Disclaimer: I don't own.
Author's Note: See, I told you I'd be better about updating. :) Hopefully I can continue this pace even when my vacation ends on Monday. Sob, sob. Thank you SO much for the reviews, and for those of you who've said this reminds you of Law and Order, bless you! LOL! I love that show! Enjoy!
December 10, 1986, Cook County Jail
Hyde lay on his joke of a bed, staring at the picture Jackie brought him. In the picture, he was sitting in an uncomfortable hospital chair, holding Bradley only a few hours after his birth. The baby's eyes were open, staring directly up at him. Blue, just like his. He smirked. She thought it was the only picture he had of Bradley, but it wasn't. He'd taken the others on his own over the years, following Jackie as she left her apartment. The park, the zoo, Navy Pier, Sears Tower, all over Chicago. Everyone around had thought he was just some random photographer. Once he thought she'd caught him, but if she had, she didn't bust him. Never said anything to him about it. Didn't stop him.
A snort stuck in his chest. He supposed he'd acted like a stalker. He supposed he'd actually been a stalker. It had been the only way he could watch his son growing up. And now the cops had all those pictures. Evidence, he guessed, of his obsession, which led to him murdering Bradley. That's what the cops must be thinking. His eyes closed, and he lowered the picture to his chest.
He'd talked to Bradley once, heard his sweet voice once. Just a few weeks before he was kidnapped. Grant Park, just outside Jackie's fancy building.
He watched her playing with the little boy, picking him up and flying him trough the chilled but vibrant lakefront air. He was close enough to hear her laughter, and Bradley's chirping giggles. William didn't seem to be anywhere around. Maybe she wouldn't mind. After all, Bradley was his son.
He walked towards her, his stomach twisting with nerves. His fingers folded into the palms of his hands, his head began to flood. He shouldn't. He should leave well enough alone. He was the one who'd resisted Jackie's idea of secret visits. He was the one who'd told her it would be too hard. And too dangerous.
But he kept walking, and just as he came a few feet away from her, she looked at her. Her smile faltered, but she kept it.
He shrugged, his cheeks warming. "Hey. I, uh…I was in the neighborhood." He looked down at the boy. Curly brown hair on his head. Bright blue eyes that he didn't hide behind sunglasses. But Jackie's smile. And energy.
Bradley grinned and pointed at him. "Ste!"
Hyde glanced questioningly at Jackie.
She smiled. "I've told him about you," she said quietly. "Shown him pictures of you. He can't quite say Steven, so…" She took a step closer. "He calls you Ste."
Bradley tugged on his jeans, and he looked down. The boy lifted his arms, and he reacted instantly, his heart pounding. He lifted the toddler up and did his best to control the burning behind his eyes. "Hey, Bradley."
"Hi, Ste!" Tiny hands patted the back of Hyde's neck, blue eyes that he'd know anywhere studied his face, then raised to look at his hair. The patting hands moved to the side of his head. "My hair."
Hyde grinned. "Yep. Your hair." He leaned into the boys touch, let him tug on the magic 'fro a little bit. The feel of this tiny body in his arms, the young heart beating against his side, it was almost too much. His arms weakened, his knees shook. And his own heart felt shredded.
He was about to say yes. About to offer to take him to a park with a playground so he could spin him on the merry-go-round, push him in a swing, hold his feet as he crossed the monkey bars, catch him before he fell to the ground. Do the things a father did with his son.
"I have to go, Steven. William will be home soon, and he can't see you with…" She looked down, then at him again, her eyes full of tears. "Steven, I'm sorry."
He shrugged, swallowing repeatedly. Trying to control his anger. After all, it was his fault she couldn't leave William. His fault he couldn't be with his son. If she did leave that bastard, her life would be ruined. "It's okay. You're right." He tried to make his smile real. "Okay, buddy, guess I better give you back to your mom."
Bradley pouted. Another gift from his mother. "No! Wanna play with Ste!!" He threw his arms around Hyde's neck and squeezed, his face burrowing in the crook of Hyde's neck.
Hyde shook his head. Jackie had reluctantly pulled the unhappy child off of him, all the while looking at him with such regret. He knew she hadn't wanted to. He knew she'd longed to stay, to give him more time with Bradley, to leave William and be with him despite everything. Just as inclined as he'd been to ask her.
He sat up, rubbing this temples, and he frowned. When he arrived home that day, he'd gotten a phone call. From William.
"I just wanted to remind you of something, Steven. The statute of limitations on rape isn't nearly up yet. I know where Sheree is, and she trusts me. If I go to her, I can easily convince her to press charges against you. Do you want to risk that?"
Hyde didn't answer. He closed his eyes, gripped the phone tightly.
"Stay on your end of town, Steven, and we won't have a problem. Stay away from Jackie, and maybe I'll forget about what I saw today. Maybe I'll lose Sheree's number."
Hyde's frown deepened. William had said that Sheree trusted him. Why? He'd told Jackie that he'd talked to Sheree's lawyer, and that her lawyer convinced her not to press charges. And why had he known where Sheree was? The whole thing had happened a few years before that. Over and done with.
