DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, Fox does. I'm only taking them out for a test drive.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story contains some adult situations, so be forewarned.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Strap-on, Ryde or Die, Mighty Blue, Defense/Offense.

After the Fall
By Sam

Part 19

I've been down every road you could go
I made some bad choices as you know
        - Pink

"Well, will you look at what the cat dragged in?"

Billie approached the older woman standing in an open doorway. "Hey, Maeve. It's been awhile."

"That it has." The tall, slender redhead reached out and took a hold of Billie's chin, moving the young woman's head from side to side as she nodded approvingly. "You look good.a little tired, maybe, but still a face and body that would stop traffic."

The lieutenant politely extracted herself from the woman's hold, suddenly feeling a bit like a prized stud at a horse auction. "Thanks. I guess."

"So, what brings you by? I heard you'd moved up the ranks." She stepped aside and motioned for Billie to enter the room.

"Keeping tabs on me?" Billie asked looking over her shoulder as Maeve followed her inside and closed the door. She glanced around at the furnishings, which seemed better suited for a bedroom than an office. But, given the woman's occupation, she supposed it probably made some kind of twisted sense.

Billie had known Maeve Tierney since her first undercover assignment with the vice squad. She was still in uniform at the time, but a certain captain had seen her potential, and tapped her to help out with a brief stint in plain clothes, which translated to barely any clothes, as the job called for her to pose as a prostitute.

The whole operation was beyond Billie's level of experience, but she rose to the challenge, garnering her first collar, and her first conviction. The pimp she nabbed was beating up on his own girls, and after seeing the results of his work first hand, the young officer was more than eager to take him down.

Her way in had been through Maeve, who ran an upscale escort service in Santa Monica at the time. She and Parish went way back, and in exchange for her cooperation, he allowed her to conduct her business with little interference. It wasn't a perfect arrangement, but the LAPD knew all too well that they had to look the other way sometimes, in order to focus on the more serious criminals. Prostitution was never going to disappear, so the general consensus was to weed out the worst of them, and try to keep the rest in line.

Maeve had shown Billie the ropes, so to speak, and in less than a week, she was put next to the man she'd been sent after. It didn't take long before she was in a position to witness a vicious beating he was delivering to one of his girls. After recklessly putting herself in between them, she managed to make her very first undercover bust, and even had a broken arm to show for it.

She received her first commendation for that arrest, standing proudly in the squad room with her arm in a cast, while her fellow officers applauded her performance. That single case had been enough to convince her that she had found her true calling, and that becoming a detective was the single most important thing in her life.

Maeve looked the young woman over as she answered, "Hardly, I just haven't seen you since.well, you hear things, that's all." She walked over to a large glass-top desk and seated herself behind it, gesturing for the lieutenant to take a seat. "You had a long reach for a while there, Billie. People were naturally curious when you just up and disappeared one day."

The brunette's shrug was non-committal. "I moved on. No big mystery."

Maeve held her hand up in the air, making a sweeping gesture. "The great Detective Billie Chambers suddenly vanishes." She dropped her hand to the desk and smiled. "It reads like a tabloid headline, honey." Her green eyes twinkled, mischievously, as she pinned the lieutenant with a knowing look. "The bigger they are."

Billie shot the woman an impatient glare. "I didn't really come here to talk about that."

"Then, why are you here?" Maeve questioned as she leaned back in her chair. She couldn't assuage her curiosity over the woman's disappearance. The last time she'd seen Billie, the detective had been in very rough shape, and it didn't take a genius to see that she was headed for a major crash and burn. But, looking at the confident, steady young woman seated across from her now, one would never know just how bad off she'd been.

"I need some information."

Maeve sighed and waved a hand at her. "I only dance with Bob, sweetheart. You should know that by now."

"I'm still working for him," Billie explained. "Look, Maeve, its ancient history. It won't come back at you."

"So you say," she responded coolly. Her gaze hardened as she contemplated the lieutenant's request. She knew to be cautious where Billie Chambers was concerned, and she'd learned early on to never take anything the detective said at face value. "You better not bring anything down on me, Billie."

"I won't," the brunette insisted.

After a moment of consideration, the older woman nodded her consent. "Lay it on me."

"I'm interested in a woman who worked your old stomping grounds back in the late seventies."

"You're kidding," Maeve responded, taking notice of the serious expression on Billie's face. "Okay, you're not kidding. So, what was her name?"

"Ilsa Karlsen."

"Ilsa." The redhead furrowed her brow in concentration, lowering her gaze as she repeated the name to herself several times. "It's not a common name, that's for sure." After a moment, she shook her head in frustration. "It definitely rings a bell."

"Was she one of yours?" Billie questioned.

"No, I remember the names of all my girls." She looked up, suddenly, snapping her fingers as recognition dawned in her eyes. "Wait a minute. There was a woman.umm.Swedish or something, right?"


"People always think I'm Scottish," Maeve commented with a shrug. "Yeah, I remember hearing her name from some of the other girls."

"What can you tell me about her?" Billie asked.

"Not much, honey. She was one of Pelli's heavy hitters."

The lieutenant released a long sigh. "Somehow, I knew you were going to say that."

The older woman gave her a sympathetic look. "Is it really that important?"


"He won't be happy to see you."

"That'll make us even," Billie commented.

Maeve sat back and studied the lieutenant more closely. She knew Bob Parish thought very highly of Billie Chambers, and his opinion carried a lot of weight with her. That was the main reason why she had trusted the detective enough to rely on her once before, during a rather difficult business situation.

The young woman's methods certainly weren't pretty, but in the end, she had gotten results. Unfortunately, everything came to a head in one extremely volatile evening, and Maeve ended up having to call on Billie, not realizing it couldn't have been at a worse time. She had no way of knowing how bad things would get, but at least she'd managed to save Billie from the one person who seemed determined to do her in that night.


Maeve wouldn't have used the old `Jekyl and Hyde' analogy to describe the woman's behavior, but it was fair to say that the Billie Chambers she had come to know, and the one who showed up on her doorstep that warm, July evening, were two very different people.

