I held her eyes for a moment, trying to tell her that I wanted to, then turned to look at Char.  My daughter was standing by the stove, watching intently as Rosa added something to a bubbling pot.  She looked up at my gaze and smiled.

"Rosa's teaching how to make," she trailed off, obviously uncertain of the name for the dish they were making.  Rosa supplied it, still facing the stove, then said, "Why don't you to go off to do whatever it is you do, and I'll let la niña help me out, okay?"  I looked at Char, who nodded eagerly, then at Alex.

"I guess I’m all yours," I said, smiling.  She stood and offered my a hand.

"Not too much noise," Aunt Maria said as we passed her.  "We don't want scare the neighbors."  I blushed, but Alex just laughed  and gave her aunt a kiss.

"We'll be quiet, I promise," she said, then led me up the stairs.

"We're not going to, uh, you know," I asked as she pulled me down a long hallway.

"Why shouldn't we?" she asked, grinning, as she opened a door at the end.  It was filled with a teenagers mess, though from the posters hanging on the walls, it hadn't been touched in a decade.

"This is your room?" I asked unnecessarily, looking around.

"Yeah.  You like?"  I'd found the poster hanging on the back of her door, one of two women posing in bras and underwear.

"You never struck me as the porno type," I said, trying to not let my amusement show.

"Mama never really approved, but since she let my brothers keep theirs, I convinced her that I should get to have mine."

"You should have been a lawyer," I told her affectionately.

"What, and miss being your partner?  Not for the world."  She stepped forward and drew me into her long arms.

"I love you," she said quietly into my hair.

"I love you too," I mumbled into her chest.

"Thank you for coming today.  I know it was hard."  I didn’t respond for a moment as I tried to figure out how to convey my love and trust for her in words.

"Well, after I met your Mama," I said slowly, "How could I not love them?  Especially knowing that they produced you."  I felt her smile against my head, then gasped as she slid a hand under my shirt.

"Oh, I see how it is," I said, grinning.  "You talk sweet, but all you want is-"  I forgot what I was going to say as she slid her hand up to brush against my breast.  Even through the dense fabric of my bra, her hand felt hot.  I gasped.

"You were saying?" she asked with a grin, stopping her movement.

"Nothing, I wasn't saying anything."

"No, I think you were saying something about what I want."  I couldn't think with her hand on me, but I tried to speak anyway.

"You, you want to, to-" I gasped again when her fingers slipped a tad higher.

"Yes?" she asked, her voice sugary.  "What is it I want?"

"Touch me?" I asked, pleading.  She laughed and slid her hand up to cup my breast.  I moaned and leaned into her.

"I'm not sure if that was a request or an answer," she said, still grinning, "But I'll take it and run anyway."  She tugged my shirt up, revealing the plain black bra that I'd put on that morning, and sighed at the sight.

"You're amazing," she said, running her fingers lightly up my sides.  "And beautiful," she leaned down and kissed me quickly.  "And wonderful."  Another quick kiss, and she pulled away before I could deepen it.  "And I love you more than the world."  I moaned, though if it was her words that made my back arc or her hand slipping under my bra, neither of us could tell.

"Are you going to keep talking to me, or are you going to kiss me like you want to?" I managed to gasp as she stepped back to look at me.  She chuckled and pulled me to her.  Slowly, ever so slowly, she dipped her head and met my lips in an almost chaste kiss.  Though how it could be chaste when I was half naked was anyone's guess.  I pushed up, not-so-gently pushing my tongue in to her mouth, letting her know how I felt.

"Oh, you're greedy today, aren't you?" she asked, breaking away.  "


"DeSuiesk, my office."  I looked up from the paper work I was filling out.

"Uh, can it wait captain?  I'm kinda busy."

"Now."  He didn't sound angry, not even slightly pissed, hell, he almost sounded nervous.  I stood, dropping the papers onto my desk and exchanging a glance with Alex.  She shrugged, as if to say, 'I don't know what's got his boxers in a twist, either.'  I smiled at the image of her saying it.