They'd had something going on before the so-called rape.
William had convinced her to accuse him of rape.
Unless he'd been set up.
An alley, the south side of Chicago
William looked around him in disgust. Crumbling brick walls, cracked concrete, a light on one of the walls that hardly worked at all. Puddles of filthy water, cigarette butts floating on top, were on the ground, every few feet. He had no doubt that deals of all sorts went down here, from drug deals to hookers picking up their next trick. A smirk crossed his lips. Rather appropriate to meet here.
"You got the money, Bonner?"
William looked to his left, starting slightly. "Damn, you really are sneaky. Didn't notice you." He studied the newcomer and chuckled. "You look the part, I'll give you that."
A man, his identity hidden by a long, black trench coat and a fedora hat tipped down to shade his eyes, stepped towards William. The man smiled slightly, but it nearly instantaneously faded. "You got the money?"
William arched an eyebrow. "Is that why you wanted to meet me? If so, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. I don't owe you anything until Steven Hyde is tried and convicted." He shook his head and looked away, at the disgusting wall in front of him. "We agreed on that. Half upfront, the rest after conviction."
The other man took another step towards William. "I don't care. I want the money now."
William glanced at the man, who now stood uncomfortably close, and he stepped sideways. "We have a contract."
The man laughed. "Do you think I'm stupid enough to believe that contract could ever possibly be enforced? No." He moved to the front of William, pushed his hat back and took hold of the collar of William's suit coat. "I want my money."
William took a breath. No need to be unnerved. This guy knew nothing about him. Couldn't hurt him. He'd made sure of that. He'd taken steps to ensure that. This scum bag was no danger to him. He took the hand off his jacket and pushed it away. "You'll get your money," he said calmly, looking into the dark eyes that glistened at him. "After Steven Hyde is convicted." He pushed past the man, but stopped and turned. Pointed. "Don't contact me again. I'll let you know when you get your money."
He walked away, his heart pounding. He knew he was being watched, but also sensed he wasn't being followed. As he turned out of the alley and back into the bright light of the city street, he smiled. It'll be fine. The guy just needed reassurance. That's all.
Jackie and William's apartment
Donna set a cup of tea on the kitchen table in front of Jackie. "Drink that. And I'm going to make you a sandwich."
Jackie shook her head and waved her hand at Donna. "Don't. I'm not hungry."
Donna put her hand on her hip. "You have to eat something."
"I'll eat later."
Donna gave up with a sigh and sat down next to her friend. "So…do you think it'll work?"
Jackie shrugged, staring at the table. Marble, and she traced her finger over the patterns. It was much too fancy for a kitchen, but William had insisted on it. "I don't know. I know William likes Fez, and he obvious trusts him if he wanted Fez to convince me that Steven killed Bradley." She looked up at Donna, the corners of her lips tugging up. "I'm surprised that Fez agreed to help."
Donna nodded. "Eric must have gotten through to him." She smiled affectionately. "Sometimes he can be pretty good at that kind of thing."
Jackie nodded, her smile broadening a bit. "Like when he convinced me that I would be okay and I could do my tv show even though I didn't have anyone." She reached out and took Donna's hand. "You have a good husband."
Donna squeezed Jackie's. "Wish I could say the same."
Jackie started laughing, and for a moment, the two girls did nothing but giggle.
After the fit ended, Jackie, still holding her best friend's hand, again looked at the table. "You know, I used to tell Bradley all about Steven. I told him stories, and showed him pictures, and he always recognized Steven in other pictures. " She smiled. "He couldn't say Steven, so he called him Ste." She lifted her head and met Donna's soft gaze. "He'd point to Steven in a picture and say, 'Ste hair. My hair. Ste hair." She smiled, but this time tears filled her eyes and her lower lip trembled. "He recognized his own hair on Steven. Sometimes I…"
Donna watched Jackie's chin fall to her chest. "Sometimes you what, Jackie?"
"Sometimes I wonder if he knew." She looked at Donna. "If Bradley somehow knew that Steven was really his daddy." She shrugged. "Stupid, I know. He couldn't have known."
Donna shook her head and tightened her grip on Jackie's hand. "No, it's not stupid, Jackie. Maybe he did. Maybe he felt it in his heart."
Jackie nodded, and a tear slipped down her cheek. "I hope so," her voice broke. "I took enough away from Steven…he deserves that, at least." She pulled away from Donna and took a deep breath. Smiled weakly. "Maybe I'll have some ice cream."
Donna nodded. As Jackie walked to the freezer, she chewed on her lower lip. "Jackie, when you got pregnant with Bradley you knew he was Steven's. Why didn't you leave William then?"
Jackie pulled the ice cream out, then moved to the cabinets. She took two bowls out and moved back to the counter. She kept herself from crying, concentrating on scooping enough ice cream. "When William got Sheree to drop the rape charges, it was conditional." She finished scooping the ice cream. "Oh, do you want chocolate sauce?"
Donna nodded. "Please."
