DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. Popular belongs to Ryan Murphy. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The version of Sam used in this story comes from another embarrassingly long Brooke/Sam saga I wrote a while ago called Just a Little Insight. But you donít have to read that to get this. I just used Sam becauseÖ itís Sam. And Carly Pope is hot.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Misty Flores
Every noise in the stairwell seemed amplified, and instead of helping to pinpoint where their killer had gone, it only shot their orientation to hell. The steel steps rang with the force of their steps, sending deafening echoes through the dark spiraled enclosure.
Unlike the hospital corridors, which were so brightly lit they caused Lindsay to squint, the less-traveled staircases flickered with ill-tempered fluorescents, unattended and sore about it.
Breathing hard through her nose, Lindsay landed on the third step, reaching out and grabbing hold of her unintended partner's elbow, keeping Ashe silent as they let the echoing stop and listened.
A few floors down there was a scuttle; a jerk.
It was him.
They flew into motion, nearly skidding down the steps as they raced to catch up with a killer who already had such a lead.
Into her radio, she spat fast, "Every floor, every exit - trap him, and for fuck's sake don't let anyone in or out. The last thing I want to do is shoot at the wrong person."
Jill Bernhardt had retired to an emptier corridor, near the stairwell, in an attempt to get away from the noisiness of the hallway intersection of the emergency room, the adjoining cafeteria and the gift shop.
Frustration and an inability to sway a judge had led her to call in another favor from her less than benevolent boss, who had seemed clipped and out of sorts. Jill didn't have time to coddle her.
The shots that rang out dimly from the floors above, and the resulting panicked shouts that were easily heard over the phone despite the thumping of Jill's suddenly panicked heart, was enough to change Denise's mind.
"Get out of there," the other woman ordered, in a voice that left no room for argument. "I mean it. Get out until we secure that place."
"We still need the warrant-"
"Screw the warrant." A heavy sigh floated into her ear. "I mean it, Jill. I do not want to have to find a replacement for you. We're understaffed as it is."
If that was Denise's odd way of telling Jill she was worried, she was flattered, despite the fact that she had no intention of leaving her friends behind.
"I think I should stay."
"If you're not here in twenty minutes, you're fired."
The line disconnected.
Shaking, Jill shut her phone, blue eyes staring up into the stained tiles of the ceiling above her, as if she could develop x-ray vision and somehow SEE what was going on.
The explosion of the stairwell door jerking outwards caught her on her temple, and the pain was blinding.
Head snapping back, Jill staggered, slamming hard against the opposite wall, resulting in another fierce flash of pain and the taste of copper when she bit her own tongue.
The world was spinning. Vision blurry, head ringing, Jill couldn't control her slump to the floor, even as she squinted and looked upon a dizzying figure that appeared to be Dr. Morris.
Rough hands grabbed hold of her shoulders, and she jerked, suddenly scrambling, when another deafening shot rang out, and there was a scream that wasn't her own.
The cruel grip that bruised her shoulders suddenly let go, and then a darker, kinder face was kneeling before her, fingers pressed against her chin, tilting.
Only after swallowing a gag-inducing bit of blood did Jill realize that the familiar man was speaking to her.
"JILL," Jacobi said again, and shook her for effect, causing something like butterflies to swim around her nauseatingly. "Are you okay?"
Rough fingers tilted her head to the side, inspecting something that, when Jacobi's hands came away, looked a lot like blood.
"Was that Dr. Morris?" she asked, dimly aware of the police officers who seemed to suddenly crowd the small corridor.
Jacobi wore a worrying frown. "Yes," he answered, after a moment of hesitation, and he still seemed far away. She had to strain to hear him over the throbbing of the blood that pulsed on the side of her face. "That was him. I gave him a good shot in his side before he went down that hole again. You're okay, Jill."
She closed her eyes, sucking in another bloody breath and grimacing at the taste. "Hooray," she managed weakly. "I'm getting a warrant."
Jacobi's fingers stilled, and then she was given an odd, sentimental smile from the usually stoic man. "Great," he said, and then called for a medic, sliding his broad palms under her waist and throwing her arm over his shoulder, hoisting her up with a grunt of effort. "You did your job. Now you get that concussion taken care of, and we'll do ours."
