DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, Fox does. I'm only taking them out for a test drive.
SERIES: This story follows on from After the Fall, it might help if you read that first before venturing forth.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Anything goes at this point.

By Sam

Part Five

Caught between what's left
And what needs to be done
       - John Mellencamp

"Did you miss me, baby?"

His hand moved, slowly, along a smooth, flawless curve, enjoying the subtle warmth generating beneath his palm. They'd been apart for too long, and he was already imagining all the ways he would make up for lost time.

"I thought about you every night."

There was no response to his seductive words, but he was used to that. It wasn't titillating conversation that always kept him coming back for more.

"All I want to do is slip inside you and hear you purr…"

"Why don't you two get a room?"

Van lifted his head from the hood of the shiny, red sports car he'd been fondling and carefully buffed the edge with the cuff of his shirt. The Candy Store certainly had some beautiful cars during the time he'd worked there, but nothing could compare to the gorgeous and powerful Lamborghini Diablo GT. When Billie had managed to procure it from her contact at the DEA as payback for providing the addresses of two accountants laundering money for the Borsi Drug Cartel, Van had been so excited he very nearly wet his pants.

"You know she loves me more, Dude."

Deaq shook his head in wonder. "It's an abusive relationship."

"You just don't know how to handle her," Van said with a smile. "She likes it rough."

"You two better be talking about a woman," Billie chimed in from the doorway to her office. Both men turned to see her standing there and observing them, her arms folded across her chest in her usual, commanding stance.

Deaq offered her a broad grin. "Reunited-"

"…and it feels so good," Van cut in with a look at the other man that showed he was obviously pleased with himself. "Peaches and Herb, right?"

"That is not what I was gonna say."

"Why not? It's appropriate. Plus, they were a duet, too."

"We are not a duet, Van," Deaq proclaimed with an annoyed glare. "We're partners. Get that straight, would you?"

"Hey, I bet you'd look great with those little beaded braids…"

"Man, we've been together for, like, two seconds, and already you're running off at the mouth."

"You missed me."

"I did not miss you," Deaq insisted.

"Yes, you did.

"No, I think I just said I didn't."

"It's okay to admit it, Deaq," Van went on. "I have that effect on people." Deaq rolled his eyes and gave his boss a pleading look.

"All right, you two," Billie interjected, meeting them at the bottom of the stairs. "Now that things are back to normal can we get to work, please?" She held her hands out to them, palms facing up, and gestured, impatiently, with her fingers. "Let me have 'em."

The two men looked at each other before reaching into their back pockets and producing their badges, which they immediately deposited into their boss' awaiting hands.

"I'm having a little déjà vu," Van commented to his partner while Billie headed toward the evidence room to lock away a vital piece of their true identities.

"Why does she put them in the safe, anyway?" Deaq wondered aloud. "I mean, with all this bling just lying around, who'd give a shit about a couple of police badges?"

Van's gaze remained fixed on his boss. "I think it's meant to be more of a symbolic thing. They're important to us, so she treats them with the respect she thinks they deserve."

Deaq lifted his eyebrows in surprise at his partner's thoughtful observations. "Man, what the hell have you been doing for the last two weeks?"

"Maybe getting a feel for what it's like on the other side of the fence," the officer remarked as Billie emerged from behind the chain link barrier across the room and headed back in their direction.

"Okay," Billie said, motioning for them to follow her. "Let's talk." She headed straight into her office and took a seat behind her desk, her two operatives entering behind her and dropping themselves into their usual places.

Having been away for only a short while, Van was surprised to realize how much he'd missed the place. Coming into the Candy Store was almost like slipping into a favorite pair of old, well-worn jeans.

Still, it was an odd feeling. The first time he'd walked through the doors with Billie, his only interest had been in going after his partner's killer. The old theater, with all of its expensive toys, was simply the means to that end.

But, somewhere along the way, he'd discovered a strange kind of synergy that existed within its walls, and he knew with absolute certainty that it was due to the other two people in the room with him. Though he'd never actually told them so, Deaq and Billie were the most important people in his life now. After trying for so long to distance himself from others, he'd finally found a place where he fit in and a 'family' that understood him better than his parents ever did. No matter what else might be out there waiting for him, Officer Van Ray was exactly where he wanted to be.

"First off," Billie leaned forward, resting her folded hands on the desk as she spoke. "Parish told me that you guys did good work while I was gone, and I think we all know he's not the kind of person to throw around compliments."

"I just followed your lead, boss," Deaq replied with a casual shrug. "I looked out for my guy, treated him with respect… and reamed his ass when he screwed up."

Billie smirked. "See how it easy it is?"

"Well, my UC was still pretty green," Van announced with a somewhat disappointed sigh. "But, she has really good instincts."

"She?" the lieutenant questioned.

"Yeah, 'she'." Van noticed the way they were now both looking at him. "Hey, it's not like I'm some kind of sex fiend, or something," he stated, indignantly. "I know how to play it like a pro."

Billie immediately wiped the smile from her face. "Of course, you do." Deaq placed a hand over his mouth and looked away.

Van kicked his partner in the shin. "At least Angie knew her limitations, alright? Your guy thought he was 'Shaft'."

"The man was just trying to get into the part, is all."

"He got his ass kicked-"

"It wasn't that bad."

"-by an old lady at a Laundromat."

"She wasn't that old," Deaq said defensively. "And she had a roll of quarters in her hand."

"Well, that explains the broken nose," Van snickered.

"Okay, guys." Billie held her hands up. "If you're done comparing notes, let's move on." The change in her tone was enough to catch their attention, and both men immediately abandoned their playful banter. "I'm sure you must be wondering why we're all back so soon."

Van's leg began to shake and he rubbed a nervous hand across his knee to quiet it. "We kind of figured something was up."

"Felicia's out of the coma."

Both men stared at her, surprised as much by the gravity of those words as by the bluntness with which their boss had uttered them.

"When did this happen?" Deaq finally asked.

"A week ago," she answered. "But, I just found out this morning." Despite her initial reaction, Billie now understood why Parish had not been immediately forthcoming with the news. He'd been too busy trying to keep her out of it. The thought of her boss playing the protective mother bear to her cub would have been almost touching… if it didn't piss her off so much.

"So, how's she doing?" Van questioned.

"Pretty well," Billie responded. "In fact, the ink on her confession is already dry."

"Well… that's great," he said a bit haltingly before looking at his partner, who nodded in agreement.

"Yeah," Deaq responded in the same unsure manner. "Uhh… I guess that means we can move on now."

Billie frowned. "Felicia's agreed to give up details on all the murders, but she'll only talk to the LAPD. So, Forsythe just put together a task force to work in conjunction with the DOJ, since they have more experience with these types of cases."

"All that blue in one room? Who's in charge?" Van asked.

"We are. They've loaned us a couple of FBI agent from Quantico," Billie replied, still not entirely comfortable with the current arrangements. Her last experience with the bureau had been less than pleasant. "They'll just be overseeing things."

The partners exchanged a brief look. "Who's on point?" Deaq inquired.

The lieutenant lifted a pen from her desk and began to roll it between her fingers. "I am."

Van straightened up in his chair. "Are you kidding? Parish actually expects you to do a face to face with that crazy bitch?"

Billie shot him a stern look. She'd had just about enough of everyone's hand wringing over her experiences with Felicia Ralston, no matter how good their intentions were. "It was my decision, Van."

"Yeah, sure it was," he muttered as he got up and began to pace around the room.

