Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Part Three

Alex grabbed a second cup of coffee before returning to her desk.

"Have you called them?" Deakins asked her. He was in jeans and a button down shirt, a casual jacket thrown over. The last thing he had expected was to be called in for a major case at one a.m. on New Year's Day.

Alex shook her head. "I don't know that it's a good idea...Forrester's already lawyered up. It was the first thing he said, and all it will do to call tonight is to get both of them upset."

Deakins sat on the corner of Goren's desk and sighed. "I thought you were out with them."

"Yes...I called my date and told him I had a family emergency. He was supposed to pass that message on...and that everything should be fine. Goren texted me a bit ago and I just told him my sister got sick and needed some help with my niece and nephew."

"So you lied? To your partner? Over this?" Each phrase was more incredulous than the last.

Eames sighed now. "Well, Captain, I certainly can call them and tell them. Then you can be my guest in trying to calm both of them down for the rest of the night."

Deakins shook his head, then sank into Goren's chair. "So tell me what he had on him."

Eames spread out the evidence bags. "22 calibur, two bullets...one hunting knife...and the smoking gun." She held up a bag with a piece of paper in it. "Vanessa's address and security code. Goren's name and address. Her sister's address and his mother's. He's been watching for a long time."

"She said he would."

"I know." She laid the bag down carefully, examining the information on the paper, thinking. "You should have seen him. He was fixated. Not just on her, but on both of them." She didn't say anything for a minute, but tapped her pen on the edge of the desk.

Deakins raised his eyebrow. "He saw Goren as competition." He thought for a moment. "You think he was planning something for tonight. For both of them."

She kept tapping. "I wish he had written those plans down--then maybe we'd know exactly what he was up to." She looked up at Deakins. "What's the chance of him getting out?"

"On this? Carrying what he was? Not good. Carver should be able to get remand."

"Good. Maybe they'll be able to sleep." Tapping. "How are we going to tell them?"

He stretched his legs out, then looked at Eames. "We need to. In the morning. Why don't you meet me over there around ten?"
She nodded. "Okay." She finally stopped tapping and tossed her pen inside the desk, then grabbed her jacket. "I guess I'll see you in the morning."


After the last month, she was starting to enjoy the idea of holidays.

Last night had been the best New Year's she'd ever had. Despite their initial worry about Alex, Sam had gotten a call from her saying she had needed to leave to help her sister. Sam wasn't overly thrilled and neither was Bobby. Vanessa had the sneaking suspicion that something else was going on, but she wasn't going to share that with the guys. What Alex did was Alex's business. Sam seemed nice enough, but it was New Year's Eve, and who was she to fault anyone for hooking up on such a night?

After wandering the party in the streets for awhile, she and Bobby had walked home hand in hand, laughing and kissing and trying not to shiver too much from the wind. They wound their way home on the sidewalk, twisting and bobbing as though they were drunk. He had teased her about dancing in the street, that he wasn't sure if she was Greek or some throwback to the eighties. She had pulled him against an apartment building and flashed open her jacket, saying, "Does this look like the eighties to you?" She was wearing a tightly fitted black button-down shirt. She was right--nothing eighties about it, nor greek--and he had told her so as he ran his hand up and down her front while he kissed her, in the street, against the building. She was laughing at him, pressed against her, as she protested. "You can't do this stuff in public!" she exclaimed, catching her breath despite the giggles. "We'll end up spending the weekend locked up by our own people!"

He kissed her neck, ran a hand over her hip, and chuckled, "I'll take my chances...it's New Year's!" She was pushing him away, still giggling, and he finally pulled his body off of her, promising himself he would make up for it when they got home.

He made her laugh. It had been so long since she had laughed with such abandon, felt so free and joyful and...what was it? Beautiful? Yes. She felt beautiful and sexy and funny and unlike she had ever felt before, sober. She had vague memories, from her previous lifetime, of feeling this way when she was completely inebriated, but had never realized she could feel so wonderful as just herself. She spun around and caught his eyes, and she could see the humor and love and lust for her in them. She had followed him into the building, up to the condo, and he had pressed her against the wall inside, kissing her deeply as they both tried to hold back the laughter. Somehow they moved from the entryway to the hallway. They didn't make it much farther before clothing was peeled off and he was gently easing both of them onto the carpet, still giggling, still exploring.

She didn't even remember now what they had been laughing about, but something had been hysterically funny. It was funny when they got home, funnier when they got naked, and they were still laughing thirty minutes later after they finished having sex on the floor, passionate and lusty and thrilled with each other. Afterward, still giggling, he had guided her to the bedroom, pulling back the covers and tucking her in before sliding in next to her, rotating between kissing her body and chuckling at her giggles and soft moans.

Her last thought before falling asleep had been about fun. It seemed that so much of their early relationship had been about healing and understanding. Having complex, heavy conversations and comforting one another about what they didn't have. It had only been recently that they had been able to enjoy what they had been blessed with. And she had decided that Bobby Goren was not only smart, compassionate, and sexy, but he was fun. Last night had been proof of that; every last bit of it completely fun, from dancing with him to the stumble home to fucking on the hallway floor. To him tucking her into her own bed, still laughing and occasionally catching her nipple in his teeth.

He was asleep now, next to her, incredibly handsome, with his breath shallow, in and out. She loved how he slept curled up, like a child. How he held her hand while they slept. He always tried to pull her closer, with either her head on his chest or his head on hers, but sometime during the night she would inevitably separate from him and move to the pillow. Even in the winter, he exuded so much body heat she would sweat sleeping in his vicinity. She swore the air was ten degrees warmer wherever he was. Now he was sleeping with his head facing her, one hand under the side of his face, body curled up close to her. She watched him breathing in and out, so pleased that he was able to sleep peacefully with her. She knew that he was plagued with nightmares from his childhood, but the nightmares had lessened since they had been together. At least that's what he told her, and she chose to believe him.

Sometimes when she woke up first, she would examine his body with a scrutiny she didn't allow herself when he was awake. His scruffy beard was growing in again, sharp and sexy on his face. He shaved every morning before work but it always grew in by the evening. She had never told him how much it pleased her, how she enjoyed feeling the familiar scratch against her face and her body. His left shoulder bore the scar straight through from a bullet he took when he worked in narcotics. She recalled the night when he had compared his scar to hers and pointed out the ridiculous nature of her argument, that she were somehow flawed and unloveable because of Forrester's attack. She smiled at the memory now, thinking of how he was such an eccentric bundle of logic and emotion. She loved him and felt incredibly at peace with the knowledge he loved her too. And dammit, she loved that scar on his shoulder. She thought it was sexy.

She lay on the pillow, watching him sleep, noting the slight graying at his temples. She knew their age difference sometimes bothered him; he worried that people would think he was inappropriate with her or would somehow look down upon her for being too young. Ava herself had mentioned the age difference on more than one occasion, going so far as to comment that Bobby was old enough to be her father. Vanessa had pointed out that Bobby would have had to start pretty early to father her; he was only twelve years her elder. Watching him now, she saw the difference in their bodies but found him to be all that much more attractive to her. He was a big man, muscular and solid, and she always felt safe near him, whether they were watching television or making love. His body completely covered hers, but he always took care not to cause her any discomfort, and for whatever reason she felt at peace when she was enveloped by him. She always had. She realized that his seniority probably added some sort of psychological security to their relationship but that didn't bother her. She had been with older men who acted younger than her. His maturity was a turn-on. His body, large and strong, made her feel protected. She didn't particularly care if that was wrong or right. It just was, and that was all she cared about.

She was lost in these thoughts and didn't hear the knocking at first. She was busy watching him restlessly stretch his legs in his sleep and sigh. She was wondering what he was dreaming about. But then Bruce had growled, and she had heard it. A knock at the door.

It surprised her, because the front desk should have called up. They always did, unless it was someone on her list. She grabbed a nightshirt and a robe, wondering who would be showing up at ten fifteen on New Year's Day on her approved list. Maybe Alex? Certainly if Alex had dumped her date from the night before for a better one, she wouldn't be showing up so early. God help her if it was Ava. She could hardly stand the thought, starting her year off with her sister's attitude. Especially when she could be curled up in bed, watching Bobby sleeping so peacefully.

She was almost to the door when she heard the rap again, and she looked out the peephole. It was Alex after all. Not only Alex, but Jimmy. She would have been worried if she didn't know that Bobby was asleep in the back. She unlocked the security system, and unbolted and opened the door.

"You guys are in an awfully big hurry to say Happy New Year," she told them as they stepped inside. Eames shot her a nervous smile, which only made her feel more unsure. Neither of them said anything, and Vanessa awkwardly closed the door and turned to them. "Okay," she said, much more calmly than she felt, "what's going on?"

Alex opened her mouth as if to say something, but stopped. Deakins managed a smile, and then said, "Vanessa, where's Bobby? We need to talk to both of you."

She felt her gut clench. She didn't know why. This whole thing was weird and nervewracking. She found herself pointing to the back, and said, "He's...uh, sleeping..." Deakins continued to look at her until she finally said, "I guess I'll go wake him up."

"That would be good." Deakins nodded at her. She turned to walk to the back part of the condo, then turned around. "Do you guys want to sit? I could make coffee..." Deakins shook his head. She hesitated, then said, " Just make yourselves at home...I guess..."

Bobby was still sleeping. "Hey," she said softly, shaking him. "Wake up, Goren. We have company."

His eyes opened slowly, then he smiled. "You're so pretty," he told her. "Happy New Year, baby," he murmured sleepily and reached across the bed to her. "I want you, here..." He had taken her hand in his.

"No...no...Deakins and Eames are here. They want to talk to both of us and they're freaking me out."

His eyes opened again, this time more focused, but showing the level of confusion that she felt. He sat up slowly, scratching his head. "Huh?" His face was beginning to show awareness now. "I thought Eames was with her sister."

Vanessa was pulling on panties and a pair of sweats. "Well I thought she was with some guy. Apparently we were both wrong."

"With some guy? Deakins is married...she wouldn't do that."

She tossed him a pair of boxers and sweats, and pulled on a shirt. "Come on," she told him. "Move it...I want to know what this is about."

Suddenly Bobby laughed. Hangover from their laughfest last night. "Maybe they're coming out to us."

Vanessa looked confused, then made a face of disgust. "Just get dressed. I'm fairly certain our boss isn't here to confess to an affair with your partner."

He pulled the clothes on quickly and followed her out of the bedroom, rubbing the back of his neck. He found himself hoping this wouldn't take too long. After all, it was their day off and the bed was damn comfortable....and she was warm and pretty and soft and funny...

"Okay," Vanessa said, sitting on the loveseat and pulling her feet up under her. Deakins was in the armchair, trying to look as though he were comfortable and Eames was on the couch, sitting stiffly. Bobby sat next to Vanessa, one leg under him, and absently petted Bruce's head. "So what's going on so early on New Year's Day?"

Deakins looked at her, then said, "We have some good news for you."

Bobby elbowed her in the ribs, grinning. She wanted to call him a dork but fought the urge of being silly. Looking from Deakins to Eames, she felt the humor from Bobby's former statement slipping out of her. Whatever was going on, it wasn't funny. Both cops were looking at her with a mixture of hesitation and sympathy. And she knew.

It was the way Alex held herself. Stiff, straight; she had seen this before, on ride-alongs. Millions of ride-alongs in the past. It was the way that Alex held herself when she was giving news about a perp. And she knew, knew it was Forrester and they had him. And she had the sense that her life was about to change again, rapidly, and she wasn't sure she wanted it to.

She stood up, crossed her arms. "Where is he?" she asked, feeling her nerves buckle under her and hoping it didn't show the way she felt it did.

Alex looked up at her and cleared her throat. Classic Eames tic in these situations. "In lockup at the station."

Bobby glanced at Alex, and seeing her expression, the reality of what was going on hit him, slowly, and he felt the anger rise from his belly into his throat through his brain. Alex's disappearance last night. Deakins and Alex here now. Needing to talk to both of them. He needed to go to the station. At the very least he was going to interrogate the son of a bitch. Scare him until he pissed his pants. Until he was as vulnerable and frightened as Vanessa had been over the last nine months. But he didn't. Instead he sat, unmoving, to give Eames the chance to explain what had happened. How she had gotten Forrester and not even called for his assistance with taking him down.

Deakins was looking at him, Eames at her. Deakins spoke first, finally moving his gaze to Vanessa. "You were right...he's been stalking you. Eames saw him last night and took him down with the assistance of three uniformed cops. He was armed and had information on both of you. He'll be going for arraignment in the morning, seeing as today's a holiday."

Bobby stood. "I'll grab my shoes...I need to go down with you."

Deakins shook his head. "You're considered a victim here too, Goren...you're not to go anywhere near him." He looked at Vanessa. "He'll be transferred to Riker's after tomorrow morning. You're not to go near him either. Is everyone clear on that?"

Vanessa started to speak, but Bobby interrupted her.

He had turned to Eames. "This is what you were doing last night? When you left your date?"

She exhaled heavily. "Yes...I couldn't bring you in...he was watching you. He would have known and run."

"And you couldn't have called me. Say, when you called Sam? Or when you answered my text? Or anytime between midnight and now? Classy, Eames."

Deakins stood and stepped forward. "Stop, Bobby" he said. "She did the right thing. If she had done anything differently, we might not have him. And God knows neither of you would have slept last night."

Goren shook his head. "You don't understand. I made a promise about this. This is important..."

"Thank you," Vanessa interrupted, talking over Bobby, wanting to tune his anger and frustration out. "Thank you for coming by and telling me. And Alex, thank you...I can't thank you enough." She felt the tears taking over again, and thought ironically how happiness and fun could be so fleeting. "I appreciate it. Excuse me."

She walked out of the room, still hearing the three of them arguing. She went into the bedroom and into the bathroom, turning on the water to the hottest temperature she could stand. Quickly she undressed and climbed in, then sat in the corner of the tub, cowering. The water hit her hard, heavy, rhythmically, but she stayed in her ball, pretending she didn't have to move. That she never had to move again.

And she scrubbed and she scrubbed until she couldn't feel anything anymore.


He found her on the floor of the shower twenty minutes later. "Beth," he sighed, turning off the water. He reached for a towel to wrap her in. She was still on the floor of the tub, turned away from him, and didn't move as he sank to the floor next to her. "It's okay," he murmured, holding the towel against her. "He's caught. You're safe. This is all good, baby."

He could feel her body shuddering beneath him from the chill in the air. She still hadn't looked up. He felt at a loss as to what to do. Part of him felt like a fool, spending time in the front room arguing with Deakins about being able to go to the station and see the son of a bitch. He'd been doing the big tough boyfriend thing while she'd been back here doing the rape victim thing, scrubbing herself clean repeatedly.

She finally pulled herself up, wrapping the towel around her body. She felt sore and beaten. Somehow she had always imagined that Forrester's capture would lead to a tremendous weight being lifted from her. Now she was realizing that she had learned to live with what happened to her, to recapture her life. That Forrester's arrest had pressed the weight of the world upon her shoulders--a weight she had finally felt like she had rid herself of.

She didn't look at Bobby but made her way to the bed--rumpled, used, still smelling of their sleep and their sex and everything about them. She tossed the towel aside and climbed into it, burying herself under the blankets and surrounding herself in the comfort of the familiarity of her and her lover. Something bigger and beyond Forrester, the attack, this arrest.

He watched her, knowing she was shutting herself down, and unsure for the first time in a long time what he should do. After regarding her for a few moments, he decided that perhaps following his gut would be best. Get into bed with her. He rounded the bed to his side and hesitated for a moment. She still didn't look up, didn't move. Slowly he slid in between the covers with her and lay down, pulling her body closer to his.

She didn't curl close as she usually did, but she didn't pull away either. He suddenly was reminded of a particular night in his childhood when his father had come home drunk and angry, beaten him and left him bleeding and afraid. He recognized her numbness; he had numbed himself at age nine to keep from feeling not only the physical but the emotional pain of the evening. She was numb now.

