When Janette found Maura to tell her that Schanke was here to see her, she took the news with puzzlement but not alarm. Any other woman whose cop lover's partner showed up unexpectedly at work could expect serious distress, but Maura after all didn't share the same concerns for Nick's safety as Myra Schanke would for her husband.
"Nick's fine," he began, before she could say hello. "I just wanted you to know that first. But he's doing a canvass, so I came by to ask for a little input."
It was nearly two hours to closing time, crowded but calm. "What can I do for you?"
"Well we found this victim by the waterfront, near that video store on Kingston. Looks like a mugging, no wallet, beat up and stabbed though they haven't made it official yet."
Maura made a face. "Uh, okay, thanks for sharing, but what's it got to do with me?"
Schanke handed her a Raven matchbook, which she hesitated to touch. "S'okay, it's been dusted and lifted." She looked blankly at him. "Look inside."
There inside the cover was her name and cell phone number. The handwriting was familiar enough to give her a turn.
"I don't give my number out to customers, Schank. And nobody else would dare."
Schanke had seen her expression change. "You look like you saw something... handwriting maybe?"
"Maybe. So a mugging victim has my phone number, what now?"
"There's no wallet so no i.d., so if you think you can handle it maybe you can take a look, see if you recognize him or not. Maybe he picked up the matchbook from someone else who does know you."
"Uh, well I don't get away for a while... oh all right." She called Miklos over and told him she had to go. He was always a good choice to ride herd on the crowd.
A nagging doubt nibbled at the back of Maura's mind. "So this guy, what's he look like?"
"Tall, lean, mid-twenties maybe. Black hair. Extreme sideburns, like out of the last century."
Maura gulped a breath and dropped her head back against the car seat.
"What? Sound familiar?"
"Yes. Well no. It couldn't be him. Near the video store, you said, Hollywood North, right?"
"Yeah. About 20 feet up from the entrance."
"Heading toward Victoria Park."
"Yeah, that direction."
Maura rode a wave of nausea. It couldn't possibly be. "Nah, it's nobody I know. I mean, I a friend of mine manages Hollywood North, but he doesn't work Friday nights. Fridays and Saturdays off, like religion."
By the time they got to the morgue, she'd just about convinced herself. No way. Not him. He didn't work Fridays. But he didn't come to see her tonight either, during the lull between ten and eleven when everyone was deciding which club to crowd into next. She'd gone out back to look for him, though it wasn't as if they had it in a datebook or something. Their friendship had come about naturally, by accident, and just settled into both their lives barely noticed. Except in its absence.
But then she saw the edge of a sneaker peeking from under the corner of the sheet on the gurney. Black, red whoosh, grey sole. No, those are all over the place. Liar. He got it from Ebay, and a long hunt it was too for size twelves.
"Schanke, I don't think you really need me, I'm sure it's nobody I know." Natalie noticed her sudden nervousness.
"Are you okay? This will just take a minute, but if you don't think you can manage it... it's not too gruesome really." And after all, she knew that Maura had seen things to fry the mind of the average mortal, even a police detective.
"Okay, well I'm here I guess. Go ahead." She really believed she wasn't holding her breath, totally convinced it was some stranger because he didn't work Fridays. She believed it right up until the moment Natalie lifted the sheet and Maura saw Christopher's too-beautiful, strangely natural looking face. Just a few scrapes and a cut or two, a bruise under the right eye, closed thank god. If she saw those brown eyes open and staring there was no telling what she'd do. Just the same, something deep inside of her locked down tight with a sound she swore anyone could hear. In a flat voice she said, "Christopher Martin. He's, uh, 24, American, manages Hollywood North. He lives alone off of Victoria Park Avenue, I can't seem to remember what number. He has a real record player, loads of vinyl..." She trailed off, not seeing the peculiar way Schanke and Natalie were looking at her. Her voice got clearer. "No family in the city, he has," and here her tone grew vague again, "a brother, two sisters, mom and dad in New Hampshire. They all try to get together for holidays, but everyone's so far apart..." She reached a hesitant hand to touch his face, but stopped just short, then withdrew. He wasn't there anyway, not anymore.