Deaq remained slumped back in his seat. Despite looking more at ease than his partner, he was feeling the same concern for Billie's well being. He was also still thinking about his earlier conversation with Sara. "You ready for this, Billie?" he asked quietly.

She looked over at him. Deaq's question was reasonable and straightforward, as always, and she was grateful for it. At least he wasn't looking at her as though she might suddenly start drooling and banging her head against a wall.

"I don't know, Deaq," she said with a heavy sigh. "But, there are people out there who deserve closure. I feel like I owe them the chance to have it."

"You don't owe anyone anything."

Billie glanced up at Van, who was now standing just behind his partner. His gray eyes fixed on her, shining with an emotion that she couldn't quite place.

"If you were in my shoes, you'd do it," she said.

"And you'd tell me not to."

"And you wouldn't listen to me."

Van stuffed his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "Scary, isn't it?"

"Damn straight," Deaq interjected, looking between them. "Sometimes, I think you two were-"

Billie immediately held up a hand. "Don't you dare say it."

"So, when is all this supposed to start?" Van questioned.


"Jesus, they're not wasting any time."

"There's a lot of ground to cover. We're talking about murders going back at least twenty years. Getting to the bottom of this mess could take a while."

"So, you'll be working with them and working with us?" Deaq asked. "Sounds like a pretty full plate, Boss."

"I'll manage." Billie glanced at her watch. "But, look, we have another problem that we need to focus on right now."

Van walked over and dropped back into his chair with a weary sigh. "Gee, that's just what I was hoping you'd say."

Billie ignored his sarcasm and got straight down to business. "Have either of you ever heard of a restaurant called Linzi's?"

Deaq shook his head. "Nope."

"I've been there a couple of times," Van replied with a narrowed gaze. "Why?"

"With Lena?"

"Yeah. It's a favorite spot of hers."

"I'd say so since she just recently bought into the place. She's now the co-owner."

Van shrugged. "So?"

Billie tossed a photograph across the desk to him. "So, we have a little complication. Take a look."

Van picked it up and studied it. His sharp gaze met Billie's over the top of the picture. "Is this who I think it is?"

She nodded. "It was taken eight months ago."

"Eight months ago?" he echoed. "Fuck me."

"What?" Deaq spoke up and his partner flipped the picture around, presenting it to him. It showed two women standing together at the bottom of a staircase. They were both laughing, presumably at something out of view of the picture. There was no mistaking the blonde on the left, but the other woman's identity was a complete mystery to him. "Okay, I'm looking at Sara here, but who's the other one?"

"That," Van replied, still unable to believe it himself, "…is Margo Linzi."

Deaq quickly put two and two together. "As in, the owner of Linzi's?"

"As in, Lena Verenka's new business partner," Billie confirmed.

"Oh, man…" Deaq snatched the picture from his partner's hand. "They know each other?"

"They go back a few years."

Van leaned back and covered his face with both hands. "God, it's great to be back."

Roland Hill was unaccustomed to physical pain.

Perhaps it was more appropriate to say that he had no real first-hand experience with it. He'd never had a serious injury in his life. As a child, he'd even managed to avoid the usual litany of scraped knees, bumps and bruises that most of his peers enjoyed. Playing outdoors was something that other kids did. He was usually much too busy to engage in such frivolous pursuits as sports and games.

The reason for that was complicated. Growing up, his life consisted mainly of responsibility – too much for a young boy, to be sure, but it couldn't be helped. His mother had depended on him, and his baby sister had needed him. At times, it felt like an enormous burden, but it was the only life he knew and he never complained.

It took him the better part of his adult life to realize how much he actually hated it.

A twinge of resentment jabbed at him. He opened his mouth and tossed back the pill he had cradled in his hand, hoping to push both the physical and emotional discomfort down somewhere deep, where he didn't have to think about either one.

After a few more sips of water, he set down his glass and reached for the phone beside him. There were so many other ways to occupy his mind rather than mulling over his tragic, dysfunctional past.

Like mulling over someone else's, for instance.


The lieutenant smiled to himself at the person's unfriendly tone. Sometimes Caller I.D. made his life so much easier.

"I want details." Roland's demand was met with a heavy sigh.

"It was a bit strained, at first, but I think we made a connection."

"Did you talk over old times?"

"Briefly," the caller answered, clearly resentful of the man's cavalier attitude. "I think she sees things a little differently now."

"How fortunate for you."

"This is wrong and you know it. Making me do this is wrong."

"Spare me the 'holier than thou' attitude," Roland barked. If there was one thing he couldn't stand, it was people who pretended to be something they were not. "If you're so squeamish about our deal, you can always back out of it."

There was silence on the other end of the line.

"That's what I thought." He held up the tiny pill bottle still clutched in his hand to examine its contents… and frowned. "Just get me what I want, and all your troubles will go bye bye."

"And what if I can't?"

"Then, you might want to start whiddling your toothbrush into a shank." Roland smirked at his own personal brand of humor, not at all surprised when the person on the other end hung up on him.

He placed the phone back on the table and sat forward, wincing at a sudden stab of pain. The prescription bottle was still in his hand and he turned it over, noting the refill count.

No refill.

He blinked his eyes a few times and stared at the label.

How could that be? His wound was still healing for God's sake. Didn't the doctor have any idea how much pain he was still in? He'd just been shot and those morons thought the pain should be gone by now?

Well, obviously they'd just made a mistake and the logical thing to do was to call his doctor and straighten it out. The man wasn't a complete idiot, after all. He should be able to understand that Roland had a job to do, that he had responsibilities. He certainly couldn't let the department run amok simply because he was in too much pain to report for work.

Roland knew all he really needed was to get through the next few weeks. Once he had Billie Chambers badge mounted on his wall, then he might be able to take a little time off to relax.

One more refill should definitely do the trick.

Sara sat down on the edge of the bed and began to brush her wet hair, still savoring the after-effects of a gloriously hot shower on her sore, tired muscles. Even the modest amount of exercise her doctor would allow her felt like an incredible effort, making her realize how far she still had to go in her recovery.

However, with each passing day, her body was slowly beginning to come around. The wound, itself, wasn't even really an issue anymore. It was the inertia that had taken its toll on her. Unfortunately, it would probably be a while longer before she would feel up to enjoying more strenuous pursuits.

Luckily, not all rigorous activities were off limits, though, and the blonde smiled as her thoughts turned to another type of workout. It was still her favorite way to get in shape, and with a heavy load of endorphins still coursing through her blood, she silently wished her lover would suddenly materialize in front of her.


The voice jolted Sara from her thoughts, and she turned to see Billie standing in the doorway. Her smile widened, considerably. "Hey, yourself. You must be psychic."

"Thinking about me?"

"Every nook and cranny," Sara drawled, watching as Billie merely smiled in response and walked over to stand in front of her. She set the brush down on the bed beside her and leaned back on her hands, the dark blue silk robe she was wearing clinging to her damp skin. "So, how'd it go?"

"We're back in business."

"Parish decided he couldn't live without you, huh?"

"Something like that," Billie replied somewhat distractedly, her eyes moving over the blonde's relaxed form. "I'll fill you in on the details later."

Sara knew that look. Apparently she wasn't the only one in need of a workout. She lifted her right leg and began tracing her foot along the outside of Billie's calf. "You talked to the guys?"

The brunette nodded. "Yeah, and they're already working on it. I told them we were putting in a call to Margo, just to help ease your mind a bit."

