DISCLAIMER: Copycat is the property of Jon Amiel and Warner Studios, no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Everything I know about forensics, botany, and serial killers I learned from tv. *grin* take everything with a grain of salt. except the botany which is made up altogether. ;o)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SERIES: Second part of the New Beginnings series.
Children. They were all just children.
Shaking her head and biting back a sigh, MJ looked around the classroom and groaned, wishing that she was back in San Fran and working a homicide. Anything to get away from the kids that she'd been working with for three months. It was utterly insane that anyone expected these kids to become federal agents. They were too innocent.
It had been a long three months for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the need to see Helen, to actually be in her presence, dragging her down. Despite the time difference, they talked every morning and night, just as before. Actually, it worked out better, since when MJ woke up at 0500 every damn morning, it was already 0800 in San Francisco. MJ groaned to herself when she realized that she was thinking in military time.
Still, the other woman was, to all appearances, doing fine without her. Something else that bothered MJ, though she didn't really want to pin down the reason why. Nico called her every night to talk about different things, but most of the conversation centered around Helen. She was starting to think he had a crush on the woman he was looking after, and that was adding to her misery in being three thousand miles away from her friend.
Doodling on her notebook, MJ thought about the way she and Nico had finally crossed that line from ex's to friends. It was one good thing to come out of this, at least. She remembered now why she'd fallen in love with him in the first place, and from Helen's words about Nico, her friend was just discovering those reasons for herself.
Her pencil tip broke from the pressure she was putting on it and she cursed quietly, "Shit."
"Ms. Monahan, are we boring you?"
Jerking back to attention at the caustic words of the one professor who couldn't stand her, MJ shook her head and answered, "No, Sir."
"Then perhaps you'd like to review for us the regulations regarding Federal versus local jurisdictions in regards to an on-going murder investigation," Mr. William Betts snapped.
Damn it! She knew that she should have reviewed the material before coming into class! Betts always had it in for her, though she didn't know why. The older man had taken an instant dislike to her, singling her out for every possible humiliation he could dump on her. Fortunately, MJ had a really thick skin and it just washed down her back.
Just then, the door opened and someone walked into the class, making a line straight for Betts. They talked quietly for a moment, then Betts glared up at her and ordered, "It seems that someone just can not wait to talk with you, Ms. Monahan. Try and grace us with your presence before class is done."
Worry flared through her, knowing that Helen and Gilfoyle were the only ones who would interrupt her and only then for an emergency. Ignoring the mean tone of Betts' voice, MJ grabbed her books and hurried down the aisle, following the young man who'd come into the classroom. Once outside, she demanded, "What's happened?"
"Deputy Director Gilfoyle asked that you call him back, ma'am," the young man replied, clearly taken aback.
Pulling her cell phone from her pocket, MJ dialed his number from memory, tempted to call Helen first, but restraining herself.
"That was fast," he observed, surprise lacing his voice.
Tightly, she asked, "What's happened to Helen?"
"Nothing," he assured her. "Dr. Hudson is fine. We have to speed up the timetable on your graduation, is all. There's a case back here that needs you and Dr. Hudson. Pack your things and be on the first available flight back."
Relief washed through her and she replied, "Understood, Sir. I'll call you when I touch down."
"Good. See you when you get here."
Hanging up, MJ had to take a few minutes to steady herself. The depth of her fear shocked the hell out of her, as well as debilitated her. All she'd been able to think was that Daryl Lee had gotten loose or had sent one of his little shits after Helen. That Helen had been hurt and put in the hospital or worse.
"You okay, MJ?"
Turning towards one of the friends she'd made there, Lisa Fredericks, MJ nodded and forced a smile. "Fine, thanks. Time for me to head home, though."
Surprised, Lisa's dark eyes widened and exclaimed, "You're going back to being a cop?"
"No, no, there's a case that my partner and I are needed on," MJ answered.
Confusion showed on Lisa's face as she questioned, "They're making you an agent and you haven't even finished the training?"
Wincing at the slight resentment she heard, or maybe imagined, in Lisa's voice, MJ nodded. "It's a serial killer back in San Francisco."
"Who the hell is your partner?"
"Dr. Helen Hudson."
Lisa's eyes widened again.
Groaning, Helen looked at her reflection and muttered, "She's going to kill me."
And it was true. It wasn't as if she'd meant to forget to eat, but she'd been working a lot, consulting with Gilfoyle and getting to know her future coworkers. It just wasn't something that came to her memory until her stomach was rumbling, and by then, it was usually too late at night for her to be bothered.
The phone rang, startling her out of her contemplation, and Helen strode from the bathroom to her bedroom, picking it up with, "Hello?"
"It's me," MJ replied.
Grinning, Helen stated, "Your ears must have been burning."
"You were talking about me?"
"Oh yeah? What about?"
Helen's smile widened at the teasing tone until she realized that telling MJ why would involve a serious scolding. "Nothing, it's not important. Aren't you supposed to be in class?"
"Gilfoyle didn't call you?" MJ questioned, surprised.
Equally surprised, Helen countered, "About what?"
"I'm coming home. We've got a case."
Relief speared Helen so hard that her hand actually went to her stomach and she sat down hard on the bed, the rest of what MJ said, not really noticed.
"Helen? You all right?"
Shaking it off, Helen replied, "Yes, yes, I'm just, surprised is all. So when are you coming back?"
"My flight lands in four hours. Pick me up?"
"Four hours? You're already on the plane?"
"Yep. Using a really expensive airplane phone and charging it to our new boss."
Helen had to laugh at the pure mischief in MJ's voice. "Yes, I will pick you up."
They went over the flight information and arrival time, then lingered over goodbyes. When she finally hung up, Helen was both excited and nervous to be seeing MJ again after so long. They'd decided that it would be silly for MJ to travel back and forth on weekends, and since there had only been the Fourth of July holiday, there hadn't been any real break for the classes anyhow.
Shaking MJ from her mind, Helen picked up her phone and called Jeffrey. MJ might have a problem calling him anything but Sir or Gilfoyle, but Helen didn't.
"And when were you going to tell me that we had a case?" Helen questioned.
There was a brief silence, then Jeffrey replied, "I was going to wait until you and your partner were both here to go over the particulars with you."
"Her flight lands at 3:35, so I have plenty of time to stop by and get those particulars from you."
"You don't want to wait "
"No, Jeffrey, I do not. If there's another serial killer here in the city, I'd like to get started right away. Is there a reason you don't want me involved without MJ there?"
"I just figured that the two of you were a package deal."
Helen's eyes rolled, but she kept the amusement out of her voice as she said tartly, "We are, but that doesn't mean I can't think without her around."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply " he stopped, obviously catching on. "You're jerking me around, aren't you?"
Laughing softly, she confirmed, "Yes, Jeffrey, I am."
A soft sigh of exasperation came across the line and he said, "I have enough stress, Helen."
"No you're not. Come on down and I'll fill you in."
Helen grinned and replied, "See you soon."
With that, she set the phone down and hurried out of the bedroom, grabbing her purse and headed outside. Taking her cell phone out as she hurried down the hall, she called Nico.
"Nico, it's Helen."
"Helen, hey," he greeted, his entire tone changing from aggravated to welcoming.
Wincing, wishing that he hadn't latched onto her quite as much as he had, Helen said, "MJ's coming back today. I'm meeting her plane at 3:35 this afternoon. I'll be at the FBI building until about an hour before that."
"Oh. Well good. Tell her I said hi," he replied.
Helen squinted at the bright sunlight as she stepped outside and promised, "I will. I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate everything you've done, Nico, you've become a good friend."
There was a soft snort from the other end before Nico agreed, "Yeah. Well, I'll catch you later, Helen."
"All right. Good bye," she said, sighing as she hung up.
Shaking her head as she reached her fairly new car, the Volvo that MJ had helped her pick out, Helen unlocked the door. Well, help being relative since the other woman had bemoaned that she might as well get a minivan and get it over with. Grinning at the memory, Helen put the phone back in her purse and started the drive to her new office.
The FBI offices gleamed in a way that grated on Helen's nerves each and every time she went there. Not something that boded well for a long and happy working environment. Ignoring the feeling, Helen put her purse on the security conveyor belt to be x-rayed, her badge already clipped to her blouse.
The guard smiled at her and nodded respectfully, greeting, "Afternoon, Dr. Hudson."
"Good afternoon, Brian," she replied, echoing the smile.
Picking up her purse, she walked to the elevator bay and pressed the call button. Once inside, she touched the 15th floor button and waited, the trip over in a short amount of time. Striding through the now-familiar hall, Helen headed for Jeffrey's office, pausing at the secretary's desk. Offering Jasmine a smile, she greeted, "May I go in?"
The young woman smiled and nodded. "He's expecting you, Dr. Hudson."
Moving past the desk, Helen entered the office.
Jeffrey stood from his desk and met her halfway, holding out his hand and taking hers in a firm grip. He motioned back towards the door and informed her, "We already have a conference room set up for the case. Everything you need is there."
Shifting uncomfortably away from him, he always stood just a little too close, Helen replied, "Good. So tell me, what do we have?"
"Someone who likes to kill prostitutes," he answered.
Sighing, Helen shook her head and observed, "Not very original. Are you sure you need me?"
"Oh. Well, that's different then," she amended, wry.
They arrived at the conference room where a few other agents were already working, and Jeffrey announced, "Everyone? This is Dr. Helen Hudson. She's going to be working with us on this case. Helen, this is Jen Corbin, Greg Standford, and Kyle Ralsten. I, unfortunately, have a meeting to be at in five minutes, so I'll leave you in Greg's capable hands. I'll check back with you when I'm done, if you're still here."
Which could be taken on so many different levels, Helen thought in dark amusement. Aloud, she said to Greg, a serious man in his mid-30's with pale hair and skin and even paler blue eyes, "It's nice to meet you. And while I'm pleased that someone's taking an interest in the death of male prostitutes like any other human being, why has it been bumped up to us?"
