Title: Ain't Life Grand

Chapter 7: Shine

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A/N: Thanks to everyone for reading and reviewing! The title of the fourth story is: 'It's Five O'clock Somewhere'.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. –Ambrose Redmoon

Shine

On Thursday morning, Rory woke up to the sound of her alarm clock. She turned it off rather than hit the snooze button. After taking a minute to wake up, she pushed the blanket back. But before she could get out of bed, an arm snaked around her and held her in place. She turned her head a little.

"Where are you going?" Tristan slurred tiredly.

"To get ready for work," she answered.

He pulled her up against him and asked, "What time is it?"

"Six thirty."

"It's early. You have time to sleep some more."

"No. I have a meeting," she protested as she laid her arm alongside his.

Tristan shook his head into her hair. "That was yesterday."

"That was the staff meeting. I'm talking with Jimmy today. Privately."

"Mmm," he mumbled without letting her go. "Talk to him later."

"I would if I could, but early morning is the only time he could do it. He has meetings all day with the higher ups and I want to make sure I get to him first."

"Fine," Tristan said, letting her go.

Rory went across the hall to shower and fix her hair. When she returned to the bedroom thirty minutes later, she was surprised to see Tristan up and dressed. The bed was made and he was pilfering through the jewelry box that was sitting on her dresser.

"I think there might be a bracelet in there that'll match your tie," she teased as she went to the overpopulated closet. She didn't notice Tristan look up sharply and shove his hand in his pocket. She pulled out a skirt and a blouse before going to the dresser for a pair of underwear. "Are you looking for something in particular?" she asked him as she removed her robe.

"Oh uh, I was just looking," he said hastily.

"For?"

"Gaps in your collection. It's my job to fill them."

"It is?"

"Mm-hmm. At least, it isn't anyone else's job."

"Oh. Okay. So, did you find any?" she asked as she put on her skirt.

"Any what?"

"Gaps in my jewelry collection."

"Oh right. Yes. You don't have any rubies. Girls like rubies. Right?"

Rory buttoned her blouse and shrugged. "Sure. If you really want to get me some, I'll wear them."

"You should probably wait to see what I get before you go making promises," Tristan said as he closed the small drawer of the jewelry box.

She furrowed her brows at him. "All right." She went back to her closet to get her shoes. "So, how was your grandfather last night?"

"Good," Tristan answered.

"Was he happy to see you?" Rory asked, prodding for more details.

"Exceptionally."

"Why did he want you over for dinner in the middle of the week?" she asked as they both left the bedroom and headed for the kitchen.

Tristan paused before answering with, "Oh, uh, you know. To talk—about . . . stuff."

Rory took out a travel mug from the cabinet, since Tristan had made coffee when she was in the shower. "Stuff?" she inquired.

"Yeah. Stuff," he answered. He shook his head when she offered him a mug.

"What kind of stuff?"

"Stuff like . . . life. Things in life."

She glanced at him briefly as she poured herself some coffee to go. "Okay, just so you know, you're being weird," she informed him.

"I am not. I'm being normal," he argued.

She put the pot back down and turned the coffee machine off. She shook her head and held her hand up with her thumb and index finger close together. "A little weird."

"Well you're being nosy," he countered.

"Is this new?" she asked.

He shook his head and glanced at the time on the microwave. "I need to get going."

"Already? Do you have a meeting too?"

He shook his head again. "Nope, just an errand to run."

"What kind of errand?"

"There you go again, being nosy."

"What can I say? I'm curious about your life. Your weird, weird life."

"I guess you'd know weird when you see it," he commented.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked indignantly.

"What do you think?"

"I think you're calling me weird."

"You said it, not me," he pointed out. "The last time I said it, you didn't take it very well."

Rory thought back to when that was and felt her face get a little warm. She'd hoped he had forgotten about that by now.

He stepped closer to her. "See you tonight," he said before he gave her a kiss good bye.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

A little while later, Rory was sitting in an office at the Daily News. She was staring across the cluttered desk at her editor.

"Well?" James started, wondering why Rory wanted to meet with him.

"Are you trying to get rid of me?" she asked.

He furrowed his brows. "No."

"Then why did you find me a new job?"

He leaned back in his chair and considered her question. "You seemed unhappy in your position."

"That wasn't the problem. I do like my current position. The problem arose when you tried to give it to someone else."

"Look Rory, I'm not trying to get rid of you. I just thought that you should spread your wings and try something new. And you were right, you can handle more. You can be doing more than the crime beat. You've served your time."

"I'm not arguing about that."

"Okay then. Did you decide whether or not you're taking the job?"

She paused for a moment before answering, "Maybe. There's something I have to do first. And I want to run it by someone."

"Keep me posted. Now get out of here, I need to get upstairs."

Rory did as she was told. She walked out to the sleepy newsroom, passing by her colleagues, who were sipping their morning coffee as they started their day. When she got to her desk, there was a long narrow box waiting for her. She looked over at Marie.

"Were you here when this came for me?" Rory asked.

Marie looked over. "Yeah. It was just a couple minutes ago. A messenger left it. Why, what it is?"

"I don't know," Rory answered with a shake of her head. She thought about the last time someone sent her something via messenger. She sighed and opened the box. There was a single long stemmed rose in it.

"So?" Marie asked.

"It's a rose."

"Oh. The boyfriend sent it then?"

Rory shook her head. "No. It's a dead rose," she elaborated. "Then again, he did run an errand before work this morning."

Marie stood up so she could peer into the box. "Wow. Someone really sent you a dead rose. I think you've officially made it in the journalism world."

"Great," Rory said dryly. She sat down and drummed her fingers on the desk as she wondered what to do. She saw a small note sticking out of the box and took it out to read. It was a handwritten note that read, 'You've been warned'.

Yup, it was another threat, she thought. She picked up her desk phone and dialed.

"DuGrey," Tristan answered.

"Hey. So, I got another one," she told him.

"Another one what?"

"Threat."

"What was it this time?"

"A dead rose. And a note of warning."

Tristan paused briefly before saying, "Okay."

"So," she started, "I guess I'll be reporting this one, like the others."

"I guess so. Thanks for the heads up."

"You're welcome." Rory heard an elevator ding on his end of the line. "So I'll see you in about ten minutes then?"

"Unless I'm faster," he said before he disconnected.

Rory hung up her own phone and drummed her fingers on the desk again. She took her notebook out of her messenger bag and flipped to the page where she'd written down Jeff Levin's account of the robbery. She ripped the page out and went to the second page, where she'd had him repeat his story. She ripped it out as well. She took the two sheets to the copy room and put them through the shredder.

She wasn't tampering with evidence, she reasoned. She knew Jeff wasn't the one leaving her cryptic messages and floral arrangements. Plus, the other two people involved in the robbery didn't know she'd been talking with the person they framed.

When she was finished, she went back to her desk and had a seat. She didn't have to wait long before she saw Tristan glancing around the newsroom. She waved a hand to catch his attention and he walked over.

"Here it is," she said, nodding to the box on her desk.

Tristan opened it and frowned down at the dead flower. He picked up the note and read it. "What time did this come?"

"I don't know. It was delivered when I was talking with Jimmy in his office," Rory answered. "But Marie was here." She turned to her co-worker with raised eyebrows.