Schanke took a step closer. "Maura, are you okay? Were you guys close or something?" For once there was no agenda in his voice.
Maura tore her eyes away from the serene (deceased) face, and Natalie replaced the sheet. "Kind of. Not really. I dunno," she swallowed back the crack in her throat. "He'd come by Raven on Friday nights during the lull, we'd hang out back and talk. I'd go by the video store and we'd play Trivial Pursuit on Saturday afternoons... 'death match'," she added in a fading voice. "Always to the last move, he's the only one besides Nick who could match me."
Natalie exchanged a look with Schanke that said get her out of here.
"Come on, Maura, let's go back to the precinct and we can write down the details okay? All right with you?"
"Yeah." Her voice took on a distant quality. "Will Nick be back soon?"
"Yeah, sweetheart, he's coming back right away," and as he steered Maura out he door he looked over his shoulder, "Call him," he mouthed silently and Natalie reached for the phone.
There hadn't been time to tell Nick about the matchbook, so Schanke had left Nick to his door-to-door and street interviews with the uniforms and went looking for Maura himself. Now he had finished typing the information Maura had given him on the young victim, and though she obviously had an attachment to the kid she was as trussed up as a Christmas goose. Not convincing, though, and not good. He set her up with some spring water in an interrogation room, sat with her for a while and then went to look for his partner.
"Where the hell you been?" he shot as Nick entered the precinct room half an hour later, which was nearly an hour and a half since Maura had identified the victim. Schanke had checked on her from time to time, but she just sat there with her hands folded on the table as if she were waiting for class to start, looking at nothing.
"Earning the taxpayers' money, Schank, and what did you find in your travels?" It had been a long and frustrating canvass that yielded nothing useful, and his cell phone battery had died just as he saw the coroner's office number on the caller i.d., with no alternative phone within reach.
Schanke dragged Nick a little way up the hall. "I found this on the vic," and he showed Nick the matchbook, bound for evidence. "You were busy so I went to Raven and brought Maura down to have a look, since he had her cell phone number and all. Nick she knows the guy, says they were Trivial Pursuit buddies or something. She said he was from New Hampshire, so we zapped his picture to the state p.d., turns out one of the officers knows the parents. Christopher Martin."
"Christopher," Nick muttered with a grim expression, "I never met him, so I didn't know what he looked like. Maura talked about him. A lot. Kept saying he should come by some night for a movie." He handed the matchbook back to Schanke. "Where is she, you didn't bring her home?"
"When are you gonna give me some credit, Knight? She's in interrogation one for the past hour or so, I've been checking in but she's pretty zoned out."
"I don't wonder." He knew too well the depth Maura's attachment to Christopher, the only real friend she counted among mortals. Christopher knew all about her, and Nick, and the Community, and took it all in stride with no particular additional curiosity. Nick was so pleased she'd found a mortal friend, someone who shared the things that he and Maura could never quite exactly connect on. Someone, as she'd once said, who "has an expiration date, just like me". Nick and Maura would joke about the how any other man would be jealous of her relationship with this young good looking guy, but Nick took to heart the significance that Maura had finally found someone of her own kind that she need hide, and fear, nothing from. Such individuals were rare in her life on either side of the "divide". Nick peered through the wired glass window of the interrogation room and saw what Schanke had described. He entered silently and closed the door quietly behind him before kneeling next to Maura's chair.
