Author's note - Well, here it is - Hope it was worth the wait. Thanks for all the encouragement and reviews, and hopefully, I'll see you after the first of the year. Enjoy!
Alex sat her desk, bent over the paperwork of their most recent case, the third in a string of open and shut tales of greed, jealousy, murder and revenge. She was torn between annoyance that there wasn't something harder to distract her from the constant wondering, reviewing and second-guessing that had filled the week since Raum escaped, and relief that there hadn't been anything challenging, because she was having one hell of a time keeping her mind on work. There had to be something ... something they'd missed. Nine of the last ten calls on her phone log were made to Munch, asking him if this was possible, or if that might have happened. His answer was always 'No', or 'I doubt it'.
The tenth call was to Edward, who was pointedly avoiding them at work. When she did catch a glimpse of him, he looked pale and drawn, like he hadn't been sleeping well, and might have lost some weight. It was the sight of him in a wrinkled shirt that prompted her call, though; she had never seen him in anything that wasn't freshly ironed. He hadn't wanted to talk and insisted that nothing was wrong.
Penny for your thoughts? She glanced up at Bobby, who had stopped working on his share of the forms and was leaning on his elbow, watching her.
I'd be ripping you off if I accepted that offer, she thought back. It's the same crap I've been thinking about the last six times you've asked. Why can't I let this go?
Because we've never been deceived by anyone like he deceived us, not even Nicole. It was months before I stopped beating myself up over her.
Nice to know what I have to look forward to. She started as Deakins appeared beside their desks.
"When you two have finished your staring contest, I'd like to see you in my office." As he walked away, Alex glanced at Bobby, who was wearing that shy, half-smile that she had loved even before loving him.
What do you suppose he wants? she asked, setting down her pen and rising to her feet, her back protesting vehemently as being forced to change position after being bent over the desk for so long.
To congratulate us on our fine detective work this past week, probably. Alex smiled. Bobby as good with the sarcasm as she was, she'd discovered, he just rarely voiced his thoughts aloud. They stepped into the Captain's office and Bobby closed the door behind them. Deakins leaned back in his chair and regarded them for a moment.
"Is there something you two want to tell me?" he asked, sounding much like a father interrogating his kids.
"Like what, Captain?" Alex asked. He sat up and laced his fingers together on the surface of his desk.
"Like why you are hardly speaking to each other these days." Alex almost laughed, and had to fight desperately to keep a straight face. "I noticed it almost a week ago, but then, I have been keeping an extra close eye on you. I thought maybe I was just looking for trouble where there wasn't any, but yesterday, Detective Jensen asked me if you had had a fight and if I was going to split you up. Now, God knows I can't fault your work, but I also can't have you disrupting this squad. I've allowed you both a lot of leash when it comes to ... personal relations. Please tell me I haven't made a mistake."
Should we? Alex asked, not even glancing at her partner.
Might as well. I doubt telling him not to worry will work.
"It's like this, Captain," Alex said. Deakins looked like he was preparing himself for the worst. "You know how Goren and I could -"
"- practically finish each other's sentences," Bobby continued without missing a beat, "almost like we could -"
"- read each other's minds?" Deakins looked back and forth between them, and did not seem amused by their little performance. "We can talk to each other in our heads," Alex said, cutting to the chase. "That's why it's seemed like we haven't been speaking."
"So there's nothing wrong between you, nothing I need to worry about?" Deakins asked. Alex and Bobby exchanged glances.
"No, Captain, everything's fine." Bobby took a step backward, towards the door. "We can even prove that we hear each other's thoughts, if you -"
"Don't bother," Deakins said, holding up hand. "If you've gone through all this trouble to lie to me, I'm not giving you the satisfaction, and if you're telling the truth ... I don't want to know it. After the mess I've had to sort out because of last week's ... events, I don't want to see so much as a card trick for as long as I live. No ghost stories, no alien encounters, to psychic detectives, got it?"
"Got it, Captain," Alex said. Bobby just nodded.