"Oh, uh, a messenger brought it in around nine o'clock," Marie supplied. She blushed a little, it was her first time being questioned by the police. She wondered if she should have paid attention to how tall the messenger was.

"Did someone have to sign for it?" he asked.

"I didn't," Marie said quickly.

"The receptionist probably did," Rory said.

He nodded and walked to the lobby. When he returned ten minutes later, he asked, "Did you save the voicemail from the other day?"

"Yes," Rory answered. She picked up her phone and dialed. She punched in her access code and handed the phone to Tristan. She stood up and offered him her chair.

After he listened to the message a few times, he asked, "Do you recognize the voice?"

She shook her head. "No, not since it's muffled."

He wrote down what the caller said and looked up at Rory. "Where's the note from yesterday?"

"The police took it when they came to file the report," she answered.

He nodded. "Then where's the copy you made for yourself before they got here?"

"You don't know me," she said without any conviction.

He stared at her and she stared back. She opened her drawer to take out a couple sheets of paper that were stapled together. It was a copy of the note as well as the envelope that was addressed to her pseudonym. She handed it over and Tristan stuck it in his notebook. She didn't get upset over him taking her copy—she'd made two.

He asked slowly, "Do you have any idea who's giving you all this special attention?"

Rory shrugged. "I'm not one hundred percent sure. But I might have an idea."

He propped his elbows on her desk and pressed his hands together. He sat silently and considered this for a moment. "Do I need a subpoena to see what you've been investigating?"

"No," she answered as she opened her messenger bag. "You have access to all the original police reports anyway." She handed over all of her files. She also included her notebook.

Tristan opened the notebook to peruse her recent interviews. As he read, Rory gave a summary of her week's activities, "I've talked with Derek Crabtree—one of the burglars—and Officer Young's widow, Diane. But the other officer, Douglas Aldred, didn't want to talk."

After a couple minutes of reading, Tristan wrote down all the names Rory mentioned. "You know, the guy who killed that cop escaped from prison," he said before he looked up at her.

So he knew. "Yeah," Rory said. "I read something about that." And if he asked, she'd tell him where to find the guy.

"You don't suppose he's the one upset with you for sniffing around, do you?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. How would he know I've been talking to the other two people involved? He's on the run."

"But maybe his partner-in-crime warned him about you," Tristan countered.

"Maybe," Rory agreed vaguely.

"Have you been assigned this case for a story?" he inquired with a quizzical expression.

"Uh, not exactly."

"Then why are you doing all this research?"

"You know I find stories without being assigned sometimes. Plus, that mysterious source from last week claimed to be Jack Young, and I wanted to find out why he'd do that," she answered. That was why she'd originally started investigating, after all.

"And?"

"And what?"

"What have you come up with?"

"Oh. Well, maybe someone wants to know where Jeff Levin is, so he'll be put back in prison."

Tristan closed his eyes for a moment and shook his head. He opened his eyes and sighed before he stood up. "I'll file a formal report and look into the messenger service," he said. He nodded down at his notebook. "And I'll probably have a chat with these people you've interviewed, if it looks like it was one of them. But right now my bets are on the guy who doesn't want to go back to jail."

He stood and picked up the rose box. He headed out of the newsroom and Rory followed.

"That's it?" she asked with a frown.

"What else am I supposed to do?" he asked as they walked through the lobby. They stopped when they were in front of the elevator.

"You're not going to tell me to stop sniffing around?"

He shook his head. "I can't control what you do at work anymore than you can control what I do."

"Oh."

"But for what it's worth, if I thought it would do any good, I'd advise it." The doors opened and he turned to her. He kissed her on the cheek and whispered in her ear, "See you later."

Rory walked back to her desk and looked at all the papers. Not knowing what to do next as far as the robbery went, she put the files back in her messenger bag. Instead, she decided to work on something she had more control over—her career. She turned to her computer, where she typed in a web address and clicked a few times until she found what she was looking for. She filled out a form and then looked up a contact in her Rolodex. With a number in front of her, she picked up her phone and dialed.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

That afternoon, Tristan was in the precinct, watching as his partner questioned John Bell in an interrogation room. They'd gotten a warrant and made an arrest that day. After about ten minutes, Tristan glanced around the precinct. Someone who'd just walked in caught his attention and he did a double take. Tristan scowled and crossed the room.

"Jeff Levin?" he asked. When the man nodded silently, Tristan steered him over to the holding cell. "You're under arrest for escaping state prison." He went on to Mirandize Jeff, who stated that he understood his rights.

"You threatened the wrong reporter," Tristan informed him after he'd slid the cell door shut.

Freddy, who had been sitting on a bench, stood up with wide eyes and approached Tristan. "Do I get a phone call?" he asked.

"Sure," Tristan answered. "Right after I make one to Sing-Sing." He turned and headed for the captain's office.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

Not long thereafter, Rory walked into the squad room at the precinct. She looked over at the holding cell and Freddy stood up to meet her at the bars.

"What's going on?" she asked with furrowed brows. She glanced to the back of cell and saw Jeff sitting on the bench. Her eyes grew wide. "Oh my God, what's going on?"

"He just walked into the police station a half hour ago," Freddy answered in frustration. "I don't know what he's doing."

Just then, Tristan walked over to Rory.

"You got him," she stated as she pointed at Jeff. "After just a few hours, you got him. I'm really impressed. You're an amazing detective." Her heart was beating rapidly as she looked at Tristan.

"Thanks," he said. "But to be fair, he walked right in."

"Oh," she said with a nod. "Do you know why?"

Tristan shook his head. "Nope. But it doesn't matter. He'll be transported to Rikers before the end of the day and they'll make sure he gets back to Sing-Sing."

"Ah."

"So what are you doing here?" he asked her.

"Uh, I got a call," she answered nervously.

"From who?"

"Freddy."

"What?" he said. He glared into the cell at Freddy. "You called her?"

"Yeah," Freddy answered with a shrug.

Jeff stood up then and walked over to join the other three.

Tristan scowled at Jeff as he addressed Rory, "You don't have to worry about getting any more threats."

"I didn't threaten anyone," Jeff countered.

"Uh, just out of curiosity," Rory started, "why did you suddenly turn yourself in?"

"Because this isn't fair to you guys," he answered.

"What guys?" Tristan asked.

Jeff looked at him and said, "My brother and your girlfriend."

Tristan clenched his jaw and didn't say anything at first. "What girlfriend?" he asked in a steely tone.

"This again?" Freddy asked rhetorically. "What reporter, what girlfriend—she's standing right there," he said exasperatedly, pointing to Rory.

Tristan narrowed his eyes as he slowly looked from Freddy to Jeff. "What are you talking about?"

Rory crossed her arms and averted her gaze. "Tell him your last name, Freddy. Your real last name."

Freddy glanced at Tristan's gun before saying, "I'd rather not."

"Then I will," Jeff said. "It's Levin. He's my brother."

"What the hell is going on?" Tristan asked. He looked at Rory. "Do you know what this is about?"

She sighed and looked up at him. "Freddy was the one calling me last week with tips about your case."

"I know that part."

"And he said he was Jack Young, hoping that I'd find out he's dead."

"He's dead because this guy shot him," Tristan said, nodding at Jeff.

