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
I'm here to be your only go-between
To tell you of the sights
These eyes have seen
- Anthony Kiedis
"So, would this be considered our second date?"
Billie dropped her head to the pillow with a satisfied sigh, her body spent but still aroused.to her utter amazement. Her fingers began to trace delicate lines along the soft skin of the arm that had draped itself across her stomach. "I guess."
"It'll be kind of tough to top this one."
"Don't tell me you're giving up already?"
Sara propped herself up on her free arm, errant strands of blonde hair pasted to her forehead. "I said tough, not impossible."
A playful grin appeared on Billie's lips. "What did you have in mind?"
"Well, you'll be coming into a little money," Sara said casually, as if breaking into someone's home and stealing every penny they owned was an everyday occurrence. "It'd be a good time to take a trip somewhere, you know.that way you could enjoy it, instead of having to worry about your ex wondering where it came from."
Billie's eyes focused on the ceiling. She didn't want to think about tomorrow. Not here. Not now. "I can handle Van."
"I'm sure you can," the blonde placated. "I was just thinking that it might be nice to do a little traveling myself, and we could go anywhere we wanted."
The brunette gently eased her lover onto her back and rolled on top of her. "Can we talk about this later?" She pressed her face into the young woman's neck and began teasing the sensitive skin with her lips and tongue.
Sara closed her eyes and sighed. "You're not having second thoughts about tomorrow, are you?"
"No," came Billie's muffled reply.
"I love this beach."
Billie's eyes followed the young, lithe figure coming toward her, moving with unconscious grace and deliberate sensuality.
Sara dropped into an empty beach chair and reached for the towel Billie held out to her. "Thanks."
"So, how come you haven't gone in for a dip?" Sara quizzed as she placed a pair of sunglasses on her face.
Billie shrugged. "I prefer fresh water."
The blonde immediately turned and eyed her companion over the rim of her shades. "You're kidding."
The detective waved a hand at the pounding surf only a few feet away. "Salt water's overrated."
Sara was stunned. "You can actually sit here, on one of the most beautiful shorelines in the world, and say "it's overrated"?" She shook her wet, stringy hair in disbelief. "That only makes me wonder just how much it takes to impress you, Wilhemina Chambers."
Billie watched with interest as Sara suddenly stood up from her chair and stepped in front of her. With a sly smile, the blonde hooked her thumbs into her bikini bottoms and slowly guided them down her slim, toned legs, letting them fall to the sand before stepping out of them. She then reached behind her back and undid her top, hesitating for a brief second before removing it and revealing her nude form to her lover.
"You've forgotten something," Billie announced, tapping her own sunglasses with her finger.
With a determined, yet playful look, Sara slipped her sunglasses off and tossed them over her shoulder. She stood there, confidently, knowing her lover's eyes were moving over her.
The young brunette rose from her chair and stepped forward, leaving little room between their bodies as she reached out to run her fingertips along the gentle curve of the young woman's hips. As her hands traveled higher, she leaned in and whispered, "I'd say that's enough.
Sara spun around and saw Billie coming toward her. "Hey, what are you doing here? I thought Jarod was giving me a lift back."
"I told him to take off," the brunette explained. "He needed to get to work. Plus, I decided that we should go out and celebrate." She clasped Sara's hand and they fell in step, heading out of the courthouse.
"Sounds good to me," Sara smiled. "Where to?"
"I know a place. Great pesto."
The two women walked through the doors and down the front steps. Billie felt a sudden resistance and stopped to look at Sara. "Something wrong?"
"What if you can't get Felicia?" she frowned.
"I told you, I will," Billie said simply. "There's no if, only when."
A look of uncertainty flashed across the blonde's face. "How?"
"I'll get something on her," the lieutenant replied confidently.
"But, what if she-"
"Hey," Billie interrupted with a squeeze of her hand. "Let me worry about Felicia Ralston, okay? Now that Colby's locked up, the worst is over, so let's stop talking about her. She's already taking up enough space in my life."
Sara tried to relax a bit by returning her lover's gesture and flashing a smile. "Yeah, well, if she messes with you, she messes with me. Got it?"
"It's a fitting end, Billie."
The detective's blue eyes remained fixed on her lover, bleeding to death at her feet. The woman she loved was slipping away from her and she was completely powerless to prevent it.
Felicia stood up and removed the black shawl covering her head. The garment had served its purpose, helping to keep her presence concealed in the darkness long enough to take the young woman by surprise. "It wasn't so long ago that she left someone else to die, and as I told you, I believe everything in this life eventually comes full circle."
Billie tore her gaze from Sara, and stared into the cold, cruel eyes of her murderer. A low, feral sound rose up from her throat, as if all her agony and pain were slowly being ripped from her body, and in an explosion of rage and despair, she began pulling, unmercifully, at the ropes, a last desperate act to break free and save her lover.
Witnessing her young protégé's anguish was more than enough to convince Felicia that, even though Jill's betrayal had forced her to alter her plans, the outcome would be more than she could have hoped for.
She had tried to get to Billie through her job, providing her with the ultimate game of cat and mouse.teasing her, enticing her, challenging her skills while learning more about what motivated her, both as a detective, and as a woman.
But, she soon realized that her tactics had been only partly successful. Despite the young lieutenant's utter obsession with her work, she still remained emotionally detached, further proving that her drive to excess had more to do with engaging her intellectual abilities than her bleeding heart.
In studying her background, however, it became apparent that the detective had serious emotional scars, and that was clearly the lynchpin Felicia needed. By using the ghosts of her past, along with her relationship with Sara, the wealthy widow managed to make Billie combine her head and her heart, effectively coloring her normally sharp perceptions, while fueling her desire to protect the person she loved.
"As one predator to another, I'm going to give you what you've wanted all along," Felicia stated as Billie finally exhausted herself. In a gentle, protective gesture, she stood behind the brunette and wrapped her arms around her, enfolding her shaking form in the shawl she still carried. She hovered over Billie's shoulder, pressing her face against the detective's hot, moistened cheek. "A chance to view the world through my eyes."
