Sorry for the delay. Life and such.

Thanks: girleffect, Amilyn

. . . .

Nicola looked Ziva up and down. "Back for more, huh?"

"We could use your help."

She made a soft psht. "I told you what I know."

"Have you ever been to PEERS in Esquimault?" Ziva asked.

"Yeah, why?"

"They wrote a letter to VicPD. Eighteen women."

Nicola popped her hands and lit a cigarette. Smoke curled around her face. Surely Tony would make some obscure film reference. "Yep. And no one cares."

"I do."

She made the same psht. "What're you gonna do about it, Gorgeous?"

"I want to find the person or persons who are murdering your friends."

Nicola pinched the burning embers off her smoke and let them fall. She pocketed the rest of the cigarette. "I could use a bite to eat."

"Any place you want," Tony promised quietly. Ziva gave his hand a surreptitious squeeze. Thank you.

She led them to a deli on Government Street. Inside smelled like cabbage and wet cardboard. Red borscht simmered on a steam table. Roasted potatoes lazed in an aluminum pan under a heat lamp.

Nicola helped herself to soup, bread, and hot tea. "Where ya from?" she asked, chewing.

"New York," Tony answered honestly.

Ziva did not flinch. "Not important."

She squinted. "You ain't fooling me, Gorgeous."

"Why do you think the police killed Emma, Nicola?"

She stuffed more bread in her mouth. "I didn't say that."

"Yes, you did. You told me, she either killed herself, or the pigs did it. Why did you say that?"

Nicola pushed her plate away. "Because that little girl was losing it and they didn't do nothing. I hate cops."

"What did you want them to do?"

"Pick her up on something bogus and give her a phone call home to Toronto. She needed her mama. But they didn't, and then Mom came sniffing around down here looking for her and VicPD and the Mounties started covering their tracks and pulling us in for questions. She was a good kid—not one of us."

Ziva leaned in. "And what if she had been?"

Nicola shrugged.

She took Mertes' mug shot out of her pocket. "Was this the bad date who tied up your friend Mona?"

Nicola shook her head. "No," she said without hesitation. "That's not him. Seen him around, though. Never dated him."

"Has anyone?"

"Not that I know. Saw him at Wheelie's. He was having a burger. I like their burgers."

Ziva sighed, frustrated. "But you never dated him and do not know anyone who did."

"Nope. Hey, I gotta roll. Thanks for the meal."

Ziva grabbed her dirty wrist. "We are not finished."

Nicola looked surprised, then angry. "This ain't Pretty Woman, Gorgeous, and I don't have time for your dog-and-pony show."

She flashed twenty bucks. Nicola eyed it hungrily. "Your friends deserve your help."

She didn't take her eyes off the folded bill. "You don't."

"I am working for them."

Everything slowed. Tony was still as a statue in the booth across from her. Nicola swallowed. "You know what you're getting into?"


"It ain't Pretty Woman."

She held the money just out of reach. "I know."

"Be at my place by two," she instructed, shoulders back. "John Street."

Ziva offered the money. Nicola slid it from her fingers and disappeared.

Tony's phone sounded. He answered DiNozzo grunted once before hanging up. "We need to go."

She shook her head. "I am going to Nicola's at two."

He got up. "VicPD wants to help us. We need to set the op."

She followed, zipping her jacket against the cold. "Why are they suddenly so helpful?"

He got in the driver's side and slammed the door, jammed the seat back. "Because we just got the OK from Vance to send you under."

. . . .

Nicola lived in a single room above a furniture store that smelled like glue and sugar soda. Ziva stepped over a burned spoon on the stained carpet and adjusted the black halter dress she'd borrowed from VicPD's undercover unit. No place for a holster. She taped a switchblade to her inner thigh.

"Fresh meat," Nicola chided. "Highest price in the game."

She adjusted her earpiece. "Tony?"

"I'm here," he said. "Just waiting on Roberts."

"On the ground," Officer Roberts said. "Black SUV. I got four girls down here now. Ziva, you ready?"


Nicola nodded. "Get out there, sister."

She clipped down the dark, narrow staircase, up the block to Rock Bay Avenue. Drizzle fell on her unwashed hair. She ignored the goosebumps rising on her skin. "Dead down here."

"It's early," Robert said. "Around the corner, Ziva."

"Hillside Avenue?"

"Ellice. I got girls on Bridge and David."