He stroked her hair. "You know, I'm really pissed that it couldn't be me that got him. I wanted to do that for you. I wanted to be your knight in shining armor. To be the one who caught him and extracted a confession out of him. I still want to. I didn't expect Eames to take him down. But I guess it works out how it should. You're safe and that's what I wanted more than anything, this whole time. To stop having to look over your shoulder, to stop worrying about when you were alone. Every time you took a cab or left work early or went to the market. This is a good thing, Beth." He ran his fingers over her cheek. Her eyes hadn't moved, she hadn't moved, so he continued to speak. About anything, anything and everything.

"Eames is an amazing cop," he continued, running his fingers down her arm. "I'm shocked she didn't shoot his ass. Well, not literally his ass, but I'm sure she had to exercise every bit of self-restraint not to put a bullet in that bastard's head. I bet if she had, then she would have called us. That would have been worth something." He stopped for a moment, smiling to himself. "Maybe he'll make good friends in Riker's. You know how he's just screaming for a boyfriend."

She had finally turned her head up to him, watching his face, seeing his volatile smile coming from a place of anger and hatred.
"Bobby," she whispered, "Shut up. The last thing I want to think about is sodomy and rape."

"Then talk to me," he challenged her. "Don't shut me out."

She rolled over, laying on her back, pulling the comforter up around her neck. "You know this means now I have to testify in court. Just when I've started to get my life back together."

He had perched his head up on his hand, elbow resting on the pillow. "But you're not doing it alone. You know I will be there with you the whole way." He reached under the sheets and wrapped an arm around her waist, then kissed her ear softly. "I swear you won't be alone."

She lay in his arms, still, knowing he meant what he said with every fiber of his being. He would never leave her in this. He loved her immensely and was incredibly too loyal to ever consider such a thing. But he wasn't being realistic.

"In the end," she finally said, her face just inches from his, "I have to do it alone. In the end, you don't get on the stand with me. You don't tell my story. I do that." She shuddered involuntarily. "It scares me."

He understood more than she realized, understood the vulnerability of having to face your past and your abuser, but couldn't bring himself to say so. Instead he stroked her back, and whispered, "I know", and tried to block out the memories of his father's rantings and his beatings.


Eames entered the back of the courtroom just in time. Forrester's attorney was standing next to him and ADA Carver was at the prosecutor's stand.

Judge Renfrow was looking at the ADA, asking about the charges.

"Sexual battery, assault with intent to kill a representative of the NYPD."

"Mr. Timmons? How does your client plead?" Renfrow sounded as though it had already been a long day.

Forrester smiled. "Not guilty, your honor."

"Bail, counselor?"

Carver stood tall and spoke clearly, with a firmness in his voice that belied his smaller stature. "Your honor, Mr. Forrester is accused of a heinous sexual battery against a representative of the NYPD. When he was arrested, he was stalking the victim. He has assets exceeding five million dollars and homes in three countries. He can flee at any time. If there were ever a case where remand were appropriate, this is it."

Eames could see Forrester's grin, unwavering, throughout Carver's explanation. Timmons replied, "Your honor, my client is a businessman who is well respected and has a clean record. Not so much as a parking ticket. He's here because of a vendetta held against him by an employee of the NYPD. This whole charge is ludicrous. He never even had sex with her."

Carver turned, sarcasm dripping from his tongue. "He stripped her, beat her, and pushed her head through a glass coffee table. Whose vendetta is this again?"

"Enough," Renfrow interrupted them. "Mr. Forrester, you're going to be staying at Riker's courtesy of the fine people of New York." Alex felt a deep sense of satisfaction as she saw the smile disappear from Forrester's face, as though a light had been blown out suddenly. A scowl immediately took the place of it, but Renfrow's gavel had already hit. "Next case."

She made her way up to Carver. "I wanted to thank you personally," she said. "I know Rayden will feel so much safer once she hears he's remanded."

Carver shook his head. "Don't thank me," he replied, following her out of the courtroom. "It's my job. Besides, with the amount of evidence we already have against Mr. Forrester, I doubt he'll be going anywhere anytime soon." He took a few more steps, and then turned to her. "Have you or your partner checked to see if he's ever been accused of this before?"

Eames shook her head. "There's no records of him in the system. His attorney is right--he's as clean as a choir boy."

Carver looked down the hallway thoughtfully for a moment. "Detective," he said finally, "men like this always have track records. Look harder."

Tipping his hat to her, he headed out into the cold New York street, leaving Alex thinking about where she should start. She figured a call to Goren was as good a place as any.

His cell went to voice mail. She wasn't surprised. He hadn't taken her call last night, either. She debated about leaving a message, but in the end just closed the phone.

They'd been partners for years. She knew him well, knew how he had always planned to be the one to take Forrester down. The fact that he hadn't was more than a blow to his ego--she knew he saw it as a betrayal of sorts. Rules didn't mean a lot to Bobby Goren, and since she'd been partnered with him, she found they didn't mean a whole lot to her either. Often they solved cases because they bent the rules; hell, they played gymnastics with them. But in the end they got the people they needed to. They made their cases. They had, as he had stated in the past, "complementary skills". She supposed that meant he had the genius and she had the people skills. God knows he wasn't gifted in that area.

She had never seen the attraction between him and Vanessa coming. She wasn't his type. He liked those tall, attractive, Amazon-type women who worked in accounting or payroll or filing. Women who were smart but underutilized. Women he could charm and boost their sense of importance.

Neither she nor Vanessa fell into that category. She had known from day one, when Goren met Vanessa, they were like oil and water. Vanessa's patience with him on that day only existed because she knew he was digging his own grave. Alex had seen her do it millions of times--hang back and wait for the guy to sink himself, make himself look foolish. Goren had been no exception. He had caught on quickly that she was smart, but had underestimated her intelligence and her wit by miles. Eames remembered how she had snickered through the exchange; how her partner had sat down, defeated; and how he had never tried anything so ridiculously flirtatious again. At least not in her presence.

It still surprised her that Vanessa and Goren had ended up together. Even when she and Vanessa had met for drinks six months ago and she had let it slip that Goren was head over heels for her, she didn't expect that the two of them would connect. Not really. She knew that he had it bad. He talked about her and kept her cell number on his speed dial. She knew he was a goner when he had started standing her up to take Vanessa to appointments, or to get Vanessa something from the store, or to make Vanessa dinner. But she hadn't figured on Vanessa falling for Bobby. Rayden always kept a distance between the herself and the men she worked with--even more than Eames did. But suddenly there was an attraction--no, it was more than that, it was a devotion. Two people devoted to one another. No longer were she and Goren single partners who hung out, had a beer, and ate bar food. Now she was the single one and he wasn't. He was devoted to a woman who doubted her own ability to love others.

Sometimes when she saw them together, she wondered what glue they had used. If it was something like she had with Joe, a commonality that helped them understand each other and work toward everything important. Other times she wondered if it had been the trauma itself. That Vanessa had needed someone and, like the loyal and compassionate man he was, Goren had seen his calling. And maybe it just tumbled from there. Most times, though, she figured it was a mixture of both. For whatever reason, his guard lowered around her as hers did with him. They seemed to understand each other in a way other people didn't understand either of them. She included herself in that category. They both seemed to march to a different drummer, but she supposed it was possible their drummers shared a beat.

She found herself parking the SUV in front of Vanessa's condo If Goren wasn't going to answer his phone, he would have a harder time ignoring her presence at the door. Besides, it was Vanessa's house anyway and she was coming with news for her.

The front desk manager nodded at her as she came in and asked how she was. "Good," she replied, nodding back. "I'm here to see Dr. Rayden--is it all right to go up?"

"Of course, Ms. Eames. Let me know if i can be of any help."

Alex took the elevator up and, arriving at the door, knocked. There was no answer.

This happened yesterday too, she told herself. Maybe they were in another room and couldn't hear her. She rang the bell this time, knowing that couldn't be ignored (missed, she corrected herself) as easily. But nobody came. She was about to leave when she heard her name. From behind her, though, instead of in front.

"Alex." Vanessa was lugging in three bags of groceries. "What are you doing here? Is everything okay?"

Eames reached over and grabbed a couple bags from her so Vanessa could open the door. "Yeah...I just wanted to let you know how court went this morning. I noticed you weren't there."

Vanessa had opened the door. Alex closed it and followed her to the kitchen. "I tried to stay away," Vanessa told her. "That's what Deakins wants us to do. Anyway, Carver called as soon as he got out. He said Forrester's remanded to Riker's."

Alex put the groceries on the counter. "I was hoping that might make you feel a bit better. I know this has completely sucked shit for you."

Vanessa grimaced at her choice of words. "Yeah," she nodded, "that about covers it."

They began unpacking the groceries. Eames didn't know why she was doing this--she should be at work, but instead she felt a need to be here. To help...and to maybe ingratiate herself to her partner.

As if on cue, Vanessa spoke. "He's not here. He went out for a run. I tried to talk him into the treadmill but you know Bobby...he says he likes scenery."

Eames nodded, putting the crackers in the pantry. She almost asked if Vanessa really believed that, but bit her tongue just in time.

"I wasn't able to properly thank you yesterday," Vanessa continued, putting yogurt in the refrigerator. "You were amazing, and if it weren't for you, Forrester would still be out there." She sighed. "I'm sorry I wasn't more...I don't know, grateful...when you and Jimmy were here. It's just..."

"It changes everything," Eames interrupted, handing her the hummus.

"Yeah." She turned to face Alex. "You know him. You need to give him some time. He just needs some time to process all of this...to get over that ridiculous ego of his."

Eames sank into one of the kitchen chairs. "If there had been any way to bring him in, I would have...but Forrester was watching both of you so closely, I knew he would know. And it just wasn't worth the risk."

Vanessa leaned against the counter. "I know that. You know that and Jimmy knows that. I happen to know that Bobby gets it too. He's just so angry right now...he wanted to be the one to fix it, to bring this guy to justice. It's what he does, you know?" She stared at her feet for a minute. "He hasn't quite figured out yet that he fixed it a long time ago."

"You guys are lucky to have each other," Alex told her. "I think I botched it with Sam the other night. Goren's not the only one pissed at me."

"Really?" Vanessa sounded surprised. "Sam is mad?"

"I guess. He's not returning my calls either."

Vanessa crossed her arms, her face looking determined. "Don't worry about it, Eames. I'll take care of that one myself."

"No, no," Alex protested. "I don't need you fighting my battles-"

"I needed you to fight mine, and I owe you," she said firmly, then pushed a piece of paper over to Alex. "Now write down his number before you go. You'll hear from him tonight, I promise. WITH an apology."


The water was steaming and the bathroom was finally warm. He swore that for a place as expensive as this, the bathroom should heat up faster. His at home always did.

He stripped himself out of his running clothes, tossing them haphazardly on the floor, and climbed into the shower. He had to admit that this 360 shower thing was impressive. It got him from every angle and was incredibly relaxing. The run had been cathartic, but not cathartic enough. He didn't know how long he would feel this pissed at Eames, at Deakins, at Forrester, at the world. He hated being pissed off, especially when there was nothing he could do. When Eames had taken down Forrester without him, she had pretty much chopped off his balls right there. And when Deakins forbade him from even seeing the monster, it was as though he handed said balls to him in a tidy package.

He knew it was insane. That he wasn't being reasonable. That the important part was that Forrester was behind bars for now, where he couldn't hurt Vanessa. He was grateful for that, but his gratitude was limited. He had fantasized for so long that HE would be the one to fix this that it hurt to imagine it any other way.

He scrubbed his hair vigorously and grabbed his shower gel. For a minute, he thought about his own place, his own bathroom, his own stuff, and wondered how everything he really needed had ended up here. He had never intended to move in with her, it had just happened. Honestly, he never really found himself missing his old apartment. He still paid his rent and utilities, still picked up the mail and checked on things. He thought it would be too forward for him to stop. Vanessa had never mentioned any of it, but he knew she assumed every night that he would be back at her place. And he wanted that, so it was never an issue.

Eames had called him on his run. Twice. Once, right before he left, and the second time in the middle of his run. Seeing her name come up on his caller ID had made him run longer. He knew she didn't understand and he wasn't even sure that he understood why he was so angry at her. But he was. He couldn't bring himself to speak to her right now--the words he had said yesterday were the harshest he had ever spoken to her in their entire partnership. The words shamed him and he wasn't about to let more of them fly out of his mouth. He knew her well enough to know his silence was hurtful to her, but he couldn't run the risk of hurting her more with words.

He turned the water off and grabbed a towel from the rack, rubbing his head and body down before wrapping it around his hips. The bathroom was steamy and comfortable now, and he debated shaving but decided against it. He didn't feel like putting in the effort.

She was sitting on the bed when he entered the bedroom. "Hey, stud...when did you get back?"

He smiled at her, to humor her, before responding, "About an hour ago."

"Did I ever tell you I like it when you're all stubbly like that?"

He turned to pull clothes out of the drawers. "No...I don't think you've mentioned it before."

"Well, I do."

He pulled on his boxers, then a pair of jeans, before grabbing a sweatshirt. "I"ll keep it in mind," he told her. She was eyeing him curiously. The tension from yesterday had dissipated, and she seemed more her regular self today. Unlike him, he thought. He seemed more like an ass.

Feeling guilty, he sat down next to her on the bed. "What do you want to do?" he asked her. "We could watch tv, or read...play a game, chess or checkers..."

"Forrester was remanded."

His breath caught for a second, before he found his voice. "That's good. That's really good...did Eames call you?"

"No." She shifted on the bed until her head was on the pillow and she was laying next to his sitting form. "Carver called. Eames came by to make sure I knew."

"Well, that's good. Everyone wants you to feel safe."

"Yes." She turned to her side so she could more easily see him. He was still sitting up, facing straight ahead. "You know, if you make a rule like 'don't shut me out' then you have to follow the rule too."

He waved his right hand toward her and said, "It wasn't really a rule...more of a...a conversation starter."


He knew he was screwed. There was going to be absolutely no easy way out of this one. He briefly considered turning the tables, remembering his father's mantra that the best defense is a good offense, before cringing at the thought and tossing it aside. "I'm not shutting you out. I'm not shutting anyone out."

"You're shutting Alex out."

"That's because I need to wait until I can be somewhat respectful again." He glanced at her, lying next to him, then looked away. "I can't explain any more than that. It doesn't make sense."

She laughed. "Well I already knew that! But since when does any of this make sense? I ask a friend up to my place and end up getting beaten to within an inch of my life. Somehow I end up living with you, we fall in love, I buy a place uptown and then we're dancing in the streets. Then Eames--mousy little Eames who's supposed to be one of my better friends but can't lift a finger to help me for months--catches the damn guy. There's no sense in any of this, Bobby."

She touched his back. He pulled away for a moment, but she made contact again, rubbing her hand under the sweatshirt against his warm skin. He sat still for a moment, then finally lay down next to her. She moved her hand away. "I just hate being...ineffectual," he confessed, his face close to hers on the pillow.

"Me too," she told him. "But that's not why you're angry."

"I wanted a chance alone with him. More than any other perp I've ever dealt with. Just five minutes to wipe that goddamn smirk off his fucking face." He rolled over, breaking their eye contact, and crossing his arms over his body. "I'm so goddamn angry. I keep seeing you, that night, then in the hospital. Everything you went through. That goddamn motherfucker. He should thank his goddamn stars that Eames got to him and not me...I'd have blown his goddamn brains all over the goddamn sidewalk." His voice had grown louder, more angry. "And if Eames was half the cop she claims to be she would have done the same damn thing. That piece of garbage doesn't deserve to live. He deserves to have his balls fed to him on a spoon before his eyes are gouged out."

She thought about what he was saying, and for the first time it occurred to her that all this pain she had suffered, she hadn't carried it alone. He had been victimized as well.

Suddenly she sat up. "Texas sheet cake," she told him.

He looked at her as if she'd lost her mind. "What?"

She stood up. "We need to make Texas sheet cake." Seeing his what the fuck? expression, she explained, "It's something my mom did. Whenever things got really overwhelming, she'd make Texas sheet cake. The cake is enormous and quick and easy and she always said it made her feel better to know she could be burying her face in chocolate pretty damn quick." She smiled wistfully then, and told him, "We made a hell of a lot of that cake the year before she died."