"What's up Cap?" I asked as he shut the door behind me.  Then I noticed the other two men in the room.  "What's going on?"

"Crys, have a seat," the captain said as he made his way over to his own seat.  "Please."  I couldn't imagine what was going on, so I stayed standing.

"No, I'll stand, thanks.  What's going on?"

"Detective, this is Commissioner Gorren, and Captain Rose, from SVU."  The other captain stuck his hand out, but I just stared at him.

"Would someone please tell me what's going on?" I asked again.

"Detective," the commissioner said, "Captain Rose is retiring in a few months."

"What the hell does that have to do with me?" I asked, my flat voice belying the anger that was boiling inside me.

"We need someone to take his position," the commissioner said.


"And you're going to be promoted to be captain of the SVU squad."  What?  I opened my mouth, stunned, then closed it again.  What?  My heart sped up, and I felt blood rush to my head.  What?

"You want to promote me?" I asked in a strangled voice.

"Yes.  You have an exemplary record, and we believe that you will make an excellent captain.  Further, we know that you have had some experience with SVU cases, which makes you all the better."  I almost felt like he was talking to someone else.  This was amazing.  Incredible!  But it would take me away from Alex.  She wouldn't be my partner any more.  But a captain!  In my wildest dreams, I'd never allowed myself to hope for that.  And yet…leaving Alex, the best partner in the world.  Would our relationship survive if we weren't joined at the hip for most of the day?  But if we weren't working together, then we could make our relationship public.  There were few things I wanted more than to be able to be seen holding hands with my lover.

"Can I, uh, have some time to think about it?" I asked, my voice much calmer than I would have expected.

"You have two weeks until we need a decision.  And detective?"  I looked up and me the commissioners eye.  "I would like to strongly urge you to take this promotion."

"Yeah," was all I could manage.  "I'll let you know."  I sounded like I was telling someone that I wasn't sure if I could make it to dinner.

"DeSuiesk, I know we haven't always seen eye to eye on the cases we've worked together, but I think you'd make an excellent addition to the team as Captain."  That word was driving me insane.

"I, uh, I need to think about it," was all I could say.  "If that's all?"  They nodded, and I backed out of the room as quickly as I could.

"Crys?" I heard Alex say, her voice worried.  "Is everything okay?"  I tried to say something but nothing would come out.

"Will you take a walk with me?" I asked, picking up my coat.

"Yeah."  Her brows were drawn in tight with worry, but I couldn't talk to her here, not where I couldn't reach out and take her hand.

"Where are we going?" she asked as I wove my way down the street.  I shook my head, trying to figure out a good place.  "Crys?"  God damn it!  I wanted to run, to run hard, to not have to think for a moment.  Should I take the promotion?  Should I follow my dreams?  Or should I stay a detective and work with the one woman I knew I could trust.  If I left, who would watch Alex's back on the street?  Who could she trust like she trusts me?  And if she did find someone, what would happen to me?  To us?  Could we survive as a couple?  I blindly walked down the street, thoughts tumbling through my head, until I saw a small park up ahead.  I cross the street with the light, and made my way to a secluded bench.  Alex, who'd been following me doggedly, sat down next to me and reached out for my hand.  Without looking at her, I let her hold it.

"They want to promote me," I said, choking back unwanted tears.  "To captain of SVU."  I could feel hot tears spill down my cheeks as I said the words.

"Are you serious?" she asked.  "Crys, that's wonderful!"  I just stayed still, staring out at the other park goers.  "Why are you crying?" she asked me tenderly.  "Baby?"

"I don't, I can't-" I stood up, pulling my hand away, not sure what I was feeling.

"Crys, please, talk to me.  Tell me what you're thinking."  God I couldn't resist her.  And she'd said please.  Damn her, damn her for stealing my heart.

"I don't want to leave you," I whispered just loud enough to hear.  "I don't want…anything to happen.  I'm happy right now, Alex, and I don't want to screw that up."  She stood and gathered me in to her arms.  I held myself away for a moment, then let myself relax in to her.