"No he didn't!" Freddy said.

Rory continued, "Freddy and I had a summer class together, so he knew that I'm an investigative reporter. He wanted me to figure out what really happened the night of the robbery—to clear Jeff's name."

"That isn't your job," Tristan said. He looked at Freddy. "That isn't her job."

Rory said, "That's what I told him."

"It's true, she did," Freddy agreed. "She wanted to tell you. So I told her we were sources."

"We?"

"Yeah, we," Freddy said. "Me and Jeff."

"He's been harboring a fugitive," Rory said grimly. "And I've known about it since Saturday." She was blinking back tears. "I didn't like that Freddy was threatening you, and I was pretty sure it was him that was calling me. So I went to confront him."

This was it. This was the end. There was no way Tristan would forgive her for this. She swallowed hard so she could continue with the little defense she had, "I wanted to leave and come tell you. But Freddy said it was all off the record and that they were sources." Tears were falling from her eyes by this point. She felt liberated to have the burden of the secret lifted, but mourned what was surely to come. She looked up at Tristan shamefacedly.

He was silent for a few seconds after her explanation. One of his hands was holding a cell bar. His knuckles were white from gripping it so hard. He turned angry eyes on Freddy. "So you forced her silence by taking advantage of her journalistic integrity?" It was more of a statement than a question.

Still, Freddy nervously answered, "Kind of."

"Don't you want to know why he did it?" Rory asked.

"Obviously to keep his brother out of jail," Tristan answered.

She shook her head. "There's more to it," she said. "Jeff was in the apartment when Courtney Rivers was killed. He knows who did it. And if someone proves he's innocent, he'll tell you who the murderer is."

"Well don't worry about that. We made an arrest today."

"Who?" she asked. "John Bell?"

Tristan nodded before glancing over towards the interrogation rooms. "Speak of the devil."

Rory followed his gaze and saw Stevenson leading a man over to the holding cell. When Bell was deposited behind bars, Mark glanced at the four who were in conversation. "What's up?"

"I'm about to get arrested," she answered. "And probably dumped—all in one." She held up he hands and offered them to Tristan.

"Why?" he asked.

Remembering part of Rory's ramblings from Saturday when she came to confront him, Freddy answered for her, "Because she said you'd be an idiot not to."

Mark looked at his partner. "She got lucky with that one."

Tristan ignored him.

"Do you want him to do it instead?" Rory asked, tilting her head toward Mark.

Tristan put a hand over her two fists and lowered her arms. "You aren't getting arrested. And you'll have to do better than that to get rid of me."

"I'm not getting arrested?" she asked. "But I'm an accomplice, aren't I?"

"Did you help Levin escape from prison?"

"No."

"Did you hide him?"

"No. But I knew where he was and didn't tell you. Doesn't that make me an accessory or something?"

"You're protected by your first amendment rights, you know," Tristan reminded her.

"Really? That covers me?" she asked, not fully convinced of her innocence. "You're sure?"

"Yes," he answered. Then he added, "I'm pretty sure I know your rights better than you."

"But what about being in contempt of court?" she asked.

"You have to be in front of a judge—in court—to be in contempt of court," he pointed out. "And even then, there's direct and indirect contempt. They give you a chance to come clean before they throw you in jail."

"But I was withholding information from the police," she persisted.

"Do you want to go to prison?" Tristan inquired. "You were never questioned."

"She would have told you, if you did question her," Jeff offered in her defense. "She isn't willing to go to jail for me."

"Good to know," Tristan said. He looked back at Rory. "See? You're fine."

"That's it? I'm not in trouble?" she asked. A couple more tears escaped her eyes, but they were happy, relieved tears.

"Nope."

"I'm so glad you're smart," she said with a small smile.

He shrugged. "As a person who's been in hot pursuit of a member of the press for almost two years, I thought it might be a good idea to brush up on first amendment rights."

"Oh," Rory said. She quietly added, "Just always thinking about what might come up."

"So," Mark said. "I still don't really understand what's going on."

Tristan tilted his head toward Freddy. "This guy tried to run things. But everything is cleared up now."

"Except you arrested the wrong guy," Jeff argued. He pointed at John Bell, who had taken a seat at the bench. "He didn't kill Courtney Rivers."

John, hearing his name, chimed in, "That's what I keep telling them."

"How do you know?" Mark asked.

"I live below Erika Hart. I could hear everything," Jeff answered.

Mark frowned and pointed to Freddy. "But I thought he—what?"

Rory sighed and explained the situation again.

"Who did it then?" Mark asked Jeff.

Freddy shook his head at his brother. "Don't say anything."

"Is he a lawyer too?" Mark asked Tristan.

"No," Rory answered. "He's just some sort of evil genius."

Tristan looked at Jeff with his best threatening face. "Tell us who the real murderer is."

"Why should I?" Jeff asked.

"Because you're obstructing justice," Freddy supplied. "At least, that's what I was doing yesterday."

"Fine," Jeff said with a shrug. "Go ahead and press charges. You can add another five years to my life sentence. I don't really have anything to lose here. You're the police, you figure it out. I already turned myself in. I don't have to help you."

Tristan exhaled heavily in frustration as he crossed his arms confrontationally.

Rory timidly said, "I think he was wrongfully accused."

"That isn't my problem," he said. "Or yours."

She considered him for a moment before she went on, "Would you have been okay with going to military school if you hadn't done anything to deserve it?"

"I did deserve it," he argued. "Surely you've read Crime and Punishment."

"But if you hadn't," she continued. "Wouldn't you want to go back to life the way it was?"

Tristan shrugged. "I guess."

"If we figure out who really killed Jack Young, Jeff will tell you who killed Courtney Rivers. The only evidence that says he did is the word of the other two witnesses. I think they're both lying though," Rory said.

"Who do you think did it?" Mark asked her.

Rory hesitated before answering with, "Douglas Aldred. Young's partner."

"This isn't really a good place to accuse a cop," Tristan commented.

She looked at both of the detectives with furrowed brows. "It's your job to uphold the law, but who protects the people if you cross the line?" she asked.

Mark answered, "The suits."

She nodded and looked at Tristan. "So do me a favor. Switch over to the lawyer side of your brain. It's probably more natural for that side to kick in, anyway," she said dryly. "Remember what you said last week when Freddy was claiming to be a cop?"

Tristan shrugged. "What?"

"Police are supposed to be trustable. Wouldn't you rather a jury believe you over a criminal?"

He paused before he grudgingly admitted, "I guess." He turned to Jeff. "You could try to get an appeal."

"But I think I know what happened," Rory cut in. "Doesn't he have to be set free if someone else is guilty?"

"Yes."

"So we just need to prove it was Aldred," she said. "And do it before the Rikers guards get here."

Tristan paused again before sighing and saying, "We don't have very long. Let's take a look at those witness accounts you have." He and Mark headed for their desks and Rory followed.

She put her messenger bag on Tristan's desk and started unloading it. She handed over the police reports and court transcripts for the detectives to read. She also took out her notebook containing interviews, like she had that morning. But before handing it over, she said, "I talked to Jack Young's widow."

"Mm-hmm," Tristan muttered as he looked through all the documents. "You told me that already."

"Yeah, but I left one thing out. She's remarried now. To Douglas Aldred."