"One. Picked him up on Communication. She's back out."

A CI. They paid her. "Slow night."

"Easier that way."

Silence. She watched the few cars roll by, none of them even slowing as she skulked against the wall of a bombed-out warehouse. A gang tag was spray painted on a window across the street. She could not read it.

An hour ticked by. She paced, stomped, tiptoed. Nothing would draw the blood back into her frozen feet. "Anything, Roberts?"




A pickup truck turned the corner, crept along the curb. She pasted a coy smile on her face when he rolled down the passenger-side window. "Hey."

He unlocked the door. There were condoms on the center console. The heater was going full-blast. "How ya doing?"

She slid in. "Fifty for the hour."

He was maybe thirty-five, with thick glasses and colorless hair that needed a trim. His pants were unzipped. "Twenty minutes," he bargained.

"Still fifty."

He drove to the same parking lot Nicola used. She pulled her badge from her bra when he put the car in park. "You are under arrest."

VicPD cuffed him, took him to a command station set up in portable, and she was back up on the avenue in less than five minutes. Her hands and feet ached from the cold.

"Nice work," Tony congratulated.

She watched one of the girls disappear in a blue sedan. "Toda."

A small SUV drifted by, then a pickup. She stepped out of the shadows and he slowed, popped the locks. "Fifty for the hour," she said, sliding in.

He was another nondescript man in clothes his wife had ironed that morning. "You like it rough?" he asked, sounding bored.

Again to the parking lot. Again with the badge, the arrest, off to the portable for booking, and she was on the block again.

"It is freezing out here," she complained.

"Weird how you were the one who asked for this," Tony jabbed. She could hear the smile in his voice. Was he proud of her?

"I hate when couples fight," Roberts teased, and she felt herself go red beneath the rain and fog.

"Shut up."

"Black pickup around the corner," he said. "On your nine, Ziva."

It rolled up on her left. The driver ducked to look at her. "Fifty for the hour," she called.

He sped away. She hugged herself. Nicola strolled around the corner, cigarette in hand, tall pleather boots shining in the streetlights. She grinned at Ziva's shivering. "Thought a fast life was all fun and games, did ya?"

"Get off my corner, bitch."

"Dumb fresh meat," she mumbled, stalking off.

Two more johns. Two more arrests. Ziva grew numb to the cold, to the drizzle, to her ratty, rain-wet hair and streaked makeup.

"Sun's comin' up," Roberts observed.

There was a vein of orange in the clouds. "I thought we would see more action."

"We got plenty of evidence to process. Why don't you get off the streets?"

"It's time, Ziva," Tony chimed.

She swallowed. Her throat itched. Her back ached from standing in heels. "One more?"

"I don't see anyone," Roberts said.

"Me either," Tony agreed. "Call it."

He picked her up with the heat on full-blast and threw his jacket over her lap. "You need a shower."

She wrinkled her nose. "And you do not?"

"Not like you."

And he was right—the doorman turned his face away when she walked past, and the desk clerk called as soon as they were in the room, offering more towels. Tony accepted, sounding grateful, and she hung the dress on the back of the bathroom door while the water warmed.

Ziva lathered, rinsed, repeated. She used cold cream to remove her smudged makeup, slathered on moisturizer. Tony held out her pajamas when she emerged in a cloud of steam. He was in sweats. "Let's order room service."

She slid into her cotton pants, grateful for their softness. "I am not hungry."

He froze. "Are you ok?"

She got beneath the covers. Tears built behind her eyes. She closed them tightly. "I am fine."

He sat, put his hand on her knee. "You did great tonight."

"Thank you."


She pinched her eyes tighter. "What, Tony?"

"Are you ok?"

She let a long silence lapse. "I am missing the cherry blossoms."

He lay down next to her. "I'm sorry."

"I will never get used to the humidity in DC at this time of year. It is positively oppressive."

He cupped her cheek. "Yeah."

"I am grateful for air conditioning."

"Yeah. You warm enough?"

She closed her eyes. "Yes."

"Pretty brave to do what you just did."

She would not look at him. "We do not even know if we picked up our killer."

"Or one of eighteen."

"One is a start. Goodnight, Tony."

He did not move his hand. "Goodnight, Ziva."

. . . .

Morning was white. White sun on the ceiling, white duvet, Tony's white face over his white coffee cup. His eyebrows were up. "You ok?"

"Fine. Why?"