Sara dropped her foot back to the floor and chewed on her lip. "Mmm… about that…"

"Look, I know you're worried," Billie said gently, slipping off her shoes and kneeling on the floor in front of Sara. "But Van and Deaq really do know what they're doing." Her hands came up and rested on Sara's knees. "Believe me, they'll con their way back in in no time, and then they'll be able to keep an eye on Margo. We'll figure a way out of this for her."

Without even thinking about it, Sara parted her legs, allowing Billie to settle between them. She watched with interest as her lover's hands began to slide across her skin, exciting nerves that still tingled from the hot shower. Her breathing became a bit shallow as those hands slowly disappeared beneath the hem of her robe.

"We should talk," she said quietly, but her words seemed to go unheard.

Billie's fingertips continued to stroke the soft skin of Sara's inner thighs, back and forth. "You smell like peaches," she commented, palms pressing, gently, against the inside of Sara's legs, coaxing them open even further. The brunette lowered her head, her lips beginning to travel to warmer and more intimate places.

"It's a new soap," Sara replied, her voice dropping to a husky tone. She tried to remain passive and enjoy her lover's attentions, although it was taking every ounce of willpower she could muster not to grab two fistfuls of dark hair and trap that talented mouth against her.

Billie glanced up to see Sara's blue eyes fixed on her. She held the blonde's darkening gaze, reaching over and pulling at the belt around her lover's waist, drawing the shimmering material away from her heated flesh and exposing the front of her body.

The movement of cooler air across her moist skin caused an involuntary shiver, and Sara's nipples stiffened almost immediately. Billie brushed her fingertips along the underside of the blonde's right breast and leaned in, her lips closing around the hardened bud. Her efforts were rewarded with a soft hiss, and she felt Sara's hand against the back of her head, fingers twisting in her hair, urging her on.

Sara tilted her head back, relishing the wet heat of her lover's mouth as it drew her in for a moment, then released her and shifted to her other breast. The pleasure became almost unbearable and she tugged sharply on Billie's hair, tilting her head back. Their lips came together in a hard, hungry kiss, which finally ended when Billie put her hands on Sara's shoulders, prompting her to lay back.

The blonde closed her eyes and sighed, softly, as Billie slowed the pace, her fingers dancing lightly over Sara's sensitive breasts and across her stomach, sliding around her hips and down between her legs… where they lingered, maddeningly, caressing the inside of her thighs and stoking the fire within.

Billie remained kneeling on the floor between Sara's legs, enjoying the sight of her lover's beautiful body lying stretched across the bed. There was such a feeling of power in these moments, discovering all the different ways to touch Sara, and savoring the responses that each one of those touches invoked.

Sara was about to release a whimper of urgency when she felt Billie's fingers parting her… and the sound turned into a long, agonized moan as the brunette's tongue slipped between her moist folds. The strokes were a delicious tease, meant to build her arousal slowly by avoiding direct contact on the one spot where her body was desperately craving attention. But, after several minutes of tortuous pleasure, Sara's body was already throbbing with need. Her hips pressed deeper into the mattress, trying to coax Billie's tongue just a little bit higher…

"Oh, God…"

The blonde's breathing became deeper and more strained. The balls of her feet pushed into the carpet, thigh muscles tensing with each slow, languorous brush. "Billie… come on…" The fingers of her left hand curled into the blanket while the other immediately thrust itself into Billie's hair, no longer willing to stand the teasing, trying to move her to the exact spot where she wanted to be touched.

Sara nearly cried out in relief when the tip of Billie's tongue began tickling her clit. The climb was swift and intense, her body stilling in anticipation… until she finally let go of the breath she'd been holding and groaned, softly, her muscles contracting in strong pulses of pure, blissful release.

The tension in her body now completely and thoroughly drained away, Sara continued to lie there, quietly, the bed beneath her becoming softer with each passing second. She could feel Billie settling down beside her and she turned her head, slightly, forcing her eyes to open. She was rewarded with a kiss, and the taste of her own arousal on her lover's moist, luscious lips.

"I approve," Billie said with a slight grin. Seeing the look of confusion on Sara's face, she quickly added, "Of the new soap."

The blonde flashed a contented smile and lifted her arms over her head, enjoying a long, luxurious stretch. "I think I'll start buying it by the case," she quipped.

Billie chuckled softly. "So," she said slowly as she lifted a hand and began to trace her finger around the gentle swell of Sara's left breast. "What is it we should talk about?"

Sara's pleasant haze quickly subsided, causing her to release a heavy sigh of disappointment. There was no avoiding this conversation, but she suddenly wished she'd held her tongue long enough to use the offending muscle in a more pleasurable way.

"I already called her."

The hand moving across her chest suddenly stilled, and Sara watched her lover's transformation with a bizarre kind of fascination. Billie's mood shifted, instantly, an all too familiar coldness settling into her pale blue eyes.

"You took the job, didn't you?" The detective sat up and stared at Sara, intently, as if waiting for her to deny it.

With great reluctance, Sara pulled her robe closed and sat up, as well. "I had to."

Billie nearly exploded off the bed, whirling around to face Sara, her expression one of pure, unadulterated fury. "Why, did someone put a gun to your head? Oh, no, wait a minute…" She leaned in close to the blonde's face and cocked her thumb back, placing the tip of her forefinger against Sara's temple. "That happens later."

Sara reached up and took a hold of Billie's wrist, gently pulling it down. "That's not going to happen."

"You got that right." Billie yanked her hand free and stormed from the room. She was aware of Sara getting up and following, but paid no attention to the words being hurled at her back.

She entered the kitchen and snatched the phone from its cradle, turning around and practically shoving it in Sara's face as the blonde approached her from behind. "Call it off. Now."

"Billie, I don't-"

"Do it!"

Sara's eyes flashed, angrily. "Will you listen to me for a minute?"

"Sara, so help me…" Billie's hand was beginning to shake. She pressed the edge of the phone to her forehead and closed her eyes, trying to bring her anger under control.

"I only want to be there to keep an eye on Margo," Sara vowed as she watched Billie struggling to regain her composure. She jumped, slightly, when the brunette thrust the phone at her again.

Billie's voice was deadly calm. "Either you make the call, or I will."

With narrowed eyes, Sara reached up and took the phone from Billie's hand. "No," she stated firmly, placing it on the counter beside her. "I'm not backing down on this, Billie, and I have no intention of getting myself into any kind of trouble. I'm just going to work there. That's it. The very minute anything comes up, you'll be the first one to know, and I'll be out of there. I swear."

Billie continued to glare at her. This was the very thing she'd feared since they left the restaurant last night. Sara was purposefully putting herself in the middle of Margo's troubles and, no matter how noble her intentions, it was wrong. It was foolish. It was impulsive. It was rash.

And it was exactly the kind of thing Billie had come to expect from her.

A deafening silence continued to fill the space between the two women. At long last, Billie's shoulders slumped a bit, her anger seeming to dissipate right before Sara's eyes. "I thought we agreed to let my guys handle this?"

Sara lifted a hand to Billie's cheek, looking dismayed as the young woman pulled away from her. "We did, and I have no intention of getting in their way. But, you and I both know that Van and Deaq have bigger things to worry about than Margo. Look, I'm not interested in what the Verenkas are in to, okay? I'm just looking out for my friend. Working at the restaurant is the best way for me to do that."

