A/N: Part the last, Rei/Jadeite. Huzzah!
Disclaimer: Still own nothing. Obviously.
Two and Five
He could just barely see the reflection of her smile in the rearview mirror. It was the slow, deep smile of a woman who understood things without explanations, and it illuminated her beautiful face like candlelight on alabaster. Jake Larsen, aged five and suspicious, snuck another glance at her face before taking in the rest of his surroundings.
"How are you feeling, honey?" Ariel Hamilton certainly looked the part of the polished, elegant wife of an up-and-coming senator, but she preferred to spend her time working for peanuts as a social worker. There was something about the blue-eyed blond who had nearly perished in the fire caused by his drug-addicted mother's carelessness which tugged at her heart even more than usual, an unshakable feeling that his life would be tied with hers somehow. She'd gone through reams of paperwork before finding him the perfect foster family, and Ariel was determined to work together with them to help him heal emotionally.
Jake simply shrugged in response, and turned his attention to the huge bouquet of elegant white flowers on his right. They smelled clean and rich and sweet, and the scent calmed his nerves somewhat. "What are those?"
"Casablanca lilies," Ariel answered, driving competently through traffic. She laughed, and the orphaned boy heard a strange note of loneliness. "It's my little girl's birthday today, and her father had his assistant send flowers to us. I guess to encourage her to grow up as pretty as possible."
Jake glanced at the baby car-seat on his other side and eyed the sleeping toddler with critical eyes. Ms. Hamilton's daughter was named Raeanne Louisa Hamilton but he knew that her mother called her Raye. At the moment, she was quiet, dark eyelashes resting on smooth cheeks, silk-fine raven hair put in braids with red ribbons. "She looks okay, I guess," he pronounced. At that moment, the two-year-old chose to awaken, and he found himself staring into fathomless violet eyes for the space of three heartbeats. Slowly, Raye's lips curved into a smile which would someday be just like her mother's.
"Friends! Flowers for me!" It was spoken almost as a demand and Jake would have laughed if he were more accustomed to doing so. As it was, he simply reached over, plucked one of the lilies out of the bouquet and handed it to the little girl.
Ten and Thirteen
She knew, really, that she was getting too old to play on swingsets. Ten years old, and she'd be off to the prestigious all-girl's private school next year, but Raye Hamilton couldn't quite bring herself to care about her image just at the moment. It would have been her mother's birthday today had she not died from cancer four months ago, and already her father was engaged to someone else.
The day was a beautiful one, with cloudless blue skies overhead and the barest caress of a summer breeze, and the others in the park were too busy having fun to pay any mind to the raven-haired girl seated on the curved black seat of the swing, tears falling to dew the pristine petals of the single white flower she held in one hand.
"Watch out!" came a boy's warning shout, and she ducked just in time as a soccer ball whizzed past her head. Sneakered feet scuffled through the scrubby grass and sand, and she just managed to compose herself before a skinny blond in frayed jeans stopped close to her to retrieve the ball.
"Hey, I didn't hit you, did I?" He must have noticed some remnant of tears on her face, because he stopped awkwardly in front of her, ball tucked under one arm, and his eyebrows drew together in a frown. "You okay?"
"Just watch where you're kicking it." She tried for hauteur, but couldn't quite pull it off, and dropped her gaze from his blue eyes to the flower still held in one hand.
"Hey, that's a Casablanca lily, isn't it?" he asked, pointing, and that had her looking back up at him in bemusement, some vague wisp of memory flitting through her mind like the translucent smoke from a dying fire. She nodded. His eyes locked with hers for a moment and he cocked his head to the side as though trying to place her. "Do I know you from somewhere?"
"I don't think so," she murmured, and kicked the ground lightly, rocking her swing with the barest of movements.
"Okay. I'm Jake," he took a step back, and gave her a crooked smile. "Nice to meet you and all. Feel better, whatever it is."
"I will," she said automatically, not sure if she'd mean it, but it was a distraction at least.
Sixteen and Nineteen
The vehicle was a sleek, flashy black Ferrari, and the driver was nothing less than a complete babe, from her waterfall of waist-length raven hair to the scarlet ice-pick heels showcasing endless legs. Jake goggled for a moment from the safety of the garage and didn't come out to greet her until he was almost positive that he wasn't visibly drooling over either the car or the driver. It was the third summer he'd worked at the oil change shop, and he'd never seen the likes of either come through before that day.