Wry, Grey explained, "The Mayor's runaway nephew was the last victim."
This was definitely going to be a fun first case.
Exhausted from the time change and the insanely early hour she'd been up at, MJ waited while the plane emptied and then staggered to her feet. Grabbing her carry-on, she moved sluggishly down the aisle towards the exit, mustering a smile for the flight attendant as she left the plane. It was a short trip down the mobile hall that connected to the airport and only a couple of minutes before she was at the gate and searching the area for Helen.
It was a few minutes before she spotted the other woman leaning against a column, waiting for her with a faint smile. Drinking in the sight of her friend, MJ instantly took in the differences of appearance and faltered a little at how thin Helen had become. She seemed frail, somehow, her dark eyes larger than usual.
Then she was at Helen's side and pulling her close, arms wrapped around the slender waist and her face pressed against the long throat. It took her a long moment to rein in the impulse to kiss Helen silly, but she managed it. Pulling back, she smiled up at the other woman and admonished, "You haven't been eating."
Eyes rolling, Helen replied, "It's good to see you too, MJ."
MJ teased, practically beaming, "Why thanks, Helen."
As they walked towards the baggage claim, Helen said, "Nico says hello."
"I bet," MJ muttered, her good mood faltering at the mention of the man. Sensing Helen's frown, MJ observed, "You two seem to be getting pretty cozy."
Laughing softly, Helen said, "He's a nice man, just like you said. But MJ, I've had my share of nice men in my life."
MJ stopped and was about to demand what that meant, but her cell phone rang and she grimaced, pulling it out of her pocket with, "Monahan."
"Good, you're back. There's been another killing. Get down to Frost and Benton," Gilfoyle ordered.
"We'll be there," MJ promised. Looking at Helen as she steered her friend towards the exit, she explained, "There's been another killing. Care to fill me in?"
Helen frowned and questioned, "What about your luggage?"
"Probably got lost anyhow."
The area was blocked off, of course, but that didn't stop the crowd from gathering along the edges. After glancing briefly back at the car where Helen was waiting patiently, MJ headed for the crime scene.
It wasn't the best part of the city, no doubt about that. Hookers of both sexes patrolled the area, young, old, good looking and skanky, and bums and runaways made up the rest of the population. Not part of the tourist attraction.
Looking sharply around the alley, MJ took in everything with a few scans, then started walking carefully through the area. She heard the cops and agents talking, even arguing in some cases, she heard the milling around of the civilians, she even heard the ever-present slap of water against the shore, but ignored it all. None of it mattered as she searched the alley from front to back, not dismissing anything that could lead to the capture of the killer.
Looking back at her name, a little surprised at the 'agent' that had preceded it, MJ smiled pleasantly at the agent whom she didn't yet know. "Hello. You are?"
The tall, pale man returned her smile and answered, "Greg Standford. I'll be helping you and Dr. Hudson on the case."
"Good to meet you, Greg," she said. "Who was first on the scene? Are they still here?"
"The one who discovered the body and the cops are both still here," he confirmed, motioning towards the east side of the crime scene.
"Good. I want to talk to them as soon as I'm done here. Oh, and could someone get Dr. Hudson some coffee? Two sugars and one cream. Thanks."
Greg might have opened his mouth to protest, but she'd already moved away. She saw the outline where the body had been and the trash and/or debris that had been moved to clear the area with their little number evidence flags beside them. She hoped that someone had gotten pictures before moving the objects, but didn't count on it.
On the drive there, Helen had said that there were five victims before the Mayor's runaway nephew, and this made seven. There was no apparent timetable, no link between the vics, aside from the obvious, and no sexual molestation or rape or even mutilation. Which was unusual, given the vics' unfortunate job of selling their bodies. All of them had been strangled with a simple wire, the prints found at each site useless given the public nature of the dumping areas. And there was no forensic evidence in or on the bodies themselves to point to a killer.
What she really needed to do was to go over all the files herself instead of getting everything second-hand from Helen. Not that she didn't trust Helen's regurgitation of the facts, but it was different hearing it from someone, than seeing it for herself. Satisfied that she wasn't going to get anything else from the scene, MJ headed for the cops and the witness.
Officers Pete Jonson and Sally Whitcomb were both in their late-20's, and appeared competent. The witness, on the other hand, Hal with no last name, was anything but. To Hal, she asked, "Did you touch anything, Hal?"
Bleary-eyed, the old man nodded and answered, "Yep."
"What did you touch?" she questioned patiently.
"Trash. The stuff that got thrown out and the body."
Nice, she thought angrily. Maintaining the pleasant façade, she continued, "What did you touch on the body, Hal?"
"Just checked to see if it was still alive."
It, not he. The smile faltered for a split second, but MJ's voice was carefully modulated as she asked, "Is this your usual turf, Hal?"
"Where are you, usually?"
"Down on Elder, north side. They got bathrooms over there with decent sinks."
"Mmm. I've been there. You go to the Byron St. Shelter much?"
"Now and again."
"Were you drinking, tonight Hal?"
He scowled. "Might'a been."
"Thank you, Hal," MJ finished. "If we need anything more, we'll leave word for you at the shelter, all right?"
Grumbling to himself about wasted time, Hal moved away, grabbing a large duffle bag as he walked off. MJ eyed him for a long moment then turned to the cops. Both were looking at her with a combination of respect and resentment; something that she could understand. Hoping to put them at ease, she said softly, "This your first murder case?"
Sally nodded but Pete didn't. Still smiling, she assured them, "Nothing to it. Did either of you touch anything on the scene?"
"Aside from that the suspect? No," Sally replied, tightly.
MJ shared a brief grin with the woman and questioned, "Are you sure? Didn't nudge anything out of the way with your foot? Didn't shift the body at all?"
Shaking his head, Pete stated, "We didn't touch nothin' except that drunken old bastard."
"I bet you wanted to do more than just touch him," MJ commiserated.
"But we didn't," Sally replied sharply.
MJ's smile broadened, just a little, and she said, "Good. Very glad to hear it. Be sure and give your notes to that man over there."
They both nodded and moved towards Greg, who looked busy coordinating things between the cops and the feds. Grinning to herself that she'd once more escaped administrative hell, MJ headed back to the car. She was pleased to note that Helen was cradling a cup of hot coffee in her hands as she climbed into the driver's side.
Helen held it out to her, shaking her head with, "You know, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that your arteries were completely clogged by now. And why didn't you just say the coffee was for you?"
"Because then I'd have gotten the bad coffee," MJ replied, sipping at the heavenly brew. Someone must have run down to a Starbucks or something, which she'd known would happen. "You always get the good coffee."
"Except in my own house."
"That's because you don't know how to brew it."
Dark eyes sparkling with amusement, Helen said, "You were going to teach me."
"I've given up," MJ replied, dry. "And in any case, why do you need to know if I'm there to brew it?"
Helen sighed and pointed out, "You haven't been, for three months."
"But I am now," MJ countered, meeting her gaze.
Giving her a shy, half-smile, Helen nodded, asking, "What now?"
"Now we go to the office so I can read those files, and then I go somewhere and sleep for a few hours before my eyes become glued shut of their own volition."
"The curse of the insomniac strikes again."
Jumping at MJ's voice, Helen glared at the other woman from her spot at the computer and exclaimed, "You scared me!"
Shrugging apologetically, MJ held out her hand and said, "You're keeping me up. Come on to bed."
"I'll just toss and turn and keep you up there, too," Helen evaded, not sure how far she wanted this to go.
Stepping up directly behind her, MJ put her hands on Helen's shoulders and squeezed gently, then started massaging them. Helen couldn't relax at first, tension strong enough to snap a muscle, but then she forced her shoulders down and took a deep breath. It had been leading to this, and she'd known it, after all. Two people couldn't get as close as they were and not expect intimacy to follow. They had even talked briefly about it on first getting home, but then MJ had collapsed face first on the bed, too exhausted for anything long and drawn out.
MJ leaned in close and kissed just at the juncture of her ear and whispered, "If I swear that I am too exhausted to do more than hold you, will you come to bed?"
With a sigh, Helen complained, "You must think me ridiculous."
Shaking her head, MJ said, "Wary and suspicious, maybe even rigid sometimes, but not ridiculous."
A laugh escaped and Helen commented, "Don't beat around the bush, MJ."
"I won't," she promised brightly. "Helen, nothing's going to happen tonight, or any other night, that you don't want to happen. I'm not going to hurt you, ever."
"What about if you "
Helen couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence, but MJ understood what she didn't want to say, just as the smaller woman always did. The massage stopped and MJ wrapped her arms around Helen, leaning on her as she whispered, "I could get killed crossing the street. You could die falling down the stairs. Life's a crapshoot, Helen."
"If you say, I've just got to roll with the punches, I'll have to hit you," Helen countered, trying not to grin.
Smirking, MJ kissed her cheek and asked innocently, "Would I do that?"
"Absolutely," Helen agreed.
Looking up at MJ, Helen knew the other woman was right. And this would in all likelihood be the last time they had alone together until the case was solved. When Jeffrey had seen how wiped out MJ was, he'd ordered them both home for the night to start fresh in the morning.
"Come on to bed."
This time, Helen took the offered hand and followed MJ to her bedroom. It took a few minutes to get arranged comfortably, but finally Helen wound up with her head cushioned by MJ's breast, the heart beating directly beneath her ear. Strong, but conversely delicate, hands combed lightly through her hair. Her hand rested on MJ's abdomen, and she was startled by how firm and muscled it was.
Warm lips pressed to her forehead and MJ whispered, "Night, Helen."
Smiling, Helen sighed deeply and whispered back, "Night, MJ."
MJ woke up a few hours before dawn, still attuned to the east coast time zone, and sighed. Damn. My internal clock's all messed up.
