I'm so sorry, everyone! When the muse is dead, it's dead! It's so hard to write in the summer, because reruns give me no inspiration. Thank you all for your patience. *bg*


Chapter Five

The phone call had been from Jack. Martin had glanced across his apartment at her, and breathed the name, "Jack," as soon as he answered the phone. The name came like a shot in the still anxiety of Martin's apartment, as though just the mere mention of him changed everything between Samantha and Martin.

When it didn't. It couldn't.

She was just starting to breathe again after so much time of being suffocated by the lies and the anxieties and the whispers and the deceits. She had just caught her breath, grabbed it out of the air where it had waited placidly for her to reclaim it.

But they had obligations, to their boss, to their team, to their jobs, to the people who were missing. It was always about obligation, denying feelings out of obligation until they withered out of neglect. It was always about denial, too. They had become slaves, mindless, faceless, simply going through the motions of a job they loved but could not exist in.

It's not fair, her mind screamed at her, petulant, childlike, furious at the interruption.

But what would have happened if Jack hadn't called? If there hadn't been a phone call to stop them? How far might it have gone? How might they have destroyed what could be if Jack hadn't called?

She watched him from across the room, studied his features, tried to read him as he talked on the phone with Jack. She thought of the fear running rampant in her veins, fear that made her dizzy, pain that made her anxious. She thought of Danny, and she wondered where he had been. She thought of a lot, just watching Martin. How long could she be an audience member? How long could she be a third party before being asked to join?

Martin hung up the phone quietly and then he turned to look at her, and she began to understand what people meant when they said that some silences were deafening. Martin looked like he had gotten a swift kick to the stomach. He was pale, his face tight and his jaw even tighter.

"That was Jack," Martin said softly, as though she hadn't known. She struggled to stand, because she knew what his tone of voice meant. It meant it was time to get to work.

"We got one?" she asked quietly.

"We got one," Martin echoed, nodding slowly. "We got one," he said again.

"What is it?" she asked.

He looked at her, blinking. "It's Jack's wife. She's missing."


Marie Malone

Missing: Four Hours

The office felt strange without Jack, but they all understood why he had been pulled from the case. Vivian had been appointed acting supervisor, and Samantha had pulled herself in. She wasn't going to let this one pass her by. Jack had asked them specifically for help, and wasn't about to let him down. She couldn't let him down. They had to find Marie, no matter what it meant.

Martin had begun to watch her very closely, watching and waiting, as though looking for some sort of sign. Eric had been brought in as well to round out the case. The official word was suspected kidnapping, someone trying to get back at Jack for something or another.

But other than that, they were at a loss. Nobody ever addressed the issue of what to do when they didn't know where to start. There were questions that hung loosely in the air over everyone's heads, and they all blinked at each other from across the table, waiting for something, anything. Somebody had to have a bright idea sooner or later.

The time just ticked on, minute after minute. Time was valuable, but so was government money, and they couldn't just go galavanting around New York, looking for something, anything. Cold coffee sat in front of Samantha's hand, just inches from her cold fingers.

There were things that nobody wanted to say.

"What if--" Martin started, breaking the silence that had grown between Samantha, Danny, Eric, and Martin. "What if she jsut . . . left?"

That was one of the things nobdoy wanted to say.

"She has children," Samantha pointed out mildly. "Two daughters. She wouldn't just leave."

"What if it became too much?" Martin asked, looking at her pointedly. And she didn't know what to say to taht. She looked at the three men around the table, one her ex-boyfriend, one her best friend, and the third . . . something else all together.

"You know what we always say," Danny said after a beat. Three heads turned to look at him, and his hands played with the piece of paper in front of him, folding it, tearing it. Samantha could hear Vivian on the phone in Jack's office. What they needed now was information. "Last person to see them is usually responsible."

If silence could have been cacophonous, that would have been how Samantha would have described the dullness that followed Danny's statement.

"And why would Jack have done anything with his wife?" Eric asked Danny, watching Samantha.

Danny's eyes turned to look at her as well, and she wasn't comfortable with the accusations, with what they were saying. "Hey--" Martin started. "Leave her alone. Samantha doesn't have anything to do with this."

"We have to look at all the possibilities here," Eric said, his tone immediately harsher as he addressed Martin. "We have to get her back."

"Yeah, but leave Samantha out of it."

Samantha watched Martin, and she chewed at her lip. They all knew better than to suspect Jack. It was nerves, it was anxiety, it was fear talking. The fear just manifested itself in bitter ways. "Guys--" she said, trying to be the omnipresent Voice of Reason. "This isn't helping anything."

With Martin beside her, she thought about reaching for his hand udnerneath the table, reaching for it and clasping it in her own. Without their fearless leader, where were they now?