She eventually discovered the reason behind the woman's sudden personality change from another young detective by the name of Alexa Tan, who came to Billie's aid when everything went to hell.

After a brief period of silence, Maeve asked, "Did you see Maria on your way in?" The way the brunette's posture suddenly stiffened told her that she had.


"You know, she's asked about you many times."

Billie narrowed her eyes. "Was she the one there that night?"

Maeve gazed at her curiously. "Did you forget that?"

The lieutenant's gaze darkened, as she tried to recall the events of a night several years ago. What little she could remember stayed with her as more of a feeling than any real memory. The bits and pieces she'd managed to recollect were reminiscent of staring out at the horizon on a scorching summer day: Everything was hazy and out of focus. There were only two things she could remember with absolute clarity: beating someone until her fists bled, and winding up in Malibu with Alexa.

Unfortunately, the days that followed were all too clear as she once again battled to get control of her addiction. Some time later, Alexa filled in some of the blanks for her by talking to Maeve, and then proceeded to cover up the mess Billie had left behind.

Eventually, they'd managed to form a coherent chain of events, beginning with a phone call she'd received from Maeve on the day she returned from her parent's funeral in Oregon, and culminating in a brawl with a man named Anthony Pelligrini, who had been giving Maeve some trouble over territories and clientele. Along the way, there had been a lot of booze, sex, and heroin, and all of it had been fueled by Billie's dangerously self-destructive behavior.

"I was pretty messed up, Maeve," she finally admitted.

"Well, I won't argue with you there." The redhead leaned forward and removed a cigarette from a small glass jar on her desk, pausing to offer one to Billie, who merely shook her head, distractedly, still trying to drudge up the details of her first encounter with Maria.

"I quit."

"Heroin.and cigarettes?" Maeve gave Billie a look of genuine admiration. "I'm impressed."

The lieutenant focused her attention on the woman as she said, "You'll get there."

"Not until they can invent something better." She put the cigarette between her lips and lifted a lighter to the tip, taking a long, slow drag. "I can't even imagine that," she sighed as a small cloud of gray smoke drifted upward. "Did you tell her that you don't remember her?"

"Yeah." Billie looked away at that point, her gaze wandering around the room as she once again took notice of the unusual décor. "This is quite an interesting place you've got here."

"You're avoiding the subject," Maeve pointed out.

"No, I'm changing the subject," Billie corrected her.


"Because I don't like it."

"Your friend said you went through a very bad time," the redhead stated. "I'm sorry I got you mixed up in that mess. If I had known what was going on-"

"Yeah, well, timing is everything," Billie interrupted as she stood up and began to move around the room, idly touching the furniture as she went. "And besides, it wasn't your fault. I came looking for trouble." She approached the desk and folded her arms across her chest. "He still operating in the same place?"

Maeve knew Billie would do whatever the hell she wanted, but still felt it necessary to warn her, nonetheless. "Yes, but I don't think it would be a good idea for you to go to there alone."

"I'm a big girl."

"Maybe so, but he's not exactly the forgiving type," the older woman cautioned. "And I'm sure he'd love nothing better than to even the score, considering how emasculated he felt after you beat the shit out of him in front of his girls."

Billie shrugged her shoulders. "He had it coming." She turned away and headed for the door, holding her hand up in a casual wave. "I gotta go. Thanks, Maeve."


The brunette paused in the doorway. "Yeah?"

"Say hello to Bob for me, will you?"

"You bet."

"And tell him to come up and see me sometime."

Billie shot her a wry grin. "Isn't that Mae West's line?"

"What can I say?" Maeve replied with a broad smile. "She's my hero."

The lieutenant merely shook her head and laughed as she headed out the door.

The waiting room where Billie entered earlier was now filled with at least half a dozen men, all standing around looking anxious as Sondra spoke to each of them in turn, apparently making arrangements for payment in advance.

When Billie came through the door behind the desk, one of the men pointed at her and said something to Sondra under his breath. She grinned at him and looked over her shoulder at the lieutenant as she said, "I think she'd be a little too much for you."

The brunette rolled her eyes and headed out of the room toward the elevator. She was surprised to see Maria standing out there alone, leaning against the wall with her arms wrapped tightly around her. She immediately straightened up as Billie came through the door, making it obvious she had been waiting for her.

"Did you find Maeve?"

Billie nodded. "Yeah.thanks." She walked by the young woman, determined to stay on course and get the hell out of there.

"Umm.Billie, could we talk for a second?"

The lieutenant slowly came to a stop, rolling her eyes as she realized that a quick getaway was not in the cards. She turned around and folded her arms across her chest, clearly signaling that she was not up for another pat down. "About what?"

"I.ahh.I was thinking about what you said before," she replied.

"In regards to?"

"That you didn't remember me." Maria began to shift around, nervously, her dark gaze looking around, deliberately avoiding making eye contact with the lieutenant.

"I'm sorry," Billie responded. "You already know the reason for that, so I don't know what more I can say."

Maria clasped her hands clasped, tightly, in front of her. "Actually, that's what I wanted to tell you."

The lieutenant was beginning to lose her patience. Her mind was already focused on her next destination, and she didn't feel much like engaging in idle chatter. "Look, Maria, I really need to be somewhere, so why don't you just spit it out, okay?"

There was a moment's hesitation before the young woman finally whispered, "It was me."

Billie furrowed her brow. "What was you?"

"I gave it to you."

The brunette's body went rigid as she began to comprehend what Maria was trying to tell her. She could feel her chest tightening, her blood beginning to pound in her ears as she willed herself to utter two simple words. "The fix?"

The dark-haired beauty nodded, weakly. "You were.you were really drunk. After Maeve left, I got your hands bandaged and.and then we started to.get into it, you know? It was really.intense." She stopped and took a deep breath before continuing.

"Afterwards, you were laying there, tossing and turning, like you were in pain, or something. And you seemed upset." Maria held her hands out in a helpless gesture. "At first, I figured it was because of what happened, but, you kept talking about wanting a pop. You were mumbling about for a while, and then, I noticed the track marks on your arm. They looked old, but I thought.well, I don't know what I thought, but you seemed to be going through such a hard time. I was using then, too, although Maeve didn't know it." She felt the weight of Billie's hard gaze and started to turn away.