"You're not leaving me," she said into my hair.  "And change isn't always a bad thing."  I was crying again, but couldn't help myself.  "Baby, this isn't going to break up our relationship outside of the squad room.  I wouldn't, couldn't let it."  I nodded, knowing it was true.  "And this could be a wonderful thing, too.  We could be out, and we could actually live together."  I laughed a little at the last part.  She had pretty much lived in my apartment since the day we'd been assigned as partners, but she still paid for her apartment, to keep up appearances.

"I just…can't think about going through the day without you at my side," I said, trying to voice my fears.  "And as much as I want this, you're more important to me than my job."

"I'm not leaving any time soon," she said wryly.  "And I'm certainly not going to leave you because you got promoted."  We stood in silence for a moment.  "Please stop crying, Crys, you're getting my shirt wet."  I felt a laugh bubble up, and let it out.

"God, Alex, I love you so much."  It was all I could think to say.

"I love you too, Crys.  Now, let's get back in there and you can call up the commissioner and tell him that you're accepting."  I smiled, thinking for the first time about what this could mean.

"Jesus, Alex, I'm gonna be a captain," I said as we walked back to the station at a much more stately pace than when we'd left.  "I can't imagine."


Three weeks later, after a surprisingly emotional ceremony which was attended by a staggering number of people, and after a two day seminar/lecture series to train for SVU, I was given the keys to the captain's office in the squad room, and was told to report for duty the next morning.

I didn't sleep well that night, my mind was reeling with a multitude of thoughts, roaming from the double gold bars that now adorned the lapels on my uniform to the fact that I would now be working SVU cases.  And, of course, the raven haired woman sleeping next to me.

Alex woke me the next morning, and when I looked up at her groggily, she leaned down and kissed me passionately.

"A person could get used to being woken up like that," I said when she pulled away.

"Rise and shine, Captain," she said, smiling and throwing me my robe.  I stood and slipped it on before walking down the hall for my morning shower.  When I was done, I returned to my room for clothes.  Alex was already dressed.  I stood in front of the closet, reviewing my choices.

"Oh, just put some clothes on," Alex said from the bed where she was tying her shoes.

"I don't know what to wear," I whined, pulling a shirt out partway to look at it.  "I want to make a good impression."

"Where that bright red shirt, with black slacks," she said as she stood.  "You always look good in that."

"I want to impress them, not knock them out," I replied dryly as she slid her arms around my waist.  After a few more minutes of dithering I finally decided on a dark green shirt and blue slacks.  It wasn't the best, but I liked it.

"You look good," Alex said as I came in to the kitchen where she was making me my morning coffee.

"Thanks," I said.  "I'm way to nervous."

"It's gonna be fine," she said, walking over to me and hugging me.

"I know.  But I’m still nervous."  She chuckled and bent down to kiss me.  I returned in kind, but pulled away a few seconds later.

"I think the coffee's ready," I said, pulling her over to the machine with me.  I poured myself a cup, then another for Alex.  We stood at the counter, her behind me, supporting some of my weight, and just enjoyed each other's warmth as we drank our caffeine.

All too soon it was time to go.  I went in to Char's room to say good bye, and woke her with a soft kiss on the forehead.

"Good luck today," she said, still half asleep.

"Thanks, kiddo.  I left my new number by the phone.  You'll call after school?"

"Yeah, of course."  I watched for a moment as she slipped back to sleep, wrapping myself in the warmth of her love.

"I love you, Char," I whispered.  She mumbled something that might have been a reply, and I slipped back out.

"You ready?" Alex asked me, standing by the door.  I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders.

"I suppose so."  She tossed me the keys and I followed her out the door.  I drove us downtown to what used to be our stationhouse, but was now hers.  I dropped her off out front, and watched her walk in alone.  She turned back once and waved, which gave me the strength to put the car into drive again and park in the captain's spot at my new station.  Jesus, my stomach felt like it was roiling.

