a/n: Sorry about the long wait for an update again! I'll try to make it a little quicker next time. Thanks again to everyone for reading and reviewing. I always love hearing what you think! :D
Later that afternoon a brown car, not unlike Santana's, settled on the street at the bottom of our driveway. The two men inside read newspapers and drank coffee and stole the odd glance up at the house but besides that they didn't move much. Sam and I peaked at them through the blind at the kitchen window. We waited until I was sure they were the cops that Sergeant Schuester had told me about.
"Should we go talk to them?" Sam asked. I shrugged at him and then let the blind go. It snapped back into place.
"Sergeant Schuester said if we don't feel safe we should," I told him. "D'you feel safe?"
He nodded slowly. "Sure. I guess."
We exchanged a tight-lipped smile, the kind we'd been exchanging periodically all day. And then he kept on looking at me, the whites of his eyes full of pink cracks. There had been nothing behind them since he'd stopped crying, like there wasn't anything left inside him but blood and organs. I hoped like hell it was just because he was tired.
"You look sleepy," I said.
"Yeah," he agreed, "You mind if I take a nap on the couch?"
I shrugged in response. I didn't care where he slept, so long as he did. "Okay," I said.
I called Santana that evening after Sam had woken up and left for his girlfriend's place, told her about my plan to find Benjamin Ullman-Green's family. She had sighed in exasperation, but she didn't try to talk me out of it. After the way she'd left earlier I was just happy she was talking to me at all.
"I'll tell you what I can, Brittany. But if we couldn't find anybody, you probably won't either. The guy was a loner."
"I just need to know where he lived," I said. I heard the sound of papers rustling on the other end of the line before she said anything back.
"Well, his last known address was forty-four Clayton Street. Apartment seventeen. Down in Riverside, same as the lock-up," Santana said, "But the guy who owns the building moved his nephew in there, like, three months after the rent stopped getting paid."
I grabbed the pad and pen I kept on the coffee table and scrawled the address as quickly as I could. "Okay. Thanks," I mumbled.
"Britt," Santana sighed. "I… fuck."
I frowned. "What?"
"Nothing… just. It looks like my break's over. I'll call you when I get off, okay?"
I nodded reluctantly. I didn't want to stop talking to her. "Okay," I said. I waited for Santana to hang up before I did, and then I took the spot on the couch that Sam had left vacant. I laid back, closed my eyes, and eagerly succumbed to the same heavy darkness I always felt right before I fell asleep, but that was as far as I got. I jerked awake, let my eyes fall closed again, and then repeated the process five or six times before I gave up and turned on the TV.
When I opened my eyes it was early enough that the birds were still chirping loud enough to be audible over the rain and traffic. I wasn't sure when I had finally drifted off but the remote was still in my hand and I had an awkward crick in my neck from the arm of the couch. The front door clicked shut and Sam kicked off his shoes. Wet strings of rain plastered his hair to his face.
"We really need to get the car," he muttered.
"M-hm," I mumbled, nestling back down. I curled my arms around my head and felt the weight of the couch dip by my feet a moment later.
"Your friend, Tina, called me," Sam said, "Said you're not answering your phone? You were supposed to work yesterday."
I scrunched my forehead but I still didn't look up. And then I tried to figure out what day it was but they all ran together like puddles in my head. "Probably," I slurred.
"You're not in trouble or anything. She was just worried. Mr C, too. They thought maybe something happened 'cause you haven't been back for the car," he told me.
"Okay," I said.
"You goin' in today?"
I shook my head and then finally forced myself to sit up, all thoughts of going back to sleep ebbing away once I remembered the plan I'd made. It gave me a second wind. "No," I said, "We're gonna go to Benjamin's old apartment today."
Sam frowned. "Who?"
"The dead guy," I clarified. I rubbed at my eyes with my fists.
"Right," Sam grunted, "We're really doing that, huh?"
I nodded. "It's the right thing to do, isn't it?"
Sam lifted his shoulders up and down in indifference. "Who knows," was his response. He sighed and then gave my knee a quick squeeze. "Okay, just lemme change first?"
"Sure. I need to shower anyways."
Sam breathed a half-hearted laugh as he pushed himself back up off of the couch. "We'll get a shower when we go get the car," he said.
"Those men are different," I mumbled.
Sam pulled the front door shut and tugged his hood tighter over his head. "Huh?"
"The men in the car," I said, "They're not the same ones that were there yesterday."
He squinted through the rain down towards the brown Crown Victoria at the bottom of our driveway before shrugging. "They gotta sleep some time, Britt," he said. He started walking and I fell into step beside him. And only a moment later I heard a car engine behind us rumble to life. The Crown Victoria. It drove until it was beside us and then slowed to an almost-standstill. The driver's side window wound down and a middle-aged man with thinning blond hair and a face full of lines smiled at us.