He stared at her. "You really want to make a fucking sheet cake?"

"Uh, yeah...and eat it too." She started toward the bedroom door, but when she noticed he wasn't moving she stopped. "Look, you can lay here and be furiously fucking angry or you can come with me and eat some chocolate cake. I'm not asking you to NOT be angry, all I'm saying is let's eat some cake while we wallow."

He sat up and shook his head. "Texas sheet cake," he mumbled. "Fucking sheet cake, for chrissakes." But he got up and followed her out of the bedroom and into the kitchen.

Forty minutes later they were seated at the kitchen table, eating cake out of the pan with two glasses of milk.

He sighed loudly. "Maybe your mom was right," he admitted. "I do feel better...although I'm probably going to end up throwing up."

"Don't worry...that's the way any proper Texas sheet cake ordeal ends."

He felt the smile creep up one side of his face. No matter how pissed he was, she always seemed to break through it. "So if your mom and you ate all the cake, what did your dad and sister eat?"

"Nothing," she told him. "That's why they're such miserable people. Probably also why they're skinny."

He scoffed. "You're perfect. Anyone with eyes can see that. Your sister...she'd be a hell of a lot better looking if she found a way to wipe that sneer off her face."

Vanessa's fork froze over the top of the cake. He noticed and winced. "Sorry."

"Eh, I just realized you were right...that's what it is. It's the sneer."

They both chuckled together and she took a gulp of her milk.

"Was he ever good to you?" Bobby suddenly asked.

At first she thought he was talking about Forrester, but when she met his eyes, she realized she was wrong. He was referring to her father. She took another bite of cake, then said, "He's a bastard."

"Mine too." He scraped some of the icing off his fork before continuing. "You know, all the shit he pulled with my mom...I think I could have even gotten over some of that if he hadn't been so damn mean. He was just mean...he enjoyed hurting people. And he enjoyed it more when he was drunk, which was most of the time." He took another bite of cake. "By the time I was ten, I knew how sex smelled, because he reeked of it every time he came home from his nights out. It disgusted me, embarrassed me." He laughed softly, sadly. "I was at the age where I would have thought it was gross anyway...but I would lie awake in bed wondering if I was destined to grow up to be like him...I used to picture myself running around, being compelled to have sex with all of these random women. Not wanting to, but having to do it...because I was my father's son." Now his laugh turned brighter. "I saved my allowance and bought my own soap, so that I knew I wouldn't smell like him, no matter what."

She didn't know what to say. She took another bite of cake and a drink of milk.

"So what did your bastard do to you?"

"I already told you," she said casually. "He never loved me."

He stopped eating and watched her as she spooned another mouthful of the chocolate in. "There's way more to it than that, Vanessa."

"Not really."

He watched her for a moment, then lowered his eyes to the cake tray. He didn't feel hungry anymore. She had never pulled back on him like this, refused to match his memory with her own. He felt vulnerable, exposed. Quietly he picked up his glass and his fork and headed toward the sink.

He was about to turn on the water when she said, "He told me so. The last time I saw him. He told me he never loved me, that I was a mistake and he used to fantasize that my mom had an affair to conceive me. That I was the worst thing he'd ever done. That he didn't understand how he could create something as beautiful as Ava and something as hideous as me." She licked her fork. "That I was definitely my mother's child."

He froze at the sink, letting her words penetrate and trying to imagine what it must have been like, hearing them. As horrible as his dad had been, and as physically abusive, he had never said anything that came remotely close to that.

"No, he never hit me or molested me or anything tragic like that. He just chipped away at who I was, a little at a time, until there was hardly anything left."

He turned from the sink. She was still eating the cake, slowly, her expression one held in a normal conversation, as though they were talking about the weather or a new recipe or their plans for Saturday. He felt even more nauseated now than he had when he was eating the cake.

"That's disgusting," he said finally. "My opinion of your sister has sunk to a new low."

She shrugged. "It's not her fault. Ava's a victim of circumstance, like the rest of us. She doesn't know the things he said. She wasn't there."

"You don't believe those things," he said lowly, quietly. "Do you?"

She finally tossed the fork down into the pan and wiped her face with a napkin. "Usually, no," she told him. "Except when bad things happen. Then I think maybe he was right." She met his eyes. "But then, you already know that about me, don't you?"


"Sam," she said brightly, "it's Vanessa Rayden...we met on New Year's Eve, remember?"

"Yeah," the voice on the other end replied. "I remember. You're a friend of Alex's." There was a pause. "I enjoyed meeting you but I'm not sure why you're calling me."

"Oh that." Vanessa paced across the kitchen, wiping down the counter from the leftover cake. "Well, I'm calling you because I promised Alex that I would."


"Listen Sam, I don't know if you've heard yet, but Alex took down a pretty big suspect on New Year's Eve. She saw him in the crowd. That's why she had to leave you." She tossed the rag into the sink.

"No, I hadn't heard that." She could hear the change in Sam's tone; an interest there that had been missing just a few minutes before.

"Yeah...I'm personally indebted to her. The guy she caught was the same one who assaulted me last year...I guess he was following me. Alex saw him and took him down. He's in Riker's now." She took a sip of her milk. "Alex is a great woman and she's extremely professional, so she'd probably never tell you this. I just know she really sacrificed to put this asshole in jail. She probably won't tell you what happened because she's such a good friend and doesn't want to talk about my business... I just know she's really disappointed she didn't get to spend the evening with you."

Sam was quiet for a moment. "I've been meaning to call her," he finally said. "Maybe if I apologize for not calling before now, she might give me another shot?"

Vanessa felt herself grin. "I think she would, Sam. I think she would be very flattered. I just wanted you to know that she's a hero in my book. I wouldn't want you to miss out on someone like that."

She heard him clear his throat. "Well, thanks for calling me, Vanessa. I appreciate it, and I'm glad she caught the guy."

"No problem, Sam. Take care." She hung up the phone, feeling victorious.

"That was a nice thing you did." Bobby leaned against the refrigerator, eyeing her up and down. She laid her phone on the counter.

"Well, it was the least I could do...Eames gave up a date with a nice guy for this."

"Yeah. Date versus dangerous perp. Hard choice for most ethical detectives."

She stepped up to him and pulled on his arms. "Stop being pissy. It's just a date."

"That you manipulated Sam into."

"Oh please." Vanessa rolled her eyes. "All I did was tell him what happened. He happens to really like Alex. So what's the problem?"

"Nothing." He pulled away from her and left the kitchen.

She hesitated for a minute before deciding to follow him. Part of her was frustrated with his childish behavior. How big of an ego did he have, really? But part of her knew this was deeper, more profound. More than just a "typical man" response.

She ended up in the bedroom, where he was pulling off his shoes and tossing his legs across the bed. At least he hadn't left yet; that was a good sign. Not that she actually expected him to leave, but in the back of her mind she knew that was always an option. She wondered if he thought about it too.

He clicked on the tv and she clicked it off again.

He sighed heavily and looked at her. "Why are you doing this? Why do we need to discuss this any further? I've already told you I need time."

She pulled her legs up on the bed and wrapped her arms around her knees. "You're not being honest with me, Bobby. This is about more than Eames catching the bad guy."

He shook his head. "You know, sometimes things are just exactly what they seem. Sometimes bad things happen and people get pissy. Sometimes men get possessive. Call me crazy."

She watched him, his tension stiffening his body. He was staring straight ahead.

God, he absolutely hated being angry with her. He didn't understand why she wouldn't just stay out of this business between him and Eames. Why she had to be in the middle of it, trying to play matchmaker for Eames after she'd pissed him off like she had.

Finally, he said, "You know, I'd appreciate a little loyalty here." He crossed his arms again.

Her voice was soft. "Bobby." She considered touching him but thought better of it. "You know you have my complete loyalty."

"Do I?" he snapped at her, immediately regretting his tone, if not his words. Controlling his voice a bit more carefully, he said, "It feels a little like you're on Eames' side of this."

"There is no side," she said angrily. "This isn't even about Eames. This is about you. You feeling out of control."

He stood up, rubbing the back of his neck. "I-I don't feel out of control. If anything, things are more controlled now than they've been in months." He turned around. "Profiling me isn't going to help anything." He paused for a moment before meeting her eyes. "In fact, it just makes me more pissed off, to tell you the truth."

"I'm not profiling you," she argued. "I'm just pointing out a fact that anyone with eyes and half a brain would pick up on."

"Great. Now I'm stupid too."

"No! But since when did this go from being about me to being about you? I was the one who was assaulted, remember? I'm the one who was hurt and whose entire life changed. Look, I know you have made tremendous sacrifices to help me and I appreciate every one...but you need to get a grip. This is not about you."

He felt his anger, rage, choking him. Nine months of his life spent nurturing her back to some semblance of who she was. Nine months he had given to help her heal, to protect her, to create safety where there was none. It was the sacrifices. He hadn't minded them, really, when he had imagined he would get his time with Forrester. But now...now he just felt robbed of his entitlement. Sitting back down on the edge of the bed, he pulled his shoes back on.

"What are you doing?" she demanded, angry too, not understanding. He could hear it in her voice, and knew there were no words to explain it adequately to her.

Shoving his foot into his shoe, he said firmly, "Going out." The he stood and grabbed his jacket from the armchair where it lay. As he walked past her to the bedroom door, he stopped for a minute. "Don't wait up for me."

Then he was gone.


She was flipping through her cell phone features at two a.m., absolutely furious.

It had been over six hours since he had stormed out in his little snit fit, and Vanessa was still livid. She was pissed when he left, more pissed after a bit of time, then she had started to calm down after a couple of hours. Maybe taking a break was good. She knew she had sounded insensitive and she hadn't meant to--all she had wanted was for him to understand that he was overreacting. But once it reached midnight and he still hadn't called her, she started to get worried. Then she started feeling panicky, and now she was pissed. Pissed all over again.

Somehow playing with her cell phone features made it seem more likely that he would call.

He didn't, though. She heard the front door open at 2:23, heard him murmuring to Bruce as he made his way back to the bedroom. He opened the door and looked a little surprised to see her sitting there, playing with her phone.

"I told you not to wait up," he said, but not defensively. Calmly, matter-of-factly. He had calmed down.

"And you thought I wouldn't? Are you crazy?" Clearly, she hadn't calmed down. In fact, she was more furious now than she'd ever been with him. She stood up, facing him, eyes barely meeting his lips, but she cocked her head up as if to challenge him to get angry with her.

He didn't bite, but he didn't look away either. "I was hoping you would go to bed, and then I would go to bed, and when we woke up we could both talk a little more...rationally," he finished, choosing his words carefully.

"You know what?" she snapped, "I'm not interested in being rational right now with you. Your ego is huge and I'm furious! You walked out on me in the middle of a discussion just because you didn't like what I said to you...and you were wrong, Bobby! Does it ever occur to you that sometimes you're just plain old wrong?"

It did occur to him, actually, and most times he caught it before other people did. He knew his response hadn't been the greatest. But he loved her too much to let the words fly, and he wasn't about to do it now.

"I had to leave," he told her. "I won't become my father...I won't let the anger take over me. Maybe I have overreacted. And I understand you were the one who was hurt. But can you at least remember that you haven't gone through this alone?"

His words caught her off guard. Somewhere in all of this, in her effort to make him see, she had forgotten. Forgotten that assault doesn't happen in isolation. She had tried to remember that yesterday, initially; but the thought had faded with his mature versions of temper tantrums and her frustration with all of the pain. He had been part of this since day one, since he walked onto the crime scene. And his investment in her, in this, in seeing this through, came barreling over her like a train out of control off the tracks.

Her chin dropped and she sank down to the bed. Her anger, her fury, from the past few hours stemmed mainly from concern about him. She decided to tell him so.

"I didn't know where you were," she confessed. "I was afraid you wouldn't come back. I was scared."

He knew that feeling. For a moment he was eight again, watching his mother be sedated by an EMT during a particularly bad episode. Wondering if they were really killing her, like she was screaming. Wondering if she was going to die. Wondering if he would ever see her again.

He sat next to her on the bed. "I went to a bar and had three beers. Then I had two cokes. Then it closed and I came home." He kicked off his shoes. "This is my home and it's where I'm going to come back to. You don't ever have to worry about that." He took the phone out of her hand and laid it on the nightstand. "I love you. And I'm sorry...sorry for storming out...sorry for being so sensitive about this. Sorry for wanting something other than what happened."

She watched him, saw the pain in his eyes. "I get it," she said. "I know you wanted to get him. There's a part of me that wanted that too. Do you remember when you promised me that you would get him--that you would shoot him in the balls? Don't you think I've fantasized about that? Over and over. I'm not completely oblivious, Bobby. And I know you've sacrificed big." The weight of that statement hit her hard, and she pressed her face against his shirt, praying to God that he wouldn't think she was the burden he was feeling.

He tilted her chin up and caught her eyes. "Hey...I'd do it all again in a second...you're the best thing that's ever happened to me." His lips touched her forehead, then eyelids, as he kissed her softly. He stood up then and pulled off his shirt and his jeans, dropping them in the hamper, and made his way to the other side of the bed, climbing in under the covers. She watched him silently until he was buried in, then pulled off her own jeans and her bra. She slid in on her own side, and he pulled her close. She pressed her head to his bare chest, drawing circles with her fingers while he kissed her hair, until he finally tugged at her tee shirt and said, "Take this off...I don't want it here." So she pulled it off and moved close to him again, pressed skin to skin, and his arms wrapped around her protectively and everything that had been angry and frightening was gone.

They slept peacefully until early morning. He awoke first, pressed against her body. She had done her usual, shifting herself over to her pillow and away from him. And he had done his usual, pressing against her anyway. It was never a conscious decision he made. His body just seemed to seek hers out, warm and soft and comforting to him. Even after last night. Especially after last night.

His thoughts wandered to his actions, his choices over the last few days and how upset she had been when he got home. If he regretted anything, it was worrying her the way he had. When they had been arguing, before he left, he couldn't help being reminded of his father. Of the words he would use, the things he would say, and he couldn't allow himself to lose that level of control. She meant too much to him. She had to know that. He wouldn't give everything up because of anger. He had lived that as a child, seen the damage it could do, and if nothing else he would not allow himself to become a copy of his old man.

He kept his body pressed against hers and wrapped his arms around her. He wondered for a moment what she was dreaming about. She seemed peaceful this morning. He wanted to wake her; his morning erection was pressing against her and the thought of making love with her, especially after last night, was incredibly appealing. But watching her sleep peacefully won out. Peaceful sleep was something that neither of them took for granted, and he couldn't bring himself to deny her of it, even now.

But she began to shift against him, and a few moments later she had rolled over, facing him, sleepy eyes slightly opened.

He smiled at her and leaned down to kiss her softly. Her eyes closed but her mouth opened, and the kiss was soft, sweet. Their tongues touched gently in a manner that felt erotic, yet strangely protective. Protective of them, of this moment. She didn't say anything but ran her hands through his hair, holding his head close to her own. He caught her lips again, this time a little more passionately, then slid his mouth over to her jaw. Her skin was incredibly soft, and he ran his hands over her back, up to her shoulders, and down to her breasts. Intimate. Soft, arousing, beautiful to him.

Her nipples hardened under his fingers and she began kissing his shoulder, sucking on his skin. Excitement ran through his body and he shivered, enjoying the feel of her and the eroticism in her suckling. He leaned down to kiss her breasts and she moaned softly underneath him. He caught a nipple with his teeth and gently sucked and nibbled on her until he felt her hips shift against his own. He didn't want to stop, didn't want to abandon what he was doing. She was so soft, so beautiful, so responsive to him. It excited him immensely to know he was bringing her so much pleasure; he was beginning to feel heady and driven instead of cerebral. He relished in the change of focus, the connection to her that seemed to come so naturally. His thumbs caught the corners of her panties and he helped her shed them and his boxers followed quickly. She was under his body, pressing her thighs on either side of his, trying without words to encourage him to move forward. And after an incredibly short debate in his mind, he gently entered her.