Billie reached out and gripped her by the upper arms, giving her a rough shake to get her attention. When their eyes locked, she tightened her hold. "Go on."

The young woman swallowed hard. "So, I.I shot you up." She winced, feeling Billie's fingernails digging into the soft flesh of her arms. "You had such a bad reaction. I didn't know you'd kicked until Maeve called your friend, and then she showed up and started asking me questions. I was scared, Billie. I was afraid Maeve would toss me out on my ass if she found out." Tears shimmered in Maria's eyes as she gave Billie a pleading look. "Your friend just assumed that you'd done it yourself, and I didn't have the guts to tell her it was me. I knew it was only a matter of time before you'd figure it out, but after a few days went by, and nothing happened, I thought you just decided to let it go."

The lieutenant's jaw worked, furiously, her eyes ablaze as she finally pushed the woman away from her with a hard shove. "Do you have any idea what you did to me?" She clenched her fists, tightly, as she took a step back, not trusting herself to maintain control.

Maria took a few cautious steps of her own, backing away from Billie as she waited for the woman to lash out at her. She knew she had it coming, and she fully expected there would be consequences when she decided to come clean. But, as she saw the cold fury in Billie's eyes, she realized there were probably worse things than being out of a job.

"I'm so sorry," she said sincerely. "I never meant to hurt you.I swear to God."

The lieutenant could only stand there, her mind still trying to process this new revelation. All of the times she'd berated herself for being so weak, for allowing her basic urges to control her to the point of throwing away everything she'd fought so hard for, and now she was finding out that she hadn't been responsible after all.

Those days spent in Malibu with Alexa had been some of the hardest in her life. Knowing that Parish had put his career on the line to help her, believing that she could get herself straight, and there she was, barely ten weeks out of rehab, and seemingly right back where she'd started.

When she finally sobered up and came down, it seemed as though there was nothing left for her to feel, except shame and self-loathing. It was like trying to climb out of a deep hole, and just when it appeared as though she would finally reach the top, she'd lose her grip and end up right back at the bottom.

Alexa had done everything she could to be supportive. She knew that Billie desperately needed something to hold onto, an anchor that would keep her from drifting away. With her parents gone, and her career nearly destroyed, it seemed as though everything she loved was slipping from her grasp.

So, she went about setting up a place for Billie to get her head together, arranging for some furniture to be shipped from the house Billie had grown up in, along with several boxes of old photo albums and some of her parents personal belongings.

And it was in that room, surrounded by so many things that reminded her of who she was, and where she came from, that Billie confronted the damage she'd wrought, and was finally able to get back to the business of living her life.

Her mother once told her that she was destined to always take the hard road, not because she was the kind of person who relished a challenge, but simply because she could. And whenever Billie was faced with a crisis, she would think back on those words, and realize that her mother had been absolutely right. She would take the risks, she would get beaten down, but she would never take the easy way out.

As she stood there in the darkened hallway, her head pounding and her heart aching, she was suddenly reminded of someone else's words, the only ones her best friend ever spoke on the subject of her heroin addiction:

"You'll beat this, Billie, just like you did before. You are just about the toughest son of a bitch I know, and there is no way a needle is gonna take you down. I see you as more of a `hail of gunfire, blaze of glory' type o' gal. But, this shit? No. Not ever. And, if you put that stupid `Bullitt' movie in the VCR one more time, I'll kill you myself. Booyah?"

She could almost hear the sound of Alexa's voice, filled with concern, but always layered over with her matter-of-fact frankness. There was no one on this earth she trusted more, and no one's opinion she valued greater. At a time when harsh recriminations would have been expected, she received none. And during those long days, when Billie hurled just about every hateful, vicious comment she could think of, Alexa's only response was to ride out the storm, and graciously accept the apology that would always follow.

Through all of Billie's anger, frustration, physical ache and psychological torment, Alexa stood nearby, never interfering in the difficult journey she had to take, but always close enough to offer comfort whenever she could muster up the courage to ask for it.

And when the dam finally burst, and Billie was able to grieve for the loss of her mother and father, her friend cried right along with her, so she wouldn't ever have to know what it was like to feel so utterly alone.

At that moment, Billie would have given anything to be able to talk to Alexa just one more time, to tell her that it wasn't true. She hadn't given in. She hadn't fallen. She hadn't blown it. But, it was too late for that.

Alexa was gone.

"Do you have any family?"

Maria had been so afraid as to what would happen next that she didn't even comprehend Billie's question. "What?"

"Do you have any family?" Billie repeated.

"I...I have a sister in New Mexico." She just stood there and continued to stare at the lieutenant.

"Are you close?"

"Umm.yeah, well, we were," Maria answered haltingly, still unsure of where the conversation was heading.

Billie's cool gaze softened, imperceptibly. "Do yourself a favor and call her." She walked away and got into the elevator, turning to face the young woman as she slapped her hand against the inside panel. "And then, get the fuck out of this life."

Maria could only stand there and watch as the doors closed.

The woman moved silently in the darkness, keeping her back to the building as she reached the edge of the wall and peered around the corner. The floodlights were shining brightly on the warehouse door, and directly onto the rather large man standing outside, his demeanor clearly indicating that he was there to stop unwanted visitors from going inside.

Billie leaned back and rested her head against the wall, taking a few deep breaths as the familiar surge of adrenaline began to pump through her veins, preparing her body for whatever she was about to face.

She knew it probably wasn't the smartest thing to go in alone, but Van and Deaq were involved in other matters, and she had no desire to bring along a SWAT team for what she hoped would be a simple little chat. And right now, it seemed that her only obstacle to getting inside was the muscle at the main entrance. With any luck, he was one of Pelligrini's typical sidekicks, long on bulk, short on brains.

With only a brief moment of deliberation, the lieutenant decided that the best approach would be the most direct. She immediately checked her weapon, and then grabbed her cell phone from her pocket, steeling herself as she walked out into the open. Her eyes fixed on the man directly in front of her and she headed straight for the front door.