"Good, now get back to work. Oh," he said when they were halfway out the door, "you might want to start talking out loud again, if it'll help keep the peace around here." They left his office in silence, even their thoughts restrained as they sat back down at their desks.
"I guess we should have known someone would notice," Alex said, glancing over at Jenkins sitting at his desk with his back to them.
"He was probably wondering if you were going to be looking for a new partner any time soon. He's tired of being a Junior Grade Detective and probably figures partnering with you would be the easy way to a quick promotion."
"Gee, and here I thought he wanted me for my cheerful personality." Alex picked up her pen to get back to work, but dropped it again as Edward burst from the elevators, heading straight for their desks. He practically knocked over Detective Lewellen in his haste.
"Goren, Eames, you're not going to believe this. A friend of mine works Homicide - "
"You've got a friend?" Bobby asked, arching one eyebrow. "You're right, I don't believe it." Edward ignored him, turning to speak directly to Alex instead.
"A body was just pulled from the East River - hasn't been identified yet; it's on its way to the morgue right now - but preliminary COD is blunt force. It looks like every bone in the body was shattered."
"Satrina," Bobby said, his voice flat, dead. Alex felt it too, a kind of hollowness in the pit of her stomach, part regret, part disappointment, part anger. It shouldn't have ended this way. It was their job to protect people, even if that meant protecting the bad guys from each other. I suppose we should probably go down and see what's left of the body.
"Yeah, there might be some evidence ..." Fat chance of that.
Everyone makes a mistake eventually.
"We sure did."
Why are you talking out loud?
Deakins asked us to. Why?
Your would-be boy-toy is giving us a funny look. Alex glanced up at Edward. She'd forgotten he was there, and indeed, he was watching her like she'd grown another head.
"Sorry," she said, "just thinking out loud." She hadn't meant it to be funny, but, considering the situation, it was no wonder Bobby burst out laughing. The harder she tried to keep a straight face, the more impossible it became. Finally, she gave in and laughed until her sides hurt, which drew curious looks and puzzled glances from everyone on the eleventh floor, but right then, she didn't really care. None of them knew how this past week had weighed upon her, her every waking thought, and quite a few of her dreams, revolving around Raum. As she laughed, she finally let it go, as if she were laughing at Raum himself.
"Finished?" Edward asked once the laughter had given way to weak giggles as she tried to catch her breath.
"Edward, I'm sorry," she said breathlessly. He turned his face away.
"You don't owe me an apology, Eames," he said. "I'm just glad I could brighten your day." He started to walk away. Alex jumped up and caught him by the arm.
"Please, Edward, don't be like that." She relaxed her grip on his arm, her hand sliding up toward his shoulder. She hadn't realized how much she'd missed him during this past week. He reached out and took her other hand. Apparently, he had missed her, too. "Why - why don't you come with us," Alex said, suddenly realizing that they'd been standing silently for too long. Edward let go and stepped back, looking horrified.
"Go with you ... to the morgue. Are you out of your mind?"
A legitimate question, Bobby thought as Edward stalked away. What the hell was that all about?
"I don't know," she said, sitting on the edge of Bobby's desk. It's been a long week. I guess it just caught up with me. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. Don't worry, sweetheart, he's still just a friend. "If even that much," she added out loud, a touch of sadness in her voice.
"Long time, no see," Dr. Rodgers said as Bobby and Alex made their way across the chilly morgue examination room to where a single body lay, still wrapped in its heavy black body bag. "What brings you to my neck of the woods?"
"You're body," Alex said, and was rewarded by Bobby's deep chuckle rumbling through her head.
"Wow, like I've never heard that one before," the ME said sarcastically. "If that's all you wanted, the exit's that way."
"The body pulled from the river this afternoon, we believe she was a suspect of ours," Alex said, no qualms about getting down to business now that the pleasantries were out of the way.
"Really?" Rodgers glanced at the preliminary report filled out by the coroner at the scene. "I think you've got the wrong corpse."