He felt his mind empty, the way it always did, briefly, as he was overcome with the sensation of being surrounded by her. He dragged his lips from her nipple up to her mouth, kissing her open-mouthed, wanting to feel completely overcome by her. He braced himself on his elbows as he moved with her so that he could cup her face in his hands. In moments like this he knew there would never be anyone else he could feel this for. No one else that would make him feel so incredible, so out of his mind, so cherished and perfect and right with the world. He spent so much time using his genius brain that having a break from himself was an amazing gift. She was the only woman he had ever been with who understood that about him. The fact that she could sense it, see it, took his breath away.

Her legs entangled with his as he thrust into her, slowly, rhythmically, and he could hear her sigh and moan. His mouth slid down to her neck, sucking and tasting her flesh. Her willingness to be intimate with him was something he never took for granted. He found her willingness to be as erotic as the actual act itself.

She gripped him, pulling him closer, echoing his movements. He found himself starting to think, to ponder what she might be thinking or if she was trying to fix last night or what his own motivations were, and he pushed the thoughts away. He didn't want to think. He only wanted to feel, to feel her pressed against him, joined with him, and the pleasure they were giving one another. For once he turned his mind off and just responded to her movements and her sounds and the thrill he felt coursing through his body. He knew she was close; he had learned her body and memorized every movement, every sound that allowed him to read her intimately and accurately. He slipped a hand between them and lifted himself up for a moment, stroking her until she was gasping and he heard her cry out. She didn't call his name as she usually did but rolled her hips firmly against his until he began to move more frenetically against her. Faster, erratic, until he buried his head in her neck and himself inside her and he came.

After a few minutes he realized she had wrapped her arms around him and was stroking his back softly. Concerned that he was making her uncomfortable, he moved off of her and next to her on the bed. Her eyes were dark and heavy-lidded.

"I love you," she whispered, her voice coarse and deep with emotion.

He touched her hair, cheek softly. "Everything is okay. I promise." He lay still as she buried her head against him again. "I love you too, Beth," he murmured.

She was everything. He didn't ever want to forget that.


Alex sat her tray down across from Vanessa's in the cafeteria. "Well, I owe you," she admitted, opening her bottle of water. "He called and apologized, and we went out the other night."

Vanessa cracked a smile. "Well, he knew a good thing when he had it."

Alex smiled shyly and shook her head. "What did you say to him?"

Vanessa shrugged, opening her salad. "I just told him the truth...that you had to leave to bust a perp...and it happened to be the guy who assaulted me...and that you were actually a hero in my book and I didn't think he'd want to let one like you get away."

Eames had taken a bite of her sandwich but stopped chewing for a minute. She was staring at Vanessa's face, until Vanessa finally said, "What?"

Alex shook her head again. "You didn't have to do that."

"Do what?"

"Tell him any of that...it's not really anyone's business..."

"Alex." Vanessa lowered her voice now, but was looking her in the eyes intensely. "If I can't tell some guy who's crazy about you that I was assaulted, never mind sexually assaulted, how the hell am I going to get on the stand and do it?"

Eames didn't answer her. She continued to eat slowly, thinking about what Vanessa had said. As long as she had been a cop, as many victims as she had seen, she couldn't begin to imagine what Vanessa was facing in testifying against Forrester. It was a necessary evil. She thought about Joe's death and how when it happened she had lived for days, weeks, with the goal of testifying at the trial. Then when there was no trial, how she had fantasized with great detail about giving her family impact statement at sentencing. Somehow, she had thought being able to face the man who had taken her husband's life would fix something--provide that ever-elusive sense of closure that all the shrinks kept talking to her about. But she had never gotten the chance. There had been a plea agreement and it was over. Just like that. The irony struck her now, how Vanessa would probably give her eyeteeth for it to be over "just like that". She wouldn't be so lucky though--Forrester had money but more than that, he had a vendetta and an obsession. The law was cruel sometimes. Even after so many years on the force, some days she felt cynical. She wondered what Joe would say about this, this irony and torture of people who had already been victimized. It always seemed that the most painful path won out.

"You'll be ready to testify when it's time." Eames spoke more confidently than she felt. She wanted Vanessa to believe her, to feel as though she would be empowered by facing Forrester in the courtroom. "In the end, it will be all right. Bobby and I will both testify too...and Carver will prep you completely. You won't be alone. The physical evidence itself is enough to convict him. Your testimony will just be Carver's icing on the cake." She shook her head. "There's no way in hell he's getting out of this...it doesn't matter how much money he has."

Vanessa sat back, regarding Alex. She knew Alex was trying to ease her fears, support her as much as she could. The whole idea of court was stressful. Ever since she had found out that Forrester was remanded last week, the idea of testifying had been in the forefront of her mind. She was determined now, though, not to spend all her time focusing on something that wouldn't happen for months. "I appreciate your vote of confidence," she said, deciding to change the course of conversation, "but I really want to know about Sam."

Now Alex grinned, and the tension in her face disappeared. "He's a nice guy. We went to dinner and a movie on Friday night...had a great time...we're going to a play on Saturday afternoon."

"Ooh," Vanessa teased, "cultured!"

Alex laughed. "Something like that. I still can't believe you actually got him to apologize. When I was the one who left."

"Well, he was apologizing for not returning your call in a more timely fashion, right? And he's a decent guy, so he felt bad about that. Most decent guys would feel that way."

"I don't seem to attract decent guys, so I'll take your word on that one."

"Well, me either," Vanessa confessed. "That's why I didn't date before Bobby...it was a disaster." She took another bite of her salad, before continuing. "You attract nice guys, you just don't stick with them. You miss Joe too much."

Alex sighed. "True...I'm working on that."

"Is he a good kisser?"

"A good...wha--?"

"Oh, stop being all shy...you worked in vice for christ's sake! Can the man kiss or not?"

Alex closed her mouth, then broke into a grin. "Amazingly well, yes."

"Good. That's critically important...if he can't kiss, you need to kick him to the curb...he won't be able to do anything else right either."

"I don't even want to ask how you developed that particular opinion."

"Really?" Vanessa popped a grape tomato into her mouth. "I'd be happy to share...and it's true...if you don't believe me, try it out."

"You didn't date for five years!"

"Well, I had extensive practice before. And what I say is true. Remember it and you will be a happy woman. Physically, at least."

Alex laughed and took the last bite of her sandwich.

"Speaking of good kissers," Vanessa continued, "how's it going with Goren? Is he still giving you a hard time?"

"Not so much...I think he's getting over it a little...or maybe just letting it go...although in all the years I've known him, Goren doesn't let anything go. He never forgets." Alex winced. "And please, don't reference kissing and my partner in the same sentence. It so doesn't work for me."

Vanessa ignored that. "Don't let him convince you that you somehow did anything wrong. He's wrong and he knows it. You did everything right, and I'm eternally grateful for that."

Eames crumpled the wrapper from her sandwich up. "He hasn't mentioned it. We're just working like we always have. And that's fine by me, you know?"

"Yeah. I get that."

They walked across the cafeteria and deposited their trash in the wastebasket. "I have to get back upstairs. Are you going to see Lydia?"

"Yeah...of my own volition too. I think she's brainwashed me."

"Eh, it's good for you." Alex pressed the button to the elevator. "Guess I'll see you later?"

"No doubt--tell Goren I said to play nice."

"Yeah," Eames replied sarcastically. "I'll be sure to pass that along."


"I brought you something," he told her as he sat next to her on the couch. He was holding a tiny box, and she suddenly felt her suspicion meter shoot up. She was pretty sure this was out of guilt.

"What is it?" she asked him as he handed her the box. Small and blue. The size of a jeweler's box.

He smiled at her. "Well, open it and you'll see."

She held the box but didn't open it. She didn't like the idea of him giving her anything out of a sense of guilt or obligation. She hesitated for a moment before asking, "Is this because of last week?"

He shook his head. "No," he said firmly. Then, "Well, I take that back. Maybe partly. Last week just reminded me how much you mean to me. That's not a bad thing. So, in that sense, yes."

She examined the box before saying, "You don't have to give me things. I don't want it if it's because you feel bad. We had an argument...it shouldn't be so earth-shattering that you have to buy me gifts."

"That's not what I did," he said, and she looked up at him. He looked hurt. "I'm not trying to buy your love or forgiveness...I saw something and it reminded me of you and how much I love you. I bought it. I can get a refund-"

"No," she said quickly. "I'm sorry...I just...I didn't want you to feel obligated."

"Well don't get so excited about it. Now you're going to be disappointed when you open it up."

She looked at him curiously. His arms were crossed, the way he always did when he felt defensive, but there was a sly smile playing on his lips. She pulled at the white ribbon and tossed it aside before taking a deep breath and opening the box.

"It's a receipt," she said, surprised. "From Lina's."

"Wonder of all wonders," he explained, "Lina makes Texas sheet cake. She's making one for you. I"ll pick it up tomorrow." The sly smile now shone across his lips openly. "Close your mouth...you're going to catch flies."

"Heh. Did you call her?"

"I stopped in when I was checking my mail earlier today." He stretched his legs out, perching his feet on the coffee table. "Did you know she said she could make it in different flavors?"

Vanessa shook her head. "Then it's not really Texas sheet cake."

"Somehow I knew you'd say that." He uncrossed his arms and put one along the back of the couch. "I told her we'd just take chocolate."

She smiled. "That's perfect. Now we'll be ready for whatever comes our way. Thank you." She kissed him, then put her feet next to his on the table and rested her head back against his arm. "Why are you still doing that, anyway?"

"Doing what?"

"Picking up your mail over there."

He grinned. "Because as much as I try to avoid it, they still make me pay my bills."

"Very funny. Why don't you just put in a change of address? You're over here all the time anyway."

He sat up and put his feet down on the floor. She saw his sudden tension and said quickly, "Or don't...it was just a suggestion. I don't want to impose on your independence in any way."

He caught her hand in his. "Look at me," he said urgently. Nervously, she turned to face him. She wasn't sure that she wanted to know where this was going.

He caught her face in his hands gently, then ran them to her shoulders before speaking. "Are you sure you want that? My address to be here?" He paused. "Is this just something for...I don't know...convenience? For me? Or-"

"You don't have to move in," she said. "Whatever you want is good with me. I feel like we're living together already. Hell, we've been living together for six months. Keep your place if you want--it's always good to have a place you can go to be alone. But it just makes sense for you to have your mail sent here. It's kind of crazy to have to run to Brooklyn every other day if you don't have to." Feeling self conscious, she said, "Unless you want to, of course."

"I don't want to," he said, perhaps a little too quickly for his own taste, but she didn't seem put off by his response. "I just don't want to rush you in any way."

She pushed his arm lightly. "You never rush me." Correcting herself, she added, "Except when I need it." She crossed her legs under her. "You remember the other night when you said this was home for you?"

"Yeah." He caught her index finger in his hand.

"I'm kind of assuming you meant that...if you didn't, now would be a good time to clarify..."

He cleared his throat. "I meant it," he said firmly. "My life is here with you now. It's what I want."

"Good," she responded, snuggling closer to him. "It's what I want too."


"I'm glad you found your way over here," Ava said, handing Vanessa a bottle of water. "I was afraid you had forgotten where I lived."

"You invited me, remember? I told you I'd be happy to see you again once you were willing to have a respectful conversation with me." Vanessa opened the bottle and took a drink. "Although it's not starting off pretty now, is it?"

"Oh, stop. This is the way we always talk. I don't know how to talk to you any differently." Ava tossed her hair, then took a sip of her tea. "So how are things at home, with Bobby? Is he living there?"

Vanessa could hear the strain in Ava's voice and knew that her sister was putting forth all the effort she possibly could. "Everything's fine. He still has his place but he's usually over at mine."

Ava made a face. "I'm surprised the two of you aren't shacking up full time by now. Isn't that what you both wanted anyway?"

Vanessa was surprised. "Well, to be honest, I'm not sure what either of us wanted. All of this kind of caught us both by surprise." She waved a hand dismissively in the air. "Neither of us planned this. He was there when I needed someone and it just evolved from there. You know that."

"I know that's what you've said. But I know men. Men like Bobby--they see a woman like you and see an easy ride."

Vanessa snorted. "Anyone who has put up with me over the last year isn't looking for an easy ride, Ava."

Ava shook her head. "You're so naive sometimes, you know that? You really don't think that he's pleased that he'll be living the high life with you in that condo versus his little squat in Brooklyn? What's a cop make these days anyway...enough to pay rent in a one-bedroom, apparently."

"Well, he's still paying for his one-bedroom."

"Does he pay for your dates?" Seeing Vanessa's hesitation, she replied, "Yeah. That's what I thought."

"Actually, he pays for a lot. Most of them. He's pretty chivalrous and if you'd give him a chance, you might figure that out."

There was a loud bang from the front room and Ava hopped up from her seat. "Justin?" she called. A moment later the preschooler ran into the kitchen.

"Iss otay, Mama! I just pwayin' wif my twuck. It hitted de fiyapwace."

Ava bent down to his level. "Okay...just be careful."

"Tan Nessie pway now?"

"No," Ava said, "she's talking with me."

Justin exhaled, a heavy sigh atypical for his age. "Otay." He turned and walked back into the other room.

"He's pretty cute, Ava--"

"Who? Justin or Bobby?"

Vanessa grinned. "Both," she replied. She looked down, still smiling to herself, thinking of the Texas sheet cake that would be accompanying Bobby home tonight. It had been a sweet gesture that had touched her. She laughed, realizing her own pun.

"What's so funny?"

"Oh," she glanced at Ava,"it's just silly really...Bobby bought me a Texas sheet cake from a bakery we know. I had told him how Mom used to make them."

"Yeah, whenever she was bawling and couldn't handle life." Ava sat back in her chair. "You and Mom and those sheet cakes...God, that last year I thought the two of you would never leave the kitchen." Ava's voice was bitter, and Vanessa recognized the tone, the affect. It was the same anger-jealousy-sadness-betrayal combo that she felt whenever she thought about her father.

"Ava...I'm sure Mom never meant to shut you out. She just...she didn't know how to do any better."

"You were here favorite. She always wanted you around. She didn't give a shit what I did. I could have been smoking pot and dancing naked with a group of boys in the next room and she wouldn't have cared."

"She would have cared," Vanessa corrected her. "She was just worn out, exhausted...you were too young to understand how bad it had gotten for her..."

"I was twelve," Ava argued. "I wasn't an infant, Vanessa. I knew she was depressed. But nothing I did made any difference. I used to make her cards and try to buy her presents...I found the cards in the garbage."

Vanessa's breath caught. She knew her mom had been severely depressed that last year. She rarely got out of bed except when Vanessa was able to cajole her into making the cake. Vanessa didn't realize their mother had rejected Ava's attempts to fix things, and for a moment imagined how painful it must have been for her little sister, to find those cards in the trash. Her efforts to fix her broken mother, destroyed.

"Ava," she said quietly, trying to sound comforting, "that was about her, not you. She just had nothing left to give." She struggled to find the words to make it better. "I'm so sorry she did that to you. I never knew...I just can't believe she meant for you to see that."

Ava snorted. "Right. I know she was completely void of motivation. Except, apparently, to make sheet cake with her oldest daughter." She got up from the table and went to the refrigerator, pulling out the tuna nicoise salad she had prepared for lunch. She placed it on the counter and stood still.

Watching her, Vanessa could sense the pain her sister was sharing. The same pain Ava had tried to deny her in their previous conversation concerning their father. "Ava..."

Ava didn't move for a long moment. "Do you know," she finally said softly, "I thought she did it because of me?"

Vanessa stood, unsure what to do. She and Ava hadn't been close in years. She finally approached her and leaned her back against the counter next to Ava. She could see the tears slipping down Ava's cheeks and remembered how her sister dealt with pain and anguish--through snark and defensiveness. Vanessa felt a massive amount of guilt, remembering how she had desperately tried to hide what had happened from Ava that day, but hadn't been able to. Their father had been right--she should have taken Ava to the neighbor's house, out of the way of the police and the EMT's. She should have protected her little sister from that scene. Grasping, she finally reiterated, "It wasn't because of you. It was because she was mentally ill."