Heels slipping weakly on the linoleum floor, Jill was thankful for the support of her best friend's longtime partner. "Thanks," she said, and laid her head against the strong shoulder of the kind man. "You're the best kind of man in the world, Jacobi."
"So I've been told." He gave her another squeeze.
Reaching up, she felt the throbbing bump on her head and then looked at the syrupy dark stuff that coated her fingertips.
"Shit," she breathed. "Denise is going to fire me."
Shots sparked across the metal railings, forcing Lindsay to instinctively jerk, nearly breaking her ribs as she slammed against the staircase, hearing the ricochet before cement brick dusted, burying the bullets.
Two steps below her, Ashe breathed heavily, as steps continued to clatter down the metal staircase; erratic and dodgy.
Static buzzed in her ear. "Lindsay."
Sucking in a lungful of air, Lindsay rose to her haunches, and kept moving. "Jacobi," she answered, letting Ashe move ahead of her, eyes focused on the shadows below them as they moved quickly and carefully.
"He tried to get out on the first floor - ended up running into Jill."
The world teetered, nearly hit her sideways.
Ashe paused, distracted by her suddenly stricken face.
"Jacobi," she managed, choked.
"She's okay," he said quickly, realizing what he had done, just how he had paralyzed her. "She's got a concussion from when the door hit her, but she's fine. I shot him in his shoulder. He backed off and headed back into the stairwell."
Despite the intense danger she had put herself in, Lindsay suddenly wanted nothing more than to sink to the floor in relief.
Her eyes shut for one precious second.
"We're losing time," Ashe said.
"She's okay," she repeated, selfishly needing that assurance.
"She's fine," he said again. "We've got every exit covered on every floor. Nowhere for that boy to go but down."
He almost had Jill.
Lindsay's world nearly lay splintered before her. Above her, a reporter was fighting for her life, below her, her best friend had brushed closer to the killer than she could have ever imagined, and the two incidents nearly overtook her.
They had reached the first floor, the splatter of blood now dark and black against the floor, evidence of Jacobi's work.
It led down into the darkness of the basement. Ashe peered, gun at the ready, squinting in his attempt to remain focused.
"I'm coming in," she heard. The door opened, and suddenly, Jacobi was there, looking concerned and angry, holding up his revolver and nodding to them both. "Let's get this bastard."
It was all wrong. It was just... it was just all wrong.
Dr. Samuel Morris had a plan. He always had a plan, and he followed it.
When he didn't follow the plan, bad things happened.
His confidence was stripped, and without his plan, he found himself making mistakes. Stupid mistakes.
Nearly empting a clip in the stairwell, all that blood...
Tripping against the last step, Dr. Samuel Morris sucked in a choked, angry breath.
It was all wrong.
He could hear Griselda coming, with her horrifically weak men, leading them and it should have been to her death. To their death.
It had to be. It was the only way she could learn.
But his shoulder stung, paralyzing his entire arm, and Dr. Morris knew that women made him weak. Women had perverted everything and all he had meant was for them to learn a lesson-
She should have been grateful-
She should have learned!
He stumbled, gripping the revolver and resisting the urge to look behind him as he entered the maintenance closet, machines blinking at him in ugly reminder of the world he lived in.
Echoes of footfalls shuddered behind him, and he slumped against the door, taking a moment to suck in a harsh breath, absorb his disappointment.
It wasn't supposed to happen like this.
He had a plan. He had a story...
And Griselda had ruined him. She had ruined him.
He wanted to cry. He wanted to crawl into a fetal position and he wanted to sob like a child - but no.
He wouldn't do that. He wouldn't hear the echoes of his mother, screeching her disappointment in him, bearing down on him with her belt and her bottles.
He was Charming. He was a man. He was in control. He would finish this like a man.
There would be no belts. There would be no bottles.
There would only be silence, and his own happy ending.
Sucking in a hard, wheezing breath, Charming crawled into a corner, just out of view, cocked his gun, and waited.
