The squad room was empty when Cat walked in. Most of the overhead lights were off, only a few strips illuminating the large bullpen. She slowed her steps and enjoyed the rare quiet moment. It felt good. She felt good. Calmer. More focused, even if she was leery of facing Tara after yesterday.
Tara. Cat shivered a little as she remembered Tara's soft, relentless voice the previous day. How could someone that nice be so Dominant at the same time?
She hesitated on the threshold of the break room. Tara and Faith were seated at one of the tables. A breakfast feast covered every inch of its surface.
"Good morning, Detective." Looking up, Tara smiled. "We brought enough for you to join us, but you might want to hurry. Faith has no manners and the metabolism of a high school football team. If you don't sit down soon, there won't be anything left." She raised an eyebrow at Faith when she growled a protest at the description. "Who nearly stabbed Mr. Giles with a fork last month when he reached for the last jelly doughnut? And how many all you can eat buffets have pictures of you behind the counter with a 'do not allow entrance' sticker?"
Faith pouted. There was no other word for the way she crossed her arms over her chest and slumped. Her lower lip poked out, too, completing the image. Cat was immediately charmed - and swamped with visions of nibbling on that lip.
The inner peace fled, and Cat was abruptly thrust back into turmoil. If she belonged to Faith, she could go to her knees. Lean in and look up through her lashes. Maybe ask if Faith... Fucking Hell. Cat's hand closed convulsively around the list she'd so carefully prepared last night. The crinkling of the paper didn't help Cat's current struggle; however, it did give her something (however small) on which to focus. "I brought the list you wanted." The atmosphere was different. Tara wasn't the scary Alpha Domme. Still, better safe than sorry. "Ma'am," Cat tacked on as she held out the balled-up paper.
It stayed in her hand for a long moment while Tara watched Cat closely. Her gaze was sharp and probing. "Thank you, Detective. Sit down and have some breakfast," she said. Friendly and welcoming had been replaced with command.
"Yes, Ma'am." Cat dropped into a chair, keeping her back well away from the backrest. The ice and painkillers had helped. She didn't want to set the welts off again.
Unfortunately, both Faith and Tara noticed the maneuver. "You OK, tiger?" Faith asked.
At the same time, Tara said, "Maura will be here soon. She can take another look at your back."
Cat blushed so hot, her face burned. "I'm fine," she answered them shyly. "Really. Just, you know, being careful. I feel much better this morning, thank you." Uncomfortable with the double stare, she made a show of looking for the perfect piece of fruit in a bowl right in front of her seat.
"What's the plan today?" Faith winked to let Cat know Faith, at least, was letting her off the hook.
Winking back, basking in Faith's attention, Cat finally gave up on choosing healthy food and snagged two doughnuts from a box. "I don't know what Jane has in mind. We've done the revisit on crime scenes. The lab hasn't finished checking the stuff from the Fort yesterday." Cat broke off long enough to take a bite of breakfast (and chew, of course). "Maybe you and I can commandeer another conference room. We did the actual walk-through yesterday and didn't find anything new. Let's spread out the photos, each scene at a time. Maybe that's where we missed something."
Faith seemed about to respond when she froze and frowned. Her eyes shot to Tara, and Cat followed her lead.
The crumpled list was finally flat enough to read. Tara peered intently at Cat's work. "It's very detailed, Detective. I'm very pleased you took the punishment seriously." Her eyes stayed locked onto the list, one finger raised to gently touch the paper.
An inner tension Cat had not fully recognized flowed away. Tara thought the things she'd written were good. She finished off the first doughnut quickly, and hunted through the rest of the offerings for a plastic bottle of milk. "I did, Ma'am. I did take it seriously. Thank you for...for not reporting me. It won't happen again."
"I know it won't, Detective." Tara folded the paper and placed it inside her backpack. "Now, why don't you relax? I only eat misbehaving subs once a week and I've reached my quota." Her quirky smiled flashed and she pointed at Faith. "You don't count, my Slayer. You are fair game any and every day."
Ooh. Faith dimples. Cat nearly drooled when Faith grinned and then slowly and deliberately stuck her tongue at Tara. "So much for the White Witch."
The lighthearted atmosphere lasted for another brief moment before the lights in the bull pen came fully on. Footsteps and voices announced others had arrived for the day Cat sighed and finished her breakfast. "Let me check in with Jane in case she's got something planned for us. If not...I'll get the photos and set up in the room next to taskforce command. Meet you there?"
"Yeah, tiger. Just need to help T clean up. I'm a reformed slob, ya know." Putting action to words, Faith hopped up and grabbed soiled napkins and several empty milk and juice bottles.
Cat escaped another big scene with Maura because the doctor had a meeting with the Superintendant. It was a sign that Cat was living under a lucky star. Jane agreed to let Cat and Faith go back over the crime scene photos and sent Korsak and Frost out to re-interview possible witnesses to the murders.
It was such a wonderful day that Cat actually hummed as she shoved a cart loaded with the Murder Books into the squad's other conference room. It was definitely cleaner here. The task force pretty much lived in the larger room. "Ready when you are," she announced. Faith sprawled gracelessly in a chair, obviously waiting for her arrival.