"Right." Ava sniffed, trying to stifle her tears. "So now that I'm a mother, what does that mean for me?"

Vanessa understood what she meant. One of her own fears about becoming a parent had been that she wouldn't know how to do it right--that she would scar any child beyond repair. Hell, even her relationship with Bobby was so complicated and scary. And they were adults. At last she sighed. "I don't know," she confessed. "I guess you just try your best and get help if you need it. Justin loves you, and you seem like you're responsive to him. Are you worried?"

"No." Her breath hitched, catching the sob in her throat. "I just wish...I just wish someone had been there to teach me how to be a good mother." Ava's eyes met Vanessa's, and all the pain she was holding back came forward. Big, gulping sobs.

Vanessa wrapped her arms around her sister, thinking about how much both of them had been hurt. How painful mental illness was and how difficult it was to explain to people who hadn't been through it. For most of her life, she had spent her time focused on the rejection she had suffered in her relationship with their father. How he had never wanted her, how she was a disappointment. How her mother couldn't protect either of them from him. It never occurred to her that Ava--smart, tough, bitchy Ava--had suffered the same thing in the same house, only by different hands. She held Ava for a long time while she cried. She remembered a time from their childhoods, when their dad had been on a business trip and their mother unable to leave the bed. Ava had fallen off her bike and scraped her knee. Vanessa had washed her wound and dressed it, kissing tiny Ava on the head and promising it would all be okay. Ava had hugged her and they had curled up in bed together that night. Vanessa had read Ava her favorite stories until she fell asleep. She wondered what had happened to them to drive this wedge so deeply into who they were.

Ava began to catch her breath and pulled away from her sister. She grabbed a tissue out of the tissue holder and wiped her face quickly. "I don't want Justin to see me like this," she said quietly. "It will upset him."

Vanessa nodded, then reached into the cabinet to pull out plates. A moment later, Justin appeared, carrying his favorite truck in his hand. "Nessie, 'ere's my twuck! Iss so funny!"

She grinned at her nephew and said, "C'mon, let's take it in the other room and try it out while your mom gets lunch on the table."

Justin gleefully led the way, and she followed him. He was a beautiful boy, with dark hair and eyes and fair skin. Every time she had seen him--which hadn't been a lot--he had been excited to show her something new. She was always in awe of how quickly he grew, how happy he seemed. For all her faults, it was clear that Ava took her job as a mother seriously, and Justin was thriving.

Vanessa watched him send the truck barreling across the hardwood floors repeatedly, laughing every time it came to a stop and made a screeching sound. He looked up at her and said, giggling, "It does dat when it stops. It's de bwakes!"

"I think you're right," she told him. "Brakes are important! They stop the car."

"Iss not a car, Nessie...issa twuck!"

She laughed. "You're right, Justin...but brakes still stop a car...and they stop a truck, too."

Ava appeared in the doorway. "Who's ready for some lunch?" Her face was still slightly splotchy from crying, but she had clearly composed herself for her son.

"Me me me!" Justin sang as he ran to the kitchen. Vanessa watched him climb up the stepstool and wash his hands. Ava had this kid trained.

"He's a great kid," she told Ava, watching Justin dry his hands on a paper towel. "You're a fantastic mother."

Ava glanced at her sister and smiled softly. "That means a lot, coming from you," she said, her voice trembling slightly. "Thanks."


"Fork." Bobby passed her the utensil and she grinned at him, ready to dig in.

They were sitting in bed, watching reality TV and preparing to dig into Lina's sheet cake. He had brought the cake home, as promised, and they had quickly gotten ready for bed. Bobby hung his suit in the closet, stripped down to his boxers and tee shirt, and Vanessa had tossed on a pair of running shorts and a tank top. Looking at her, he grinned and said, "You know, we could do this naked."

"Hmm." She pulled back the covers. "I think I'll pass on that...just a wee bit too kinky for me at this point." That's when he had sat down with her and passed her the fork.

Lina's cake, as with everything else, was heaven. Dense, fudgy, chocolaty deliciousness that melted in her mouth. "This is an incredible present," she told him, mouth still full. "I think it's better than what usually comes in those types of boxes!"

He took another bite of cake. "You're ridiculously easy to please, you know." Swallowing his cake, he decided to change the subject. "When are you coming back to work?"

"Monday. It's time anyway, you know? I'm running out of ideas of things to do."

"What'd you do today?"

She poked at the cake. "I had lunch with Ava. She made tuna nicoise salad...it was very good...and Justin was there. We played trucks."

"That sounds fun." Bobby tried to sound enthusiastic. The truth was, he missed her terribly at work and wished Deakins had never demanded she take time off after Forrester's capture. She had been working half time for the past few weeks and it always seemed that when she was in the office, he was out in the field.

"I don't know that I'd go with 'fun' on that one," she confessed. "Ava and I had a rather painful discussion about my mother. She told me some things I didn't know had happened...it was just...hard for her."

Bobby was licking the frosting off his fork. "I wonder how much you both don't know about the other's experiences," he mused.

"What do you mean?"

"Well," he explained, "I would guess if it was anything like when I was growing up, you guys were probably so wrapped up in what was going on for you at the time you didn't recognize what was going on for each other...at least to some extent. I mean, you were kids."

She scraped a bit of the icing off the corner of the cake. "Ava used to make these cards for my mom. I remember because she would take my markers and colored pencils and stuff...you know, to make them special or something. Turns out my mom threw them all in the trash."

"Ouch. That's pretty brutal to do to a kid."

"Yeah. I just wish I would have seen...I would have pulled them out so she didn't know..."

He shook his head. "Isn't it amazing the level of responsibility we'll take on to cover for our parents?"

She laid her fork down. "That last year, she was so bad off...she didn't even cry anymore. She just stayed in bed all the time. The only time she got out was to make cake. Every day I tried to talk her into making cake. Just to get her out of bed." She hesitated. "I never thought about how that affected Ava...I only thought about getting my mom out of bed. That if she was at least motivated to make cake, then she was motivated to do something. That day I came home, I knew. I knew when I came in the house. She had already made cake." She shuddered involuntarily. "She looked so peaceful, like she was just sleeping there. But she was cold. I tried to feel her breathing, but there was nothing...then I poked her. I poked her a lot. I guess I just didn't believe she finally did it."

He had stopped eating. "Were you scared?"

"Yeah. But more angry." She pulled her knees up to her chest. "After I poked her for awhile, and I was pretty sure she was dead, I hit her. Slapped her face. I was so mad at her. I called her a selfish bitch. Then I begged her to wake up again...before I called the cops. That's what took so long...if I hadn't had such a little fit then I could have gotten Ava to the neighbor's without her seeing so much. The cops got there about ten minutes after Ava did. My dad was right...I did a bangup job that day."

He didn't say anything. She had expected him to correct her, to say that her dad was wrong, he was a dick, that she did all she could. But he didn't. Instead he moved what was left of the sheet cake to the nightstand, then pulled her body against his. After a moment of resistance, she sank into him.

She had to admit, having someone to share these things with was a hell of a lot better than when she'd come home alone, listening to herself over and over again. Bobby was nothing if not a good listener. She knew he understood, understood probably as much or more about it than she understood herself. That maybe it wasn't so critical to hear her father was an ass. She already knew that. Maybe it was more important to express her own doubts about herself, to connect back to her sister and the pain and anger they both felt at the loss of their mother.

Bobby's long arms were wrapped around her. "You were a good big sister." He pressed his lips to the top of her head. "My brother--he hung around for awhile--but then it just got too intense, and he would leave. Especially after my dad left...Frank would go out with his friends. Sometimes he never even came home from school. He'd stay out until eleven or twelve. I was just a kid. I was scared to leave her, scared she'd hurt herself. She was so confused and paranoid...I didn't know why she was that way and I didn't know how to make it stop. All I knew is everyone else had left her, and I was all she had."

"For a little kid, you did a pretty damn good job." She slid down onto the mattress, resting her head on her pillow and interlacing her fingertips together on her stomach.

He laid down next to her, slipping his hand under hers. "I never thought I had any other choice."

She thought about that. "Would you have done it differently if you thought you did? Have another choice, I mean."

He was quiet for a minute. "Probably not."

"Me either."

Suddenly he laughed. "So why the hell are you and I sitting here feeling like we've let the world down?"

"Heh. I have no idea."

He grabbed the remote control off of the bed and began flipping through the channels quickly, settling on a video music channel. Suddenly he stopped, intrigued by what was on the TV. Several scantily-clad young women gyrating to a quick beat.

"Have you seen this before?" he asked her, tilting his head.

"Uh, yeah." She tried hard not to roll her eyes.

Still staring at the television, he said, "I was going to suggest that we dance, but I don't know that I can do this...it's beyond my norm..."

"You're just not adventurous enough!" She climbed out of the bed and began to mimic the dance in the video. Quickly, his eyes moved from the TV to her, and a smile half a step away from a leer crossed his face.

"Come on," she told him. "Shake your groove thing! If I can do it, so can you-"

"This used to be your career!" he objected as she pulled him out of the bed.

"I was a singer, genius, not a dancer," she laughed. "Come on, just pretend you're learning steps to a new dance." He followed her lead, splitting his attention between the TV to see the steps, and her, to see her sway.

A new song came on, but ironically, at least in his mind, the dance looked the same. Lots of young women barely dressed shaking whatever they had to the rhythm. Apparently Vanessa thought it was different, though, because she began to lead him through some new dance steps. Laughing, she told him, "I know you're better than this...I've seen you dance before!" He didn't bother to tell her he was distracted, and she was the main distraction. She pulled him closer, then demanded, "Watch! Focus, Goren!"

"I am, I am!"

"You're watching the wrong parts--watch my feet, not my boobs or my butt, you ass..."

They were both laughing as he stumbled through several steps with her, before finally pulling her close and attempting to tango across the bedroom with her. "I prefer the classics, I think," he finally said. "Tango, foxtrot, electirc slide..."

"Yeah, there's a true classic...the electric slide!" She was laughing hysterically. "Do you at least know the Time Warp?"

"From Rocky Horror?"


"Nope. Never heard of it."

They both collapsed on the bed in a heap of laughter, gasping for breath.

He caught his breath first. "I love you, you know that?"

"Yeah." She stroked his cheek. He brought so much into her life. "I love you too. Even if you do the electric slide and don't know the Time Warp."

Suddenly he bellowed, "I remember....doing the time warp...."

"Ha ha! But do you really remember how to do it?"

"Sure," he told her, climbing off of the bed. "It came out in my time...you would have been a wee young thing...It's just a jump to the left-" he jumped to his left, then took a step repeatedly to the right, echoing loudly, "And a step to the rightttttt--"

Vanessa switched her position on the bed so that she was laying on her stomach, resting her head in her hands, trying not to giggle as he put his hands on his hips and pulled his "knees in tight--"

"Now do the pelvic thrust," he sang, demonstrating, "It'll drive you insannnee! Let's do the time warp again!"

She was gasping for breath, laughing hysterically at the 6'4" man in front of her demonstrating the classic film dance. Suffice it to say that Bobby was pretty accurate in describing himself as a more classic dancer, she thought. Although the pelvic thrust had been a nice touch.

"See?" He told her. "I'm not completely useless when it comes to popular culture."

She had managed to catch her breath somewhat, but his statement started her giggling all over again. "Don't quit your day job," she snickered, then squealed as he leaned over to tickle her ribs. "Stop!" she managed after a minute, and he pulled his hands back from her and fixed his mouth in a disapproving line.

"You should be more supportive of me, Ness...I mean, maybe it's been my lifetime dream to be a dancer for Rocky Horror."

She bit her lip. "Is it?"

"No," he grinned, "but that's beside the point." Before he could catch her again, she pinned his arms back to the bed. She was half-laying on him, holding him down.

"Okay, smart ass," she said as she repositioned herself on top of him, pinning not only his arms but his legs. "So what IS your lifetime dream?"

His grin melted into a soft smile and she felt his resistance to her weight lessen. "Do you really want to know?"

She felt her heart beat faster, close to his. His muscles had relaxed against her, her face just inches from his as he rested his head on the pillow. "Yes," she said, breathing against him, "I want to know."

His eyes met hers and he looked as though he were dreamy, a faraway look that encompassed not only happiness but peace. He looked peaceful.

"My lifetime dream...I want..." he hesitated, then forced himself to continue. "To get married and have kids. To have a good family. That's it."

She wanted to look into his eyes, try to read him for all of the unspoken answers, but he had closed them. His face was relaxed, his mouth with a slight smile. She unpinned him and lay on top of him in a warm bundle, not moving, not speaking, but trusting that her actions would communicate the things she couldn't say.


She was in the middle of a report when Deakins entered her office.

"Hey," he said, slowly sitting into the chair across from her desk.

She looked at him inquisitively. "Are you needing some counseling services?"

He smiled at her, and shook his head. "I'm here more as a formality. Carver needs to speak with you."

"About what?"

"Forrester." Deakins' eyes didn't leave her face, although she had turned her own attention back to the computer screen. "He's reviewed the statement you made in the hospital but wants to get a second one from you now. Forrester is going to try to claim insanity."

"Well, that may not be far from the truth."

"You really want him on a psych ward, being released in a few years?"

She didn't look at him, but replied, "It's not like he's going to get life or something. He didn't kill me. He didn't even use a weapon."

Deakins was silent for a moment, then said, "I've taken Goren and Eames off this case. There's too much of a conflict of interest. Baxter's going to head it up."

Vanessa's face shot up. "Are you serious? I'm supposed to tell all this to Baxter?"

"Vanessa." His voice was quiet but firm. "You're a victim. You can't be treated as an employee, and your boyfriend can't investigate your assault...that breaks about a million policies--"

"My boyfriend?"

He sighed heavily. "I can look the other way. I try to stay out of things that aren't my business unless I'm forced to get involved. But yes, I've known about you and Bobby for a long time before the Christmas party, and Forrester's defense will eat you for lunch. Same with Eames. Her extent in this case ends with bringing him in."

She didn't look up, didn't give Deakins any information by her face She knew everything he was saying was true. But she had worked fantasies about all of this as much as Bobby had. And this was definitely not how it was supposed to go. Bobby was supposed to be the one to save her. He was going to rescue her from Forrester, sit by her and defend her honor until they got to court. She had played and replayed, a million times in her head, how this would look in interrogation. When Bobby got his hands--or mind--on Forrester, and all that would spill forth. Goren had an amazing gift at getting people to talk. He was the best detective on the squad when it came to interrogation, because he understood people. He understood how they thought. And she knew in her gut that he understood Forrester, despite how much he hated him. The thought of another detective accompanying her through any more interviews made her more than uncomfortable. She was still grasping at the idea of telling someone, anyone, what had happened to her in detail. Only Goren knew, despite the statement she had given. And there were parts that he still didn't know. Parts she had never shared with anyone.

"Vanessa," Deakins said again, and she looked up at him this time, granting him the courtesy of her eyes. "I know this is terrible and not what you want. I can imagine it's incredibly uncomfortable for you. If you would prefer to meet with Carver alone, or even have Goren accompany you to make the statement, that's fine...but he cannot be involved in any aspect of the development of this case. I hope you understand...it's for your own good. We all want this guy to get the max for what he did to you."

She almost laughed at that. Almost.

"Carver will be here in an hour. Would you like for Goren to be with you in the interview? As support?"

She shook her head. "I can do it alone. He doesn't need to see any more than he already has."

Deakins looked at her strangely for a moment, as though he were confused and couldn't imagine there would be something Goren wouldn't know. But then she shot him a wan smile, and he smiled back and stood.

"I'll send Carver in when he gets here."

"Okay. Great. I'll try to gather my thoughts."