"Doucette, I'm so sorry." She reached for him in a blind rush of tears. "I love you, Sweet, I love you," he told her over and over, the only words that seemed worth saying as she clung to him like a drowning victim and slipped from the chair to the floor where she could bury herself against him. She reared back suddenly and seized him by his lapels, holding his face inches from hers as she begged him desperately, "It's not him, it can't be him, he doesn't work Fridays, Nick please let me look again because I think maybe I made a mistake, you know?" It felt to her that she sounded very reasonable, after all people made mistakes all the time which was why eyewitness testimony was such hell in a courtroom. Nick framed her face with his hands, holding her too firmly, to force her to look in his eyes, "Listen to me, they wired the photo to the New Hampshire state police, his parents identified it. There's no doubt, it's your friend Christopher."
She broke from him in a rage, seized her vacated chair and flung it against the wall. "NO!" she screamed, "Not him!" The explosion of noise drew anxious faces to the window, and Schanke pulled the door open, one foot in.
"Get out!" Nick hissed over his shoulder and Schanke retreated, herding the others away.
"Nick's lady, that mugging vic tonight was a good friend. Leave 'em alone, okay? He'll handle it."
Captain Cohen emerged from her office. "What the hell was that?" Schanke explained again.
Cohen ran a weary hand over her eyes. "Looks like it's time to hate my job again. Did he give you his notes from the canvass?"
"He dropped 'em on his desk when he came in , but went straight in to see Maura."
She cast a look at the door down the hall, loud voices emerging but no more crashes. "Take them, then, and you can handle the report. When things calm down, tell him I said he can call in from home if he needs a few personal days."
"I need to SEE him!" Maura shouted furiously, so out of control that Nick had to yell back just to be heard.
"You won't see anything different, Maura, it's been confirmed, it's Christopher Martin! I'm not going to let you torture yourself by going over there again, it's pointless."
Maura pounded the table, beside herself. "LET me? I don't need your fucking permission to do ANYTHING!" She made for the door but he cut her off. She fought him like a wild thing, still she was no match for his unnatural strength as he pinned her to the wall. Though unable to hypnotize her as he could any other mortal, at close range Nick was quite able to command her attention.
"Maura, stop this," he told her fiercely. She struggled against him, and abruptly gave up as she looked him in the eye. Why was she doing this, she wondered even as she fought Nick, as if tearing the world apart could have undone what was finished, removed Christopher from the morgue and put him in the alley with her tonight, to solve the problems of the universe. Contrasting with Nick's rough treatment, what she saw in his eyes was a determination to protect her, to do whatever it took to keep her from hurting herself beyond what was already happening. "Don't fight me. You're hurt, you're scared, I know, but rage won't help." She didn't want to listen. Rage drowned out the noise, filled up the black space that had opened inside of her. But the demon that had exploded in her was already fading, and she dropped her head back against he wall. "I'm falling," she told him in a small voice, "I'm falling, off a cliff, all alone."
While losing no power, his hold on her gentled. "No, love, you're not alone. I'll catch you."
Her mood shifted again, cajoling. "Please can we go back? I need to say goodbye, I never said goodbye to him." Seeing his doubt, she persisted. "Please, Nick, I'm not crazy anymore. Please."
He stepped back from her, and dropped his hands to hold both of hers. Contact felt terribly important to him right now. "Let me call Natalie. If she hasn't started to... work, I'll take you back." Maura shuddered, and looked sick. Nick touched her face again to hold her drifting attention. "I'm sorry. But you're not listening very well, and I don't want to fight with you. Okay?" He stepped back to look closely at her, and she nodded. "Okay. But if he's still there like before, we can go?"
"I promise." He went to the corner and flipped open his cell phone to call Natalie.
"Are you crazy, Nick?" Natalie was aghast. How could he go along with this? "You can't really think it's good for her to get another good look at her dead friend, do you?"
"Look, Nat, she went from screaming it wasn't him, to begging to say goodbye, all in less than five minutes. If it will help her process it, I can't say no."
"Sure you can. She's not thinking clearly, be the grownup here and just say no and take her home."
"Nat... just tell me, have you started to work on him yet?"