Then she felt the hand on her stomach and remembered where she was. A smile spread over her face and she slid onto her side, looking down at the woman who'd come to mean so much to her. Helen was barely a shape in the dark, but MJ didn't dare turn on a light, knowing that it would wake the light sleeper.
The night before had been a quiet one, but a night of revelations nonetheless. Helen had paced the living room restlessly while MJ had sat on the sofa, watching her intently, as she always watched the taller woman. Even though she'd wanted nothing more than to take a header onto the bed, she'd known that Helen had had something troubling on her mind. And, having been pretty sure what was going on in her friend's head, MJ had asked, "So you want to get together, or what?"
Helen had stopped in her tracks, her mouth open in a funny expression of surprise.
"Because if you don't, then no problem, forget I said anything. And if you do, well, that's really no problem, I'm all for it," MJ had continued, grinning.
Clearly exasperated, Helen had exclaimed, "Does nothing bother you?"
MJ had thought about it for a moment, then answered, "Lots of things bother me, but this isn't one of them."
MJ had stood and walked over to the other woman, taking her hand and staring up into her eyes. "We're good for each other, Helen, you can't deny that. And I've missed you more over the last three months than I've missed anyone in a very long time, even, even Ruben. You mean a lot to me and I want more. I want I want all of you, Helen. I know I can come on a little strong sometimes, but I'm not going to pressure you for anything. I just want my cards on the table."
"I don't I've never " Helen had sighed and looked away, a smile teasing her lips. "It's impossible to think when you look at me like that."
Smirking a little, MJ had teased, "That's a good sign."
Helen had shaken her head, but looked back at her, affection and love shining from her eyes. "I don't know what I'm doing. I've never even thought about a woman like this before."
"So you have thought about me like that."
Taking Helen's warning tone seriously, MJ had stopped joking around and repeated, "I won't pressure you, Helen. Let's just get some sleep and once this case is done, see what happens. Just keep an open mind, okay?"
Almost shyly, Helen had nodded.
"Good. And now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go collapse on your bed. You coming?"
"In a bit."
MJ had quirked a smile at her, knowing it would be a while before the other woman joined her, if at all. But she'd been too exhausted to do anything else.
And now MJ was lying in the near-dawn hours, staring at her best friend and potential lover and wondering if she was insane. When she'd said that loving Helen hadn't bothered her, MJ hadn't been lying or joking around. The things that did bother her were the prejudice they would face when word got out, because eventually it would, the lack of cooperation, what it could do to Helen's career, what it could do to her own career.
No, loving Helen was the easy part.
Helen sighed and shifted in her sleep, scooting closer to MJ so that her face was pressed into MJ's breast. Grinning, MJ was tempted to wake the other woman just then, but restrained the impulse. Helen was in a scary place and MJ wasn't about to play on her friend's fears and conditioning.
Instead, she lay back down and moved even closer, until they were flush together, and wrapped her arm around Helen's waist. Breathing in the warm, sleepy, musk-filled scent, MJ sighed in contentment and closed her eyes.
There were still a couple of hours before she had to get up, after all, and she was going to take advantage of them.
Consciousness was a fuzzy thing and came on Helen gradually. At first she was aware of the warm breath on her throat and the heavy arm over her waist. Then she remembered who they belonged to and couldn't stop the grin from spreading over her face. Opening her eyes, MJ was a blurry sight, but she didn't dare rub her eyes, knowing that it would probably wake the other woman.
She felt a lot calmer about this now, than she had the night before. MJ's complete and easy acceptance had helped a lot to soothing her fears and worries. So had waking up in her arms. She only had vague ideas about what two women might do together in the bedroom, but trusted MJ knew what she was doing. And that was what it all boiled down to, after all trust. Trust and love, which she had in plenty for the smaller woman.
If for some reason this didn't work between them, she couldn't see MJ abandoning her. She knew that no matter what, they were devoted to each other for the rest of their lives. Whether that included sex or not, well, that was a gray area right now. She hadn't yet felt that spark, that sexual zing that told her someone would be compatible as a lover. But it didn't really matter, because the love was there.
It was easy for Helen to imagine living and sharing her life with MJ. Having her around full-time would be challenging and wonderful and exasperating, but then, Helen had had enough of staid and predictable to last her a lifetime.
"Heavy thoughts, early in the morning," MJ murmured sleepily. "I'm pretty sure there's a law against that."
Smiling, Helen finally rubbed her eyes clear so that she could get a good look at a sleep-tousled MJ. The long, auburn hair was sticking up all over the place, a far cry from it's usual neat appearance, and there was a relaxed contentedness that was never present in MJ's work persona. Brushing the bangs off MJ's forehead, even though they sprang right back, Helen replied, "Probably is. Are you going to arrest me, Agent Monahan?"
MJ's mouth curved into a grin and she hooked a leg over Helen, pulling them flush. "It's my duty, ma'am."
A little breathless at the unexpected move, Helen swallowed and answered, "I suppose it is."
Pushing onto an elbow, MJ grinned down at her and leaned in, pressing their lips together gently. Helen gasped a little in surprise and MJ's tongue slid into her mouth. The feel of MJ's tongue sliding over hers sent a definite zing through Helen and she opened her mouth more. The kiss grew stronger as MJ's tongue explored her, tracing over teeth and palate, and Helen found that she wanted more.
Helen's hand gripped MJ's hip, keeping her close, and the kiss ended on a grin as MJ pulled away to tease, "I'm not going anywhere."
Flushing in embarrassment, Helen started to pull her hand away, but MJ stopped her, covering it with her own. Staring into the wide, dark eyes, Helen smiled and leaned in for another kiss. MJ accepted the turnaround as she pushed her tongue inside MJ's mouth and got acquainted with the interior. MJ sighed into the kiss and rolled onto her back, pulling Helen with her. Squirming into a better position, Helen deepened the contact, her heart speeding up as desire flushed through her.
The alarm startled both of them, loud and blaring, and they broke apart, laughing. Helen flipped over and turned it off, then rolled back to find MJ grinning at her. "What?"
"I think we're going to do just fine together," MJ observed, briefly caressing Helen's face. "But now it's time for work. You want the shower first?"
Helen nodded and climbed out of bed, still a little flushed from the unexpected encounter. A thrill was in her blood and she realized that it had been a good, long while since she'd felt like this. Too long, probably. Just as she reached the bathroom door, MJ called her name and she turned back.
Standing at the bedroom door, MJ said shyly, "I love you."
Helen smiled, her heart feeling very full, and replied with certainty, "I love you, too, MJ."
Feeling a little silly didn't stop MJ from holding Helen's hand as they drove to her apartment to pick up her car. It was strange, how just a kiss changed everything, and yet changed nothing. Their way of being with each other as they'd gotten ready for the day had been exactly the same as before. Helen had dragged herself around, albeit with a smile, until after drinking a fairly large cup of coffee, while MJ had zipped from place to place, getting ready.
The main difference had been in the little caresses that they'd bestowed on each other; a lingering hand on Helen's back, tugging playfully on MJ's hair while it was being brushed, rubbing tension from Helen's neck when she'd started re-reading one of the files. It was all so normal and so wonderful that MJ had wanted the connection to last even outside the bastion of Helen's large apartment.
When Helen pulled up in front of the multi-family house where MJ lived, MJ instantly spotted Nico's car on the opposite side of the street and groaned.
"What?" Helen questioned.
Sighing, MJ answered, "Nico's here."
Helen followed her gaze and asked, "Do you want me to stay here while you talk?"
"No, it's fine. I should've seen this coming," MJ replied. "Go on to the office and I'll be there as soon as I can."
Helen squeezed her hand and MJ smiled before grabbing her bag from the back seat and leaving the car. Setting the bag on the sidewalk as Helen drove away, MJ crossed the street to where Nico was parked. Leaning down to look in the window, she found him sleeping soundly, the seat lying all the way back. Eyes rolling in exasperation, MJ rapped sharply on the window.
Nico jerked awake, then groaned, clutching his neck.
"Someone called to complain about a suspicious vehicle, sir. Would you please move along?" MJ said, loud enough for him to hear her through the window.
He grimaced and climbed out of the car. "Why do you do that?"
Smiling brightly, MJ replied, "Because I can. What do you want, Nico?"
His gaze picked out the bag on the sidewalk and an eyebrow rose. "Just getting home now, MJ? Got a little something on the side I don't know about?"
"What do you want, Nico?" MJ repeated.
Leaning on the roof of the car, rubbing his eyes, Nico explained, "I wanted to talk to you about Helen."
"And you couldn't use the phone for that?"
"I didn't want to."
MJ took in the stubborn tilt to his head and sighed. "What about Helen?"
"Do you think could you put in a good word for me?" Nico asked in a rush.
Groaning, MJ shook her head and walked away.
"MJ, c'mon!" Nico exclaimed, following. "It's not like I ever ask you for anything and I like her."
MJ picked up her bag and headed for her building. "First of all, you don't ask me for anything because we're not married anymore and I'd kick your ass if you did. Second of all, what is this, high school?"
The lock fought her and after a moment of watching her struggle with it, Nico pushed her aside and calmly did that thing he always did that got it on the first try. Glaring at him, MJ walked ahead of him into the apartment, not denying him entry, but not telling him to come in, either.
Nico pressed the issue with, "She's a great woman, MJ, and I think we could have something good if she just you know saw me as something other than a friend."
Dropping her bag on the bed, MJ faced him and demanded, "So you want me to give her a description of how you are in the bedroom?"
A smirk rose and Nico confirmed, "Not like you ever had any complaints in that area."
"No, it was everywhere else that we had a problem," MJ snapped, finally losing her cool. Startled, Nico drew back with a frown. Silently cursing herself, MJ took a breath and apologized, "I'm sorry, Nico. You know I hate traveling and I'm running on very little sleep right now. On top of that, I need to get to work as of fifteen minutes ago."