"You just came awake like Ripley with a Chestbuster." He took a step back. "Am I in the safe zone?"

She gulped, glared at him. "I am not going to ask what you are talking about."

"Aliens? Fifty-seven years in hypersleep. Though you got about five. Better than my three, but not great. Want a coffee?"

She swung her legs out of bed. The carpet was rough beneath her bare feet. She was blistered from those ridiculous platforms. "Yes. Please."

She snagged her jeans and tugged them on without standing. Her calves were sore. "We should go to Sandy's for checkout. I would like to—"

"VicPD wants us ASAP for an interview."

She found a bra and a clean sweater. "No. I would like to go to Sandy's—"

"They picked up Mertes this morning. Had a pro in the truck with him."

She deflated. Wasn't there an idiom about an old bag? "Oh."

She let him drive to HQ. Officer Roberts met them at the reception desk. He looked fresh and clean and casual.

"Did you give him a phone call this time?" Ziva spat. The anger was a surprise, even to her.

She heard Tony sigh. Roberts shrugged. "I like him for this."

"That was not what I asked."

"Dad didn't pick up."

Fatigue pressed down all around her. A headache bloomed between her eyes. He turned without a word and took them back to the same interrogation room, where Mertes was cuffed and sitting with his head down.

She sat across from him and folded her hands. "Nathan?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"What were you doing, Nathan?"

He raised his head and sat up straight. "Helping a friend, ma'am."

She didn't quite buy his submissive act. "Your friend is a known sex worker, and you are a person of interest in a murder case. Why did you do that?"

"My buddy called, said his sister was trying to get home. Asked me if I could give her a ride."

"To where?"

"He's from Comox."

"And how do you know him?"


She pushed a legal pad and pen at him. "Please write down his contact information."

Tony was sitting on a filing cabinet when she came out. The heels of his sturdy shoes thudded against the metal drawers. "Bet you're glad you didn't call his dad now."

"Where is the girl?"

Roberts shrugged. "We don't keep 'em. Prostitution isn't illegal in Canada—only communication with intent."

"That is terribly ill-defined."

He sat in a squeaky swivel chair and put his hands behind his head. "We want the johns, not the girls."

Her heart was beating noisily in her tender chest. "And putting them back out on the street is the answer?"

"We direct 'em to services. People like Meredith."

Meredith. The women who'd signed the letter with the eighteen names. Her girls, she'd called them. "Let's go," she said to Tony, who slid off the filing cabinet and followed her like a puppy to the car.

She slammed the door, jerked the seat forward, whipped out of the parking space so fast the scenery flashed. Tony's silence incensed her further and she had to grip the steering wheel to keep from punching him.

"Stop that."


"What do you mean what? I can feel you judging me."

"I can feel how angry you are. I'm just trying not to get my ass kicked."

"You have never been one to keep a low profile, Tony."

He said nothing. Ziva's whole body burned hot with rage. "Mossad would never accept such sloppy investigating." She turned right at a light. None of the streets looked familiar. Rain sloshed against the tires. "The weather is terrible. And I am missing the cherry blossoms."


She jumped on the gas again. "What?"

"Do you even know where you're going?"

She pulled into a Tim Horton's and sighed. "No, I do not."

He pried her hand from the gear selector and held it tightly. "Talk to me."

Rain drummed on the roof. "Last night," she started quietly. "Was not the first time I had to use my body to . . . obtain information relevant to an investigation."

He didn't flinch, didn't recoil. "Ziva, did any of those guys—"

"No. But the idea of it is not new to me. And those women . . . they do not have backup, Tony."

She stole a glance at him. He was nodding slowly, slowly. "We can bring someone else in if you don't—"

"I will finish what I started."

She unbuckled her seat belt and slid out, flinching when rain chilled her face and neck. She pulled her hood up and sprinted to the door. A gust of wind stole her breath and she coughed, surprised.

Tony stepped ahead of her and pulled out his wallet. His forehead creased. "You ok?"

Anger bubbled beneath her irritation. "I am fine. If you ask me that one more time I am going to—"

"You coughed. I've never heard you cough. Or sneeze. Do you ever get sick?"


He paid for two coffees and motioned to a booth. "Wanna-?"

"We should go," she said quietly, and he followed her back out to the car. "That woman Roberts mentioned—Meredith—she wrote that letter."

"The eighteen names."

"She called them her girls."

