Notes: My sincerest apologies for taking so long to finish this! Various ailments, writer's block, and just unrelenting RL got in the way. Then it took me forever to even remember where I was going with the story before I could finish. But it is done now. To those who will read it despite the long delay, thanks and enjoy. To new readers that might decide to give it chance, the same. DW


"Nice to see you too, Deaq."

Deaq rolled his eyes at his partner and sighed. Van looked terrible. His eyes were a little glazed, and he was shivering.

"Van, Van, Van. You know, some guy's been calling your cell phone all day?" Alan pulled Van's phone out of his pocket and showed it to him. "Don't worry. I let him know that you were otherwise occupied. He didn't seem too happy to hear that. I'll call him when this is all over to let him know about the funeral arrangements."

Van was confused. He shook his head, turning to Deaq for clarification. Deaq had a fairly good idea of who it was, who he hoped it was, but he couldn't be sure. He tilted his head toward one shoulder, the best he could do for a shrug at the moment.

"You know, he threatened to kill me? Can you believe it? All I said was that I had put you on ice, and he said he was going to hunt me down and kill me. I was hurt, I must say. I think maybe he misunderstood. What do you think?"

"I think you probably just pissed off a very dangerous man, Alan," Deaq said as Van seemed too stunned to say anything.

"Oh come on, Deaq, how dangerous could a cop's father be?" Alan laughed.

Van flinched.

"Well, let's see, Van's father just recently got out of prison and at this very moment is a wanted fugitive." Now it was Alan's turn to flinch. He hadn't been expecting that.

He recovered quickly though with another just slightly insane laugh. "Well, isn't that interesting? In that case, maybe I should get this show on the road, so that I can do the same." He held up the gun in his hand. "Recognize this, Van?"

Deaq's own recognition of the weapon only occurring as Van nodded. It was Van's gun.

"Nice gun. I'm going to kill your partner with it, and then I'm going to kill you. Unless!" He gestured wildly. "Unless you play a little game with me. Play my game, and I'll let Deaq go. Still going to kill you, you realize, but Deaq will walk out of here. What do you say?"

Van met Deaq's eyes again, and Deaq could see an apology there. "No, Van," he warned. "He's going to kill us both regardless."

Van hung his head. When he looked up again, he focused on Alan Foster. "Let's play."

"Damn it, Van!" Deaq swore. "Are you crazy?"

"You've always said I was." Van's half-hearted smile was yet another apology. Then there was a slight tilt of his head, a message. Van was stalling for time. He was waiting for backup. Deaq said a quick prayer that he wouldn't have to wait long.

Alan Foster grinned. "Good!" The man moved behind Deaq and grabbed the back of the chair, dragging it with him as he moved farther into the warehouse. "Come with us, Van. I'm about to show you guys exactly what you have been looking for. Gary was smart, you know? He knew that if we put anything in our names the cops, you, would find it. We couldn't use anything of our dad's either. If he found it, we were toast. So, we found this place. It had been abandoned for quite some time. The guy that owned it croaked, and his company went belly up. His family is fighting over what's left, but his son got this place. For a small cut, he let us build this." They went through a doorway and stopped.

Deaq tried to turn in the chair to see what he was talking about, but could not maneuver to see beyond Alan and his grand gesture.

"A building within a building," Van supplied.

"That's right. Got to have a secure place, right? To the outside world, this is an empty warehouse. Cool, huh?" He dropped Deaq's chair back onto all four legs, and Deaq could hear the rattle of keys moments before they came over his head. "Will you do the honors, Van? I have to keep my focus on my insurance." Deaq felt the barrel of Van's gun against his head once more. Van took the keys and moved around Deaq to unlock and open the door. "Go on inside. On the counter there you'll see a syringe." Once more, Deaq's chair was dragged into the room and then spun around to face Van. "I'll get the door." The heavy door slammed shut without Alan ever removing the gun from his head. "Locks automatically, need a key to get in and to get out. Speaking of which," he motioned for Van to give him back the keys. Van passed the keys over Deaq's head. "Now then. Take the syringe and inject yourself." He instructed as he shoved Van toward the counter.

Van moved to the counter, and Deaq saw him swallow hard, the fear obvious in his green eyes.