Tristan glanced at her, perplexed. "She married her dead husband's partner?"

"Yeah. Would that be a good motive to kill someone?"

"It's a possibility. But then you'd have to prove that it was premeditated."

"Oh. That's true," she admitted. "Either way, he's married to her now. When I tried to talk to him, he said I upset his wife, but that isn't even true. She was willing to talk to me." Rory flipped to the notebook page where she'd made notes about the phone call she eavesdropped on. "Look at this," she said as she handed the notebook over.

"What is it?" Tristan asked as he looked at the information.

"It's a phone call I overheard when I was interviewing Diane Aldred. They've had money disappearing from their bank account. And it's being wired to New Jersey. Derek Crabtree lives in New Jersey now."

"It could be hush money," Mark suggested.

"Or a coincidence," Rory said quickly before Tristan could.

"Right," he agreed. After he'd read through Aldred and Crabtree's accounts of the shooting, he went over to the holding cell and brought Jeff out in cuffs. Tristan sat him down next to the desks and locked him to the chair.

"All right," he said. "Tell us your version of what happened that night." He took a sheet a paper and drew a sketch of the jewelry store. He drew the order of events as Jeff explained what happened. Tristan had him go through it several times. He frowned. "So you were on the same side of the store as Young, but Crabtree and Aldred agree that you took Aldred's gun?"

"Yes."

"But you have no idea who really did it?"

"Right. They said it was me. But I wasn't there, I'd already run out."

Tristan shuffled the papers around his desk to find the picture of Jack Young after he was shot. He concentrated on the photo for a moment before handing it over to Stevenson. "Look how he was shot. What do you think?"

Mark studied the picture. "It looks like the kind of shot they tell us to take at the academy."

Tristan nodded in agreement. He addressed Jeff, "The jury should have let you off on reasonable doubt alone. Who was your attorney?"

"State appointed."

Tristan nodded once. "That makes sense." He sat in thought for a few minutes. "We could go talk to Crabtree, try to get him to crack. He already slipped up on his story."

"We could set him up," Mark suggested. "Tell him Aldred confessed."

"Or," Rory said from her chair at the other end of Tristan's desk.

He turned to her. "Or what?"

"Someone could just talk to Aldred. He's right here in Manhattan. And if he confesses, this can all end."

"Crabtree could corroborate then," Tristan reasoned as he mulled it over.

Mark asked, "Who's going to get Aldred to confess? He'll have his guard up if he knows the police are looking into things. He already fooled the system once."

Tristan leaned back in his chair as he thought about how they should proceed. "I'm okay with sending Freddy in as bait."

"He doesn't talk to people for a living," Rory protested. She was silent for a moment before she said, "I could do it."

"Do what?" Tristan asked, turning to her.

"Get the confession from Aldred," she answered. "I can wear a wire and you guys can listen to the whole thing. You can be right outside, for backup." She liked the idea more as she talked about it.

Tristan shook his head. "No."

"Why not?"

"Because he's probably the one threatening you. And he might have already killed someone. Plus, he's a private investigator."

"So?"

"So, he'll have a gun and obviously knows how to use it," Tristan said. "So, no. Someone else will do it."

"Come on, I know how to talk to people. And I've already tried to talk to him once. I could just try again—in person. It's harder for people to tell me no to my face."

"I'm not having any trouble doing so now. This isn't your job."

"But I did all the work," Rory protested. "I did the investigating. I should be the one to finish it."

Tristan shook his head again. "I said no. It isn't going to happen. I won't let you."

"Why?" she demanded again. "Just because he probably killed one guy?"

"Yes. That's exactly why." He stood up and indicated Jeff should do the same. Tristan led him back to the holding cell.

Rory followed as she continued to argue. "I've talked to murderers before."

"But you haven't gotten them to confess to being a murderer," Tristan countered, heading back to his desk.

"Then tell me how to do it and I'll do it. Just let me," she insisted from a step behind.

"No," he said again. "Murderers are dangerous." They stopped next to his and Mark's desks.

"Oh, I see," she said sarcastically. "You can run around the city doing dangerous stuff like you're some sort of superhero, but Lois Lane has to stay away from the spotlight."

"It isn't about the spotlight. It's about staying alive," Tristan disputed. "I need you to be alive."

She glared at him for a moment before she defiantly said, "You know, Dan Rather interviewed Saddam Hussein. Barbara Walters interviewed Fidel Castro. And Christiane Amanpour interviewed Muammar al-Gaddafi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," Rory said, her voice rising with each journalist she named. "Those were dangerous world leaders. But you think I can't handle some guy who killed one person?"

Tristan inhaled sharply. She may as well have slapped him in the face.

Mark had been watching from his desk. He cringed at her accusation.

Of course she'd bring in Amanpour as her big finish, Tristan thought wryly. He didn't think she was testing him. But still, today would be an unfortunate day to set the wrong precedent.

After a moment, he said, "You're wearing a vest." He went to his desk and started putting the documents back in their files.

"What kind of vest?" she asked.

"The bullet proof kind. You're not going to talk to Aldred without one."

"What?" she asked in surprise. "I get to do it?"

"Well, didn't you steal a boat the last time someone said you couldn't do something?" he asked flatly. It was a rhetorical question. "I don't want to be held responsible for whatever law you break next." He added, "But you're doing it my way, and I say you're wearing a Kevlar vest."

"They make those for the press you know," she said eagerly.

"I've heard," he said. "We need to go brief the captain on all this." He nodded in the direction of the office, indicating Mark and Rory should follow.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

A few hours later, Rory was standing outside of a white police van that was full of audio equipment. They were two blocks away from Douglas Aldred's office in Lower Manhattan. In addition to Tristan and Mark, there were several law enforcement officials around them, getting ready to listen in on Rory's interview and the subsequent arrest—if she was successful.

They'd waited until the end of the work day, hoping that no one would be with Aldred. Someone stationed across the street from his office had just passed along the word that his secretary had left for the day.

As Mark hooked up a wire over the vest Rory was wearing, Tristan was giving her tips. "Watch for a tell—fast blinking, red face, foot tapping—anything that'll indicate that he's lying. When you think you've caught him in a lie, keep pressing him. Don't let up. If all else fails, bluff."

"Does that really work?" she asked.

He nodded. "If you're believable. He'd expect the police to do it. He might be caught off guard if it's coming from a reporter."

"But I'm not a good liar."

Mark said, "He'll be occupied with keeping his own lies straight."

Tristan nodded in agreement.

"Oh. Okay," she said, still unsure.

Mark checked with someone inside the van before turning back to Tristan and Rory. "We're ready," he told them.

Tristan—who had an earpiece and a tiny microphone to communicate with Mark—grabbed Rory's suit jacket, and took her arm to lead her down the sidewalk. Like her, he had his bullet proof vest on, though his wasn't hidden under his clothes.

Rory's heart pounded nervously as they walked toward to the office building. She was becoming more aware of what she was about to do, and was starting to freak out. Why had she insisted on being the one to do this?

When they'd reached the block of the private investigator's office, Tristan pulled Rory to the side, into an empty alley next to the building. He held up her black suit jacket that she'd gone home for. She slid her arms into the sleeves that stopped at her elbows and fastened the single button of the jacket.