He nodded, staring out at the wet streets. "We'll talk to Meredith. Then I want to go back to the hotel, order in lunch, and relax a little bit."

"I want to go back out tonight."

His jaw twitched. "I know. Turn right. We need to cross the Johnson Street Bridge."

. . . .

Meredith slapped a dozen fat files on the chipped formica counter between them. "I took these." She jabbed her trendy glasses higher on her nose. "Because the cops wouldn't."

Ziva eyed the pile. "Bad dates?"


She looked ready to tear their heads off. "I read the letter," Ziva offered. An olive branch. She thought of her father and schooled her features. "And these reports are...very thorough. Thank you."

"Who's dead?"

Tony shifted. "We didn't say anything about—"

She rolled her eyes. "Was it Emma? The pretty white girl? Did they find her in the harbor?"

"No," Ziva said quickly. "Why are you asking about her?"

"Did you miss the part where I said pretty white girl?"

"It is true that she does not fit the established patterns. You suspect she has died?"

"Suicide. She was a mess. I got the mental health call from VicPD, but by the time I got down there she was gone."

She nodded. "And the others?"

Meredith shrugged. "They're sex workers, addicts, aboriginals. Most of 'em were foster kids. Most of 'em never had half a chance. This was the only safe place they knew."

Ziva looked around. It was a small, stuffy building, furnished with cast-offs. Posters advertised free reproductive health care, addiction support, clean needles, shower facilities, a mailroom. Two women lounged, reading battered paperbacks. Voices could be heard from another room. The whole place smelled like soup and paint.

"What can you tell us about Donna?" she asked. She didn't take the autopsy photo from her pocket.

Meredith pulled off her glasses, rubbed her eyes. Her greying curls stuck up everywhere. "She came down from Alert Bay a few years ago—send down by First Nation authorities for cooking meth as a minor. Spent a few months in a group home up in Nanaimo. Short trip down to Rock Bay."

"She was using?"

"Of course. I got her clean needles at least once a week. She was fastidious—always showered, washed her clothes, went to the gynie, reported bad dates. She had her issues, but she was a good girl. How long she been dead?"

"I did not say—"

"Come on."

"She was found two nights ago in the back of a pickup truck."

"He in custody?"

"Yes, but we believe there is-"

"There always is," Meredith interrupted. "There will always be another bad date, and there will always be more girls to take 'em."

Ziva nodded, aching. She put her hand on the pile of folders. "There is an investigation underway. I have a subpoena to take these."

She waved her hands. "Take 'em. VicPD never did." Ziva nodded again, gathering them up. Meredith caught her arm before she could turn for the door. "Keep me in the loop, ok? Those were my girls."

"Thank you," she replied, mouth numb, and followed Tony out into the rain.

. . . .

Georgina had been sent from her Nootka reserve to the residential school in Port Alberni when she was eight. She'd been sterilized at fourteen, converted to Catholicism, and forced into sweatshop labor. She ran away, landing in Rock Bay by twenty-one and enrolled in PEERS services by twenty-three. She was the first to disappear, reporting a bad date on a Thursday and failing to show up for counseling on a Monday.

Andrea was 'Namgis. Her parents had been alcoholics. Meredith's notes indicated she'd been trafficked before she was twelve. Her teeth were rotten from heroin and a love of sugary sodas.

Angela had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Her IQ was fifty-five. She loved rainbows and disappeared before a friend could tell Meredith she'd been assaulted.

Heather was a big-time booster, but gave away what she stole before she could sell it for drug money.

Sharon had come from Edmonton. Her boyfriend didn't like that she was in the life.

Helen made an adoption plan for her newborn daughter. Meredith helped her write the Open Communication Agreement. The child had symptoms of prenatal drug exposure and mild cerebral palsy. She'd been adopted by a family from Kamloops. Helen told Meredith that she liked their dogs.

Marnie, Olivia, and Monica were Sto:lo. Their reserve hugged the Fraser River in eastern BC.

Brenda rode her bicycle everywhere. She was HIV-positive.

Sheila started working at age eleven. The pimp promised a kitten if she worked three nights in a row on Rock Bay Avenue. Reported having been sold by her father, Meredith's notes said. Mother died of cirrhosis in 1998.