"Into a muscle will do. You don't have to worry about hitting a vein."

Van stood frozen, staring at the loaded syringe.

"Come on, Van. You said you'd play. Deaq's counting on you." A hard shove to Deaq's head with the gun punctuated the statement.

"What is it?" Van asked, his voice flat, not betraying his fear like his eyes so obviously did.

"Nothing you haven't had before. Actually, that's not entirely true. You had it mixed with other stuff. This, though, is just good ole Special K. I was working with it and some other things to create a new high, but most of them didn't work the way I wanted. The one I gave you at the party was as close as I got, but there was still the freak-out factor with that blend. One of my experiments actually killed that one guy. I think he had a stroke or an aneurysm or something. I wanted all fun, no freak and definitely no dead guys. So I give up. That's the last of the K right there in that syringe, and it's all for you. Don't worry. It's not an overdose. That would end the game too fast. Just make sure you go real slow. If you go too fast, you'll depress your breathing too much. That could kill you. Again, the game would be over before it's begun. We can't have that. Anyway, you got to the count of three before I kill Deaq, so you better get ready. One," he began the count as Van met Deaq's eyes and picked up the syringe. Deaq shook his head, only to get slapped across the side opposite the gun. "No interference from the audience. Two—"

Van took a deep breath and plunged the needle into his left leg. "Three," he said defiantly. "Happy?" he asked as he slowly injected the drug.

Deaq didn't have to see Alan's face; the smile was in the voice, "Oh, I will be. In just a few more seconds."

Van removed the needle and put it back on the counter. Deaq watched as his partner's eyes lost focus, and then slowly Van slid down to the floor.

"Yes!" Alan crowed. He finally came into Deaq's line of sight to move to Van's side. "So cool."

"It's going to kill him," Deaq said grimly.

"Not yet. It's a big dose, sure, but not enough to kill him. He may have gone too fast, though."

"And he wasn't in the best shape when he got here. Your game is over, Alan."

"No!" He whirled on Deaq, pressing the gun under his chin, then seemed to get a hold of himself. "No. My game is only just beginning." An uneasy silence filled the room as Alan looked back at Van, and Deaq held his breath waiting for the man's next move. A cell phone split the quiet, making both men jump. Alan snatched Van's phone out of his pocket once more. "What?" he demanded. After a pause, he said, "Well, bring it on, old man. By the time you get here, he'll be dead, and I'll be gone." He rattled off the address and hung up. "He's really getting on my nerves, Deaq. He really is. He just keeps calling. Let him come. He can collect the corpses." Alan walked away a few steps and ran his fingers through his blond hair. Deaq took the opportunity to look at his partner. Van wasn't moving; his eyes were open, but the look in them was vacant. A shiver went through Deaq that had nothing to do with temperature. Van looked dead already.

Alan sighed and caught Deaq's attention again. The man was grinning at Van. "Hey, you in there, Van?" He walked over and kicked him. "You better not be dead yet." He knelt down and put his ear to Van's chest. "Nope, he's still alive. Tripping like hell, but alive. You ever notice how pretty he is, Deaq? I mean, it's a damn shame that I'm going to have to kill him." He smiled at Deaq. "But there's nothing that says I can't have some fun with him before he dies, huh? It won't matter to him. He won't know it. Won't live to remember it, if he could, which he probably wouldn't anyway." He ran his hand over Van's face and then through his hair. "It's as soft as it looks, Deaq. You ever touch his hair? You ever touch him? Want to watch when I do?"

Deaq shook his head.

"Too bad. You're a captive audience, man."

"I'm going to kill you. If he doesn't beat me to it."

"He is not able to kill me, and you won't have the chance."

Van toppled over onto his side at that moment and Alan laughed. "I think he's uncomfortable. Don't worry. I'll help him out."

Where the hell was that back-up?


"Aquarius! Where are they?" Billie asked the big man even as she got out of the car.

"In there. What you got in mind?"

"Damned if I know. We go rushing in, there's a chance he kills them both before we get in the door."

"I gave Van a gun, but truthfully, he didn't look like he was in any shape to use it."

"I'm going to forget you said that."

"Linc," Aquarius acknowledged.