"Can we give you a ride anywhere?" he asked.
Sam and I stopped and so did the car. We exchanged a shrug before he grabbed the rear door handle and opened it. He let me climb in first. "Thanks," I huffed to whoever was listening.
"No problem." The driver turned in his seat so that he could look at us. "I'm Detective Bell. This is Officer Harris." The dark-haired guy in the passenger seat turned around, too, a grin lighting up his gray face. He was much younger than Detective Bell, fresher. He still had whatever the hell it was that made peoples' eyes sparkle, the same thing that seemed to have been beaten out of all the other cops I'd met so far.
"Hey," he said, his grin growing so big that the corners of his mouth seemed to disappear into his cheeks.
"Don't mind him," Detective Bell grunted, "This is his first plainclothes job. He's excited." The officer's lips twitched a little, his face blooming red with embarrassment, but he didn't stop smiling. I felt something like relief wash over me when they both turned toward the windshield again. "Where we taking you?"
"Uh, Chang's Bar and Restaurant," Sam answered, "You know it?"
"Sure, up on the corner of Oakley and Fifth, right?" said Bell.
Sam said, "Uh-huh," and then the car began to move again. I fastened my seatbelt and tried to comb the wetness out of my hair with my fingers.
"So, you folks doing okay?" Detective Bell asked, his eyes meeting mine in the rear view mirror. I nodded my head.
"Sure," I said.
"Well, you need anything from us, you just holler, okay? It's what we're here for." His eyes crinkled like he was smiling and then he turned his attention back to the road.
"Thanks," Sam and I said in unison.
We arrived at the bar not long after, having spent the rest of the journey in virtual silence. Sam had explained our car situation to Detective Bell but there wasn't much else to say. We got out and jogged over to my parking spot, Sam taking the passenger side, got in the car and re-shook the moisture out of our hair.
As we eased toward the exit I watched the Crown Victoria, saw it do an unexpected U-turn in the middle of the lot before skidding to a halt right in front of us. I slammed on the breaks and felt Sam's hand clamp down on my shoulder.
"What the-" I muttered. Detective Bell got out of the car, tugging the front of his blazer together to shield his shirt and tie from the rain as he approached my window. He stooped over and tapped it twice before I found the gumption to press the button that made it go down. "Hey. Everything okay?" I said.
"I thought you were going to work," he yelled through the downpour, squinting water droplets out of his eyes.
My brow furrowed. "You know I work here?"
"Of course," he said. "Where're you going?"
I looked briefly at Sam, who just pursed his lips at me. "We told you we were picking up our car," I answered.
"I thought he was picking up your car," Bell said, extending his pointer finger and directing toward Sam.
"Nope. Both of us," I said. "We're visiting a friend."
"You're really not supposed to leave your house unless it's necessary, Miss Pierce," he told me. "It's not our job to follow you around the city."
"Then don't," I said with a small shrug. I wound the window up again and Detective Bell snatched his hand away. And then I reversed the car so that I had room to drive around theirs. Bell stumbled backwards, his face creased with bewilderment.
"Britt!" Sam hissed, "What're you doing?"
I didn't answer him until we'd bypassed the other car. I watched Detective Bell scramble for his door in the rear view mirror, forgot the pot-hole that came just before you got to the street and slammed into it. Sam braced himself against the dashboard. "What, I'm under house arrest now? What for?" I stammered, my arm shaking with apprehension as I switched gear.
"It's not house arrest, Britt. They think you're in danger. They're protecting you."
"Well, I already told Santana I don't need protecting," I retorted.
Sam sighed but he didn't argue. I think he probably would have if he hadn't have been tired. I wondered how well he slept at night. If he'd been at home more we could have kept each other company. At night when I couldn't sleep was always when I wanted company the most.
"I… I can't lose you, too," he mumbled.
I shook my head. "You haven't lost anybody yet."
Benjamin's building was a tall one. Four brick walls painted red, built right in the middle of an ex housing project. The main entrance opened straight onto the stairwell and the door was ajar. In fact, I wasn't sure it was capable of closing at all.
We found apartment seventeen on the third floor. Sam knocked. And there was no answer first time but on the second try we heard someone shuffling around inside. A young man with a buzz cut and three-day stubble opened up. He narrowed his eyes at us and swigged on a beer.
"Can I help you?" he grunted.
"Uh…" Sam stuttered. "We… we're here about the guy who used to live here."
"Yeah? Which one?"
"His name was Benjamin Ullman-Green," I said. "D'you know him?"
"He the guy who didn't pay his rent?" he asked.
I nodded. "I think so."
"Then no, I don't know him. Sorry."
I had known it was a long shot, coming here, but my heart still sank. And it wasn't his fault but I felt like slapping a more sincere apology out of him. "What about your Uncle?" I said.
