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
"Is stalking 101 something they teach at Quantico or are you just super well rounded?"
Agent John Ashe had lost whatever cool he had been masquerading behind, and the resulting grimace that creased over his handsome face would have caused more than a sudden thrill of validation for Sam McPherson, if it wasn't for the fact that Brooke was currently at the bar, and liable to look over any minute.
"It's not you I'm after," the special agent answered quietly, leaning close and speaking into her ear, releasing an unconscious shudder in the furious reporter. "You're not a priority, McPherson."
"And yet you just keep following me everywhere I go."
"I need to catch this guy."
The desperation in his voice made him utterly human. "Then you've got the wrong girl," she answered pointedly, and snuck another glance at Brooke. Sam had always been more than aware of Brooke's faults. Brooke's tendency to get pissy when the bossy former daddy's girl didn't have things to go her way wasn't new to Sam McPherson. Pitting that quality with Sam's insatiable need for conflict was like putting a spark to a powder keg, and if it was one thing Sam wanted, it was to avoid a fight. If Brooke saw Ashe with her, if Brooke figured out what Sam was really trying to avoid, she would discover the half-truths that Sam had spouted to her earlier in the morning, and then that was exactly what they would have. A huge fight that would go late into the night, or worse, the sudden retreat of Brooke, who had a tendency to fly home when she believed Sam no longer saw reason.
She wasn't ready to let go of Brooke, not so soon.
It prompted her to move.
Grabbing hold of his elbow, she weaved through the crowd, jerking him around a couple making out in the corner, into the darkening outdoors. "What the hell do you want from me?" she snapped, two steps from the door.
He tugged at his tie, and the sweat from the hotter part of the day had left his hair shinier than normal, pulled up in tufts. "Walk with me."
"Uh, no," she answered flatly. "Right here's just fine."
He stared at her. "Just what kind of person do you think I am?"
"I don't care," she snapped. "Okay? Right now, all I care about is you leaving and letting me do my job."
"Pretty girlfriend you've got." The way he said it just completely chilled her. He smiled, the expression not reaching his eyes. "Give her my regards. Or I can do that for you. Brooke McQueen, right?"
He didn't wait for her. The Agent just tossed her a curt nod and then walked away from her, like she asked.
Sam McPherson was entirely capable of committing acts of unspeakable stupidity; particularly when righteously indignant.
It had gotten her into trouble numerous amount of times.
The real problem had always been she failed to see how stupid she was being until that split second after she had committed the said act.
As it was, she was already around the corner and in the dark alley when she realized she was suddenly completely alone and there was no agent to be found.
A spike of panic overtook her.
"Holy shit," she breathed.
The world exploded in a flash of excruciating pain that knifed into her side. A gloved hand that slammed into her face from behind her muffled her scream.
"Was I imagining things or did I hear Denise telling Gomez that she's having drinks with you later tonight?"
A piece of hotdog lodged unexpectedly in Jill's throat, and she worked hard to clear it, wincing when the miscalculated bite shoveled itself down her esophagus.
Standing beside her, Claire wore an expression that was simultaneously concerned and befuddled.
Jill sighed in resignation. "You weren't hearing things," she admitted, and once again checked her cell phone. No texts. No emails.
"Well " Claire looked entirely too amused. "Has hell frozen over?"
"Practically," Jill breathed, and then continued hastily, "its part of my new thing."
"New thing?" Claire repeated, squinting a little as she pulled off her sunglasses, walking with her away from the hot dog vendor to the less smelly atmosphere offered by the fountain in the middle of the courtyard.
"My whole 'grow up and actually deal with her' thing," Jill muttered morosely. "Because, as much as I hate to admit it, she does have a point. A lot of the whole losing Luke thing could have been avoided if I hadn't actually banged Hanson on my desk."
Claire tossed her a sympathetic glance, but didn't argue the fact. It was the truth. They all knew it. In this small circle, Jill had never felt judged for it. Lindsay and Claire, in their own tragic ways, understood loss, and Cindy just simply didn't have it in her.
She was a fuck-up, but her friends never made her feel like it.
Jill knew, in that sense at least, she was luckier than most.
"It still wasn't her place to reveal it," Claire added, "And I think you've punished yourself enough for that."
