A/N – A HUGE "Thank You" to raz0r.girl (and everyone else who responded to my cry for help) for her input on the techno-speak part of this chapter. I probably didn't interpret it quite right, and hope it at least makes some sense.

Chapter 25 – Vengeance

Bobby heard Eames' loud yawn and looked across the desks to see her leaning back in her chair, arms above her head as she stretched taut muscles and stiff spine. Eyes closed, she tipped forward and brought her hands down to grip her shoulders, slowly rocking her head from side to side to work out the kinks in her neck.

"Hinting for a massage there, Eames?"

She opened her eyes and tried to give him a hostile glare, but all Bobby saw was frustration and fatigue. This has been a long three weeks for her, he worried.

He opened his mouth with the intent of expressing his concern when a folded newspaper landed squarely in front of him on the desk. Bobby looked first to the source and saw the captain, then turned to the headline staring back at him. 'Central Park Executioner Continues to Evade NYPD'

Shit!

"It's been three weeks since the first death, two weeks since Sarah Moreno's suicide, and one week since you got back here with her computer," Deakins rattled off the timeline. "Where are we on this?"

"Uh… not where we'd like to be," Bobby tipped his chair back and regarded the captain sitting on the edge of his desk, wondering what prompted this visit. "For starters, we haven't been able to access the Isaiah website."

"The lab's been all over Sarah's computer," Eames began to explain. "They can see that she logged on to the site at random times, but never for more than one hour. The server's been inaccessible since the day of her death."

"So, they either got nervous and closed up shop, or the Moreno girl tipped them off."

"Not necessarily," Bobby disagreed. "There are other possibilities."

"Zach has an interesting theory," Eames stepped in. "There are ways to maintain anonymity on the internet. One way is with something called TorPark. It's a portable…" she struggled for a term, "'net anonymizer.' Loaded on a USB flash card, you pop the card into a flash drive on any public computer. Basically, you wind up with an anonymous, portable browser you can use at any library or cybercafé. Unplug the flash card and you take the host site with you."

Deakins closed his eyes and scrubbed at the back of his neck. "Whatever happened to the days when you could track someone by a broken key on a typewriter?" he grumbled. "Look," he refocused on Eames, "if that anonymous thing is true, why has the site been down for two weeks?"

"It may not be totally down," Bobby said. "It's likely they have, um… set days and times when the server is up and running. People who know and use the site… know when to log on. So far, we haven't been lucky enough to hit at the right time."

Eames sighed and Deakins mumbled something unintelligible before stepping away from Bobby's desk for some room to pace.

"My guess is… they've disappeared into the ether." The captain faced him and Bobby decided to lay it all out for him. "They'll continue killing… it's their mission. But they'll be less flashy, at least for a while. They won't want to draw attention to themselves."

"I'm supposed to tell the brass that there will be more murders and we have nothing to go on?" Deakins asked. Bobby had no response. "What about Lisa Hahn?"

"Still nothing," Eames replied. "We haven't been able to find a trace of her. Her family, landlord, employer – no one has heard from her for two months, and they have no idea how to find her. Her family filed a missing persons report with the Scranton PD."

"Ether again?" Deakins scoffed. Eames shrugged and Bobby saw the captain's irritation relent. "All right. Given the lack of progress or any solid leads right now, this one needs to go on the back burner."

"But, sir…" Eames started to protest.

"Alex," he interrupted. "I know you have a lot invested in this case and I promise you we're not burying it. But this new one's important and has some solid leads. We need to put our energies where we can do some good."

Eames shook her head and turned her attention to an apparently interesting coffee stain on her desk blotter. Bobby knew that she was biting back on a sharp retort and swallowing her disappointment. By the time she looked back at the captain, her eyes revealed her annoyance, but she was ready to listen.

Deakins gave her a small smile of appreciation. "A couple out walking their dog this morning, came across the body of a young woman," he handed Eames one page that summarized the initial report. "Turns out she was a stripper at one of the Masucci's clubs. Her body's still at the Park, waiting for us before they move her. If this is a mob thing, I want you two on it."

Bobby reached for his binder and stood up. He couldn't say he was happy about the reason, but he was more than ready to get away from his desk and the squad room. They'd both arrived around five o'clock that morning and were in need of a break and some air.

"Report back to me," Deakins said to Bobby then turned away and headed to his office.

Eames remained seated at her desk and although she continued to stare at the paper she held in her hands, Bobby suspected that wasn't really what she was seeing before her. "Eames." He didn't need to say anything more. That one word was full of his concern.

She looked at him and gave him a soft smile of reassurance. "He's right. We're frustrated because this is going nowhere. Let's go see if we can rattle some Masucci cages."