Billie groaned and tilted her head back, trying to convince the woman to remove the gag from her mouth, desperate for the chance to plead for Sara's life, no matter how futile the effort would be. But, Felicia merely reached up with one hand and cupped her chin, holding her in place as she continued to speak.
"When you begin the chase, you study your prey: determine their weaknesses and what makes them tick. Soon you come to know how they think. You can predict their movements, calculate their steps.and then you have them. But, in order to move in for the kill, you must get close, blend into their surroundings, become like them, so when you're ready to deliver the critical blow, they will never see it coming." Felicia took the brunette's earlobe between her teeth, biting down just enough to draw blood, but Billie was so physically drained she barely showed any reaction.
"Isn't that how you've done it, Billie?" she taunted. "You've pursued drug addicts and murderers by actually becoming one of them. You wanted.needed to be in their shoes, to know the minds of those you hunt. But, what you really discovered is that you're not all that different from them, are you?"
Billie tried to pull her head away, but the taller woman's firm grip held her fast. She couldn't bear to listen anymore. With every passing second, Sara's life was spilling out of her body, and she was being forced to watch it happen, all for the amusement of a madwoman.
"And what of you and I?" Felicia pondered. "You didn't have the pretense of a false identity, did you? There was no illusion to hide behind. But, you were still able to get in close, by matching wits with me, by being just as clever, just as ruthless, and by showing that you were willing to risk whatever it took to catch me." Her hand suddenly tightened on Billie's jaw and with a firm tug, she pulled her face down to look at Sara lying on the floor. "And now you have," she stated with a note of triumph. "You've proved yourself, Billie.you're just like me."
That was enough to push all rational thought from the young detective's mind and she finally cried out, shaking her head, weakly, as darkness threatened to close in on her from all sides.
Felicia kissed Billie's tear-stained cheek and smiled. "You were a great hunter, Billie Chambers, but now.you'll be even better."
When she felt the touch of Felicia's lips on her face, Billie simply went numb. She had nothing left. Sara might already be dead, and she could only hang there, uselessly, waiting for blessed oblivion, which she knew was not that far away.
"I have to leave now," Felicia announced. "But, rest assured, we will see each other again someday." She released her hold on the lieutenant, allowing the shawl to drop to the floor and whispered softly, "Goodbye.elsker."
Billie felt a subtle shift in the air; so faint she thought she'd imagined it. But, after more than a minute of silence, she realized that Felicia must have slipped out through a door somewhere behind her. Her eyes began to droop, but she willed herself to stay awake, not really believing that the woman wasn't coming back.
There had to be a way out of this. She just needed to concentrate. Breaking her bonds was obviously out of the question. She'd given it everything she had earlier and she was in much better condition then, now she was having trouble just keeping her eyes open.
Her weary gaze remained on Sara. She was lying so still, and the dim light made it impossible to see if she was still breathing. All Billie could do was to listen for any sound that would tell her if she was still alive. She tried to speak, hoping to get her attention, but her muffled grunts elicited no response.
There was nothing she could do to help Sara, and Felicia made absolutely certain that she wouldn't be able to comfort her, either. All she could do was pray for someone to come, knowing all the while that rescue would never arrive quick enough to save her lover.
Just when the young detective thought she might go completely insane with grief, the softest sound reached her ears and she held her breath, fearing she'd imagined it. The movement was almost imperceptible, at first, but finally, Sara turned her head.and opened her eyes.
They stared at each other, the blonde's heavy-lidded gaze holding Billie transfixed. Only the detective's eyes could convey what she was truly feeling, and she gave everything she had in that one look, pouring out her desperate plea as a single word formed in her mind, begging to be spoken.
The hushed voice startled her and she broke eye contact with Sara long enough to see a figure peeking around the edge of the doorway in front of her. Her heart soared when she recognized the young man's face.
"Is it clear?" Jarod asked softly.
Billie quickly nodded and he stepped inside, moving cautiously with his weapon extended. She shifted her attention back to Sara, but the young woman's eyes were closed again.
Jarod immediately approached, his concerned gaze giving way to one of shock as he got a closer look at both women. "Jesus." he breathed, carefully stepping over Sara and reaching up to pull the scarf out of Billie's mouth. "Are you-"
"Sara." Billie gasped, unable to get the words out fast enough. "She was stabbed in the back. You have to turn her over, put pressure on the wound.try to stop the bleeding." She started to choke on her words, the inside of her mouth dry as dust.
The rookie cop immediately knelt down and did as she instructed, removing his shirt and turning her over with as much care as he could. He balled up the garment, clearly struggling to find the location of her injury. Her back was covered in blood, and the candles offered only a fraction of light, so he pulled up her shirt and slid his hand across her slick skin until he found the wound. He placed the cloth on her back, applying as much pressure as he dared and used his free hand to take out his cell phone and call for help.
"Sara." Billie's graveled voice called out softly. "Help is here. Just hang on, you're gonna be okay."
When Jarod finished, he looked up at Billie, wishing he could be helping her, as well. "How bad are you hurt?"
"How long has she been gone?"
"A few minutes."
"I should cut you down."
"No." There was a strange buzzing sound in Billie's ears and she was beginning to feel increasingly disoriented. "Just take care of her." It was becoming very difficult to concentrate on anything, and her head began to drop, slowly, to her chest.
Van bolted into the room, followed by his partner, who swept the room with his gun poised in front of him.
"She was already gone when I got up here," Jarod confirmed.
Deaq tore his gaze away from his boss to look at the rookie cop. "What happened to Sara?"
"She was stabbed. Man, she's bleeding all over the place."
"Help me here," Van barked, pulling a knife from his pocket and reaching up to cut the ropes that held Billie suspended. He could see that she had numerous injuries, but there was too much blood to determine exactly how bad they were.
