Written in a fit of inspiration (cough drunkenness, at least on Cendi's part cough). Apologies if it's a touch... weird.
Beta'd by Mintasmafuckingorical.
See The Cradle?
by Incendiarist and Shrrgnien
There's a comfortable quiet in the little flat. The cats are suspiciously missing, though the faint jingle of a bell being rolled across carpet suggests that Joseph isn't quite ready for his catnap just yet. The only other sound is the gentle hiss of running water and, if one were to listen very carefully, the occasional tiny rustle of a quietly turned page.
"Chris? Can you get the door?"
"No," she shoots back, setting aside her book. "I thought I'd make you get it."
Most locks click; this one thunks slightly (living with a homicide detective tended to do that to your home security) and the hinges of the door squeak a bit.
"Hi there!" The cheeriness of the statement is matched only by the dazzling smile. "My name's John Greenwood, this is my wife Annie—we live right next door." This is illustrated with polite pointing.
"Christine Hale, it's nice to meet you. Sorry we haven't made our introductions yet, we've been kind of busy."
"No, no, we understand!" Annie is just as friendly as her husband. "We wanted to welcome you to the neighbourhood. And, since I'm sure you two are tired from unpacking all day..."
"Oh! Um... thank you, this looks delicious!"
"Annie's casseroles are the best you'll ever find!" This is, perhaps, no great mastery, but John seems inordinately proud of it.
Apparently, so does Annie, as she has expectantly yet to relinquish said casserole.
"...would you like to come inside?"
"Oh, we should hate to be in the way..."
Sigh. "No, not at all, make yourself at home. We got most of the paper off the couch... I'd offer you a drink, but the only thing we have is tap water and we haven't found the cups yet."
Leather sofas make noise. Leather sofas partially wrapped in heavy brown paper make an ungodly amount of noise.
"So, Christine." Impressive. He can use the Teacher Voice. "Where are you two from?"
"Well, Philidelphia, originally, but we came here from Raleigh."
"Oh, the Carolinas are beautiful. We went near there on vacation one year, remember?"
John nods amicably. "So what brings you here? That's a bit of a long move."
"My job, mostly. Teachers are being laid off everywhere, but this is a solid position, and the police can almost always use one more."
"Your husband's a police officer!" John is approving. "Good man, good man. And are you—"
"Oh—no. Not my husband. That is, we're not married."
"Oh! Well. We just assumed when you mentioned—"
"I mean, we've been together for... ten and a half years, now. We think of ourselves as married, we've had a civil partnership for several years until we can—"
"But that could never replace a real church wedding! We've always felt you're not really married until you're married in the eyes of God."
A tight smile. "We value marriage very highly, sir. Believe me. We're just not able to be married right now. I'm sure that circumstances will get better soon."
John gives a fatherly smile. "I see. Well. You know, the Lord tells us to be good neighbours to those in need. It might not be anything fancy, but I'm sure something could be arranged. No one should have to put off their wedding just for money problems."
"I agree. It's not money problems, though, thank you."
"Well—I don't mean to pry, but what's keeping you? If there's anything we can do to help—"
"The government. So unless you're up for holding the House of Representatives for ransom..."
"Please. The only people who care about politicians have already paid enough money for them."
"What?" A garish pink towel emblazoned (naturally) with kittens is wrapped more securely around dirty-blonde hair. "Where'd you hear about that shit anyway?" A stern look. "You've been watching Fox News again, haven't you."
The cough is most assuredly innocent in origin. Moving raises dust, after all. "A-hem. Ally, this is John and Annie Greenwood, they live on our left. Annie made us a casserole."
"And John's going to help bring down Washington, apparently. Alice Quinn; nice to meet you both."
"Nice to meet you, too, Ms. Quinn. We were just discussing Christine's fiancé."
"Christine has a fiancé?"
"You didn't know? I'm terribly sorry. She was just telling us about him, I assumed it was a public relationship!"
"All right. All right. This has gone far enough. Chris, either you and I need to have a very serious discussion..."
"Right. Mr. and Mrs. Greenwood, allow me to reintroduce myself." A sudden tension in the air. "Detective Alice Quinn, formerly of the Raleigh Police Department, joining the Chicago squad on Saturday. Prevented by laws we expect to change in a manner of years from marrying the woman I love, a situation I assure you is out of your hands."
Stares. Incredulity mixed with disgust they don't bother to hide.
