Summary: From one hell to another, the Homicide detectives find themselves working on a series of gruesome murders dating from far back in time and into the present. Things get worse when Tessa discover that somewhere along the road, something happened to rock the solid base of her and Steve's friendship.

Rating: T+ (PG-13 – Suggestion of violence)

Author's Note: This story is certainly the first in either a trilogy or duology. I've got the others planned out, but I'm not finished with them yet. But I decided to upload this anyway, since I don't know when I'll finish those other parts.

Second Best
by neela


Rubbing the ridge of his nose, Detective Senior Constable Steve Hayden let out an exhausted sigh, leaning back as far as the office chair allowed. It squeaked loudly at the action, attracting the attention of constable Dee Suzeraine who passed him after her detour trip through their office with a couple of pictures from the recent crime scene. However, he didn't notice the concerned glance directed at him before she left through the glass doors, instead embraced by an aching dimness as he closed his eyes.

What a terrible day.

Up before 6 a.m. because of a ridiculously loud pager, calling him out to a horrible scene at one of the private high schools where a couple of students had been found gutted out in the biology lab by the morning cleaner. And as if the gruesome slaughtered bodies weren't enough, the bank had called today to remind him of an upcoming meeting to discuss the future of the family farm.

He was startled out of the self-imposed thought process by the sound of folders being dropped down on the desk in front of him. A big stack of folders, he noted.

"Please tell me that's not more of them."

His partner Tessa Vance gave him an apologetic look as she returned to her desk with an equal amount of folders. "Sorry." She sat down, immediately the epitome of efficiency as she cleared space and made room for reading.

Steve gazed at her, for a minute drawn to the way her chin fell into an open palm, supported on the desk by a carefully placed elbow.

"Are you really sure, Steve?"

Shaking his head quietly, he let the feet fall from the desk where they'd rested and sat up straight, the back of the chair creaking as he did so. He copied Tessa's actions, clearing space for the files to unfold.

"When I woke up today," he sighed, "I never imagined I'd find myself buried in the victims of a brutal serial killer."

"Not to mention a serial killer who's never been discovered until now," Tessa stated, already closing one folder after noting the links and differences to the scene they'd seen today. Work came easily to her, either as a nice distraction or just an arena where she thoroughly enjoyed herself, where she could unfold completely.

Steve gave her an exasperated glance, not for the first time annoyed she could easily give him more reason to feel miserable with just a statement of fact. With his old partner Barney, years ago before Tessa came to the division, he'd investigated one of these homicides, without finding the killer. It was not really a question whether the murders were connected; it was too many similarities, too many connections. And as such, he felt responsible.

"Don't remind me," he muttered, finding his pen to jot down the few notes the first folder had given him.

The office soon succumbed to silence with only the occasional pen-to-paper and flipping sound breaking the monotony. Though he noticed Tessa sometimes glance up at him from the corner of his eye, lips parted as if to say something, he trained his eyes on the words floating together in front of him. For some reason, the very idea of making idle conversation or cracking some sort of joke utterly eluded him.

He must be more tired than he thought.

Steve had been at work for more than 12 hours; his body was telling him to quit and head home, preferably straight to bed. Shooting a quick glance at the clock on the wall he reckoned another few hours till Tessa would head home and hit the sack. She always worked overtime, even beyond the point of payment and health.

Reading the same sentence for the fifth time, Steve finally gave up and closed the folder with a quick flip. "I think I'll finish this tomorrow. I'm dead on my feet."

"Little sleep?" Tessa looked up with her trademark curiosity, never relinquishing her grip on the pen drumming against the desk.

"You could say that," Steve replied shortly, groaning at the ache in his back as he stood. Really, what had made him join the search in Fisk's garbage container? Even a quick stop at home for a shower before heading back to work hadn't quelled the twinge. Not the smell either, he thought with a grimace.

Guilt, his conscience told him matter-of-factly. Steve held back another sigh.