A nod was all he got in return. More cars arrived, and Parish got out and approached them while others swarmed over the area. The SWAT truck pulled into view as well. The men in the back exited quickly to receive their orders. Then they too dispersed. Billie saw them as they worked to set up a perimeter, and the snipers looked for positions and moved to take those positions. She took a deep breath and turned to Parish.

"Any movement?"

"No. Just got here myself."

The big man was about to say something else but was cut off by screeching tires. Every officer present spun to greet the intruder with weapons drawn. Raymond Ray flew out of the vehicle apparently oblivious to the more than fifteen guns pointed at him. "What the fuck is going on here? Some nut case keeps answering Van's phone and threatening to kill him. Why are you all standing here? Do something!"

"We are trying, Ray-Ray."

"Not too hard from what I can see. Do something or get out of the way while I do."

"You'll stay out of the way, or I'll have you arrested right here, right now."

He opened his mouth to say more, but she threw up one hand to cut him off. She turned her back to him and faced Parish and Lincoln Hayes. Deaq's father seemed to have zeroed in on Ray-Ray. She didn't have time for that either. "We have to find a way to get in that building. You and you," she called out to the officers closest to her, "try to find a way onto the roof."

"I've got a better idea. He's expecting me. Let me go in there." Ray-Ray spoke up again.

"Excuse me? What do you mean, he's expecting you?" Mr. Hayes asked before she could.

"I said, he's been answering Van's phone. Hell, he invited me! How do you think I found this place? ESP?"

"Well, I wouldn't say it was a parent's intuition. You certainly haven't been much of a parent." Hayes grumbled, not quite low enough to keep from being heard.

"Who the hell are you to comment?"

"A father! A real father. You know, the kind that kids don't have to wait until visiting day to see."

"Gentlemen! Enough!" Billie sighed. It was going to be a long night. "Okay, Ray-Ray, if he's expecting you, then let's use it. However!" she started before he could get too happy about it, "there are conditions. You are to distract him. That's it. Keep him talking. If you can, get him near a window so one of the snipers can take him out. Failing that, we will have to try to get inside without giving him a chance to kill all of you so make sure he's looking at you and not the doors or the roof. And don't get yourself killed. It won't really bother me or anything, but Van would be crushed."

"Billie, I don't know about this." Parish finally spoke.

"I don't either. I don't trust him." Hayes glared at Ray-Ray, who simply glared back.

"Not sure I do either, but if you guys have any better ideas, I'm ready to hear them." She waited. "Okay, then. Ray-Ray, you're on."

"About fucking time." Then he was gone.


Deaq had not felt this kind of urge to kill since he faced Dre's killer. He'd been denied the right to kill that S.O.B. by Cassidy, and he was being denied again to kill this one by the handcuffs and ropes holding him to the chair. He pulled at the cuff around his left hand, feeling the metal dig into his skin. He pulled so hard that he rocked the chair, which clanged on the concrete floor as it settled again. The noise distracted Foster from his attempts to undress his partner though, so that was something. That was the way to go. Distract the bastard any way he could. "Can't get a man when he's conscious so you have to drug 'em. Is that it? What's the matter, Alan? You got performance issues?"

"Shut up."

"Oooh, did I strike a nerve? You have to drug your women, too, I bet. I remember, you said, you swung both ways, right? I'll bet you can't even get it up if your partner is awake. Maybe it's so small you don't want anybody to see it. Yeah, that's got to be it."

"Shut up!" Foster stood up, grabbing the gun from the floor as he did. He pointed it Deaq. "Shut up or you're dead."

"You said I was dead anyway, so why shouldn't I just say what I want to say. Maybe my last chance. Let's see. What do I want my last words on this earth to be? Hmm, you know, I can't think of anything I'd like better than telling you what a worthless, pathetic, impotent little bitch you are."

"Fuck you!"

"Oh, I'd imagine you'd like to. Too bad you can't. After all, I'm awake. I'm not drugged out of my mind. I'm too much man for you to handle without some chemical equalizer." Oh god, was Van moving? Yes! He was. Deaq saw a flash of black in Van's hand. A gun? Please, god, let it be a gun!