Jackie walked to the pantry and got the sauce. She sighed as she poured probably way too much over hers. William would scold her. Who the hell cared? "I had to promise to stay away from Steven and to be a wife in every sense of the word to William." She picked up the bowls and walked back to the table. "Hope that's enough."
Donna's eyes widened. Jackie had given them each about four huge scoops and half a gallon of sauce. But somehow, it seemed right. "It's fine, Jackie."
Jackie sat down. "If I did leave him, he'd ruin my reputation. He'd take all my money…"
Donna interrupted. "According to Fez, he's doing that anyway."
Jackie nodded, smiling slightly at the irony. "I know. Funny, huh?" She took a bite of ice cream. The coldness felt good on her sore throat, sore from crying, gasping, trying desperately to breathe. "And he'd send Steven to jail. I couldn't…I couldn't risk that as much as I wanted to. " She closed her eyes. "And I wanted to so much, Donna."
Donna nodded, looking down at her wedding ring. "I know."
"H e made me sign a contract."
Donna narrowed her eyes. "Wait…Fez said he made him sign a contract too."
Jackie rolled her eyes. "Yeah, one that gave Fez the rights to me."
"Does he make everyone sign contracts?"
Jackie nodded. "Yeah. Everyone he does business with. " She looked questioningly at Donna. "Why?"
Donna frowned. "I don't know. It just…there's something weird about that."
Something very weird. And something that decided she needed to remember.
Outside of Warner & Bonner Law Offices
Eric raised his eyebrows as Fez came out of the huge glass doors. "So? Any luck?"
Fez shook his head, his face dejected. "No. He was not there. But I made an appointment for tomorrow." He looked at Eric. "I do not know if he will tell me anything, Eric."
Eric shrugged. "You gotta try, man. Just do what I told you. Talk about chicks. All guys like to talk about their scores with other guys. Especially when they're fooling around."
Fez nodded. "But there has to be something else we can do. Do you think we should talk to Jack?"
Eric looked around, pondering the idea. "You said he's doubting William now, right?"
Eric nodded. "Then lets get to him before William does. Come on."
That night, Jackie and William's apartment
The water was hot, nearly scalding so, and yet Jackie's body accepted it around her with pleasure. The bubbles that blanketed her were colored from the several candles she'd set on the sides of the deep tub. Her sanctuary. She lay back, trying, as Donna suggested, to not think. To just rest. Just savor the soft kiss of the water on her skin.
Soft piano music came from the speaker in the wall above her head. Slow and gentle, lilting in waves that almost matched the movement of the water she lounged in. Soothing. She thought it might be Chopin. William was a big fan. I guess he did one thing right. Installing that sound system throughout the house.
The heat and low light made her sleepy, and she closed her heavy eyelids. Maybe just a tiny nap. Blessed escape from the hell that was her life. She brushed her hand over her breast, moving warm bubbles to her upper chest. And she wished Steven was with her, behind her, whispering something, anything to her, even if it was just one of his conspiracy theories.
The word, clear and high, a little boy's voice, her little boy's voice, came suddenly, breaking up the luscious piano chords.
Jackie sat straight up, her heart instantly reaching a roaring drive in her chest, her eyes open as if never closed.
"Mommy, come play!"
She shivered. All the heat of the water had vanished. She looked weakly up at the speaker.
It wasn't coming from the speaker.
Bradley. Bradley. My baby boy!
She stood, looking around, her eyes wildly searching for her baby boy. "Bradley?" she whispered. Where was he? He had to be somewhere…he was speaking to her, calling to her, needing her.
She got out of the tub, looking around the bathroom. "Bradley?"
All she heard was the rolling of piano keys.
She slipped the floor, the cold of the tile burning her naked skin.
And she sobbed.
Twenty minutes later
Jackie opened the door to William's office without knocking and stormed in, heading to the stereo he'd connected to the speakers in various walls of the apartment.
William looked at his wife. "Do you need something, Jackie?"
She opened the tape deck and took out the one he'd put in for her. She turned to him and held it out to him. "Get rid of this tape, William. There's something… " Her voice broke. She wasn't going to tell him that she'd heard Bradley's voice. He'd think she was crazy. "There's a defect."
William arched an eyebrow and began to speak.
"No. Don't argue, William! Oh, fine! I'll get rid of it myself!" She threw the tabe to the floor and began stomping on it, tears bursting from her eyes as she did so, over and over again.
William watched, a tiny smile on his lips. She'd taken the bait. Thought she was crazy. Just a few more instances of hearing Bradley's voice, she'd go right over the edge. Just where he wanted her.
The smile faded. Where he needed her.
Late that night, William's office
William stared at the package on his desk and spoke quietly into the phone. "You have the kid? And you're sure he looks like Bradley?" He listened, and rolled his eyes. "I do trust you. " An impatient sigh. "I'm not agitated. I just…Look, this has to go perfectly. Things are starting to fall apart, and I can't let that happen." He nodded. "I've got the clothes. I'll bring them to you tomorrow."
After hanging up, he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He wanted a brandy, but was too exhausted to pour himself a glass.
Soon he'd have Jackie out of the way, at least temporarily. Quite possibly, permanently.