Standing up, he quickly gathered the files and laptop and laid it in a neat stack by the phone, collecting his winter coat from the hat-and-coat stand by the coffee machine. He noticed Tessa had once again delved into the folders and paid him little attention, her unread files stack closing in on empty. It almost made him sigh again. She should just head home too and leave the work behind for tonight. No point in driving yourself sick if you wanted to hang around and wrap up the case. Not that even pneumonia would keep her away.

He felt like he should say something; that he'd come to the point in their routine where he would badger her about going home and get to sleep early, even pull her physically away and give her a lift. His silence seemed to draw her away from the work, her clear blue eyes staring up at him quietly.

Was there expectancy in that look? Did she wait for him to hassle her?

Steve hesitated.

Suddenly feeling he was wading into her depth and not understanding why exactly, he just returned the stare, then nodded and stepped around the desk before heading for the clear glass doors marked Homicide. "Night, Tess."

I'm sorry.

The reply was slower than usual, "Night. Sleep well."

He couldn't help but clench down the churning in his stomach as he entered the elevator, pushing the button for the basement parking.

"And then he just left? Again?" Tootsie let go of her wine glass, eyes wide in surprise. Next to her, Tessa only nodded in confirmation and took a sip of her drink.

"Again," she stated, the hint of a sad look crossing her face. "Sixth time since that night."

The older woman couldn't believe her own ears, why would he do something like this? And yet it hadn't caught her completely off guard. In the autopsy lab today, she had experienced the same sort of attitude, albeit in a lesser grade of indifference, and in her opinion, cruelty.

For the first time in a long time she felt annoyance build up at the back of her mind on her friend's behalf, but quelled it immediately. Tessa didn't need angry replies tonight, even if it wasn't directed at her; it would only upset her more. What that girl needed was comfort, pure and simple, a friend who didn't lash out on their mutual friend in anger.

Silly girl, she doesn't deserve that attitude after last week's events.

Sighing, Tootsie grasped her wine and drained the last few sips in one gulp. A pair of blue eyes followed her actions with a curious stare. Probably the first time experiencing her out of character, she assumed. At least since the night at Tessa's place after one of their hit and run cases, where their roles had been reversed and the young detective had played friendly comforter.

"Men are pigs," Tootsie growled once the glass was empty and pushed away from her reach. Though her thoughts went to a different male than Steve, she wouldn't reveal that to her friend. Not tonight, maybe later when Tessa had recuperated from this latest blow to her self-esteem.

Tessa nodded with a half smile. One of her fingers was lazily trailing the rim of her own glass. "Can't argue with you there," her younger friend agreed wistfully.

"Of course you can't, one of them treated you like dirt under his shoe. Not to mention he's supposed to be your best friend!" This time Tootsie couldn't keep the irritation out of her tone, a fact which the young Homicide detective caught onto quickly, frowning.

Instead of getting riled up, Tessa sighed resignedly. "It's not exactly like that. He doesn't ignore me completely—"

"Only enough to make you feel miserable enough to drink whisky for the first time in months," Tootsie pointed out with a firm, slender finger at her friend's glass. "And if I remember correctly, our dear Detective Hayden was the reason for that indulgence as well."

Tessa flushed crimson and pulled the evidence out of sight, casting her eyes down in shame.

Stop, she feels bad enough as it is without you making it worse. He's gotten under her skin after all. She won't allow people to talk degradingly about him. It's almost sad.

Silence fell over them for a moment before she broke it again, this time more in control of her emotions. "Look, Tessa, you've got to admit he's been a complete dim-witted country boy to go and treat you like that. You've known each other for four years, you're best friends—when will you stop protecting him?"

"I'm not protecting him!" Tessa protested, but failed to bring conviction into her voice. The seasoned pathologist raised an eyebrow and Tessa's fierce features crumbled not long after, retreating into herself and leaning further back in the chair. Finally, the honest look of hurt on her face came, the real emotions spilling through the broken wall Tootsie had challenged.

When she saw the trace of tears welling up in beautiful blue eyes, Tootsie regretted her previous anger. She leaned across the table and laid her hand on top a slender shoulder, hoping it could be of small comfort.

"I'm sorry," she spoke softly. "I shouldn't have been so harsh." Tessa shook her head.