"Foster…" Van's voice was slurred and weak, but it was indeed a gun in his hand. He sat up and attempted to level the gun at Foster, but it wavered. Deaq watched as Van shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment as if he was trying to focus. Still, however, the hand holding the gun shook and moved erratically.

Alan Foster turned. "You think you can shoot me, Van? Can you even really see me, Van? Hello!" He waved his gun around in a circle and took a step forward.

"See three of you. Got more than three bullets," Deaq heard his partner mumble.

"Ah, but if you miss, you may hit Deaq here. That would be too bad, huh?"

Before Van had a chance to respond, a voice called out in the open warehouse. "I'm here, you little son of a bitch! You wanted me; you got me!"

Ray-Ray, Deaq realized. That could be a good thing, or a very, very bad thing.

"Our final guest," Alan remarked. "Too soon, but that's life." He leveled his gun at Van. "Come get your son's body, old man!"

"Shoot, Van!" Deaq ordered.


"Shoot, damn it!"

He jumped when the gun went off. Another shot followed the first. As Alan Foster's body hit the ground, Deaq could see his partner on the floor beyond him. He was expecting blood. He knew Van had hit Foster. That much was obvious, but had Foster managed to shoot Van on the way down? There was no blood on Van though. He was ready with a sigh of relief, but it was quickly squashed by what he saw beyond his partner. Flames. Foster's shot had struck the lab table, and something had caught fire. "Oh shit. Ray-Ray! Over here! Get us out of here!" He yelled as he once again tried to get out of his bonds. Van was still sitting at the base of the lab table. Van, who was afraid of fire, who had been caught in a fire as a child, was so very close, too close, to the flames spreading across and down the table. He tried to keep his voice calm as he spoke. "Van, you gotta move, man. Come over here, okay?"

"I shot him."

"I know you did."

"It's okay now."

"No, Van, it's not okay. I need you to move over here."

There was a banging on the door. "Van! Deaq! Open the door!"

"Ray-Ray! You gotta get help, man. I'm tied to a chair, and Van's out of it. There's a problem, man!" He didn't want to say "fire" in front of Van. He was afraid of the response it would get, but he needn't have worried. He watched as his partner's head tilted as though he was puzzled about something.

"Pretty." Van actually reached toward the spreading flames.

"Van, no!"

"Not real," he told Deaq sincerely.

"Van! Van, this time it is real! It's real, Van." Dear god, he thought he was hallucinating! "V, this is not the time to lose your fear of fire! Please, Van, I need your help, partner!"

That got Van's attention. "Need the keys?"

"Yeah! Yeah, we need the keys."

There was more banging on the door, and Billie's voice called out to them.

"In here! Break it down!" He coughed. The smoke was getting thick, and the flames had started moving up one wall of the room. "There's a fire, Billie."

"Oh god!" Someone hit the door hard, but it didn't budge. Again and again, the door was struck, but it seemed determine to stay put. Deaq turned his attention back to Van, who was trying to stand up.

"No, V, stay low to the ground. Get the keys from Foster. Find the key to the door."

"The cuffs?"

"Forget the cuffs. We can worry about that when we get out of here. Find the door keys."

Van crawled over to Alan Foster. He groped for a moment, as if he couldn't really see, and Deaq remembered his comment to Foster. He was seeing three of him. Triple vision had to be a bitch. When he found the body, he struggled to turn it over, and when he did, Deaq could see the neat bullet hole right in the middle of the forehead. "Damn, V," he whispered.

Van's glazed eyes met his for a moment. "Couldn't aim low. Might've hit you. Can't believe I hit him."

Deaq couldn't believe it either, and the reasoning for aiming for the head scared the living hell out of Deaq, nearly as much as the fire that was still spreading. The pounding on the door continued.

Maybe that was the reason Van seemed then to lose focus and forget what he was doing. He looked confused and started looking around the room.

"The keys, Van." But it was too late. Deaq watched helplessly as Van panicked.

"It's on fire. The house is on fire."

"V, it's not a house. It's a drug lab. And who knows what the hell we are breathing in with this smoke. Focus now. Find the key. They can't get the door open, Van. We need the key. Alan had the key."

"Grandma. I gotta find her, Deaq. She fell down." Van started crawling away from him, back toward the flames and the worst of the smoke.