"Right. Gotcha," Nico agreed, still frowning.
MJ rummaged through her closet and pulled out a white blouse, her tan jacket and a dark skirt, holding it up for Nico to see.
"Nice," Nico approved, grinning. "The Feds won't know what hit them."
Grinning a little, MJ moved to the tiny bathroom off the bedroom to get dressed and Nico called his case through the closed door. She made faces at him as he talked about how close he and Helen had become and how he thought they would make a great match. Whipping a brush through her hair, MJ pulled it back into a loose chignon and used a discreet barrette to keep it in place.
Stepping out of the bathroom, MJ took advantage of the pause in conversation and said, "Helen's my best friend. I am not setting you up with her and I am not extolling your few virtues to her. If you want to date her, ask her out, though unless you've suddenly developed an interest in culture and fine wines, I have to warn you to expect disappointment."
Nico grimaced. "You're all heart, MJ."
She smiled sweetly. "I try, Nico. Now get. I have to leave."
Grabbing her laptop case, MJ brushed past him and headed for the door again. She waited for him to leave, then locked the door, kicking it to make sure.
"Why don't you just get a new door?"
"Why don't you start paying your alimony so I can get a new door?"
Nico snorted and replied, "Yeah right. You make more than I do with this thing, never mind your new and improved federal salary."
Grinning, MJ wagged a finger at him. "That's not the point. You're lucky that you have such an understanding ex-wife."
He returned the grin and kissed her on the cheek. "I know. Hey, good luck today, MJ."
"Thanks," she replied as they split up to get to their individual cars.
All in all, that went better than she'd expected.
Helen couldn't help feeling a little guilty as she drove away to leave MJ to deal with Nico on her own. Not that MJ couldn't handle it on her own, but it still left a bad taste in her mouth. She knew that MJ wouldn't mention the new level of their relationship to Nico, but it did bring up the fact that they had to hide it from everyone. At least until they had some decisive wins in their new position and no one would want to separate them.
She made a mental note to check on the federal regulation that governed whether or not partners could have a personal relationship, though Helen tended to think the answer was no.
It was about seven-thirty that she entered the office and headed for the conference room that had been designated as the communal area for the case. On the whiteboard were photos from all the cases, including the one from the night before. This she could handle competently and dispassionately. Even though Helen knew that MJ didn't want her on the crime scene, it had felt as though she'd been letting the other woman down.
The room was empty, which surprised her, but Helen shrugged it off. Taking the file labeled 'John Doe,' which had to be last night's victim since the others were all identified, Helen pulled out a chair and sat. Pulling out her notebook, Helen set it within easy reach and grabbed a pen and her magnifying glass, opening the file.
Slowly flipping through the crime scene photos, Helen carefully looked them all over, making notes as she did so. This one had been in exactly the same position as the other six, and the trash had originally been over the victim's face. There were no defensive wounds, according to the coroner's report, just like the other six, but there were no drugs or alcohol in the system, either.
How did the killer manage to take down his victims without a struggle? Even if he took them completely by surprise, there would have been some kind of fight to live. It just wasn't an instinct that could be subsumed without artificial means.
"How's it going?"
Helen's heart stuttered in fright and she broke the magnifying glass by hitting it too hard against the table.
"Whoa, Helen, I'm sorry," Jeffrey apologized, hurrying over to her.
Holding up a hand to keep him away, Helen struggled to get her breathing under control, the adrenaline from the scare making it difficult. Closing her eyes, Helen forced herself to take deep breaths, trying to calm herself. An image of MJ smiling at her in bed popped into her mind and she concentrated fiercely on that. It took a few minutes, but Helen finally managed to bring everything back under control.
The ache in her hand caused her to look down and she grimaced as she saw a long cut from the shattered glass on the back of it. It was bleeding freely and staining the rug. "Damn."
From his spot a few feet away, Jeffrey apologized, "Helen, I'm so sorry, I didn't even think "
Helen smiled faintly and interrupted, "It's all right, I was just engrossed. Do we have a first aid kit?"
He blanched when she held up her hand. "Stay here, I'll be right back."
Wondering where he thought she would go, Helen kept the smart response to herself. Not having anything to bandage the hand with even temporarily, Helen just waited. Jeffrey returned with Jen and a first aid kit.
The young woman whistled when she saw the extend of the damage and observed, "That might need stitches, it's pretty deep. And there might be glass still in it. She should go to the ER just to be safe."
"I'm fine," Helen protested. "It's just a cut."
"What's just a cut?"
All of them turned towards MJ and Helen grimaced at the mild expression on her friend's face. It didn't bode well, though of course Jen and Jeffrey wouldn't realize that. MJ was always at her most calm and mild when she was ready to do something violent or dangerous.
"I broke the magnifying glass, MJ, I'm fine," Helen assured her.
Jen was wrapping a large bandage over and around the hand and shook her head. "I think it's deep enough to need stitches, she should get it looked like."
Helen protested, "We don't have time for this."
"We'll make time."
Sighing at MJ's implacable tone, Helen knew it would do her no good to make a fuss. The other woman wasn't going to budge. It felt strangely good to know that she couldn't fast talk or intimidate her partner into going along with what she wanted. Like she was really cared for and MJ would do what was good for her, whether she liked it or not.
Not, in this case, but win some, lose some, she thought dryly.
"Jen, would you drive Dr. Hudson to the ER?" Jeffrey asked.
Helen had a moment's panic at the thought of going to a busy, impersonal hospital with a virtual stranger, but forced herself to stay calm.
"I'll take her," MJ announced, her eyes still on Helen.
But on this, Helen shook her head. "You need to get to work so we don't lose any more time. I made some notes on the crime scene for you."
"I'm fine, MJ," Helen assured her. "Jen's perfectly capable of driving me to the ER."
MJ hesitated, looking at her a moment longer, then nodded. "All right. Drive safe."
The pleasant tone was belied by the intent look she leveled at Jen, who swallowed uneasily and nodded. "I always do."
Shaking her head in exasperation at the behavior, Helen said, "If you're through intimidating our new coworker, I should go. Call me if you have any questions, MJ."
Helen kept her hand upright to keep the throbbing to a minimum and caught MJ's rueful expression just before leaving the room. The walk to the elevator was silent and, once inside, Helen apologized, "MJ's just a little overprotective with me."
"A little?" Jen countered incredulously, but she was grinning.
Relieved that it hadn't put the young woman off, Helen asked curiously, "Are most partners like that?"
"I keep forgetting that you're a civilian," Jen replied. "But yeah, the good ones are. Wish I had a partner like that."
Helen couldn't stop the pleased smile from surfacing and didn't try.
MJ's eyes lingered on the fairly substantial bloodstain on the carpet before glancing over at Gilfoyle.
He winced and admitted, "My fault. I came in to see how she was doing and scared her."
Arching an eyebrow at him, MJ observed mildly, "It's probably a good idea not to do that again. And someone should clean that up."
Gilfoyle nodded. "It won't happen again. So what do you think of the case so far?"
"I don't yet," MJ replied, shifting the papers and photos that Helen had clearly been going over, away from the bloodstain. Sorting them into a neat pile, she picked them up and asked, "Do I have a desk?"
"Oh, yes, it's over there, I'll show you," he offered.
She followed him through the maze of cubicles to the opposite wall, stopping in surprise at finding her name on a name plate beside an office door. Turning to Gilfoyle, she asked, "The office is mine?"
"And the one beside it is Dr. Hudson's," he confirmed. "It's your unit, Agent Monahan. If you don't think the agents on your team will work out, then it's up to you to find the ones who will."
"Wait, what? You're putting me in charge of the unit?" MJ exclaimed in shock. "I thought Greg "
"Greg enjoys the administrative aspect of being an agent, so if you like the field work, you should take advantage of that," he replied, clearly enjoying her reaction.
"But, but Helen "
"Is a civilian consult, not an Agent."
Flabbergasted, it took MJ a long minute to finally get her mind around the fact that she was in a position that she'd never wanted to be in. A little desperate, she exclaimed, "But Sir, I don't know the first thing about management!"
He grinned. "You'll learn. Keep me apprised of the case, Agent-In-Charge Monahan."
MJ watched him go and thought, Dear God. I'm in serious trouble now.
Realizing abruptly that people were looking at her, MJ spun around and hurried into the office, closing the door behind her. It was maybe a third of the size of Gilfoyle's office, but it was still a damn sight more impressive than her desk at the PD. The desk was a nice, polished wood and there was a table off to the side, as well as an almost empty bookcase.
Setting the file on the desk, MJ moved to the bookcase and pulled off the single occupant: Different Managerial Styles and What Works Best for You. Flipping it open, she found an inscription on the inside cover:
I have every confidence in you. You've never failed at anything important in your life,
MJ grinned ruefully and promised Helen some silent payback when things settled down. Not even a warning, even though Helen had obviously known what was going on, had probably talked to Gilfoyle about it often. Those dark eyes had probably sparkled with mischief as she'd thought about how MJ would react.
Shaking her head, MJ returned the book and moved to her desk. About five minutes later, MJ knew it was too damn quiet for her to concentrate and she scooped up the files and headed back to the conference room.
Greg and Lisa were there and they looked at her in surprise. Pushing aside the awkwardness, MJ took charge of the situation like she did any other investigation. She ignored the empty office on the other side of the floor and set the files down on the side of the table that didn't have Helen's blood staining the carpet. Turning to the other two, she held out a hand and said, "We weren't officially introduced last night. MJ Monahan."
"Good to meet you," she replied, pleasantly. "I'm going to take some time and go through the files, catch up to speed, but before I do, why don't you tell me what you know first?"
The ER was crowded and claustrophobic and Helen was positive that she could feel several pairs of eyes watching her as she followed the nurse to an empty gurney, leaving Jen behind in the waiting room. The woman took her now blood-soaked bandage off and started cleaning the gash carefully. It was a lot deeper than she'd thought, and throbbed painfully as the solution was squirted along the edges and in the center.