She looked up at Tristan and anxiously asked, "Is it noticeable that I have a bullet proof vest under my clothes?"

He ran his hands over her chest and nodded. "Yes."

"I meant does it look like I'm wearing one?" If she wasn't so nervous, she'd have rolled her eyes at him.

He looked at her chest without touching, but nodded again. "Yes."

"Maybe you're the wrong person to ask," she reasoned.

"Probably," he agreed.

She started to fan herself with her hand. "I'm so hot."

"Well, it's August and we're outdoors," he reasoned. Then he tried to joke, "Either that or you're a little conceited."

She shook her head. "I have on too much clothes."

"Normally I'd agree and help you out of it, but that's not an option right now," he said. Perhaps his anxiety for her was causing him to be slightly inappropriate, she thought. Then again, he was really just being himself.

"What am I doing?" she asked desperately.

"You're going to get a confession to put the right person in jail, so the innocent person can have his life back."

"And why do I want to be the person to do this again?"

"Because you like to help people," he reminded her. "For whatever reason, you want to help some guy you don't know. And for whatever reason, you want to help me find the person I'm looking for."

"Oh. Right, that's why," she said. "My mouth is so dry. I should have brought some water. I won't be able to talk."

"You'll be fine. You can do it. Just act like it's a normal interview."

She nodded. "Right, this is normal. It's normal to be wearing a bullet proof vest under my shirt. Can I just ask you one thing?"

"Shoot."

"How do I be brave?"

He furrowed his brows. "Oh, uh, I don't really know."

"What do you mean you don't know?" she asked incredulously.

He shrugged. "I don't know, just don't think about it. It usually helps to not think. Just do," he said in a somewhat redundant manner. "Fake it, if you have to." He reached around her and put a hand at her lower back, pulling her a step closer.

She felt something slide into the back of her skirt. "Now isn't really a good time," she protested, thinking he was trying to feel her up again. "Wait, what is that?" she asked, feeling around to the back of her skirt.

"It'll help with the bravery thing."

"Is it a gun?" she asked in panic-stricken disbelief.

"Relax, it's a girl gun. Call it an early birthday present."

"I don't want a gun for my birthday! And I don't like early birthday presents, I like them on my birthday. Isn't there a waiting period before you can get a firearm?"

"You don't know when I got that for you."

"What? What else do you have waiting for me?"

"Don't worry about that right now. You have to get through this first."

"Is it loaded?"

"What good is it if it isn't loaded?"

"I'd feel better if it wasn't loaded."

"I wouldn't."

"But I don't know what to do with it."

"It's pretty self-explanatory. You just pull the trigger. And it isn't my fault that you don't want to learn how to use one. Just hold onto it. It's effective for crowd control."

"Are you crazy?"

"Possibly. I said you're doing this my way. He's going to have a gun, so I feel a whole lot better with you having something to defend yourself if you need it"

"That's what the backup is for!"

"Just keep it. You don't have to use it."

"Oh my God," she muttered. She did the sign of the cross.

He raised a brow at that.

She shrugged. "It can't hurt. Right?"

"Sure," he agreed with a nod. "You can do it. You know it, I know it, so just go and do it." For all his reassuring words, he still looked pale. He hesitated for a couple seconds before he said, "I love you."

"Don't say it like that."

"Like what?"

"Like it's the last time you'll say it."

"Then make sure it isn't." He pulled her closer to him and kissed her.

When he let her go, she asked, "I can do it?"

He nodded. "You can do it."

She licked her lips and nodded. "Okay." She embraced him one more time and kissed him again.

They let go of each other and Tristan talked into the small microphone he had, "She's going in." He took her by the shoulders and turned her around to face the sidewalk. They walked in front of the office building and Tristan stopped next to a window. "I'll be right out here," he told her.

Rory nodded and took a deep breath as she continued to the door. She felt like she ought to knock, but remembered that this was a business, where anyone could walk in. So she did, and tried to will her heart to slow down when she heard the bell at the top of the door jingle as she entered the office. She immediately felt cool air wash over her. She took another deep breath to calm her nerves.

There was a small waiting area and a desk next to a door. She presumed the door was to Aldred's office. Before she could chicken out and bolt, the office door opened. A man in his late thirties came out to tend to Rory. She smiled a little, in an attempt to appear friendly.

"Can I help you?" Douglas asked.

"Uh, yes, can we talk?"

"Sure, come on in," he said, gesturing toward the office he'd just stepped out of.

Rory followed him and he offered the chair in front of the desk. She was self-conscious about the heavy vest under her shirt. And she felt the gun against the small of her back as she sat down. She really wished it wasn't there. Then again, she supposed they were evenly matched.

"So what can I do for you?" Douglas asked. "Do you need someone investigated?"

"No, I'm actually here to talk to you." She hesitated before saying, "I'm a reporter."

He had been looking at a form on his desk, expecting her to be in need of his services. But at the word reporter, he looked up at her. He slowly looked her over. "The one who called me? Veronica?"

"Yes," she nervously admitted. She hoped he couldn't hear her heart pounding. Surely her bullet proof vest muffled the sound. Here goes nothing, she thought. "I was wondering if you could tell me what happened the night you and Jack Young responded to a robbery six years ago."

"I don't like to talk about that. I already told you. Take a hint and leave it alone."

"I understand. It's just that I found out that Jeff Levin—the guy who shot your partner—escaped from prison six months ago. Did you know?"

Aldred shrugged. "I'd heard something about it."

"Do you know why he would have escaped?"

"I guess he didn't like prison."

"Probably," she agreed. "Do you think there would be any other reason?"

"I don't know."

She was starting to worry that he wouldn't tell her anything. She went on, as gently as she could, "I know you don't like to talk about it, and I'm sure it's a difficult memory, but could you walk me through that night? It can be off the record, I'm just interested."

He sat and thought for a full minute before reluctantly saying, "We were on duty that night and we were driving around. We were in Midtown when we heard something on the radio about a robbery at a jewelry store. We were close, so we responded."

"And what happened when you got there?" she prodded.

"I went in from the street and it was dark—really dark—and there were two guys dressed in black. They were going through the cases and taking the jewelry. Jack, he went around and went through the back door—like they did, to get in. Then one of the burglars—Levin—he uh, he came over by me and tried to get my gun. And we struggled." Aldred's eyes were staring through Rory, not seeing her, but rather the night six years before. "I tried to hold onto my guy, but he got it. And he shot Jack."

Rory paused before asking, "Then he ran out of the store?"

Aldred nodded. "Yeah."

"Did you try to chase after him?"

"I uh—well, he got away. So I made sure the other guy didn't get away too."

"I see," she said. "But Levin says he ran out before any shots were fired. His account claims that he was never close enough to you to take your gun. Do you know why he would have said that?"

"He's a liar. And a thief."

Rory wondered what she should do. He was sticking to his story. She remembered what Tristan told her—don't let the lie go. "So, I'm just trying to figure out how Levin crossed the jewelry store so quickly to get your gun. It doesn't seem like he'd have been able to do it."

"Well that's what happened," Douglas insisted.

"What did Levin do after he shot Jack?"

"He ran out."

"But what did he do with the gun? He didn't have it when the other cop caught him. He surely didn't hand it back to you."

"No. He uh, he dropped it on the floor as he ran out."