I walked in through the double doors and took the elevator to the second floor.  There, down a long hall, were the doors marked "Special Victims Unit".  I couldn't believe how nervous I was, but I made myself walk down the hall briskly.  I  pushed through the doors and stepped in to a bustling squad room.  It had three sets of desks; two each, and four had detectives seated at them.  There were a couple of uniformed officers walking around who looked busy enough, and I could see more people down the short hall near our crash room.  A few people looked up as I walked in, but nobody said anything.  Taking a deep breath, I walked through the room to the door marked 'Captain' and opened it with the keys I'd been given.

A hush fell over the detectives as I swung the door open and walked in.  An ancient wooden desk filled most of the space, and there were a multitude of filing cabinets against the back wall.  I went in and gently set my small bag on the desk.  Later today, a runner would be bringing by a box of stuff that I'd need, including the things I'd kept on my desk at Homicide.

"Um, excuse me," a voice said from behind me.  "Who are you?"  I turned around to see a tall, rail thin man draped on the door frame.  There really wasn't any other way to describe it; he looked like he had no bones in his body.

"I'm Crystal DeSuiesk.  I've been assigned as Captain to the SVU."  It was the first time I'd said it to a stranger.  "And you are?"

"Detective Jack Babble."  He lurched forward and stuck his hand out.

"It's nice to meet you, Jack," I said, a bit lost.  He grinned and fell into one of the chairs set up in front of my new desk.

"You too Cap'n.  Are the rumors true, that you just got promoted?"  I took a moment to think about my answer.  It was always best to be as honest as you could, I knew, but if these people saw me as inferior….

"Yes.  I was with homicide for 15 years and they decided I'd done enough damage there, so, here I am."  He laughed and seemed to relax a bit.

"Well, I won't lie to you, most of the folks here aren't gonna like you busting in here with no experience, but if you listen to their advice and you do your job well, things'll all turn out okay."  As I smiled at him I realized that I liked his down to earth manner.

"And here I was hoping that as soon as I got promoted I'd know everything."  He laughed again and stood.

"You'd better come out and meet everyone before we head out for the day.  If you ask nicely, I'm sure everyone'll be willing to update you on our cases."  And with that he walked out the door.  I stood still for a moment, slightly stunned, then took a deep breath and walked out into the squad room.  Four heads popped up as I stopped in the middle of the group of desks.

"Good morning," I started, but at their stony looks, I decided to change tactics.  "My name is Crys DeSuiesk, and I've been assigned as your captain.  Yes, I was just recently promoted, but I was with homicide for 15 years, so I'm not completely new."  They still hadn't reacted.  "Look, folks, I'm not here to tell you how to do your jobs, or how to do something I know almost nothing about, in fact, I was hoping that you all could teach me."  Still the stony looks.  I wondered what else I could say to make them trust me.  I guess I'd better just jump in.  "Let's start by filling me in on our current cases."

"Cobbler and Kledowski are in court today," a buff man said from his desk.  "That's-"

"I know them," I interrupted.  "We worked a case together a few years back.  And you are?"

"I'm Mike Holloman," he said, his voice flat.

"Right."  I'd been through all of their files, but it was still strange to be their captain and not their fellow detective.

"Holly and I are working a stranger rape over in Central Park."  Holly must be his partner, Holly Gribbs.

"Where are you on that?"  This at least I could do.

"We've got a suspect, but we're waiting for a warrant to search his place."

"How long have you been waiting?"

"A few days."

"What the hell is taking so long?" I asked explosively.  Way to go in making a good impression.

"I don't know.  The ADA said something about getting it before a judge who'd sign it…"  He trailed off at my look.

"I'll see what I can do to get it signed today," I said.  "What else?"

"Once we've got the warrant, we'll search his place and move on from there."

"Good.  Babble?"  The friendly man was sitting at his desk, tossing a tennis ball with his partner.

"We're catching today, Cap'n," he said, throwing the ball.

"Excuse me?"

"It means that we've only got paperwork to do today, so if someone comes in, we get the case."  His partner, Dakota Seeble, said in a what-are-you,-stupid? kind of tone.  It made me bristle but I kept my temper in check.