The hot dog looked suddenly unappetizing, and Jill grimaced, folding the rest of the late lunch into her napkin and tossing it in a nearby trashcan. "Honestly, Luke hasn't been big on my mind lately."
It was a little surprising, and a little heartbreaking, to realize how true that was.
"Well, there have been other distractions."
The Kiss-Me-Not killer and his direct threat to Lindsay was more than a distraction in Jill's opinion, but she knew Claire understood.
"More than you think," she mumbled and once again checked her phone.
A questioning glance was thrown in her direction. "Waiting for something?"
"Call from Denise," she said, struggling not to elaborate. "Work related."
Claire seemed to accept that easily enough. She, apparently, had other things on her mind. "Lindsay told me you had coffee with Cindy this morning. Good for you."
A sudden wave of irritation hit her a little harder than she expected. "Yes. You know, you might as well pat me on the head and call me 'sport' while you're at it."
"Don't be petulant," Claire chided softly, and reached over to give her a gentle squeeze. "You know what I mean."
Jill wished she didn't. "Well, don't go granting me grounds for sainthood or anything." She glanced at her phone again and grimaced. "Cindy and I meeting this morning wasn't about playing the weird and twisted game of 'Pass the Boxer'. She had information she needed me to confirm."
"Information?" Claire's voice immediately grew troubled, dark eyes deepening in color when she immediately inferred the worst. "Kiss-Me-Not information?"
Silently apologizing to their missing friend for leaving her out of this, Jill's shoulders straightened and she turned. "Yes."
Lindsay Boxer had never been one for sweeping romantic gestures. Tom had always been better about that sort of thing. He was the one who remembered the exact date of the anniversary, would get annoyed when she would answer the 'how long has it been' question with numbers ending in '-ish'. Flowers were nice on rare occasions, but monumentally better was always a beer, because she didn't know how to arrange bouquets in vases anyhow, and would almost always forget to take them out until they were rotting and stunk up the house.
In fact, doing this: making a concentrated effort to take some time out from her job that meant everything, to stand in a crowded bar, less than two feet away from a girl who appeared to be stunned speechless, was about as romantic as Lindsay got.
She fervently hoped that Cindy knew her well enough to understand the significance of what she was doing. She wasn't that great at verbalizing things anyhow.
"You're very quiet," she said finally, a half-nervous chuckle overwhelming her as she managed a delicate smile, unsure what to think when Cindy Thomas continued to stare at her like a gaping fish. "It's kind of freaking me out."
The observation seemed to jolt Cindy out of whatever haze she was in, and Lindsay's quivering insides got a slight reprieve when the girl flushed, color painting her cheeks as the phone came down. "Are you complaining?" Cindy asked, a little too casually.
Based on the circumstances, considering Lindsay didn't even know what she wanted to accomplish by coming here, she decided there was no right way to answer that.
"What are you doing here?" Rather than responding to Cindy's query, Lindsay made another step forward, reaching the stool vacated by the blonde she had seen Cindy speaking to earlier.
Turning her torso, Lindsay couldn't shake the intense feeling of vulnerable stupidity. She didn't do things like this. Being here felt like she might as well have put together a posterboard with 'I Heart Cindy' on it and displayed it in the precinct. And really, nothing had changed.
Except she was here now, and her friend, intoxicating blush still tinting her cheeks, was right here with her.
Lindsay felt her resistance slip again. "I wanted to see you," she began haltingly, as honestly as she could. The smile on her face was broader than she liked, and she feared it made her look like a dimpled jester. "I knew where you were going to be, so I told Jacobi I needed a couple hours off and then I looked."
"You tracked me down in a gay bar because you wanted to see me."
The annotation was slightly disbelieving, half teasing. In its simplicity, the truth was utterly damning.
The beer currently nestled in Cindy's fingers was suddenly tempting beyond belief.
"Yeah," she managed finally, steeling herself to raise her chin and finally meet Cindy's inquisitive gaze head on. "That about covers it."
The feelings for Cindy Thomas that had overwhelmed her the day she had laid aside her inhibitions and drunkenly kissed her were no less frightening sober. In this environment, in a bar crowded with gay pride paraphernalia and images of women kissing women and the complete sense of freedom that the parade and the festivities around it created, there existed a certain realm of fantasy, an invitation to forget about the misfortunes that buried her under their weight.