"Oh. Okay. But why didn't you chase after him?"

"I wanted to stay with Jack, to see if he was okay."

She quickly fired another question at him, "What about Crabtree? How did you keep him there if you were tending to your partner?"

"I apprehended him first. Then went to Jack."

"I see." Rory sat and thought. She wondered if she could pull off a lie. She sat and considered it for a moment and decided to go a different way. "Did you like Diane when she was still married to Jack?"

Across the desk, Douglas furrowed his brows in confusion. "What?"

Rory nodded. "Did you like her when she was still married to your partner?"

"No."

She pressed on. "Is that why you did it?" she asked, not breaking eye contact. "Were you getting him out of the way, so you could have Diane for yourself?"

He shook his head. "No."

"You must have spent some time with her. Did you have a crush on her?"

"No," he insisted again. She was starting to upset him.

"I'm sure you saw her sometimes. Were you jealous of your partner?"

"No!"

"Maybe you wanted him out of the picture, subconsciously."

"I wasn't trying to steal his wife," he insisted angrily. "He was like a brother!"

"Then why did you shoot him?" she asked quickly.

"It was an accident!" he exclaimed before he could stop himself.

Rory gasped. He admitted it.

He stared forward. "It was dark. There was a movement at the other side of the store and I thought it was Levin. I shot, but it wasn't him. It was Jack." He started shaking his head down at his desk. "I didn't mean to do it. It was an accident."

She thought for half a second. "Why have you been wiring Derek Crabtree money?"

Aldred's eyes widened in shock. "He told you?"

She didn't answer his question. She just raised a brow to prompt him.

"I had to keep him quiet. He's been blackmailing me ever since Levin escaped."

"If it was an accident, why didn't you just tell the truth?"

"I didn't want to go to jail."

"You probably wouldn't have—it wasn't on purpose."

"I panicked! I didn't know what to do. So I said Levin did it. Who'd believe him over me?" he asked.

"I did, when he told me what really happened," she answered. "And now he'll be able to get out of prison."

Aldred shook his head. "No one's going to find out." He reached to his side, but there was nothing there. Instead he opened on of his desk drawers.

Rory stood up, it was time to get out of there.

He found what he was looking for and stood up, too. "Stop."

She froze when he pointed his gun at her. She was too terrified to move—or to hear the bell jingle in the lobby. A second later, Tristan appeared at the doorway. His eyes quickly went from Rory to the gun pointed at her. He instantly tackled her, so they both fell to the floor as Aldred fired a shot that missed them both.

Tristan took his own gun out of its holster and pointed it at Douglas. "Drop your weapon," he demanded forcefully. When Aldred didn't comply immediately, Tristan said, "You won't be able to pay us off. We don't need your money. Put it down."

They could hear the outside door open—more police. Seeing no way out, Aldred lowered his gun. Rory watched as Tristan got up and holstered his gun so he could handcuff and Mirandize him. Tristan passed him off to Stevenson and the other uniformed officers and returned to Rory. She'd gotten up off the floor and was trying—unsuccessfully—to slow her heart down. She couldn't hear anything—the gun shot was had been deafening.

Tristan took her in his arm and she held onto him tightly. She started to cry a little. She couldn't stop the tears from falling or the lump from rising in her throat. She pressed her face into his chest and he stroked her hair and whispered in her ear that it was okay.

"You did it," he said. "I told you, you could do it. You did good."

She pulled away from him and he wiped the tears from her face.

He took her hand and said, "Come on. We have another arrest to make."

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

A little while later, all the police personnel were returning to the third floor of the precinct, with Rory in tow. A couple uniformed officers led Douglas Aldred to an interrogation room to get his formal written confession. Tristan went over to the holding cell and slid the door open. He gestured for Jeff to get up and come over. Freddy did as well. They were both holding in their excitement over seeing Aldred in handcuffs.

Tristan pointed to Jeff. "You owe me a name."

But Jeff shook his head. "No. I owe her a name," he said, pointing at Rory.

Tristan looked over at her and tilted his head in Jeff's direction.

She stepped forward and Jeff held a hand up, to whisper in her ear, as though it was a secret. When she heard the name, she looked perplexed. "Really?" she asked.

Jeff nodded.

"You're sure?"

"Positive."

"Huh." She turned to Tristan and Mark, who were watching the exchange. "You were almost right," she told them. "It was someone who could get in whenever he wanted."

"Let's go," Tristan said.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

The next morning, Rory's alarm went off at the same time it had the day before, and not because she forgot to reset it. Once again, Tristan stopped her from leaving the bed.

"I have a meeting," she told him.

"That was yesterday," he mumbled.

"I have another one," she said tiredly. She wished it wasn't true, they'd been at the precinct half the night. Then she wasn't able to fall asleep due to an adrenaline high. But this was an important meeting. And she was the one to request it, again. So it would be a good idea to be on time.

"What is this one about?" Tristan asked.

"Oh, uh, I'll tell you about it after work, when you're awake," she said, feeling him nuzzle his face—that hadn't been shaved in two days—into the back of her neck.

"I'm awake," he protested.

"No you're not."

"Part of me is."

"I can tell. But that's not the part that processes information."

"Whatever," he said. He didn't let her go as he softly said, "You should talk to someone."

"I said we'll talk after work."

He shook his head. "You should talk to a professional—about yesterday. It was your first time having a gun pointed at you."

"Oh. Okay," she said. She didn't try to move. A minute later, she felt Tristan loosen his hold so she could get up.

She went across the hall to get ready. Similar to the day before, she returned a half hour later to see Tristan up and dressed. This time he wasn't looking through her jewelry box though.

"You're up," she observed.

"Yeah," he said as he sat at the edge of the bed to put on his shoes.

"I thought you'd sleep in a little. You already caught the bad guys. Don't you get reward to yourself with some extra rest?"

He finished tying his shoe and shook his head. "Nope. It just means I have dot all the i's and cross the t's. Plus, I have an errand to run before work."

"That was yesterday," she said. She was in the middle of getting dressed, but stopped suddenly. "Wait, what day is it? Are we stuck in Thursday? Because I'm not sure I can do yesterday a second time."

"Don't worry. It isn't Groundhog's Day," Tristan said. "Today won't be a repeat of yesterday."

"Good, yesterday was pretty big," she reasoned. She zipped the back of her skirt and—thinking of her meeting—muttered, "Then again, today will be big too."

"Yeah, it will be," Tristan said, though he sounded a little unsure of himself.

"Hmm?" Rory asked, as she was distracted by her own thoughts.

He shook his head. "Nothing." He stood up and went over to Rory. He tugged at her hair, which she'd curled. "You look fancy today."

"Yeah. I feel fancy."

He nodded. "Good. It's your day today."

"How?"

"Your phone will be ringing off the hook once word gets out that you successfully obtained a confession yesterday. And played a key role in identifying another murderer. You're going to be a hot commodity today."

"I hadn't even thought about that. People are going to want to interview me. That'll be a switch," she mused.

"Try not to let it go to your head."

"Too late," she said as she smiled slowly. "Oh hey, I'll get to tell Mom and Luke all about it tomorrow night at dinner. That's exciting." Then again, she had two things to share with her mother.

Tristan looked at her with knit brows. "Are you going to Connecticut?"