Ziva dropped the file and pressed her fingertips against her eyelids. Her head throbbed. She blinked, took a swig of cold coffee, and opened the next file. Ruby bought her drugs in Vancouver, where she sometimes stayed with a friend on the Downtown Eastside. Her father was a famous Skatin woodcarver. Her file contained a photograph of one of his totems.

"What're ya doin'?" Tony slurred, startling her. "You're supposed to be napping."

Napping. Right. "Every one of these women reported a bad date before she went missing."

"Why are you on the floor?"

She'd settled cross-legged on the carpet, files in a tidy half-circle. "I did not want to wake you."

"Have you slept at all?"

"You know I did."

"Doesn't count. You had nightmares."

Those johns had turned into Saleems once the lights had gone out. Had she hoped he would not notice? "Meredith did not make a file for Emma."


She downed the last drops of her cold coffee. "She does not fit the pattern—not a sex worker, no history of drug abuse, and she was not aboriginal. Maybe she thought it was not necessary."

"She wasn't invisible like the rest of 'em."

Ziva bit her lips. "We do not have much time before I have to go to Nicola's."

Tony sat up, blankets falling to his waist. He'd slept bare-chested. "Let's order room service. What do you you want?"

She does not have the energy to choose. "Whatever you are having and a cup of tea."

"With milk?"

She stacked the folders, putting Sheila's on top. "Yes, please."

. . . .

It was less of a rain and more of a mist by the time Ziva got back out on the avenue. Same black dress, same switchblade taped inside her left thigh, same Tony in her earpiece. "Guy you just picked up has a history of DV. They'll get him on Communicating."

She crossed her arms. A white sedan slowed, stopped, sped away. "He will be out by morning."

"Sending you a pickup," Roberts interrupted. "Circled once already."

Ziva toed the edge of the curb in her platforms. A rusted-out Chevy chugged up beside her. "Fifty for the hour." Her throat itched. She sounded like Nicola.

He reached across and unlocked the door, face in the shadows. She climbed in. "Take Government," she instructed. "Park at the docks."

"Nah," he said, as though they were friends. "Let's go out to my place."

"Fifty an hour," she maintained, expecting him to change his mind. Nicola took fifty for a night.

"You like to party?"

"I like anything for fifty an hour."

He turned north, then west. Road signs pointed them toward Langford. She hadn't read about it in the guidebook.

"Got a party palace." His voice was high and a little nasal. "We'll have a real good time."

Was Tony hearing this? Roberts? "You holding?"

"Sure, sure."

Roberts was radioing to a unit in Colwood. Someone else said Glen Lake. "I need a fix," she mumbled.

"Sure, sure." He turned again. She caught sight of a sign for Metchosin before he turned down an unpaved road. The shocks rattled. Her head bounced against the window.

Her john put his hand on her thigh. She slapped him away. "I want an hour up front."

He yanked the wheel. The truck ground to a stop. Outside was heavily forested. She saw stars through tall trees. "Nope," he chuckled. "Nope. I'll just get you what you need."

"I need a fix now."

He put it in gear and pulled back onto the roadway. Gravel rained in the wheel wells. "Sure, sure."

She changed tactics, hoping someone was listening. "Where you live?"

"Oh, ya know. Up the road a piece."

"I started the clock when you picked me up." He grunted. "What's your name?"

"Bobby," he said. "You?"

"Not important." She put a coy fry in her voice.

"Nope, I s'pose not. We'll just party."

Tony crackled over the earpiece. "We got you outside of Sooke, Ziva. Get him to drop you off."

"Take me to Sooke," she demanded, whining.

"We're gonna party."

"I won't make it."

"A'ight, a'ight. Where you need dropped off?"

"Gas station right in town. My friend Tony can get me something."

"Tony. He your boyfriend?"

"My friend."

"You work for him?"


There were lights over the next ridge. Her heart leapt. "Yeah, right in town. A gas station."

The Chevron sign appeared. Beneath it were two Sooke police cruisers. Bobby shook his head. Ziva finally saw his face in the garish lights and tried not to recoil; he was a homely man. "Nope, nope," he said, grinning. "I don't like those policemen."

"C'mon," she urged. "I'm sick."

His features shifted, grin sliding sideways. His gnarled hand found her throat and squeezed. She gagged, resisted the urge to snap his neck. "Nope, nope," he repeated. "I don't like those policemen."