"So, how long do I have to wait? Do you have any idea how scary it is around here? A girl could get raped for Christ's sake."

The man at the warehouse door spotted the young brunette as she headed toward him, her arm waving about as though she were in the middle of a heated discussion. As she got closer, he called out to her. "What do you want?"

Billie glanced up at him as she continued to talk into her phone. "Look, I can't stay here and sit on my ass for three hours," she rolled her eyes and made a helpless gesture to the guy at the door, who was now only a few feet away.

She pulled the phone away from her ear and gave a disgusted look. "Can you believe this shit?" she said in an exasperated tone as she made eye contact with him. "I pay this friggin' auto club for how many years, and the one time I finally need them, they tell me they're busy."

"Car broke down?"

"Yeah, and these assholes are telling me it could take at least three hours before they can get out here." She pretended to hang up the phone in frustration and gave him a hopeful look. "I don't suppose you know anything about Corvettes, do you?"

The man smiled at her. "Maybe."

She immediately smiled back. "Well, wouldn't you like to prove that chivalry isn't dead and give me a little help here?"

His gaze lingered on her, appreciatively. "And what do I get for my trouble?"

"I'll let you know once you get my engine running."

His smile widened. "Where's it parked?"

Billie did a half turn and pointed back toward the corner of the building. "Right over there. I was lucky I got it off the road before it died."

He glanced behind him, the obvious debate as to whether he should leave his post lasting all of about two seconds. With a quick nod, he walked over and fell in step beside her, not noticing as she slowed down a bit and slipped a hand behind her back. As he paused to say something to her, Billie slammed her gun against the back of his head, causing him to drop to his knees. His hand fumbled inside his jacket as he pressed a palm to the ground in an effort to support himself, and another heavy blow finally dropped him to the pavement with a heavy grunt.

Billie glanced around to make sure no one else was in sight, and she reached down and picked up the man's limp arm, rolling him over onto his back. With a quick tug, she removed a gun from his hip and took it with her as she ran back toward the building.

"Get up!"

The young man held a hand to his jaw, wincing in pain as he tried to crawl away. A pair of large hands grabbed the back of his shirt and hauled him to his feet.

"I said get up, you little piece of shit!"

He tried to open his mouth to respond, which sent a fresh wave of pain across the side of his face. "I think you broke my jaw."

"God, you're such a little pussy!"

"But, Dad-"

"I see you're still the nurturing type."

Anthony Pelligrini stood on a large mat in the center of the room, his hands still resting on his son's shoulders, as he looked up at the sound of that voice. His entire body tensed as he spotted the brunette standing a few feet away.

"Oww.you're hurting me."

Pelli never took his eyes off the young woman as he shoved his son forward, roughly. "Shut the fuck up and get out of here." The young man didn't even look back as he headed for the nearest door and disappeared through it.

"You keep that up and they'll be giving you the `Father of the Year' award."

The man's hazel eyes fixed on her with undisguised malice. "Jesus Christ, Chambers, hasn't somebody put a bullet in you yet?"

"Yeah," Billie nodded, slightly. "But, it didn't take."

"Well, maybe I can do something about that." He glanced over to his right as two men approached.

Billie was fully prepared and immediately brandished her gun, closing the small amount of distance remaining between them as she said, "We can do this two ways. Talk here." She lowered her weapon to his crotch. "Or, talk in the emergency room."

The man frowned as his eyes strayed to her right hand. "Aren't you pigs supposed to have a fucking warrant, or something?"

Billie remained still, keeping the other men in her sight. She jutted her chin in their direction and said, "Tell the testosterone twins to take five."

The man lifted his gaze and fixed her with an angry look, acknowledging that she had the upper hand for the moment. "Wait outside." They hesitated, until he shot them a furious look. "Go!"

When they were finally alone, Billie took a step back, still holding her weapon on him. "I'm here for some info."

He lifted a hand to his grizzled face and stroked his chin, thoughtfully, as he leaned in toward her. "Go fuck yourself."

"How about I fuck you?" Billie reached behind her back and produced another gun, pointing it him as her expression turned grim. "You know, I'm betting that when they run the ballistics on this piece, it'll probably match up to a few other shootings. And then all of this will look like just another wiseguy powerplay."

He sneered at her. "You don't have the balls."

"And in three seconds, you won't either." She tightened her finger on the trigger. "One.two."

"Let's make a deal."

"I don't make deals, Monty."

There was a flicker of uncertainty in his eyes. "Okay, wait." He held a hand, trying to placate her. "Tell me what you're looking for."

"I want you to tell me everything you know about Ilsa Karlsen."

The request seemed to take him by surprise. "Ilsa? I haven't even seen that crazy bitch in about a hundred years." He gazed at Billie with obvious interest. "Why are you checking up on her?"

"None of your business. Now, start talking."

Anthony Pelligrini was not exactly the smartest man in the world. He had a reasonably good head for business, and he knew when to seize the right opportunity, which was how he'd managed to stay in the game for so many years.

But, the one thing he could do was read people. Paying close attention to the way they talked, being able to read between the lines of conversation, and understanding the importance of body language had saved his bacon on countless occasions.

He focused that experienced eye on the young woman in front of him. Billie Chambers certainly maintained a cool exterior, but he could almost feel the tension in her rigid posture. And her eyes showed just the slightest hint of desperation. If she was coming to him, than it must be something she needed very badly, which probably meant that he was the only person who had what she wanted. And that knowledge was beginning to make him feel very good.and very powerful.

"Ilsa and I did business together for a few years. I set her up in a nice place, and she made me a shitload of dough." He stopped speaking and lifted his chin up, slightly. "That's it."

Billie's jaw clenched as she met the man's steady gaze. "I want more."

"Don't we all." He gave her a smug look.

The lieutenant immediately realized she wasn't going to get anything more from the man with threats. Despite the fact that she would have thoroughly enjoyed castrating the son of a bitch, she knew it was something she just couldn't do to an unarmed man. And it was obvious from his expression that Pelli knew it, too.

Her blue eyes never left his face as she tossed the extra gun away and slipped her own back into its holster. "What do you want?"