She was grateful that it wasn't her writing hand.
The doctor, a young man, probably a resident, arrived just then and greeted, "Good morning. What have we here?"
"I cut myself," Helen replied.
He took a close look and whistled. "And a good job you did of it, too. How'd you manage this?"
"Someone startled me and I was holding a magnifying glass at the time. I banged it on the table and the glass went flying," Helen explained. "It was stupid."
"And painful," he guessed.
She grimaced and nodded agreement.
He smiled cheerfully and assured her, "Not to worry. Carla here will stitch you right up and give you something for the pain."
Nervous, Helen shook her head. "I, I don't want anything."
The doctor frowned, asking, "Why not?"
An embarrassed flush heated her face and Helen looked away as she answered, "I'm in NA and AA."
"Ah. Well, that's all right. There are plenty of non-addictive painkillers we can use," he promised.
Reassured by his nonjudgmental tone, Helen looked up and breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you."
Seven stitches, antibiotic and pain-reliever prescriptions, and a bulky bandage later, Helen was released from the ER and heading back to the FBI office with Jen. She was looking forward to finding out how MJ had taken the news about being in charge of the unit with an almost evil glee. She knew how much MJ hated the thought of getting caught up in management and politics and Helen was intensely curious to find out how the other woman would handle the new responsibilities.
Arriving at the conference room, Helen wasn't surprised to find MJ deep in the files, reading thoroughly. Scanning the room, she found MJ's distinctive scrawl on the whiteboard, marking it with observations of her own and Helen's. Greg and Lisa were absent, so Helen could take a few minutes to look at the other woman.
It didn't last long though, as MJ became aware of the scrutiny and glanced over at her. A relieved smile rose as she stood and crossed over to Helen asking, "Are you all right?"
"Seven stitches," Helen answered, grimacing. "But I'm fine. I need to keep it dry until they come out."
"You sure do," MJ agreed, taking her hand. Light fingers traced over the bandage.
Smiling fondly, Helen said, "It's probably not a good idea for you to threaten the people who work for you."
MJ snorted and replied, "About that. Were you planning to surprise me all along, or was there even a glimmer of mercy somewhere in that heart of yours?"
"Not even a glimmer," Helen teased.
Releasing Helen's hand, MJ shook her head, grinning, and headed for the board. "So you're thinking that we've got some guy in a mid-life crisis?"
Following, Helen explained, "Sexually repressed his entire life, this man has been living a lie for so long that when he sees these kids, well, flaunting what they do right on the sidewalk, it throws him into a rage."
"But that should make it messy, a crime of passion, however twisted," MJ countered. "These are anything but. There isn't even a struggle."
Holding up a finger for each point, Helen explained, "White male between the ages of 35 to 45. He's organized and methodical, probably OC to a severe degree. Educated. Works in a field that requires strength and precision, possibly the military, which would further his homophobic tendencies."
"Okay, if you've got all of that, then explain something to me."
"How does he kill them without a struggle?"
Helen sighed. "I have no idea."
"Agent Monahan? You have a phone call."
They both turned from the board at Greg's announcement.
"Thanks, Greg, why don't I just take that in my office?"
Chuckling at the pointed tone and look aimed her way, Helen replied, "That sounds like a good idea."
"Oh and by the way, Nico will probably be calling you later to ask you out," MJ informed her sweetly as she left the conference room.
Her call went unheeded and Helen sighed, exasperated.
"You two are really good friends, aren't you?" Greg observed, grinning.
Helen returned the grin and replied, "How could you tell?"
MJ picked up her phone with, "Monahan."
"Shouldn't you be a little more formal than that now that you're a Fed?"
Smiling in delight at her former Lieutenant's voice, MJ exclaimed, "Lieutenant! It's great to hear from you!"
"Yeah, well, this ain't a social call, unfortunately," he replied heavily.
Instantly serious, she asked, "What's wrong?"
"I got a dead kid about fifteen years old who fits your current case."
MJ blinked a few times in surprise. Not just because it seemed far too soon for another killing, but also because her old District was far outside the current parameters of the killer's turf. "Where?"
"Davies and Fox Ave," he said. "Scene's been preserved for ya, MJ, the body hasn't even been moved."
"Thanks, Lieutenant, I appreciate it," she replied, sincerely.
"Just catch the bastard, okay?"
Not surprised when he hung up without saying good bye, MJ did the same and headed out for the conference room. Greg, Lisa, Jen and Helen were all there, talking about the case. "Another body's been discovered. Greg, Lisa, you're with me. Jen, get on the phone with SF PD District 179 and coordinate with them about the body and crime scene, will you? Helen, I think our guy's losing it. We need to know more."
Helen and Jen both nodded, while Lisa and Greg fell into step with her as MJ headed for the elevator.
It was always different, seeing the body in the actual crime scene, instead of viewing pictures of it later. Pulling her gloves on, MJ squatted down by the victim, evidence bags at the ready, and looked carefully around. For a few minutes, she didn't do anything except to let her eyes roam over the immediate area, taking everything in.
The savagely deep slice into the slender throat where the wire bit in.
The piles of trash surrounding the body.
The slant of the shadow from the dumpster just behind the victim.
The neatly folded hands on the abdomen.
"Time of death looks to be about three am," Lisa said quietly from behind.
Nodding, MJ stood and stepped back a few paces. Squinting at the scene, she moved a few more steps away from the body.
Lisa walked with her and asked, "What is it?"
"Something's different." Though what, MJ couldn't have said. "Get the photographers back in here. I want close-ups of the body and the trash around it. Then I want every piece of trash that was actually touching the body examined."
"What are we looking for?" Greg questioned, joining them.
Glancing back at the scene, MJ answered, "I'm not sure yet, but I want those pictures delivered to Dr. Hudson asap."
Greg nodded and went off to make sure it was done.
"Who was first on the scene and who found the body?" MJ asked Lisa.
Lisa motioned to the west side of the tape and replied, "Officers Wells and Oren were doing patrol in the neighborhood. They saw a homeless woman run screaming out of the alley and stopped to check it out."
Following the younger woman's gaze, MJ saw the cops, but no homeless woman. "Where's the woman?"
With a grimace, Lisa explained, "She took off."
MJ sighed. "Great. All right. Tell the coroner that as soon as the pictures are done, they can take the body."
Lisa nodded and moved towards the black van a short distance away.
Walking over to the cops, MJ recognized one of them from the Foley case and smiled. "Mike, hello."
He smiled in return, the nervousness of before gone. Of course, when you weren't covering that a senior officer had removed evidence from the scene, it tended to make one more relaxed. "Hi."
"So I understand you lost the witness."
The relaxation fled and Mike stammered, "No ma'am, we didn't lose her!"
"I don't see her," MJ pressed politely.
The partner, Wells, stepped in with, "She had to get to a doctor's appointment. We called the office and everything to make sure it was a legit excuse. She's on some kind of timed treatment. We got her name and the shelter she's living at."
Accepting the information, she asked, "Is this your normal route?"
"No, ma'am," Mike replied. "We're short-staffed, some kind of bug going around, and working double shifts."
"That hurts," MJ commiserated.
Mike slowly began to relax again and agreed, "Yeah. So we're new to this route, but we've done a few sweeps this week and there hasn't been anything going on. Hustlers don't even come down here, so there was no reason for this kid to be here."
None at all, MJ confirmed silently. Out loud, she said, "Thanks, Mike. You take care now."
"You too, ma'am," Mike replied.
Hiding a smile at the relieved look on the young man's face, MJ turned away and met up with Greg and Lisa. "Either of you have the witness contact information?"
"I do," Greg volunteered.
"Good. Go on down and get another statement from her. We're done here."
Surprise skittered across Lisa's face and she questioned, "We are?"
MJ looked over at her. "Aren't we?"
"But, well, you were only there for a few minutes," Lisa protested, even as a flush rose on her olive skin.
"So I was."
Lisa looked down at the pavement, biting her lip as she obviously debated whether or not to further question her superior's actions.
Mildly amused, MJ commented, "Feel free to stick around if you need to. I'll see you back at the office."
She wasn't surprised that Lisa followed her back to the car. A little disappointed perhaps, but not surprised. The other woman was only in her late 20's, MJ was sure that Lisa didn't trust her own judgment enough. Unfortunately, that meant that she didn't belong on the team, since MJ needed people who could think for themselves. She made a mental note to take the personnel files home with her just as soon as the case was over.
There hadn't been a specific time frame between murders, but having one so close on the heels of another was too fast. MJ was right. The killer was spiraling towards melt-down and if they didn't stop him soon, he'd do something really horrific like taking out a whole group of kids at once, abandoning his garrote for a gun.
A soft knock on the conference room door interrupted her thoughts, followed by a man saying, "Excuse me, Dr. Hudson?"
Turning towards the door, Helen wondered wryly if an interoffice memo had gone out about not sneaking up on her. Standing in the doorway was a handsome, dark-haired man with pale blue eyes and a quiet manner. "Yes?"
"Agent Tom Callahan," he introduced, walking into the room and holding out his hand.
Standing, she took the hand and replied, "Nice to meet you, Agent Callahan. Can I help you?"
"Actually, I think I can help you."
"On this case," he clarified.
Motioning for him to have a seat, Helen questioned, "How so?"
"I know it's against regs, but Jen let me look at the files because we've worked together in the past and she knows how much of an interest I have in serial cases," Tom explained. "I really wanted to work in this Unit, but unfortunately, I'm assigned to LA."
Maintaining a polite façade, though she was starting to get nervous with the steady gaze that never left her, Helen asked, "If you're assigned to LA, why are you in San Francisco?"
"I came here on my own time, I'm technically on vacation. I didn't think that you or Agent Monahan would listen to me if I didn't show how committed I was to the success of this unit," Tom informed her.