She hesitated, but told him "No, he's second after a car accident. But hell, Nick, can't you just lie to her and say I've started?"
"You know better than that. We'll be over in about twenty minutes." He returned to Maura who stood where he'd left her, against the wall by the door. "Natalie says it's fine, we can come over now. But after that, we're going home, no arguments." He peered into her face to make sure she was listening. "Okay?"
"Yeah. Thanks for not treating me like some psycho."
Nick put his arms around her, kissed her cheek. "You're not some psycho, Sweet. Come on. Don't pay any mind to anyone in the office, you know they're gonna stare." She nodded and took his hand, holding his arm with the other, and stared resolutely at the floor as they left the precinct. When they'd reached the morgue she reached for his hand again as they entered the building.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked before they went in.
"Yeah. I owe him that." She insisted on going into the room alone, leaving a very worried Nick outside in the lab with Natalie.
As Natalie opened her mouth to speak Nick cut her off. "Before you ask, I don't know. I don't know how she's doing, except all over the map. You should have seen it, Nat, she just about put a chair through the wall of the interrogation room. You'd think with all my intimate knowledge of death I might know what to do with her, but I don't have a clue."
Natalie smiled reassuringly and put an arm around his slumped shoulders. "You know, sometimes you seem to forget Maura's mortal. You have a completely different perspective on death and loss because you've been through so much of it. You live forever, so the odds are just in your favor that no matter how many people you leave behind sooner or later somebody special will cross your path again. But when we mortals lose someone special, we don't see an endless opportunity to find that kind of connection again. Add to that Maura's 'difficult' past, and it must be even more miserable for her."
Nick sounded a little impatient with the philosophical direction Natalie was taking. "Well that's all very enlightening, but it doesn't give me any ideas how to help her."
"The most important thing you have to do is to get around your need to control everything." Nick looked sharply at her, and stepped away. "Nick, please, I don't mean you're on some power trip." She followed to stand close to him again. "I mean someone you love is in more pain than you can bear to see. You can't reach inside her and just make it go away. If you let that frustrate you it's just gonna make things worse."
He nodded. "Yeah, okay. But there must be something I can do besides keeping my omnipotence-complex in check."
Natalie rubbed his shoulder. "What you're doing now is what she needs most. Be with her, make sure she doesn't do anything reckless no matter how she feels. She feels really alone right now, remind her she's not. Just, I don't know, just get between her and any extra hurt you see her heading for, she can be pretty impulsive under pressure." Seeing him roll his eyes in acknowledgment, she continued, "Grief can drive a person to crazy things. Keep her safe in spite of herself until she can heal." She sighed. "Does any of that make sense?"
"Yeah Nat, it does," he leaned over to kiss her cheek. "You're right, suddenly my 'limitless' powers are useless, and I'm not liking it at all. When I first walked in on her, and I saw that face... I just want to save her from this."
"For you that might be the hardest part. There are no rules here, Nick, you just have to take it as it comes. You know her better than anybody, so the best you can do is follow her lead whatever it is. The only wrong thing to do is nothing."
He shook his head and with a bitter smile observed, "I keep hoping to stumble across some instruction manual for life with a mortal, but she seems to have hidden it really well."
"Oh I suspect she's making it up as she goes along, just like you." Natalie hugged Nick hard. "You know, detective, on your worst day you're one of the most perceptive and caring people I've ever known. There's no way you can't make it easier for her."
Just then Maura entered the lab, very still and quiet. Nick went to her immediately, smoothed her already-smooth hair.
She shook her head tightly, staring at the floor. "No." Remembering her manners she turned to Natalie and forced a smile. "Thanks. You could have said no, and told him to take me home and put me to bed."
Natalie suppressed a twinge of guilt. "It wasn't so much to ask. For what it's worth, I'm gonna help find out who did this."
Maura nodded a little vaguely, caught inside her head. Everything seemed to make her feel dizzy. She looked mutely at Nick as if to ask what happened next.
