A/N: I'm not sure what this is - just came out in my efforts to get back to writing. Or maybe I'm just missing Rinne's Donnie-Damage-Du Jour. Hey, at least I managed to get them into a different room in Don's apartment! Anyway, it will post in two parts.
Followed a heartbeat later by lightning.
It wasn't that she was afraid of storms - not really. It was that this one seemed brooding, filled with foreboding: the thunder snapping like gunshots, the lightning bright as barrel flash. And now she was being fanciful, and she had never been a fanciful girl. Rock-hard practical, her father had always said. She stared out the window, frowning.
See what you've done to me, Eppes? You're a bad influence.
She forced herself to turn away. And this is ridiculous. Don would have a good laugh about it. Okay, maybe he wouldn't laugh, exactly - just an affectionate chuckle while he took her in his arms, making silly jokes, kissing her temples, her neck, her mouth…
I wish you were here. It's always better when you're here.
A pathetic confession from an independent woman who had done just fine - more than fine - for so many years on her own.
You could at least call.
But of course that wasn't necessarily a good idea in a lightning storm. Or even possible - all kinds of atmospheric interference.
Or just plain busy. Crime scenes could keep you very busy. No big deal, really - no reason for concern. She had work of her own, after all - case notes she should be reading, information she should be organizing. She stared at the neat files, lying open and spread out over the coffee table, but didn't make a move toward them. Another burst of thunder, sudden and sharp, and she jumped, blinked at the blinding flash that followed, shuddered with involuntary prescience.
Come on, Eppes - one call. Better yet, come home. She twirled the ring nestled on her left hand, folded her other hand over it. Don't think you're going to get out of making an honest woman of me.
She glanced at the television. A shiver of lightning had fried the cable box. An easy save once daylight came, but Don would be pissed - he liked to unwind in front of it after a tough day - random sport events, old movies - didn't matter - like a caveman staring into the fire, regrouping. And he was going to need to unwind, too, if the late hour was any indication. At least it was a crime scene, not a raid. That was some comfort.
Come on, baby - come home and I promise I'll find a way to help you unwind - even without the television. Bet I can make you forget all about those Lakers.
She paced to the window, could just make out the grey of the rain slashing against the glass through the darkness, squinted to see past the reflection of the room behind her. She folded her arms over herself, grasping her elbows. A miserable night. Maybe Don had gotten lucky and the crime scene was inside? Brutal to try and protect evidence against this weather. Not to mention protecting yourself. Maybe he at least had his FBI hat on? And she had had an idea that he was starting a cold, too; the heavy look to his eyes, the way he kept clearing his throat…not that he'd admit to it. But she had persuaded him to swallow some vitamin C anyway. She leaned her forehead against the coolness of the glass and closed her eyes, snippets of half-forgotten prayers sliding through her brain.
You're being an idiot. Don's late all the time. It's the rain that's getting to you. The rain, and too many film noires. Puts ideas in your head. Silly ideas. Stop hovering like a lovesick schoolgirl and get to work. Won't the defense have a good laugh if you show up in court unprepared?
The thunder boomed again, rattling the glass under her forehead, and lightning washed the sky, again and again. The living room lights brightened, then flickered out with a sigh.
Well, crap. She didn't like the dark, exactly, especially when she was alone. The apartment was eerily quiet, without even the thrum of a refrigerator, the only sound the steady hush of the rain.
And you stop this right now. For heaven sake, you carry a gun. You can pretty nearly bench press your own weight. This sissy girl stuff is beneath you. Throw some macho boy-type at you and you revert to seventh grade on the spot.
She rolled so that her back was to the window. On the other hand, if some macho, alpha-boy federal agent wanted to show up and rescue her…she might be able to learn to live with it.
The thunder sounded again, not quite covering a scratching at the door. For a second her heart stopped. Lightning lit the room, just as the door swung open, silhouetting a shadowy figure on the threshold. She caught her breath.
"Hey, baby. What are you doing up? It's so late." Even in the dark, she caught the flicker of wrist that exposed the glowing watch dial. "Wow."
She cleared her throat. "I was just working…" trailed off as her eyes sought the files spread out in the darkness. Oh.
His teeth were a brief flash of brightness as he let the lightless interior sink in. "Yeah? How's that going?"
Just as she'd thought - teasing - but there was something else in his voice, an undercurrent, and she moved toward the door. Well, a little honesty never killed anyone. She slid her arms around him. "Okay, I missed you. I'm not used to sleeping alone any more."
For a second he leaned into her and she felt his exhaustion, the suppressed tension in his muscles. His palm flattened at the base of her spine, drawing her against him, then he released her abruptly and dropped back a step. "I'm wet."