"Fuck! Van, listen to me! Your grandma isn't here! Listen to me, goddamn it! V, oh god, don't go back there." But Van disappeared into the smoke and flames beyond the burning table.

The pounding at the door took on a different sound then, and finally Deaq heard a crack and a screech. The door was giving way. "Hurry up! Please!" He choked as smoke burned his throat. He coughed, inadvertently drawing in more smoke as he struggled to catch his breath. His vision was getting gray, and his head was pounding. Or was that the door? His chest was on fire and so was his throat. And Van was gone.

Suddenly, someone was beside him. Billie. "Find Van," he pleaded before his vision faded on him again. He was aware that he was moving. Although, he didn't know how that was possible. He knew he was still cuffed to that fucking chair. But then he wasn't. He felt himself falling and expected to hit the hard concrete floor. Someone caught him. The voice was familiar; telling him it was okay, that he was safe. He decided to take the guy at his word.


His father's face loomed above him, and he had the strangest déjà vu of the time he wrecked his dirt bike in that sinkhole he was not supposed to be playing around. His father had the same worried, yet somehow pissed off look right now. What had he done this time?

"Clear!" he heard someone shout, and memory came rushing back in. He nearly knocked over his father as he scrambled up and ran to his partner. Van wasn't breathing. The paramedic shook his head and turned to charge the paddles again. They shocked Van again. He looked up into Billie's face and saw tears. He looked at Ray-Ray. The old man was praying. Actually praying.

"Van! Don't you die on me!" He meant to scream it, but the smoke inhalation had other ideas. His order came out as a hoarse croak. "Van! Please, V. Breathe, damn it!" Someone grabbed him by the shoulders and tried to pull him away. He shoved them off. Aquarius, he realized, as he heard the man's voice. The words didn't penetrate, however. "Please, Van. You can't do this, man. Breathe, please."

"Sir," one of the paramedics started.

"No! Don't you stop! He is not going to die!" But they didn't shock him again. They didn't even seem to be starting CPR again. Fine, Deaq thought, I'll do it myself. He shoved the one closest to him out of the way, moved to Van's chest, and started compressions. He counted them off and then moved to do rescue breathing, but Billie stopped him. He was just before laying into her for giving up on Van when she moved to do the breathing herself. Then the paramedics were back with the paddles.

"Clear!" Deaq and Billie moved. Van's body convulsed as the shock ran through him.

"I'm not taking that damn cat if you die, Van! I mean it!" It was a crazy thing to say, but it was what came to mind.

Van's body convulsed again, but this time there was no shock to cause it. Then there was a ragged breath and coughing.

"Thank you, Jesus." That was his father's voice. He looked up at his father even as the panic that had sustained him deserted him. His father faded from his sight.


"Lt. Chambers?"

The doctor stepped back when practically the whole waiting room rose as one.

"That's me." Billie stepped forward. "How are they?"

"I was treating Detective Hayes."

Billie glanced back at Deaq's parents as they moved to join her.

"He's going to be fine. He's suffering from smoke inhalation and some cuts and bruises mostly. I know there were chemicals in the fire, but I don't see any burning or scarring in the lungs or throat other than what we would find in a typical case. His throat will be sore for a week or so. He'll have to be careful of infection, but all in all, it could have been much worse."

Cheryl Hayes sighed with relief, and buried his head in her husband's shoulder.

"I tried to get him to agree to stay overnight for observation, but he wouldn't even discuss it. However, I get the feeling he intends to stay here anyway because of his partner, so I'm not going to push it. He doesn't have to be in a bed for us to watch over him," he concluded.

"Any news on Van?" It was Lincoln Hayes who asked.

"No, sorry. I'll see if I can find someone who might be able to give some kind of update. I think Dr. Grant is treating him."

Billie nodded. That was good news. She liked and trusted Dr. Grant after the McCussick incident. She knew Van trusted him as well. "Thank you, doctor."

He smiled and left them to resume their vigil.