The detective's ice-blue gaze seemed to look right through her. "I guess I shouldn't even bother to list all of the things that could go wrong here. Like, how you could easily find yourself in serious trouble if Lena makes you, or, how your past has a way of catching up to you at the worst possible moment…" Seeing that she was getting nowhere fast, Billie ran an agitated hand through her hair and sighed, "I'm just wasting my breath here, aren't I?"

Sara recognized the look of resignation on the young woman's face, imagining it was probably the same expression she herself wore every time Billie headed off to that godforsaken job of hers. "My mind's made up on this."

The detective's gaze dropped for a moment, as if she were lost in thought. "When do you start?"

Sara could almost see the wheels turning in Billie's head and hesitated to respond. Something was going on behind those crystal orbs. Plans were already being made. "Umm… tomorrow, actually. Margo asked me to come in around noon."

The lieutenant looked up at her and nodded. "Okay. I have an appointment at eleven, so that'll give us a chance to go over a few things before you leave." She turned away and headed back to the bedroom, leaving Sara standing there, more than a little surprised by the young woman's sudden acceptance of her decision.

It appeared that Billie was trying to handle the situation in her usual manner: Detach and control. Sara had certainly seen the behavior often enough to recognize it. It was a method she used whenever she put Van and Deaq in harm's way, an enormously difficult task for her considering how much she'd come to care about them.

But, it was her job, after all, and Sara knew that, for Billie, that was the ultimate bottom line.

The sound of her lover's voice in the other room caught her attention, and Sara walked back toward the bedroom. As she reached the doorway, she realized that Billie must be talking on her cell phone.

"I want a three month history. Rent, utility bills, phone…everything. And make sure her hospital records are locked down tight. I don't want anything slipping through the cracks on this, you understand me?"

Sara's eyes fixed on the bed for a moment. There were two open suitcases sitting there, the contents of which looked disturbingly familiar.

"Are those my clothes?"

Billie immediately turned to her and quickly finished up with her call. "Get it done right now. I'll check in with you later." She tossed the phone aside and said, almost casually, "You're moving out."

The blonde stared at her, blankly. "I'm what?"

"You're moving out," the detective repeated. "Tonight."

Sara looked shocked, her throat working as she struggled to speak. "Wha… Billie… what are you talking about? You're throwing me out?"

"Lena will have you checked out, if she hasn't done it already," Billie replied matter-of-factly. "And if she finds out you live with a cop, then obviously this little plan of yours isn't going to work."

"But… I don't…" The blonde still seemed to be grasping for words.

"Don't worry," Billie said calmly. "I'm taking care of everything."

Sara just stood there, stunned. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Logically, she knew Billie was probably right, but the idea of them having to separate wasn't something she'd even considered.

"Why can't you just use your… alias, or whatever?" she questioned.

"Too risky. Felicia's car was found here. That's a matter of public record."

"Well…" The blonde blew out a frustrated breath and began rubbing her fingers, furiously, against her forehead. This was all happening way too fast. "There has to be another way."

At that moment, Billie wanted to march across the room and shake some sense into Sara. The problem with impulsive people, and their equally impulsive behavior, was that they never took the time to consider the consequences of their actions. Of course, pointing all of that out right now wouldn't help matters. If she wanted to have any input here, Billie knew she would have to keep a firm grip on her emotions. Sara's safety was her top priority right now.

"There is," she announced. "You could stay out of it."

"I already told you that's not an option for me, Billie."

The detective's jaw clenched. "And here we are."

"I still don't like this."

"It was your decision."

"I know," Sara acknowledged, looking utterly miserable.

"Then, we'd better get a move on. The clock's ticking." Billie headed for the closet and started pulling down hangers, quickly strewing the clothes across the bed. "I know a place where you can stay. It's only about ten minutes from here. It's fully furnished, so you won't need much of anything, except groceries. We can pick up some stuff on the way over.

As Sara watched her things being packed she didn't know whether to be grateful to Billie for her cold, practical nature, or pissed off at her for the very same thing. "Are you sure this is absolutely necessary?"

Billie immediately dropped an armload of items onto the bed and sat down, patting her hand on the empty space beside her. "Sit down for a minute, Sara."

"Is this the part where you give me the big pep talk?" Sara asked as she settled down next to Billie.

"You already know that I don't want you to do this," the detective said, her cool, blue gaze warming just the slightest bit. "But, since it's obvious you're going to, I want to make sure you take every precaution. Lena Verenka is far from stupid. Now, you may not be going in to 'play cop' as you put it, but if you do this, you are going to have to try and think like one."

Sara gave her a weak smile. "You have a crash course I can take?"

Billie's face remained tense and serious. "No. All I have is my own experience. Right now I'd like to share a little of it with you."

The blonde's posture straightened a bit. "Okay."

"First, everything you know about the Verenkas – the guns, the murders, all of it – you have to bury it, Sara, and I mean bury it deep. Criminals like Lena Verenka don't get where they are without having a kind of sixth sense about people, not to mention a healthy dose of paranoia. If she looks at you and she sees anything, anything that looks like you know more than you do, she won't hesitate to take you out." Billie reached over and took Sara's hand, squeezing it, firmly, to emphasize her words. "I mean it."

Sara licked her lips and nodded somewhat nervously. "Alright."

"Second, stick to the truth whenever possible. It's easier to remember. Too many lies can cross you up."

"Okay. I get it."

"What's my name?"

"Samantha," Sara replied without hesitation.

"Samantha what?"

The blonde stared at her for a moment. "Uhh…"

Billie decided to switch tactics for a moment. "What's my favorite movie?"

"You, Billie, or you, Samantha?"

"Me, Billie," the brunette answered patiently.

"That's easy," Sara said with a quick smile. "Bullitt. We must have watched it five times while I was in the hospital."

"Do you remember the captain's name?"

Sara thought about it for a moment. Finally, it clicked. "Sam Bennett."

"So, who am I?"

"Samantha Bennett."

Billie allowed herself a small grin. "Where am I from?"

"Seattle, Washington."

"How long have we known each other?"

This time Sara didn't even bother to think about it. "I missed that part."

"No, you didn't," Billie explained. "I never told Margo. But, for the record, let's make it two months. Where did we meet?"

Sara raised an eyebrow in question. "In a bar?"

"That's right." Billie's tone softened. "I came up to you and asked you to help me get rid of an overly amorous admirer, remember?"

The blonde tilted her head and flashed a sultry smile. "I remember you had on that incredibly sexy black dress…"

Billie's free hand reached up and touched the side of Sara's throat, sliding her fingers back until she cradled the blonde's head. Her eyelids drooped, slightly, but her gaze held Sara transfixed. "You slipped an arm around my waist and pulled me close…" She leaned in, gently rubbing the tips of their noses together, feeling Sara's warm, shallow breaths on her face. "…and you kissed me."

Sara closed her eyes and felt a soft, gentle pressure against her lips. The memory of that first time came rushing back to her. The connection had been there right from the start. She'd felt it, and so had Billie. Time and circumstances may have tested that bond, but now Sara knew there could never be any doubt.

No one had ever made her feel this way. No one had ever loved her like this.

"Third," Billie whispered as their lips parted and their eyes met. "Don't be a hero."

"I think that's my line," Sara drawled, touching their foreheads together. The young brunette held her there for a moment, one hand still entwined in her damp hair.

"And, most importantly," Billie added. "Know that I love you… and if you get into trouble, I will kick your ass to hell and back."