And Tara stood in front of the window at the other end of the room.
The happy song playing in Cat's head hit a snag before resuming at a slower tempo. "Start at the beginning and work our way forward, or hit the most recent first?"
"You're the expert, Detective," Tara answered. "You tell us what you want us to do."
Mind completely blank, Cat stared dumbly at Tara for a moment. Then, little by little, her brain began to function again. Her right hand rose, red cuff easily visible. "Submissives, or persons inclined or willing to submit to orders or the wishes of others, are easily identified by markers worn around the neck or the right wrist," she intoned in a pompous imitation of an old teacher. "These individuals are patently incapable of making decisions or providing direction to even the most incompetent of Dominants."
"Bet Red would love that, huh, T?" Faith hopped up and unloaded the boxes with an ease that left Cat both envious – and more than a little aroused. And Faith had called her butch the day before.
Tara giggled, and Cat couldn't help smiling in response even if she had no idea who or what Red was. "I'll try that the next time we're all at The Academy together." Sitting down, she opened the nearest box. "Maybe it would be better if we just start wherever. Take things out of context so we don't simply expect to see certain things."
It made sense. Cat grabbed one of the boxes without looking at the victim's name on the side. A quick side trip for a couple of the sub pillows piled in a corner, and she took up a spot on the floor. She noticed Faith take a similar pose at Tara's feet.
The sight still hurt, but Cat pushed through it. They had work to do. Besides, Faith looked happy and content. Cat didn't have the energy to begrudge that right now. Turning her eyes to the crime scene photos, she settled down and concentrated.
Cat lost herself in images of death. It was overwhelming, the number of close up shots of the victim and pools of blood. Her doughnuts sat like chocolate-covered rocks in her stomach.
"Hey, Cat?" Faith interrupted Cat's perusal of the puncture marks on the third victim, Sarah Johnson's, neck. "What's with the pics of the locals? Bunch of weirdos lookin' at dead bodies."
Glad for the break, Cat looked up. "Weird doesn't begin to describe it. Some of those people are just out for the excitement. Cops, guns, blood, gore. A way to spice up their miserable lives." She clambered up and trotted over to a whiteboard. She wrote "regular sicko" with a blue Expo marker.
"Oh, Goddess. No one told us there was another Willow on the loose." Tara looked down at Faith in mock horror. "She's got colored pens and everything."
Cat paused and almost glared teasingly at Tara. She ended up giving the Eye to a spot on the wall just to the left of Tara's head. "Do you want me to continue or would you rather make fun of me? And don't think I won't make you tell me who this Willow is and why this pen," which Cat brandished at the room, "is such a big deal."
Head resting on Tara's knees, Faith faux whispered, "At least she can't turn us into frogs, T."
"No, but she could shoot us," Tara whispered back.
"Ooh, better thought. She could put me in handcuffs." Faith sounded very interested in that. Tara, too, from the sudden flush on her face.
Cat couldn't tear her eyes away from the two of them. The way they leaned close. The way Tara's hand seemed to naturally fall to Faith's neck, stroking the collar the way she had the day before. Cat wanted that. She wanted it so fucking bad.
And she wanted it with Faith. The woman who gazed at Tara with transparent devotion.
Clearing her throat, Cat interrupted the tender scene. If her voice was a little strained, she could blame it on the heady odor of the Expo marker. Blueberry, if she wasn't mistaken. "After your regular sickos, you have the press. They hang out with vans and cameras with the sole intent of getting the big scoop." She wrote "Reporters" on the board.
"Finally, you have the real reason we have those photos. Psychopaths. They do unspeakably evil things and then hang out in the crowd to watch the cops look like idiots." "Psycho" went on the board, too. "We try to see if the same person shows up at all the crime scenes. It's statistically improbable," Cat mentally thanked her police academy instructors for that phrase, "for the same person to be at multiple scenes scattered over large geographical areas."
"In other words, we're playin' a big game of Go Fish." Faith nuzzled her cheek against Tara. "You want to tell me again why I'm here, T? Slayers and research… Never been a good mix."
"You'll survive, sweetie." Tara gently rapped Faith on top of the head. "Now grab a new box and get back to work."
With a grumble, Faith did as ordered. So did Cat. They had to find a break in the case soon. She couldn't take much more of the Faith and Tara Show.
Silence descended again.
They were down to the last box, each of them with a binder of evidence logs and photos. Cat's earlier exuberance was long gone. She rubbed tired and gritty eyes and turned the page. She'd finish this binder and do a coffee run. Caffeine was a necessity.
"Cat, can you hand me the binder in Yssel 3?" Tara's terse request sent up a red flag.
Grabbing the box and shoving it her was, Cat asked, "Got something?" She scooted over and peered at the binder already on Tara's lap. She'd looked at the same photos a couple of hours before. Nothing stood out.
It did to Tara, though. She leaned over and pulled a binder from the Yssel 3 box and placed it on the conference room table. "Look at this. This woman has a pin on her coat. It's the same one as the man in this photo." She pointed back to the binder on her lap. "Different people. Different scenes. Same pin."