Deaq tried to look casual as he slipped out of the exam room he had been placed in to go look for Van. He was fine. He didn't need doctors and nurses hovering over him. They needed to be taking care of Van as far as he was concerned. He wanted, no, needed to make sure Van was still among the living, that his partner would be okay. He surreptitiously made his way through the ER, peeking into exam rooms along the way. Van wasn't in any of them, however. He was starting to panic by the time he came to the trauma area. Van had been here before, not so terribly long ago. Sure enough, he was there again. Dr. Grant was with him, along with a host of other people all swarming around his partner. Just the urgency of their movements told Deaq it was just as bad as he had feared. Unfortunately, he was spotted before he could gain any real information, and a nurse dragged him from the room.

"You haven't been discharged, and you shouldn't be here."


"No buts. Back to your room you go."

"How is he?" his voice pleading for the information.

"His body temperature is too low; his breathing is too shallow. His lungs are full of smoke, and his heart rate is too slow."

Deaq closed his eyes and slumped back against the closest wall.

"I believe in being honest," she stated. He looked at her closely for the first time and realized that he knew her. She was the one he had dubbed Brunhilda when Van was in the hospital after the McKussick episode.

"Under normal circumstances, I appreciate honesty."

"But not now. I understand, but lying to you won't change the facts. He's not doing well. If they get him stabilized here for even a half a minute, as far as he'll be going is ICU."

"Damn it." Deaq raked one hand over his eyes.

"Deaqon!" his mother's voice startled him, and before he could even push himself from the wall, her arms were around him. His father was right behind her.

Brunhilda, whose real name was apparently Karen, motioned back toward his exam room behind his mother's head. "Now," she added.


"We'll make sure he gets back to bed," his father assured her. They were in league against him. He was summarily ushered back to exam room 5 and practically tucked in by his mother while his father watched with an amused expression on his face.

"I only wanted to check on Van," he said, a distinct whining quality to his voice that annoyed even him.

"Did you find out anything?" his father asked.

"Yeah. It's not good. They can't get him stabilized. If they do, he's headed for ICU."

His mother closed her eyes and shook her head. His father was inclined to optimism. "Van's tough. He'll get through this. Your brother always said he was part cat. He had to have nine lives."

"Well, that would explain the whole fascination with that alley cat he adopted." Deaq leaned back and closed his eyes. He didn't mean to fall asleep, but it had been a long and trying day after all.


It was nearly twenty four hours before Van's condition was upgraded from critical to guarded. The ventilator was removed about eight hours later. It was another ten hours before he showed any sign of waking and was upgraded again to fair condition. Even then, it was only a few mumbled phrases, possibly more dreaming than actual waking. Another six hours passed before Deaq, long freed from his own hospital captivity, got the sensation of being watched and opened his eyes to find Van looking at him. His partner's expression spoke of confusion, and Deaq sat up in the chair, moving quickly to lay his hand on one of Van's. "Hey, V. It's okay. It's all over; you're safe."

"Fire." The word sounded painful as it was forced out of Van's dry, raw throat. Deaq knew about that. He was still hoarse and sore himself.

"Yeah, there was a fire, but we got out. Foster's dead. Everything's cool."

Van's eyes slid closed once more as he nodded a little before slipping back into sleep.

"Everything's cool now." Deaq repeated, just to convince himself.


"Why is it that I can't get a frozen orange popsicle? They only bring me melted ones. I can't eat a melted popsicle, damn it." Van tossed the soggy package back on the tray. "I ended up wearing the last one. I'm not going to even bother opening this one." He gestured to it.

Deaq hid his smile. His partner bitching about a melted popsicle was music to his ears, scratchy music but music just the same. "I'll see if I can find someone about a popsicle."

"No, don't. It'll sound stupid."

"Since when have you worried about sounding stupid?"

"Oh, ha-ha, Deaq. Kick me while I'm down."

Deaq laughed. "I'll go find you a popsicle."

