I don't own them, but do like to borrow them to play with every now and again.

Deaq was worried. Something was off with his partner. He couldn't put his finger on it. But something was definitely wrong. His efforts to find out, though, had been rebuffed—the last effort rather loudly.

Van knew he was the subject of his partner's scrutiny, but no matter how much he wanted to tell Deaq, to share his burden, he simply couldn't. No self-respecting man – huh, when had that phrase ever applied to him – would.

They went to three clubs that night, all as part of Billie's plan to lay the bait for a gun runner who was looking for some serious money in exchange for some very serious firearms. They had flirted, spent money, made some noise – in other words they had done all the things they did well.

At 3 a.m. they wearily fitted themselves into their latest hot car, and Van drove them home. As part of this case, they were sharing a beach house – which didn't bother either one of them; despite the yelling that had commenced when Billie raised the issue. Van found something comforting in having his partner around 24/7. Deaq, for his part, wasn't quite ready to admit -- out loud anyway -- that he enjoyed Van's company whether they were on or off the job.

At 8:30 a.m. Deaq woke up cursing - it was too early for anything else - and dragged his tired body out to the living room to see what all the noise was about. He promised himself he would wreck serious bodily harm on his partner for the intrusion.

Van was standing with his back to the room, forehead against the window with his cell phone up against his ear. "I can't make the parole hearing today. I told you that. I have to work for a living." It was the body language not the tone that signaled something was very wrong. Deaq could read Van – prided himself on it, in fact – and whatever the problem was, it was bad. He heard the word parole, but RayRay had disappeared several months ago so he wasn't the issue.

"Then he gets out! Look I put him there -- I can't be held responsible if the parole board is too stupid to keep him locked up." His whole body slumped as he closed the phone and flung it to the floor.

Deaq took two steps toward the forlorn figure and stopped. "V, everything alright?"

"NO!" Van yelled before he could help himself. He took a deep breath, and Deaq could see the struggle to regain some control. "Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you up. Why don't you go back to bed; we don't have to be into work till one today."

"Van," Deaq stepped into his partner's personal space, "what the hell is going on?"

Van looked up at his partner, and sighed heavily when he realized that he wasn't going to be able to side step Deaq this time. God, he hated this. "I need coffee first," he said with a miserable try at a smile.

"You take a seat and I'll get some." Deaq's tone made it clear that he was humoring him – barely. In actuality, Deaq wanted a minute to himself because the near panic in his partner's eyes was freaking him out. He brought the coffee and motioned for Van to sit down, before handing him a mug. He took a seat next to him on the couch, and waited.

"Deaq, I…"Van dropped his head, and put the mug on the table because he didn't want his partner to see how badly his hands were shaking. "When I worked Vice, I put Timothy Murphy in prison for rape – he was a serial rapist – rarely left his victims alive. He's supposed to serve a minimum of 15 years, but some do gooders in prison have convinced the parole board that he's been a model prisoner and should be let out after 7. The parole hearing is today."

"Van, why does the parole board want to hear from the arresting officer? Generally it's the victims who speak." Deaq knew he was missing some piece of the puzzle.

"I am one of his victims," Van whispered, eyes closed, head down and arms wrapped tightly around his chest, "one of the few that lived."

Deaq thought his heart would stop at his partner's response. He didn't think about it, he just reached over and pulled him to his side. And they stayed there in silence for some time. "What time is the parole hearing?" Deaq asked once he felt the trembling in the body next to him stop.

"Two."

"I'll call Billie and get us the time. We should eat something before we go." His voice was all business.

"Deaq, I…" the green eyes took a moment to settle on his.

"It's the right thing to do partner. We'll make sure this piece of dirt doesn't get out of prison today."

"We?"

"Not going to let you do this alone, man. I got your back."

"I…thank you partner." Van pulled gently out of the hold, and moved to get his phone off the floor. He flashed a hesitant smile at his partner before dialing.

Van had been silent on the hour and a half drive. Deaq had cranked the stereo and let the music fill the space. When they entered the prison parking lot, Van straightened up nervously and began fiddling with his tie. Deaq shot him a reassuring smile before shutting off the car.

They were shown to a small, windowless room with a couple of chairs and a table to wait. An assistant DA talked to Van for a few minutes, eliciting one syllable answers, and then they were left alone for close to an hour. Van paced the room restlessly, and Deaq let him. He would smile when Van paused to look at him but felt that his presence, not his words – good lord he didn't begin to know what to say – was the important thing right now.

A guard came to get them, and tried to make Deaq stay in the room. That suggestion unsettled Van even more, but Deaq put a reassuring hand on his shoulder and told the guard in no uncertain terms that he was going into the hearing room.

Deaq bristled when he set eyes on Murphy. The man was looking his partner over with a full blown leer on his face. Deaq stepped in front of Van, and the con found himself staring into brown eyes that promised retribution. Murphy looked away.

Just before the assistant DA called Van to the witness table, Deaq leaned over and whispered. "Just do what you do best V, and remember, I got your back." Van shot him a half smile before moving to the table. Deaq was amazed – he admitted he shouldn't have been – at his partner's focus. There was no wavering, no hesitation just a recitation of the facts as precisely as if the event had occurred two days ago, not seven years ago.

Deaq wasn't sure what to feel, though, as his partner, without a trace of emotion, told of being beaten, of being tied down, of being violated, and of being left bloody and helpless in a dirty alley. Part of him wanted to strangle the man responsible with his bare hands. The other part wanted to grab Van and run from the room.

He thought he would go with the latter thought when the head of the parole board said the con had questions for Van. That was unheard of and the DA jumped all over it, but the board had the final say. Van's head came up and his green eyes found Murphy's. He tried to knock Van off his game, tried to get him to lose his cool. But it was Murphy who lost his under the deadly stare of his victim. A guard had to remove Murphy from the room after he lunged at the witness. Deaq was on his feet, but Van never even flinched. The Board's decision was quick and unanimous. The DA thanked Van and the two men left.

Deaq was a little worried that they had driven 30 minutes away from the prison, and Van still hadn't spoken. "V, you did good man." He said, his eyes watching for a reaction.

"I…I need a shower," Van half whispered as his body shook in delayed revulsion. "I can't believe they were going to let that scum bag out. Did you see the look he gave me when we walked in?" His voice was rising, a hint of hysteria with it. "Did you? If he'd had his way, he would have done it again, right there, in front of everyone!"

Deaq checked behind him before pulling over to the side of the road. "Van, Van look at me…come on, look at me," he ordered. Wild, wide green eyes, filled with a mixture of pain and fear, met his as Van turned to him.

"Because of you, that man will be behind bars for a minimum of eight more years – he is not ever going to touch you again, ever. You feel me?"

The shaggy chestnut hair hide the face for a moment as the head dipped. When it came back up there was a half smile, "Yeah, I feel ya, and Deaq, thanks."

"Just remember baby, I got your back." Their fists bumped and Deaq headed the car for home.