part one

"My life closed twice before its close; it yet remains to see if Immortality unveil a third event to me, so huge, so hopeless to conceive, as these that twice befell. Parting is all we know of heaven, and all we need of hell."
— Emily Dickinson

She knew her rights. They needed a warrant.

She was still trying to reconcile the fact that they had actually returned with one.

"Let us take you down to the station," the taller one, a male, had told her. Hair neatly trimmed and dress sleeves pushed up. He had spoken gently, an attempt at understanding. Was it how they spoke to people they considered victims? If so, she found it offensive. She did not consider herself a victim. Her life had been the happiest. Her world, her experiences... compiled of the utmost joy. No more than any other's. Her sorrow, her pain, had been typical. Pain that all humans embrace. Not willingly, but with acceptance, for it was how they grew.

Pain she felt in that moment was unlike anything else, for it was pain she could not accept. Would not. She felt pain because these strangers, she believed, were in the process of ruining her life. Chasing a case two decades cold. New leads had brought them to her doorstep, as an ailing grandfather slept peacefully upstairs.

"Just... hold on a second here," she spat, head in her hands as she sat on the armrest of a recliner, hovered over by detective, detective, and a gaggle of police officers in the doorway to the foyer; street cops, she assumed, called in to serve the purpose of the warrant. "This makes absolutely no sense. You can't just... no, this is ludicrous, I—"

The shorter one, an African-American female, crouched down in front of her, and held up a picture of a little girl — two years old at the most, photographed back in what had to be the late eighties. "Is this not you?" She demanded.

What hurt the most was the fact that it was.

Her breathless silence and quivering chin seemed to speak enough. "Let us take you down to the station," the detective backtracked, a little more gently this time. "We'll do a DNA test. It'll be quick. We'll have you out in time to pick up Josiane."

"And leave Pop here while these guys swarm the house? Yeah, right."

"Sophia, we have to talk to him."

"And I'm not leaving until they're gone," she retorted, a slow, purposeful tone — the kind not many tended to trifle with. The detectives exchanged a glance.

Meanwhile, blue eyes followed her every move.

This whole case was a clusterfuck. Ben Sherman could agree with that.

A two year old kidnapped during an arson fire in 1989. The child never found, they were assumed dead and the case went cold. Until a witness remembered something twenty years later. The details were irrelevant, the fact remained that the case was reopened and several days later detectives were knocking on the door of an Eagle Rock home.

He knew what happened after that. The victim (the term used loosely) balked, demanded a warrant, and promptly kicked Adams and Clarke out. That was why he found himself there that day, alongside John and Chickie. According to the warrant, they were to assist in searching the premises for evidence, among other things.

Other things.

"Ma'am, I, uh — I know it probably means nothing coming from me, but what's the harm in cooperating?" Ben's hands rested absently on his belt, nonchalantly, almost out of anxiety. The victim arched a brow under the shade of a jacaranda tree and blew smoke out her nose. She said nothing, a steady gaze in his direction. "I mean, if they're wrong, you can just... move on, you know?"

"Does it not seem like I'm cooperating?"

Her eyes glanced in the direction of the front door, where Chickie was passing through with an evidence bag in hand. A single glance was confirmation, as if she were affirming to herself that this was cooperation. "Obviously, you are," Ben conceded. "I'm just saying, if there were a little less fight—"

This seemed to anger her. "A little less fight?" She echoed, flicking the ashes off the tip of her cigarette. Her voice lowered to a steely tone. "Officer—" a word that felt odd to use, given the man in front of her didn't seem any older than her "—if this was your life, wouldn't you fight for it?"

"If I thought I had been harmed in some way, probably not."

"You're missing the point. I wasn't harmed. I was happy."

"Don't you think the Daalmans deserved to have had that happiness too?"

"I wouldn't know."

"They wouldn't know, either. They had that opportunity taken from them."

The victim grew silent, but her gaze remained unwavering. "That's not fair," she said quietly, after a long moment of unforgiving breeze. "Don't give me that guilt trip bullshit. I had a perfectly fine, perfectly normal life until you people showed up."

"That's fine. But if you had been lied to your whole life, wouldn't you want to know?"


A positive test result brought her world crumbling down.

Grief shook her petite frame in the worst way. The wind rushed out of her, and she remained like a fish escaped from its bowl on the curb outside the station; gasping for air with no relief from this hypoxic feeling. Light became dark. The boulevard became crowded at twilight with rush hour traffic. Santa Ana winds chapped her tear-stained cheeks. She heard nothing, not even the sounds of a homeless man shuffling up next to her and asking if she had a cigarette.

"Bitch," the dirty man grumbled when she didn't answer, and shuffled away.

Staring off into space was no solace, and yet it was her only constant.

The vague scent of soap and motorcycle fumes filled her nostrils, and it was for him, crouching down beside her, that she reacquainted herself with the present.

His eyes were the brightest of blue, even under the streetlamp glow.

He sighed. He touched her bare shoulder. He said nothing.

A moment. Two.

"C'mon," he said finally, nodding over his shoulder, somewhere in the distance, somewhere she couldn't see. "I'm sure your daughter's waiting for you."

"Josiane's not my daughter," she said immediately, her voice cracking with disuse; a mix of tears and disbelief. His brow quirked, just slightly, so nonchalant it almost went unseen. "She's my niece."

Ironic, she thought. One still clings to hope even in the face of infallible truth.

He pursed his lips, the kind of expression she liked to think they were taught in the academy — the kind of outward body language reserved for consoling victims, or indicating sympathy, or something. She ached, suddenly, for a cigarette.

"C'mon," he repeated once more, standing up and offering a strong hand. "Let me take you home."

She took his hand; even though she had never ridden a motorcycle before, even though she despised them with a passion, even though, in reality, Josiane was at a neighbor friend's house for the night and wouldn't be missing her. She took his hand, because he was the only one guiding her through a conceivable storm.

The wind blew, warm and stale, as she clung to him, the roar of an engine in her ears.