"Come on, Sweet, let's go home." He spoke to her as if they were the only two in the room, but reached back to squeeze Natalie's hand as they left. Maura leaned her head against the car window, eyes closed, on the ride home. Nick held her hand every minute, but felt the distance he couldn't cross even if he were mortal.
Alone in that cold room with Christopher's body, Maura had tried to talk to him, to say goodbye, but couldn't manage to conjure his presence even in her heart. The thing lying there was nobody she knew, everything that had been Christopher bled out of existence with his life and the meat that was left behind was as empty as she felt. Nick had been right, it was pointless. When they got home she felt strangely out of place, as if the everyday bits of her life weren't in synch. It was all familiar, but she didn't seem a part of it, like those puzzles with the pictures painted on the little plastic tiles. If one shifts out of place or gets lost, it doesn't make sense anymore. She really, really wished she knew exactly what to tell Nick to do for her, even the smallest thing that would calm his own feelings but her mind was as empty as her heart. He took her coat and purse and put them away, everyday actions that also didn't fit.
"I need to call Janette, to explain."
"It'll keep until tomorrow." It was 4am, already "tomorrow", but she knew what he meant. The sun would be rising soon, and anyway Janette was very liberal regarding Maura's presence. Miklos would have told her that Maura had left with Schanke, and Janette would assume she was engaged in some police matter. Which would be correct. She looked at Nick, really looked at him, for the first time since he'd found her at the precinct. His face was drawn and troubled, bruise-like shadows beginning to appear beneath his eyes.
"You're hungry, go get yourself something," she told him, as if suggesting he go make himself a sandwich. "I'm sorry I made such a scene." She knew it must have hurt him to manhandle her like that.
"Don't be sorry. Right now you're entitled to just about anything. I just don't want you to hurt yourself more."
After he'd consumed two bottles in rapid succession, taking care to drop in the capsicum elixir, he returned to find Maura still standing in the middle of the living room.
"Jesus, Bats, is there more? Is there more hurt than this?" She sounded and looked puzzled. "It's like," she struggled for an image, "like I'm full of broken glass, and all I can feel is the edges cutting me." She sat down on the sofa then. "Maybe if I sit still, it'll stop."
No rules, Nick repeated to himself as he joined her. Follow her lead, but she didn't know where she was going herself. "C'mere," he invited softly and when she didn't move he slid over and gathered her up without waiting for a reaction. "Just tell me where it hurts, Sweet, and we'll get it to stop." Empty promises hadn't been on his agenda, but maybe a few loving fairy tales were what she needed right now. "I'm so tired," she whispered and he realized she'd been up nearly 20 hours, having risen early to get errands done so she could have Saturday free to spend at Hollywood North, in yet another Death Match. "You want a ride upstairs?" Ordinarily she resisted his usually-playful suggestion regardless of her exhaustion, as she resisted most anything that meant not doing for herself.
"Okay. Can we fly?"
"You bet." He picked her up and they rose slowly until he cleared the gallery railing, then landed easily in the bedroom.
Nick opened her top dresser drawer and pulled out her most comfortable flannel pj's, the blue ones covered with Grateful Dead teddy bears. "Iko-iko work for you?" She managed a nod. Nick changed and returned from his dressing room to find Maura sitting still on the bed, pajamas in her lap, as if she'd gotten lost on the way.
"Mind if I help?" he asked. Christ, how she hated it when he offered to do things for her, but this time she said "okay", and acquiesced as he helped her undress and got her into the soft flannels. He knelt in front of her then, looking into her eyes, trying to gain access. "You know I'm here, for whatever you need. Even if you don't know, we'll figure it out. It'll get better, I promise."
"Just not yet." There was miserable resignation in her voice. He reached out to cup her cheek.