"No, you were just being honest. Nothing to be sorry about."

"Are you gonna be all right?" Tootsie nodded towards the whisky left alone on the other side of her. Fingers went out to grasp it and lead it into Tessa's sight.

"No," the young detective said quietly. Then a smirk crossed her lips as she continued, "I'm going to have a killer hangover tomorrow."

It made Tootsie smile, glad the humour was back, even if it was only a hastily raised shield against the heavy emotions swirling around in the depth. She nodded and let go of the shoulder, finding her own glass.

"Then I'll join you," she said lightly. "Just let me get another one of these."

Steve rubbed his eyes with the back of his hands, forcing the drowsy sleep out of his body. It was still very early morning, but he doubted he'd fall asleep again. Not after the visions trapping him in a nightmare caused him to startle awake in a sweat. The sheets lay across his lap, scarcely covering him and the evident co-player in last night's escapade. He leaned down heavily on his hands, elbows balancing at the knees.

Behind him lay the other evidence of why he would have to evade the truth if someone asked him whether he got some sleep or not. A brunette, tall, slim, filling out in all the right places, with perfect lips and huge dark eyes set in a narrow face. Dana was her name, attorney at the DA's office, and she'd spent the nights here for the past month or so since they met during a hearing.

Sad, gentle eyes were staring up at him beneath teary lashes, trapping him in a foggy spell he couldn't break free off.
"Are you sure it's me you want?"

He shook his head free of the memory, rising from the bed and finding a pair of clean underwear before heading to the shower. Once the cold water splashed across his face, Steve managed to get his head clear and tame his churning emotions. It wouldn't do him any good going around with his head in the clouds when a serial killer was on the loose.

Fortunately, the pager had stayed quiet since yesterday morning, but it didn't keep him from dreading every second while waiting for the next call. He hoped it wouldn't come. He hoped he wouldn't show up at another narcissistic crime scene. He hoped there wouldn't be more bodies of young students lying gutted in the morgue.

Sometimes Steve wondered why he still hung around the place, taking on a job that cost him his soul and tore down his once carefree , blue-eyed and happy view on the world. Now he could hardly head down Arthur Street without checking the back alleys for drowned girls with a gardenia pushed down their throats.

A vague thought went to the meeting with the bank that was coming up next week. If they were lucky, if Tessa could once again show off her brilliant mind and tie together the pieces of evidence, motives and suspects, he would have time off to think about the bank problem.

The churning returned just then, reminding him of what he would have to do before Tessa could show her puzzle solving mastery. If he headed to work early, he could be finished with the folders by the time she came in.

She deserved that at least. Perhaps he'd make her a cup of coffee as well and pretend all was well in the world, that thoughts hadn't plagued him and disturbed his nights since last week.

Turning off the water, Steve stepped out of the shower and dried off. It was like a switch off button—no more memories running behind closed eyelids at high-speed. Out of the bathroom door stepped the professional, by-the-book detective Steve Hayden in a clean navy suit.

Straight into the beeping pager held by a brunette who both tortured and pleased him.

The wind was cold and biting into the exposed flesh on her face. Tessa drew her coat tighter, tempted to reach up and adjust the scarf, yet knowing to do so would mean letting her frozen fingers out of the warm captivity of the soft woollen mittens she'd bought the other day.

So instead she ignored the ache all together, just like she forced herself to forget the driving throbbing behind her eyes.

Last night had been fun in the end, with Tootsie cheering her up and both of them ending up completely plastered in Tessa's apartment, sharing a bit too many glasses of whisky and wine. It was the first time in several months she'd allowed herself the stronger type of alcohol intentionally. From experience she knew it was the only thing that would get her wasted and into a situation that would allow her escape the world and reality for a little while.

As if the case wasn't bad enough, he just had to...
Don't go there.

Huddling even tighter together, she looked to both sides of the road before crossing and taking a turn towards a large gate further down the pavement..

Reporters seemed to have already gotten wind of the story, despite its early morning call, as a whole crowd of them were fenced off by several uniformed police officers outside the crime scene tape. Not that it surprised it, considering who owned the big mansion looming behind the gate.