Rory looked confused at his question. Then she gasped. "They're coming to have dinner with us tomorrow night. Did I forget to tell you?"

He nodded. "Yes."

"I'm sorry. Is that okay?"

He nodded again. "That'll be perfect." Then he thought a moment and frowned. "Or really awkward, depending on how today goes." He shook his head. "No, it'll be okay."

"What?" she asked, having no idea what he was rambling about.

He shook his head and looked back at her. "Nothing."

"I think it is Thursday, you're being weird again."

"Don't worry about it, I'm fine." He checked his watch. "I have to go. I'll see you after work." He kissed her good bye and left the room.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

Later that afternoon, Rory was at her desk, finishing up a telephone conversation. "Thank you for the opportunity, Mr. Hayes. Have a good afternoon, bye," she said before hanging up.

A few minutes later, her cell phone rang from her inside her desk. She pulled it out to answer. "Hello?"

"Hey Rory," Lane said pleasantly.

"Lane, hi. How was the honeymoon do-over?"

"So much better than the original."

"No sex on the beach this time?" Rory inquired.

"None. We learned our lesson. The hotel was amazing, the tropical weather was beautiful. And it wasn't bad to only be responsible for ourselves for a week."

"I'm glad you had such a good time," Rory said with a smile. And it gave her an idea. A well deserved idea.

"How were the boys last weekend?" Lane asked. "They didn't give you any trouble, did they?"

"Of course not. They were great," Rory answered.

"Good," Lane said. "I do have one question for you though."

"What's that?"

"Do you have a couple kids hidden down there in New York?"

"What? No. Why?" Rory asked.

"Steve was showing me this picture of you with a couple kids."

"Oh. He showed you?" Rory asked, remembering the drawing. "He drew that—all on his own."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive."

"Because he said you want a girl."

Rory blushed. "That—it was—so I," she stuttered. "I just thought it looked . . . more even."

"Sure," Lane said dubiously.

Just then, Kyle and some reporters from various sections of the paper approached Rory.

"Hey, Lane, I need to go," she said.

"Okay. I'll see you next time you come home. And thanks again," Lane said before they hung up.

Rory looked up at her colleagues. "Can I help you?"

"Will you tell us what happened yesterday?" Kyle asked.

"You've already heard it—twice," she reminded him.

"But these guys haven't," he said, indicating the group of reporters.

Rory sighed. "Fine." She'd lost count of how many times she told the story. She'd have to add in the reporters from four other newspapers who'd called to calculate the grand total. She started the story from the beginning, when Freddy had called Kyle the previous week.

"Whoa," someone said, impressed with her role in getting the confession.

"So then Levin told you who killed Courtney Rivers?" Kyle asked.

She nodded. "Yes. It turns out, the landlord—Edward Waters—was one of the guys Courtney was sleeping with. He wasn't paying though, because she wanted to keep him placated about using Erika Hart's apartment."

"So he was the one who killed her?" a reporter from Entertainment asked.

"Yes. He was in Freddy and Jeff's apartment to fix a leaky faucet. And when he was there, he could hear Courtney upstairs on the phone with John Bell. Jeff said Waters looked really angry when he heard her talking. Apparently, he thought she just needed a place to stay. He didn't know she was sleeping with a bunch of guys," Rory explained. "So he left the leaky faucet and went upstairs. Remember, Jeff could hear Waters up there. He confronted her about all the guys and she tried to calm him down. He went along with it and asked if he could tie her up."

"Then he smothered her," Kyle told the others.

Rory nodded. "And poured alcohol around the bed to ignite a fire. Then he took the stolen key from the kitchen table on his way out and went down to his office. He waited about fifteen minutes before he called the fire department."

"Wow," one of her co-workers said. Since the story was finished, they thanked her for telling it and went back to their own desks.

"You must feel like Dumbledore today," Marie commented when it was just the two of them again.

Rory turned to her. "Why?"

"You know, when he tells Harry why everything happened at the end of the book."

"Oh. Yeah, I guess that is how I feel about now."

Rory's phone rang and she sighed. "Newsroom," she answered.

"Hey Rory, it's Freddy."

"How's it going?"

"Not too bad. Except our phone hasn't stopped ringing today."

"Neither has mine."

"Everybody wants Jeff's story, but he said you get first dibs."

"I should say so."

"I was thinking about it," Freddy said contemplatively.

"Oh dear."

"And I think you should write a book about the whole thing."

"Is that right?"

"Yeah, and then you should option it for a movie."

"Hmm, I don't know," she said doubtfully. "You sound a little like my mother."

"Of course," Freddy continued, "Hollywood will probably want a love story. So I suppose my character and your character could get together at the end of the movie."

Rory snorted. "What? I don't think so," she protested with a laugh.

"Fine, I guess your reporter character could end up with the detective. But they'd probably have to meet at the beginning of the movie—at the first crime scene."

"Gee, I don't know. That's kind of a stretch for us," she said dryly.

"Why, where did you guys really meet?"

Rory paused for a beat before answering, "At a crime scene."

"You're right, that is a stretch."

"To be fair, it isn't where we met originally." Rory looked up and saw her editor not too far away. She waved to get his attention. She held her hand over the receiver of the phone. "Do you have some time to talk about something?" she asked James.

He nodded. "Yeah. Come to my office."

Rory returned to her telephone conversation. "Hey Freddy, I have to go. I'll be in touch."

"Okay, bye," he said before they both hung up.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

Meanwhile, Tristan was at his desk. He kept alternately glancing at the clock on the wall and his watch every minute or two. There was paperwork on his desk, but it was being neglected.

"You seem a little anxious," Mark observed.

Tristan looked over at him and shook his head. "No I'm not."

"Okay. But I'm ninety percent sure that's how my dog looks when he's waiting for me to get home at the end of the day."

"Whatever," Tristan muttered. He checked his watch again. "It's five, I'm out of here." He stood and picked up his suit jacket from the back of his chair. Before he continued on his way, he paused by Mark's desk. "If you ever kill me on accident, you don't get to marry Rory."

Mark raised a brow, thinking that he really didn't want to anyway, as Tristan walked out of the squad room.

Captain Meyer approached their work area then. "DuGrey still does the paperwork for your cases, doesn't he?"

Stevenson smiled, somewhat smugly, and answered, "Yeah, but only until he passes me in seniority."

"Is he finished with the report for Courtney Rivers?" Meyer asked.

Mark reached across the desks to grab the form sitting on Tristan's desk and frowned at what he saw. "No. He hasn't even started."

"And he already left?"

He looked back up and nodded. "He seemed determined, too. I'll do this for him."

NNNNNNNNNNNNNN

"You're sure you're happy with your decision?" James asked as he leaned back in his swivel chair.

Rory was sitting on the other side of his desk. She smiled and nodded. "Yes."

James shook his head. "I can't say I'm not a little disappointed."

"You knew you would be when you went out of your way to find me an editor job," she reminded him.

"That's true. So it's my own fault."

"Yup," she agreed. "Are you going to have someone to take my place in September?" she asked.

James furrowed his brows. "I have no choice."

"I do feel a little guilty about that."

"Don't worry, I have this feeling that Kyle will be perfect."

Rory pursed her lips ruefully. "A feeling?"