"They don't seem to like your fiancé much anymore, Chris. Is it the pink? This is the only towel I could find."
Chris plays with her cross pendant anxiously, and John notices it.
"I was Catholic."
"But then how—I'm sorry, but how could you turn away from God like this? Don't you realize this... relationship is a sin? Just look at 1 Corinthians—'the sexually immoral, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive,and swindlers will not'-"
"If you're going to offer to pray away the gay, don't bother." Christine can do the Teacher Voice too, and she can do it better. She rubs the light silver cross like a talisman, voice cold. "My parents already tried that. It didn't work."
"...just the verbally abusive...?"
"And I definitely don't recall anything from Sunday School about throwing your only daughter out of the house on her birthday with barely enough time to pack a suitcase. As for verbally abusive," she continues coldly, ignoring Ally's incredulous confusion, "you don't know the half of what my parents said to me when they found out and you never will. If we're talking morality, the Quinns took me in when no one else would. I spent most of my senior year of high school sleeping on their couch. Ever heard—no, never mind. You wouldn't know a good Samaritan if he spit in your face."
John leans forward slightly, hands folded in his lap. "I'm sorry to hear that." His voice is low and fervent. "I understand that you're bitter at your parents. What they did was wrong; you should never give up on your child or the grace of God. But you can't let that bitterness eat away at you and keep you from turning back to Him. I can see you still have faith—if you trust in God, He can help you, He can cure you of this misguidance and you can be happy again, living the way He meant us to."
There are no words.
The paper-wrapped couch creaks awkwardly.
"...for what it's worth, I'm agnostic."
"Mary, give the sock back."
"Mary, so help me I will cut your tuna for a month!"
"I don't care if you are expecting, I will. Now—don't you lick yourself at me!"
"I'm under the bed!"
"Wrong side, then!"
"I'm on it, Sock Patrol."
"Good afternoon, Alice. Is the moving going well?"
"...John. Everything's fine, thanks for asking. Ah... how's Annie? We still have her casserole dish, I was going to bring it over this afternoon."
"Oh, no!" If he was any jollier he'd be making toys in the North Pole. "No, it was a gift! Please, keep it."
"We didn't contaminate it, you know, but thanks anyway. So... sorry, I don't think we've met."
"My name's Zachary Thompson, ma'am. My brother-in-law's told me about you and your... friend, and—"
"We'd like to talk to you, if you have the time."
"Nice pamphlets. You used the wrong form of 'your', though. Trust me. I live with a grade-school teacher."
A brief moment of disorientation. He's wise enough to put the pamphlets away. "Please understand, we are not trying to attack you; God loves all His children, including you, but if you continue to embrace this path of sin, you reject His teachings and distance yourself from Him, and you'll never achieve salvation."
"I achieve salvation every time I look at her. Don't you dare tell me I don't know what heaven's like."
"I love you too."
"Do you love her?"
"Annie? What do you—"
"I mean it. Do you love her?"
"...who, Chris? 'Course I do. That's what I've been trying to tell you."
"Then why are you doing this to her?"
"...doing what, buying lasagna?"
"By tempting her to think the way you do, you're pulling her away from God. You know she still has faith, she wears a symbol of it every day—"
"Maybe she's just fond of painful methods of execution?"
"—and even though you don't believe in the truth, why do you make her doubt? If you love her as much as you claim, why are you dragging her innocent soul down with you? You should let her return to her faith, and you could find solace in it as well. It's just the truth, Alice—everyone needs to know God to be truly happy!"
"...you know what?" Subdued. "You're... you're right."
The glow could blind. "Oh, Alice! I'm so happy you've seen it! Listen to me; I know this is hard for you and I want you to know—"
"Yeah. Lasagna-in-a-box is cruel. I'll get the actual noodles and make it myself."
"Ten bucks says it's Annie again."
"John. I'll raise you cleaning the litterbox."
"Good afternoon, ma'am."
"...hey. Zachary, right?"
Somewhere in the background, Ally overhears. "Dammit!"
Chris ignores this.
"Hello, ma'am. If you have a moment, I'd like to share the Good News of—"
"Oh! Damn. You know, I'd love to hear all about it, but I think my salad is burning."
"Ms. Quinn, we want to talk to you. Have you found Jesus?"
"Funny you should ask. Hey, do you know how to get the blood stains out of a white sheet?"
"Oh, thanks for asking! Yeah, turned out the little guy was just hiding under the fridge. Jesus! Here, kitty, kitty!"