Deakins left her office and she stared back at the monitor, unsure of what to do. She certainly couldn't concentrate now. She glanced out her office door and noticed that Goren and Eames weren't at their desks. They were probably out in the field, Goren's favorite place to be next to the interrogation room. At least he wouldn't be party to this. She knew he worried incessantly about her, and she hated that she was such a source of his stress. She longed for the day when he could look at her and just remember he loved her, rather than remembering that she had been assaulted and the person responsible would be tried and still stood to be a threat to her emotional well-being.

She spent the hour playing Solitaire, waiting for NYPD Big Brother to arrive and issue her a demerit, if not a suspension, for wasting company time. Unfortunately, the only person who materialized was Ron Carver, exactly when Deakins had said he would. He greeted her and asked, "Would you feel more comfortable in here or the conference room?"

She nodded at him and closed her door, motioning to the chair for him to sit. "This is fine, Mr. Carver, if it works for you."

Carver sat in the empty chair and pulled out his notepad. "This won't be a formal statement today," he told her. "We will schedule one for next week when Detective Baxter and Captain Deakins can be present. Today, I just wanted to update you on the case and see if you had any additional information you could give me."


Carver sat forward and crossed his hands on her desk. "Mr. Forrester is going to claim not guilty due to mental disease or defect. He says he has extensive damage due to drug and alcohol abuse and is unable to control impulses and tell right from wrong in intense circumstances. His story," Carver paused for a moment, trying to express what Forrester's attorney had said without upsetting Vanessa further, "is that the two of you were engaged in some intimate acts and you suddenly rejected him. You pushed him and he pushed you back, and you fell into the coffee table."

"Of course," Vanessa replied sarcastically. "What's his excuse for the kicking?"

"He claims he doesn't remember that."

She shook her head. She should have known. What an ass. The problem with justice is that you had to put yourself through the fucking wringer to get any.

"I have your statement from the hospital," Carver continued. "I was wondering if you could confirm or deny any part of his story."

"Other than he's a liar?"

Carver forced a grim smile. "Are you aware of any drug or alcohol abuse on his part? Had he been drinking or using that night?"

She cleared her throat. "Mr. Carver, everyone in that business uses. I don't know if he used that day. We had a glass of wine with dinner. That's all I saw."

"And have you ever seen him lose control before?"

"Do you think if I had I would have invited him in?"

"Dr. Rayden." Carver spoke slowly, letting the words sink in. "Please. Don't give me a difficult time. I'm on your side, remember?"

She took a deep breath. "No, I had never seen him lose control. I had never heard of him losing control or of any sort of violence with women. We had worked together several years ago and he had always been very supportive and professional. When I saw him that day he was exactly as I had remembered him...kind and supportive. He was friendly and funny and I thought he was...interested in me." The last phrase pushed itself out with difficulty. She hated that she had thought that, now.

"And the intimacy?" Carver leaned a little closer, keeping his voice calm and gentle. "Were the two of you intimate that evening?"

"We kissed in his car. It was raining and so I invited him up to my apartment." She stopped, unwilling to go further but knowing she had to. "Once we got inside, we continued to kiss...I guess a little petting...no clothing ever got taken off."

"What changed? When did it become violent?"

She shook her head. The memory so clear, so vivid, that she had pushed aside for months. "How...descriptive...do I have to be?"

Carver didn't answer, unsure of exactly what to say, and after a minute she continued. "He was kissing me, touching me...he began to take off my shirt. I don't know what it was. Something just felt wrong. I pulled away from him and told him I thought we should stop. He laughed and kept kissing me and began pulling at my shirt. He yanked it over my head. That's when I really tried to pull away from him. He called me a tease. It just disintegrated from there."

"Was that when he pushed you down?"


Carver watched her expectantly.

She felt herself distancing, separating herself from the memory and the recollection. "He yanked my bra off. That's when I tried to get away...and when he grabbed me by the hair." Her voice was shaking. The admission that it had gotten that far, that she had even let him touch her, made her nauseated and humiliated her. She had pushed that part of the story out of her mind, refusing to think of it or acknowledge it until now. In her mind, somehow it made her an accomplice to what he did to her. She had led him on, let him stroke her breasts and think this would go farther than it would. The fact that she ended up assaulted was nobody's fault but hers. She could practically hear her father's voice echoing Forrester's in that sentiment.

But Carver didn't say that. In fact, he didn't say anything. Instead he sat, leaning back in the chair with his arms crossed, watching her with a mixture of sympathy and pain on his face. "Well, doctor," he finally said, "this guy did a number on you. I'm thinking of a plea that would be eight and a half to twenty-five. With all the mitigating factors--the sexual assault, the physical attack, you being an NYPD representative--we should be able to get that plea. If we go to court we'll push for a higher amount of time served, but you know that's always a gamble. I guess I'm asking what you can live with."

She stared at her hands. For whatever reason, she'd never pictured that she would be in this position. She always figured Carver would just decide in advance how he wanted to handle the case and do it. Now he was here asking what she wanted. What she wanted from the man who took her life from her and had held it hostage for so long.

"A plea agreement...that keeps us out of court, right?"

"Yes...he would go before a judge, make a statement about his crime, but you wouldn't have to testify."

She was still looking down. "And what will he plead to?"

Carver leaned forward again. "Felony sexual battery and second degree assault of a police rep. It's not what we would go for in court--we would leave off the attempted murder charge, as well as the stalking--but I can promise you, I will make sure he pleads to the sexual battery."

She considered that. Forrester having to admit in court that he had hurt her. That she wasn't a slut who was asking for it. That he was wrong, hurtful, hateful. She could live with that, she thought.

"Okay," she finally said. "If he pleads to the sexual battery for eight and a half to twenty-five, that's good."

"I don't want this to be any harder on you than it has to be, Vanessa. I know you've already been through hell."

She picked up her pen. "When are we going to meet with Baxter?"

"How about Monday? I'll have Captain Deakins get with him and we'll get one more formal statement from you in the interrogation room. Then I'll meet with Forrester's attorney later in the week to present the plea."

She grabbed her planner to put in the meeting. "Okay," she said. "Just let me know the time...I'll be here. Thanks."

He tapped her desk with his fingers. "He's going to pay for this." Carver's voice was firm but slow, quiet. "I can promise you that."

She nodded. "I appreciate your effort, Mr. Carver."

Carver shook her hand, then exited the office, quietly closing the door behind him. Feeling completely exhausted, she closed her eyes, leaning back in her chair, and tried with all her might to will the tears away.


The statement went easily enough. Baxter and Deakins had sat with her as professionally as they did with every victim, as Carver asked questions and she recited her answers for the video recorder. Every detail. Every bit she remembered. Things she didn't want to remember. All three men acted as though this was commonplace for them, that the things she said weren't shocking or even surprising to them. As though these things happened every day. It made her wonder if she acted that way with victims or families. She hoped not.

When they finished, Carver had turned the video recorder off and thanked her, reassuring her that he would be meeting with Forrester's attorney within the next few days. She nodded and told him if he needed anything else to please let her know, then she left the interview room and headed for the ladies' restroom.

By now it was old hat. She finished vomiting and approached the sink, washing her face and taking a deep breath. It was done, over; she had done what she needed to do and hopefully she would never have to be a part of any of this again. Carver had told her it was a remote possibility that Forrester would try to take the case to court but he was certain they would win at a jury trial and therefore it would be unlikely for Forrester to push in that direction. She wanted desperately to believe that. She didn't know that she could.

She had held out on Bobby the night before, telling him that she was sure she could handle giving the statement on her own with no problems. Bobby had looked at her doubtfully but hadn't objected. She knew he felt caught between wanting to be supportive and wanting to be protective. She could see his inner struggle and the difficulty he had in letting it go, but he did. Instead of pushing her to discuss it, he had invited her to cook with him, and they had experimented with some curried chicken recipe. Laughing and joking, teasing one another, they had made chicken curry and rice and vegetables, and eaten at the table with hearty glasses of wine. He had worked hard to keep the conversation light and fun, to make her laugh and try to forget the upcoming interview. She knew he was trying to distract her, and although it didn't work, she had appreciated his effort.
He had held her close in bed that night, as he always did, making her sweaty from his body heat but finally releasing her to her own pillow sometime around two.

She knew he hadn't slept; he slept even less than she did, especially that night, and she had woken to her favorite Starbucks coffee by her bedside along with a note telling her he had to leave early but would see her later. The note had wished her good luck and said he was certain everything would be fine. She knew it was the best he could do. It was hard to let her go like this, to let her do this independently. He had supported her the very best way he knew how.

Now that it was over, as she stood in the restroom with her empty stomach and washed face, all she wanted was Bobby. Someone to listen and hear the whole thing. Someone who could confirm for her that she wasn't a whore, a tease, responsible for what had happened. Someone who would cook her chicken or pasta or even bread, who knew her and loved her for who she was.

She left the bathroom, trying to look inconspicuous, and approached his desk nonchalantly. He was talking on the phone, taking notes, and glanced up at her when she stood next to him.

"Uh, let me get back to you on that...thanks," he said into the receiver before hanging it up. He looked at her expectantly but didn't say anything.

She lifted her chin out of habit, the way she always did when feeling defensive, and said, "Would you have a little time for lunch?"

"It's, uh, three thirty in the afternoon," he replied instinctively, then turned his head toward Deakins' office. "Give me a minute."

She watched him rise and approach Deakins, knocking briefly on the door, then closing it behind him. She stood by his desk, observing the two men exchanging words, then Bobby left Deakins' office and grabbed his jacket. "I'm not feeling well," he explained to her. "I think it might be best for both of us to go on home today. You skipped lunch and Deakins says that's close enough to a full day for him. Get your stuff and let's go."

She shuffled her feet by his desk, then nodded and went into her office, grabbing her coat and bag. She shut the door and locked it, following Goren to the elevators.

The ride in the cab was silent. Halfway there his hand found her knee. He didn't look at her, nor she at him, but his hand was amazingly comforting to her. She felt connected to another human being, something she hadn't felt all day. He had done everything he could to help, to make this day easier. Still looking out the window, she managed, "Thank you...for the coffee this morning."

He turned to look at her, not surprised that she was facing the window. "You're welcome...I know how you like it." His voice was soft. He wanted to push her to face him, to talk, but his gut was telling him this wasn't the time.

When they entered her place, she made her way into the bedroom and stripped out of her work clothes unceremoniously. He stood quietly, watching her, part of him wondering if she was expecting some sort of response from him or if he was supposed to be on the outside looking in. She pulled a tank top and shorts on, answering his question, and he quickly shed his jacket, shirt and tie before stepping out of his slacks and slipping on some shorts himself.

She stood in front of him as he stilled, watching his movements before deciding to speak. "I kissed him. He was kissing me, in my apartment, and I was kissing him back. I let him run his hands all over me. I didn't try to stop him until he began to undress me. So now you know. Now you know I let it go farther than I admitted. I lied."

He sat down on the bed, arching his eyebrows and looking at her. "You lied to who?"

"To everyone. Don't you remember my statement? The things I said to you? I never admitted to anyone it went that far."

He shook his head. "I don't see how it makes any difference. You said no and he didn't stop. That's the bottom line."

She was angry. Not at him, at herself, but it didn't matter. "I lied to you and to myself. What kind of a person does that? A guilty one, that's who!"

"No." He stood up, facing her. "Stop it now. Stop the shame, the humiliation. This day has sucked. I don't care if you lay there naked telling him come hither...as soon as you said no, that was it."

"Oh yeah? And what if I did that to you?"

"What if you did? Then we stop. And the assault? How are you going to justify that? He has some mental disorder? No, Vanessa. This is his fault. There is nothing you can tell me that changes that. And stop trying to tell yourself it's your fault. It's not."

She stepped forward, closer to him, looking into his eyes, before finally saying, "I needed to hear that." Her voice was broken, teary. He reached for her, pulling her close.

"You need to be able to tell yourself that," he whispered, wrapping her in his arms. "Forgive yourself for being human. For enjoying a few moments of closeness with a man. For mistaking his character."

She pressed close against him. "I'm trying. I just needed to come clean with you."

"You have nothing to come clean about...I love you."

They stood still, in the middle of the room, holding on to one another as though there were no outside world. He closed his eyes for a moment and allowed himself to indulge in the fantasy that this comfort was over something more normal, more typical...a pissy day at work or a broken shower head or even their child being ornery. He wondered if that would ever happen. If they would ever move past this pain. But then she squeezed him tightly, held him close, whispered love into his ear, and he fell into the realm of believing their world could be normal.

After a minute, he said, "What do you want to do? Watch a movie? Cook? Go for a run?" He smiled at her.

She hesitated. "After what I just told you-"

"We need a normal night. Like everyone else. Something we enjoy."

She sat on the bed. "I'm assuming sex is out."

He grinned. "Not out...but maybe later."

"I vote cooking...something exciting...you pick, chef."

"Okay, but we go to the market together...what are you in the mood for?"

"Anything is good for me." She pulled her tank back off and reached for a tee shirt, then a pair of sweats, as he grabbed a shirt to go over his jeans. "Hey Bobby?"

His head appeared on the other side of his shirt. "Yeah?"

She smiled softly, almost shyly, before speaking. "Thanks...for being my best friend."

He reached over and ruffled her hair. "I vote steak. And you're welcome."

An hour later they were back from the market with a couple of ribeyes and the makings for baked potatoes and salad. She quickly assigned Goren the task of cooking the steak and he seemed agreeable to that, stepping out on her patio and fueling up the grill. She began to wash and prep the potatoes for the oven when the phone rang.

Drying her hands on a washcloth, she picked it up. "Hello?"

"Hey. It's Ava. How'd it go?"

Vanessa found herself more than a little surprised. Stunned might actually be the word. "Ummm, fine," she replied. "I don't remember telling you about today..."

"You didn't," Ava clarified. "I called late last night and you were asleep. Bobby got the phone and told me you had the interview today. I just wanted to check on you...see if you needed anything. I'm fixing dinner and you're welcome to join us."

Vanessa smiled to herself, surprised but pleased by Ava's invitation. "Actually we just picked up steaks...maybe another time."

"Daddy's coming over," Ava told her. "He really wants to see you...and after a day like today, it might be helpful to have your family around."

She felt the anger rise up in her, and the pleasant surprise she had initially felt at Ava's invitation evaporated. "Why in the hell would I want to have dinner with him? He'd tell me it was all my fault."

"No he wouldn't." Ava sounded calm, as though the thought of their father being emotionally abusive to Vanessa was so far out of the realm of possibility it didn't warrant any sort of alarm at all. "I've told him what you're going through. He wants to see you. He wants another chance."

She was standing on the front lawn with a police officer, taking her statement. Ava was beside her, burying her head in Vanessa's barely-developed chest and clinging to her sister for support. Vanessa was answering all of the questions she could as honestly as possible...she had found her mother in bed...it had been about an hour before...she hadn't believed she was dead at first...she had a history of depression...she took pills, lots of pills...

Ava had cried out, "Daddy!" and run to their father, tears streaming down her tiny, delicate face. Ryan had picked up his daughter and cradled her as though she were a baby, cooing to her that it would be all right, everything would be okay. Still holding the tiny twelve-year old as though she were six, he turned to his oldest daughter. "Why isn't Ava at a neighbor's? Don't you have any sense at all? Do you have any idea how traumatic this will be for her?" The officers who had been speaking to Vanessa glanced at one another and slowly moved away.

Yes Daddy. I know. I found her.

And nobody had ever asked what that was like, about the nightmares that haunted her, about eating sheet cake or reading magazine articles in bed or trying to find the funniest movies that might make her mother laugh. Nobody ever asked what it was like to walk into your mother's room and find her lying there, dead.

Bobby entered the kitchen to season the steaks in time to hear Vanessa's breath hitch. "You can tell that bastard I don't care if he falls over dead tomorrow. I have no intention of ever seeing him again. If I want support, I'd be better off getting it from a cheap pair of pantyhose than from him."

Ava was quiet before she said, "Well, I won't tell him that. But I am glad that today wasn't terrible, Nessie. And I am thinking of you. Enjoy your steaks."

The phone line went dead and Vanessa tossed it on the counter.

"I hate my father," she said bitterly, to no one in particular.