He licked his lips and smiled, coldly. "Another chance." Spreading his arms wide, he took a few steps back, pinning the brunette with a determined look. "Five minutes on the mat."

Billie could feel her heartbeat quicken, the familiar rush of danger and excitement twisting in her gut as she considered the man's proposal. She knew she wasn't exactly in top form, still battling with the ever-elusive concept of sleep. And her reflexes were a bit off, as her disastrous confrontation with Jill had clearly demonstrated.

But, Pelli was her only lead right now. She needed whatever information he could provide, and her instincts were telling her that he knew a great deal, which really only left her with one option.

"I'll give you three," she relented as she shrugged out of her jacket.

"I'll take it."

Part 20

When the road gets dark
And you can no longer see
Just let my love throw a spark, baby
Have a little faith in me
       - Jewel

Billie held her hands up, automatically transferring her weight to the balls of her feet as she waited for her opponent to make the first move. She could see him shifting, slightly, trying to gauge her weak point. The last time they tangled, she had taken him by surprise, not because she hadn't given him fair warning, but because he'd underestimated her. She knew he wouldn't make that mistake again.

Pelli watched her movements, carefully, determined to make the first hit count. He knew all too well what kind of damage the brunette could do, and he had no intention of giving her an opening she could exploit. His eyes followed her as he circled around, fists tightly clenched in anticipation of the pain he was hoping to inflict.

He lunged forward, swinging his arm in a tight arc. Billie anticipated his move and easily stepped out of his reach. The man was only a few inches taller than her, causing him to keep his motions conservative. He certainly couldn't afford to get too close.

The brunette eyed him, cautiously, as the pace of his movements increased. He took another swing with the opposite arm, and when Billie attempted to avoid it, he suddenly surged toward her, catching her shoulder as they both tumbled to the floor.

Pelli landed on his side with a heavy thud, cursing when he realized Billie hit the mat behind him. He quickly turned over, bringing both arms up as he tried to grab her.

Billie had landed on her back, immediately rolling away from the man as he attempted to take a hold of her arm. She got to her knees and kicked out her right leg, landing a booted foot squarely in the center of his chest. As he fell back against the mat, she jumped to her feet and moved back, giving him a chance to rise from the floor.

"You little bitch!" Pelli got up, one hand pressed against his chest as he pinned her with a furious look. He ran at her, his movements still slightly off-balance, and Billie stepped aside as he approached, driving her knee into his stomach. The older man doubled over, but not before managing to catch a hold of Billie's thigh, and he took her with him as dropped to the mat in a heap.

Billie was attempting to get away from him when a hard, solid fist slammed against the side of her head, causing it to smack against the mat. Another fist immediately began pounding her ribs, and she tried to tuck her knee up in a vain effort to protect her body from his attack.

The older man's superior weight was keeping one of her legs pinned to the floor, and the compromising position was proving to give him the advantage. Billie used all her leverage, spinning her upper body toward him as she drove her elbow into his head, finally freeing her leg. He toppled over onto his side, cursing, as she quickly flipped over and stood up again.

Pelli rubbed a hand across the side of his face. "I'm gonna fucking kill you for that." As he rose, he slipped a hand under his pant leg, producing a wicked looking knife. In one fluid motion, he got to his feet and lunged at her in a clear attempt to skewer the brunette.

Billie stepped to the side and caught him by the wrist, twisting his arm painfully as she moved behind him and pushed her free hand against his shoulder. Instinctively, Pelli bent forward to relieve the pressure, dropping to one knee as the lieutenant bent his arm back at an odd angle. "Drop it, or I'll break your arm," she growled.

He grunted once before complying, knowing full well the young woman would follow through on her threat. The knife fell to the mat and Billie kicked it away, sending it skittering across the floor. She gave Pelli a hard shove and sent him sprawling. The man slowly climbed to his feet, rubbing his wrist as he glared at her.

The lieutenant could tell by the man's expression that he wasn't finished, and sure enough, he dove at her in a rage, his forward momentum less controlled and more desperate. She nailed him with a vicious right hook, dropping him back onto his knees, and then proceeded to grab two fistfuls of hair, pulling his head forward as she brought up her left knee and drove it into his face.

Pelli shouted in pain as bone shattered and blood sprayed out, leaving a crimson trail running down his chin. "Fuck!" He dropped his hands to the mat, hunching over as Billie took a step back, her nose wrinkling in disgust as she spotted the blood stain on her jeans.

"Oh, that's never gonna come out," she lamented.

The man remained on his hands and knees, clutching at his face as he moaned, "You broke my fucking nose."

"That's what you get for fighting dirty," Billie offered. "And your time is up."

Pelli sat back on his heels and tilted his head back, his hands cupped against his face. He slowly climbed to his feet and walked toward a pile of clothing at the edge of the mat, grabbing a shirt from the floor and pressing it to his nose.

Billie placed a hand against her side and winced as she took a brief assessment of her own injuries. Her head hurt and her ribs ached, but she was certain nothing was broken. There was sure to be some nasty bruising, but nothing a few well-placed ice packs and a pound of aspirin wouldn't cure.

She walked over and picked up her gun, returning it to the holster on her hip as she bent over and scooped her jacket up from the floor. "So, you ready to talk now?"

Pelli seated himself on the mat, his muffled voice sounding somewhat defeated behind his shirt as he replied, "What do you want to know?"

"I already told you," she replied as she slipped on her jacket. "Everything."

He leaned back on one hand, the other remaining pressed against his face. "She was only sixteen when I met her, and she was different than my other girls. They were hooking because they couldn't do anything else. But, she was.well, she was in it for the money, to be sure, but on some level, I think she really enjoyed it.especially later on." He pulled the blood soaked garment away from his face and refolded it, before putting it back in place.

"I was running a couple of parlors back then, nothing fancy. Ilsa was bringing in some beau coup bucks, but eventually, she got it into her head that there were greener pastures out there. So, she came up with a business proposition, which involved catering to more.special clients."

"Define special."

"You know the type. They're into pain, domination, women dressed up as little girls, shit like that. L.A.'s full of people who can't get it up unless someone else tells `em to."