"Billie.Billie, come on, now, girl," Deaq's steady voice called as he held on to her while Van cut her free. She dropped into his arms and the two men, carefully, lowered her to the floor and began to untie her wrists and ankles. "Talk to me."
Pain quickly cut through the haze and Billie let out a soft cry as her arms began to feel the blood flow that had been cut off hours ago. She tried to roll onto her side, but found she didn't have the strength.
"Hey," Van spoke to her softly. "How bad is it?"
"My stomach.left arm," she mumbled, struggling to stay alert. Her head lolled to the side and she was able to see Sara lying next to her. She wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch her lover, but she couldn't move her injured arm.
Van took notice of all the pictures lying around, catching his partner's eye as he quickly grabbed the discarded shawl from the floor and placed it on Billie's stomach. "What the hell is all this?"
Deaq's expression was grim. "I don't know, man."
"I can barely feel her pulse," Jarod spoke up, unable to conceal his frustration. The shirt he'd been wearing only minutes ago was now soaked with Sara's blood.
"I'll show `em the way up," Deaq announced as the sound of blaring sirens reached them. He placed a hand on Billie's knee and gave a reassuring squeeze before getting to his feet and running out of the room.
Van looked down at Billie, realizing she could be dying, and for the first time since they met, he found he was actually afraid of losing her.
Maybe Deaq had called it right. Maybe he did feel something for her.
something more than friendship, or loyalty, or lust. But, trying to define it was as pointless as admitting to it, because she would never feel the same way about him.
He took a hold of her forearm, moving it as gently as possible, until her fingers came into contact with Sara's arm. "Just hold on, Billie."
Billie whispered her lover's name and finally slipped into unconsciousness.
".as though some of the damage was extensive, so we called for a consult. I'll let you know as soon as we have more information."
The voices pulled Billie out of sleep and she opened her eyes, immediately regretting it as awareness came back, brutal and swift. She could see a large figure standing next to where she lay, and it took her a few seconds to bring him into focus.
"Bob?" she croaked.
Bob Parish looked down at the young woman, her battered, bandaged body appearing so small in the harsh, sterile whiteness of the hospital bed. He'd always teased her about her rather demur height, but the truth of it was that when she got in your face, she seemed much taller than she really was. Right now, he would much rather be arguing with her than seeing her like this.
"Welcome back," he greeted her.
"How's Sara?" she immediately asked.
With the barest hesitation, he replied, "Not good."
"I have to see her," Billie announced as she tried to sit up.
"You're not going anywhere," Parish interceded as he set himself down on the edge of the bed and placed a restraining hand on her right shoulder. It took very little effort to hold her down.
"She just got out of surgery," he explained. "You'll have to wait a while."
The brunette grimaced as a shot of pain ran down the length of her left arm. She adjusted it inside the sling she was now wearing and stared at him. "Tell me what's going on."
"The knife got one of her kidneys," he informed her. "They lost her once in the ER, but the surgery couldn't wait. If they didn't go in, she would have died."
Billie's head slumped back against the pillow. "Oh, God," she said softly, placing a hand across her eyes.
"I told them to give me an update as soon as possible."
"Did they find Felicia?"
The captain released a heavy sigh. "No, not yet."
"It was her," Billie stated, still in shock over her untimely discovery. "She murdered all those people, not Colby. I can't believe I didn't realize it sooner." Billie's voice quivered, slightly, and she kept her hand to her face, not wanting to let go of her emotions. Even though she trusted Bob Parish implicitly, there was still a line she wouldn't cross.
"She admitted this to you?"
"Can you tell me what happened?" Parish asked, knowing that engaging the cop in her was the best way he could help Billie at the moment.
Taking a few seconds to gather her thoughts, the lieutenant nodded and said, "I was just getting to my car and." She paused and lowered her hand, her eyes searching for a clock on the wall. "What's today?"
"It's Friday morning,' he confirmed.
Billie breathed a small sigh of relief. Her ordeal had only just begun last night, but it seemed like she was in that dark, hellish place for days.
"Anyway," she continued. "She hit me with some kind of a stun gun. I don't really remember much else until I came to and I was tied up in some room."
Bob nodded. "She rented an apartment under a false name. Big place. It used to be a recording studio. The room you where in was soundproof."
"How did Jarod find me?"
"He was tailing Sara."
Billie studied him for a moment. "Why?"
"Your boys asked him to keep an eye on her while they were out looking for you," he explained. "Which turned out to be a pretty smart move."
"Where are they, anyway?"
"Once they found out you'd be okay they went looking for Ralston." Parish watched as the young detective stared, blankly, at the hand in her lap. "You should run it down while it's still fresh, Billie."
"I'll give a statement later," she replied firmly.
"Any clue as to where she might have gone?" he prodded. "A place.a friend.maybe a lover we don't know about?"
Billie almost laughed aloud. "No. If I knew anything, I'd tell you."
The captain gave her a meaningful look. "Would you?"
"Of course, I would," she frowned. "It's not like I'm in any shape to go after her myself."
"I've seen you do crazier things."
She met his sharp, intelligent gaze. "Look, Bob, I know I haven't been completely forthcoming during all of this, but I have my reasons. Can you just give me a little time to sort this out. please?"
Parish knew he should press on, that the opportunity to catch Billie this vulnerable probably wouldn't come again. But, he also knew that if he pushed her too hard right now, their connection, solid as it was, could easily be severed.
"Alright," the captain relented as he stood up and tucked his hands into his pockets. "I just want to say one thing, though."
She looked up at him. "What?"
The older man studied her, carefully, and said, "This woman didn't get away with a twenty year killing spree by being stupid. What happened to you could have happened to any one of us."
The lieutenant seemed to consider his words before replying, "Point taken."
Parish nodded. "Take care of that arm." He started to the door, but suddenly turned around and pointed his finger at her. "And do what the nurse tells you." Billie furrowed her brow at him as he turned and left the room.