The man frowned. "What about him?"
"Well he owns the building, right?"
"Sure." He shrugged and took another sip of beer.
"Could we talk to him?" Sam asked. "This guy passed away recently and we're looking for his family. Anything anybody can tell us would be great."
The man's eyes softened almost imperceptibly. And his shoulders slouched a little. "He's on vacation," he sighed. "But you could try talking to Mrs Greco."
"Mrs Greco?" I said.
"Uh-huh," he gestured behind us with a pointed nod. "Number twelve. I was in here for a week clearing out all the junk. I think the guy was, like, a hoarder or somethin'. Anyways, she was over here grilling me about him every day. Guess they were friends."
"Seemed that way." The man gave another shrug.
"Okay… That's great. Thank you," I said.
He bobbed his head at us. "Sure," he mumbled. And then he waited only a few silent seconds before closing the door in our faces.
"Nice guy," Sam muttered.
I could only nod in response. "So… Mrs Greco?" I said. He lifted his shoulders up and down and we turned until number twelve was in front of us. I waited for Sam to move before I did, but he let me knock this time. A tentative knock. The door unlocked from the inside a moment later. It cracked open with the safety chain in place, and a pale eye with wrinkled lids peeked at us through the gap.
"Who is it?" said a woman's voice.
"Uh… Hi. My name's Brittany," I told her, "This is my friend, Sam. Are you Mrs Greco?"
"I don't wanna buy anything," she said.
Sam shot me a frown. "We're… not selling stuff," he assured her, "We just wanted to talk with you. About the man who used to live at number seventeen?"
The door slammed shut the second the words left his lips. And then there was a muffled sound, metal rattling against wood, before it opened up again. Fully this time. An elderly lady, at least a foot shorter than myself, in a nightgown and fluffy slippers stood before us. Her round eyes were wide, eyebrows raised right up to her curly-gray hairline.
"You know Ben?" she said.
"Uh, not exactly. But we've heard you do," Sam replied.
The old lady reached for me, wrapping both of her hands around one of mine. "Is he okay?" she said, "I haven't heard from him in so long." Frail fingers dug into my hand much harder than they looked capable of doing. I gulped. And then I looked at Sam but he was as pale as I suddenly felt.
"I… I'm sorry, Mrs Greco," I stuttered, "Ben… he's… he passed away."
Mrs Greco took only one of her hands away from mine, pressed the back of it to her lips. It shook as she did so, and my chest constricted painfully. I was consumed by a sudden, overwhelming feeling that I was in completely the wrong place. And I wanted nothing more than to go back a few hours and listen to Santana or Sam or Detective Bell.
I had no right...
"I'm so sorry," I repeated dumbly.
"How?" she whispered. I shook my head but when my mouth opened all that came out was air.
"The police are still looking into it," Sam answered.
"The police?" she gasped. "What on earth happened?"
I swallowed down a gulp again. "Maybe… maybe we could talk inside?" said Sam.
Mrs Greco directed an emphatic nod in his direction before using her free hand to clutch at his. "Of course... Of course," she stammered, "Come in, please. Both of you." She tugged the pair of us forward until we were forced to squeeze ourselves through the doorjamb at the same time.
Mrs Greco's apartment was pretty. Almost every surface had flowers on it and it smelled like home cooking and vanilla-scented soap. Sam and I sat side-by-side on the couch, Mrs Greco on the armchair opposite. The pot of tea on the coffee table between us had remained untouched since she set it down.
"He was a good boy. He used to help me," she said. Her eyes were so big… wide. I couldn't stop looking at them. I gave her the smallest nod I was sure I had ever given anybody. "He fixed the television set when it stopped working."
"That was nice," I almost whispered.
Mrs Greco bobbed her head. "He wouldn't take any money so I cooked dinner instead. Spaghetti and meatballs. I knew he didn't really want to stay but he humored me. I think we both liked the company. And he came over a lot after that. Always reminded me of my husband… even looked a little like him." She leaned forward and picked up the framed picture that sat on the coffee table. She held it towards me.
"This is your husband?" I said. I was gentle when I took the frame. It looked old.
"Right before he went off to fight in Korea," she told me. I swiped my thumb over the black and white photograph, a handsome man with dark eyes and a square chin wore an army uniform. He wasn't looking at the camera but you could see he was trying to fight off a smile.
"Was he okay?" I asked, handing the picture back. Mrs Greco took it and held it in her lap.
"He didn't come back," she said, "I've never remarried. Didn't care to."
I swallowed thickly and Sam spoke for the both of us. "I'm sorry," he said.
"Don't be," Mrs Greco retorted, "I've done all right. Really, I have."
I was slow to nod. "And what about Ben?" I said. "Did he ever mention his family? A girlfriend?"
She shook her head. "No... Ben had some troubles," she said.