"Good afternoon, Alice. Do you have God in your life?"
"No, but I have a sexy girlfriend."
"Have a nice time?"
"If I never have to use a stapler again, it'll be too soon. I forgot how much work it is setting up a classroom!"
"On the bright side, I fixed the doorbell."
"...it was broken?"
"Well. Sort of. It was boring, at least. Did you know electronic doorbells can be programmed to play pretty much anything? Go ahead, press it. Go on."
Electronic doorbells can, in fact, be programmed to play pretty much anything.
"That's... that's the Imperial March."
Ding ding ding dong ding-dong dong ding-dong...
"Chris! Vader at the door!"
A squeak of hinges.
"Oh, hello, Annie."
"Christine! I'd hoped you would answer the door!"
"Yes. This—" she gestures to the woman next to her "—is Emily. She used to be like you, until she saw the Light. Go on, Emily, why don't you share?"
"You don't need to say anything, Emily, I'm happy for you."
"Questioning your sexuality is... unpleasant. I'm glad you finally realized you were straight. No one should try to repress their sexuality."
"Have you found Jesus?"
"Yes, he was delicious."
"If you tried really hard, you could probably fit more paper onto that table."
"Luckily for you, I don't love you for your stand-up comedy routine."
"Hey, I told you that 'what-I-did-over-the-summer' thing would come back and bite you on the ass."
"I would be finished by now if someone hadn't made me drop the papers everywhere. Do you know how hard it is to match up papers from third-grade stories? All the handwriting looks the same!"
"Hey, that last stair wasn't there yesterday, I swear! Anyway, that one's pretty unique."
"Chris. Be nice. Just because it's a bit... illegible..."
"Ally, it would take a forensics team to decipher this."
"Want me to send it off? I can get it back within three weeks. A month, tops."
"...tempting, but no. Just help me match papers."
"Er. You know, I'm not really qualified..."
The glare could commit murder. Which would be sad, because then there would be no one to investigate it.
"...er, this one has a pink border."
"And look, this kid loops all his y's."
"You're right, I never noticed that! Er... This one, here, I think it matches..."
"Hey, Ally! These guys are saying Jesus is still missing!"
"You're kidding! Still?" She clicks her tongue. "You really ought to file a Missing Persons report, you know."
Knock knock knock-knock knock...
"Chris, that was terrible."
"I know, I know."
The Greenwoods' hinges have all the oil they need.
"Alice! Christine! What a pleasant surprise! What brings you here? Anything we can help you with, perhaps?"
"Maybe. Would you be interested in a free kitten? Mary's litter is too big for us to keep them all and we don't want to just take them to the shelter, that would be irresponsible. Here, Chris has got them, one sec..."
"Oooph. Careful, they're wriggly... We have James, he's the one with the stripes; Luke's the really light one, get it? And then Judas, he's the teensy one. Runt of the litter; we were worried about him for a while but he's grown up well."
"They're all healthy, we got them checked up at the vet—even Judas doesn't have any health problems, just smallness. He needs somewhere special."
"You... named your cats after the Disciples?"
"Well... it's kind of embarrassing, really. When we got Mary from the shelter, she already had a name, and then when a stray tom started hanging around our house, it only seemed fair to name him Joseph, and then of course we had to name the new kitten Jesus, and then Mary and Joseph just had kittens, so we sort of decided to keep the theme naming. Um, Ally?"
"Got him." A striped kitten is carefully removed from Christine's head, and while John still looks mildly disapproving he can't help but smile.
"Oh, hey, John. Is everything alright with James?"
"Hello, Christine. Yes, he's fine. He's taken to Annie quite wonderfully. But I came here for more... personal reasons. Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?"
"Did he send in an application? Hey, Ally, who'd we end up accepting, anyway?"
"Er, Hastur," says Ally, flipping through files. "He had a great resumé."
"I don't remember. What does he look like?"
"You know that when you introduce me as your partner, everyone is thinking 'damn, that's one butt-ugly butch', right?"
"'s not my fault your parents thought 'Kelly' was totally a boy's name. And what am I supposed to call you, anyway? My 'coworker'?"
"That works. Or 'associate', but that sort of makes it sound like we're Batman villains. God, Ally, you can call me your sidekick if you want!"
"Hey, Kel? Can I call the new kid my sidekick?"
"The second you're not the new kid, sure."
"Oh. It's you. It's been a loooong time. How have you been?"