As soon as she was alone, she threw back the sheet and began to assess her physical condition. Both of her wrists were wrapped with gauze, but didn't feel too bad. Lifting her hospital gown, she pressed her fingers, gently, against the bandage on her stomach. More stitches, no doubt, but the wound, itself, didn't seem to hurt very much at the moment.
Her left arm was another story. The injuries to both her shoulder and her upper arm had obviously done some serious damage. Just wiggling her fingers caused enough discomfort to bring tears to her eyes.
"This can't be good," she muttered darkly.
Using conservative movements, she inched her legs off the side of the bed, wincing at the various aches and pains as they announced their presence, including her stomach, which was now beginning to throb, rhythmically.
When her feet touched down on the cold tile floor, she moaned. This was going to be the longest excursion of her life.
"What are you doing?"
Billie looked over at the nurse now standing in her room. "I.uhh.I need to get up."
"Why?" the woman asked.
The room was beginning to tilt just a bit and the brunette closed her eyes against a wave of nausea. "Can you get me a wheelchair?"
"Stay put." The nurse walked over toward the window and grabbed the handles of a wheelchair sitting against the wall. She brought it around the end of the bed and parked it. "Let me help you," she insisted, before quickly adding, "The Captain said you'd do this."
Billie allowed the woman to support her as she maneuvered into the chair. "He thinks he knows everything."
"Apparently, he does," the older woman commented with just a touch of annoyance. "Look, Ms. Chambers, your friend is in recovery. I've agreed to take you down there under two conditions: You do not get out of this chair, and when I say time's up, I mean it. Agreed?"
"Alright, let's go."
An intern stood at the foot of the stretcher where Sara lay as Billie entered with her escort. The older woman skillfully maneuvered the chair to the back of the room, parking Billie directly beside the blonde and setting the brake.
She leaned down to speak into Billie's ear. "Remember, stay put," she stated firmly. "She's being brought over to ICU shortly, so you only have a few minutes." She nodded to her co-worker and they quietly retreated to the other end of the room.
"Thanks," Billie responded mechanically as her eyes fixed on her lover's face.
Sara looked ghostly pale, but her expression was calm, nothing in her fragile features giving any indication as to the horrible trauma she'd suffered. But, her surroundings told the tale quite clearly. There were numerous machines connected to her, monitoring every breath, recording every beat, emitting sounds that served as some kind of soothing, rhythmic background noise, and Billie found herself mesmerized by their seemingly random orchestration.
She slipped her fingers beneath Sara's hand and lifted it up, carefully, as though it were a delicate piece of porcelain. Drawing closer, she leaned in and kissed it, gently, before pressing it to her cheek.
"Sara," she spoke softly. "I'm here.and I'm okay." Her eyes began to fill with tears as she stared at the young woman, solemnly. "You saved my life."
Painfully aware that their time together might be running out, Billie was determined to say something that mattered. If there was even the slightest chance that Sara could hear her, she wanted her to know how she truly felt.
"I've never known anyone like you. A few weeks ago, I couldn't have imagined feeling like this, but it's.it's like a piece of you found its way inside of me. All I do is close my eyes, and I can see you, hear you, feel you all around me. I think a part of me fell in love with you the first time we kissed." The tears were falling freely now, and Billie squeezed her lover's hand, tightly, desperate to get through to her, to give her something to hold onto, to come back for. "There are so many things I haven't told you.things I want to share with you. After everything you and I have been through, we deserve a chance to know some happiness.and that means you have to fight, Sara, you have to make it."
Sara remained still and silent as Billie watched the slow rise and fall of her chest, the agony of seeing someone she loved so hurt and helpless almost more than she could bear.
She couldn't do this. Not again.
"Please don't leave me, Sara." Billie rested her head against the railing of the stretcher, still holding onto Sara's hand, and began to cry in silence.
Billie sat, mutely, as the nurse pushed her down the hall. She hated leaving Sara, but she knew she was in no shape to argue with the nurse, and would only get in the way of people doing their job, so she allowed herself to be wheeled back to her room.
As the two women came around the corner, the lieutenant immediately spotted the three figures outside her room. All three men turned in unison as she approached, and while they looked genuinely pleased to see her, she could see bad news written all over their faces.
"Hey, Boss." Deaq was the first to speak up when she reached them. "How you doin'?"
"It didn't take you long to get a set of wheels," Van commented with a weak smile.
"I'm okay, guys." She looked at each of them in turn. "What's going on?"
"Ralston's holed up in her gallery over in Santa Monica," Parish announced. "She's got a gun and a hostage." He could see Billie was already connecting the dots.
"Forget it," she stated defiantly. "I'm not leaving Sara. And besides, they need a hostage negotiator, and that's not me."
"You're the only one she'll talk to," the captain explained.
The young lieutenant sat there, feeling thoroughly unable to refuse, but equally unwilling to give in to Felicia's latest manipulations. A silent war waged within her, each argument compelling, but ultimately, the possibility of another innocent life being lost was the only thing that persuaded her.
"I'll need some clothes."
We're cut adrift
But still floating
I'm only hanging on
To watch you go down
&bnsp; - Bono
"Have a seat, Lieutenant."
Billie nodded at the young officer and sat down at the desk, taking a moment to observe the bustle of activity around her. The short walk from the car had left her feeling sore and fatigued although she tried her best to conceal it, and despite passing on a much needed dose of pain medication before leaving the hospital, her senses didn't feel as sharp as she would have liked.
The Santa Monica Police Department had cordoned off the entire city block that surrounded Felicia's gallery and set up shop at a real estate office directly across the street. SWAT members were placed in key positions outside, keeping constant vigil on the off chance their suspect made a grievous error, giving them an opportunity to bring the situation to a quick and brutal conclusion.
But, Billie knew better. Felicia was nothing if not resourceful. She may be backed into a corner, but she always had a contingency plan. The only thing the detective wasn't sure of is exactly where she fit into it.