The lights had been shut off - it left them all blind. The penlight Jacobi had picked off his belt and now pointed down the corridor might as well have been a spotlight to their location, giving Morris time to scurry away, like a roach running away from a brightening kitchen.
She was sweating, the drops of salty condensation dripping down her nose, making her itch.
Still, she kept going, into the darkness with the two men at her side, flanking her like bodyguards, covering as much as they could with their rounded muzzles.
"Patrols have blocked the other side," Jacobi whispered, barely audible. "He's got nowhere to run."
"You told them not to come in."
"This many uniforms, this much paranoia?" Jacobi agreed. "We might as well invite them to a chicken shoot."
She nodded mutely. "And Tom?"
"I'll catch hell about it when he gets here. Until then, let's not worry about it."
"He's been firing wildly," Ashe noted, remarkably still as he lowered his weapon and eased further into the hallway.
She knew exactly what he meant. "He's lost control."
"Which makes him dangerous," Jacobi finished, and grimaced, patting at his jacket. "Man, I wish I had taken the time to grab a vest."
To offer to leave him behind would have been insulting. Lindsay didn't bother.
Moving together, slow and steady, they found a door marked 'MAINTANENCE'. On the handle was a smear of blood, a haunting arrow.
Drops of blood leading them to him... like breadcrumbs.
"Hansel," she breathed, and the thought caused a sudden muted smile, gone as quickly as it had emerged, as Ashe put his hands on the knob and then lifted three fingers, ready to begin the count.
Her hand reached out just before he jerked the knob.
"Wait," she breathed.
"What do you mean, wait?"
Throat sore from the large lump now lodged near her tonsils, Lindsay swallowed painfully, and closed her eyes, praying she was right.
"He's waiting for us. We should wait. For back up. We know he's in there. We need shields-"
Angry brown eyes flashed at her. "No."
But Agent John Ashe had broken protocol to get here, he had lost everything to get to this point, and he was beyond reason. One look into haunted dark eyes, and Lindsay knew that.
Beside her, Jacobi was already shaking his head, ready to intervene-
He didn't wait. He jerked the doorknob, and moved in.
She moved, but a strong grip kept her still, Jacobi's eyes narrowed and his hand steady.
The shot came just like she expected.
Ashe slumped, didn't even cry out as he fell to his knees and emptied his gun in the direction of the shot that had ripped into him, blinding flashes that spurted and burned like firecrackers, leaving behind a resounding echo and the smell of burnt metal.
Three shots. Two at the stairwell - one with the guard-
The mental tally came to her, and it couldn't have come down to this. To math? Not after all this time.
She heard the dull thud of a metal gun clatter to the ground, and the wheezing that came from blood in lungs, sucking breaths that sounded moist.
A look at Jacobi, and the grip loosened. Together, they moved in, guns up, Jacobi's penlight sweeping to the still breathing Ashe who held a bloody hand to the seeping wound in his side.
Features constricted in pain, he jerked his head to the corner, as Jacobi shined his light and there he was.
Riddled with bullets, Dr. Samuel Morris looked broken, eyes swollen with tears as he twitched against the wall, blinking into Jacobi's light.
Dull, fading eyes looked at her, and he jerked, shaking his head and shuddering.
"Griselda," he managed, his voice so thick and soaked in blood it sounded like gurgles.
Her gun was steady, and the world seemed to slow as she moved to him, until he twitched helplessly for the gun that now lay out of his reach. Her booted foot kicked the useless thing out of the way.
Behind her, Jacobi kept his gun trained on the murderer, already whispering orders into his radio as she knelt down and looked into the eyes of the Kiss-Me-Not killer.
He was young. And handsome. And frightened.
He laughed, spitting up blood as fingers came up and tried to trace her face. She snapped hold of his wrist, fingers wrapping around his hand in a crushing grip, not allowing it.
"You ruined my life," she whispered, only for him. "For so long, I let you destroy it."
He wanted to hear it. The smile on his lips seemed joyful, before his eyes closed and he sucked in another horrible sounded wet breath.
"Don't be stupid, Griselda," he managed, and opened his eyes once more, to look her dead in the eye. "I saved it."