"You are," she smiled, letting her arms rest on his shoulders. "Drenched, in fact." Her fingers raked through the back of his hair, dislodging a scattering of droplets. "Let me get you a towel. And do you have any candles?"
"Yeah, but they're a fire hazard. I have some battery powered lanterns for situations like these. In the kitchen."
She heard the door close behind him as she rifled through the linen closet, snagging a couple of oversized towels and his robe from the back of the door. "Outdoor crime scene, huh?"
"Yeah." In the darkness, his disembodied voice sounded unutterably weary.
She followed the voice to the utilitarian kitchen, could just make out the shadowy figure seated on the floor in front of the cupboards and hovered over him as the small lantern in his hands sprang to life. She dropped the towel over his head and rubbed: his temples, then his forehead, then the nape of his neck. "Bad one?"
He snapped batteries into a second lantern and switched it on. "Yeah."
She knelt to settle the towel around his shoulders and leaned against him for a minute, kissed the back of his head. "You need to get out of those clothes, then you can tell me all about it."
"Always trying to get me out of my clothes." But the joke lacked conviction.
She played along anyway. "Whatever it takes to get you warm. Come on - I have your robe and towels and - " she studied his face in the shadowy light from the lantern, ran the tips of her fingers through the hair over his ear, "maybe a brandy or a shot of scotch."
He sighed, deep and ragged, from the gut. "Yeah." But he was still sitting on the floor, one lantern beside him, the other wrapped between his palms.
Hm. "Hey," she propped her fingers under his chin and tilted his face toward her, tried to catch his eyes. "You don't want me to strip you right here on the kitchen floor?"
His eyes didn't quite meet hers, but he tried to smile. "Like it would be the first time."
She really did smile, used the towel to blot at a couple of stray drops sliding from his hairline. "The bed is significantly more comfortable." She folded the towel over his neck. "And warmer."
"I'm not cold."
"I am?" He sounded vaguely surprised.
Any vestige of her smile dropped away. She patted his shoulder and used it to push herself to her feet. "Wait here." Like he was going anywhere. She squatted in front of the cupboard under the sink, curled her hand around the neck of a bottle and peered at the label. Yeah. That will do. She splashed some in the first glass her hand found, then considered and splashed some more into a second glass.
She knelt facing him this time. "Hey." More insistently. She waved one glass in front of his eyes and he took it from her automatically. She clicked her glass against it. "Bottom's up."
He swallowed the contents without really looking, blinked and cleared his throat with a cough.
She nodded. "Better. I knew you were in there somewhere."
He looked around as though taking in his surroundings for the first time. "Shouldn't you be in bed? It's gotta be late."
"We both should be. But you're not coming to bed soaking wet."
"Oh. Yeah." He looked down at himself. "It was raining."
"Uh huh." She frowned, but kept her voice light. "Still is." She reached for the bottle. "I think you could use another shot." She tipped it over his glass, waited until he took a sip. "Warmer?"
He rubbed the back of his hand at one ear, catching drips. "I wish you'd caught this one. Well, maybe not - I mean, it's really…but we could use somebody like you."
Okay, so there was going to be no budging him quickly. What the heck went on out there, anyway?
"Who's got it?"
Robin shrugged. "He's good."
Don shook his head and took a pull from his glass. "Yeah, he's fine - a decent enough guy. Little bit of a grand stander. He's just - not you."
"Hm." Robin smiled, ran a finger down his cheek.
Needed a shave, too. How long had he been out there?
"You just like me better in a skirt."
Don snorted into his glass, then downed the rest in one go. "Among other things."
"So…" Robin dragged the robe around his shoulders. At least it's an extra layer. "…what kind of crime scene are we talking about?"
His expression shifted and he stared past her, fixed on some point in the murky darkness. "Murder." He rolled the glass between his palms. "Kidnapping." He glanced down at the glass, noticed it was empty, frowned. "…torture."
Robin put her own glass next to her on the floor, cupped her hands over his knees.
His eyes pinched closed on a sharp hiss of breath. His head sagged. The small lantern cast his face half in shadow; eyes deep hollows, jaw a sharp and jagged line. "I mean, not - there. The crimes didn't take place there. The bodies were moved there - transported. It was more like…a burial ground."
"Bodies." Her grip tightened silently on his knees. "Plural?"
She hated to ask, but…"How many?"
His eyes traced the outline of the glass rim, then rose abruptly to catch hers. "Shouldn't you be in bed? It's gotta be - late…"
He sought his watch face, but she reached for his wrist, curling her hand over it, blocking his view. "Don."
He glanced up at her, gaze wary.
She counted to five. "Don." More softly. "You know, I do this too. You know that."