The brunette glanced up at Deaq as he perched himself on the corner of the desk. Both he and Van had refused to leave her side, despite her insistence that she could handle the situation on her own. Before yesterday, she wouldn't have allowed them such an obvious display of over-protectiveness. But, as the young man looking down at her with concern in his eyes was so fond of saying.
Things done changed.
"Yeah, right," Van grumbled as he fidgeted with his badge. "And I'm the fucking Duke of Earl." He dropped his hands and released a frustrated sigh. "How the hell did you get it to stay on like that?"
Deaq glanced over Billie's head, watching his partner's failed attempts to find a place to wear his shield. "Clip it to your jacket."
The young cop stared at him for a moment. "This is my brand new Ermenegildo Zegna."
"My brother," Deaq commented with a weary sigh. "You are really beginning to scare me."
The brunette looked up as Captain Parish came over, accompanied by another man whom she assumed was the person in charge.
"This is Captain Arnold Gray," he announced.
Automatically, Billie got to her feet and held out her right hand. "Sir."
"Sit down, Lieutenant," Gray ordered as he gave her hand a firm shake. "I'm hoping we'll be able to put an end to this quickly and peacefully and then you can go get some proper rest."
"Officer Ray and Detective Hayes," Parish offered as Van and Deaq each nodded, respectfully.
"Gentlemen," Gray acknowledged before focusing his attention on the young woman seated in front of him.
"When was the last phone call?" Billie asked him.
"She broke off contact with our CNT over an hour ago."
The brunette's fingers tapped, thoughtfully, on the phone in front of her. "Who's your primary?"
"Sergeant Mulvey." The captain gestured toward a tall, lanky man with blonde hair who was standing across the room. His attire mirrored that of the two SWAT officers he was speaking with. As if sensing Gray's eyes were on him, he quickly finished his conversation with the two men and came over to them.
"Some idiot with a video camera almost got himself shot," Mulvey explained to the captain before looking at Billie and giving her a quick nod. "Thanks for coming, Lieutenant."
"So, fill me in," she stated, getting right down to business.
"She has one hostage," he began. "Jason Coolidge. He's the manager of the gallery. He was the only person in there besides the officer we had watching the place. Ralston shot him in order to get inside."
"How's he doing?" she asked.
"Holding his own, thanks." Mulvey held up a pad of paper he had clutched in his hand and scanned it for a moment. "Felicia and I have had three conversations, fairly brief, and very one-sided. She's been calm most of the time, but she was getting pretty agitated during our last phone call. She didn't like how long it was taking to get you over here."
"Have you spoken to Coolidge?" Parish questioned.
Mulvey gave an affirmative nod. "He answered the first phone call, but nothing since then."
Billie steeled herself and put a hand on the phone receiver. "Has she made any demands?"
"Just the one to speak with you."
The young brunette took a deep, calming breath. She hadn't even had a chance to process everything that happened in the last twenty-four hours, and here she was, once more being pulled along on the end of a leash Felicia still held in her hand. After the abusive treatment she'd received, a part of her needed the opportunity to engage the woman on more equal footing, but this was not exactly the scenario she had in mind.
"Okay," she replied. "Let's give her what she wants."
"Right," the sergeant answered as he grabbed a phone off the desk behind him. "Just pick up and it'll ring you through."
As Van watched Billie, he felt a small sense of awe at the way she handled herself. Most people couldn't do this job on their best day, let alone their worst, and he knew the wounds inflicted on her ran much deeper than the obvious physical ones. But, as bad as things were, somehow she still managed to put it all aside and keep her focus. As hurt and exhausted as she was, she still looked steady, strong, and in control. Just like always.
Surrounded by the three men who were about the closest thing she had to family, Billie lifted the phone and brought it to her ear, the pounding of her heart so loud she was certain everyone around her could hear it.
After only two rings, a soft-spoken, male voice answered, "Hello?"
Feeling both relieved and apprehensive, Billie spoke in a calm, reassuring tone. "Hi Jason. This is Lieutenant Chambers with the Los Angeles Police. Are you okay in there?"
"Y-Yeah," he answered, haltingly. Billie could hear Felicia speaking to him in the background, but her words were unintelligible. "It's her," Jason answered in response to whatever the woman said. It sounded as though he had pulled the phone away from his mouth, but after a few seconds, his voice came back on the line, tinged with a slight tone of panic. "She doesn't want to talk over the phone. She wants you to come in alone."
Mulvey immediately held a hand up in protest and shook his head. Billie kept her eyes on him as she said, "Jason, tell her I can't do anything until she picks up the phone and talks to me."
The man repeated Billie's words, but after a brief pause, suddenly raised his voice in fear. "She.she'll kill me if you don't come in.
please." There was a brief scuffling sound, as if he may have dropped the phone, and then the line was disconnected.
Without hesitation, Billie put the handset down and waited for Mulvey to follow suit before she picked it up again, listening as the phone rang in her ear. Her call went unanswered.just as she knew it would.
"What did he say?" Gray asked, seeing the despondent look that passed between the two officers.
"She wants a face to face," Billie answered as she hung up the phone.
"Which is out of the question," Mulvey immediately interjected.
The brunette glanced up at her boss. "Or she'll kill him," she concluded calmly.
"We have to go in," Mulvey explained to the small group as he finally dropped his phone back to the desk. "No communication means no opportunity to deal. And this woman has nothing to lose. If we move fast, we might be able to save the hostage." Despite his words, it was obvious from the man's grim expression that he didn't really believe there was much chance of that happening.
"Well, hell," Captain Gray lamented. "This certainly isn't what we'd hoped for." He gave Mulvey an affirmative nod. "Mobilize your people."
"Hold on a minute," Parish interrupted as he gave Billie his complete attention. "What's your take?"
She stared at him for a moment. "If I go in.I think she'll let him go."
"Oh, Christ," Van muttered.
Deaq glared at her. "I did not just here that."