"Okay, everyone," they heard as Vivian set down the phone and came out of Jack's office. The older woman looked tired, worn around the edges. That was how they all looked. Sometimes it was strange how little it took to exhaust them all. "We've got a lead. Martin, Samantha, we have a surveillance camera in a store on 57th that puts her there two hours ago. Eric, Danny, go back to Jack's house and talk to the neighbors. We need to get something more."

And so that was what it took-- one of their own to be taken out of the equation before someone would let her participate again.

As they started to stand up, there was one more question hanging in the air, bitter and angry, that only Danny was brave enough to ask. "What if we can't do it without Jack?" he asked.

Nobody wanted to answer that.


Marie Malone

Missing: Six Hours

It was all about watching. She had to constantly be watching, always watching and always listening. She had to make people believe that she believed them implicitly while always always watching for signs that they were lying. It was about always asking 'why' while not letting that question overcome the 'where'.

The store was a small boutique, out of the way yet still high-end, expensive, exclusive. What had Marie Malone been doing there? The woman was simple, understated, yet sophisticated. She was not going to be caught in a trendy New York boutique.

Martin watched the surveillance tape once through with the manager of the store as Samantha walked around, fingering blouses and skirts, trying to understand what Marie Malone had been doing there. In some way, she thought she could understand the woman. They had a lot in common, more than either of them wanted to admit.

"Marie Malone," the man said, and he handed Martin a credit card slip. "See, Marie Malone."

Samantha let go of a sleeve of a shirt and walked over to them, through the open door of the back office, and Martin turned to look at her. She took the credit card slip from him; it was Marie Malone's credit card, without a doubt. There was something off about it, though.

"Take a look at this," Martin said, pointing to the screen. He told the man to rewind it, and the man cued up the tape again and pressed play. All three of them watched the dark-haired woman on the screen, watched her with unnatural interest. "Is there something weird about this to you?"

Samantha moved closer to the screen, and Martin put an unconscious hand on the small of her back, and she felt the warmth creep up from his fingertips into her skin. It was so natural, so lacking cunning. It was like breathing.

She wondered, vaguely, if it had been like this between Jack and Marie-- before. Jack and Marie were proof positive that good things could go horribly wrong, that sometimes love was not enough to keep two people together. She knew that first-hand. Once upon a time, she had thought herself in love. In retrospect, she realized that she hadn't been. Only thought.

She watched the dark-haired woman on the screen, and she realized something at the same time Martin did. She turned to look at him, and he nodded. "She's wearing a wig," he said. "That's not Marie."


Marie Malone

Missing: Six and a half hours

She stumbled in the elevator, almost fainted, almost collapsed. It was a mixture of things-- fear, anxiety, pain. She didn't want to tell Jack that some woman was impersonating his wife and that that woman had his wife's credit card. She didn't want to be involved in this case; she wanted to go home and sink into a bathtub and forget about it all, let the bubbles drown away her troubles.

That would have been easiest.

She reached out for the elevator wall, uneven on her injured leg, and Martin caught her, and she sank into him, not close to tears, for once not close to crying. The pain in her leg had begun to be psychosomatic; she was causing it, because she expected it to hurt.

"Samantha," Martin half-cried, folding her into his arms. Together, they sank to the cool floor of the elevator, her leg simply not going to hold her up any longer.

"I'm okay," she told him. "I'm okay," she whispered. She didn't know how much she believed it, how much any one would believe it, how much she would believe it if she were Martin. When along the way had she become this weak person?

Bullet. Gunshot. That was right. She had to keep reminding herself. It had become her scapegoat, but she felt entitled to use it as such.

She pulled herself up, pressing her back against the cold elevator wall, her leg stretched out in front of her, and Martin moved across the elevator so that he was facing her, and in the confined space, they said nothing, simply looked at each other, simply gazed into the other's eyes. It was stolen time.

They didn't need to steal time. Not Samantha and Martin. They could have all the time they needed.

She smiled, and he smiled back at her, and as the elevator stopped and the doors slid open, her smile widened into a grin, and his smile echoed her movement.

He stood up first, and he held out a hand for her to take, and he helped her up, pulled her to him, pulled her into him so that she was pressed up against his chest, his arm wrapped around her waist. He didn't care who in the office saw, just didn't care, and as she looked at him, she realized she didn't care either.

"After we find Marie," he said, taking his free hand and stroking her cheekbone, her jawline, the pads of his fingers sending cliched chills down her spine, "I'm taking you out. For real."

Pushing herself up onto the toes of her good foot, she whispered in his ear, "I'd like that."

If there was an after. If they found Marie.

To be continued . . .