"Orange! And frozen!" Van made clear as Deaq exited the room. It had been two days since Van first opened his eyes and spoke to him. Ray-Ray had been hanging around, but as yet had not visited Van while he was awake. Van knew he was around though. Several people, Deaq and Billie included, had told him his father had visited. Van would just sigh and look out the window. Deaq was going to find a popsicle, but he was also going to find a pop. Van's Pop. He was going to talk to Van if Deaq had to handcuff the man to his own wrist and drag him in there. After relaying to the nurse at the desk the problem with the popsicle, which earned him a little chuckle and assurances that Van would get a frozen orange popsicle, he wandered down the hall looking for Ray-Ray. He found the old man staring out a window in one of the vending machine rooms. He cleared his throat to get his attention. "Your son is down there in that room wondering why you haven't been in to see him. He's thinking that maybe you're still mad about the Nancy Jo thing. That maybe you are really going to believe her and not your own son. He's thinking maybe you hate him. That what you want him to think?"

"No. I know Van was telling the truth about Nancy Jo. I always did. My pride got in the way. I was embarrassed, and I took it out on Van. I was coming back to try to clear all that up with him. That's why I called him, to get him to meet me, but I got that fruitloop instead." Ray-Ray sighed and plopped down in a nearby chair.

"So where is Nancy Jo?"

"Back in Nevada where she belongs. We weren't really legally married. I never filed the papers. I confronted her about the whole thing with Van, told her I knew the truth. She cried, pleaded, then screamed and threw things. I tore up the papers, packed her shit for her, and put her on a bus. I don't know what I was thinking. I guess I wasn't. I was drunk, and she was there."

Deaq laughed quietly. "Well, now that that is settled, you have more important business down the hall, don't you think?"

"Yeah. I've just been trying to come up with something to say. What can I say? I acted like an ass."

"That would be a start. He'd appreciate the acknowledgement."

Now Ray-Ray laughed. "Yes, he would."

"Well, he's awake at the moment and bitching about melted orange popsicles."

Ray-Ray laughed again. "He always did like orange popsicles. Hates every other kind."


"He says that fake banana flavor is disgusting, and the cherry and grape taste like medicine. What was that kids' cold medicine? Something about Dimes or something. Had the grape flavor in it. His mother always force fed him that when he was sick. That and cherry flavored Children's Tylenol. So, he only eats the orange. Wouldn't even drink Kool-Aid or eat Jello as a kid either. Hated it all."

"Sounds just like Van. He has a cherry issue anyway."

"Ah, that he does. I remember that too. Something about digestion?"

"Yep. That's it."

The two men laughed again before Ray-Ray grew somber. "I think I need to go talk to Van."

"I agree."

Ray-Ray nodded and left the room quickly. Probably trying to get there before he changed his mind, Deaq thought as he watched him go.


Van was obviously surprised to see him standing in the doorway. "I don't suppose you have my orange popsicle?" he said, as if he was as unsure as Ray-Ray just what to say.

"No." Ray-Ray walked over to the bed and sat down in the chair. "What I do have is an apology. I know you didn't make a pass at Nancy Jo. I was acting like an ass. I got embarrassed and angry and took it out on you. I'm sorry."

"I hate her, Dad."

"She's gone. The license was never filed. I tore it up and shipped her back to Nevada."

"Thank god. You have the lousiest taste in women!"

Ray-Ray laughed. It was an old discussion between the two of them. He reached out and touched his son on the shoulder. "You scared the living hell out of me, you know? More than once lately. Stop it. You'll give me a heart attack."

"Well, the last week or so was not in any of my plans. Still, sorry. I'm really not trying to kill you. Although there have been times I thought about it. More than thought about it. Started planning—"

"Okay, okay, I get it. I'm a pain in your ass."

"But I love you anyway."

"I love you too, son." It was an awkward embrace, but they managed. "Well, I better hit the road before your boss-lady decides to arrest me."

The disappointment on Van's face made his heart flip in his chest. Van nodded though and then smiled. "If I had my handcuffs…"

"Yeah, kid, I know. Do try to be more careful."

Van nodded again and waved as Ray-Ray made his way out of the room. The door closed behind him, and he laid one hand on it and sighed before heading down the hall. He didn't bother to hunt down Deaq to say goodbye. He went straight to the elevator. Minutes later, he pulled out of the parking lot heading for the Pacific Coast Highway. Maybe he would head to Baja for a bit.


Van leaned his head back against his pillows. One single tear slipped from the corner of one eye, and he swiped at it. Things would never be easy between he and his father, he knew that. He also knew he shouldn't keep hoping it would get better, but he would. He was on the verge of a deep blue funk when Sylvia popped her head in the door.