Bobby continued peppering the steaks. "Yeah, me too. Does yours want to see you or something?"

"Yeah, that's what Ava said."

"Huh." He put the steaks on the plate to carry out to the grill and rounded the corner. Suddenly she heard his voice, clear, and he said, "Maybe you should consider telling him exactly what you think to his face. Then you can get it cleared up and you won't have to go through Ava anymore."

"I already know what he thinks," she said, walking onto the balcony where Bobby was grilling. "He thinks I'm some dime store slut who fucks everyone and deserved exactly what she got."

"Well," he paused. "In that case, I'd love to meet him and talk with him myself." He poked at the meat before asking, "How's the salad coming along?"

"I'll go fix it." She turned and left to re-enter the kitchen.

None of this was her fault. He knew she got that on some level. But until she was willing to face her father and call him on his bullshit, she'd never be free of it. She'd still have his words tumbling around in her head, believing all the shit that he spun for so many years.

He poked the steaks, thinking about his own dad and how hard he worked to keep his dad out of his head. Most days he was successful. Other days he wasn't. But he tried. When she could too, maybe this would move even further. Peace is good. She brought him peace. Hopefully he brought her some. Hopefully she'd allow her dad to leave her head and take up residence somewhere else.

He flipped the steaks over, thinking about spring and salad and steak and how much he loved that woman. That, and the distinct pleasure he would take socking her father in the mouth.


"I have good news." Carver approached her and sat down in the chair in her office. "Well, mixed news, but I think it will work."

Bobby knocked on the outer door, peering his head inside. "I brought you coffee...that okay?"

She motioned for him to enter, then turned to Carver. "So what's the news?"

Carver hesitated. He and Goren didn't have the best working relationship, and to be honest, Goren made him uncomfortable. Rayden seemed to read his mind and said, "It's okay, Mr. Carver...anything you have to say to me you can say in front of Detective Goren--he's very aware of this situation in its entirety."

Carver exhaled heavily. "I've met with Mr. Forrester's attorney. Mr. Forrester is willing to take the plea we discussed. Eight and a half to twenty five for sexual battery and assault of an NYPD rep. He does want one condition though, to put the deal in place." He stopped, glancing from Rayden to Goren. "He wants a meeting with you."

Bobby felt his muscles stiffen involuntarily. Before he could stop himself, the words had flown from his mouth. "Not a chance in hell. You tell that son of a bitch she'll see him in court. In fact, we'll both see him in court."

Vanessa still hadn't spoken, hadn't moved. Her eyes had darted away from Carver, over to Goren and she was thinking about what he said. She knew her lover; knew his need to protect her. But she wasn't convinced he was right.

"I have no desire whatsoever to sit down with Keith," she began slowly. "But if I do, you say he'll take the plea?"

"Yes. And you'll be protected. He will be restrained and there will be guards in the room. His attorney will be there, and so will I." He paused for a moment, then motioned to Goren. "If you would like, Detective Goren can wait behind the two-way mirror for you. That way he can watch the...conversation...as well."

She couldn't bring herself to look at Bobby. She knew if she did, she'd never be able to agree to the terms Carver was suggesting. "How long do I have to stay in there?"

"Thirty minutes."

Bobby had brought his hand up to his mouth, resting it against his face and trying his best not to speak. He wanted to tell Carver to shove it up his ass. This was the most ridiculous bunch of shit he'd heard in a long time. This animal had completely fucked Vanessa over. He'd caused her so much immense pain. And now Carver was suggesting that she sit in a room, flanked only with attorneys, and have some sort of conversation with this bastard. After he had brutally beaten her. Scarred her. Affected their lives--everything about them--from work to fun to sex. Let me sit with him for a half hour, Goren thought. That's all I need and he'll see the error of his ways.

Vanessa had forced her eyes up to Bobby's face. She could see the rage, the frustration, the fear in it, and out of respect for him, she turned back to Carver and responded, "Let me think about it...I will call you. When do you need to know?"

"Tomorrow, if possible. The longer we wait, the more opportunity Mr. Forrester has to change his mind...and I really feel it's in your best interest for him to take the plea." He stood, placed his hat back on his head. "Dr. Rayden," he said quietly, "I know this isn't ideal...but it's going to be significantly less stressful for you than a trial would be."

She half smiled and thanked him, standing as he left the office.

Bobby took the seat Carver had been occupying and turned to watch her carefully. She sat back down behind the desk and picked up the file she had been working on.

"Don't do that," he said. "Don't pretend none of this just happened."

She put the file down. "You don't want me to do it. I have to do it. This conversation isn't going to go well."

"You're right...I don't want you to do it," he told her, leaning forward onto her desk, closing the gap between them from several feet to several inches. "But I understand if you feel you need to. Whatever you decide to do--" his gut was tied in a complex set of knots--"you know I"ll support you the whole way. Vanessa..." he caught her hand with his own and squeezed it, hoping she would feel the pain and the passion wrapped up in him. "I love you. Whatever you want." He looked down for a moment, then said, "I would kill for thirty minutes alone with that guy."

She watched their hands, the same way she had early in their relationship. Often she had felt early on that he could speak volumes with his hands. He was known around the squadroom for his animated gesticulation, and she sometimes saw this at home, but more often, he would touch or hold or stroke her hands in a way that communicated his love and admiration for her. In retrospect, she often felt that he had made love to her with his hands before they had ever been intimate. The way he had held her hands so gently, so lovingly, as though she were delicate and perfect. Squeezed them, memorized them, touched them. It had always made her feel cherished. Now she stroked his hands in return, wanting him to know how much she appreciated his support and caring.

"Thirty minutes versus two weeks...it seems like an easy choice. And it's a sure thing, Bobby. He'll go away for what he did to me. Carver says there will be an allocution hearing and he'll have to admit to what he did in court before he's sentenced. It will be on the record. Everyone will know this wasn't my fault."

He felt his heart break a little then, hearing her say how sure she was that everyone would know it wasn't her fault that he was a bastard...a rapist. He wished he could absorb all the guilt from her, all the pain, so there was never any doubt with her as to whose fault this exactly was.

He held on to her hand. "What you think is best," he reiterated. "I'll wait in the observation room the whole time if that's what you want. I'll stay away if you'd rather me do that. I'll bust in, guns blazing, and take out his balls if that's the plan."

She smiled slowly then, imagining Bobby storming into interview with a gun in each hand and a cowboy hat on his head. "I think staying behind the glass would be fine," she told him.

"You do like that thought though. Admit it. So do I."

"If you were better with a gun, or if I wasn't in the room, maybe..."

He smiled wryly. "I'm a lot better than you give me credit for."

"Yeah, but his balls are small, I'm pretty sure...it's not like aiming for his head or something."

"I'm willing to practice..."

She laughed softly. "Really...I would like you in the observation room, if you would be..." She stopped then, feeling suddenly self-conscious, realizing Bobby would hear everything that bastard said to her. Everything. "You don't have to, though...who knows what crazy shit he'll say..."

He shook his head. "I can handle it," he assured her. "If you can handle it, I can too."

"Okay then," she said, as objectively as she could, "I'll call Carver later. Seeing as we both can handle all sorts of shit, we should be good to go."

He smiled, but it was a sad, quiet smile. "One more thing," he said quietly, "No matter what anyone says in the courtroom, this wasn't your fault. I hope you know that."

She squeezed his hand. "I'm getting there."


They were in the courtroom, waiting for Forrester and his attorney for the allocution.

Carver had arranged their meeting to take place after allocution, so that Forrester would have no chance to change his plea. It was written into the plea agreement that he would be allowed thirty minutes to talk, supervised, to his victim.

Forrester and his attorney entered the courtroom from the side door. He was dressed in the classic orange jumpsuit, hands and feet chained, and accompanied to the defense table by a security guard. His face was relaxed, and for a moment Vanessa wondered if he really was crazy. Only a lunatic could treat this day as though it were normal.

The judge read the charges out loud as well as the plea agreement, then paused. "Mr. Carver," she said, sounding shocked. "Am I to understand that as part of this defendant's plea agreement he will spend thirty minutes conversing with his victim?"

Carver stood straight and acted as though this were common practice. "Yes, your honor. Both the victim and the defendent have agreed to the terms.

"Is the victim in the courtroom?"

"Yes...she's right here behind me."

The judge turned her attention to Vanessa. "Dr. Rayden, do you understand that the terms of this plea agreement require you to be in communication with the defendant for thirty minutes after this hearing?"

Vanessa stood, hoping her knees didn't give out. "Yes, your honor."

"And you have willingly agreed to these terms?"

What other choice did she have? A trial that carried on for weeks and dragged her name through the mud? "Yes," she replied.

The judge stared at her for several moments. "Dr. Rayden, this is extremely unconventional, and you do not have to agree to this. You can proceed to a jury trial if you so choose."

Vanessa glanced at Keith. He was smiling at her, and she suddenly realized that he had her where he wanted her, in an awkward no-win position. "Your honor," she stated calmly, "I would rather spend thirty minutes with Mr. Forrester and our attorneys than weeks sitting through his lies at a jury trial. This plea agreement is in everyone's best interest."

The judge exhaled. "If you're sure."

"I am."

"Very well." The judge turned her attention to Forrester. "Mr. Forrester, do you please guilty to the crimes of sexual battery and assault upon a representative of the police department?"

Forrester smiled slightly. "Yes, I do."

The judge looked disgusted, but turned her attention to the paperwork in front of her. "At this time, please tell the court about your crime."

Forrester turned around and looked at Vanessa, a thoughtful look, then faced the judge. "I ran into Vanessa at a restaurant during lunch. I hadn't seen her in years. We had been old friends. She looked great and I decided to ask her to dinner. We went to dinner and had a terrific time. It had started to rain, so we went back to my car. The rain picked up, so we parked at an empty lot and watched the lightening. She began kissing me, and we stayed there for an hour or so, watching the storm and kissing.

"Afterward, I drove back to her place. She invited me in and I followed her. We continued to kiss and began to fondle one another. After a few minutes she pulled back. She was laughing and I assumed she was teasing me, joking. She had always been, well, loose, so I thought we were playing a game. I pulled her shirt off, still kissing her, and that's when she got mad and yanked away from me. I don't know--I didn't understand how come she changed her mind so quickly. I yanked her bra off and kissed her again. She tried to run away from me and I grabbed her by the hair. She tripped and fell into the coffee table. She hit her head. I was really angry...I don't remember a lot of the details...I did try to force her into oral sex but she vomited. Then I yanked off the rest of her clothes. I stopped myself from having sex with her because I realized I was getting out of control and she really didn't want to. I was so angry though. I think I kicked her several times. Then I sat down to calm down before I left."

He stopped talking, as though he were reflecting on the evening and what had happened. His voice got a little more quiet. Was it guilt? "I was smoking a cigarette and kept thinking about how she wasn't the girl I knew. How she had changed, thought she was better than me. I got up to leave and gave her the phone so she could call her police friends...and then..." he was quiet.

The judge interrupted. "Then what?"

He cleared his throat. "I put my cigarette out on her hand. Then I left."

The judge was looking at him with utter contempt. Forrester was now staring straight ahead. Finally the judge said, "Mr. Carver, is the state satisfied with the defendant's account?"

"Yes," Carver replied. "We are."

"Very well." The judge was shaking her head. "The defendant is hereby sentenced to a term of no less than eight-and a half years to no more than twenty-five years for his crime. Mr. Forrester-" her eyes rose and met his, and the disgust in them was evident. "You are a danger to any woman you come across. Let's hope you use the next several years to reflect upon more appropriate behavior. If it were up to me I'd' throw you in for a lot longer than this. And you-" she nodded toward Vanessa "-I don't know if you're brave or as crazy as he is." The gavel went down. "Next case."


She stood outside the interview room at the courthouse, waiting for Carver. Bobby was next to her, pacing. He was nervous, arms crossed in front of him, flexing the balls of his feet every few steps. She didn't say anything to him. Somehow his pacing made her feel more relaxed.

He had held her the night before, closely, like she had asked him to. They made love slowly and gently. Part of her needed to know she could, even in the shadow of what was going on. His arms were wrapped around her through the entire act, as he whispered to her how perfect she was, how he would keep her safe, that he would never leave her. She had relished those words, wrapped her body more tightly around his and cried out that she loved him. Her passionate declaration had been heartfelt and she prayed he knew it; when he had kissed her eyelids and assured her he knew then she believed him. Even after, they had lay embraced in one another's arms. HIs hands ran over her body as he continued his verbal lovemaking until she fell asleep. For once, she hadn't pulled away from him in the night. They had both awoken still pressed together, her head still on his chest. He had taken the opportunity to kiss her softly, to reassure her about the day. To make plans for their evening. They would make dinner and rent a movie. Somehow knowing life would go on normally after this made both of them feel better.

Now she could see that Forrester had been brought into the room and was being chained to his chair. Two security guards accompanied him, as did his attorney. Keith looked the same as he always had; short, dark hair, handsome, boyish face with deep blue eyes and a smirk on his lips. She found herself wondering for a moment if that smirk was just the natural way his lips lay, and then she remembered the scowl on his face as he attacked her, and realized no, the smirk was just his ass coming across his mouth.

She saw Carver approaching them quickly and felt her heart begin to beat in rhythm to the tap of Carver's dress shoes. Bobby stopped pacing and looked up.

"Are you ready?" Carver asked her gently.

She nodded. "I want to get this over with and go back to my life."

Bobby stood behind her, suddenly reaching over and putting a hand on her back. He didn't say anything but stood with one hand against her, almost as a comforting reminder of his presence. Carver opened the door to the observation room and she gave Bobby a wan smile before following Carver in to the observation room. He stopped just short of the interview room and turned to her.

"Thirty minutes, doctor," he told her. "He's not entitled to a second more. He has signed all of the forms. Once this is done, his sentence will begin.."

She nodded. Carver opened the door, and with a glance back at Bobby, she entered the room behind him

Carver pulled a chair out for her, across the table from Keith, then sat next to her. "Mr. Forrester," he began, "it is now 1:30 p.m. At exactly 2 p.m. your time with Dr. Rayden will be over and you will never see her again. Any funny business on your part and this interview will be over immediately." He turned and looked at Vanessa, who, to his surprise, was watching Forrester.

Keith's smirk from earlier had disappeared. His fingers were entwined in front of him, and he was looking down at them.

"Well," she began, "you wanted this meeting. Why? I thought you said all you needed to say ten months ago."

His eyes rose slowly to hers. "I wanted to explain."

"Explain what?" She tried to keep her temper under control, but found her mind wandering back to Bobby's cowboy scenario, which somehow seemed much less amusing and more satisfying now that she was sitting across from the bastard.

He looked her in the eye. "We were always friends. You were flirtatious and fun. I enjoyed your company. When we were sitting in the car and you were kissing me, I thought for sure you wanted to sleep with me. You had slept with all of those other men before...I knew you liked me...that's what I thought was going to happen. Then when you started saying no, I thought you were teasing. I knew how you had been. You never said no." He paused, then snorted. "You even slept with that Blake guy, remember him?"

This was painful. "I'm clean now."

He shook his head. "I thought you wanted me. I thought you liked me. You did, didn't you, Vanessa? I know I didn't read everything completely wrong."

She was watching him, her breath caught in her throat, choking her. "Yes," she admitted quietly. "I liked you, Keith. I trusted you. I thought you were my friend."

"And I thought you were mine. I thought we would be friends with benefits. You know, like all your other friends...Michael, John, Nathan, Doug..." He shook his head. "I read you wrong, and I'll admit that. I just thought we both liked one another."

"Liked," she echoed. "I did like you. Hell, I trusted you. But what in the hell made you think it would be fun for me to have my head thrown through a coffee table?"

He sat back, mouth in a set line. "That wasn't supposed to happen. I never meant for that to happen."

"Then what did you mean?" she asked, hearing her voice escalating. "What the hell was your point? And when you shoved your cock in my mouth? What was that?" She was shaking now, forcing herself to stay seated. She saw Carver out of the corner of her eye, leaning forward, and realized he was concerned she was going to leap across the table. The idea didn't exactly disturb her. Lowering her voice, she said firmly, "You had no right to touch me. Ever. I could fuck every man on this entire planet and you still have no right to touch me, you son of a bitch."