"How can I help you today?" he asked pleasantly. The young goddess tipped a pair of Gucci sunglasses up to the top of her head and peered at him with strangely familiar-seeming violet eyes.
"I need an oil change," she answered coolly, glancing at the name embroidered on his grimy work shirt. "You in charge of that-- Jake, is it?"
"I can do that for you, no problem," he answered, walking up to her car. "Nice wheels."
She made a face which would have looked inelegant and immature on anyone else and shrugged her slim shoulders. "My dad is always too busy, and he's a disciple of the one-grand-gesture-solves-everything-from-hangnails-to-nuclear-war school of thought," she said matter-of-factly. "Want me to drive it in, or should I give you a thrill and let you do the honours?"
"Darling, I think I just fell in love with you," he quipped, and the light tone of his voice set her at ease. She handed him the keys, and he took his time to maneuver the car perfectly into position before popping the hood. She had something soft and exotic with pipes and lutes playing on the stereo, and the interior of the car smelled like clean leather and...
"Did you say something?" the girl asked curiously. Jake poked his head back out from under her hood and stared at her for a moment.
"Casablanca lilies," he gestured the bouquet in the passenger seat. "It just reminded me of someone I met in a park once." And, though he didn't mention it, a woman with a slow smile who taught him how to trust.
Now it was her turn to stare, but not for long. With aplomb he admired, her lips curved into a wry grin. "Jake. The name didn't register at first. It was a long time ago. Small world."
It must have been the fastest oil change he'd ever done, and then he sat down next to her, everything else forgotten. "You never told me your name. Or why you were upset."
"Raye Hamilton," she answered steadily, before raising a brow. "And why I was upset is no one's business but mine." She proffered a hand, though, which softened the hard words slightly.
"I'm covered in engine grease and stuff," he said awkwardly, and wiped his hands on his pants before taking hers. "Who got you those lilies?"
"Oh. Some guy at my school," she answered, her tone sounding oddly apologetic. "Wants me to go to prom with him."
He rather thought that he shouldn't have asked, and busied himself in filling out the sticker reminding her to change her oil again after another three thousand miles and affixing it to her sparkling windshield. "They're nice."
"Thank you," she stood up, tipping those sunglasses back down and hiding her eyes and feelings from view. "How much do I owe you?"
"Don't worry about it," he found himself saying, though the difference would be coming out of his own pay. When she made to protest, he shrugged, adopted an indifferent pose. "Think of it as thanks for letting me drive that baby for three seconds." Before she could reply, he walked back into the office, and didn't feel her eyes fixed upon his retreating form. She waited for ten minutes before she got back in her car and drove away.
Twenty-Two and Twenty-Five
She sipped from a snifter of brandy and tried to will her fingers to stop shaking. Certainly, considering the circumstances, visible distress would be expected, but it was simply a matter of principle. When she'd lived most of her life with the knowledge that there was no one she could count on except herself, and that the general populace held the smallest details of a senator's daughter under scrutiny, it was necessary not to let anyone see her at less than her best.
Raeanne Louisa Hamilton, Radcliffe graduate and wealthy socialite, sat bolt upright on one of the Italian silk sofas in her luxurious townhouse and stared at the open, ransacked wall safe, the broken curio cabinet and overturned chairs. Chad Townsend had been an old friend of the family, the son and heir of an oil baron, a cheerful sort who toyed with the idea of being a rock star, and it had not seemed like such a big deal to let him stay in her townhouse while she traveled abroad.
She would never have done it had she known that his father had cut him off from his trust fund. She didn't know about the cocaine habit, which he'd first tried to finance by stealing and pawning her valuables. Those who came looking for him when he owed more than he could pay did a thorough job of trashing her home before killing him.
Steady footsteps broke the silence, and she looked up with a carefully blank face. The detective was young, broad-shouldered and handsome, his blond locks disordered by the rake of his fingers. There was something oddly familiar about him, but in the face of the present circumstances, she didn't think about it. "Do I need to call my lawyer, officer?"
"If you'd like," he said in a voice far gentler than she had expected. "You're not implicated, as you were in Europe at the time of the victim's death, and have no probable motive." He paused and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry for your loss."
"You've cause to say that quite often in your line of work, I'm sure," she answered stiffly. "I'm not going to cry about it, don't worry."
"I won't tell if you do," he said quietly. When her hands started to shake, he carefully plucked the brandy snifter out of her grasp and set it down on the coffee table, next to the shattered remains of a Waterford vase. A trampled bouquet of Casablanca lilies lay on the floor in a puddle of water. Her violet eyes brimmed, but she blinked the tears ruthlessly away.