"No, Sweet, not yet. I don't know when." She leaned forward then, laid her face in his shoulder, just to rest, and he guided her up and managed to slip her under the covers, lit the candle, and instead of leaving her to go around to his side he carefully climbed over her to settle in the middle of the bed and hold her, head tucked under his chin, kissing her hair and rubbing her back.
"It just hurts so much." Her voice was so quiet and small, so completely unlike her. He tightened his embrace.
"I know, Maura. I wish I could make it stop."
"Just don't go, okay? Don't leave me alone."
That it even occurred to her was a shock. She knew he couldn't die, of course, so the usual generalization didn't apply. But leaving... gone is gone, he supposed, and he'd left her alone for long enough himself that she'd remember how it felt.
"I'd never." She sighed then, and seemed to relax a little, more folded up against him than holding on, completely submissive. It made him uneasy, because he knew it was unnatural for her and so could turn around at any moment.
Nick wasn't sure why he woke so abruptly until he realized he was alone. The clock read 7am. He focused his hearing to discern where Maura might be and what she was doing. He located her heartbeat and the quietest of sounds, a distant whimpering as if someone were trying very hard to make no sound at all. He found her sitting on the stairs, exactly halfway down. Her arms were wrapped around her drawn up knees, she was doubled over and rocking back and forth as if trying to comfort herself. When he sat next to her she turned her head to the side to look at him, still rocking. "What's happening to me, Nicolas? I don't know what's happening."
He slid close to her and wrapped his arms around because it seemed to be the only thing he knew how to do for her. "Don't be scared, baby." He'd never called her that before, it always seemed patronizing and even now it felt strange in his mouth. "I'm here."
"I wanna see him again, I don't want him to be gone," and he thought she'd cry, but she didn't. Except for the first hysterical burst of tears before her rage she hadn't cried at all. It worried Nick. Emotions that strong weren't meant to be mastered for long; he knew too well it was easy for grief to turn into something darker.
"I know, I'm so sorry," as he took over the rocking for her. He helped her back to bed and she lay with him dry-eyed and quiet, while the best he could offer were kisses and the repeated promise that it wouldn't be like this forever. Finally she fell asleep curled on her side spooned snugly back in Nick's arms, his hands folded around hers under her chin.
She was in a dark, cold place. Her feet were on the ground, or so she thought, but there were no landmarks, no light, nothing to help her fix herself in one place. "Nick?" she called experimentally. Nothing. She couldn't thing of anyone else to call out to. She wanted to sit down, but didn't know where "down" was. So she walked, or thought she did. She was so cold. And then she heard it, very distant and faint. Whistling, but more than music. A ringing sound that was colder even than she felt, it rolled on and on and grew louder even as she tried to walk away from it, then turned quickly and stood still.
"LaCroix," she whispered to the emptiness.
"It was you, then."
"No, doucette, not me. I see no advantage in killing your friends."
"Who, then?" He would know, he knew everything.
"Someone he trusted. He'll be found soon enough, you won't need me for that."
"What, then?" He hadn't come into her dreams for a very long time, not since he'd taken root in the same city, and inhabited the night air, and they'd found their uneasy standoff.
"A favor, I think. You may need a favor only I can grant."
She shook her head. "No. I'd never ask you for anything."
A new laugh, almost gentle in its certitude. "Never is a long time. And you might find me surprisingly generous, given the opportunity."
"I don't understand."
"You will. Time may heal some things, but it changes all. You know where to find me should you feel the need."
She was alone again. And so cold.
She woke warm and secure in Nick's arms, but trembling badly. He had taken care to keep himself above his deepest level of slumber, to respond to whatever she needed. Now he turned her to face him.
"You're cold," he said, reaching to pull up the comforter that had slid away.
"No, I'm okay."
He rubbed up and down her back and arms. "But you're shivering."
She reached around his waist and pressed her face into his shoulder. "It's nothing, Bats. I'm okay. Go back to sleep." He knew she was lying, but let it go.