The blonde smiled and nodded her head. "I do… on both counts." She could feel Billie's grip tightening for a few seconds before releasing her and pulling away. The detective's gaze lingered on her face, as if she were committing every feature to memory. The spell was finally broken when Billie turned away from her and stood up from the bed.

"We've got some packing to do."

Part Six

Cut the rope, I fell to my knees
born and broken every single time
       - Scott Weiland

The wall was covered with pictures, men and women, young and not so young. Some of them were attractive. Others were plain, largely forgettable. One or two were related to wealth. The majority, however, had been little more than society's throwaways, people almost no one would miss should they suddenly disappear.

It was believed that none of them knew each other, that in life, their paths had never even crossed. Yet, all of them were connected by a single, invisible thread.

Unnatural death.

Special Agent Elizabeth Noone leaned against a small conference table and stared at her handiwork with a critical eye. Like the director of a play on opening night, she examined the cast assembled before her. They each had a role in the drama that was about to unfold, and with the stage almost set, their stories would soon be known.

She glanced at her watch while tilting a paper cup to her lips and emptying the remainder of its contents. The cold liquid was rancid by now, but she didn't care. After drinking some of the worst coffee known to man or woman, she was immune to the taste. Caffeine was truly its own reward.

A knock at the door signaled that the curtain was about to go up.

"It's open." Without bothering to turn around, the agent continued talking as the person entered the room. "I hope you brought your own coffee, because this stuff tastes like crap. And believe me, I'm being kind."

"Tempted as I am based on your glowing recommendation, I've already reached my quota for the day."

"You're a wise woman, Lieutenant."

"If that were true, Agent Noone, I wouldn't be here right now."

The woman straightened up and turned to face her younger counterpart, tossing her empty cup into a trashcan. She wore her usual nondescript attire: gray pants, white shirt, black jacket, and a pair of black, sensible shoes. The only splash of color in her appearance was her straight, auburn hair, which just barely touched her shoulders and was always neatly trimmed. Her hazel eyes seemed to warm momentarily as she shook Billie's hand.

"Since we'll be in such close quarters for the foreseeable future, make it Liz, alright?" she said.

"Okay, Liz. For the record, I prefer Billie."

"I went to college with a Wilhelmina," Liz commented, reaching for her briefcase lying on the table. She opened it and removed a folder. "…although, she preferred Wilma for some ungodly reason."

"I guess my parents didn't see me as a Wilma," Billie replied in a distracted tone, her eyes drawn to the images on the wall behind the older woman.

Liz followed her gaze. "It's just a basic framework, nothing official. I like to try and make my own educated guesses."

Billie approached the board. She'd been dreading this moment since yesterday. She honestly never wanted to lay eyes on Felicia Ralston again, let alone sit in a room with the woman while she pontificated about the gruesome murders she'd committed. However, seeing the faces of so many victims spread out before her now was powerful incentive to put aside her own fears and do what needed to be done.

This was the main reason she became a cop, after all, to protect people – ordinary, average people who only wanted to live their lives in relative safety. It seemed to be a reasonable thing for anyone to expect.

But, over time, her somewhat naïve, simplistic views of right and wrong were eventually crushed under the weight of what she saw firsthand every day. The world was full of injustice. Cruel and ruthless people got away with murder. Vicious, depraved individuals damaged helpless children. Sick, twisted minds were forever devising more creative ways to pulverize weaker souls.

Her blue eyes came to rest on the face of a young woman… barely a woman, really. She looked sixteen, maybe seventeen years old. A runaway, if Billie had her guess.

"I wasn't expecting some of them to be so young," she said grimly.

Liz placed the folder on the table within Billie's reach. "Her choice of victims was apparently motivated more by opportunity than demographics."

"They were in the wrong place at the right time," Billie muttered.

"Something like that."

As Billie stood there, a feeling of outrage ignited within her. It was inconceivable that so many people could be ruthlessly slaughtered while society simply carried on either unaware or disinterested.

Unfortunately, it was all too true.

She finally turned away from the board and sat down in an empty chair, staring at the folder for a moment before pulling it toward her. A soft sigh escaped her lips as she flipped it open and began to sort through the pages.

"How many are there?"

"Twenty-six," Liz answered. "But, I also pulled a couple of 584's from the same time period."

"What's the primary cause of death?"

"Most were stabbed. In the other cases, it was strangulation, but the victims also had some knife wounds inflicted post-mortem, so I thought they deserved a second look."

Billie raised an eyebrow. "Have you found a signature?"

"I'm still looking over the ME reports," Liz said evenly.

"Why the pictures, then?" she asked, having already taken notice of the fact that some of the pictures in the file were not on the wall.

"I'm just testing a theory."

The detective's jaw tightened. "Look, Liz, I can appreciate the fact that you have your own way of doing things, but right now the last thing I want to hear is some nebulous FBI bullshit." The other woman's gaze was penetrating, but thoughtful, giving Billie the impression that she was being sized up in the space of a few seconds.

"Some of the autopsy reports mention lacerations on the palms of the victims' hands." Liz stopped there, obviously leaving it up to Billie to draw her own conclusions.

"Could be defensive wounds."

"They were deemed too deliberate. Plus, the stabbing victims weren't the only ones who had them. Unfortunately, since the wounds were only superficial, they weren't considered all that significant, and no one looked for a connection to any other murders."

Billie glanced over her shoulder. "So that's what all of these people have in common?"

"Like I said… it's just a theory."

Coming across the sheet on the young woman she saw on the board, Billie's eyebrows knitted together in concentration while she studied the details contained in the report. As she'd suspected, the girl had been a runaway. At only seventeen years of age, she'd already been picked up three times for prostitution. Her last arrest occurred a mere two weeks before her body was discovered in a back alley dumpster in West Hollywood. According to the medical examiner, she'd been stabbed eight times.

But, it was another notation further down that slightly altered the pallor of Billie's face.

"This victim had rope burns on her wrists."

"Some of the others did, as well. And, several had rather extensive bruising at the wrists and ankles," Liz informed her. "Definitely an indication that some kind of restraints were used on them."

Billie's expression hardened. "And that they put up a fight."

"Probably just what their killer wanted."

An image of Felicia standing over Sara with a bloodied knife leapt into Billie's mind. She quickly slapped the folder shut with a bit more force than she'd intended, absently rubbing a hand over her left wrist. The gesture did not go unnoticed.

A tense silence descended over the room, and Liz decided it would probably be wise to let Billie control the direction of their conversation from this point. No matter how many people were working behind the scenes in this case, ultimately, it was the young police lieutenant who was running the show.

Billie could sense that the agent was waiting for some kind of response. She took a deep breath and turned to look at Liz, her expression one of grim determination.

"Tell me how this is supposed to go down."

"The hospital has given us the room next door. It's a small office, so the two of you will have complete privacy. Ralston refused to be videotaped, which means this will be strictly an audio record. She's still very weak and her doctor has asked us to limit our time. When she feels tired, we end it. No arguments."

Billie drummed the tips of her fingers on the folder. "So, getting as many names as we can is our first priority."


The lieutenant glanced toward some hardware sitting on one corner of the table. "You'll have ears on?"

"Gillespie and I will be here in this room monitoring everything."

"Where is he now?"

"With the officers that are bringing her down."

Billie nodded in understanding. It didn't matter what the doctors said about Felicia's current physical state. They were taking absolutely no chances.