The urge to be impulsive and reckless with her emotions in such a way she had never been before was heavy on her mind, like a disregarding demon on her shoulder, and now more than ever, Lindsay saw the temptation of burying herself into Cindy Thomas and forgetting everything else.
Cindy's eyes were darker than she had ever seen them, contemplating Lindsay and their situation with an agitated hunger than made her itchy for something else, some measure of contact to assure herself that this was actually real, and that it was okay.
"You know," Cindy began finally, with a hoarse quality in her tone, breathless. "This isn't helping the whole 'figure this out later' deal we put on the table last night. In fact, as far as resolutions go, your discipline sucks."
She was right. Of course. Lindsay was very quickly learning that the little reporter was right about a lot of things, which was semi-miraculous and tremendously annoying, when she thought about it.
"What we have shouldn't be based on him," she said flatly. Green eyes locked with hers intensely.
Something flashed in those orbs, something Lindsay couldn't quite read, before her friend seemed to give in completely, peeling the label off her condensing bottle of beer and offering her a timid, resigned smile. "So you're saying you want to renegotiate?"
Lindsay glanced about the establishment, the men and woman with completely different lives, who flitted around them with individual cares and fears and worries and regrets.
Her gaze returned to Cindy. "Actually, I'm saying I want to kiss you."
A dark, tense pause and suddenly the woman she so very desperately wanted to kiss shuddered, like she had been doused with water. "Lindsay, you can't say things like that and not expect me to "
"What?" Again, that look of conflict passed through Cindy's features, and it nagged her, tugged on her insecurities, because it was one thing to hear that Cindy was crazy about her - another to see Cindy's own indecision manifest itself so easily.
"You said you couldn't do this."
"You said we were good."
"God-DAMMIT." The explosive expletive that burst from Cindy's mouth was startling, and Lindsay frowned, a sinking feeling of sudden doubt overtaking her. Across from her, Cindy had begun to twitch, fidgeting with her beer bottle and staring at the floor.
"There are things we have to talk about."
Unsure, Lindsay's brow stayed furrowed. "Okay."
A small hand wrapped itself behind her neck, and then Cindy, who had somehow vaulted the foot it took to reach the taller woman, was kissing her. Wetly. Deeply. There was no slow, chaste pecks, no wondering press of lips against closed lips. Cindy's head tilted and her breath fluttered raggedly over her mouth and then there was simply the taste of her, pushing deeply inside of her with a mind numbing focus Lindsay had no other choice but to simply shut her eyes, press palms against a slender waist, and push back.
When Cindy broke off the kiss, inches from her, panting hard, Lindsay kept her eyes closed, long fingers wrapping tightly around Cindy's biceps, keeping her close.
"We're doing it again," she heard, a tight, anguished whisper.
The sudden giddiness was extremely difficult to ignore. "What are we doing?" she asked, and Cindy smiled with her, until she surged forward and met her halfway, lips clinging to hers.
The world opened up as quickly as it had fallen away, and Lindsay's heart pounded in her chest as she tried to recover, dizzily discovered the blonde was once again at the bar, interrupting their intimate embrace to engage Cindy.
"Brooke," Cindy breathed, fingers sliding from Lindsay's cheek.
"I'm I'm sorry," the girl named Brooke said, glancing between them both with an expression that, now that Lindsay's flustered body had begun to cool, seemed unsure and frightened.
"What is it?" she asked.
"This is Lindsay," Cindy said immediately. "She's a police Inspector."
"Oh," Brooke breathed, and shifted on her feet, licking her lips impulsively before nodding briefly and managing, "I can't find Sam."
"I have your answer from Quantico," Denise Kwon announced, barging into her office. Her superior apparently now felt above knocking, as she faltered six steps in to notice Claire standing beside Jill.
"What is it?" Jill asked, too desperate for the answer to mind the entitled interruption.
Posture stiffening, Denise shot a quick glance at the medical examiner.
Claire's mouth twitched, obviously a little offended at the inference that she couldn't be trusted.
Jill didn't care to wade through semantics. "It's okay. Claire knows."
At this, Denise arched a displeased brow. "You're immensely liberal with your information."
"Denise," Jill began, head starting to throb.
"The reporter's contact was a bust." Denise shrugged, getting to the point. "Ashe may not originally have been an investigator on the Kiss-Me-Not case, but he was reassigned."