Billie knew the sort of people he was referring to. She'd certainly busted plenty of them during her days in vice. "So, what are we talking here, a little S&M club?"

Pelli chuckled, softly. "That would be normal compared to some of the people Ilsa was doing back then. But, she was good at what she did, a real natural. And she had a lot of repeat business."

Billie grabbed a chair from against the wall, spinning it around and straddling it as she rested her arms across the back. She discreetly slipped a hand inside her jacket, placing it against her side as she asked, "What was the proposition?"

"I set her up with a nice place of her own, she brings in expensive clients, and we split the money."

The lieutenant eyed him, skeptically. "And you agreed to that?"

The man's head nodded, slowly. "I knew a good arrangement when I saw it. I figured if I turned her down, she would've been gone in no time, and somebody else would end up making all that bread. Ilsa wasn't some stupid slut. She knew exactly what she wanted, and how to get it."

"How long did this go on?"

"For about three years. She was doing a bang up business. Her clients were some of the richest people in the goddamn state. I was pulling in a fucking wad the size of my dick every other week." He removed the ruined shirt from his face and looked at her. "We're talking movie stars, CEO's, politicians."

"So, what happened?"

"That stupid fucking kid, that's what happened."

Billie's ears perked up. "What kid?"

"He tried to steal her purse, or some stupid shit." Pelli shook his head in disgust. "Nothing but a two-bit little hustler doing five dollar blow jobs in the bus station johns. I don't know why she took a liking to him, but the next thing I know, she's got this kid living with her."

"How old was he?"

"I don't know," Pelli said irritably. "Eleven.twelve?"

"So, his being there messed up your business arrangement?"

"Not at first. Things were status quo for a while. The kid was nutty as hell, but Ilsa never let him get in the way of business. But, not too long after he moved in, a couple of people went missing, so I knew something weird was going on over there."

Billie narrowed her gaze at him. "People went missing?" she repeated. "You mean clients?"

He nodded. "A couple of out-of-towners. She got one-shots every now and then, people just passing through.maybe on a business trip, or something. They'd usually been referred by a regular."

"How did you find out they were missing?"

"I got a couple of inquiries.discreetly, of course. Rich people like to keep their secrets. They're always so fucking concerned with how things look to everyone else. Once I found out, I knew it had to be him."

"You think the kid was to blame for the disappearances?" When Pelli nodded his head, Billie then asked, "What was his name?"

"David," Pelli responded as he stretched out on the mat. He continued to apply the balled up cloth to his injured nose, patting it softly in an effort to soak up the remaining droplets of blood. The intense pain was slowly beginning to ease down into a dull throb.

The lieutenant decided to press on. "So, did you ever find out what happened to these people?"

"No," he answered. "But, I knew they were probably stone cold, and I sure as hell wasn't about to get my balls in a vise because of that freaky little shit. So, I told Ilsa to get rid of him."

"And did she?"

"Yeah.eventually. She was pissed as shit at first, but as soon as I tipped her off that I knew he'd whacked someone, she shut up about it and shipped him off."

"Did she say he'd actually committed murder?"

"All she said was that things got out of hand, whatever the fuck that means. But, that was good enough for me. I just wanted him gone before anybody put two and two together."

"And so you and she covered it up," Billie summarized with more than a little anger in her tone.

"Hey, I didn't know a goddamn thing, okay? It was all just guesswork. And the only one Ilsa was covering for was herself. It's not good when rumors get going that your clients are turning up dead, and believe me, she would have done just about anything to protect her business."

The lieutenant took a moment to run through the story in her mind. While this new information was intriguing, it was also very disturbing. If the young boy had actually committed murder, why hadn't Felicia gotten rid of him as soon as she found out about it? Why risk everything for someone she barely knew, only to end up tossing him aside as soon as her business partner intervened? Was she really just concerned about her business? And could there be others missing that no one knew about?

Of course, Billie was still trying to figure out why she'd taken the child in to begin with, especially if he was so unstable. She didn't exactly strike Billie as the motherly type. But, she had to remind herself that it was a long time ago, and despite what Lois Spencer said, maybe Felicia still had some genuine feelings back then.

After hearing all of this, Billie should have been almost elated at the abundance of ammunition she was stockpiling, but unfortunately now there was another matter of greater concern. "I want their names."

"Jesus Christ, Chambers, we're talking over twenty years ago. Who the hell remembers the names of a couple of johns?" He could see by her expression that the lieutenant wouldn't be so easily put off. "It was in early eighty-two. Look up the missing persons cases, you'll find `em easy enough. Just follow the money."

Billie stared at him for a moment. "Where did the kid go?"

"She had this one client," the man explained. "A judge over in Sacramento. He took him off her hands."

"And did what with him?" Billie asked.

Pelli looked over at her. "Ilsa claimed he found him some place to live."

"Did this judge know the kid might have been a murderer?"

"I doubt it," Pelli answered.

"I don't suppose you remember his name, do you?"

"Dylan, like Bob Dylan. That's the only reason I remember it."

Billie idly drummed her fingers on the back of the chair. "What happened after he left?"

"A few months went by, and Ilsa said she was ready to move on. She claimed she was tired of the whole thing and wanted out." Pelli shrugged his shoulders. "I knew from the get go it wasn't gonna last forever, so we had a parting of the ways. End of story." With a heavy sigh, the man stood up, pausing to focus pained eyes on the lieutenant. "Now, why don't you go crawl back under whatever rock you came out from, huh?"

Billie's lip turned up in a slight smirk as she got up from her seat. "Gee, it was just like old times, wasn't it?" She caught sight of someone entering through a door across the room, immediately recognizing the man who'd been guarding the main entrance. He spotted her right away, and the brunette tensed up as he began to approach.

"Well, it's about fucking time you showed up," Pelli called to him. "God, what a dumbass."

The man rubbed the back of his head as he came over to them. "Sorry." He took note of Pelli's bloodied face, but judging from the man's demeanor, he decided it best to say nothing. Instead, he shot Billie a hateful look. "Where's my gun?"