"You said you thought that you could help?"
"Right. I think the person you're looking for has a knowledge of natural-based sedatives or poisons with a paralytic nature."
"The tox screens showed nothing foreign in the bodies."
"Nothing artificial in the body," he corrected.
Helen went still as she realized that he was right. They hadn't requested a tox screen on any natural sedatives or poisons or venoms. Standing, she crossed to the whiteboard and added 'acquainted with natural remedies, an herbalist or chemist?' to the 'profile' category. Staring at the board, she took a couple of paces back and considered the new information. If it were someone who had served in the military, they could be
A hand on her shoulder jolted her from her thoughts and Helen jumped away from it, knocking into the table with bruising force and crashing to the floor. Helen groaned in pain when her hand hit the rug and cradled it to her chest.
"Oh my God, are you all right?" Tom exclaimed, rushing to her side.
Helen was never really sure what happened next. One minute he was leaning down to help her up and the next he tripped or slipped on something and landed on top of her. Her hand was crushed between them and she cried out in pain, tears instantly sparked. In the space of a breath, MJ was there, her gun at Tom's head as she snapped, "Get off her, now!"
Tom rolled away, raising his hands, and exclaimed, "I was trying to help her!"
"Against the wall," MJ ordered, gun still pointed at his head.
Weakly, Helen called out, "It's okay, MJ, I fell. We both fell, he wasn't trying to hurt me."
MJ paused, not lowering her gun hand, and looked over at her. Helen was astonished at the cold fury in the other woman's eyes, even as it was hidden behind a mask and shielded from sight. The gun was withdrawn and holstered in the blink of an eye and Tom apparently dismissed from thought as MJ moved to Helen's side.
Kneeling down, MJ put a hand under Helen's shoulder and helped her to sit. "Are you okay? What happened?"
Helen let out a shaky breath and wiped at her eyes as she answered, "He startled me and I fell. Then he was helping me up and tripped or something and landed on top of me."
"Damn it, your stitches must have broke," MJ murmured, gently holding her hand to reveal the red staining the bandages.
Offering MJ a wry smile, Helen observed, "It's just been that kind of day."
"Klutz," MJ agreed fondly.
Helen accepted her help to stand and then leaned against her for a few seconds longer, drawing strength from her partner's cool, calm manner. Only a little ironic, she introduced, "AIC MJ Monahan, meet Agent Tom Callahan of the LA office. He's here for a job interview."
Tom offered a wave and a weak smile.
Get a grip, Monahan, get a grip! MJ railed at herself as she walked towards her office, Callahan in tow.
She was way more unsettled by the whole thing than she wanted to admit. When she'd heard Helen cry out in pain, MJ had flashed back to that night with Foley at the University. Hearing or seeing Helen in any kind of pain was the surest and fastest way to get under her skin. On the roof, when Foley had moved for Helen that last time, MJ had known that she could take him down without killing him. She'd known that for a fact and killed him anyhow.
It was one of the most damning moments of her life, but one that MJ would repeat without hesitation to keep Helen safe.
Sitting behind the empty desk, MJ took a long, silent look at the man who already had a number of black marks against him, not even counting the debacle with Helen. Keeping her voice neutral, MJ observed, "You reviewed confidential case files that weren't assigned to you, subverting one of my staff to do so. You flew up here and interfered with an on-going investigation, using your credentials to gain false entry to our office. And on top of all that, you just re-injured the other team lead. As interviewees go, I'd have to say that you're at least the most memorable."
Tom remained silent, which MJ gave him points for. Most people would be trying to wiggle their way out of their mistakes by then. Leaning back in her seat, not shifting her gaze from his an iota, MJ questioned, "What did you hope to accomplish by coming here, Agent Callahan?"
Straightening now that he'd been directly addressed, Tom answered, "I intended to become a part of the team, ma'am."
"Are you arrogant, or just egotistical?"
"A little of both, ma'am."
MJ just barely restrained the grin that almost popped up at his ready answer. "Why didn't you just apply through regular channels, if you wanted on so bad?"
"They were closed to me, ma'am," Tom replied.
"My current supervisor and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of things."
"So he's boxed you in."
"And I'm supposed to take your word that the reasons he boxed you in are invalid or contrived?"
MJ prided herself on being a good judge of character and instinctively knew that this man would be a boon to the team. "Military, right?"
"Navy JAG for five years."
Arching an eyebrow at him, she observed, "That's quite a career change."
For the first time, a faint smile graced his features. "Yes it is, ma'am."
Interesting. Most people would take the opportunity to start talking about why there had been such a major change, but Callahan wasn't going for it. Leaning back in her chair, she said thoughtfully, "So tell me something."
"Are you usually that clumsy?"
Helen would have been worried for the poor man trailing after MJ like he was going to his execution, but her thoughts were still in a whirl from what she'd witnessed on MJ's face and the pain in her hand. She'd barely noticed Jen leading her into the restroom, unable to rid herself of the image of that split second.
"I still think we should go back to the hospital," Jen tutted, worried.
Shaking her head, even as she winced at the jostling of her hand as the younger woman unwrapped it. The tentative scab that had begun to form was torn apart, but the stitches had held through the unexpected abuse and Helen breathed a sigh of relief. "No, just clean it up as best you can and then rewrap it. We need to get back to work."
Bathroom lighting wasn't the best to do first aid by, but the sinks were right there which made things much easier to clean it out. Spots were dancing in front of Helen's eyes by the time Jen was finished re-wrapping the bandage, but she breathed through the pain.
When they arrived back in the conference room, Greg announced, "I talked to pathology and they're going to rerun the tox screen to include natural anesthetizing agents, sedatives, poisons and venoms that would render the victim paralyzed."
"Good. Thank you, Greg," Helen said, sitting carefully in a chair. Her hip throbbed dully where it had connected with a table, now that her attention wasn't solely focused on her hand. "What did the database searches come up with?"
Greg made a face and answered, "It's a really long list of possibles, Dr. Hudson."
"Well then, we should get started, shouldn't we?"
It was a good twenty minutes later that MJ and Tom returned to the conference room, but it was only for MJ to say, "Lisa, may I see you?"
Lisa looked up from the thick stack of names and addresses, but stood immediately and preceded MJ out of the room. Helen met MJ's eyes and offered a sympathetic smile. She'd known almost right away that Lisa wouldn't meet MJ's cut, and had been wondering how long it would be before her friend did something about it.
Glancing over at Tom, Helen smiled and observed, "I see you're still in one piece."
He sighed deeply, obviously getting himself together, and answered, "Barely. She's she's "
Amused, but in complete understanding, Helen agreed, "She is, isn't she?"
Sitting beside her, he continued, "I really am sorry about before. I don't know how I managed to trip over my own feet, Dr. Hudson, and I certainly didn't mean to hurt you."
"I know," she assured him. Sliding the stack of paper that Lisa wouldn't be returning to towards him, Helen offered, "Dig in."
Startled, he just looked at her.
"If you're still here and in one piece, then you're on the team," Helen explained.
Excitement and relief lit his blue eyes and he grinned broadly. "Really?"
Helen was just about to return to her work when MJ returned, sans Lisa, and said, "Jen? My office please."
Jen shot Helen a worried look, but stood and followed MJ out of the room.
Frowning, Tom asked, "Is she going to be okay?"
Helen was wondering that herself and answered honestly, "I don't know. MJ places a lot of value on trust, and Jen broke that before they even met by helping you."
Staring at the composed young woman sitting opposite her, MJ stated, "I don't like to worry about leaks from my own team. To anyone. Another department, the press, another agency, whoever."
"No, ma'am," Jen agreed quietly.
"Do I have to worry about leaks from my own team in the future?"
MJ paused, thinking carefully about what to say. The woman had been more than competent and Helen had obviously formed an attachment to her. Mentally rolling her eyes as she realized that the latter held just as much weight as the former, MJ finally said, "I think you're going to work out, Jen, I like what I've seen so far, but you've got exactly one more chance to stay on this team."
"Thank you, ma'am."
MJ continued to stare at Jen for another few seconds, then nodded and ordered softly, "Please send in Dr. Hudson."
"Yes, ma'am," Jen agreed, her tone grateful as she stood and left the office.
When the door closed, MJ sagged into her chair with a groan. Helen arrived only a minute after, took one look at her, and started laughing. Pointing a finger at her partner, MJ complained, "I swear, it's like being a hall monitor!"
Still grinning, Helen walked over to the desk and stopped beside MJ, leaning against it. "You think it's safe to let them start using our first names?"
"I'm actually digging that part," MJ replied, wriggling her eyebrows. "All these 'ma'ams' and the fear of God with just a look are a great ego boost."
"Like you needed the title to accomplish that? And you do know that ma'am is a contracted form of madam, right?"
Making a face at her, MJ observed, "Spoilsport. So what do you think?"
"About adding Tom, firing Lisa, or keeping Jen?"
"Transferring Lisa," MJ corrected. "It's not like I would fire her for lack of experience. And all of the above."
Helen shrugged, smiling when MJ took her injured hand and looked it over carefully. Trying to ignore the distracting caress of fingers along the edge of the bandage, she said, "I think we'll have to wait and see how the team develops, but it's a good start. Tom and Jen have already worked together, so they'll have an advantage there. Are you going to partner them?"
"No, I think we'll just leave them all loose and see who's good at what," MJ mused thoughtfully. "I have a new found respect for my past Lieutenants."
Chuckling softly, Helen said, "What goes around, comes around."
"Apparently," MJ agreed, dry.
"You ready for something to eat? I need to take food with my pills."
Startled by the question, MJ looked at her watch and saw that it was almost 5:30pm. "Where the hell did the day go?"
"Did you even eat lunch?" Helen demanded.
MJ's stomach answered in the negative for her, and they both laughed. Shaking her head, MJ announced, "All right, let's get some grub."