"I've... been fine. Listen, Christine, are you feeling alright? You sound... odd."
"I think we should put our differences behind us. For science. You monster."
"Do you have God in your life?"
"Why? Is He missing?"
Chris glances up sharply. "What is it?"
"Nothing." A lazy smile. "You're beautiful."
If she blushes, the light from her single lamp hides it well. "Flatterer."
"Mmm. I mean it, though." Warm eyes, all their attention focused on her. "Wish I had a camera..."
"Guilty as charged." The leather creaks as Ally stands. Papers rustle as they're placed on the coffee table. Another creak. "So whatchya workin' on?"
"Spelling tests. I can... almost read their handwriting now..."
"Mmm. 's good."
"That's very... you're distract... ing..."
"Am I? Oops."
"Give me my pen back, Ally."
"Come and get it."
"I'm very, very sorry I stole your pen."
"Really. I am."
"You ooze sincerity, love."
"I can make it up to you, if you like..."
"If you make it up to me any more I'll never get these tests graded."
Ally's grin prompts a rare use of the Teacher Look outside of a classroom.
"That would be a bad thing, Ally."
It's a terrible thing. But neither of them end up minding much.
"Have you found Jesus?"
"Does this rag smell like chloroform to you?"
"Do you have—"
"PUZZLE HIPPO SWEATER VEST! RABBIT BUBBLES!"
"...what the hell?"
"Don't knock what works, Ms. Quinn."
"Huh. That does work!"
They still haven't oiled those hinges.
"You wouldn't believe the traffic... Chris? …hon? What's wrong?"
"They didn't tell you? That's... good, that's good."
"Didn't tell me what? What's wrong, Chris?"
"Jésus Martinez didn't show today. His parents don't know where he is."
"...oh. Oh god. One of your kids?"
"Yeah. They said he left this morning, but he never showed up to school."
"We'll find him, Chris. I'm sure we will. There'll be an Amber Alert, and they'll have it on the news, I'm sure someone'll call in."
"I was watching the news, they did a quick little thing... he's nine years old, Ally!"
"I know. Sweetheart, I know. With any luck he was just skipping. Kids do that sometimes..."
A sigh. "I'm not fooling you, am I?"
"Not at all." She swallows thickly. "Ally..."
"Ally, the kids on these alerts... they don't come back!"
Chris is the taller of the two, but times like this she seems tiny, folding willingly into Ally, nuzzling closer, and Ally has never felt quite so helpless.
"Sometimes they do." It's all the comfort she can offer. "Sometimes we find them."
The call is no different than any other.
"Chicago PD 39th, Homicide Unit, this is Det. Kelly McIntyre."
"All right, sir. Calm down. Have you checked for a pulse?"
A longer pause.
"...I see. I'm sorry. Can you tell me your location?"
Shorter this time.
"Gotcha." He scribbles down an address. "We'll be there shortly. Please don't leave or move the body."
"This is disgusting."
"It's a sewer, Ally."
"Which is why it's disgusting. Where are we going, sir?"
"It's not much further now, ma'am."
"Oh, good. Thank you for leading us here, by the way. It makes our job easier."
"Yes, Kel. It's a sewer."
"...hey. Ally. Deep breath... no, on second thought, don't. But calm down, huh? We've done this before, kid."
"I am calm."
"Like hell you are."
"Leave it, Kel. Just leave it."
Light from ahead. Subdued voices call half-hearted greetings, clustered around a filthy mound.
Everyone at the station's seen the pictures.
"Oh, shit, Ally... Aw, hell..."
"Oh god. God. Oh, Chris. Kel..."
"... Kel, what are we going to tell them?"
Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing. Riiiiiiiiii—
"Hey. Chris. It's me."
"Yeah. Look. I can't come home tonight, okay? We... we've had a... break in a case, they need me to stick around and help put some pieces together. Sorry. It's Friday, right?"
"Okay. I'll see you tomorrow, then?"
"I love you."
"Love you too."
It's been fifteen minutes since papers stopped rustling. The fluorescent lights started hurting at around midnight, and they're steadily running out of lackeys to send on coffee runs.
"...this doesn't make any sense."
"It never does."
"No, I mean this really doesn't make sense, Kel. There's no motive. No sign of sexual assault, he even still had money in his pocket. Nobody was after him, as far as we know, nobody had even threatened him..."
"Have we ruled out gang activity." It's an inflectionless statement.