He nodded and smirked. "Call it a hunch."

"Well in that case, I don't feel guilty," she said as she stood up. "Do you need anything from me before I leave for the day?"

James nodded. "Nope. You've had a long week. Go celebrate all your accomplishments."

"I just might," she said as she left the office.

She proceeded out of the newsroom, only stopping briefly at her desk to grab her purse. She wanted to sneak out undetected, before someone else asked her about her heroics from the previous day. When she walked out of the building, she was met with heat from the bright sun. She saw Tristan waiting for her next to his car. She felt light as she walked down to meet him.

"No coffee today?"

He shook his head. "I don't have anything to apologize for."

"True. But don't I deserve a reward for yesterday?"

"I'll see what I can do." He opened the passenger side door. "Let's go."

Rory got in and Tristan walked around to his side. After they had their seat belts on, he pulled away from the curb and headed north.

"Oh man, I had to repeat the story of what happened yesterday at least ten times," she said enthusiastically. "I'm not going to lie, they think I'm pretty cool now. Even Kyle. He just might think I'm more awesome than you."

"More?"

Rory smiled. "Maybe. At least equal to. Does it always feel like this after you catch the bad guys? Because I could get used to it. Today was crazy," she chattered.

"I knew you'd get a lot of attention."

"You were right." Rory was so engrossed in going over the day's events, she barely noticed that Tristan wasn't driving them home—either of their homes. When he parked, she looked around and asked, "Central Park?"

"Yeah. I thought we'd take a walk," he explained.

"But you don't like Central Park."

"It's not so bad. I only had to chase down that one mugger last week. It can be nice," he said as they took off their seat belts. "Besides, we like New York. What's more New York than taking a stroll through Central Park?"

"Being the victim of the mugger?" Rory jokingly answered. "We could go to one of the quiet areas though. Like Bethesda Fountain," she suggested.

"That seems a little cliché. But that's all right. Yeah, you should pick the place."

"What?"

"Nothing, let's go."

Tristan started to remove his gun, but Rory stopped him. "Maybe you should keep that. Just in case."

"Yeah, good idea," he said as they started to get out. Before shutting the door, he reached for a Cracker Jack box from under his seat. He walked around the car and took Rory's hand as they started down the sidewalk.

"Ooh, I wonder what's playing at Delacorte Theater. Maybe it's Romeo and Juliet. You could finally see how it ends," she said with a grin. "That could be fun."

Tristan knew how it ended. "More like a bad omen," he muttered.

Rory knit her brows and looked down at their hands. "It's like a hundred degrees out here. How is your hand so cold?"

"What? Oh, is it? I hadn't noticed," he said hastily. A second later they heard a car alarm going off about a hundred yards away.

"Uh-oh. I doubt that guy over there locked his keys in his car," she said. "I can wait if you want to go have a chat with him."

He looked across the park to the car. There was a loud noise as the guy worked on the lock. Tristan turned back to Rory and shook his head. "I can ignore it," he insisted, as they continued to walk. "So what's the deal with all the meetings this week?"

"Well, after I made such a big deal about covering your case by myself the other week, Jimmy took it upon himself to talk with some of his editor friends. I was offered a job. As editor of the News section at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal."

"Spartanburg?"

She nodded. "South Carolina."

"Oh . . . well—there's nothing like southern hospitality."

"It was so out of the blue. I had no idea Jimmy was going to set that up for me. I mean, I'm flattered, but I wasn't expecting it at all. I definitely didn't ask him to do it," Rory explained. "They want an answer by Monday. So I—oh!—"

"Whoops—"

They both stumbled, but Tristan caught Rory before they fell to the ground.

"Oh, your shoe's untied," she said, stating the obvious and laughing a little at their near fall. "I'll hold that while you tie it."

Tristan didn't react quickly enough as Rory took the Cracker Jack box from his hand. His eyes grew wide with panic when she heard something rattle at the bottom of the box.

She frowned. "I think you got ripped off." She opened the box and squinted as she tried to see what was inside.

Tristan opened his mouth to say something, but he was rendered speechless as she turned the box upside down and a ring fell into her hand. It was not plastic. Rory inhaled sharply and Tristan froze. The white gold band had a diamond sitting between two rubies. The jewels sparkled in the bright sunlight.

"Oh," she breathed, her eyes wide. "They—they've really stepped up the quality of their prizes, haven't they?" She lifted her gaze to meet his then.

"It was my grandmother's," he explained, his eyes were glued to her face. "I lied the other day. Grandpa didn't ask me to go to Hartford. I went on my own . . . because I wanted to get that." He tilted his head toward her hand.

"It's really beautiful," she said in a small voice as she looked back down at the ring.

Tristan nodded in agreement. "He had it made for her—a long time ago. That's why it has rubies. It was her birthstone."

"Oh."

"I uh—I want you to have it," he said slowly.

"You do?" Rory asked, glancing at him again.

"Yeah. I think it would look pretty on you."

"Oh." She let the ring fall back into the box and started to close it back up.

Tristan went on hurriedly. "But I can put it away for now—or forever—if it would get in the way of other things that you have to do—or want to do—because you should definitely do those things. That would be okay. I mean, I would be okay with that," he rambled. "You're the star, not me. I pretend to be, mostly because it's fun. But you're the one with places to go," he said. He continued in earnest, "I could be your home, though—wherever you want home to be."

Tristan's heart was beating as fast as it would have if he'd just chased down a suspect. In fact, he wished there was one he could chase right now. It would be easier than what he was doing—or trying to do.

Frustrated with himself, he put his hands at his waist, and then he continued, "Rory."

"What?"

"You can do better."

"Better than what?"

"Than me."

"I can?"

He nodded. "Easily. But it's too late now, because you're staying with me." He closed his eyes for a second and gave his head a quick shake. "I mean—I'm staying with you. I'm pathetic, not stupid—well, I'm a little stupid," he said, digressing slightly. "You're just . . . I mean, I wanted—but you don't have—," he stammered.

He looked up to the sky desperately and restlessly put his hands behind his head. "This is coming out worse than before," he muttered to himself. "And that was really bad."

"Tristan," Rory said.

He looked back at her and let his arms down. "What? Good, you're stopping me. Good idea. You can probably express yourself coherently."

"Your shoe is still untied," she reminded him.

He'd hoped her input would have been more meaningful. Confused, he glanced down at his shoe and then back to Rory. "Oh. Yeah."

He momentarily held her gaze before slowly kneeling down in front of her to tie it. His hands fumbled a bit and it took longer than it should have. When he finished, he didn't get up. He took the box from Rory. He could barely feel his hands. They were tingly. And his mouth had gone dry.

"There wasn't a box," he explained. "I was trying to make up for last week—or be clever—or something." He shook his head a little and muttered, "I'm the weird one."

He sat the box down and gazed at the ring. He reached over to take Rory's left hand in his—which was now a little clammy as well as cold. He kissed the back of her hand and rested his rough cheek against it for a moment. He looked out over the park, no longer registering the carjacking as he gathered his courage. He looked back at her hand and pensively caressed her ring finger gently with his thumb.

He cleared his throat and licked his lips before he spoke. "You should—I want you to think about it," he said. He resolutely let out a breath before he lifted his head to look her in the eye.

"Will you marry me?"

Fin