The motherly nurse grinned at him. "I heard someone was very displeased with the state of his popsicles of late."

He smiled. He couldn't help himself. "They were all melted." God, he sounded like a five-year-old!

"Well, this one isn't!" She produced a popsicle from behind her back as she moved completely into the room. "And it's orange."

"You are my favorite person."

"Oh, it gets better! There is now a supply of orange popsicles right here on this floor in the nurses' lounge reserved just for you. No more melted popsicle for you."

"I may have to marry you."

She laughed as she opened the package for him before handing it over. "I think I'm old enough to be your mother. Besides, polygamy is illegal, and I have a husband already. I suppose I could talk him into a divorce. He's always saying that if I feed him one more fat-free, cholesterol-free meal, he'll leave me. I could buy some tofu on the way home. Okay, I'll marry you."

She made him laugh. He needed that.


Billie closed the file on her desk. The Foster case was over. Both brothers were dead. The lab had been destroyed, rather inadvertently, but gone just the same. That was the important thing. She had just finished the last piece of required paperwork. It was well and truly over. The Elder Foster was pissed, but their case was solid, every base covered. The shootings had been ruled good. His boys were guilty and attempting to kill police officers at the time of their respective deaths. The brass was satisfied. And both her boys were alive and well. Deaq had picked Van up from the hospital just a few minutes ago, and they were on their way to the Candy Store. They had almost lost Van more than once on this one. She shivered as she thought about it. Van, who hated the cold and was afraid of fire, had come through both. Barely, but he had.

Then they were there. She frowned. Just how fast had they driven, damn it? No, wait, apparently, she had been lost in her thoughts for longer than she realized. They'd had plenty of time to get there. She smiled as they made their way to her office, apparently arguing about Van's cat yet again.

"She is not an alley cat, Deaq!"

"Okay, stray cat."

"She's not a stray. She might have been a stray, but now she's mine, and her name is Abby!"


Van gave him the hand in exasperation. Billie snickered.

It was Van who stepped into the plexi-glass room first. "You ever thought about how much this office is like a fishbowl?"

"There he goes with the fishbowl thing again!" Deaq gestured at Van as he stepped up the final step into the office.

"Oh, come on, Van. I was thinking that the fishbowl house could be a regular cover for you."

"Oh, no. I was hoping the thing actually did burn down. I am not living in the fishbowl house ever again. After all, that place could give me flashbacks."

It wasn't funny to tease him anymore then. Billie sobered, and she saw the same pained look on Deaq's face as was probably on hers. She got up and came around the desk. She stopped in front of Van then abruptly embraced him. He was too shocked to respond for a long moment, then he hugged her back. She let him go, and he released her as suddenly as she had embraced him. He looked confused when she looked at him again.

"No more fishbowl house," she said. She stepped back then and shook herself to regain her normal composure and demeanor. "Now, we have a new case."

Just like that, it was back to business as usual. She hoped.



Flames licked at him like a thousand little tongues, burning a thousand little places all over his body. He tried to move but couldn't. He screamed. Then he was falling. Into ice. At first the ice soothed the burns, but then it started its own burning against his skin. I'm going to die, he thought, even as the ground seemed to swallow him again. He was burning but freezing. He couldn't breathe.



Someone was screaming! Van sat up in bed. The scream was gone though. He was covered in sweat, and he reached up to push sodden hair from his face. He closed his eyes and saw flames. He snapped his eyes back open. It had been him. He had been screaming. "A dream. It was a dream." He drew a shaky breath.


He looked down at the floor where Abby looked up at him. She jumped onto the bed then. She sniffed at him then rubbed against him. He scratched her head. She curled up next to him on the pillow, placing her furry head on his shoulder. Green eyes met green eyes. She yawned and blinked slowly. "I guess I woke us both up, huh?"

"Murr," was her sleepy response.

"Sorry. Missed you, girl." He didn't think he would be able to get back to sleep, but the soft rhythmic purring right next to his ear was soothing. The next time his eyes drifted closed, there were no flames. "Deaq called you an alley cat. You can scratch him next time he comes over, okay?" If she responded, he didn't hear it.