"It's Chicago, we can never rule out gang activity. But if that's it, they're an awfully quiet gang."
"Suicide. Yeah. He killed himself and then hid his body in the sewer goddammit there's nothing. You're right, this makes no sense. There's no connections here to anything."
The coffee is terrible.
"...it makes no sense..."
A quiet squeak. A pause. Another squeak as the door closes behind her.
Something sizzles gently in the kitchen. She always did like to cook, when she was nervous...
"Hey." Has Chris always been this beautiful? Did she sleep at all last night? "Welcome home... Ally, you look awful, what happened?"
"Group of workers found his body."
She smells like cinnamon. Ally can't bear to meet her eyes.
"I thought you said it was an old case you were working on... Ally, what do you mean his?"
It's the fear in her voice. She has to look up.
"Jésus Martinez. They found him."
You're an ass, Alice Quinn. You could probably tell her a little less gently if you tried hard enough.
"...no. Oh, god... oh, no..."
"Chris, I'm sorry, we did everything we could."
"I—oh, Ally, no, it's not your fault, I just..."
"I know, sweetheart. I know."
"No. No, you don't. Ally, you don't understand, I know that kid, I saw him every day, I stayed after school with him on Wednesdays, he always struggled with math but he was getting better, and he was so excited for the science test last Thursday because he was sure he was going to pass, and... and... oh, god!"
And she sobs, falls to pieces in Ally's arms, giving all the low, horrible keens that Ally had hoped she would never, ever have cause make again; she holds her as close as she can, rubbing gentle circles on her back, whispering into her ear.
"I'm here, I'm here... easy, love... it's going to be alright..."
The Imperial March chimes in the living room. She ignores it.
"Shh... easy... easy... it was very fast, Chris, he wouldn't have felt any pain. I doubt he even had time to be scared... I know, I know, it doesn't make it any better but it's true, and it could have been so much worse..."
Ding ding ding dong ding-dong dong ding-dong...
Enough is enough.
"Chris. Chris, breathe, okay? Can you do that for me? That's it..." She lets go reluctantly, crossing over and snapping the stove dial to off before they catch the house on fire as well as burning what looked to have once been an amazing omelette. "Now wait here, okay? This won't take long."
This won't take long at all.
"Good afternoon, Alice. Have you heard the Good News of Jesus—"
"You call this good news?"
Something in her voice makes John shut up.
"You want to hear news about Jésus?They found his body yesterday afternoon, dumped in a sewer. Someone shot him through the head walking to school and dumped him down a manhole and we have no fucking idea who did it or why. I've been up all night trying to figure it out and the only thing we know is that we have literally no way to link his murder back to whoever did it, which means that unless we get some damn good eyewitness accounts the bastard's going to get off. He was nine years old, in third grade at Meadowlawn Elementary. Do you know who teaches that class?"
"Here's a clue. You live next door to her, and she just found out about this thirty seconds ago. Now if you'll excuse me, my girlfriend is broken down sobbing in the kitchen, and that's where I need to be."
"I had no idea—"
"There are a lot of things you have no idea about, so let me enlighten you to one of them. If you or your family come onto our property again, I'm filing a restraining order. Now get out."
Ding ding ding dong ding-dong dong ding-dong...
"What the fuck do you want?"
John holds his hands up defensively. "Nothing! For once, nothing."
Suspicion. "Then why are you here?"
"I... that is, we wanted to apologise."
Annie holds out a pan, covered in aluminium foil. "We never meant to bother you," she says, every word brimming with sincerity. "Especially not at a time like this. I didn't really know what to do," she confesses, "but I remembered that you liked lasagna, and I didn't think either of you would really feel up to cooking anything tonight. Alice, you are taking tomorrow off, aren't you? I don't want to pry, but please tell me you're not working tomorrow."
"No Sabbath for the police, Annie. Or the non-religious, for that matter. So if that's all—"
"No, that's... oh, dear. That's not what I meant. It's just that you look exhausted, Alice. Here, at least take this so I'll know you're eating?"
With a wary look, Ally takes the warm pan carefully from her neighbour. "I... thanks, Annie."
"Don't mention it. You're doing a good thing, dear. Both of you. You're doing a very good thing."
"...thanks, Annie." A pause. It's not quite charged, but there's a tension there that, all of a sudden, Alice decides she hates.
"This is a lot of food for two people," she says finally. "C'mon in. Chris is making tiramisu. Maybe you can help us with it."
and the new day was a great big fish.