"I didn't say I did," he replied. "That's why I accepted this plea. I was wrong. But you were a tease. Maybe you should think about that, Vanessa. You're not completely innocent in this whole thing. You spent an hour working me up in the car. Another half hour at your house letting things get heated before you suddenly turned it off. And then you expected me to just walk away, like nothing ever happened. I shouldn't have lost my temper. But you shouldn't have led me on."

There was silence in the room as they stared at each other. "You humiliated me," she finally said. "Do you have any idea how much you humiliated me? You hurt me so much, Keith...I hate you for that."

He didn't move, didn't look away. "That wasn't supposed to happen. I have...I have an anger problem. I didn't mean to hurt you...I never meant for you to fall into the coffee table. And then everything just spiraled from there. I realize I pushed things too far and that's why I'm doing my time." After a moment, he looked back up at her. "I watched you afterward. When you stayed at that hotel...moved in with your friend...got your new place. I was trying to figure out how to fix it...I wanted you to know that I...I...cared about you. I screwed up, yes, but I cared about you." He shook his head. "You have to understand. I have anger issues. I blew and I never meant to. All I wanted afterward was to make it better. I know you'll find this shocking, but I actually did care about you."

She wanted to get up and hit him. She wanted to throw the table onto him, to kill him, to maim him in a way that would scar him for life as he had her. "Do you know I have permanent scars on my body from you? Does that get you off? Do you get excited thinking about how difficult it is for me to be intimate with anyone else? That I'll probably never be able to give any man oral sex for the rest of my life?" She leaned in. "You like that, don't you? It probably gives you a hard on, you sick bastard."

He truly looked surprised. "N-no," he stuttered. "I never wanted that. I never planned any of this. All i wanted was you."

"You're sick. Trust me, I don't ever want to be cared about by anyone like you, ever."

He stared into her eyes without looking away, then finally said, "Well, it won't be a problem any more. I'll be serving a sentence so you and your boyfriend can return to your lives. No concern for me."

Carver turned to her. "Our time here is up," he said. Then, facing Forrester, he said, "The guards will return you to your cell. You will be transferred to Sing Sing tomorrow."

Forrester nodded as he watched Vanessa stand up. "Thanks for meeting with me."

Her eyes bore into his, all of the pain she had held back for the last ten months so close to the surface. "Fuck you, Keith. If you die tomorrow it wouldn't be too soon for me."

She turned on her heels and opened the door to the observation room. Carver followed her and watched as she buried herself into Goren's arms. Her body was shaking slightly; he didn't know if she was crying or simply overwhelmed.

"Well," Carver said, "Anyway, it's done. Mr. Forrester will be moved to Sing Sing tomorrow morning." He stood awkwardly, watching Goren stroke Rayden's back slowly, then said, "I know this was hard, but it's over. It's all over."

Vanessa didn't look up but Goren met his eyes and nodded. "Thank you, counselor," he said softly. "We appreciate all you've done."

Carver nodded, then said, "Let me know if she needs anything...we can take care of it."

Goren smiled wanly, then turned his attention back to Vanessa. The shudders in her body were unpredictable and uncontrollable. They both stood quietly until the shudders ceased, and he led her by the hand out of the courtroom and to a taxi outside.

The trip home seemed fuzzy and noneventful. Bobby got her up to the condo, then guided her into the bedroom. She sat on the bed, feeling shell shocked, as he slowly unbuttoned her blouse and unhooked her bra, then slipped a tank top onto her. He slid her out of her slacks and into her favorite pair of running shorts before changing his own clothes. She sat silently,watching him, until she finally spoke. "He said he cared about me."

Goren felt his stomach turn over, then moved toward her, enveloping her again in his arms.

She shook her head. "How could he say that?"

He pressed her head against his chest. "I don't know."

"I owe you an explanation...all those men..."

"No," he said firmly. "You owe me nothing. We've both had other lovers."

They sat side by side for several minutes, Bobby's arm loosely resting around her. After awhile, she finally said, "I really think this is a sheet cake day."

He smiled. "I agree. Texas sheet cake it is." He gently pulled his arm back, then raised an eyebrow at her and smiled. "Race you to the kitchen?"

She beat him, but barely, and only after pushing him aside in the hallway. He laughed at her and fifteen minutes later they were stirring and cooking and talking about everything people would say meant nothing but to them, meant normalcy.

The cake was fabulous, warm and tasty and homey. It reminded her of her mom. "I think my mom would have been proud of me," she said randomly to him.

"I'm sure she would have," he replied, taking another bite of cake. "I was insanely proud of you. The very fact that you didn't gut his eyeballs out with your fingernails spoke volumes to your self control and maturity."

She snorted. "You definitely have a way with words, Goren."

He smiled back. "I try."

Watching her through the glass had been torturous. He had wanted nothing more than to go into that room and hurt Forrester, keep every promise he had ever made, whether a joking or factual one. At least the bastard had admitted he had harmed her. He knew she was humiliated with the discussion of her past sexual experiences. She never talked about that to him, other than to allude to the fact that she had made mistakes in the past and been extremely sexually active. It had never bothered him, because the woman he knew and loved was devoted to him and no one else. But he had winced at Forrester's recollection and his reasoning. He knew it had been painful.

She was now doing what she always did, digging into the middle of the cake, the moistest part. It always made him laugh that she showed the same amount of control as a preschooler.

"What?" she demanded. "This is supposed to be making me feel better, isn't it?"

His cell phone interrupted the beginning of her diatribe. He smiled at her and flipped it open.

"Hello? Yes, Mr. Carver...what? When? Are you sure?" Silence. "Yes, of course, I'll let her know. Thank you." He was still for a moment, then closed the phone slowly.

She swallowed her bite of cake. "So what do you have to tell me? He escaped already?" In the back of her mind, she really wondered if he had, and was trying to quell the butterflies in the bottom of her stomach.

"No, he didn't escape."

She breathed a sigh of relief, closing her eyes and feeling the adrenaline rush through her body. When she opened her eyes again, Bobby was still looking at her, quiet yet painfully. She couldn't bring herself to speak.

He reached over and took her hand. "When he got back to Riker's, he managed to pull a gun from a guard. He shot himself. Carver says the time of death was 3:10. It was immediate."

I hate you. If you died tomorrow it wouldn't be a day too soon for me.

She felt the tears coming to her eyes, the anger filling her body, the justice she would never see. She picked up her plate and took it to the sink, rinsing it off slowly. After a moment, she said, "I think I'm going to go for a run."

"Okay." He fought the desire to grab her, hold her with all of his might.

She went to the bedroom and put on her jogging bra and sneakers, then headed to the front door. Bobby was still sitting at the kitchen table, watching the cake as though it would do something amazing.

She opened the door. This day would never repeat. Never, ever. She clutched her abdomen as she took the stairs to the street , then entered the park, and began to run as though her life depended on it.


When she returned, there was music playing softly on her stereo. She recognized it as one of the CDs she had shared with Bobby before she had ever moved here--songs she had recorded but never released.

She didn't see him at first. The den was empty and it wasn't until she entered the kitchen that she realized he was cooking. He hadn't gotten anything in the oven yet, but he was chopping vegetables quickly and coarsely. She wondered briefly if this was his way of dealing with what had happened.

"What are you making?" she asked, grabbing a piece of tomato off the board.

He stopped chopping for a moment and smiled at her. "Soup." He handed her a piece of tortilla, then asked, "How was the run?"

She nodded. "Good. Want some help?"

"Sure...why don't you dump the chicken stock in the pot?"

"Ooh, chicken soup?"

"Chicken tortilla...I've never made it before."

"Don't worry," she told him. "I've eaten it before. I'm sure it will be fine."

He laughed.

They stood next to each other, chopping and mixing and preparing until the soup was ready. As he finished stirring, he announced to her, "This is meant to be eaten in bed."

"Ah," she replied. "Isn't it dangerous to eat hot foods naked?"

"I don't remember saying to get naked."

"Oh," she corrected herself. "My bad."

Ten minutes later they were in bed, naked anyway, and eating soup. A few spoonfuls in, and she asked, "Is it weird to be naked, eating soup, a few hours after he killed himself?"

Bobby thought about her question. "I don't think it should matter. He's not part of our lives any more. In any way."

She put her spoon down and stared at him for a long moment. "You know, you're right."

He smiled and fed her a spoonful of soup. "What do you want to do after this? I have it on good authority there's an excellent episode of Superfriends on tonight."

She laughed for a second. "Nope."

"Crime dramas?"


"Then what?"

She smiled at him, feeling completely safe for the first time in nearly a year. No more running. No more fear. No stalking or worrying or having to think about what Forrester might be up to. She could breathe, breathe gloriously, and rejoice in it with him. "I want to kiss you. Now." She leaned over and pressed her mouth to his, catching him off guard, tasting him with her dancing tongue and wrapping her naked body around his, against his. His beautiful body; hairy chest, rough scars, strong muscles. He froze for a second. As she pulled away from his mouth, he whispered, "I thought you liked the soup."

"Yes, I do." She slipped herself in his lap and pressed her breasts against him firmly. She wanted him to feel her, feel all of her and how much she wanted him. Wrapping her hands in his hair, she pulled him against her more firmly and buried her tongue in his mouth, her passion for him heating every bit of her movements. Heating their skin. She could feel him hardening against her and she felt a thrill race up her spine. He wanted her. As much as she wanted him. She reached between them and stroked his erection, fondled the head of his penis, until his breath caught. She pulled back slightly, listening to him gasping against her, and whispered, "I haven't felt this safe in almost a year...and I want you. I want to fuck you, to love you, to make you come inside me. I want to feel you come in me."

She watched his face go slack with desire, his eyes cloud over the way they did when he made love with her, and she ran her hands slowly and deliberately down his chest. His hair was coarse, his nipples taut as she pulled on them gently with her fingers. Suddenly he caught one of her nipples in his mouth and sucked, hard, passionately, until she was gasping and writhing against him, softly moaning in his ear.

"I want you." She didn't know how the words had escaped his mouth, considering how he was teasing her breasts with his lips and his teeth, but she heard him nonetheless and leaned into him, allowing herself to relax into all of the passion she felt for him. He was focused on pleasuring her, turning his sucks into gentle bites and tugs with his teeth. She heard herself moaning softly from his actions, and she ran her hands over his back and leaned in to suck his neck. He tasted of chocolate and soup and cologne and soap, and she didn't want to stop, didn't ever want to pull away from how aroused and excited she was in this moment. She slid her hand back down between them, stroking him again until she heard his groan and felt the slight wetness on her palm.

It happened so quickly, his entrance, that she gasped aloud and he covered her mouth with his, tongue plunging and a groan caught in his throat. He had simply picked her up and aligned her over him, depositing her firmly in his lap and sinking fully into her. She found herself rocking immediately against him, no thought in her brain other than to pleasure him, pleasure herself. His hips were rocking against hers in an erotic dance, more passionate and raw than they had ever engaged in. Beautiful. She never wanted to be anywhere but with him. With nobody but him. She knew in this moment that he saw her, all of her, and loved her completely.

HIs mouth was wandering her hair, her neck, her breasts and his hands settled on her hips, guiding her into a faster and more powerful rhythm. The groan that had caught in his throat before had released, and he felt her legs wrap around his waist as she clutched his body against her. She was sucking on his neck, rocking in his lap firmly, quickly, more excitedly than she had ever moved against him before. God, she was so wet. He was trying to slow down, trying to think of math or verb tenses or anything that would give him some control in this, but he couldn't, and almost as quickly, he realized that he didn't want to. This intimacy had its own life, its own passion, and he was incredibly fortunate to partake in it.

Suddenly she shifted on him and began to move up and down, quickly, pulling up off of him almost as quickly as she sunk down. "Ah, Beth...no, slow..." he murmured desperately, but she didn't change her movements. She needed him, needed him to want her fiercely and completely, as intensely as she wanted him. He was incredibly hard inside her and every thrust brought her immense pleasure. She was wrapped tightly around him, her mouth buried in his neck right under his ear, breasts pressed tightly against him. He grasped her body and held her tight, laving her ear and praying she knew how grateful he was for her, how much he loved her, how he would never take this for granted. She hadn't slowed down; if anything, she was moving faster against him. He finally gave in and thrust up to meet her. The feeling of pleasure and passion was intoxicating.

She cried out immediately but continued to move quickly, firmly, purposefully against his body. She felt otherworldly and had no intention of letting him go. She opened her eyes just long enough to see his were closed as well, his mouth partially open and his face looking blissfully thrilled. She was so close. Looking at him, she wanted to come against him, to be released from this exquisite torture. What she had been looking for her entire life but never found until now. She ran her hands up him and clutched his head, closing her eyes and letting her body do the thinking. Her lips pressed against his and he clutched her closely until she couldn't, absolutely couldn't take one more second and she tore her mouth away to say his favorite word: "Bobby...God, Bobby..."

He was clutching her, thrusting erratically, panting against her mouth and she felt the thrill of her orgasm course through her body. A dizzy array of colors and images and the feel and scent of him. Everything was right with the world. Absolutely everything. She loved this man and he was never going anywhere. He was beautiful and he loved her and goddamn her body felt so incredible and she was flying against him and then he was panting in her ear, "Beth, Beth...God I love you God, God..." and she held him as he groaned loudly, mouth against her. She felt him come as he thrust deeply inside her and the intensity heightened before slowly, slowly leaving him feeling relaxed and beautiful and in love with the world and with her.

A few minutes later her eyes met his. "Tell me," she whispered pleadingly to him, "tell me I'm not a tease."

He clutched her. "Oh baby." He tried to appease her, kissing her softly and holding her, stroking her hair. "Keep him out of your head...don't let him in with us...you're perfect. And you're not a tease. You're not." He held her against him as she collapsed into tears, and the beauty of their lovemaking collapsed into sadness and grief.


Her eyes opened to his, staring into hers in the dawn.

He kissed her softly, body pressed against hers as usual. She could feel his arousal but he made no move toward making love to her. Instead, he stroked her hair and pressed his forehead against hers.

She knew why. She knew he was trying to prove something to her, that his love and respect wasn't based on sex. She wished she could have taken back what she said the night before, how so few words could ruin everything.

At last she whispered, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to," and tried to move her head to his chest, but he caught her face in his hand.

"You have no reason to be sorry," he told her softly. "You had a fear based on what somebody said to you. I'm here to tell you that your fear isn't based in reality."

She let him hold her face. "Isn't it, though? All the times before...before we..."

"No." It was firm. "That's what people do...they don't always do it the first time they're interested, you know...we did it when it felt right. To both of us."

She sighed, and he let go of her face, running his fingers through her hair. "You've never teased me," he told her, tangling his fingers in her hair. "I love making love with you. But if we never did it again I would love you as much as I do today. The fact that I love you so much is what makes it so good. It's never been this good before...I've never loved anyone like you before. I've never loved so deeply before. And please, if you don't want to, then we won't."

She shook her head. "I've never said I wanted to when I didn't, You know how much I love you, Bobby. I don't lie to you...I would never lie to you." She tried again to press her head to his chest, and this time he let her. She sighed again, running her fingers through his chest hair. "I guess I just wanted reassurance that I'm not doing things that I didn't think I was doing. Does that make any sense?"

"Yeah." His fingers continued to tangle in her hair and he kissed her forehead. "But what he thinks--thought--and what anyone else thinks doesn't matter. Just you and me. That's all that matters. I love you. And I want you to know that, no matter what, for the rest of our lives."

"I do...I know...and I love you too." She kissed his chest. "Thank you....thanks for loving me."

He ran his hands over her back for a minute. "You don't have to thank me...it's a gift to me, baby. Nobody's ever loved me this much either."

She was listening to his heart beat in his chest. "Then we're both lucky, I guess," she replied. "I hope the luck never goes away."

Holding her waist, he kissed her once more. "It won't."

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