It was exactly what she wasn't expecting to hear.
"That's impossible," Claire breathed, and Denise just shot her another look.
"Since when?" Jill asked, mind suddenly swimming, body suddenly running hot and cold at the same time.
"The orders came down this morning," Denise continued. "Morris said it could have just been a delay in the paperwork."
"What, like it was just caught up in jurisdiction?" It sounded too ridiculous to believe.
"Office inefficiency isn't exclusive to our own precinct." Denise reached up, rubbing the nape of her neck with long fingers, shifting on her heels. "Morris didn't seem too concerned about it. For all we know, the guy who was originally in charge of the Kiss-Me-Not case didn't want it taken away from him. That's what held it up."
"And what would make Ashe so competent?" Jill asked, casting a frowning Claire a long glance.
"Someone obviously thought that he was up to the task," Denise shrugged, too flippant, earning a glare from Jill. At the hostile look, the other woman went quiet, studying the expression. "You didn't actually think this could be the guy?"
Feeling foolish, Jill sighed, once again glancing at Claire and then at the floor.
"At least it would have meant a lead," she said, both to Claire and to Denise. "This guy is a phantom. And something about that guy doesn't add up."
"Maybe Cindy's reporter friend got it wrong," Claire suggested, trying, as always, to be logical and reasonable.
"It doesn't change what he did," Jill snapped at her. "He still went to her in her hotel room, he still gave her the case files He creeped her out."
"Jill, we're lawyers," Denise interrupted, expression tightening. "You and I deal in something a little more concrete than just 'the guy gives me the creeps'."
"There's nothing wrong with instinct," Claire argued softly. "And Jill's got good ones."
"I'm not arguing that," Denise answered, softer, addressing Claire for the first time. "But it doesn't change that as far as facts go, you've got nothing but gut."
"So we find another angle," Jill breathed, too invested to let this go. "We let Lindsay know and Cindy's investigating him now, we'll find something."
"Jill, you have a job to do," Denise reminded her, and it caused such a wave of irritation that she literally shuddered with annoyance.
"And don't I always do it?" she asked, harder than she meant.
"Jill," Claire began, sotto, and it forced her to close her eyes, take a breath. Dragging her eyes from the warning expression on Claire's face to the hardening features on Denise, she flexed her palm and tried again.
"This guy he may be our only lead."
Her boss was always an enigma. What was going on behind the dark eyes was puzzling, but when her features softened and her posture loosened, she surprised her.
"I understand that you're afraid for the Inspector," Denise managed, haltingly, awkward in her attempts at sympathy. "But has it occurred to you," she continued sincerely, "That perhaps you're so afraid for your friend, so willing to believe he's a bad guy, because you might not have anything else?"
"You think we're projecting."
"I think you're caring," Denise corrected, softer than Jill had ever heard before. "Just a little too much. Don't get me wrong. I think what you and your friends do is interesting. But "
"But we're reaching," Claire mumbled. Denise eyed her warily, and then finally nodded.
"I'm sorry that wasn't what you were looking for," she answered.
It was almost too civil.
"What?" Denise asked, turning on her heel and moving for the door. "I told you I'd try."
Lips pressing in together, Jill tried to keep her calculating mind from moving too fast, doing her best to take the information and not confuse it in the midst of her sudden devastation at losing a lead that could have possibly saved her friend's life.
"Wow." Beside her, the Medical Examiner appeared thunderstruck. "She really is trying."
Jill didn't have time to contemplate Denise's about-face. Shoulders slumping, she turned her suddenly exhausted body toward her desk.
"What are you doing?"
Plucking her cellphone from her desk, Jill tossed Claire a tired glance. "Calling Cindy. Telling her we have a whole load of nothing."
Cindy Thomas was trying very hard to fight her way out of a lust-induced fog. Her chest was heaving, her insides were quivering, and the look on Brooke's face as she announced the fact that her partner was missing felt like a bucket of ice cold water had been dumped over her head.
"Maybe she's outside?" she suggested, wiping her mouth and immediately launching onto her tip-toes, using Lindsay's shoulder for balance as she tried to crane her neck and look through the crowded bar.