The corner of his mouth quirked in admiration. Resilient. That's just one of the things I lo-… like about her.

While Eames was shrugging into her jacket, Bobby saw Rob Snyder approaching them. Snyder gave him a wary nod of greeting and then turned his attention to Eames.

"Alex."

"Oh, hey Rob."

"Six o'clock still good for you?"

Bobby caught himself before his jaw dropped. Eames gave him a warning glance then smiled back at Snyder. "Let's say seven. And I'll meet you there."

"Great!" The pest was one big grin of excitement. "I'm looking forward to it."

They managed to make it onto the elevator before Bobby couldn't contain it any longer. "Rob Snyder?"

"What about him?"

"You're… dating him."

"I'm meeting him for dinner."

Bobby considered this for a few seconds, wondering if she really thought that non-committal responses were going to shake him off. "That's a date."

"You and I go to dinner all the time," she countered. "Do you call those dates?"

Now she was just being argumentative. "It's not the same and you know it." Bobby hoped his irritation wasn't bleeding through into his words. "It's about expectations. To Snyder, it's a date."

"Fine," Eames shrugged. "It's a date."

The elevator chimed and the doors opened as they arrived at the ground floor parking garage. Eames stepped off before him and he trailed closely behind her. "Why do you want to give him false hope?"

She glanced at him over her shoulder but kept moving toward the SUV. "I don't know that it's false hope. Do you?" He heard the alarm chirp and the doors unlock. Eames walked around to the driver's side while Bobby tried to think of an appropriate response.

"Look," she slipped the key in the ignition and turned to face him sitting in the passenger seat. "It's like I said. When it comes to men, maybe I've been letting the right ones go."

"C'mon… he's not at all 'right' for you," Goren argued as they began backing out of the parking space. "You need someone who's at least as… as interesting as you. A man who… who's as… strong in his beliefs. A man who will challenge your mind," and now that he was on the topic, he couldn't seem to stop himself. "You need someone who attracts you… mentally as well as physically. Someone who'll treat you right and appreciate everything about you…"

The SUV lurched to an abrupt stop. Bobby's seat belt jerked tight across his chest and he reflexively reached out a hand for the dashboard. Eames threw the gear shifter into Park and rounded on him.

"You have someone particular in mind, Goren?" she demanded. Even in the gloom of the garage, Bobby could see her eyes flashing with anger. He'd gotten carried away in the moment and said things that touched too close to his personal feelings on the topic of one Alexandra Eames. Given his almost-revelation of a few weeks ago, she had every right to question his assessment of her needs.

They sat there as Alex's challenge melted between them. Bobby swallowed nervously and decided his best course of action here would be to keep his mouth shut. As the silence grew louder, her expressive eyes revealed the slide from anger to hope to disappointment.

"I didn't think so," she acknowledged softly. Turning away from him, she put the car in gear and focused on the task of driving. Bobby felt an important moment dissolve into contrary emotions for him. Relief that she'd given up so easily. Regret that he'd let her.

She pulled out into the New York traffic and they rode for several blocks before she finally spoke into the tension. "Speaking of 'false hope.' Did you talk to Denise yet?"

Sonofabitch! He hated arguing with her. Eames could cut to the quick more easily than anyone he'd ever known.

No, he hadn't had 'that talk' with Denise yet. He could argue that the time never seemed right, but more than that, Denise herself seemed to be backing away from expecting more of their relationship. Bobby hated to admit it but, for now, if Denise was comfortable with the way things were, he didn't want to upset the status quo. He enjoyed her company, she suddenly seemed content with whatever time they could spend together, and the sex was more than satisfying.

"I'll take that as a no."

"Look… you're right." Time to end this. She's got her personal life, you've got yours. Obviously it's not a good idea to try and delve too deeply on either side. "I'm sorry. It's none of my business."

They stopped at a traffic light. A few heartbeats later, Eames faced him. Her eyes were soft and forgiving. She took a breath, halted, then finally spoke. "Thank you for caring enough to make it your business." Eames smiled and waited for him to do the same.

"It's just one date."

End

A/N – Now on to the episode 'Want' and my story 'Indefensible.' I've known since about half way through that I would leave this open for a sequel. I know exactly where in my (elfluvr's) series the next installment will fit and already have character ideas. So in the coming weeks (months?), watch for 'Lex Talionis' (Law of Retaliation).

It may take a while because, in the shadow of such wonderfully descriptive fanfic authors as Scripted Starlet and pagination, my writing feels thin right now. Or maybe it's always been that way. Whatever the case, I plan to take a break, with maybe an occasional one-shot or drabble here and there as practice.

Y'all have been absolutely fantastic readers!! I can never thank you enough for all the kind words, encouragement and feedback – it feeds the soul! E.Helena