She rose up from the chair and turned around to look at the board, trying to draw strength from the faces staring back at her. She didn't know under what circumstances any of these people had come into contact with Felicia, although, if what Anthony Pellegrini told her was true, she could ascertain the reasons for at least a few of them. But, whatever the case, nothing changed the fact that they hadn't deserved their horrible fate.


Liz' voice sounded from behind her. There was a quality to the woman's tone, something that spoke of knowledge and experience… and maybe even a little compassion.

"Felicia Ralston is an anomaly, which means we can't fall back on the same knowledge we've acquired from other cases of this type. Frankly, she defies the usual profile of a serial killer just by being a woman. But, I just wanted to say that, even though we're still researching her background, I do think that whatever formula of physical and psychological events converged to create her are very unlikely to do so again anytime soon."

The lieutenant turned around, looking as though she were about to say something, but a knock at the door stopped her. Liz got up and opened it to admit Special Agent Gillespie.

Billie stood there, her heart suddenly thundering in her chest.

"We're ready," was all the man said to them as he stepped into the room and made his way over to the surveillance equipment. He sat in a chair and slipped on a pair of headphones, then glanced over at Billie. "The safe word is 'toaster'." Liz could see the somewhat blank expression the young woman was now giving her partner.

"Just procedure," she remarked. "You know the drill."

Cool, blue eyes flicked in her direction, and Liz found it difficult to read what the detective was thinking. She didn't like that at all.

"Right." Billie grabbed the folder off the table and walked by Liz, pausing as she stepped out into the hallway. There were three police officers standing around in front of the room next door, and they all nodded when she made brief eye contact with each of them.

"Good luck."

Billie looked at Liz, resisting the sudden urge to laugh out loud. The woman was talking to her as though she were going on a job interview. She bit back a sarcastic comment and muttered a quick, "Thanks."

The officers all moved aside for her and she stepped forward, suddenly feeling as if all of her senses were on overload. The familiar squawk of police radios suddenly seemed loud and irritating to her ears. The cool metal of the doorknob felt like ice as she wrapped her fingers around it. Even the whiteness of the door in front of her was now much too bright, and for a brief moment, she closed her eyes.

And, though she would later tell herself it was all the result of an overactive imagination, in that instant, Billie could feel Felicia's presence on the other side of the door.

She turned the knob and stepped inside.

Linzi's was already bustling with customers though it wasn't even noon yet, forcing Sara to mutter a chorus of 'excuse me's as she cut a swath through the small crowd already lined up and waiting for tables.

She spotted Vicki standing at the head of the line, speaking with a young couple as she gestured for them to follow her to a table. When Sara got closer, she caught the young woman's eye and the hostess gave her a quick smile and held up a finger before leading the guests away.

Sara spent a brief moment looking around while she waited for Vicki to return. Most of the customers were young and wealthy, and she felt an old, familiar twinge of discomfort. People with money had always intimidated her. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why she began robbing from them.

Vicki immediately reappeared, extending a hand as she approached. "Hi, Sara. It's nice to see you again."

"You too Vicki," Sara responded with a smile and a firm handshake. "Is it always this busy at eleven thirty in the morning?"

"It has been lately," the younger woman replied. "Margo said you were coming by. She's in the kitchen. Come on, I'll show you the way."

Sara followed her through the restaurant, noting that most of the tables were already filled. She watched Vicki as they progressed. The girl was always smiling and greeting people, touching a shoulder here, or an arm there. Watching her effortless, comfortable manner, it was easy to see why everyone took notice as she passed.

Not for the first time, Sara wondered if she was really cut out to handle this. It was true that she only considered accepting the job in order to keep a watchful eye on Margo, but her friend didn't know that. The opportunity had been offered to her in good faith, and she didn't want to let Margo down.

The two women reached a set of double doors and Vicki stopped for a moment as a waitress tore through them with a large tray in her hand. She cast a weary look at the hostess as she walked by.

"He's pissed about the veal."


When her co-worker quickly headed off to a nearby table, Vicki turned to Sara. "Did Margo ever mention our chef?"

"Not that I recall."

"His name is Gordon. He's a great guy, really talented. Just sometimes he's a little… high strung." It was obvious that Vicki was trying to choose her words carefully. "It's like, the busier we are, the happier he is, but the more he kind of complains about it, you know?"

Sara nodded in understanding. "He likes to bitch."


"Do I need a helmet to go in there?"

Vicki grinned. "Nah, if you tick him off, he prefers throwing verbal epithets." She shook her head and laughed as she put a hand on Sara's arm. "This is probably not the best way for me to introduce you. I wouldn't want to scare you off."

"I don't scare easily," Sara responded with a smile.

"Good, because, honestly, once you get to know Gordon, he's really not such a bad guy." Vicki pushed the door open and the two of them entered the kitchen.

Being the nerve center of the restaurant, it seemed even more hectic than the dining room. There were a handful of people moving about a large preparation area, some setting up plates of food, while others chopped, stirred and mixed from a variety of trays set into the shelves that separated it from the cooking area. On the other side were several large stovetops, each one covered with a plethora of pots and pans, emitting delicious, spicy aromas that made Sara's stomach growl in response. She continued to keep pace behind Vicki, while trying to keep out of everyone's way.

"Our wholesaler is not an idiot, Gordon."

Margo was near the back of the kitchen, talking to a young man with short, brown hair, dressed in a white, double-breasted chef coat and black pants. It was apparent from their dour expressions that the conversation they were having was not a pleasant one.

A wafer-thin piece of veal was dangling from between the chef's pinched fingers, and he waved it in Margo's face. "If he thinks that this… thing passes for good scaloppini, he most certainly is."

"Excuse me?" Vicki interrupted as she and Sara approached them.

"Ladies," Margo turned away from the man with a sigh of relief. "Your timing is impeccable."

Gordon immediately thrust the sliver of meat toward the two young women. "Just look at this!" he raged. "Even my cat would be offended!"

"Umm… I don't know much about veal, Gordo," Vicki responded, looking over at Sara, who was training a critical eye on the item in question.

The blonde wrinkled her nose. "It looks a bit… sinewy."

The chef's eyes went wide. "Yes! Exactly!! At least someone else around here knows what I'm talking about." He glared at Margo for a few seconds before looking back at Sara. "Who are you, anyway?"

"This is a very good friend of mine, Sara Matthews," Margo said. "Sara, this is our head chef, Gordon Reede."

"Nice to meet you," Sara greeted.

"It's always a pleasure meeting an intelligent woman," he said with a slight bow.

Vicki shot him a mock pout. "You know, I was going to say it looks a little thin."

Gordon rolled his eyes at her. "That's because I've had to beat it into submission, otherwise it wouldn't be fit for human consumption."

"It's not that bad, Gordon."

"Oh, for God's sake, Margo, I had to pound this thing so many times I'm ready to bring it home and introduce it to my Mother!"

Both Vicki and Sara tried to stifle a laugh while Margo gave the man a stern look. "Next time, I'll let you choose the cuts personally, alright? In the meantime, you'll just have to make do with what we have."

The chef gave the piece of veal a disgusted look and tossed it onto the counter behind him, stirring up a small cloud of flour. "Everybody out!" he shouted, throwing his arms skyward in dramatic fashion. "The boss lady wants me to conjure up a miracle!"

Margo shook her head and released another heavy sigh. "Come on, Sara," she said, clasping the blonde's arm. "Let's go talk in my office."

"Sure." As they turned to leave, Sara glanced back at Gordon and said, "I'm sure your scaloppini will be fabulous."