"She's not," Brooke breathed, arms wrapping around herself as she also looked back, obviously hoping she was wrong. "I'm not saying it's not like Sam to get completely wrapped up in what she's doing, but she wouldn't just leave. And " Brooke wrapped her arms around herself, glancing hesitantly between the two of them before she continued, "I asked this girl she was talking to if she had seen her? She said she went outside with a guy in a tie."
"A guy in a tie?" Lindsay repeated, but the blood had already started to pound in Cindy's ears, heart dropping inside of her in sudden fearful realization.
"He was talking to her earlier today," Brooke continued, "At the pride parade. Sam lied about it but she sucks at lying to me. It's the FBI guy, right? The one that came to see her last night?"
Lindsay's grip on her arm tightened painfully, an instinctive reaction. Dark brown eyes shot to her, and Cindy found herself suddenly frozen, throat gone dry.
"An FBI guy?" Lindsay repeated, and the Inspector was always so quick. She could read Cindy so quickly, and her voice hardened. "My FBI guy?"
"I was going to tell you," Cindy managed, helpless in how to even begin to explain. "Lindsay, we were just waiting - we need to find Sam."
Lindsay stared at her, searching her face for any clue as to what she was missing. Suddenly the Inspector let her go, nearly shoving her away in her anger as she nodded to Brooke and left Cindy behind. "Show me."
So involved in trying to go after them, Cindy couldn't connect the vibrations drumming against her side and the fact that the phone was ringing until she was fighting her way through the dancefloor, losing the worried Brooke and pissed off Boxer when she finally dug into her purse and saw it was from Jill.
Fumbling, she ducked under a flailing arm and held it tightly to her ear, moving as quickly as she could toward the exit. "Tell me something good," she pleaded, as she answered, "Because I think we have bigger problems now than Lindsay never speaking to me again."
Lindsay burst out into the now crowded streets of the bar, not even pausing as she threaded through the crowds, sharp eyes scanning for dark corners, suspicious persons, anything that could alert her to a kidnapping.
"Call her," she snapped, back at the woman who she immediately inferred to be the girlfriend.
"I did," the blonde retorted, but was already digging into her pocket.
"Do it again. And again. Until something cuts you off." Lindsay didn't wait for her, swiveling on the pavement.
The dark had settled; the families had abandoned the Pride Parade and now there were just litters of party-goers, traveling in packs or alone. The street was still closed - no cars could have been allowed in or out.
To her left was the brightly lit spill over from the festivities, inviting a crowd: a stage, a group of performing drag queens, music.
Too many people.
She grabbed hold of a casual smoker, flashing a badge. "Did you see a guy in a tie?"
He shook his head, bewildered, and Lindsay kept walking, moving fast in the opposite direction, hearing Brooke falling into step behind her.
"Wait." A strong grip grabbed onto her elbow. "Do you hear that?"
Underneath the noise, she did hear it. Faint. Soft.
A cell phone.
Her pace increased, turning the corner to the alley ten feet away, skidding on the uneven concrete and flipping the lapel of her leather jacket up to grab hold of her gun.
She never hesitated.
Yanking the weapon out of the holster, she raised it, voice hard and angry. "Hands up. Get away from her."
Agent John Ashe cradled the Sam McPherson on the floor, expressionless. There was a patch of black blood pooling on her shirt, leaking onto his suit.
"It wasn't me."
"Hands UP, Ashe!" She cocked the trigger.
"Oh, God - Sam-"
The blonde lurched forward, and was immediately hauled back by a suddenly appearing red-head. Cindy grabbed hold of her, struggling with the taller girl.
"Wait," she heard, and Brooke screamed at her.
He looked down at the reporter in his arms, then up again to Lindsay.
"She needs a doctor," he said hoarsely. "I called 911."
"Get the fuck off her, Ashe."
The look he gave her chilled her. Without a word, he let her go, carefully settling her bleeding body on the ground and rising carefully off his knees, blood drenched hands rising in the air, eyes never leaving hers.
"Move," she said, inching forward, entire body tight with tension, finger resting lightly on the trigger. One step away from her. Two.
Sirens blared in the distance, but Lindsay could barely hear them.
She looked into the eyes of a beautiful stranger.
Her finger trembled, itching to pull.
"Lindsay " She didn't dare look, but the voice of Cindy shook her.
But her sights were set on Ashe. She didn't see anyone else.
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