"Gotcha.  If that's all, I'm going to go see what I can do about getting that warrant signed."  I stood for a moment longer and passed my eyes to each of my four detectives.  They all met my gaze for a moment, until I swept on.  Finally I turned and went back to my office.

I closed the door gently and sank down into the surprisingly comfortable chair behind the desk.

"What the hell am I doing?" I asked myself, running a hand over my hair.  I'd put it in a French braid this morning, and was now regretting it because it meant that I couldn't pass my fingers through it.  With a long sigh I picked up the phone and dialed the number for our ADA, a young woman named Serena Nollon who'd I'd met for the first time a few days ago.

"Nollon," she answered, her voice clipped.

"It's DeSuiesk, over at SVU," I said, not sure how to introduce myself yet.

"Ah, hello Captain.  What can I do for you?"  It was going to take some getting used to, having people call me captain like that.

"I hear that you're having some trouble with getting a warrant signed," I said.

"No…I told your detectives yesterday that they didn't have enough probable cause and that no judge would sign it."  I sat forward, confused.

"Are you sure?" I asked, keeping my voice even.

"Yes, quite positive," she replied.  "I'm sorry if I've caused any trouble."

"No, it's fine.  Thank you for your time."  I hung up and took a moment to compose myself before standing and walking back out into the squad room.

"Holloman, Gribbs, get your asses in here right now," I said, my voice filled with venom.  They looked up and tried to hide smiles.

"What's up Cap'n," Gribbs asked.

"Now!"  They stood and exchanged smiles.  I held the door as they filed in, then shut it with more force than necessary.  I suddenly flashed on how similar my actions and tone was to my captain, former captain, over at homicide when he had called me in for an ass chewing.

"What's going on?" Holloman asked, his voice and posture the picture of innocence.

"I just talked to Nollon," I said, standing by my desk and staring him down.  I was much shorter than both detectives, but I made myself imposing.

"Is she going to get that warrant signed?" Gribbs asked.  I turned my icy stare to her.

"She informed me that we don't have probable cause to get it signed," I said, staring at the other woman intently.  "A fact which she passed on to both of you days ago."  Gribbs flinched slightly at my tone.

"Sorry, Captain, it must have slipped our minds," Holloman said, the smirk apparent in his tone.  I wanted nothing more than to punch him right then, but knew I needed to make an impression.

"If either of you ever jerk me around like this again," I said quietly, conveying my anger in my icy tone, "I'll personally haul your asses down to One PP for insubordination and for endangering a case.  Do you understand me?"  I kept my gaze on Gribbs until she nodded, then turned to Holloman.  He tried to stare me down, but I kept myself in his face.  What I really wanted to do was to run and hide under my desk, but eventually he broke his eyes away and nodded.

"Good.  Now that we've cleared that up, why don’t you two go and see about getting that evidence we need?"  I tried my best to not sound condescending; in their place, I might have done the exact same thing to a new captain.

"Yes ma'am," Gribbs said quietly and they filed out.  Once the door was closed, I collapsed into my chair.  This day was going to drag on forever.


The hours passed quickly, contrary to my earlier prediction, and by the time Char called to check in after school, I'd barely registered the time flying by.  I'd worked on paperwork mostly, filling out forms and signing my name when necessary.

"Mom?" Char asked when I answered the phone.

"Hey kiddo," I said, reading the last few lines in a report, then signing off.

"How's the new job?"

"It's…It's not bad," I said, leaving back.  "It could be a lot worse."

"I think you're damning it with faint praise," Char laughed.

"Yeah well.  How was your day?"

"It was great.  I, um, got elected as president of the World History Club," she said happily.

"Char, that's wonderful!" I exclaimed, smiling.  Ever since her 9th grade history teacher had taken her under his wing a bit, she'd been involved with the club and had given both me and Alex many long lectures about emperors and monarchs that were long dead.

"I know, I was really surprised," she said modestly.

"I'm really proud of you, kiddo," I told her.  "How do you want to celebrate?"