Woozy from the drugs, even with a full stomach, Helen had a hard time focusing on the pages in front of her. The remains of their dinners littered the conference table as everyone concentrated on their assignments. What Helen really wanted was the new tox screen, but it would be another hour, at the earliest, before that showed up. Looking over at the chair that MJ had last occupied, Helen half-smiled at the thought of how her friend had taken to her new role like a duck to water.
At the moment, MJ was in her office talking to Tom's current supervisor, who was apparently less than pleased at the transfer taking place virtually behind his back. She'd caught part of the discussion, to put it loosely, when she'd gone in a few minutes ago to ask MJ something.
MJ's eyes had been closed while her fingers pinched the bridge of her nose, and there had been a pained expression on her face as she'd said, "Yes, I understand how upsetting this is for you, Karl, and I'm sorry to just steal him away like this, but he's been very helpful to us and I really need to "
Helen had backed out of the office as quietly as she'd started to enter it.
Glancing back at the pictures that were on the table in front of her, Helen's finger trailed over the outline of the youngest boy who'd been murdered. He was only fourteen. Only fourteen and hustling for a living. Sadness rose inside her as she thought, They're all only lost children. How can anyone just throw them away like this?
It was mystifying, that anyone could abuse or neglect a child. Knowing herself as she did, Helen had realized a long time ago that it wasn't her path to get married and have children as a lot of women did. Even before Daryl Lee, she'd been married to her career. There had been lovers through the years and she'd even been deeply in love with a couple of them. But there had never been the need to merge her life with anyone.
Well, not until now. Not until MJ, and that was another thing that mystified her. The other woman had slipped past all of her many defenses, almost without Helen even realizing it. They'd been thrown together by fate and violent circumstances. Gratefulness had led to friendship and that, in turn, had led to more, even though she hadn't noticed it at first.
It was almost a physical need or compulsion to have MJ beside her and Helen worried a little that she was substituting one addiction for another.
Isn't that what love is, though? she mused. The need to have one certain someone by you for the rest of your life? Two halves of the same whole? Complementing one another's strengths and weaknesses?
All of which she'd dismissed as romantic drivel for most of her life.
Shaking off the melancholy, Helen focused herself back on the picture of the boy who would never know the kind of love that she had. All of the boys whose lives were cut short because of some monster's rage.
Lost children, she thought again with a sigh.
"Helen? Can I see you in my office for a minute?" MJ asked quietly.
Standing even before MJ finished talking, Helen couldn't tell anything of what the other woman was thinking from her expression. From the rapid-fire tapping of fingers to thigh, though, MJ was about to explode. Closing the office door behind her, Helen waited patiently.
With her back to Helen, MJ stated, "That man is the most I'd've shot him, Helen. I honestly don't know how Tom stuck it out as long as he did."
Helen walked up behind her and gripped the tense shoulders, massaging them gently. "But you worked it out?"
"No. That ass wanted to talk to Gilfoyle," MJ replied, turning around and looking up at Helen with a definite spark of anger in her eyes. "Do you know he had the nerve to ask for my ID number so he could make sure it wasn't a prank call?"
"Ouch," Helen murmured, her hands dropping away.
Shaking her head, MJ backed up to lean against the desk. "So where are we?"
"Same place we were before your delightful conversation," Helen reported.
"Waiting for the tox screen."
MJ sighed and asked plaintively, "Can I get demoted? Why don't you play hall monitor for a while?"
Chuckling, Helen replied, "I don't think it works that way, Em."
MJ's eyes widened a little as a smile curved her lips. "Em. I like that."
Not having meant to start a nickname at all, let alone while working, Helen shrugged, embarrassed.
A shrewd look surfaced on MJ's face and she announced, "We're going to have a serious talk about who you had a relationship with that told you showing casual affection like that was wrong."
Awkward, Helen amended, "Inappropriate, not wrong."
"That too," MJ agreed. "I think I'm done with hall monitor tonight, so let's get back to the real work."
When they got back to the conference room, though, the other three were talking excitedly and Helen knew something had happened.
"Tom, did you fall on someone else when we were gone?" MJ questioned as they joined the group.
Grimacing, Tom held out a paper and said, "Tox screen came back early. Gerandi Fodelium, known locally as Bellflower in the Ukraine. Mixed with Lupei Midexium, known locally as Wolf's Bane, the two form a potent natural toxin that paralyzes the victim once it is introduced into the bloodstream. Neither is lethal in any combination, but together will give you a hell of a hangover the next morning."
Helen snagged the paper before MJ could and looked it over, but had it snatched from her before she got very far. Huffing a little in annoyance, Helen walked over to the whiteboard, asking, "Is either difficult to come by?"
"Not in the Ukraine," Tom replied. "But I can't see either as being easy to import."
MJ pointed at him and ordered, "Start there."
"Jen, Greg, find out who's been discharged, honorable or otherwise, in the last three months and was on active duty in the Balkans. Doesn't matter what branch."
"Agent Monahan? May I see you for a moment?"
Helen had to admit that already, the team was forming bonds because no one said boo about the Deputy Director showing up at eight o'clock at night and asking to see their boss.
"Yes, Sir," MJ agreed easily.
There was no sign on Jeffrey's face as to what might be going on, so Helen turned back to the whiteboard to update it.
MJ could take care of herself, after all.
"When I said you could make personnel changes, I wasn't expecting you to be quite so "
"Enthusiastic?" MJ suggested.
"Bloodthirsty, about it," Gilfoyle finished, pointed.
Sighing, MJ said, "I didn't recruit him, he showed up."
"Did you even look at his record?"
"And you hired him before speaking to Wensham."
"MJ " Gilfoyle began, then trailed off. "Look, Karl Wensham has been in the FBI for twenty-five years. He's like an immovable fixture at the LA office and he's got a lot of friends. You don't want to piss him off. I don't want to piss him off!"
"I think it's a little late for that, Sir," MJ pointed out.
He eyed her for a long moment before saying, "The next time you decide to move heaven and earth, give me a little warning, all right? That's all I ask."
Eyes rolling, Gilfoyle muttered, "Well, Lt. Quinn did warn me about you. So where are we on the case?"
"We've got a lead," she informed him. It only took a few minutes to bring him up to speed, especially since they didn't really have anything solid as yet, and she finished with, "We should have something real in a few hours."
"I'll be here."
MJ walked all the way to the door before she turned and said, "Thank you for backing me up, Sir."
Gilfoyle's lips twitched as he replied, "Anytime, MJ."
By the time MJ got back to the conference room, Jen had narrowed down the list to thirty-three servicemen and women, with ten who'd been dishonorably discharged. Of those men and women, five had training in chemistry and three men were the right age range. She had Greg request their psyche evals and by the time that was done, Tom had found a few shipments in the last two months that contained the seeds that they were looking for.
"So do we know who bought them?" Helen questioned.
Shaking his head, Tom answered, "One batch went to an exhibit at the Flora and Fauna House downtown, another went to an exotic greenhouse and the other two went to private buyers."
MJ took the printout from him and asked, "Either of them one of the guys from Jen's list?"
"I'm still working on who the private buyers are," he explained.
"Well, get to it."
Helen stopped him with, "Tom."
He paused. "Yes?"
"Forget the private buyers, it's a waste of time."
MJ and Tom both looked at her curiously, but MJ voiced, "Why?"
"Because even if our guy could afford them, which I doubt, he's smart enough not to leave a trail that obvious. He wouldn't have bought them directly," Helen explained. "Concentrate on the employees at the green house and the Flora and Fauna House."
"I'll save you the trouble," Jen announced, joining them with Greg at her side.
MJ arched an eyebrow at her.
Grinning broadly, Jen held out a picture and said, "Lieutenant Commander Ryan Emerson, dishonorably discharged for assaulting a superior officer and sending him to the hospital, supposedly because of a rumor that the Commander was gay. He had a horticultural hobby when he was serving and apparently an extensive personal greenhouse at his parents' home outside the city. He volunteered at the Flora and Fauna House whenever he was on leave for an extended period of time. Which, by the way, was a lot last year."
"And you know this how?" MJ questioned, looking the photo over. It was a hard-faced man in his mid-thirties with an angry expression on his face. Not surprising, given that it was a booking photo.
"Just got off the phone with his former CO. I figured that since there were only three to check out, I'd call. I knew it wasn't too late to call because Navy guys never sleep anyhow," Jen explained. She flushed at the various, interested looks from the others and hurried on with, "He said that Emerson was a troublemaker from day one, but had always toed the line, even if just barely, but last year things just got out of hand. It culminated in the assault on the officer."
"Why wasn't he sent to prison? Doesn't that usually carry an automatic confinement sentence?" Helen asked.
"Not automatically. His lawyer got leniency on the contingent that he would attend anger counseling and accept forfeiture of benefits and dishonorable discharge."
"We have a viable suspect," MJ confirmed. "Greg, see if you can get us a warrant to search his premises. Tom, you and I are going to have a chat with Mr. Emerson. Jen, just in case we're wrong here, though I don't think we are, keep looking into those other suspects."
Feeling a bit like she'd just come out of a huddle and should do some kind of cheer to announce it, MJ snorted at the fanciful thought. The humor left as she met Helen's worried look and she assured the other woman, "We'll be fine and yes, I'll be careful."
"You'd better be. I know where you live, Monahan," Helen replied, forcing a smile.
MJ flashed her a grin and headed out of the office, Tom a solid presence at her side.
Backed up with the news that they had a warrant just before arriving in the quiet neighborhood, as well as two black and whites, MJ strode to the door. She motioned for Tom to head around the back and he nodded. He took two of the four uniformed police officers with him as he jogged through the yard and disappeared from sight.
It was a single, one-story home, which gave them an advantage if Emerson decided to make a stand. She was really hoping to take him down without a fight, but remembering the dead bodies that had already accumulated, MJ knew it wasn't much of a chance. This man had crossed the edge of sanity and probably wouldn't be coming back.