Flashes blinded her temporarily as she fished up her badge and showed it to one of the officers. With a hurried wave and tight grimace, the police officer handed back the badge and held up the tape for her to cross under. She was fast, ignoring the calls for comments and continued flashes as she went on. She didn't understand how Thorne could stand it.

A wide passage led up to a half-secluded mansion, surrounded by trees and bushes at three sides, in a garden that would probably be wonderfully littered with different colours in spring. Upper-class society—Tessa felt like she'd just fed herself to the wolves.

Inside the mansion she ran into Fisk who was just heading up the stairs to the second floor. After a short greeting, he gestured her to follow.

"Come along, Detective. The dinner is ready." Tessa didn't like that statement and what it implied.

Up the stairs and down a hallway covered in paintings and pictures, she trudged after the diligent forensic expert until they entered a dining room where Tootsie was leaning over the long table. Years in the force had hardened her, made her resistant to whatever gruesome sights and smells she faced, yet it never really prepared her for what she would meet.

In the first few seconds after spotting the body, Tessa stood rigid and tense in the doorway, only gazing at the body. Then something snapped and she came into the right mode, accepting the transparent vinyl gloves Fisk handed her and strode across the open space towards the dining table.

"Hello," Tessa greeted Tootsie, wincing at the loud sharpness of her own voice. However, she was secretly pleased when she saw the other woman was also suffering from a nasty hangover, gritting her teeth for a mini-second and only grunting.

It had been fun last night, they had to admit that. But any reminiscing would have to wait until later, preferably after a Bloody Mary.

"What've you got, Tootsie?"

Even though he woke up early, went to work early and even had breakfast before that (albeit a very hastily put-together toast), Steve was running late. He couldn't explain how he managed it, but he was and now he strode quickly up the staircase in the mansion to the dining room, taking two steps at a time.

Thorne hadn't been in his best mood when Steve arrived at the scene, probably because he had forced out of bed early and had to fight through a throng of reporters outside as well. He'd irritably told him off for being late and almost forcibly pushed him in the direction of the crime scene with a few muttered curses under his breath when the tumult down on the street increased. Steve would have to warn Tessa against getting on his bad side later.

"Finally decided to show up?" Fisk met him in the corridor, dusting on one of the picture frames near an open door. As always, the man sported an impeccable appearance in spite of the hour, his face drawn in an utterly focused expression. No one could say the forensic expert didn't love his job.

"Thorne wanted a word," Steve replied lamely, looking around his surroundings.

"Ah, so the big man himself has entered the building."

"Yeah, that's right, and you should watch your back. He's teething."

"Can't see why his bark should be worse than his bite today. Must be because of you, Hayden," Fisk said dryly, giving him a scrutinizing look with just a slight tilt of the head. "Body's in there," he supplied, gesturing to the open door, already attention back at his work.

Steve nodded, stepping around the forensic expert and almost immediately stopping in the doorway. Though knowing what the killer was capable of, he couldn't help but grimace at the sight drawing his attention. Another young girl, by the look of it, lying gutted on the dining table.

Ready for dinner.
Guy must strive towards cannibalism.

A slight whisper drew him out of his thoughts and he turned to see Tessa's back towards him and Tootsie leaning over the body, yet gazing at him with an indecipherable expression. He couldn't help noticing the drop in temperature within that look.


Tootsie looked at her with an unspoken question lingering in her eyes as she temporarily stopped her examination, to which Tessa only shook her head and turned to face Steve, whom she presumed had stepped through the door. She'd heard him speak with Fisk in the hallway.

Brown eyes met her blue ones. It was only silent for a few seconds before she spoke up, voice uncharacteristically bland and even. "Victim's Anne MacCallagher, 17, alone at home with parents overseas. Housemaid found her this morning when she arrived for work."

Judging by his concealed confusion, Tessa knew her message had come through at least partially. Best friends or not, she was tired of being dominated, flung around like a rag doll and ignored at the earliest convenience. No more nice girl—if the last week had been some sort of message to her that he wanted them to be less friends, he would from now on get nothing but efficient professionalism from her.

To be continued