"Mom!" she exclaimed.  "It's just a club!"

"Yeah, but you just got elected president.  Come on, I want to spoil you a little before you graduate.  Where do you want to go?"  It was a scary thought that she'd be graduating high school soon and going off to college.

"I'll think about it and let you know when you get home, okay?"

"Okay," I said, smiling.  "I'll call you when I'm about ready to pack it in."

"I'll talk to you later then," she said and hung up.  Still smiling, I was about to turn back to the reports when my door was flung open and two very angry detectives stormed in.

"What the hell is going on?" I asked, rocketing out of my chair.

"That's what we were going to ask you," Mark Cobbler said, stopping just short of my desk.  "What do you think you're doing here?"  This was going to be the defining moment of my career as captain.  Whether or not I was accepted as leader by these two men would make or break my case.

"I've been assigned as your captain.  Other than that, I'm trying to figure that out."  He regarded me for a moment, his eyes angry, then suddenly plopped in to a chair.

"Rough start?" he asked kindly.  I sighed and looked at his partner.

"Don't look at me," Kledowski said.  "I just follow him around."  I chuckled and relaxed into my chair.

"Well, I haven't gotten my feet wet, if that's what you mean," I said, "But Holloman and Gribbs played a little prank on me."  I managed to keep my voice from sounding whiny, but it was a close call.  To my relief and embarrassment, they began to laugh.

"They're good at that.  If they didn't like you, they'd just have ignored you."  I blushed and shook my head.

"You headed home?" Kledowski asked.

"Yeah.  I promised my daughter I'd take her out to dinner to celebrate.  She just got elected president of a history club."  Cobbler raised his eyebrow.  "Don't ask," I advised him with a smile.  "It's her thing, not mine."  He shook his head and smiled.

"Well, just so you know, most of us don't leave until seven or eight-ish.  But then, only Mike has a family to go home to.  We usually hit Sammy's after we finish up here.  I'm sure if you wanted to you could join us."  I smiled, touched at the offer.

"Thanks, Mark, I appreciate it.  But I've got to get home to Char.  Maybe some other time?"  He nodded, understanding my previous commitment.

"Well, see you tomorrow then."  I smiled as they filed out, previous anger forgotten.  After they'd left, I stuffed some files into my bag and grabbed my keys.  I took one last look around and sighed.  Welcome to my new life.

I managed to get out of the squad room with minimal chit-chatting, and was at my car when my cell phone rang.

"DeSuiesk," I answered, juggling phone, bag and keys to unlock the door.

"It's Alex."  I couldn't help the smile that spread across my face at the sound of her voice.

"Hey," I said, dropping my bag unceremoniously in the back seat.  "What's up?"

"Well, I was wondering if you wanted to come pick me up in a few minutes, if you're done."  I laughed.

"Alex, I swear to god, you read my mind.  I’m just getting into my car right now."  She chuckled.

"Well, I guess I'll meet you downstairs in, what, ten minutes?"

"Sounds good."

"See ya then."  I had yet to figure out how she made such a common phrase sound so…sexy.  I folded the phone shut and climbed into the front seat.

Ten minutes later I picked Alex up in front of her station house, and 30 minutes after that, we were home.

"Hey kiddo," I said as we walked in the door together.

"Mom!" she yelled, flying out of the kitchen to give me a huge hug.  "Hi!"

Laughing, I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed back.

"What did I do to deserve this?" I asked after a moment.

"You're a captain now!" she said, releasing me to start bouncing up and down.  "It's so amazing!"  I let the grin spread across my face with no hesitation.  I could feel my love for her bubble up as I gazed into her bright face.

"Not as amazing as you, kiddo."  I wanted to say more but I could feel my throat closing, so I just pulled her into another hug.

"What do you want to do for dinner?" I asked her a moment later, leading her to the living room with an arm around her shoulders.  Alex followed behind us.  Char sat in her chair, while Alex joined me on the couch.

"Actually, I was kinda thinking that we could.

Cat deLuna

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