He ran a red light, still gripping her throat. Her vision blurred. She clawed at his wrist, breaking the skin. They'd get his DNA from under her fingernails. Let me go, she tried to say, but his hand tightened, cutting off the air completely. She let go of his hand, fumbled with the door latch, and slid out, hitting the macadam with a wet shickt. Flesh tore from her knees and hip. Her elbow made contact with the curb and panged, sending sparks up her arm. Cars whooshed by and blue lights flashed somewhere nearby.

She came to rest with her shoulder jammed in the gutter. The mist turned to rain and fell on her upturned face.

"Agent David?" someone asked.

She tried to find him in the haze. "Yes?"

"I'm Officer Polito with Sooke PD. Roberts called ahead—we've been tailing you since the petrol station. A bus is on it's way."

He draped an emergency blanket over her. She held her hands up, panting. Her throat was raw fire. "Swab my neck and hands for epithelials before the EMTs get here. They will destroy the evidence."

His boots slid on cinders. "Agent David—"

"Take the evidence, Officer Polito."

His footsteps retreated, a car door slammed, and then a white box appeared in her peripheral vision. He dug under each fingernail without drawing blood, swabbed her neck, bagged everything, sealed the envelopes.

Ziva shivered. "Give the kit to my partner. He will send it to our evidence lab in Washington DC."

An ambulance pulled up. EMTs jumped out, hauling kits and a spineboard. She sat up, head spinning, and waved them off. "I am fine."

"You could have serious injuries," one of them said. She couldn't focus on his face. "Let us put you on the board, please."


"You need to come to the hospital. Police procedure."

She sat up fully, making sure her dress covered something. "There is nothing wrong with me."

"You're bleeding."

She coughed. "Then get me a Band-Aid."

Traffic slowed. A Crown Vic pulled over and Tony jumped out, sprinted toward her. He collapsed on her right, took her cheeks in his hands. "You ok?"

"I am fine. Tell them that."

He looked at Polito and the medics, then back at her. His face fairly swam in her sight. "Hop in the back of the bus. Let 'em glue you up."

Ziva relented, let him lever her off the curb and guide her to the open ambulance doors. Two medics patched her up, took her temperature, checked her pupils, felt her neck and back.

"You're roughed up, but ok," one said.

"Told you," she nudged, looking at Tony. His eyes were worried. "Did you get the evidence?"

He disappeared. She shoved off the bumper and walked unsteadily to the VicPD unmarked. The keys were in the ignition. She got in the passenger seat and turned the engine over. Heat. She was stiff with cold and bruises.

And he was there in a minute, tucking his coat around her, putting the envelope on the console between them. "Scared the hell out of me, Zee-vah."

She tried to read the return address label. "We will have to overnight this to Abby. The tissue breaks down quickly."

He swung the car in an U-turn. She closed her eyes. Dinner crept up her esophagus. It took a long moment to settle. "That was him," she rasped finally.

"It was someone."

"It was him. He choked me. He said we were going to party."

Tony drove, saying nothing.

"It was him," she repeated.

The road widened. He took the left lane, speeding.

"I need to get back out there, Tony. He will pick up another girl. We cannot know that—"


"I have skills," she argued. "I can take care of myself."

"Like you just did?" he snarled. His hands were tight fists around the steering wheel.

"Yes," she snapped. "Exactly like that. Another woman would have been dead by now, Tony. We cannot let that happen."

There was water on her right. Boats and buoys sailed by as Tony drove east to Victoria. "You're a mess."

"You have said that before."

"He won't be back tonight. Let's call it for now."

"Did Sooke PD get his license plate number? Polito said he tailed us."

"No. No lights on the plate."

"Then I need to get back out there."

They pulled into a parking space at the Inner Harbour. Jazz music floated out from one of the waterfront restaurants. "Tomorrow," he bargained. "We spooked him."

"And put another woman at risk of being murdered, Tony. You have to—"

"The hell I do, Ziva." He picked up the radio. "I'm calling it off for tonight, guys. Go home. Get some rest." He released the talk button and looked at her for a long time. She didn't guess at what he was seeing. "And we'll pick it up again tomorrow."

She exhaled in relief. He dropped the mic and ran a hand over his face. "Thank you," she murmured.

"I made a promise," he said, staring at her. "One I'm regretting." She swallowed. Her throat was full of hot metal. "But if I don't do this then you'll do it alone."

At lo le'vad. "I am grateful, Tony.

He brushed her dirty curls away from her eyes and gave her a long, pointed look. "I know."