Standing to the side of the door, MJ knocked loudly on it. There was no answer, so she pounded again. There was a thunk of something landing against the door from the other side and MJ frowned. She was about to knock again and announce that they were coming in when something exploded, sending the door and herself, along with the police officers, flying through the air.
MJ landed a good ten feet away, hitting her head on a fist-sized rock and temporarily losing consciousness. She was sure it was only a few minutes later that she forced herself into a sitting position because the doorway was still licked with flames from the explosion and she could see Emerson dash through the opening.
With a shaky hand, MJ pulled her gun free and staggered onto her knees. She was peripherally aware of people starting to wake up and turn on lights, as well as Tom and the other cops racing back around the house into the front yard. But all that was shoved aside as she unlatched the gun safety and aimed at Emerson's right shoulder. Years of practice had her squeezing the trigger and landing the shot dead-on.
Emerson spun once as he fell to the ground, up again almost right away. But by then, Tom and the cops tackled him and MJ felt secure enough to collapse against the ground again.
"This is not my fault, Helen. How the hell was I supposed to know he'd have a damn grenade!?"
Tight-lipped, Helen eyed the smaller woman, who was occupying a hospital gurney in the ER.
"Helen, come on, please don't look at me like that," MJ pleaded, groaning. "I can't take it."
The doctor returned just then and said, "I want to keep her overnight for observation because of the concussion, but she should be fine to take home tomorrow. Will you be able to stay with her for a couple of days?"
"Oh I think it can be arranged," Helen agreed darkly.
MJ looked at the doctor and asked, "Can you just keep me here instead? It's safer."
He laughed and wrote something on the chart before answering, "I'll be back to check on you after you've been moved to your room."
MJ's cell phone rang but Helen pinned her with a glare and said, "If you answer that phone, I will break your hand."
Heaving a long-suffering sigh, MJ pulled the phone out and held it out to Helen.
Helen took it and answered, "Agent Monahan's phone, Dr. Hudson speaking."
"Is she all right?"
Smiling at the concern in Jeffrey's voice, Helen answered, "She'll be fine. They're keeping her overnight for observation, but I'll be bringing her home then."
"Good, good. Tell her that Emerson is definitely our guy. The search turned up a strange dart weapon which we matched to puncture wounds on the bodies. The ME had dismissed them as track marks, but that was how he subdued the vics. He's been booked and is being held without bail, pending a psych eval. It's a slam dunk, so tell her to take the next few days easy. The paperwork will be waiting for her when she gets back."
Stifling a chuckle at that, Helen said, "I'll let her know. Good night, Jeffrey."
"Night, Helen. Good work."
Hanging up, Helen looked over at MJ, who was obviously struggling to stay awake. Sitting partially on the gurney, Helen brushed her fingers through MJ's bangs and said softly, "You should get some sleep. Jeffrey says the paperwork will still be there in a few days."
A laugh escaped MJ and she said, "I bet."
"He also said 'Good work.' which I gather, in law enforcement settings, is high praise," Helen teased.
MJ nodded tiredly and smiled. "High praise indeed."
Taking the hands which were so much smaller than her own, Helen kissed the palms and whispered, "I'm so glad you're all right."
MJ's hands closed around hers and brought them to her own lips, pressing them there for a long moment. "I'm proud of you. You did so good today, Helen."
A flush heated Helen's cheeks and she looked away from the intense, dark eyes staring at her. "Thank you."
"It's the truth," MJ replied simply. "We put the bad guy away because of your help."
"You would've gotten him fine without me."
"Maybe, but not nearly so fast."
MJ's tone was serious and firm, so Helen chose to believe her. It couldn't hurt to think that she'd contributed to the downfall of a monster, could it? "It's strange."
"That I'm done with it. Usually my work doesn't start until after the killer's been caught. I would interview them, analyze them and then get my findings ready for trial. I think I think I like this better," Helen said slowly.
MJ grinned and observed, "It gets into your blood. Why do you think I'm still doing it after all this time?"
"Because you're a glutton for punishment?"
A nurse arrived and said, "Time to head up to your room, Agent Monahan."
Helen stood, pointing a finger at MJ as she said, "Obey the nurses and don't cause trouble."
Saluting, MJ replied tartly, "Yes, ma'am."
Watching as the nurse and an assistant switched MJ to a wheelchair, Helen waited until they were on their way to the elevators before heading for the exit. Even though she was exhausted, she was wired, too, and knew that when she got home, there was no way she'd fall asleep.
Much to Helen's surprise, she got a full six hours of sleep and woke around ten the following morning. She took her time getting ready, waking up slow and then lingering over the coffee. That was the good thing about being a consultant. Technically she only had to be there full time when they were on a case; otherwise, she just made her own hours.
She saw a brief blurb on the news about the case, but that was it, and snorted at the strangeness of the world. The capture of a serial killer got three minutes of airtime while the latest reality tv show got an expose.
When she arrived at the office, the conference room had been restored to its former empty condition, all of the files and pictures taken to wherever evidence was taken, probably delivered to the DA's office. Walking over to their area, she wasn't surprised to find that Tom was in Lisa's cube, which was right between Jen and Greg.
"Dr. Hudson, I didn't expect to see you today," Jen exclaimed, smiling brightly.
Returning the smile, Helen answered, "I thought I'd give MJ a hand on her paperwork. How are things going?"
Tom and Greg joined them as Jen said, "We're just catching up on our own paperwork. It's a quiet day."
"I'm just glad we found him before he killed again," Greg said, quiet but emphatic.
Helen nodded agreement. "Me, too. I should tell you that MJ makes a lousy patient, so when she comes in, it's probably a good idea to keep some distance."
Tom grinned and said, "Thanks for the warning."
They chatted for a few more minutes before Helen went over to MJ's office and discovered a pile of paper waiting to be sorted and gone through. Grinning, Helen picked them up and muttered, "You owe me, MJ."
It took a good two hours to plow through all the forms and get them organized so that all MJ had to do was sign them. When she was done, it was afternoon and just about time for her to pick MJ up from the hospital. Helen waved goodbye to the others and left the building. She stopped to pick up groceries, since she knew there was next to nothing in her own refrigerator and that MJ would need real food to eat.
How on earth she would manage to keep the other woman off her feet and away from the office for another day or two, Helen had no idea.
Cranky and bored, MJ just about jumped out of the bed when Helen arrived and exclaimed, "Take me with you!"
Laughing, Helen replied, "That's exactly what I'm here to do. Here, have some clothes that don't smell like a bomb went off."
MJ wrinkled her nose, but took the bag and rifled through it. "Thanks."
"I'll meet you outside."
"Sure you don't want a preview?" MJ teased.
A flush decorated Helen's face and she headed for the door, replying fondly, "You're impossible, and no. Not in public."
Grinning, MJ called after her, "Spoilsport."
Still grinning, MJ got out of the bed and got dressed. What she really wanted was a shower so that she could wash the stink off her and out of her hair. She settled for the new clothes and left the hospital gown on the bed, joining Helen in the hall. Sliding an arm around her friend's waist, MJ leaned on her and observed, "I think I'm going to have a lot of fun, broadening your horizons. Just think of all the PDA's that are acceptable between women in public."
"MJ!" Helen hissed.
MJ's smirk grew when Helen made no move to break away from her, despite the embarrassed exclamation. They stopped at the administration desk and spent a frustrating hour there getting the paperwork processed, which only reminded her of the piles that were probably waiting on her desk at work. By the time they got to Helen's apartment, MJ was tired again and even grumpier.
"I gather you didn't get a lot of sleep at the hospital," Helen commented, picking up a couple of grocery bags from the back.
MJ took the remaining few bags and replied, "Only because they took my vitals every two hours like clockwork."
"Well, you can take a shower and a nap, then we'll have dinner and go to bed early. I'm a little tired myself," Helen admitted.
MJ just grinned at her.
Helen flushed and corrected, "To sleep, MJ. Go to bed early to sleep."
Lightly bumping hips with her as they walked to the door, MJ asked, "Call me Em. I really like that. Been thinking about it all night."
Another flush lit through Helen's cheeks, but she replied, "All right, Em, if that's what you want."
Simple pleasure rose inside at the nickname and MJ smiled at her.
They unpacked the groceries, MJ insisting on helping, and then she went to take a shower. The hot, steady stream of water relaxed her muscles all over. Wrapping her hair in a towel to dry, MJ dressed in the sweats and tee that Helen had packed in her bag. A goofy smile rose as she thought, Helen knows exactly what I need to be comfortable.
Leaving the bathroom, MJ scanned the rest of the apartment and found Helen on the computer, big surprise. "Thought you were making supper."
Helen half-turned and countered, "I thought you were going to take a nap."
MJ finished walking to her and wrapped her arms around Helen from behind. "Why don't we skip dinner and just go to bed? I'll sleep better with you there anyhow."
It was supremely natural for their lips to meet in a long, sweet kiss. Then the towel came undone and dropped on them both from above. Laughing, MJ pulled it off the rest of the way, her hair falling loose all over the place. She slid down onto Helen's lap and sat on the taller woman, resting her cheek against Helen's shoulder.
Elegant fingers combed gently through her long hair, soothing, as Helen murmured, "Sounds like a plan to me."
There were a few more kisses before they stood and moved to the bedroom. MJ was just as exhausted as the night before and knew that, unfortunately, kissing was as far as they would get. As they snuggled down under the covers and MJ curled close to Helen's long, slender body, she sighed, "I can't wait until we can do this properly."
Helen chuckled and replied, "Just as well you're injured. I'm barely keeping up with you as it is."
Drifting in the comfortable twilight between sleep and waking, MJ whispered, "Night Helen. Love you."
"Night, Em, I love you too," Helen whispered back, kissing her temple.
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