"Cause of death was blunt force," Bobby said. "Every bone in her body is broken."
"We can't be sure of that until we do x-rays," Rodgers said, "but yes, it appears to that way. Except for one thing." She unzipped the body bag and pulled the sides back. "This victim is male." The scent of decomp, a day or two at least, aided by the water and the sun, assailed Alex's senses. She stepped back, trying to find clean air to breathe, but stopped dead at the sight of the body. Clean air was forgotten; she couldn't breathe at all.
It was Raum. She had memorized that face, identical to the one in the picture with Hitler. It hardly mattered that the skin had gone white and began sloughing off in the water, or that the body had obviously met with a few rocks before being found, or that the cheek and jaw bones were crushed and misshapen; gut instinct alone could have told her it was him.
"Satrina," Bobby said, his voice flat, dead. Alex shook her head. Ms. Anastasius was a mediocre witch at best; how could she have done this?
"Is there anything else I can help you with, Detectives?" Bobby shook his head and headed for the doors.
"If we could get a copy of the autopsy report ... when you're done ... thanks," Alex said. She followed Bobby into the hall, where he stopped and leaned against the wall, looking up at the ceiling. "You really think she killed him?"
"You heard Munch," Bobby said. "That's how evil witches and warlocks die - their apprentices get too powerful and kill them."
"Yeah, but Munch also said she wasn't very powerful. How could she have?"
"If she had the book, if she could read the spell, I think that's all it would take."
"Yes, but where did she get the book from? She left the station with Raum; I really don't think he was stupid enough to let her near it."
"Before then, while Raum was still -" He stopped and Alex could feel his mind running at light speed, like a glow in the back of her head. "Alex, did you ever hear from anyone about those papers she went off to file, the ones that would end our careers?" Alex felt the expression leave her face. "Neither did I. She didn't file any papers. She went and got the book."
"But how did she know where to l - The intercom," she said suddenly, answering her own question. "After Raum told us where the book was, I followed Munch out into the squad room. I walked past a blonde woman in a blue suit, I didn't even notice, but it must have been her. She was standing outside the observation room talking to some cops. And when we left her and Raum alone in the room, I went to turn the intercom on, but it was already on. She was listening." They looked at each other for a moment, trying to decide if this new information changed anything. It was interesting, and did explain a few things, like why they still had their jobs, but in the end, they knew little more than before. They both jumped as Bobby's cell phone rang, startlingly loud in the long, empty hallway.
"Goren," he answered. Alex wasn't particularly close, nor did Bobby keep the volume on his phone turned up real loud, but Alex clearly heard the voice on the other end of the line, as if she were holding the phone herself.
"Hello Bobby. Hello Alex." The voice gave her chills, so soft, and once more heavy with that Australian accent, but also cold, lifeless.
"Hello Nicole," Bobby said. Alex watched him try to swallow, his Adam's apple jumping up and down as his dry mouth refused to cooperate. She had never seen him so pale. Of course, she was shaking where she stood.
"Come on, Alex, don't be shy. Say hello."
"Hi," Alex managed on the third attempt. Nicole laughed, but there was no feeling behind it.
"I assume you have found my unfortunate savior and mentor. Poor man, you should have seen his face when he realized I was going to kill him. I've never seen such terror."
"You took the book out of the locker," Bobby said. "You stole his power."
"Of course. When he found the book missing, I told him I overheard Alex say they had been searching the train station for Munch. He assumed the rest. A dangerous practice. It got him killed."
"And what's it going to do to us, Nicole?" Bobby asked. "We assumed your fingerprints could be believed."
"Yes, that was not easy to accomplish. I tried changing my actual, physical fingerprints to match those of the woman I killed, but the magick was too involved for me, the prints came out muddled, and even if it worked, there would be two of her, and none of me. So I found a young computer wizard and convinced him to hack into the police database and alter certain information."
"You had him switch your fingerprints with Ms. Anastasius, so that when we found her, we would assume it was you," Alex said, closing her eyes and shaking her head.