I frowned. "Troubles?"
"With going outside and the like. He was afraid. Worked from home and got his groceries delivered. I think he was one of those phobic people. You know the ones I mean?"
"I think so," I said.
"Well, we never talked about it or anything," she told me, "But I worried about him. It's no way to live. I knew something was wrong when he wasn't home. I just knew it." She pressed a frail hand to her forehead, the other still clutching at the photo frame. Her eyes shone pink and I felt my own begin to sting around the edges.
"And you didn't notice anything unusual before that? People coming to the apartment, maybe?" asked Sam.
Mrs Greco shook her head. "No. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," he said.
"It just… doesn't make any sense," she whispered, "Why him? He never hurt anybody. So, why him?"
I had deliberately skirted around the finer details of what actually happened. And I couldn't bear to rectify that now. Maybe it was wrong, trying to protect a woman who was probably more stable than Sam and I put together in that moment. But it was all I could think to do.
"I don't know," I said.
We left a short while later. Mrs Greco stopped us at the door and took our hands again, clutched them almost too tightly. "You just take care of each other, you two," she said. And then it was over before we could respond. We were on the other side of the door again.
"What now?" Sam said.
I shook my head. "I have no idea."
Back in the car we sat for long moments before I found it in me to start the engine. I was about to ease away from the curb when Sam put his hand on my arm and stopped me. "They're here," he said.
My brow furrowed. "Who are?"
"Those cops," he told me, gesturing toward a brown car on the opposite side of the street.
"Shit," I whispered. "D'you think they're gonna arrest me?"
Sam breathed a laugh and shook his head. "I think they would've done it already. They're just watching you."
"Watching me?" I said.
"Uh-huh. Like, making sure you're safe."
My frown only deepened. "But… he said-"
"People say a lot of stuff, Britt," he cut me off, "Most of the time it's bullshit."
I looked out at the car again, watched the rain pound the windshield, then back at Sam. "People are nice, aren't they?" I murmured. "Mostly."
Sam paused before shrugging. "Mostly, I guess."
"What are you doing?" said Sam.
"Hm?" I glanced back up at the windshield to make sure the other cars hadn't started moving again. We were stuck ten minutes from home, right in the middle of all the diverted traffic from the Parkway and it didn't look like it was going to budge any time soon.
"You keep checking your phone. You've been doing it all day," he said.
"Oh," I frowned. "Yeah… Santana said she was gonna call me when she finished work, but… she didn't," I mumbled.
"To talk about Jess?" he said.
I gave a soft shrug. "I dunno. Maybe."
"So… not about the two of you?"
I glanced over at him but all he did was raise his eyebrows at me. "I… Probably not," I stammered.
"Do you want her to?"
"I don't know," I said. "Should I?"
Sam's lips parted silently for just a moment. He blinked at me. And then his face twitched. "Well… no. I don't think you should want anything," he said. "I just wondered."
I shrugged at him. "I don't know what any of the things I feel mean anymore. Even good things," I said.
Sam swallowed audibly and looked away from me, toward the webs of rain on his window. "Okay," he said, "That's okay."
We were quiet until we were moving again. The radio went fuzzy and Sam pounded it a couple of times with his fist. "Piece of crap," he muttered under his breath.
I looked quickly at him and then back at the road. "Are you mad at me?" I asked.
"For what?" he said.
I waited until we'd finally turned onto our street before I shook my head. "I don't know," I mumbled. "Just… anything."
"I'm not mad," he said. "I don't understand why it had to be her… but I'm not mad."
I bit the corner of my lip. "When I'm with her I can't help it," I told him.
"Can't help what?"
I shook my head. "I don't know," I said, "But I don't think she can either." I knew she couldn't. It was the only thing I didknow for sure.
I heard Sam sigh. "You just gotta be careful, you know? Is she even allowed to get involved with you?"
"I don't think so," I said, the words brittle on my tongue. I didn't like thinking about that part of it. "But it happened before we had to have rules and stuff. She was helping us before she had to, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember," he said. "And I'm not…" Sam trailed off, the rest of his sentence hanging in the air. And when he didn't pick it back up I stole another glance at his face. "What the hell?" he said, his forehead lines sinking into his skin.
I instinctively looked back at the street and my heart began to beat in my throat, uncomfortable like a pill that wouldn't go down. I slammed the breaks on too hard, pain reverberating up my leg. "Who're they?" I said. I glanced in my rear view mirror to check that Bell and Harris were still behind us, but their car was stationary, too, the two of them already halfway out the doors and onto the waterlogged sidewalk. I watched them jog past us like they'd forgotten we were there. And then something cold hit my face. Sam had flung his door open.
"Where're you going?" I said, but he didn't answer.
a/n: I promise to make up for the lack of Santana in the next chapter! ;)