"Look, Lieutenant," Mulvey said. "I can appreciate your wanting to save this guy, but all that would accomplish is giving her another hostage."
"She's not intent on killing him," Billie stated in a level tone. "That's not to say she won't, but he's just a bargaining chip."
"We don't operate that way, Lieutenant Chambers," Gray reminded her. "The rules are hard and fast for situations like this."
"I know," she quickly acknowledged. "But, you don't have any experience in dealing with this woman. I do."
Captain Gray's expression was equal parts somber and sympathetic. "I think that fact is perfectly clear to everyone here," he commented in regards to her current physical condition. "But, I wouldn't agree to this even if you were at a hundred percent, which clearly you're not."
"He'll be dead before you get to them," Billie said matter-of-factly.
"I don't send injured officers into suicidal situations," Gray replied adamantly.
"Amen to that," Deaq muttered under his breath.
"It might be Coolidge's only chance of getting out of there alive," Parish commented.
The other captain looked over at his colleague. "You're buying into this?"
"Billie's been working this case for weeks," Parish remarked. "She knows more about the suspect than anyone else. If she thinks she can talk the man out, I think we ought to let her try."
Gray looked unconvinced. "And then what? Has it occurred to you that this could all be an elaborate set-up to enable her to finish what she started?" He directed his question at Billie, who met his gaze with a look of resolve.
"She doesn't want to kill me," Billie reasoned. "That's not what this is about."
"Then, exactly, what is this about, Lieutenant?"
The detective's face darkened. She didn't have an answer to that question that was going to make sense, to him or anyone else in the room. Only she and Felicia understood what was going on between them.
"Closure," she finally said.
"For her?" Gray questioned. "Or you?"
She stood up and pulled her gun from its holster, laying it on the desk in front of her. "I guess I'll find that out when I get in there."
Two oversized glass doors served as the main entrance to Ralston Galleries, and as Billie stepped through them, her eyes took in everything around her, disseminating and cataloging each detail for later reporting. With slow, careful steps, she walked through the foyer, the effort requiring more strength than she could have imagined.
She continued on toward the center of the gallery, passing through a series of smaller rooms, each adorned with paintings or photographs, all of them containing a variety of freestanding sculptures and other rare and unusual objects d'art. There were small security cameras throughout the place, leaving Billie with the unsettling knowledge that Felicia could follow her progress as she went.
According to the layout Mulvey showed her, the room that Felicia and her unwilling companion were occupying was a small office located in back, beyond the public areas. Its primary use was to house the building's rather sophisticated surveillance system, which also meant it functioned as a crude type of panic room, and a perfect place to ward off an army of police.
Turning down the final hallway, Billie spotted the door she was looking for and immediately stopped in her tracks. "I'm in," she said quietly for the benefit of her colleagues who were eavesdropping from across the street.
Without thinking, she automatically rolled her shoulders to release some tension and had to bring her fist up to her mouth to stop from crying out in pain. She leaned, heavily, against the wall, trying to block it out, knowing she couldn't afford any distractions.
But, distracted she was. Thoughts of Sara continued to fill her mind. The emotional turmoil weighed down on her. Her lover needed her more than ever, but instead of being at Sara's side, offering her strength and comfort, Billie was standing in some darkened hallway, once more trying to save the life of someone she didn't even know.
Felicia's insidious words suddenly rang in her head. Why did she do it? What was she getting in return for this? A murdered friend? Now, maybe even a murdered lover? Is this what she deserved for trying to protect people? Or, were they simply byproducts of a life spent in the company of violence and death?
She gave herself a firm mental shake. Now was not the time to be entertaining such dangerous doubts, so she pushed them aside and straightened up, her eyes fixed on the door in front of her.
A few more steps brought her to her destination and she stepped to the side, placing her back against the wall as she reached over with her right hand and rapped on the door marked `Private'.
"Felicia," she called out with a steady voice. "I'm here, and I'm alone."
After a brief pause, Jason's voice sounded from inside the room. "Come in."
Billie had been first through the door enough times to remember that initial feeling of anxiety, along with the peculiar taste of adrenaline that always forced her to swallow hard just before going in. But, unlike those other times, she didn't have the protection and confidence of a weapon in her hand, and her physical limitations were making her feel particularly vulnerable.
She moved into position, turned the knob and opened the door, taking a single step across the threshold as her gaze locked on a familiar pair of brown eyes. To her left was a row of monitors, each screen like a stepping-stone for the path she'd taken through the building.
"Close the door, Billie," Felicia instructed as she held the gun firmly against the head of Jason Coolidge, who stood ramrod straight in front of her, his eyes wide in stark terror.
The detective moved further in and pushed the door closed, her cold, hard stare remaining on the other woman, who was watching her with equal intensity. After a moment of complete silence, Felicia seemed to relax a bit and she rested her hand on Jason's shoulder, keeping the gun poised behind his ear.
"How are you?" she asked, casually.
"Let's cut the bullshit and get straight to it," Billie replied in a hostile tone.
"You're not much of a negotiator, are you?" Felicia commented wryly. "This is a volatile situation, Lieutenant. You're supposed to be placating me."
"I am." Billie shifted her attention to the frail-looking man standing between them. "You alright, Jason?"
"He's fine," Felicia interrupted as she pushed the gun against his head. "He's not feeling very talkative, at the moment."
The lieutenant could easily recognize Felicia's attempt to exert control. By keeping Coolidge silent, she was making him insignificant, nothing more than an object to be bartered for.
"Let him go, Felicia," Billie demanded.
"I'm not sure that I'm ready to do that just yet." Felicia flicked the man's earlobe with the gun barrel, peering at Billie all the while. "You know how I love to distract you."
"No more distractions," the detective stated firmly. "You set out to teach me something, right? So, now it's time to show you what I've learned."
The taller woman's lips curled up in a smug grin. "You've certainly been an apt pupil, Billie. And as such, I know to be very cautious where you're concerned." She suddenly pointed the gun straight at the young detective. "Are you armed?"