"Well, you're mostly right," Nicole said. "Her real name was Alice Hanover. I had him change that as well. I mean, do I look like an Alice to you?"
"What do you want, Nicole?" Bobby asked, his voice ground down to a growl.
"At the moment, nothing except to gloat a little. Eventually, though, I will want what is mine." They both glanced down at the simple wedding band on Bobby's finger. He hadn't taken it off since the spell.
"What do you want it for?" Alex asked. "It's not like you ever used it when you had it."
"Quite right, Alex, but it is the principle of the thing. It's mine and I shall be taking it back."
"When?" Bobby asked.
"When I have nothing better to do. Perhaps when you least expect it, or when I find a use for it. But you will be seeing me again."
"Oh, yes, one day we'll look up and you'll come swooping down out of the sky on your broomstick and set us on fire," Alex said.
"If I only wanted you dead, I could kill you from here," Nicole replied, "but where is the challenge in that? No, when we meet again, it'll be on equal terms; just our wits, no magick. You have my promise."
"And what good is that?" Alex asked. "All those lies you told about Raum being crazy Leland Kier, calling yourself Satrina. Your promise is worthless."
"No, my promise was worthless," Nicole said. "I barely had the power to bewitch your Detective Munch. If he hadn't been exhausted, I never would have been able. But now, I have enough power to put out the sun, with just a word, just a thought."
"Then why don't you," Alex snapped, rather rashly. Losing the sun would be a very bad thing. Nicole just made that laughing sound again. Alex couldn't actually call it laughing; real laughter had warmth, tone, feeling.
"I may, someday, but for now, I have to live on this plant as well, and a lot longer than you will, so I better not. Magick can have unforeseen consequences, as you well know, and words are the tools we use to shape our magick. A tool that is malformed cannot be expected to work properly, and that which it creates cannot be expected to function any better. So, unless I have a death wish, it's better to tell the truth." A loud, echoing voice suddenly came through the phone, speaking something vaguely Asian, but what language, Alex didn't have a clue. "That's my flight," Nicole said. "I better go, but I'll see you soon."
"If you want your curse back," Bobby said suddenly, "you can have it. It is yours, after all." Alex shot him a questioning look. "Who knows, you may get one more chance at love and forget all about us."
"Are you offering a trade, Bobby, my passion in return for a promise that I never bother you again? Oh, I had thought you better than that, smarter. If I was willing to give it up in the first place to have my revenge, what makes you think I would give up any further chance of vengeance in order to have it back?"
"You didn't realize what you were giving up," Bobby said, beginning to pace back and forth across the hall. "Passion is the fire that lights up our dreary, solitary lives. Love ... love is sometimes the only thing that makes living bearable - more than bearable, worth coming back from the dead for." He looked over at her as he said it, and Alex felt that warmth ease through her once again, only to be pierced by Nicole's icy voice.
"Love didn't bring me back, Bobby. After you killed me, only vengeance brought me back to this world, and it is all that is keeping me here. Keep the curse. I don't need it. Revenge is a dish best served cold anyway." There was silence, and then a dial tone echoed along the hallway.
"Well," Bobby said, closing his cell and putting it back in his pocket, "looks like she got away again." Strangely, he didn't sound too upset about it. He reached out and took her hand. "What do you say to dinner at my place?"
"What about Nicole?" Alex asked, looking up at him as they headed down the hall.
"She's not invited," he said with a slight smile. His face became serious again and he shrugged. "She'll turn up, but not tonight, I think." He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "When I was dead, all the pain and regret and Nicole Wallaces of my life disappeared. Only the joy and laughter and - and you stayed. So if life is just a chance to pack for the real adventure, don't you think we should only bother with the things we get to take?"
"That's nice," Alex said with a smile, "we've only been together a week, and already I'm baggage."
Disclaimer - Law and Order: CI and SVU, and the characters protrayed therin, are the property of Dick Wolf and Assoc., but Detective Sledge is all mine, Mwa ha ha ha! Er, ahem ... please don't sue.