His brows crunched together. "Of course."
"I mean, I see a lot of horrible things. So if you have some idea that I'll get tired of hearing about them - that it will drive me away - well, you're wrong. Listening to you is just part of the gig. Just like I expect you to listen to me. You can tell me. I'll still be here."
His lips parted in protest, then he stopped, rubbed a hand caressingly over the fingers wrapping his wrist. His touch was like ice.
She bit her lip. "Wouldn't you like a shower?"
He shook his head. "Twelve."
Her mind skipped backward, trying to make the link. Wait. Did he mean…? Wait - "Twelve…? Bodies!"
He nodded. "That we found. There could be more. We had to stop - the rain and the dark. We set up tarps and lights, but the wet was crumbling the ground anyway, filling the holes - we found one skull…floating…we had to stop. And they were so tired. I had to send them home."
"I was going to stay - just for a little, you know? Just for - I don't know. Wright made me do a press conference instead. I said communications could do it, but he wanted me. I offered to address the families, but he said no. Press conference. Just wouldn't back down." He shook his head. "I shoulda stayed anyway."
She made sympathetic noises, squeezed his knee gently.
God bless ADIC Wright. I'll have to send him flowers…or more to the point, coffee and pastries. Probably be more appreciated.
"There wasn't anything more you could do."
He dragged a hand across his mouth. "I coulda stayed. I mean, it's not much, I get that, but it's the least you can do, right? Stick around? Keep watch?"
"You left somebody watching the scene, right? So you did do that."
He shook his head again, more insistently. "Kids bones, floating around in puddles. You owe them something. Respect, or - or - vigil - something. I know it doesn't fix it but - it's something, right? I mean, I tried to tell Wright. I argued. But you know how he gets sometimes."
How HE gets. Right. Maybe I'll send flowers AND the pastry.
She took a breath and tried again. "Press conferences reach a lot of people - a lot of families of victims. So maybe it wasn't so crazy. Maybe it helped. Sorry I missed it. Lightning took out the cable box."
He frowned. "Waste of time."
"Hell yeah. Years, probably. We don't know yet. How many victims, how many families - shit, we don't even know if this is the only burial site."
"You said kids."
"Boys, looks like. Little boys. One of the skulls was like - this big - " he held his hands apart. "How old do you have to be to have a head that small? Eight, maybe? Less?"
She rubbed soothingly at his knees. "How'd you find it?"
"Another kid. Taking a tramp with his dog. Found a skull - didn't know it was real. Thought it was cool. His mom knew it was real and called it in. We got a warrant to check out the area…found another skull. From there it just…" he shook his head restlessly. "Bodies in all states of decay. One after another after another…it was like…bottomless. We can't even be sure which bones go together until the DNA testing. It'll take weeks - months - to identify everybody. To figure out cause of death, extent of trauma…" He dug at his eyes with his knuckles. "Is it still raining? Maybe I should…"
She tightened her grip on his knees. "It's a lightning storm. Nothing anybody can do until the storm passes."
His head turned toward the window. "The forensic guys could get to work on the remains…"
"It's late. You said it yourself. Very late. Everybody's tired." You're tired.
"Yeah." His eyes stayed on the blackened square of window, as though he expected to see something there. "It takes it out of you. Even when you've been doing this a long time. Even when you think you've seen everything. I could tell they were - taking it hard."
Something caught in her throat and she cleared it. "Any suspects?"
"We'd sure like to talk to the guy who owns the property. He's on the road somewhere - him and his wife. One reason I didn't want the press conference - don't want to tip anybody off and send them running. They're supposed to be camping or something, but these days, how do you know that doesn't mean television? We put a BOLO out on their license plate, and if they come home we'll be waiting for them."
"So nothing to do now but wait."
He dragged his gaze away from the window, frowned. "There's always something to do. Always."
"How about sleeping, then? That would be useful."
"Useful." He scoffed. "That's about the last thing I feel."
"Because you're tired. And for all I know - are you hungry? Have you eaten anything?"
"They were bound, most of them. Twine, coat hangers…stacked on top of each other, like cartons. I mean, how many years do you suppose…? And how many at a time…? It's just crazy that this could be going on somewhere and nobody knew about it…"
Okay, this was going nowhere.
"Don." She placed her hands on either side of his face and turned his head to look at her. "If you're going to be any use tomorrow or whenever the rain stops, you need to get out of these wet clothes and get some sleep. This isn't helping you and it isn't helping them. The rain could keep going."
His expression told her that had never even occurred to him. There was an odd cracking sound and the tinkle of glass on glass. They both looked down. The thin light from the lantern glinted off sharp edges, off something dark and viscous coating Don's palms.
"Huh," he said blankly.