He shooed her away, impatiently. "Come back when I have some decent veal and I'll make something that'll knock your socks off."

As they walked out of the kitchen, Margo glanced at the young blonde. "Sinewy?"

Sara smiled. "I used to date a chef. She told me that the best way to judge a good piece of veal was by the color and the texture. So, I figured it was a fifty-fifty shot."

The brunette laughed, heartily. "You see what I mean?"


"You've already charmed your way into Gordon's good graces… which only proves what I said before."

"He didn't seem all that bad to me."

"That's because you don't know him yet."

The two women made their way back through the restaurant and finally arrived at Margo's office. They engaged in a bit of small talk while Margo fixed them some tea. After a few minutes, the brunette took a seat behind her desk and gazed at Sara, expectantly.

"So, Gordon's antics aside, what do you think?"

"I really am grateful for the offer," Sara replied sincerely. "But, are you sure about this? It seems like you really need someone with more experience."

Margo tilted her head and smiled. "You don't strike me as the kind of person who doubts her own abilities, Sara."

"I'm not. I just wouldn't want to take advantage of our friendship."

"You're doing no such thing. I've been the one trying to convince you, remember?"

Sara nodded. "What about Lena? Is she alright with this?"

"Of course," Margo answered. "She thought it was a great idea. I told her you'd be perfect for the job and I meant it."

Sara looked down at the teacup resting in her lap, her thoughts drifting back to the conversation she'd had with Billie less than two hours ago.

The discussion had been a tense one. Billie shared some additional information about some of the other people involved with the Verenkas, just in case Sara should encounter any of them, all the while continuing to voice her objections over the whole situation. In response, Sara tried her best to assure Billie that, since she now knew who the players were, she would be especially careful to avoid them, hoping to allay some of her lover's concerns.

But, despite her obvious worry for Sara, the lieutenant had seemed distracted, and that was not like her at all. When Sara brought up the meeting with Parish, Billie was quick to deflect, blaming lack of sleep for her short temper and even shorter attention span. It was a reasonable enough excuse given the nightmares that had plagued her for weeks, but Sara still walked away with a growing feeling of unease. With any luck, maybe this whole case would be wrapped up in a few days.

Unfortunately, luck seemed to be in short supply these days.

"So, Vicki leaves in a week, right?" Sara asked.

"Less than a week, actually."

"That won't give her much time to show me the ropes."

Margo's face brightened. "Don't worry, Lena and I will lend a hand. And I'm betting you're a fast learner." Sara couldn't help but smile at her friend's obvious enthusiasm.

"I guess I'd better be."

It was an unforgettable image.

Her clothing was casual, yet impeccably tailored to her slight frame. The colors she wore suited her perfectly: black and blue… moody and sensual, concealing and calm.

The weak, fluorescent lights cast a gentle glow from above, creating a halo of silver on her long, dark hair. Her face was young and beautiful, the barest hint of maturity only just beginning to etch into its softness, suggesting that age would only make her even more desirable.

She moved with quiet confidence, stunning blue eyes reflecting something cold, a hint of arrogance, just enough to make someone squirm under her piercing gaze. She looked completely self-assured, unaffected by everyone and everything around her.

But Felicia Ralston knew better.

Billie now stood on the other side of the small desk, looking down at her, and for a long, breathless moment, Felicia tried to will her damaged body to rise.

"Hello, Felicia."

Despite her efforts, the blonde remained seated in her wheelchair, dark eyes riveted to Billie from the moment she'd entered the room. She stared, memorizing every movement, every detail, and a pulse dulled by injury and inactivity suddenly began racing with excitement.

Felicia placed a pale, trembling hand to her chest, the quickening beats of her heart making her wounds begin to throb, painfully, as if responding to the presence of the person who'd inflicted them. The sensations in her body and mind were difficult to disassemble. Anger and lust warring for dominance.

"Hello, elsker," she greeted with a smile.

"Don't get up on my account."

The blonde's smile grew wider. "I've missed you."

"Can't say the same." Billie took the empty seat opposite Felicia, the intimacy of their shared space already beginning to make her feel a little claustrophobic. "Quite a recovery you've made."

"You almost sound disappointed."

"Guess I need to try a little harder."

The blonde made a rough, dry sound that might have been laughter. "That always was one of your weaknesses, Billie. You're never satisfied with yourself."

Billie could feel the heat travel up her face, but refused to take the bait. "Look, I don't want to be here any longer than I have to, so let's do this." She laid the folder on the desk and placed her left hand on top of it.

Felicia immediately noticed the ring on her finger.

"I have some pictures I want you to look at," the detective announced as she spun the folder around and slid it across the desk. "Sort them into two piles: the ones you recognize and the ones you don't." She settled back in the chair and folded her arms across her chest, unintentionally concealing Sara's gift beneath the crook of her arm.

Brown eyes regarded her for a moment. "So, I see romance has once again blossomed."

Billie's mouth formed a tight, thin line. "Just open the folder."

"I suppose her near-death experience proved her worth to you?"


"Come now, Billie, considering you tried to murder me, I think the least you can do is indulge me with a little conversation."

"I'm not here to indulge you."

"Then, why are you here?"

"Because of your flawless manipulations."

The blonde's lips curled with malicious pleasure. "I do so love your way with words. Somehow you always manage to be candid and cautious in the same breath. That's quite a talent. Perhaps you should have been a lawyer like your mother."

When Billie spoke her voice was cool, devoid of emotion. "Let's just get this over with."

"Tell me something…" The blonde continued her probing, unheeded. "What did the great Noelle Chambers, tireless champion to the abused and oppressed, think of her only child becoming a police officer?"

Hearing Felicia speak her mother's name, almost mocking her, tore at Billie, and the hand tucked under her arm curled into a tight fist. The pain of her fingernails digging into the flesh of her palm kept her from reacting.


"That is none of your business," she replied.

Without a word, Felicia placed her hand on the folder and slowly pushed it back across the table.

Billie understood the message all too clearly. Felicia was throwing down the gauntlet. Now, it was up to her to decide whether or not to accept it.

The two women sat and stared at each other in stony silence.

Liz studied the pad of paper in front of her. She and Gillespie were trading notes, choosing to write down their thoughts as the interview progressed so as not to miss anything being said. As she read his last words, the knot of tension in her gut tightened.

< A romantic connection? >

Those three words loomed large. The subtext of Billie and Felicia's conversation, beginning with Felicia's term of endearment, thinly disguised in her native language, was almost blatant. Both agents had picked up on it immediately.

Had they actually been lovers? Liz didn't think so. The likely scenario was that Felicia had created such a bond in her own mind as one more way to define her attachment to Billie, to give them a special, unique relationship.

The more interesting revelation was Felicia's comments regarding Billie's involvement with someone else. Liz couldn't be certain, but judging from what she'd heard, the obvious candidate would have to be Sara Matthews. Not a single report from the Ralston case ever mentioned the possibility of such a situation, nor was there the slightest hint that anything even remotely inappropriate was going on between them. Of course, official reports didn't always tell the whole story.

Liz shook her head at Gilliespie's silent inquiry and jotted something down, then tilted the pad toward him.

<Probably Ralston's own fixation>

Gillespie seemed to consider her words before writing down another quick sentence.

<Sounds more like a love triangle>

She pondered that thought for a brief moment, and was about to extrapolate on it when the room next door went eerily quiet. Both agents immediately focused all of their attention on what was coming through their headphones… or rather, what wasn't.