Billie folded her arms across her chest. "Do you have a license to carry, Mister?"

His eyes widened as he glanced over at his boss. "What's she, a fucking cop?"

The brunette looked over at Pelli and shrugged. "He seems smart enough to me."

Pelli jabbed his thumb at Billie as he barked, "She is the person who got the jump on you, you stupid asshole!" He then motioned toward the far wall. "And your piece is over there. See if you can hold on to it for a while." He shook his head in disgust as the other man walked away from him. "What a fucking idiot. No wonder you had no problem getting in here."

"Yeah, well, good thugs are hard to find." Billie gave him one final look before walking across the mat and heading toward the door. She lifted a hand in a casual wave. "Thanks for the workout, Anthony."

"Fuck you, too, Chambers," he called after her. "Here's hoping the next bullet puts you out of my misery."

"Hope springs eternal," Billie offered as she left the room.

Billie came through the door of her apartment, tossing her keys and badge onto a table in the hallway as she walked by it and turned on the small table lamp. The living room was still shrouded in darkness as she made her way in, the soft light behind her spilling across the floor, leaving the edges of the room covered in shadow.

Her movements were a bit sluggish, the aches and pains beginning to set in after the long car ride, and she carefully slid her jacket off her shoulders and tossed it onto the back of a nearby chair. She hadn't yet taken the time to examine her ribs, but judging from the way they were hurting, it didn't take a genius to know that they were badly bruised.

Standing there in the semi-dark, she felt a slight tingle run up her spine, suddenly sensing another presence in the room. She didn't show any signs of reacting, until her hand made a quick move for her gun.

"It's only me, Billie."

"Sara?" The lieutenant turned toward the direction of her voice, spotting the outline of a silhouette seated on the sofa. Sara was not the person she'd been expecting to find, and for a split-second she was utterly relieved. "What are you doing here?"

There was no response.

"I thought I explained that it wasn't safe for you to come here," Billie said softly, her tone sounding a bit impatient as she contemplated the terrible risks for the both of them if the young woman's presence was discovered. She suspected Hill had her under surveillance, and the last thing she needed was for him to find Sara here.

The blonde rose from her seat and walked toward Billie, studying her lover's dark form as she drew closer. With the light shining on her from behind, the lieutenant's features were obscured, and all Sara wanted at that moment was to see those ice blue orbs looking back at her. "I needed to see you."

There was a hint in Sara's voice, in the way she moved, that told Billie something was terribly wrong. She took a step toward her, holding her hand out as she waited for the blonde to grasp it. Her voice immediately went from slightly irritated to deeply concerned. "What's happened?"

Sara walked toward the doorway, ignoring Billie's offered hand, and the lieutenant had to turn around to face her. The ex-thief stood perfectly still, the soft, yellow light catching her lover's pale eyes, causing them to shine with an iridescent glow. A sudden surge of emotions churned within her, and she had to take a deep breath to stop herself from giving in to them.

She'd been sitting in the darkness of Billie's apartment for almost two hours, words running through her head over and over as she tried to decide how to confront her lover. She wanted to tell her that she was hurt and angry, that she felt betrayed. But, none of the things she could think to say seemed adequate enough.

Seeing Billie kissing that woman, being touched by her, was more than Sara could bear. And it wasn't just jealousy. She'd specifically given Billie an opportunity to tell her what had happened between her and Felicia, and instead of her trademark vagueness, the lieutenant had chosen to lie. And since her brief outburst yesterday had only given a hint of the trouble that was really brewing, she hadn't doubted that Billie left out a few important details. That was just her way. And Sara was coming to understand that as she got to know her better.

But, this was different.

This was Felicia Ralston, the woman who'd nearly murdered them both, despite Billie's insistence that they were never really a target. This was the woman who hired someone to beat the crap out of her, and Sara couldn't believe that Billie would allow herself to be so easily manipulated. Why did she do it? How could she stand to get so close? How could she handle that woman having her hands on her?

Sara desperately needed the answers to those questions, although she wasn't even sure if she was really ready to hear them. But, right now, she was in a world of hurt, and the only thing that was going to stop her from going over the edge was to confront her lover, to know the truth, no matter what the consequences.

Billie's concern was growing with each passing second. She was unable to read Sara's expression in the darkness, but her silence spoke volumes. "Sara, tell me-"

"Are you playing her?"

Blue eyes narrowed as Billie tried to comprehend the question. "What?"

"Felicia," Sara spit the name out angrily. "Are you playing her?"

The lieutenant could only stand there looking a bit dumbfounded. Where in the hell had Sara gotten that idea?

"The same way you played me?"

The wounded tone of Sara's voice drudged up those all too familiar feelings of guilt in Billie, and she quickly squashed them down with a healthy dose of ire. "I thought we'd already gotten passed that."

"Yeah," the blonde sighed. "Well, apparently not."

"The answer is no," Billie stated firmly, still not understanding what was going on.

Sara reached a slender hand into her pocket and took something out, holding it up in front of Billie's face. "Then, this must be someone who just happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to you."

The brunette furrowed her brow, snatching the picture from her lover's hand and holding it up at an angle toward the light. As soon as she realized what it was, her expression changed to one of recognition.

Felicia. The Bentley. The kiss.

"Oh, shit," Billie muttered as she dropped her hand with a heavy sigh. "I should've known. I can't believe I was so stupid." As she chided herself for falling for such an obvious move, another thought suddenly occurred to her, and she locked her steely gaze on Sara. "Where did you get this?"

"Excuse me, Lieutenant," Sara countered, drawing the last word out, slowly. "But, I'm the one asking the questions here."

Billie's thoughts were too intent on the idea of Sara taking such a blatant risk that she wasn't giving a single moment's thought to her lover's emotional distress. "You went to see her, even after I told you to stay out of this."

"Yeah," Sara laughed, bitterly. "Imagine.I was worried about you. I wanted to protect you."

"I don't need your protection," Billie stated.

"I get that now." The blonde removed an envelope from her jacket pocket and threw it onto the hallway table. "Why don't you keep the rest of these? You need to start a whole new scrapbook anyway, and how appropriate that it should be pictures of her." Since Billie lost almost all of her family photographs in the explosion, Sara knew her words would be hurtful, and that was exactly her intent.