Billie glared at her. "I have no intention of giving you another one of my guns."
Felicia glanced at the weapon in her hand and smiled. "While I am tempted to believe you, I know from past experience how.deceptive you can be." She brought her lips to Jason's ear and spoke in a honey-sweet tone that dripped with menace. "I want you to search Lieutenant Chambers for me, Jason, my dear, and if you do anything foolish, I'll make your lovely wife a widow. Do you understand?" As if to reiterate her point, she placed the barrel under his chin and forced him to tilt his head back to look at her.
"Yes," he gasped.
"Good." She placed a hand on his back and urged him forward. At first, the man seemed frozen in place, too afraid to move or speak. He stared at Billie, unsure of how to proceed.
Billie noticed Felicia moving to stand beside them, her sharp, unwavering gaze keeping careful watch for any sudden movement. In response, the brunette widened her stance and held her right arm out parallel to the floor. "It's okay, Jason. Just do what Felicia tells you and everything will be fine."
The man stepped forward, tentatively, and reached out to her. Billie was wearing a plain black, button-down shirt, tucked into a pair of blue jeans. With her left arm in a sling, she hardly looked threatening, but if she was concealing a weapon, he concluded that the logical place would be either behind her back, or beneath a pant leg. He hoped he wouldn't find one in either location.
"I don't know where to start," Jason said softly.
"Move your hands along my waist first, then pat down each leg from crotch to ankle," Billie instructed in an easy tone, as if their lives weren't in the hands of a dangerous psychopath.
The man seemed to blanch at her seemingly cavalier attitude, but started the process anyway, following her directions with shaking hands. In his nervousness, he bumped against her injured arm and Billie released a painful hiss.
He immediately pulled his hands away as though they'd been burned. "I'm sorry."
"It's alright," she replied through clenched teeth.
"Hurry up, Jason," Felicia commanded in an impatient tone.
He quickly knelt down and ran his hands the length of Billie's legs. When he finished, he stood up and declared, "There's nothing."
"Let him go, Felicia," Billie repeated as she used her free hand to cradle her left arm. "He's served his purpose."
The tall blonde came forward and gestured at Billie with her gun. "Move over there," she ordered with a quick flick of the barrel. The lieutenant complied, walking away from the door toward the farthest corner of the room. She started to turn around when Felicia suddenly barked, "No. Keep your back to me."
For a split-second, Billie was afraid things were about to go horribly wrong, but then she heard the door open and relief washed over her as she realized she'd accomplished what she set out to do.
Jason stood there, not quite sure if she wouldn't just shoot him in the back on his way out. He spared a glance toward the young detective who'd just traded places with him, immensely grateful to her for her sacrifice, but also overcome with guilt. Even if this was her job, he wondered if she had a husband, or a child that might be waiting somewhere, unaware of her predicament, or maybe even keeping vigil, praying for her safe return.
"Thank you," he said to her, clearly at a loss.
Felicia released a heavy sigh and stuck the gun in his face to motivate him. "Now."
Without another word, Jason quickly exited the room, and Felicia closed the door behind him. She leaned back against it and rested her head, taking a moment to contemplate the young woman who still stood, dutifully, across the room.
"She's still alive, isn't she?" the blonde suddenly asked.
Billie tasted a hint of bile rising in her throat, her hatred for the woman so intense it was all consuming. As the sound of muted footsteps came up behind her, she had to force herself not to react. This would be her last chance to get Felicia, to make her pay for what she'd done to Sara, and the young detective had absolutely no intention of blowing it.
"I knew it the minute you walked through the door," Felicia told her as she pressed the gun into the small of Billie's back. "I could see it in those lovely, blue eyes."
"Is that why you wanted to see me, Felicia?" Billie's voice was edged with steel. "To know if you'd been successful in destroying my life?" She stiffened at the feather-light touch of Felicia's fingers as they came to rest at the base of her neck, just grazing the bare skin before her shirt, and the bandage on her injured shoulder, thankfully buffered the uncomfortable sensation.
"I don't want to destroy you, elsker," Felicia said gently. "I want to set you free."
"You want me to become like you," Billie countered.
"You are like me," Felicia replied, her delicate touch moving down the edge of the fabric covering Billie's arm. "You only refuse to admit it."
Billie closed her eyes, the voice in her ear, that touch on her body, raising horrible images still so fresh in her mind and making her heart beat faster. A heady rush of adrenaline pumped through her veins, every muscle tingling in response, waiting for the command to take action.
"You've already tried to take everything from me, Felicia," she said angrily. "What more could you possibly want?"
"You said it yourself," the blonde pointed out as she stepped back, putting a small amount of distance between them. "It's time to show me what you've learned."
Billie could sense the woman pulling away from her and knew this was the moment she'd been waiting for. She turned around, smoothly, her body uncoiling with deadly precision, and brought up her right hand to reveal a small handgun.which she pointed directly at Felicia's chest.
Felicia looked down at the weapon in Billie's hand, staring at it for a moment before lifting her gaze and flashing the detective a radiant smile. "You'll always be mine, Billie," she whispered as she raised the gun in her own hand.
Without a moments' hesitation, Billie fired three shots at point blank range. Felicia stumbled back and looked down at her chest with a strange expression on her face, watching the blood begin to seep from the tiny wounds. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but suddenly fell to the floor, where she lay, unmoving, the gun she'd taken from Billie only yesterday still clutched in her grasp.
The lieutenant stepped forward and kicked the gun away from Felicia's outstretched hand. The blonde was lying on her back, eyes half-closed and unfocused, her pale, pink blouse now stained red with her own blood.
"Suspect is down," Billie announced almost as an afterthought in response to Sergeant Mulvey's voice booming in her ear.
With barely a glance at the woman who had wrought so much damage on her life, Billie quietly exited the room, wanting only to get back to the hospital and be with Sara.