"Come on, Billie," Liz spoke aloud, as though doing so somehow gave the words more persuasive power. "Stay with it just a little longer." She was staring at the tabletop with such concentration that she barely took notice as Gillespie quickly scribbled something down. He pushed the notepad directly under her nose, waiting as she read his next notation.

This time, Liz looked up at him and nodded in agreement.

Billie knew she was cornered. It was either talk or walk. Just the thought of telling Felicia anything so personal was making her physically ill, and she had to take a moment to clear her throat before she began.

"I told my parents during my junior year in college. Up until that point, they assumed I was going on to law school, so the news was a little shocking. My mother was upset, at first. She was concerned. It wasn't exactly the career she'd envisioned for me. But, once she realized my mind was already made up, she supported my decision."

Felicia tilted her head and looked at her, curiously. "When you graduated from the police academy, did she attend the ceremony?"

"She pinned on my badge," Billie answered quietly.

The blonde's smile was almost wistful. "It sounds as though she was very devoted to you."

Billie pushed the folder back. "Open it."

Apparently satisfied with her small victory, Felicia did as Billie requested. She barely even acknowledged the first few pages and quickly set them aside with indifference. Upon seeing the face of an older man, however, she stopped and stared, thoughtfully, at the image.

After a long, quiet moment, she set it down to create a new pile.

The time passed slowly for Billie as she occasionally shifted her gaze from Felicia to her watch. Sara was probably on her way to meet with Margo at that very moment, and she would have given anything to be a fly on the wall.

After bringing Sara to her new 'home' last night, their conversation had been strained, at best. Once everything was in place, the two lovers said their goodnights and parted ways, and their brief meeting this morning hadn't gone much better.

Shifting her focus back to the here and now, Billie could see Felicia staring at another photograph, her gaze intense. As before, she placed that particular sheet onto the smaller stack. The blonde quickly flipped through a few more pages with obvious disinterest, until she finally emptied the folders contents.

"Well, that was invigorating," Felicia said breezily as she handed over the empty folder. "What do we do now, Lieutenant?"

Despite the situation, Billie actually felt a bit more relaxed now that this part of her task was out of the way. She was certain there had to be more victims, but at least they'd been given a starting point. And though a part of her couldn't quite fathom it, she had to admit there was always the remote possibility that time had dimmed the woman's memory.

Her eyes lingered on the few reports in front of her. "We go over them one by one," she said grimly, holding the empty folder and reaching for the larger stack of unsolved homicides. "I'll set these aside for now-"

Faster than she even thought possible, Felicia's hand was suddenly resting on top of her own, the cool touch startling her like a jolt of electricity. For a second, Billie couldn't even find her voice, much less the common sense to pull her hand away. The two women locked eyes, and Billie offered no resistance as Felicia's fingers tightened around her hand and moved it over to the smaller pile.

"No, Billie," Felicia said softly. "These are the people I didn't recognize."

Billie felt as if the air in the room was suddenly too heavy to breathe. She remained frozen in place, the question falling from her lips before she even had time to think.

"Why were you looking at them that way?"

A chilling smile graced Felicia's lips. "I was just thinking about what it would have been like to kill them." She deliberately leaned in closer to Billie, very much aware that others were listening, her voice warm and seductive.

"But, nothing compares to the fantasies I have about you, Billie. I think about you all the time, you know. I lie awake at night, imagining how it would have felt if we had gone… all the way."

The detective merely stared at her, blue eyes wide with shock and revulsion. There was something almost inhuman dancing in Felicia's eyes and Billie still couldn't understand how she'd missed it. How had she spent so much time in this woman's presence and not recognized her for the monster she truly was?

Felicia drew her tongue across her lips, savoring the memory of the young brunette's taste, inside and out. Still holding Billie's gaze, she whispered to her, ever so softly.

"I'm afraid that little blonde whore was a very poor substitute."

The rush of anger was so swift, the emotions so intense, Billie couldn't even recall lunging across the desk, nor did she take notice of the commotion erupting behind her as other people ran into the room and struggled to restrain her. It was only the sound of a woman's voice yelling her name that finally brought her back to reality… and to the feel of other hands prying her fingers from Felicia's throat.

"Billie! Billie… stop! Calm down!"

The detective continued fighting against the people holding onto her even as she was dragged, bodily, from the room. She slowly became aware of the uniforms that now blocked her field of vision, and found enough self-control to order them off of her.

"Let me go!" she yelled.

The hands holding her right arm began to loosen and Billie yanked it free. Then, still in the throes of an adrenaline rush, proceeded to ball up a fist and slam it into the face of the person still clutching her left arm. The young cop uttered an angry curse as he let her go, and she stumbled back into the hallway.

"That's enough!" Liz bellowed, stepping between the officers and the lieutenant, who was backing toward the far wall, trying to catch her breath. The FBI agent took her by the arm and quickly guided her into the conference room, then began issuing orders.

"You two go in and stay with Ralston, and you," she pointed a finger at the man Billie struck, who was wiping a smear of blood from his mouth. "Go and have someone take a look at that."

When a nurse appeared from across the hall and rushed in to check on Felicia, the FBI agent stepped back into the conference room and closed the door. Billie was now standing in front of the board, her back to the door. Even from the other side of the room, Liz could see her body shaking, violently.

The agent walked over to stand beside her. "Are you alright?" When Billie didn't respond, she reached out to touch her shoulder, startled when the young detective jerked away from her. "Look, Billie, I know this is hard-"

"Hard?" Billie cut her off with a short bark of laughter. She began stalking around the table, still feeling too tightly wound to trust herself near anyone or anything. She'd never felt so out of control. It was like being trapped on a rollercoaster, going up and down at random, her emotions commanded by someone else's whim.

"Calculus is hard," she replied, still pacing furiously. "But, this… hard doesn't even begin to cover it."

"She had it coming." Liz' voice was less than sympathetic.

Billie suddenly stopped and looked at her. "She wanted it, Liz, and goddammit if I didn't give her exactly what she wanted!" A frustrated sigh escaped her lips as she lowered her head and leaned her hands on the tabletop in front of her. "Just like always." The door behind her suddenly opened and Gillespie poked his head in.

"She's fine," he announced to his partner. "We're taking her back up to her room."

"Thanks, Alan. I'll bring you up to speed when you get back," Liz replied. "Also, make sure Doctor Brady knows we were in complete control of the situation. Tell him we'll meet with him shortly to answer any questions he might have." The man nodded and pulled the door closed, leaving the two women alone again.

"You were right."

Liz looked at Billie, whose gaze was now focused on the wall behind her, and she turned to look at the photos. "All of them?" When she glanced back, Billie nodded.

"And we can add our two missing persons."

"We'll have to get something on the record," Liz noted.

"I'm sure Felicia will enjoy that," the detective added, bitterly, pushing herself away from the table. "Look, I've got to get out of here." As she turned to leave, Liz called out to her.

"Can I ask you something?"

Without turning around, Billie replied, "Go ahead."

"Are you involved with Sara Matthews?" Liz waited for some kind of reaction, but there was nothing.

"I'll call you later," came the detective's response before she pulled the door open and walked out of the room.

Liz stared at the now vacant doorway, listening to the sound of soft foot heels echoing down the corridor. When they finally faded away, she turned and perched on the edge of the conference table with a weary sigh, the faces of Felicia Ralston's victims looking back at her.

"Asked and answered."

Part 7

Return to Fastlane Fiction

Return to Main Page