Billie opened her mouth to offer a scathing retort, but then quickly closed it, reminding herself of what was really going on here. She knew her lover was upset about the pictures, and she could certainly understand that. The thought of Felicia throwing them in Sara's face, using them to hurt her, made the lieutenant's blood boil. And she knew she was partly to blame for not telling her what happened.

"It was just a kiss, Sara, that's it."

"Oh, is that all?" Sara replied caustically. "Well, what a relief."

"I just did it to try and get some information out of her."

"Oh, I get it," Sara replied with dripping sarcasm. "So, while she felt you up, you thought maybe you could coax a confession out of her, right?"


"Or, how about you pushed her down onto the seat and fucked her hoping that might convince her to plead guilty to all of her heinous crimes."

"Sara, stop."

The blonde's voice was getting steadily louder. "Better still, perhaps you tried to-"

"It didn't mean anything!" Billie nearly shouted as she interrupted Sara's tirade. "I was just doing my job, okay? I was hoping to trip her up, get her to let something slip-"

"I'd say she let something slip alright."

"Oh, for Christ's sake!" The lieutenant threw her hands up in a gesture of frustration. "It was nothing. God.I was thinking of you the whole time!" She saw the anger flare up in Sara's eyes and pressed her fingertips to her temple. "That didn't come out right."

"Oh, no," the blonde shook her head, slowly, her voice softening to a more conversational tone. "By all means, tell me how you were imagining that it was my hands roaming your body, my lips kissing you. And be sure to tell me how good it felt when you imagined climbing on top of me and-"

"Nothing happened!"

"Funny, isn't that what you told me that night on the beach?" Sara turned away from her and walked into the hall, wrapping her arms around herself as she tried to figure out what to do next. More than anything, she wanted to believe Billie, to forgive her for lying.

But, those pictures.

"I should have told you."

Sara could feel Billie standing behind her, the warmth of her body so close it almost burned right through her. She turned around to face her, locking eyes with the lieutenant, as she said, "Why didn't you?"

Billie could have said that she'd done it to protect her, that she didn't want her any more involved than she already was, which was all true. But, that wasn't the only reason she'd kept Sara in the dark.

In all honesty, she just wasn't used to accounting to anyone about what she did. The decisions she made, both in her personal life and her professional career, were done with very little consideration as to how they might make someone else feel. And when you spent most of your time having to think of no one but yourself, it was hard to do anything else.

That wasn't to say that she didn't care how her actions affected others, but she never allowed that to sway her.especially where her job was concerned. Hard choices played a vital part in her survival, as well as the survival of those she was responsible for, and she couldn't let emotions get in the way. Ever. If she did, people died. To some, that may seem like an oversimplification, but to Billie it was a creed, a rule that she always lived by, no matter the situation.

Her relationship with Sara was complicated, to say the least, but it didn't exactly feel like unfamiliar territory. She'd gotten close to other people during her time undercover, some of whom were directly involved in her investigations. And those relationships would often become a dangerous high-wire act, especially when she found herself getting in much deeper than she'd intended.

But, after the busts were made, and the paperwork filed, she would always walk away, and try to never look back. It was often difficult given the amount of time she'd spent getting to know someone. And there were those rare occasions when she found herself wishing that things had turned out differently.

And now, they finally had.

Seducing Sara Matthews had been a means to an end, but now, Billie realized that she'd been the one seduced, and while her own motives had been self-serving, Sara's had been just the opposite. She made Billie fall in love with her by showing her who she really was. No tricks. No deception. Just a young woman who wore her heart on her sleeve, and was willing to give it away, no questions asked.

Billie knew she could easily put an end to things by exploiting her lover's fears, by giving substance to the nagging doubts the young woman still harbored. A part of her almost wanted to, knowing that their relationship probably wouldn't survive the rough waters that lay ahead.

But, after all the events of the day, from Ollie's funeral and Maria's startling confession, to the possibility of a serial murderer on the loose, she'd managed to gain some clarity that she'd been sorely lacking the past few weeks. And as she looked into Sara's soulful eyes, the depth of her feelings told her what she'd somehow known all along: No matter what happened, she wouldn't be the one to walk away.

So, for better or worse, she would try to follow Sara's lead. And, though it wasn't in her nature to expose herself so completely, at least she could try her best to be honest, both with Sara, and with herself.

"I just didn't want to," she finally answered. "I know that sounds callous, and maybe even a little arrogant, but I'm used to doing things my own way, Sara. This is my job, and it's my case. I know you have a vested interest, but I don't want you involved."

"But, I am," Sara stated adamantly.

"That's because you did what I specifically asked you not to," Billie pointed out. "And if you had listened to me, you never would have gone to see Felicia, which means you never would have seen those pictures." The brunette lifted a tentative hand to Sara's cheek, stroking the soft skin with a gentle caress. "I'm sorry she hurt you, Sara." The blonde's eyes were downcast as Billie slipped a finger under her chin, tipping her head up as she caught Sara's gaze. "But, more importantly, I'm sorry that I hurt you."

If Sara had any doubts before that moment, they were all erased by the sincerity of Billie's words, and by the deeper emotion that lay beneath them. She could feel her eyes becoming moist with tears, her chest tightening as she tried to keep her own emotions in check.

But, it was no use. She could no more reign in her feelings than she could catch the wind. And as she stood there, looking into her lover's earnest gaze, she felt something from deep within that gave her hope.

There was a storm churning all around them, threatening to destroy what they were so desperately trying to build. But, when she was this close to Billie, when their hearts and minds were filled with only each other, it was like being in the eye of the hurricane. And with that sense of calm suddenly overtaking her, she knew the time was right to throw caution straight into the raging winds.

"I love you, Billie."

Billie leaned in close, feeling Sara's warm breath against her lips. Her heart began to beat faster as she cradled the blonde's face in her hands, her own breath fleeing her lungs as she whispered into her lover's mouth.

"I love you, too, Sara."

Their lips met in a soft, sweet kiss.

Part 21

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