His life expired before her eyes, her hand still clutching his, and the Kiss-Me-Not killer drifted away with a smile on his face.
Sam hated hospitals.
Brooke had known that.
Sam said nothing good ever happened in a hospital. It was an attitude she had adopted early on in life. Her father had died in a hospital. In high school, their best friend Harrison nearly met the same fate thanks to a near fatal brush with cancer. At the same time, Brooke had been hospitalized with anorexia. Then came the coma.
Brooke didn't blame her for hating hospitals. The PTSD was beginning to weigh on her too, and in comparison, Brooke's own experiences were beginning to seem mundane.
Exhaustion had faded in a wave of adrenaline, and still, she sat holding one limp palm that she rubbed with obsessive precision; from wrist to fingertip and then back again, swirling circles along the lines on the inside of Sam's hand.
The rhythmic beeps of the machines that monitored Sam were reassuringly stable, images on the machine at her bedside arching up and down in wavy crescents that told her it was okay. For the moment, it was okay.
Beside her, a warm hand pressed into her back, meant to be as reassuring as a near stranger could be.
"They caught him," she heard Cindy Thomas say, in a voice weak with relief. Brooke's mouth tilted upwards slightly, but she didn't look away, as her pulse quickened, then seemed to simultaneously slow. "I just heard. He's dead."
The news went through her, and somehow didn't seem to register.
"You know, you saved her life." Brooke opened her mouth, and inhaled harshly, trying to rid herself of the tightening of her chest. "If you hadn't made the connection with that picture..."
Biting her lower lip, Brooke didn't look at Cindy Thomas as she raised the limp palm to her mouth and looked at the sleeping form of her recovering girlfriend.
"I suppose it's only fair," she mumbled against soft skin, eyes raking over the still form of a beautiful girl who was more than a girlfriend, more than a partner - her heaven and hell and everything in between. "She's been saving my life since the day we met."
Still gripping Sam's hand, she finally looked back to find a glassy-eyed girl with a trembling mouth and eyes round with unshed feeling.
"Something tells me you know what that's like."
Cindy Thomas didn't answer, but her hand slipped into Brooke's free one, and squeezed. In that intimate gesture, Brooke felt suddenly as if she had a friend.
The thought allowed her to crumble, and as the sobs overtook her, Cindy Thomas drew her in, until Brooke finally allowed herself a weakness, clutching at the smaller girl, shoulders shaking out a torrent of pent-up grief.
"Tell me if this stings," said a low, masculine voice, and Jill hissed in pain as a tiny Band-Aid was stretched over her bruised cut and gently probed into place.
"It stings," she answered matter-of-factly. Digit thumbing gently across her cheek, Luke's smile was heartbreakingly familiar.
"I like to call this an 'I'm Lucky To Be Alive' boo-boo," he told her, after a moment, fingers easing away from her face, turning away to fuss with a tray of medical implements. "You cut it close, Jill."
The look in his eyes was sobering, and wincing at the sore spot on her tongue that rubbed suddenly against her teeth, Jill allowed one moment of stillness.
Hearing her name broke the intense look shared between herself and her ex, and when Jill finally noticed Claire, walking quickly in her direction, she found herself suddenly feeling ten emotions at once; overwhelmed.
Luke moved away, and Jill allowed herself one smile for her lost love, hands squeezing together, before Claire came forward and Jill buried herself in the warm, loving embrace of her friend.
Claire gripped her so hard it was almost bruising, and still Jill only gripped her harder, eyes shut tight and heart hammering against her chest, suddenly fearful and vulnerable.
"Oh my God," Claire breathed, and when she pulled back her eyes were moist. Fingers cupping her chin, she inspected her face with a gentle touch. "Are you okay?"
"I'm okay," she said immediately, nodding thickly. "It could have been a lot worse."
Claire didn't seem to believe her, and once again pulled her close in a crushing grip.
Jill allowed it. She needed it.
When Claire seemed once again reassured, and had pulled back enough for Jill to breathe, Jill sucked in a fortifying lungful of air and asked her most important question: "Where's Lindsay?"
"With Ashe," Claire noted quickly. "They're trying to fish out the bullet. He's gonna be okay."