A ghost of a whisper filled the now empty room as Felicia, struggling to breath, forced the words across her pale lips.
"De er alltid min."
The Intensive Care Unit was too brightly lit for Van's tastes, and he hated the fact that there were no windows to tell anyone what time of day it was. Even the machines that filled almost every inch of space didn't help to mark time.
Unless you happened to run out of it, of course.
"You alright, man?"
Officer Ray glanced at his partner as they walked passed a row of curtains in search of their boss. In typical fashion, he stuffed his hands into the front pockets of his jeans to hide his nervousness. "Yeah.I just.this place gives me the creeps, that's all."
"Just be glad you're not the one that has to be here," Deaq commented, furrowing his brow at the other man when Van wouldn't quite meet his gaze. "What's up with you, slick?"
Van shrugged, casually. "I guess I was wrong about her."
Deaq knew by `her' he meant Sara. "Hey, V, the girl ain't no saint, alright? But, the important thing is what she did for Billie. So, maybe people change is all."
"Maybe," came his noncommittal response. "Hey, there she is."
They stepped around a partially open dividing curtain to find Billie sitting in a chair beside Sara's bed. She was leaning forward, one hand on the blonde's arm, and judging from the way she suddenly snapped to attention when they walked in, the two men got the distinct impression they were intruding on a private moment.
"Hey, Billie," Deaq greeted, thinking his friend had never looked more tired in her life.
She sat back and adjusted her arm. "Hey, guys."
"How's she doing?" Van asked, casting a long glance at Sara's still form.
Billie shook her head, briefly. "No change, yet."
"We just got back from UCLA," Deaq explained.
The lieutenant's expression hardened. "Let's do this outside," she said as she got to her feet and followed them out.
As soon as the three of them were on the other side of the curtain, Billie turned and stared at them, deliberately keeping her voice down. "So?"
"She made it through surgery," Van announced. "But, it's not looking too good."
She raised an eyebrow. "Meaning?"
"She's in a coma," Deaq responded. "They don't think she'll make it."
The brunette looked away from them for a brief second as she considered the implications of this latest development. Hearing the news that Felicia was still alive didn't come as any big shock to Billie. In truth, she'd almost been expecting it.
The real complication was the Santa Monica Police Department. Captain Gray was utterly incensed that she had smuggled in a weapon without telling anyone, and the Crisis Negotiation Team headed by Sergeant Mulvey was evaluating the entire situation piece by intricate piece, including her culpability in the potential firestorm that was sure to erupt when her flagrant breach of protocol became public knowledge.
If she had managed to diffuse the hostage situation without mortally wounding the suspect, gun or no gun, she would have been hailed a hero. But, in light of the outcome as it was, her motives for going in were now being called into question.
"Well, I certainly won't be crying into my pillow if she doesn't," Van scoffed. "And this whole thing is bullshit, Billie. That guy is alive because of you, and those candy ass dickheads at the SMPD know it."
"You talk to Parish yet?" Deaq asked.
The lieutenant shook her head. "Not since I got back."
He immediately sensed something wasn't right. "He must have come down on you pretty hard."
"I knew it was coming," she said blandly. "Look, I'm going to stay here for a while, so if anything comes up, just let me know, okay?"
"Umm.shouldn't you be here, anyway?" Van questioned.
"I've already checked in with the doctor," Billie quickly countered. "He told me to take it easy, which I'm doing. So, just drop it, okay?"
He quickly held his hands up in surrender. "Okay."
She turned away from them without another word and disappeared behind the curtain. The two young men looked at each other, neither needing to speak aloud what was clearly on both of their minds.
Their boss was hiding something.
"I think we're through here, gentlemen."
"So, this is just a temporary situation?"
"If Lieutenant Chambers can adhere to the guidelines we're putting forth.then, yes, this will only be temporary. Contrary to what you might think, I'm not looking to shut down her operation. But, I think we can all agree that this young woman is out of control."
"With all due respect, that assessment seems a little over the top to me. But, I will admit that, given what she's been through in the last couple of days, time off would do her some good."
"And, if she talks to Doctor Shapiro, there should be no problem reinstating her."
Deputy Chief Forsythe closed the folder in front of him and leaned back in his chair at the head of the conference table. "I'll leave the matter of her divisional operatives up to the two of you."
"A transfer to Major Crimes seems in order, given their service records," Rick Martel offered.
Bob Parish shook his head, slowly. "No UC cases. It's taken these guys almost a year to build their street creds. We can't undo that. It's the very basis for the Store's entire operation."
"You have something else in mind?" the IA investigator queried.
The captain looked at him, thoughtfully. "Actually, I do," he replied as he stood up from his own seat and grabbed a small stack of file folders from the table. "And it might just do them both some good, as well."
Billie's eyes fluttered open at the sound of the ICU's annoying PA speaker coming to life beside her. It was a page for some doctor or other, but after hearing what seemed like hundreds of similar announcements, it barely even registered anymore.
As she attempted to find a more comfortable position in the chair, she glanced over at Sara, expecting to see her lying in exactly the same position she'd been in all day, which she was.
Only now her eyes were open.
The lieutenant sat up straight and blinked a few times in disbelief. "Sara?" she said softly.
Sara smiled, weakly. "You're in pretzel mode again."
Billie stood up from the chair, her hand reaching out to touch her lover's arm as if she were some kind of ghostly apparition. "Are you.
how do you feel?"
"Better than you look," the blonde replied.
A broad smile spread across Billie's face. "You need to get some new material," she teased, blinking out a few tears, which she quickly wiped away with an impatient hand.
"Hey, do I look that bad?" The blonde's voice sounded small to her own ears. She wasn't in any pain, but it felt as though she had a fifty-pound weight on her chest, making a simple task like taking a deep breath seem like a tremendous effort.
Billie leaned in and placed a soft, tender kiss on Sara's lips. "You have never looked more beautiful," she whispered.
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