"Chad was an inheritance brat who betrayed my trust," she snapped out, shoulders quivering from tension. "I'll be damned if I cry over him."
Something soft and white was pushed into her hands, and she had one moment to wonder who the hell carried handkerchiefs anymore in this day and age before the dam broke. He didn't say anything, didn't offer those generic empty words of comfort, and that made it so much easier. When she had finally let it all out and blew her nose, no longer giving a hang about looking ladylike, there were streaks of mascara marring her pale cheeks, echoing the smudges on his formerly pristine white shirt. But he made no mention of it, and she wondered how he could know what not to say. Instead, he stood up, gazing down at her with steadfast blue eyes. "Forensics finished in here yesterday, but you'd be better off staying somewhere else until it's over with, for your own safety. Do you have anywhere to go?"
She squared her shoulders, thought for a few moments about what she wanted to do... not just for the next few days, but for the rest of her life. "My grandfather's home. He owns a B&B and lives outside of town. It's about an hour's drive."
"I'll drive you." He offered a hand, a golden, stalwart knight protecting a princess. "Get your things."
Twenty-Six and Twenty-Nine
Sheriff Jake Larsen drove up the lane towards a pretty two-story stone house with a trio of blooming cherry trees on the front lawn. It was one of the best-run, safest and most well-provided domestic violence shelters in the county, run by a former Boston socialite and known as Ariel's House. Raye, in her heart, was her mother's daughter.
He made his way up cobblestone walk and rang the doorbell. An alert, ageless-looking wisp of a woman with birdlike dark eyes and a knot of crimpy black hair opened the door just a crack to peer at his badge before letting him over the threshold. "Can I help you, Sheriff?"
"I'm here to speak to Mrs Cathy Lane."
"Ah, yes," she smiled softly. Her nametag identified her as Phoebe Corvin, the housekeeper. "Please come in and have a seat in the parlour. I'll call her for you."
He followed her through a sunwashed foyer into a sitting room neat as a pin and inherently feminine, from the delicate muslin curtains to the intricately carved rosewood coffee table, polished to a gleam and bearing a crystal vase with spears of stark-white Casablancas. And curled up on a plush armchair, in jeans and bare feet, was Raye, her dark head close to the fair one of a little girl in pink pajamas whose face speckled with red from chicken pox. Both of them were poring over one of Curious George's numerous adventures.
She looked up when he entered, and he saw light spring into her eyes a moment before she smiled. "Sheriff. Don't you have people working for you so that you don't have to run errand boy and come all the way out here to deliver papers to someone?"
"It's my town and they're my people," Jake answered simply. "I'm sure that you, of all people, can understand." They'd remained in touch after the case that had crossed their paths years ago, and he supposed that they were friends. It was slowly killing him, but he had always been good at banking his emotions.
Together, they watched and offered silent support as a mother signed a restraining order which would preclude her ex-husband from contacting her if his family and friends bailed him out of jail. Cathy Lane, her ankle in a cast and a black eye fading on her face, took her daughter back upstairs with her after they were finished. Raye set down the picture book she'd been reading aloud next to the vase of Casablancas.
"Zachary O'Connor's her attorney," she remarked. "I suppose you can contact him with the information."
Jake chuckled at that. Zach O'Connor was one of his oldest friends. "We were supposed to have a few drinks tonight after work, watch the Celtics play the Lakers, but he ditched because he has a hot date. As the woman in question is apparently the love of his life, I'll forgive him."
"Oh." She fingered one of the flowers in the vase, gave him a sidelong look. "I've been known to choke down a martini now and then. And watch sports, once in a great while. Under duress."
Elation sang through his veins and he couldn't stop the grin. "It's supposed to be beer when you're watching a game. I could show you how the whole process works if you're interested."
She laughed, and at seven that evening, he brought her more lilies when he came to pick her up. She wore perfume that smelled like sandalwood and sin, and she made a face every time she took a sip of beer. He bought her a martini, explained the finer points of the game to her, and at the end of the evening, was shocked when she pressed her lips to his for a glorious, endlessly warm kiss at the door.
"It feels like that's been a long time in coming," she murmured, brushing a fingertip over the smear of lipstick she left on his lips. He stared down into her heavy-lidded eyes, and wrapped his arms around her waist.
"I'd say so," he agreed, and kissed her again.
Thanks for reading!