Swallowing hard, Jill nodded. "And Cindy?"
"Being a shoulder to cry on for the reporter's girlfriend," Claire continued. "I checked in on them, but didn't want to disturb. She did text me. Wanted me to make sure you were doing okay, with the ex," she added, voice lowering as her eyes flickered subtly to Luke, standing a few feet away.
It would be just like Cindy to worry about the most insignificant detail, even in the scope of the big picture. Jill now understood that she loved that little reporter.
Inhaling again, Jill wondered desperately why her insides wouldn't settle. "So Sam's okay."
"So far," Claire agreed, tone melodic, soothing. "Luckily, your ex-boyfriend was able to cut off the flow of morphine before she got the full over dose Dr. Morris was intending. She'll be out for a while, but I think the main worry is how the paralyzing serum will affect her. It was pretty traumatizing."
Jill couldn't even imagine.
"Go check on Linz for me, will you?" she asked, squeezing at Claire's elbows. "I'm fine. I just "
The bond they shared had never been stronger, and Jill knew she would be eternally grateful for that when Claire didn't argue, instead leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her cheek, lingering to whisper in her ear, "Seems like you've got another visitor anyway," before drifting away.
Glancing in the direction Claire motioned to, Jill bit her lip when she saw Denise, posture stiff and almost hostile, standing a few feet away.
Shooting Luke an uneasy glance, Jill grimaced gently as she slid off the hospital bench.
"I hear you got a concussion," Denise said, tone clipped as she came forward, looking completely pissed off.
"As long as I hear I'm not fired I think I'll be fine."
Denise kept her hands to herself, but her sharp eyes roamed over the stitches and tape that inelegantly graced Jill's temple.
"If you had left when I told you this wouldn't have happened."
"If my stubborn head hadn't been in the way he might have gotten away." Staring into the flashing brown eyes, Jill felt a sudden, absurd wave of affection, and an even odder sense of shyness. "Thanks for being worried."
Denise's eyes grew narrower still, and her lips pursed together, not pleased at showing her soft underbelly.
A blush had formed on the angled cheeks and glancing away, Denise looked stiffly at Luke, who still lingered, looking over the chart of the policeman who had been attacked.
"Don't tell me you're getting back together," she clipped, voice even and hard.
Jill blinked, and shook her head slightly. "I think right now we're just focused on the whole thing where we didn't die."
"I know where that leads," Denise allowed, looking tense. "Don't do it. I'm just saying," she insisted. "Rebound sex can be exhilarating but unless you're serious about him - find someone else to sleep with. And don't do it on your desk."
It was utterly amazing how Denise could sound offensive even when she wasn't trying to be. Jill found herself smiling despite herself.
"Is this your version of sisterly advice, Denise?"
Her posture only stiffened, and Denise once again looked like she had been caught, though at what, Jill had no idea. "Hardly. You seem to be alive. I want you back in the office in a half hour." She glanced at the prescription note Jill was currently clutching. Lips twitching, she snatched it from her hand. "Better yet, I'll drive you. I'll get this. Wait for me," she ordered, finger pointed in her direction, and Jill knew better than to argue. "Lie down until you're ready to go."
Denise was exceedingly bossy when she was worried. Jill didn't want to wonder why it no longer irritated her.
"Don't bother," came the flippant remark, before her boss clacked down the hall in her stilettos, heading toward the pharmacy.
"I think your boss has a crush on you." The voice was kind, teasing, and she had missed that tone from Luke.
Mouth impish, Jill shook her head slowly and kept her eyes closed. "You're crazy."
"I'm not. I saw how she was looking at you. What, you got some sort of pheromone that makes you irresistible?"
Her eyes opened, locked onto pretty brown eyes and a familiar, strained smile.
She willed her heart not to break, and found, with some relief and a little disappointment, that it only throbbed with her loss. She could still breathe.
Mustering as kind of a smile as she could, Jill kept her hands to herself. "Apparently not."
The smile froze, but Luke seemed to understand, as he patted her gently on the shoulder, and then turned away, leaving her once again to close her eyes and just inhale.
She found herself astounded when she realized that for the first time in days, she actually could.
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